Walking the Extra Mile, the Other Half

By N Sathiya Moorthy

(June 02, Chennai, Sri Lnaka Guardian) It is heartening to note that the Tamil Nationalist Alliance (TNA) has proposed to join the electoral process in the North, starting with the local government poll for the municipal council in Jaffna and the pradesiya sabha in Vavuniya. Taken to its logial conclusion, the TNA’s decision would contribute to the strengthening of the democratic process, stifled as it was by the LTTE, and also reflect the strengthening and broadening voice of the Tamil people, which again had been strangulated for long.

Today, with the exit of the LTTE and the acknowledged death of Prabhakaran, Tamil political parties have both an additional opportunity and extra responsibility to their people. The LTTE is not around to forcibly and violently claim to be the ‘sole representative’ of the Tamil-speaking people on the island. Nor is the LTTE around, to be able to pass verdicts on who is a ‘good Tamil’ and who is not – or, what is good for the Tamil and what is not. That should be the starting-point.

It was the narrowest of views to conclude that all those who do not acknowledge a particular line or accept a certain leader did not have the larger Tamil interests in mind. If someone thought that working with the Government of the day would help the Tamil community, however limited it be in the early stages, he should have been encouraged to try out his hand, for whatever it was worth. That was not the case with the LTTE. That cannot be the case, post-LTTE.

After all, the TNA too is an Alliance of different parties with different priorities and prescribing different methodologies. It was the commonality of the goal that brought them together. Others outside the perimeter are no less Tamil, or no less concerned about the larger Tamil aspirations and goals. Their methods may have been more different from that the TNA could accept for the constituent parties.

Different circumstances however demand different perceptions and approaches. Dogmatic leaderships had not helped dynamic societies to move forward. They have stifled growth and prosperity. With guns in their hands, the LTTE proved to be the most dogmatic of political leaderships that any society could have had. They engineered events and circumstances, manipulated people and nations to suit and justify the dogma. If their dogma grew out of a certain ground reality, after a time they lost touch with the emerging ground realities – of which they were the prime movers. That was what contributed chiefly to the war defeat.

It is true that the Tamil Diaspora is strongly and emotionally involved with the ethnic crisis in the country. They were/are all products of the same, one way or the other. By raising their voices and contributing variously to the cause from wherever they are, members of the Diaspora community are seeking to undo the inequities that they too had suffered from.

Yet, it is their mobility and prosperity that the Diaspora should be able to translate to Tamil community in ways that they with their suffering brethren well. It is this mobility and stability of the Diaspora that provide an additional proof that the Sri Lankan Tamil society is after all dynamic – and not dogmatic. The Tamil leadership back home should understand the dynamics of this change-over, move with the times and help the native Tamil community to find their post-LTTE identity in a globalised society.

This is true of all sections of the Tamil polity in the country. As an alliance with the largest chunk of 22 Tamil members in the 225-member national Parliament, their role, reach – and responsibilities – are comparable to those of any other. Minus the LTTE, the TNA needs to move forward with what should amount to ‘constructive suggestions’ for the Colombo Government to act upon. Thus far, theirs have mostly been not-so-constructive criticism, often reflecting the known political position of the LTTE on different issues and developments.

It is unfortunate that someone in the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa should have thought it fit to deny the TNA a chance to meet with the visiting UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. But it should have also been their endeavour to suggest to the UN chief, the facilities and rights that the IDPs need in this hour of reconstruction, without stopping with criticism of the kind that had made them unpalatable company for the Government and pro-Government elements, independent of their party loyalties.

These elements in turn should also give the TNA and such other segments of the Tamil-speaking polity time and space to adjust to the emerging realities, for which they were ill-prepared, however long the notice was. The tone and tenor of the TNA criticism apart, they need to acknowledge the truth, if any, in the statements made by the Alliance leader. They should thus initiate the steps to rectify the wrongs cited. The role of the Government in such rectification process should form a part of the reconstruction and rehabilitation process and psyche.

After all, post-LTTE, all such suggestions of the TNA or the Tamil Diaspora, or any others speaking for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka are only on refugee relief and reconstruction, restoration and rehabilitation. Looked at broadly, proposals for a political solution also forms part of these suggestions – and should be considered as such. With the LTTE gone, no one is proposing war or is practising violence.

In the changed circumstances and evolving environment, there should be political space for all such suggestions to be aired – and considered without past prejudices. Just because the TNA had identified with the LTTE up to a point, that should not make its suggestions and recommendations less credible and/or less meaningful. They deserve to be weighed on merit and acted upon, through a process of reconciliation and consensus.

It does not end there. The Tamil polity has to readjust to the circumstances that they are now in – and give a collective thought to their collective concerns and aspirations, and come up with collective suggestions that the Sinhala majority could consider collectively, too. Having been pushed into an extreme position of militarization of the Tamil cause with terrorist intent and content, they will now have to retrace their steps to the original moderate path.

