Colombo Telegraph

British Tamil Forum Whistling In The Dark

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

13A or the Right to Self-Determination?

Although Tamils in Lanka pretty clearly know what they want, and more important, what they don’t want (Colombo hegemony and the military jackboot), many but not all in the diaspora still live in the BP-era (before Prabaharan, or pre-May 2009). Some call for secession (Thamil Eelam); they ask that Tamils be allowed to exercise the right to self-determination and explicitly call on the people to opt for secession. Of course this is theoretical because I cannot see in-country Tamils demanding a referendum in the foreseeable future, or a Sinhalese government (ever) holding one. Millennial terms like “ever” are faulty; but I think you get my drift.

I don’t take these people seriously in political work because in-country Tamils ignore them; it would be appropriate to call them cloud cuckoo land Eelamists. The funny thing is that only the JHU, BSS and Gota pretend to take them seriously because it is a peg on which to hang anti-13A, anti-Tamil postures with fairy tales of separatists crouching behind every palmyra tree. The nursery tale would be amusing if the said palmyras were in London and Toronto!

There is another tendency in the diaspora, a fairly influential one, which expressly roots for self-determination, but does not explicitly call for Eelam; the British Tamil Forum or BTF (not to be confused with the Global Tamil Forum or GTF about whom I wrote in this column on 24 February and 17 March). I am not such a suckling babe to be unaware that many in the BTF prefer secession, but it does not nail that demand to its masthead. The BTF’s position seems to be that Tamils must be consulted on whether they wish to secede, but will bow before a free and fair referendum. Anyone who grants that the Tamil people are a nation (I cannot here discuss what nation means in a globalised world) cannot theoretically disagree in the abstract. However, I have a different problem with the BTF; at this time it is baying at the moon, chasing rainbows and separating itself from the real struggle on the ground. It is cockeyed in aligning de facto with JHU, Rajapakse and Wimal Weerwansa, in attacking and demeaning the Thirteenth Amendment at this moment. It resides not inBritain but on the planet Mars.

What the BTF says

To be perfectly fair I quote at length from the BTF statement of 16 June.

QUOTE: The 13th  Amendment has several flaws: executive power will be exercised by a Provincial Governor appointed by the President; public services in the province will be controlled by the Governor; the President has the power to dissolve the Provincial Council; the Governor is not duty bound to the advice or instructions of the Chief Minister; the executive power of the Governor is subject to the control of the President; the Provincial Council cannot access the Provincial Fund without the sanction of the Governor; power over the police and public order is retained by the President; and the Disposition of State Land is also in the hands of the President; among many others.

In contrast (to the chauvinists), certain external actors (presumably BTF is even more scornful of internal actors!) who aspire to play the role of ‘saviour’ in the Tamil-Sinhalese political arena are pushing for implementation of the 13th Amendment in its entirety, in the pretext of rescuing the Tamils inSri Lanka. On these grounds, the British Tamils Forum stands in solidarity with our people in our Tamil Homeland and state that any political initiatives grounded in the 13th Amendment cannot be feasible and will not create an enduring peace inSri Lanka.

The British Tamils Forum insists that any political solution to the Tamil National Question has to be conducted through an internationally mediated referendum – only this can lay the foundation for a lasting peace and satisfy the socio-political and economic aspirations of the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka”: END QUOTE. (My comments are italicised).

The opening paragraph is faultless but the next two are wrong. What contempt for those outside the august body of know-all Tamils, such as foreign governments, progressives, and parties in the South, who stand against Rajapakse-JHU-Weerawansa’s machinations to reset political balances prior to the NPC elections! What is the inner thesis encapsulated in BTF’s ill thought out statement? Reflection exposes its impact, if any and I hope none, on struggles in streets and parliaments in Lanka; lovely ladies and brave gentlemen warming their arses in armchairs in London are not exposed to any of this reality.

(a) Message 1: Don’t worry about the power struggle between chauvinists and those, however imperfect, compared to the aforesaid lily livered ladies and gentlemen, on the ground. We on the ground know that victory for the chauvinists will be no pyrrhic victory; it will tilt the balance against minorities and erode democracy further. The BTF cares for none of this.

(b) Message 2: Rajapakse’s motive in undermining the truncated residual powers of 13A prior to the NPC elections is not significant, thinks BTF. He is getting into this fight since the cricket matches are washed out and he has nothing to do in the evenings! That an anti-Rajapakse NPC will factor in curtailing his monopoly of state power does not figure in BTF thinking.

(c) Message 3:  Yesterday was Midsummer Night, so it’s time for Madness. In BTF’s apparition the pertinent issue is to demand a referendum on secession, oblivious to the plain fact that it does not flicker in local Tamil radar screens. Mobilising to counter the chauvinist and religious extremist menace is irrelevant, in BTF’s grand scheme of things. On midsummer night, shoot at the moon with a catapult, never mind impending peril on terra firma.

(d) Message 4: Don’t get into real world battles; leave that to others so BTF skulls won’t get cracked. Where was BTF when hundreds of leftists, democrats and progressives died withstanding the storm unleashed by JVP extremists when 13A was enacted? Why did Sinhala chauvinism unleash it? Unlike dim-witted Prabaharan and the LTTE, chauvinists knew what they loathed – concessions to Tamils. How does the BTF evaluate past endorsement of LTTE folly and the latter’s paradoxical, murderous yet suicidal, rejection of compromise with India, Chandrika, the West and every Sinhalese?

Gathering storm

I spent all the last weekend at a study camp for trade union leaders and young people, about 40 in all, that Mahinda Ratnayake, Sumanasiri Liyanage and I organised on the national question and how to stem the racist rot in trade unions. Participants said the camp good, but that’s not or me to judge as co-organiser. What is relevant to this piece is that an afternoon was devoted to energetic and astute discussion of the most urgent issue of the moment – NPC elections, attacks on 13A, crisis in government, extremist monks and Muslims, polarisation in UNP and JVP, and related issues.

Unsurprisingly for participants at this level (that is with plenty of political experience and a grasp of the significance of the deadly struggle now in progress) the conclusion was that defeating Rajapakse’s new strategy is crucial. What will defeating the regime look like? Forcing it to hold NPC polls, preventing repeal 13A, and pushing back 13A changes to nil, or to minimal cosmetic provisions that Rajapakse grudgingly settles for to save face and appease the JHU. Can all this be achieved; well there were a range of assessments but on one thing there was absolute resolve. It is of the utmost importance to mobilise politically and in the trade union movement to take on and push back the monster. People with their feet planted the ground and a perception of the needs the times and the BTF do not live on the same planet.

In closing I must say that the fight is not an easy one. The government is throwing ample resources into the campaign. Is the budgetary allocation for Wimal’s Ministry earmarked for public purposes or is it a grant of tens of millions for an anti-13A, anti-NPC dirt campaign? If an auditor gets down to the job he will soon conclude the latter. The Sinhala electronic and print media is saturated with a hate campaign with the same objective. Still, it is possible to force a setback on the regime and its chauvinist allies if the unity of liberal democrats (including about 30 government parliamentary group MPs and some SLFP Ministers), progressives and leftists holds, and if international support remains steadfast. In counting up 30 I have in mind Rajitha Senaratne and a determined group around him, the SLMC, five LSSP-CP-DLF members mobilised through a charge led by DEW in Cabinet, and Thonda’s people. It’s doable, but no thanks to the BTF.

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