By N. Sathiya Moorthy
That TNA leader R. Sampanthan made clear the TNA MP Sritharan’s glorification of the LTTE and Prabhakaran in Parliament was not in tune with the party line has to be taken at face-value.
It cannot, however, stop the possible resurrection of the LTTE’s ghost in the post-CHOGM permissiveness than any time in the post-war past.
A hard-liner who did not always see eye-to-eye with the moderate TNA leadership, Sritharan’s parliamentary speech coincided with Prabhakaran’s anniversary – on the eve of the LTTE’s annual ‘Heroes’ Day’ observances. Ruling SLFP and Opposition UNP MPs were united, for once in a long time, in condemning it. Going by media reports, they allowed him to complete his prepared speech.
“It is not the party-line,” Sampanthan said on Sritharan referring to Prabkhakaran as a “freedom-fighter who died a hero’s death on behalf of the Tamil people”. As Sampanthan recalled, Sritharan “did not campaign in the elections on those lines. It is not the party line. We would not have permitted it.”
According to Sampanthan, the TNA’s position has been clearly spelt out in the party’s election. Translated, it referred to full power-devolution for the Tamils in a re-unified North-East, under a ‘united Sri Lanka’. Well said, yes. Yet, a prudent leadership would have discouraged Sritharan from speaking on a day when, as Sampanthan said, the MP may have made an ‘emotional statement’.
Sritharan was not alone, however. TNA’s Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran, a moderate to boot, took to tree-planting in the Education Ministry premises, coinciding with the LTTE’s ‘Heroes’ Day’. The coincidence was even more striking as ‘Tamil nationalist’ groups supportive of the LTTE’s cause remembered the day through tree-planting ceremonies across the Province. They chose private properties after the Government and the armed forces reportedly prevented public functions in public places.
Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Wigneswaran cautioned that any attempt to stifle ‘Tamil sentiments’ through the armed forces or violence would have ‘very serious consequences’. Independent of his action and the occasion, which Wigneswaran could have and should have avoided, particularly after the party’s line was known, at least a part of his observations merit serious attention.
In the day’s prior to the pro-LTTE observances, there had been midnight attacks on the homes of some second-line TNA leaders and other ‘Tamil nationalists’. The homes of NPC Agriculture Minister P Aiyngaranesan and Council member Arnold too were not spared. As Chief Minister, Wigneswaran would have been concerned about the safety and security of his young ministerial colleague and also a council member, among others.
Wigneswaran would have been worried even more about what threatens to be a deteriorating law and order situation in the North. The Centre, the nation’s armed forces and the police cannot escape the responsibility, after refusing to part with ‘Police powers’ under the law to the elected provincial administration.
If push came to shove, it would be anybody’s guess as to who would take the blame – or who would blame the other.
Sri Lanka has seen enough and more of it in the past. It does not need more. It cannot afford more.
The TNA leadership in general, and Chief Minister Wigneswaran otherwise, cannot escape either the air of post-CHOGM permissiveness, or their share of responsibility. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Jaffna statements, and reports about his discussions with the Commonwealth host, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, did not leave anything to chance or imagination.
Nearer home, the TNA in particular, and the larger Tamil community otherwise, have to decide which way they would want to go on the ‘ethnic issue’. Their protestations to the contrary would soon become unconvincing, in the absence of protestations and professions to the contrary – and in public.
The Government, too, cannot stop with blaming the rest, both inside and outside the country, on what is otherwise threatening to take the nation on the ethnic downslide all over again. It has its job cut-out more than ever. The likes of British and Canadian Prime Ministers and their respective Governments are only sharpening the edges. They see the Colombo leadership as cutting corners.
For some, it is the ‘LTTE’s spirit’. For others, it is the ‘LTTE’s ghost’. Sri Lanka is slipping to the brink. No one wants to notice it. So, no one has acknowledged it. The West does not talk about a political solution. They are focussing almost exclusively on ‘war crimes’ and ‘human rights violations’. If taken to an illogical level, it can cut Sri Lanka either way – or in more ways. They need to look inwards for answers.
Until UNHRC Resolution-1, the TNA was talking only about a political solution, not ‘war crimes’. It was a Western interpolation that caught on with the Tamil Diaspora. The reverse was also true. Both have stopped mentioning a political solution.
The ‘Tamil nationalist’ Diaspora knows what it wants, and how to get it. The same cannot be said of the international community. Caught between the two, the TNA too is now talking almost exclusively about ‘HR violations’, military ‘occupation’ and ‘Sinhala colonisation’.
The Government has stopped talking seriously about a political solution or ‘de-militarisation’ of the North – or, at least, as seriously as it should have been. Government leaders, instead, are talking more along the lines of ‘People in glass houses throwing stones’. It is as true of Sri Lanka as it is of those who throw stones at it.
Sri Lanka still remains a frail and fragile glass house.
The Centre or the State, Sinhalese or Tamils, armed forces or political parties, cannot sit inside that glass house and throw stones at it! Worse still, you cannot supply stones to others, nor can you throw stones from their shoulders. Sri Lanka had done it in the past. It cannot afford it any further in the future.
(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi)