By Ravi Kumar -
Tamil weekly Oru Paper interviewed Ravi Kumar, a senior leader attached to British Tamils Forum. Ravi Kumar, who has been in Tamil Politics for over 30 years, is currently the coordinator of British Tamil Forum. He was in the LTTE negotiation team which had several rounds of Talks with Chandrika’s government in 1994. Following are the excerpts of a telephone interview with Ravi.
Oru Paper: Your recent conference which was held in the British parliamentary complex was attended by some leading figures in the Tamil Polity, both in our homeland and abroad. However, there were mixed reactions about the conference from the diaspora. Are you satisfied with the outcome of the conference and the progress on the follow ups?
Ravi: It has been organised on a timely manner as part of our strategic initiative. We want to be proactive on pushing the struggle forward rather than reactive. Since May 2009 BTF’s human rights team in partnership with other country organisations has made significant inroads globally and in UNHRC Geneva. We understand that there will be a review process in the 22nd session of UNHRC which will give us an opportunity to expose further the Genocidal Sri Lankan state. We want to win friends for our struggle all around the world and elevate our just cause into the important global institutions. We have special relationship with Tamils in Tamil Nadu and other countries. A united call by the global Tamils through various responsible organisations representing 75 million Tamils would help to refocus our call for Justice.
Tamil Diaspora Organisations and Tamil political parties in Tamil Nadu and Island of Sri Lanka converged in London unanimously evolved a resolution based on a unique concept and agreed to work progressively towards the implementation of the resolution. Even after the conference, there are many organisations endorsing it. So far not a single responsible Tamil organisation spoke against it. At the initial stages some individuals tried to derail the process, but they realised the importance of such resolution in the aftermath of the conference. This is the very first time since May 2009 we brought all the Tamil diaspora organisations and most of the Tamil Political parties in Tamil Nadu and Tamil Eelam on a united platform.
We are putting lot of resources and time to follow up the resolution especially in Tamil Nadu because India is going to play a vital part in the forthcoming UNHRC session and in future. Tamil Nadu is an important partner to knock the doors of other states of India. We can see very interesting developments in India. We are hopeful that our call for Justice will open the doors of many powerful institutions and individuals there.
Oru Paper: Is the BTF still a member organisation of Global Tamil Forum?
Ravi: Yes and we were always supportive of their projects implemented in consultation and agreement with BTF.
BTF is one of the founder member organisations of GTF. We see GTF as an important globally recognised institution representing the Diaspora and it should continue to play a vital role taking our struggle forward with the support of the grassroots organisations including BTF and others around the world. We should not deviate from the founding principles of this global institution. Individuals may change but this institution will continue to serve the people until we have the freedom and justice that our people deserve.
We feel that GTF could be reformed to be much more open and accommodating the views of country organisations.
Oru Paper: If you are still a member organisation, does BTF participate in GTF’s decision making process?
Ravi: Unfortunately the answer is “NO”. To answer this question it is important to go back to post Mullivaikkal period and recollect our memories so that how the need of a global Tamil institution gave birth to the formation of GTF and started spearheading our struggle in an atmosphere of defeatism. In fact, those who participated in the World Tamil conference held in London in March 2009 organised by BTF started the initiative after May 2009. In 2009 BTF as one of the largest Diaspora organisation was instrumental in bringing 14 country organisations together to form GTF. In the formation stage, the spirit binding many grassroots organisations together was overwhelming. GTF, according to the vision of the founding member country organisations and constitution is not a top down organisation. It doesn’t have an executive Presidency or any other office bearer to make his/her own decision. Each member organisation need to provide a Director representing the country organisation’s view in the GTF Board which will run the day to day business. Country Director has to consult with his organisation before giving his consent to any major decision or project.
