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Four historic conjunctures where Tamil thinking tumbled in to "Tappitam"- I

“A small minority attempting to confront a majority population outside parliament, by street struggle, is deliberately planning to expose its people to civil violence.”

By Gam Vaesiya, Ontario, Canada

(May 29, Ontario, Sri Lnaka Guardian) The military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the eradication of its top leaders by May 19th, 2009 marks the end of one historic process and the beginning of another. Given the globalization of the Tamil Diaspora, this historic conjuncture has been associated with unprecedented agitation in the major capitals of the world (Sri Lanka Guardian, 3-May, ).Unfortunately, the Tamils squandered an excellent opportunity to take the high moral road, to regain their lost reputation, and win the accord of India or even Tamil Nadu.

The spontaneous reaction of the Diaspora Tamils to the hostage-taking of a whole population by the retreating LTTE was hijacked by the LTTE lobby. The latter sought to convert the call
of the Diaspora into a condemnation of the government and a means to rescue the LTTE.

However, as a correspondent in the "Washington Post" stated, the Rajapaksa administration "wisely resisted this pressure" to the very end. Although some of the publicity seeking vote conscious politicians in Canada, Britain and France attempted to ride the crest of the LTTE demonstrations, the hard-headed defense establishments shared a view closer to the comments of the Washington Post. On the other hand, the NGOs and the Human Rights organizations took a very strong position against the Sri Lankan government, especially because their own relevance and ability to function had been halted by a regime suspicious of these NGOs. Tamil protesters, waving flags having two guns, bullets and a roaring Tiger, were totally unable to harvest the moral fervor of the Human Rights lobby.

So much energy, so much effort, organization, money and lives dedicated to an objective. And yet, all in vain.

Tamils, misled by small but powerful controlling groups have been in such situations for at least a century. It is instructive to see how there were four similar historic conjunctures when the
controlling Tamils made the wrong decision and "took the Tamils into Tappittam". One of the earliest tappittams was when the Tamil leaders decided to oppose the Donoughmore commission.

The next historic conjuncture was the D. S. Senanayake period where the Tamils failed to consolidate themselves beyond Senanayake, and allowed Chelvanayakam to forge on the fire of Sinhala Nationalism. The third historic failure was the Vadukkoddei (Batakotte) resolution where the high moral road was forsaken and the call for separation by force if necessary was enshrined. The fourth conjuncture is the end of the Eelam IV war and the termination of the LTTE. Even now, there is still a chance for the Tamils as well as the Sinhalese to take the high moral road. The Diaspora Tamils, living in luxury and away from the turmoil, have the capacity to take up such a position. But the Mafia-like strength of the LTTE among the expatriates has so far prevented this.

The Donoughmore Debacle

The recommendations of the Donoughmore Commission, 1931, were opposed by the Tamils on two fronts. The conservative, caste ridden, powerful Cinnamon gardens (Kurunduvatta) Tamils, led by Ponnambalam Ramanathan opposed the Donoughmore commission because it proposed Universal Suffrage. The progressives, lead by the Jaffna Youth League called for complete Swaraj and led the "Jaffna Boycott". The Cinnamon Gardens Tamils (CGT) enjoyed the favour of the British. Their dominant position was also linked to their elite caste affiliation. Thus they were not ready to face a parliamentary system which rejected race and caste divisions,

This opposition of the Cinnamon Gardens Tamils to Universal Suffrage translated into Ponnamblam's anti-Sinhala and anti-Mahavamsa campaigns, ably documented by the British historian Jane Russell. It was not D. S. Senanayake, but the legislators of the state council led by the Colombo Tamils and some of the Kandyans who got Governor Stanley to scuttle the Donoughmore citizenship to the Tamil estate workers. In effect, Colombo Tamils, English educated and westernized, and yet caste-ridden and authoritarian, acted to guard its self-interest, and totally failed in its moral duty to the Nation and community.

The fault of the Jaffna Youth League (JYL) was totally the opposite. It got carried away in its idealism and on its rhetoric of Swaraj. It wanted to copy-cat the nihilist heroism of the Indian struggle. Thus it ended up in a counter-productive boycott of the Donoughmore recommendations. The JYL was pro-Sinhala. 

It recognized that the Sinhalese were like them, under the British. JYL was fired by the highest ideals of individual equality and a strong sense of anti-imperialism. It demanded "Swaraj Now", and uncompromisingly rejected the Donoughmore commission as being far too short of what they wanted. In the end, the well heeled Cinnamon gardens Tamils won the day and the Pan-Nationalist high-minded JYL lost. The caste sentiment of the Cinnamon gardens Tamils translated into a racist form of Tamil nationalism in Ponnambalam.

The D. S. Senanayake conjuncture

D. S,. Senanayake (DSS) very adroitly allowed Ponnambalam to vent his anger and accusations against the Sinhalese in front of Soulbury, and prevented any acrimonious rebuttals by young Turks like S. W. R. D. Banadaranaike (SWRD). Already, Ponnambalam claimed that the colonial government and the State Council had "discriminated against the Tamils" in colonization, jobs, health, education", and alleged "support of Buddhism", and proposed reserving half the legislature for the Tamils who were, however, about 1/5 the number of Sinhalese. Senanayake, together with a number of "moderates", pushed the "Ceylonese" point of view which was the logical continuation of the Donoughmore and Soulbury approach to Ceylonese politics. The latter was itself largely the result of the adroit politics of Senanayake and his associates who approached the problem in a non-confrontational manner, as opposed to the Marxists, and communal agitators like Ponnambalam.

