22 September, 2020

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Confusion In Tamil Politics Is Understandable

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Seven years have passed since the LTTE was wiped out but it has not been time enough for the Tamils to find their feet. Thirty years of civil war cast a pall; the LTTE conjured up phantasmagorical images of a leader and an imagined Eelam divorced from all reality; war-crimes seared people’s lives. The Jehan Pereras, bless their souls, who advocate reason and reconciliations are a minority in Sinhalese polity. To most Sinhalese: “The LTTE has been vanquished, the Tamils ground down to their senses, all is fine. Devolution after they lost the war! What planet do these liberals and leftists inhabit!”

In the context of defeat, Sinhala indifference and ineffective governance, it is understandable that the Tamil political universe is in turmoil. Therefore when I was invited by a Tamil diaspora group, which suggested the topics to explore, I engaged my knowledgeable political colleagues and comrades in an e-mail consultation. The concerns of the group as summarised in my e-mail were:

“What on earth is going on in Tamil politics at home; it seems to be a complete mess with everybody fighting everybody? Is the TNA telling the complete truth to the Tamils or is it hiding some things? What are Wigneswaran’s motives and strategies? Will anything come out of this hybrid mechanism? What is the government’s real game plan?”

The response was large, prompt and edifying. It alerted me to how complex the issue was and taught me to appreciate the difficulties Tamils face in coming to terms with their predicament. The right thing to do, for Tamils, is not cut and dry as it is in the south; it is clear-cut for us in the south who all along grasped the importance of defeating the Rajapaksa Mafia and now keeping it at bay. In the rest of this piece I have shamelessly plagiarised these responses but take responsibility for what I have selected.

Are NPC and CM playing politics with the people?

The Northern Provincial Council’s (NPC) performance has been disappointing from the start. Chief Miniter (CM) Wigneswaran and his ministers did not organise the NPC to optimise its functions within available constitutional spaces. It could have been armed with subsidiary legislation under existing powers and done a lot. Instead it gave vent more to political opinions and less to delivery of services. A trenchant critique of the NPC and CM has come from Maylvaganam Soorisegaram, an old Trotskyist who used to work with Upali Cooray. It was circulated by e-mail and uploaded on Colombo Telegraph.

Wigneswaran and SampanthanThe two key points in the critique are; (a) the CM/NPC is obstructionist, did not implement measures for which the Central Government made resources available, was insensitive to the hardships of the people and more concerned with political mileage than practicalities; (b) CM/NPC and their Thamil Makkal Peravai (TMP) are an ideological throw back to LTT-era Eelamist views, can lead the Tamils into another tragedy and should be defeated. Sooriyasegaram says:  “Separatist ideology and an attempt to return to the barren politics of the LTTE can be seen in every one of their actions”. Others communicating with me added “CM and NPC have not spent allocated funds and that is their fault. Why is CM not spearheading a massive development plan? Why not demand more and lead the way saying ‘To hell with the military?’ Isn’t this what we want for the development of the North?”

Examples adduced in support of (a) are: The minuscule number of statutes enacted (LSSP Majority Faction comrades have told me how much they assisted CM/NPC with translation of statutes which simply languished in a drawer); the Rs 25 billion offered by the Centre for a water supply scheme for Jaffna and Kilinochchi which allegedly was sabotaged by CM/NPC; obstruction of a scheme to sort out oil pollution in the vicinity of Chunnakam power station poisoning ground water, and much else. However these allegations were refuted by other correspondents. While Sooriyasegaram alleges the NPC refused to use available funds with the intention of obscuring links with the south, others assure me that 80 to 90% of the funds have been employed. Another correspondent made the point “I find it difficult to believe the charges. It is not possible that the four ministers in charge plus the entire TNA-sourced members of the NPC are engaged in a conspiracy without the public being aware”.

A truer picture on alleged obstructionism will emerge in the disputes that are sure to explode in the coming weeks, but I wish to insert a reminder of what I said at the start. Confusion and disarray in Tamil society is not easy to overcome in the context of physical trauma spread over decades and limping impotence in central governance now.

The TNA

The TNA is a collection of parties, an electoral alliance. Before the end of the war it included the ITAK, Tamil Congress (TC), LTTE supporters, TELO and EPLRF. TC and the LTTE supporters quit for the 2009 elections and EPLRF leader Suresh Premachandran lost in 2015, so now the TNA consists of the ITAK (the dominant partner), TELO and a new member PLOTE. It is not an integrated structured organism and has no forum to generate policy. Leader Sampanthan sets policy, Sumanthiran his loyal prodigy shares in decision making and engages with the international community, nominal ITAK leader Mavai Senadhiraja tags along. As there is no policy making forum in the TNA (oddly even the ITAK suffers from this deficiency) amorphousness becomes a breeding ground for intrigue and jealousies. Wigneswaran is the elected CM of the NPC but excluded from formal decision making. This is one reason he is assembling a group to challenge the way the TNA functions; the other reason is that he is more of a Tamil nationalist.