This is not the case since 2010 onwards. We sincerely tried to resolve this matter within the GTF board without being outspoken or hindering their on-going initiatives. We are still trying to engage with existing country organisations in GTF, not just for BTF but to bring the original founder member organisations back in GTF. We believe in democratic principles and transparency. We very clearly understand the difficulties in decision making on diplomatic issues while upholding democratic values and transparency. This shouldn’t be a stifling issue for the accommodation of number of country organisations in the GTF umbrella. We want an inclusive GTF and operate in a more democratic manner. While saying that we’ll continue to work towards the unity of the Tamil diaspora.
Oru Paper: In an interview to Oru Paper, Suren Surendiran, your representative to the Global Tamil Forum has mentioned about coming to consensus amongst Tamils and Tamil speaking people through their political and non-political representatives in the Island and in the diaspora. In this context, we understand that GTF is going ahead with announcing a ‘Common Declaration’ next month. Assuming that you are aware about this move, can we ask you to tell our readers about this declaration?
Ravi: We want to clarify the matter of BTF representation to GTF at this point. BTF is a democratic body and its National Assembly members are elected by the people from every local forum. Assembly elects the executive committee and other representatives. Two of our senior members namely Raj Vakesan and Nad Mylvaganam were unanimously elected by the assembly to represent BTF at the GTF board, but the present board has failed to accommodate them. Any formal communication between BTF and GTF has to go through this arrangement.
BTF has not been officially approached by GTF Board of directors or any individual appointed on behalf of them to consult and agree on such consensus based declaration.
Oru Paper: Do you feel that it is fair to come up with a joint declaration involving Tamil political parties in the homeland, who are subject to all sorts of harassments from the oppressive regime, for expressing their views openly?
Ravi: We in the past and present always are supportive and accommodative to the objectives and projects of many diaspora initiatives of various organisations as long as they help to advance the struggle. We will always be honest and accountable to the people waging the struggle. We as BTF cannot comment on this as we are not included in this process.
Oru Paper: In the aftermath of Mullivaikal catastrophe, every Tamil group has beeni talking about democracy? As one of the grassroots organisations in the diaspora, does the BTF practice democratic principles? We are asking this because we see only a few leaders are taking serious decisions on behalf of the entire diaspora.
Ravi: I think I’ve explained how BTF operates and where it derives its mandate in one of your previous question.
It is on record that BTF is the very first organisation since May 2009, made a bold decision to restructure its decision making process by seeking democratic representations from local forums. We believe in the novel concept of “Participatory Democracy” which encourages our people not just to elect their representatives but to get involve in decision making process as well. It is a well structured democratic process. Decision making starts from the local forum representatives to National assembly members. Because this model impressed the European Tamil activists, they adopted a similar model and evolved their own constitutions to elect their representatives. Being the pioneers of institutionalising Democracy in Diaspora organisations we will work hard to impress GTF Board to move on this direction. We believe in democracy and collective decision making process. This will ensure to avoid any single point of failure.
Oru Paper: Although GTF is not implicitly spelling out the idea of a regime change; it appears that it is leaning towards forging alliances with pro west parties, such as TNA and UNP. Do you subscribe to the view that a regime change in the Island of Sri Lanka will be beneficial to the Tamils in meeting their political aspirations?
Ravi: We firmly believe that there is genocide going on in the Island of Srilanka against Tamil nation regardless of any regime. We’ve seen the history repeated since 1948. Beyond that the state and non-state institutions have become the vehicles of state genocide. When there is a need for a complete restructuring of the state and its institutions to bring real peace, true democracy and stability, we always have the question of how a regime change alone will help to bring peace and prosperity in the Island.
Our oppressed nation has always been cheated and humiliated by all the past and present regimes. We have the firm believe that we need to work with all people revolting against this tyrannical regime. Realising the importance of the civil society in the island of Sri Lanka, we advocated the dialogue with various civil society organisations to make them to understand our long standing grievances. Whoever competes to overthrow the Rajapaksa regime and replace themselves have to convince our oppressed nation what is their solution to the burning ethnic question and we expect them to have the courage to articulate now to their constituents before they approach us to form a grand coalition.