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Two Lankan Tamils - Two Perspectives ( 2)

| by Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan

(September 22, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I am obliged to my friend Dr. Rajasingham Narendran for his dignified and early response in this debate.

No one has a total monopoly in pronouncing what is best for the Tamil people in the Island . The catholicity of views in the subject made available so far in the public domain is surely a healthy feature – and we need more.
I chose the above title as opposed to RN’s because we are discussing the subject without reference to the central players in the struggle – the powerful Buddhist clergy, now openly politicised – whose extra-eccelesiastical role in the 1950s went out to divide the nation along racial lines.

The Tamil Question has grown far too big to be trickeled down.with a Cement or Chemical factory that GGP was able to establish in the 50-60s. In today’s divisive political culture even this would have been well nigh impossible.
“Federalism to an Independent Tamil Eelam” did not follow in immediate sequence in terms of months and years. Tamil leaders of the 1950s were satisfied the umbilical cord was ruptured to the extent the warmth that existed till then was sacrificed at the altar of Sinhala Only. The Tamil leadership, therefore, demanded to rule their areas (within an undidived country) Since this was obstinately denied continously - with violence unleashed on Tamil civilians and theirproperties being used in the interim, they reluctanly were pushed into separation. That was, please note, after nearly a quarter century of failed negotiations and broken promises.

The “legitimacy of the desire of the Sinhalese people to play a greater role in the newly Independent nation” was never questioned and cannot be because they are 3/4th of the population. What is questioned is that Tamils were thrown out of the most effective instrument of political power – the Cabinet of Ministers – from 1956 to 1965 (both by Mr and Mrs B) The message clearly was “you simply don’t belong in this country”
I am reminded here of a chat with Dr Colvin R. de Silva who quipped “just because the Sinhalese form 7/10th of the population, surely that does not mean a Sinhala man is entitled to 7 plates of rice to the Tamil's single” SWRDs gang of communalists were far too drenched in racial hatred to consider a Tamil – even a Junior Minister (?) – in the Sinhala Cabinet - the only exception being Posts Minister Marikkar - "Sinhala Marikkar" that is..

I hold no brief for the TNA or the TULF. In fact, other than a passing and casual relationship, I hardly have a personal connection with the major TNA leaders. RN is perfectly right past leaders of the community have made monumental errors. The most significant of which is their failure to hold back the restless young in the 1960s although there were umpteen reasons for Tamil disenchantment. The young had to meet a series of sudden shocking warped legislation – Standardisation and many other that impacted on their future in what should have been their smooth career prospects. Doubtless, the Sinhala Only environment was debilitating. But wiser counsel among the initiated Tamil elderly should have prevailed. The role of the Catholic and Christian churches around that time in the 1960s (Take-over of Schools) that faced similar turmoil is a good example of meeting the oncoming storm calmly. The sober and wise religious leadership of the Catholics/Christians took over and succeed in preventing a calamitous future to their flock. The absence of such a balanced and enlightened leadership, I venture to state, in those difficult years among the chief reasons that caused the destruction of the proud Tamil community in the island. Senior Tamils of the day should have taken into account the Sinhalese were regaining the right of governance after 400 years of injustice and subjugation. The pent up feelings and energy was likely to throw up many imponderables - anti-Tamil legislation, at the height of euphoria, being one such. A more sober and wiser approach should have been to appeal for calm and patience until the pendulum swings back.

It did - within 3 years when SWRD himself was shot to death by the very forces that propelled him to power.

It is a matter of shared agony in the community many of these mislead youth even today languish.in prison, refugee camps in as far away places as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oceania - as well as in Europe and North America. This was not caused by Sinhala action but by our own. The late Thondaman whom I knew and worked with closely – whom RN refers to in admiration - prevented such a calamitous future befalling “his people” This visionary leader felt that the extreme path of a Separate State is one that should have been considered if and when all other options are examined and exhausted. History proved the CWC supremo was right. The Quality of Life of his people - from the levels of serfdom - has substantially gained a higher point in consequence.

What the Tamils need today is an effective political body to articulate their interests loud, clear and effectively. Pitted against a regime that gives tuppence to law, justice, reason nor public opinion the need of the hour is a voice that has the support of the vast majority of the Tamil people in the pre-dominantly Tamil areas in the Island . Results in several recent popular elections have shown – despite their being held in conditions far from perfect and not free of intimidatory tactics, TNA has earned the right to wear this mantle. This is a clear vindication the Tamil voter, given the free choice, always choses peaceful political alternatives.

It is difficult for me to share your view “TNA has played a negative role in the post-war recovery process” It is for the good work they have done post-May 2009 that India, EU and the US encourage the TNA in various ways to cooperate with GoSL to arrive at an early workable solution. The series of GoSL-TNA talks is the finest testimony to this. If at all these discussions have so far not produced sufficient results the reason is simply because the government is playing Ducks and Drakes - and is very slow in providing relief to the Tamil people. Whatever movement forward that has been achieved so far - such as doing away with Emergency Regulations - has only been due to the intervention of friendly countries. To say “they have failed to capitalize on the goodwill of the prevailing among the Sinhala people” – please forgive me, is yet another erroneous conclusion. The most touching remark that came out of the mind of a major Tamil leader is when Sampanthan, in a well publicized interview - declared “I have the greatest affection and respect to the Sinhala farmer and villager” This was, I understand, carried widely in the Sinhala media and the Sinhala masses surely did not fail to note the consequence of this olive branch. I agree with RN the TNA of today has some “excess baggage” of the past in its ranks. I expect they will slowly go into oblivion. Equally, there are signs of new blood being brought in. Some of them excellent young men such as lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran - enjoy the confidence of the Tamil people. The other side also finds their future and political fortunes in no danger if the Tamils speak in different and disunited voices, which is exactly why they back the violence prone Devanandas, debaucherous Karunas and ill-educated Pillaiyans to the hilt ignoring their truancies and anti-people activities.

