If the Current situation continues, there is a danger that Sri Lankan Tamils will become a group of people that the world does not pay attention to and Tamil politicians will become a group of people who make impractical political slogans and only crow within the confines of the peninsula.


Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

Fifteen years have passed since the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, which lasted for about 30 years. None of the main political problems have been resolved. The country is not progressing economically either. Instead, we saw that all the problems worsened and the country reached a state of chaos and bankruptcy.

A large part of the southern Sinhalese polity does not seem to think that there is a pressing need to find a negotiated political solution to the national ethnic problem that has torn the country apart. In these 15 years, the country has not moved an inch towards finding a political compromise that would fulfil the legitimate political aspirations of the minority communities.

Even the implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A), which has been a part of the Constitution for more than three decades, has finally become impossible. In no other country in the world do we see political forces taking to the streets to protest against the implementation of a constitutional provision.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who never failed to claim credit for providing what he called courageous political leadership to defeat the Tamil Tigers militarily in war, had the rare historical opportunity to find a political solution to the ethnic problem with the support of the Sinhalese people 15 years ago.

However, he deliberately ignored that opportunity and pursued more aggressive ethnic majoritarian politics with the dream of ruling Sri Lanka for a long period. He liberally used the war victory to divert the attention of the Sinhalese people from the main issues affecting them. That regressive strategy helped him and his family to stay in power for a few more years but did nothing good for the Sinhalese people.

It did not take long for the truth to be exposed that the ethnic majoritarian mobilisation was essentially a cover-up for misrule and corruption. However, the south still does not seem to have learnt a proper lesson from it.

It is very unfortunate that even after Sri Lanka’s unprecedented popular uprising ousted the Rajapaksas from power two years ago, they are still able to run the Government from behind the scenes and are able to claim that the candidate who gets their support and blessings will be the next president.

Only a national election can tell if the popular uprising and the subsequent political developments have brought about any positive change in the political thinking of the people of the south of Sri Lanka.

Doubtful political commitment

Meanwhile, the prospective main candidates will focus on the economic crisis at the Presidential Election, which is still four months away. It is unlikely that they will be concerned about the need to find a political solution to the national problem.
Addressing the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) May Day rally in Colombo, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said his future government would find solutions to the problems of the minority communities with the support of the Sinhalese people and implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. However, it remains to be seen whether he will mention it in his election manifesto.

As for President Ranil Wickremesinghe, although he has the image of being the only Sinhalese leader minority communities in general and Tamils in particular can approach to find a solution to their problems, he is unlikely to show the courage to adopt any approach that could alienate the Sinhalese nationalist electorate.

National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake had recently said in a speech in Jaffna that he would not negotiate to get votes from the Tamils by promising 13A plus or a federal solution. He promised to create a Sri Lankan identity that embraces all communities.

In one of his recent articles, political analyst Rajan Philips said that there was already some identity on everyone’s National Identity Card and passport. He added that Dissanayake was neither here nor there and asked whether he was suggesting anything more.

It is almost certain that none of the main candidates will make any promises that the Sinhalese people do not want in order to win the votes of minority communities. At the same time, it cannot be expected that any candidate will emphasise on the need to find a political solution forcefully in their campaign among the Sinhalese people.

In this background, not only the political problems of the Tamil people but also their humanitarian problems have intensified over the last 15 years. The Tamil people are unable to protect their lands from invasions carried out with the support of security forces and hardline Sinhalese nationalist political forces. They even have to fight to remember the war dead.

Blocking such commemorative events using security forces and Police is a cruel form of racism. This time a strange approach can be seen in the actions of the Police. The Police did not interfere with the commemorations in the north but only prevented them in the east. One could not understand the logic behind it.

Fragmented Tamil polity

At the same time, a major problem facing the Tamil people is the absence of a cohesive polity to properly guide them in the post-war period. Tamil people have Members of Parliament (MPs), but there are no prudent political leaders to draw lessons from past tragedies and guide them in a manner suitable to contemporary domestic and international political situations.

After the end of the war, the historic responsibility of leading the Tamil people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces automatically fell to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The leaders of the TNA failed to handle it properly and re-establish a strong polity among the Tamil people. They merely acted in the interest of party politics and did not care to build the TNA into a united political force capable of taking the Tamil people’s struggle for political rights to the next stage post-war. They do not possess the political wisdom or commitment to do so.

As a result, today the Tamil polity is fragmented. All parties are divided in one way or another. Where is the time for the Tamil politicians to care about resolving the problems of the Tamil people when they are incapable of resolving their own disputes?
While the Sinhalese polity, despite the various contradictions within it, mostly has a unified stand on what not to give to the Tamils, the Tamil parties are unable to reach a consensus to demand what the Tamil people need from the Government.

While the southern Lankan parties are not interested in finding a political solution to the national problem, we see a worrisome situation where there is no unity among the Tamil political forces. Although Tamil parties have been holding consultations on the idea of fielding a Tamil common candidate at the Presidential Election, it is difficult to expect them to come to an agreement. It is doubtful whether any dignified non-political personality would come forward as a common candidate when looking at the ridiculous comments made by the leaders of some Tamil parties.

Be that as it may, we now see an intensification of impractical political activities that bind the Tamil people to the memories of past struggles. The Tamil people have every right to remember and honour those who sacrificed their lives in the struggles to win the political rights of their people and the innocent people who were unjustly killed in the war. However, it is very important to understand that there is no point in simply living with memories without introspection as to why those struggles, full of unimaginable sacrifices, ultimately came to a tragic end.

A twofold trend

This being the case, two new unhealthy trends are seriously infiltrating Tamil nationalist politics. One of them is religious extremism. Tamil nationalist politics has been secular since its inception. It embraced all sects among the Tamil-speaking community.

The late S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, affectionately called ‘Thanthai Chelva’ and respected as the leader of the Tamils for decades, was not a Hindu. But there was a time when all sections of the Tamil-speaking community, including the Muslims, irrespective of their religious identities, accepted his leadership. It was also the most significant salutary feature of Tamil nationalist politics.
In recent times, attempts are being made to identify Tamil politics with Hinduism.

Some people are also demanding that only a Hindu should be fielded as a common candidate on behalf of the Tamils at the Presidential Election. Not only that, the idea of putting one of the Hindu gurus who are actively involved in political activities as the common candidate was also proposed. There is no doubt that these efforts are influenced by the Hindutva policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India.

Another trend is the increased influence of extremist elements within the diaspora Tamil community in Sri Lankan Tamil politics. There was a long period when the diaspora community made a tremendous contribution to the political rights and struggle of the Tamils. The diaspora Tamil community made an enormous contribution in bringing the Government’s oppression of the Tamil people to the attention of the international community.

However, in the period after the end of the war, certain elements among the diaspora Tamils have tended to exercise undue influence in Tamil politics. Due to this, corrupt activities have increased in Tamil politics like never before. They believe that the direction of Sri Lankan Tamil politics can be decided by the money sent from abroad.

Those living in a safe environment abroad and talking about impractical policies can never decide what kind of political solution the Tamils living in the country need. Unhealthy interventions by political groups in the diaspora community also encourage antisocial activities in Tamil areas.
Today’s Sri Lankan Tamil community does not have any of the characteristics of a community that has gone through a three-decade liberation struggle full of unimaginable sacrifices.

Therefore, if this situation continues, there is a danger that Sri Lankan Tamils will become a group of people that the world does not pay attention to and Tamil politicians will become a group of people who make impractical political slogans and only crow within the confines of the peninsula.

Courtesy:Sunday Morning