Tamils: Where to begin?

By S. Sivathasan

That a victorious war will ‘rejuvenate’ is the most common delusion of political senility" –– Peter Drucker

War and peace

(March 31, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A no-war situation can yield dividends to the vanquished is another illusion. Veering from the thought that post-war developments have a dynamic of their own, it is necessary to map out a clear pathway.The compulsions are more for those who have experienced devastation most. Once Nehru was asked how many problems he had. His answer was 400 million. This was India’s population at that time. If a Tamil is asked, how many points of view there are among Sri Lankan Tamils, the answer would be 2.5 million. This is the only viewpoint in which all Tamils concur. It is in our DNA.

Unity around Ideas

There is no need for stereotyped thinking across the whole range of human activity. Nor is there anything mystical or compulsive about it. Differential thought processes do not denote something either erratic or futile. But, when they remain so in perpetuity, splintering a community down the line, nothing concrete can come about. A future of promise demands unification around a corpus of ideas. Tamils at the present juncture cannot work out a cohesive body of thought across the entire spectrum as demanded by the needs of the North East. The most compulsive segment requires isolation for priority consideration. When it’s prime relevance is agreed upon, all thought and energy should be devoted to it’s realization. Economic regeneration for forward social and political movement appears axiomatic. For a people prostrated by war to be resuscitated in peace, the imperatives have to be critically examined.

Fresh opportunity

An immediate happening will be the forthcoming elections. The political entity to be seated in power on April 9 will seek to parley with the rightful representatives of the Tamils. Conversely, the formation of the Tamils, if formidable in numbers, cohesive and pragmatic in it’s thinking and is strengthened by a clear mandate, will thrust itself as the legitimate spokesperson of the Tamils. A monolithic entity alone can command the force and the verve to steer its course single mindedly. Insignificant cabals, inchoate in thought and devoid of leadership, representing a splintered ethnic minority can make nonsense of the parleying process. The Tamils have had an immediate precedent of voting 22 members as a single formation. The occasion exists now to make it even larger. A prospect that any Government would wish to have is a credible formation to negotiate with. It is within the capacity of the Tamils to provide that opportunity to the Government. What a Government in the flush of victory would most desire is the resolution of a seemingly intractable ethnic problem, shift it out of the way and make a beginning in reweaving the political fabric.

Economic initiatives

Even as the political issues are placed on the pad for resolution, immediate concerns of a disintegrated social group has to be addressed. Nourishment for the famished, an assured source of food for the impoverished, housing for the de-housed, and basic wherewithal to create means of employment are among the indispensables. The representatives of the Tamils with a clear perception that the Government alone is capable of delivering the above, should chart their course accordingly. Knowing clearly that foreign aid is needed as a long and sustained programme for this purpose, the Tamil leadership should hark back to the Tokyo Pledge of 2003, enliven it and take off from where it was left. Over $ 4 billion remains yet untouched. The Needs Assessment Study done ahead of the pledge, has estimates worked out against each project for a total of 18 sectors. It is ready at hand for a renewal of the pledge and consequential action, though reviews are needed regarding conceptual parameters and implementation strategies. Tamils and their leadership have to be fully aware that the war has consigned the North and East a few decades behind the rest of Sri Lanka. A redoubled effort for the next decade is the prime imperative for all segments of the country to be on par. It is towards this end that the fullest negotiating capability of the Tamil leadership has to be directed.

As seen earlier, the leadership with strength in numbers, clarity of purpose, unity of command and fortified by a strong mandate should pursue the negotiations to its logical end. The economic imperatives and political issues are not mutually exclusive. They are absolutely inseparable. The economic needs are of immediate relevance while the political issues to be taken up coterminously would demand protracted negotiations. Addressing the economic concerns is indispensable for the people to have the inclination and the mental stamina to participate in the political process.

An aspiration

The inescapable need for unity is a wish widely held by the Tamils. To some it is the coming together of disparate coteries, though having no clear views or principles. To the percipient what would matter is unification around principles, policies and programmes. They opt for a leadership long in the fray, mature in experience and worthy of their trust.

Such a formation has been in the forefront as the parliamentary leadership and is coming forward in it’s task of continuation. One has reason to suppose that its credentials are as worthy as those of it’s leader.


About unity in ideas, two historical parallels though seemingly inapt may be cited. The unification of Germany in 1871 is traced to the crushing and humiliating defeat of Germany by Napoleon around 1810. ‘Addresses to the German Nation’, a series of patriotic invocations by Fichte, Professor of Philosophy, galvanized a proud people by rubbing home the need for unity and the value of unification. To the Tamils, the scale of the blow in 2009 is not dissimilar. It should push them to the threshold of an agonizing reappraisal of past thinking and action. A community with a clearly identifiable ethnic identity should construct an acceptable and practical consensus around which all Tamils can coalesce.

A second parallel is the Meiji Restoration of 1868 in Japan. It was thereafter that the writ of the Meiji Dynasty was able to reach the extremities of the country. This was a principal feature of the restoration. The two happenings in Germany and Japan though in the 19th century and despite being separated by half a century, had one thing in common.

The historic changes in both countries ignited a great deal of critical thinking, leading to momentous developments. The comparison stops with the compulsive need for fresh thinking. To the Tamils, the point is urged that their unity should crystallize around certain core ideas.

Unified action

A similar happening has taken place in Sri Lanka and a bridge non-existent for 25 years is now in place, in that the writ runs without interdiction. In addition, there is a further development. Now the thought processes of the Tamils while percolating to all segments of the country, also reach several parts of the globe. In such a context should emerge a corpus of ideas both cogent and cohesive. The community comprises two-thirds locally domiciled and one-third composing the diaspora. Down to earth interaction between the two entities, would result in eschewing contradictory positions or postures. First things first, with a sense of the possible appears a way to move forward.

Around this understanding may be constructed a workable course of action that is purposive.