As to RN’s valid query why the TNA/TULF “did not distance themselves from the LTTE” the answer has to be by the time the Tigers imposed their intolerant, fascistic rule - killing everyone around who did not follow their line. TULF’s MP brilliant Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, a national intellectual asset, would not have been killed so brutally if there was this alleged nexus between the LTTE and the TULF – often parroted by the Sinhala supremacists. The highly politically developed and cultured German Nation was to go through such a dark period when the Nazis destroyed democracy and its institutions in pre-WW2 Germany . Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea in the mid-1970s is a further and more extreme example where diabolic sources took over the political order where dissent was met with brutal death.

In fairness to the TNA one must accept they have not claimed to be the sole representatives of the Tamil people. RN’s position “their decision to support Sarath Fonseka at the last presidential election was a tactical error, based on a wrong reading of political realities” needs to be addressed. Many will argue this is not so. While it is known TNA took a considered position to back Gen. Sarath Fonseka – whose record of having heaped scorn on the Tamils and harmed them physically through the army he lead was a matter that engaged the ire of the community – the fact is, as Fonseka still claims in Cours - with many agreeing, he polled more votes than Rajapakse in a rigged election that declared Rajapakse the winner. Fonseka – the native son - supposed to have lost Ambalangoda even today has many disagreeing. The TNA, therefore, remains vindicated here.

Answering that question what has the TNA/TULF done for the Tamil people the answer has to be unequivocally in the affirmative. The increasing votes polled in their favour by a Tamil population rising from the ashes is the best example. As to material terms, what can they do when the purse strings are with a Government that plays games in their own Southern electorate in the matter of allocations – even in the areas where MPs are from the government. Resource allocation to the Tamil areas is often is an ugly quid pro quo where the TNA is at a disadvantage. Even Devananda, Karuna and Pillaiyan ("I do not have the power even to appoin a peon") get only crumbs from the table if they toe the State line – a terrible weakness in the system that needs to be set right soon. Today it is almost like an entire electorate is punished if their MP is not with the government is a feature that is lamented nationally.

RN, it seems to me, argues well in support of his lack of confidence in the TNA when he states “We can live with the present dispensation for some more time until this happens. I find the present dispensation much more acceptable than the alternative in the form of the TNA and its allies”. I believe such an outcome to win the confidence of the larger number of Tamil people should be one in that they are able to see and feel tangible progress and all round development around them. After nearly 30 months of coming out of the war and the infusion of large amount of donor capital the State has very little to lay a valid claim to have helped the Tamil people. There has been much rhetoric but very little work. Even that small matter of that swimming pool at Jaffna Central College – opened with much fanfare by the Princeling with the Governor and just about every VIP in the District in attendance - is seen as a symbol of the perfidy of what goes as the “Govt’s sincere intentions” In the circumstances, the final arbiter of the issue will b- the Tamil people.

While there may be some room for RN to argue “the attempt to involve India was a mistake” the reality may be we were caught in a time warp in the 1960s when many countries in Afroc-Asia were breaking away from the yoke of colonialism and were regaining their earlier sovreignity. In India the Madras State was rocked by the Congress-DMK divide heightening language-based politics bordering on the State breaking away from the Union and when the vast majority of the Buddhist Sinhalese united under to SWRD’s brand of narrow Nationalism, the insecure Tamils with a perceived sense of injustice looked upon their cousins across the Straits for protection and solace (the first pogrom had occurred in 1958 with signs of more and worse to follow) against a force that virtually identified them as “the other” “the alien” and in many other negative forms. JRJ came along in 1977 and, through placing all his eggs in the US basket -wrongly calculated this will enable him to make Sri Lanka another Singapore . He probably wanted to show the Indians he can do better than them in matters of running a country. The infighting within his Cabinet – consisting of established anti-Indian Ministers, resulted in a scorned Indira Gandhi having her own set of thoughts. As Thonda told me “it required a foreign army to come and awaken our Sinhala leadership to wisdom both in the Language parity issue and that of the question of Statelessness. Much lives, blood and resources would have been saved if the Sinhala political leadership acted rationally on both issues – and much earlier”

The Tamil Question has grown far too big to be trickeled down.with a Cement or Chemical factory that GGP was able to establish in the 50-60s. In today’s divisive political culture even this would have been well nigh impossible. This is, perhaps, a good forum to enquire from the regime as to how far the much heralded indusrialisaion of the East (with several Garment and other factories said to be about to take off) and, indeed the North, is going on. A list of industries that are on stream will go far to assuage Tamil confidence and feelings.

I am entirely with you in that we must leave much of the past behind us in that great words of wisdom “if you open the wounds of the past you are likely to lose the present and the future” At the same time, as T.S. Elliot would say “Time present and time past are both present in time future”.Clearly, there is no difference between you and I with regard to the present and future inter-action between the Sinhalese and the Tamil-speaking people.. To use a Gandhian phrase “the Devas have decreed that both the Sinhala and Tamil people are fated to live together” That we do so as brothers and sisters moving forward in peace, unity and towards prosperity is the challenge before all of us. It is upto the Rajapakse Brothers to show the way.

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