The TNA might find it difficult to acknowledge de-merger of the North and the East as it stands. Time was when the Alliance could have contested the Eastern Province elections with de-merger as the sole plank. They could have also resigned en masse after winning the elections – if that is what the results would have been -- if only to underscore their known position on merger, de-merger and re-merger. Having failed to do that, the Alliance should now look at the new reality. That reality is not confined to the exit of the LTTE but also to the existence of an Eastern Provincial Council with a Tamil Chief Minister. This is what the Tamil community had wanted, all along. If independent of re-merger, the Tamil people of Sri Lanka could get equality and equity in all spheres of political and societal activity starting now with development it should be a starting-point. The TNA need not have to stall the post-LTTE political processes by making re-merger a condition precedent, all over again. . It is one thing for the TNA partners to argue their case from the past and leave it behind for the future. It is another, for them to work with the rest of the Tamil polity and the Sri Lankan Government, to arrive at an acceptable solution to the developmental problems and political issues facing the larger Tamil population. Together, all these parties need to remember, now and ever, that they are the voices of the Tamil people, but do not substitute the latter, as the LTTE sought to do – and failed.

There is life beyond the LTTE and might be the polity, too, as far as the larger Tamil population is concerned. It is true of the TNA, non-TNA Tamil parties in the country, including Muslim and Upcountry Tamil outfits. In the past, the Tamils in the North and the East, West and the Central Provinces did not require Tamil parties of any kind to represent them. Nor did they show any extra preferences for them, after a point. There were thus times when the Tamils were satisfied with the good work done by successive Governments in Colombo, so much so they had no problem voting for Sinhala-majority parties in their own strongholds in the North and the East. That was so even after pan-Tamil political sentiments had begun gripping the Tamil community and regions, post-Vadukkottai, too. It was Tamil militancy that upstaged them all, and the LTTE from among the militant groups, upstaged the rest of them as well.

The Tamil polity can still become the unifying force. Leave alone the distant days of the Ceylon Tamil Congress and the Federal Party, even the TNA, as is known, is a conglomeration of four different parties with differing ideologies and methodologies that the LTTE’s gun brought under a single umbrella.

The less said about the rest, the better. Suffice is to point that the inability of the Eastern Tamils to work together with their Northern brethren within what founder Prabhakaran had designed as a monolith organisation was a major contributing factor for the military defeat of the LTTE. Yet, the breakaway Karuna faction could not stay together – and splintered even before it had stabilised as the ruling TMVP in the East. Today, the party founder is a part of the ruling, Sinhala-majority SLFP at the Centre, and is a Minister. Eastern Chief Minister Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan has gained political legitimacy in his right.

Post-poll, the Eastern Province has a Tamil as Chief Minister though it is the Tamil-speaking Muslims who have a majority even within the ruling combine. If the Tamils are not united, to fight for their collective cause and be heard, neither the Sri Lankan State, nor the Sinhala polity can be blamed for it. It was so in the past, it should not be the case in the future, too. There are many Tamil leaders who had contested and won competitive elections in circumstances that were more constructive than those that the 22 TNA members of Parliament faced while seeking a mandate. None thus can claim to be the sole or even the majority representative of the Tamil-speaking people, as included in them are the Muslims, whose voice the LTTE stifled more than once with little or no protest from the rest.

For the Tamil voices to be heard and acted upon, they all need to sink their differences and sing together. The initiative for this cannot rest in the Sri Lankan State. Where it had attempted in whatever limited way, the initiative had been in the eye of suspicion. Post-LTTE at the very least, such an effort should emerge from among the Tamils. The Sinhala polity and the Sri Lankan State can facilitate such a reconciliation process. Where there is a will, there is a way, yes. But where there has to be a way, there has to be will, to begin with.

Merger and re-merger, Police powers and Fiscal stability for the Provinces are all about having the collective Tamil voices heard and acted upon. How will it become less legitimate if for instance the Tamils have two or even three Chief Ministers, instead of one, which alone an isolated ‘merger’ distracting from the cause of the Upcountry Tamils, would entail? Some are achieved through constitutional process, and others could be thrown up by the electoral process. At the end of the day, there are, for instance, 45-plus Tamil-speaking MPs in a 225-seat national Parliament In neighbouring India, which has more political parties than Sri Lanka can ever imagine, H D Deve Gowda with the support of 42 members in a 542-member Lower House of Parliament could become Prime Minister. So could I K Gujral, whose lone backer was his very self. It was not just about numbers in their case. It was more about the circumstances, and the way the available numbers helped to arrive at a consensus.

The Tamil polity in Sri Lanka has a lot to learn from across the Palk Strait. The democratisation and mainstreaming of the ruling DMK in southern Tamil Nadu, is only one of them. The DMK, as may be recalled, was an avowed ‘separatist party’ until 1962. It shook that tag, if only to become more acceptable to more voters in the State. Five years down the line, the party came to power through democratic elections. For over four decades now, the DMK has remained the fulcrum of the democratic politics in the State, what with the major contestants for the crown also sporting its ‘Dravidian’ tag. Together and separately, they all have also contributed in no small measure to political stability and integration at the national-level, too.
-Sri Lanka Guardian