General Fonseka, the "Tamil Nation" and the Thimpu Tamils

"The opening of this structure within the Tamils is the most welcomething that has happened in Sri Lankan politics. Itmade the dumb dialogue of the diaspora, parroting Prabhakan,totally irrelavant. The calls for "talks with the LTTE", stillechoed by friends of the LTTE, are those of dumb people left behind bythe currents of history (e.g, the diehard-Marxists). Or they are deeply drunkwith the Killinochchi wines of Bishop Rohan Chikera - another mind setassociated with the insensitive, international NGO set. This isremnicent of P. G. Woodhouse who talked of importing wine from the Nazis,to improve German-English relations during the great war. Bishop Chikeranever known for sagacity or sensitivity, wanted to use Prabhakaran'stainted wine even in sacred ritual!"

by Sebastian Rasalingam

(October 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) When the Canadian Journalist Stewart Bell interviewed General Sarath Fonseka, he expressed his views with the candour of a conversation in the Officer's Mess. I can well imagine, in 1962, some of the Officers of the Army and the Police, (the de Mels, Anghies, "Jungle" Dissanayakes and Jesudasans who planned the Coup d' Etat against the Sirimavo Government), discussing the state of affairs in the country. They must have surely said that the country had gone to the "Yakkas ("Pei -or Iyakkar") and that something must be done. Fortunately, that attempt by the Fascist fringe of the anglicized Colombo hristians failed. That made the then government cut down the army and the police, placing the nation in a weakened position against the JVP- and LTTE- militant-youth uprisings which were in the offing.

Of course, Fonsekea's suggestion that the country belongs to the Sinhala majority, and the innuendo that the other communities live by the good grace of the Sinhalese, is offensive and politically incorrect. It is in the same league as the McCaine sound-bites calling Obama a Muslim or a terrorist.

Mr. Satchi Sithanandan, a very broad-minded and non-racist writer, has rightly expressed his indignation in an article in the Sri Lanka Guardian of October 3rd (Read ). However, I actually thank General Fonseka for his clear statement, and although I dislike it, I prefer it to the explicitly extreme-racist position of men like Sampanthan, Selvam, "London" Murugam, Gajendrakumar and other stooges of the LTTE who entered parliament by the force of the gun. These men represent the voice and violence of Prabhakaran's outfit. They belong in Jail, and not in parliament. They represent a mono-ethnic racist concept which actually
excludes the Muslims, the hill-country Tamils (who do not live in the "traditional home-lands"). Fonseka's comments pale into insignificance in the face of the LTTE-TNA racist concept which excludes Sinhalese who are but kith and kin of the Tamils from time immemorial. The Sinhalese,
and the Tamils have lived in every part of Sri Lanka from time immemorial, and not in some "traditional homelands", as attested by the place names in Jaffna and else where, often having a Sinhala-based etymology, as pointed out by Rasanayagam, Velupillai and others.

Even the Eastern Tamils were disenchanted with the nature of the Jaffna-centered racism of the LTTE. Hence Fonseka's statement is actually far more mild than the exclusive "Afrikaanar racism" of the Thimpu Tamils.

This brings us to the concept of the "Tamil Nation", most recently discussed by the historian-sociologist Michael Roberts in an article in "Lanka dissent", 7th October (Read ). Roberts asserts: "Thus, from this point onwards, in contrast to the 16th-18th centuries, the concept 'nation' was usually distinct from 'tribe', with the latter downgraded to 'primitive' status.

Hereafter, the privileged, prestigious concept of 'nation' implied a claim for political rights. Thus understood, a nation was, first and foremost, a state of mind. Following Seton-Watson, but modifying him ever so slightly, one could say that Nation XY exists when an articulate and powerful section of XY 'note, a majority is not a requisite' says that XY is a nation."

Roberts continues to argue that there really are four claims for "nationhood" within Sri Lanka (thus weakening the strength of each claim). He as a historian could go back and point out that in the mid 1930s, there were the "Kandyans" who also had a strong sense of a separate nation, and a historical claim based on the Kandyan treaty with the English. Governor Manning had encouraged the division among the Sinhalese, and engineered the Colombo-seat debacle for
Ponnambalam Arunachalam precisely to create, at that time, a low-country Sinhala Nationalism, a Kandyan Nationalism, and a Tamil Nationalism which regarded the Kandyans as their friends (c.f., Panabokke and Sri Pathmanathan as quoted in writings by Vythilingam and Natesan). D. S.
Senanayake's trans-ethnic philosophy, and marriages between low-country and Kandyan
sinhalese leaders were enough to do away with the aspirations of the "Kandyan Nation".