The TNA helped mobilise Tamil votes for MS and RW and gave its people hope that the new government would deliver on their concerns. The Global Tamil Forum campaigned for Sirisena in January and pulled Tamil votes for the UNF in August.  Now some Tamils say it is unfortunate the TNA, GTF, Sampanthan and Sumanthiran hitched their stars to this administration and if the regime fails in general or a flop on Tamil concerns, these two worthies will be in the front row facing an executioner’s firing squad. Opponents who lost elections have united in the hope of burying them. If RW/MS fail on governance they will be powerless to combat chauvinism and deliver even crumbs to Tamils, even if they wish to, which some unjustifiably doubt.

If this government flops Lanka will be pushed back several years while the plight of the Tamils will be nasty. If this government falls in the near future I am certain Lanka will face chaos and repression on all fronts. Our best bet is to graft balls and guts onto this government. A Tamil comrade and strong critic of the TNA says: “Despite contradictions we must recognise that for the first time since 1948 senior national leaders, President, PM, reconciliation chief Chandrika and Foreign Minister Mangala are calling in unison for a genuine political solution to the National Question. Significantly, they are in a position to mobilise two-thirds votes in Parliament, and a simple majority at a referendum. War defeated Tamils simply cannot afford to ignore this opportunity”.

The next phase

The TMP mushroomed in response to fear that the Sampanthan-Sumanthiran-Senathiraja leadership may be unable to deliver when a compromise is brokered in 2016, not forgetting US and Indian pressure. Successive betrayals by Sinhala governments (B-C Pact, Dudley-Chelva deal, emasculation of 13A) make this apprehension understandable and justifiable. I associate with numerous non-sectarian Tamil intellectuals and comrades who are keen on a sustainable political solution (not a fake like 13A minus) but for the aforesaid reasons are not prepared to condemn the TMV until the government shows its hand in draft constitutional proposals.

For good reason the Tamil struggle needs an independent voice and since the TNA is close to the regime there is a constructive role for the TMV to play. Tamils need an independent force critical yet supportive of the strategy of negotiation; this is where Wigneswaran can be a positive force without becoming a spoiler. Tamil leaders need to be less hostile to each other, appreciate the uncertainties of the current conjuncture and evolve a strategy. There is no alternative to a negotiated settlement that’s the bottom line; they need reliable negotiators and they need monitors to keep an eye on the negotiators; this is a complementary not an antagonistic relationship. The nature of state being drafted into the constitution is a guarded secret. Very likely it will be one unit (I hope they avoid the regressive word unitary) but regional power sharing will be affirmed; the devil will be in the details.

Realists knew all along that Lanka would not be referred to the International Criminal Court once the Rajapaksas were defeated. For the first time a country accepted a UN spearheaded probe with unanimous international support. The hybrid concept is born of the perversity and duplicity of the previous regime. No one trusts Lanka’s judiciary which for a decade stooged the President. It was in this context that Britain and Canada insisted on Commonwealth judges which Ranil accepted – he knows our judiciary well enough from the time his uncle manipulated it! The US opposed Commonwealth judges in Geneva but David Cameron’s insistence got it through. I am not able to fathom the American game plan. A friend remarked “I am worried that the Wigneswaran drama may be a US hatched plot that I don’t yet understand”. I am not alleging a US plot to strip the hybrid process of Commonwealth judges or that the US is in cahoots with the TMP – that is unbelievable – but I won’t cease to be alert.

In private conversations democratic minded government leaders insist they will not allow the investigation to become a charade and will not let the process be stripped of Commonwealth judges. I am satisfied that if the PM could have his way without fear of a racist backlash he would be of like mind; but I am not satisfied the PM is free of this fear. Months ago I advocated that the chauvinists be provoked on to the streets and then soundly thrashed, not by the state, but by mobilisation of political activists and civil society. It can still be done and after his new alignment with the trade unions the PM can appeal to the working class as well. If we confront it early we can defuse the Sinha-Le provocation, incited I have read, by Gota stooges. Confronting proto-fascism on the streets is only a starting point, the long-term depends on an island wide education and consciousness building programme on pluralist democracy starting with schools and the military. My frequent please in this respect have been ignored by everybody; state and civil society alike.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    1

    The Tamils need negotiators and monitors at this juncture. The TNA are best suited to be negotiators. Let us hope the TMP( erroneously referred to as TMV above) headed by CVW will genuinely become monitors and never ever be spoilers. That will be the best hope for the Tamils!
    The proposition in the last para is an excellent one. But, will it materialise? If it would, Sri Lanka will have a bright future!
    Sengodan. M

    • 6
      2

      There is no confusion in Tamil politics. Tamil politics is very simple and easily understandable. The Sinhalese politics make Tamil politics appear to be confused. Tamil politics is about:
      1. A complete package of Devolution of power to their traditional homeland North East where the majority of people living in the North East have the power to make decisions over their welfare without any hindrance from the centre. There should be a clear cut relationship and function between center and devolved assemblies.
      2.Justice for the crimes committed against Tamils.