In the acceptance speech to the State Council in 1946, DSS stated:
" ... through out this period the Ministers had in view one objective only, the attainment of maximum freedom. Accusations of Sinhalese domination have been bandied about. We can afford to ignore them for it must be plain to every one that what we sought was not Sinhalese domination, but Ceylonese domination. We devised a scheme that gave heavy weightage to the minorities; we deliberately protected them against discriminatory legislation. We vested important powers in the Governor -General... We decided upon an Independent Public Service Commission so as to give assurance that there should be no communalism in the Public Service.(sic) I do not normally speak as a Sinhalese, and I do not think that the Leader of this Council ought to think of himself as a Sinhalese representative, but for once I should like to speak as a Sinhalese and assert with all the force at my command that the interests of one community are the interests of all. We are one of another, what ever race or creed."

And yet, a significant part of the Tamil congress were not satisfied with Ponnambalam's call for ""responsive cooperation with the Sinhalese leaders". Before long Ponnambalam was labeled
a "traitor" by Chelvanayagam who proposed the creation of an independent Tamil State (Arasu), in founding the Ilankai Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) in 1949. As many of the urban Tamils could not accept his call for "driving out the Sinhalese and other invaders from the Tamil homelands", the English name selected for the ITAK was the "Federal party".

The cry of "traitor" hurled by Chelvanayagam against Ponnambalam, was destined to be a harbinger of the more violent methods of the TULF and the LTTE in dealing with dissent.

Could Federalism have succeeded? Indeed, it could have succeeded if it had been led by the sort of idealistic, morally conscious men like the leaders of the Jaffna Boycott of the 1930s. A
sinhala-friendly Tamil party, holding meetings in the South and in the Kandyan region, and explaining how federalism could have worked, may have captured a resonance with the political set up of the time. Such a party would not have opposed the SWRD program. Instead, it could have, like the Tamil-speaking Muslim leaders, cooperated with the Sinhala nationalists. SWRD was not a racist, and while he fought for Sinhala rights and opposed Ponnambalam, readily acknowledged the rights of Tamils in all his speeches in the State Council (see Jane Russell's book, "Communal Politics in the Donoughmore era"). Thus, a Tamil nationalist party that could cooperate with Banadaranaike would have won the rights of the Tamils and preserved the mercantile and professional advantages that the Tamil community possessed in abundance at the time.

Unfortunately, the Tamil nationalist movement was NOT lead by men vested with the Jaffna-Youth-league attitudes. Instead Chelavanayagam and the ITAK began a series of extra-parliamentary demonstrations, tar-brushing Sinhala signs, issuing Eelam postage stamps, and attempting to demobilize the civil administration in the East and the North, even after the Banda-Chelva pact. The first militant group, "Pulip Padai", which attempted to arm itself was launched by the ITAK in 1962, in front of the Kooneswaram temple in Trincomalee.

A small minority attempting to confront a majority population outside parliament, by street struggle, is deliberately planning to expose its people to civil violence. The ITAK looked upon all such incidents as a welcome catalyst for ethnic polarization.

Thus we see that the tactics used by the LTTE later on, where the civil population was put into jeopardy in return for propaganda gains, were already a part of the ITAK methodology. The ITAK was, both by name and by intent, a racist party with objectives similar to the apartheid concepts of the Afrikaaner administration. That such a basically confrontational, exclusively racist politics could be launched indicates the moral decline that plagued the leadership of the Tamils, firmly in the hands of a self-centered Colombo elite group.

(To be continue)
-Sri Lanka Guardian


rangarajan said...

This time Gam Vaesiya writes a 'cool' report unlike the previous one about legends. Yet in my view I think if the Tamils in the north joined hands with LSSP since its popularity among the southern Tamils and Sinhalese at that time the situation would have been different today. But you cannot rewrite history or make speculations such as *IF*. Nevertheless we can learn from it and forge a new future for us we, Srilankans. Let there be 'samathanaya' among all groups in Sri Lanka.

Deva said...

The Tamils in India were wise enough to realise that a future in harmony with the majority communities would give them more in life than isolating themselves like the Ceylon Tamils did. The Ceylon Tamils were totally caste ridden, and the fact that they had got rich and comforttable by being sycophants of the British shut their eyes to their long term existence. We do hope that even now the Tamils of Sri lanka will realise that their future lies with intellectual discourse with the the Sinhalese and the MUslims, and not by resort to arms and violence.

bodhi said...

The Tamil nationalist struggle became a racist struggle trying to create "exclusive Tamil homelands". This country is for every one to live equally, and there should be no "exclusive Tamil regions". When Tamil extremists talk of "discrimination", they are covering up their main political program. This article has shown the immoral hypocracy of the Tamil racist program

nadesan said...

The Tamils as well as the Sinhalese have to take the high moral road, rejecting violence and extremism. This article has looked at the problem of Tamil politics. But needless to say, there is a similar discourse regarding Sinhalese politics which this writer has only touched in passing, but not adequately.

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