In Robert's short article he cannot take the time to distinguish between the Muslim Nationalism (which accepts some form of the Fonseka doctrine), and Tamil nationalism. "Muslim Nationalism" has always been strongly tainted by political opportunism, and not separatism. It has, very justly, asked for the right to participate in the talks between the SL government and the LTTE (but Norway followed the LTTE demands and rejected the Muslims). Thus Muslim nationalism has to be distinguished from Tamil minoritarian nationalism which asked for a separate state outside the control of the Sinhalese. Roberts emphasizes that the concept of the "Tamil nation" is a state of the mind. It is indeed a state of the mind of many upper-class Tamils who are prominent in Colombo, London, Toronto and other capitals of western nations. The poor Tamil thinks more about jobs, dowry for the daughters, education of the kids, and a safe, healthy life free of oppression. The "geographic and historical justification" for this concept of the "Tamil Nation" is based on exclusive (and hence false) claims to land, as very well documented by Roberts himself in his well-known article on Tamil Nationalism that appeared in the Journal of South Asian Studies. In that article he brings to task the false claims of Chelvanayagam, A. J. Wilson, Chandrakanthan (the Toronto cleric) and others. These are the Thimpu Tamils. And yet, even if the basis of the Thimpu belief set is a myth, if a strong and powerful group believes in their minds that they are a "Tamil nation", SO BE IT, says our historian. Politically and historically, this is very true, and Roberts is right.

If you are powerful enough, and single-minded enough, that is all you need to achieve a political reality. Prabhakaran realized this too. In the 1930s, Hitler was powerful enough, and single-minded enough to make vast claims for the German Nationalist cause, and he had the quasi-unanimous support of the German speaking people inside and outside Germany. Nazi Intellectuals wrote articles and held meetings to explain the Nazi ideology. However, public consensus given to an immoral, racist idea remains immoral, repugnant and undemocratic.
I hold that even though the Tamil people voted in 1977 in support of the Vaddukkodei resolution as presented to them by the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front), it was a racist, divisive, myopic policy which was blatantly immoral. It forgot that vast sections of Tamils were discriminated, not by the Sinhalese, but by the upper class Tamils to such an extent that they could not even draw water from a well unless one had the birth right of the correct "VARNA". This persisted well beyond the time of the Vaddukkodei resolution. The latter excluded the up-country Tamils who are NOT part of the "homelands", and Mr. Thondaman Sr. rightly rejected it. It assumed that the Tamils can have exclusive enclaves in the North and the East, and also be part of the multi-ethnic life in Wellawatte and Kotahena with impunity.

The vote of 1977 was an abberation of democracy born from the strife caused by duplicity-motivated Sathyagrahas and counter-riots by communal goons of the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Such an abberation must necessarily swing in the opposite direction, and this happened with the pendulum swinging to reject the Colombo leadership by abject assassination. If G. G. Ponnambalam, the father of Tamil racism had lived a little longer, he too, like Bandaranaike his Sinhala counterpart, may have been a victim of the same pendulum swing that killed the Amirhalingams, and enthroned the fascist face of Tamil Nationalism. It is remarkable that Ponnambalam's son Kumar, and grandson Gajendra had to meekly conform to this fascism, with Kumar Ponnambalam having to face the ultimate indignity of even becoming a "Maveerar" Knight of Prabhakaran the assassin.

The "Tamil Nation", i.e., the mental state of some upper-crust Colombo and Diaspora Tamils that Roberts talks of is a form of Schizophrenia a delusional mental illness. Such a mental illness plagued even the highly intellectual zeit-geist of the Hitler era. Ponnambalam, who visited the Nazi Germany twice, and Bandaranaike, both admired Hitler in the 1930s. At that time, the full horrors were not known to most people.

Bandaranaike was admiringly called a pocket-Hitler by a Sinhala nationalist writer of that era. The writings of the German-Swedish theologian Peter Shalk on Tamil Nationalism, goes to the extent of eulogizing the blood cult, cyanide symbolism and child soldiers of Prabhakaran. These are symptoms of this insanity in the mind of the "Tamil nation" that Roberts speaks of (see my article in the Sri Lanka Guardian,)

Thus the first limitation in Robert's essay is his not examining the possibility of "a political mind set" being "a group mental illness". It may of course be that he he did not have the space to discuss these dimensions of the problem. There are, however, several important dimensions that he has ignored. He has ignored the fact that there is already a very vibrant and genuine "Tamil Nation". Notwithstanding, the Thimpu Tamils want their own Tamil Nation! The real Tamil Nation is centered in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and plays out its saga in the Tamil language itself. The concerns of the Thimpu Tamils who speak and write in English, support the LTTE, collect funds for the LTTE, and organize seminars and even academic gatherings in the name of the "Tamil Nation", form a negligible and unimportant fringe of the cultural and political life of the True Nation of Tamils, based on Tamil Nadu. The LTTE at one stage, and even now, does play a disruptive role in the politics of Tamil nadu. The true "Tamil Nation" will be called, just for this discussion "Thamil-(Nadu)-Nation". The concept of "nation", sometimes translated as "cankam, jaathi", etc, is not usd in Hindu society where a person's "Varna (caste)" is unfortunately the determinative factor. The "Tamil-Nadu nation" also made some false starts of separatism, but rapidly realized that a divisive battle with the center of power in India would only end in a Pyhrric victory or deadly defeat.