      If there is a genuine understanding and commitment between TNA and the Center
      towards the above no one need to worry about Chief Minister Wigneswaran.

  • 1
    13

    Confusion In Tamil Politics Is Understandable

    that I can understand.

    Except in Sri Lanka, Tamils were always brain dead.

    For them, caste is the most important. So, the Dalit Tamils get free education , go overseas and start bullying Sri lanka. they don’t bully their high caste Tamils, because they feel embarrassed.

  • 1
    9

    In that context, what Sri lanka should support is not TNA, but Wigneswaran’s party.

  • 2
    1

    Only Tamil politics that I hear the radical chauvinistic type incited by LTTE. This is easy to propagate as much as the chauvinistic propaganda like “Sinha Le”. Other types of alternatives are difficult paths to follow, but will bring lasting solutions.
    What I doubt is whether oldies in TNA are willing to think creatively and promote a true liberal society that being Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslim, Gay, Lesbian, Durwa, Karawa etc. does not matter. Quite the opposite is happening today. The so called Tamil politics, Sinhala politics, Muslim politics, Caste politics etc. are confused, but exploits the fear that is well fed by this confusion. Today’s politician does not intend to play for long. S/he would go for quick runs and big hits. Both Tamil and Sinhala politicians are currently playing this “T20” politics.

  • 0
    2

    A Sinhala translation of this article is essential. At least a critical mass of parliamentarians should be made to understand this asap:
    ”long-term depends on an island wide education and consciousness building programme on pluralist democracy starting with schools and the military”

  • 0
    0

    Jim.

    Knowing SriLanka as well as I do,a split could be Engineered between the TNA and TMP.We need to revisit The Prince-authored by Machiavelli!

  • 2
    1

    I agree with Jim. The Tamils just follow their leaders zombie like but they think that they are smart. On the other hand, the Sinhalese have always been revolutionary, never respecting even religions as others do. They break rules at will and are emotional soda bottles.

    I think it is the influence of Buddhism, a religion that encourages doubt, reasoning and questioning and training us not to accept anything without carefully studying it.

    Due to this defect in the brains of Tamils, VP ruled them and became a deity. The Sinhalese had to come to their rescue by eliminating VP. On his elimination, everyone found out that he was just an inflated balloon.

    • 2
      0

      Edwin Rodrigo
      On the contrary it was the Sinhalese brain that could not understand Buddhim which inflated the Prabakaran balloon up with it’s emotional soda bottle gas and wreaked havoc on the Tamils and itself.
      Having learnt the lesson it had to finally blow up that balloon to rescue itself and the Tamils.
      As a consequence of that both are now in talking terms and discussing mutual peace and progress and trust.
      To succeed they must question doubt and distrust and not be prone to emotion but be guided by fact and reality.

  • 0
    0

    The convenors of ‘Tamil Makkal Peravai’ from the inception called it as Tamil People’s Council In English. i.e.TPC. For obvious reason Sinhala writers and columnists call it as TMP. This is to give feeling to readers that it is a racist organisation like JHU or BBS.

  • 0
    2

    We judge of TNA and Tamil political parties and other Tamil outfits by their names ,programmers, promises and speeches or the content with Tamil Eealm or Tamil separatism; which is consist in reiterating the axiom about support for Tamil armed struggle the act of Terrorism by encourage of secession for neo-liberal type of democracy and rough Tamil state in North.

    Indeed that is undermined bourgeois revolution of whole Island. Unfortunaly among us the concept of Tamil Eealm of bourgeoisie revolution is still interpreted in a one-side manner. In fact that this revolution should show the people of whole Sri Lankan of a given nation in the actual fact ,what the national peculiarities of ongoing national bourgeois revolution.

    But those with the slightest of separatism flair of Tamil political class and thoughtful attitude towards by Trotskyist influence that we have learn new lessons our bourgeois revolution.

    Well those who are really guided by separatism of class struggle and judge Tamil political parties by their class character, how they allied with US and other hegemonies key politics of Tamils in
    Sri lanka.

    That will not be in the least surprised to find that the parties of Tamil bourgeois intellectuals is fit only to perform flunkey services for the US and Indian hegemonies. The TNA are true kin to the Tamil Separatist or Eelamist by their very class nature.

    TNA and other LTTE outfits democracy is sheer window dressing a temporary reflection of Parliamentary democracy of the Tamil chauvinism.