The Tamil-Nadu Nation felt secure in their power. In contrast, the aggressive politics of the Thimpu Tamils arose from the insecurity of a small anglicized quasi-Tamil power group. Their actions usurped the whole Tamil community and inexorably drove the Tamils to the present predicament.

The "Tamil Nation" concept elaborated at Vaddukkodei was already dead, and and replaced by the "Fascist Nation" of Parbabakaran. That too has has been replaced and split into a more realistic regrouping of Tamils. Such a splitting is needed for all the different forces to find their own respective equilibria, and break away from the caste, creed and regional factors that have kept everything frozen in a medieval mould. The new jostling of parts constitute the Eastern Tamils, the Up-country Tamils, the Tamils living in the "south", and the Vanni Tamils who are as yet under the jack boot. Roberts dismisses the "district councils" devolution proposal of the SLFP as a "pus vedilla" (and why does Roberts NOT respect Tamil-Nation sentiments by using the Tamil colloquialism as well? - he is, spontaneously practicing the Fonseka doctrine and addressing the Thimpu Tamils who are more at home in Urban-Sinhala !!). If the "pus-vedilla (Kalla vedi)" had actually been implemented, an even greater degree of freedom for Tamil grass-roots issues would have emerged. The local control of caste-ridden villages will be in the hands of the villagers, and not in the hands of some high-caste Panjandrum of a provincial government or a regional government. Thus the preferred unit of devolution is indeed the "district council". Dudley Senanayake, the most honest politician of our times understood this very well.

However, Mahinda Rajapaksa's wish to be politically correct with the Indians, and his limitations as the head of a minority government have more to do with the 13th amendment than with Sinhala Chauvinism. I sincerely hope that the president, when he gets a stronger mandate, would review the more attractive grass-roots possibilities of devolution at the district council level, to fire a "Nalla Vedi", while eliminating the stupid provincial councils. This would also enable the Muslims, the Mukkuvars, the Javanese etc., and other micro-communities to come to their own.

The opening of this structure within the Tamils is the most welcome thing that has happened in Sri Lankan politics. It made the dumb dialogue of the diaspora, parroting Prabhakan, totally irrelavant. The calls for "talks with the LTTE", still echoed by friends of the LTTE, are those of dumb people left behind by the currents of history (e.g, the diehard-Marxists). Or they are deeply drunk with the Killinochchi wines of Bishop Rohan Chikera - another mind set associated with the insensitive, international NGO set. This is remnicent of P. G. Woodhouse who talked of importing wine from the Nazis, to improve German-English relations during the great war. Bishop Chikera never known for sagacity or sensitivity, wanted to use Prabhakaran's
tainted wine even in sacred ritual!

The political reality is that Karuna and Pillaiyan have joined Douglas Devananda, Anandasnagaree, Thondaman, and other tamil-speaking parliamentarians. There are others like Mano Ganesan who are participating in national politics and avoiding the purely "Tamil Nation" approach to politics. This has already enabled a dialogue between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Of course, Anandasnagaree, an old TULF man and a thorough gentleman of great courage still hangs onto vestiges of the Vaddukkodei doctrine, and inconsistently, Indian models as well. Karuna is at another azimuth, morally and otherwise low in comparison to Ananadasangaree. But he has chosen the democratic path, with a point of view based on his own experience. Thondaman Jr. brings another very important dimension, and I only hope that he would be able to follow in the steps of his famous father, the greatest leader of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Thus different points of view co-exist, for the moment, under the "Mandala" of Mahinda Rajapaksa, a concept alluded to by Roberts. Here we have a tapestry far richer than the "Tamil Nation" of the Thimpu Tamils, portending a totally different future.

Thus the "citadel" and the "bunker" that Roberts talks of is based on the sentiments that Roberts has garnered from Thimpu Tamils and the academic meetings in Toronto and elsewhere, sponsored by the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. He should break away from this narrow, close circuit and go to political meetings in the Tamil-Nadu-nation in Chennai. I am told that Chelvanayagam's son is actually doing valuable service to the poorer expatriate Tamils there. Roberts should listen to the discourses delivered or written in Tamil, avoid the nonsense written by Jehan Perera and the likes, and contrast them with what is written in "Sudar Oli" or other LTTE organs which are expressing the outdated, un-representative views distilled from
the insanity of the TNA, the Gajendarkumars and Sampanthans. He should visit the political meetings in the Eastern Province and talk with the Tamils there, as the Sinhala-speaking Tri-shaw driver in Colombo is hardly the litmus test in understanding the changing frontier of politics in Sri Lanka today.

The fractured polity of four nations, and the "citadel" and "bunker" that our historian Roberts talks of are already becoming nothing but politically irrelavant history. The "bunker" will be destroyed, and the citadel is really a "Mandala" which nourishes the rich tapestry of a happier future.
- Sri Lanka Guardian