    Nowhere in the Globe probably that Tamil bourgeoisie revealed in the bourgeoisie revolution such reactionary brutality (LTTE Terrorism ),such closed alliance with US and Indian hegemonies and UNP regime led by MS CBK and Ranil W…..ongoing ruling regime.

    TNA and other Tamil political class complete betrayal our nation sovereignty, territorial integrity, independent and democracy of the interest of people Sri Lankan and the interest of democratic revolution.

  • 2
    0

    All right minded agree the need of the hour is consensus building and while its slowly and painfully taking shape in the south, the Tamil polity has gone into deeper division creation. The TNA represents a collective tamil polity. The TNA nominated and elected CM at this crucial juncture has thought fit, in his own wisdom, to initiate a devastating division within giving way to yet again for tamil polarization. Now with the south detractors largely neutralized, even if there is reasonable solutions coming out of the Sirisena/ Wickramasinghe admin on the so called “National Issue”, the CM created division will not allow any consensus to be built within the Tamil polity. The Tamil council may very likely put forward proposals of the nature that could easily give rise to its interpretation in line of separatism and away from Unitary which in turn will be playing right into the hands of the southern detractors. What we may see in all probability is that a solution to the so called national issue will be in limbo for a long time to come.

  • 2
    4

    The write up contains a few factual errors. First, Chief Minister Wigneswaran was not excluded from formal decision making process in the ITAK. It was Wigneswaran who failed to attend meetings of ITAK on the mistaken belief that he is apolitical. He now says he did not contest on the ITAK and its house symbol which everyone knows is a total lie. It was Sampanthan amidst opposition from the rank and file of the party who brought Wigneswaran and made him contest as the chief ministerial candidate. It is unbecoming for a retired Justice of the Supreme Court to deny that fact. Now he makes the ludicrous claim he contested as a people’s candidate and the people voted for him and his people’s party. He has easily forgotten that he contested on the ITAK platform and people voted for the home symbol. Had he contested as an independent candidate he would have easily lost his deposit.
    Secondly, it is only the TNA (read ITAK) that supported Sirisena. Every other outfit worthy of mention sat on the fence including GTF/BTF. This is what GTF said about the presidential election ” it strongly urges the Tamil people in Sri Lanka to use every vote carefully during the January 8 Presidential Election. Thamil people have a long history of voting based on principled considerations. The upcoming Presidential election is no different.” This is not a call to vote for Sirisena, but there is an element of hint that “Thamil people had a long history of voting based on principled considerations. For some unexplained reason the GTF lacked the guts to call a spade a spade. The Canadian Tamil Congress(CTC) followed the GTF in calling “Tamil Canadians to actively urge their relatives and friends in Sri Lanka to vote en masse in Sri Lanka’s presidential election scheduled to take place on January 8th, 2015.” The only charitable reason is these organizations were not certain that Sirisena will win the election against Rajapaksa who was considered invincible.
    Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, president Tamil National Peoples’ Front (TNPF) a front for the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, who had a long history of boycotting elections declared that there is no difference between Sirisena and Rajapaksa except in name. We don’t want to replace one Rajapaksa with another Rajapaksa. His statement shows how shallow he is when it comes to understanding realpolitik. TGTE claimed that voting Rajapaksa is short term pain but long term gain, voting Sirisena is just the opposite. In short the Diaspora organizations exhibited total ignorance about the ground situation.
    The TPC is formed by disgruntled elements who lost the elections like Premachandran, Gajendrakumar and those failed to gain a slot on the National list like Prof.S.Sittampalam. Gajendrakumar led ACTC lost deposits in 6 out of 7 electorates and saved deposit in the Jaffna electorate by just 6 votes. It was pushed to 5th place far behind EPDP,UPFA and UNP. A section of the Diaspora composed of remnants of the LTTE had egg on their face when they saw the TNPF convincingly rejected by the people for the second time despite spending 6 crores of rupees on its election campaign.

  • 2
    0

    EPRLF is not out.Although their leader Suresh lost they have two elected MPs I think both from Vavunia.I Think they were closer to yr policies and are anyway better than people like Power hungry Colvin who formed trusts to save his lands when ceiling on land Act was brought by Peter K. Second point what may be acceptable to Tamils is devolution of power and not sharing of power.The least that may be agreeable to Tamil moderates is an Indian type Quasi federalism minus the power held by the President to dissolve the State assembly( is it sec 356).Of the triumvirate Ranil is the least trustworthy person.A real 21st century fox who could take everyone for a ride including Uncle Sam.Those who were at the Colombo Uni Law faculty and at Vernon Wijetunge.Q.C’s chambers will vouch for it. On anr point I spoke to two ITAK MPs one from the east and one fm the north who polled the maximum number of votes fm the two provinces. They r clueless as to what Sam and Sumanthiran are doing.The one fm the east said “We can’t dpeak to our leader Aiyah you speak to him”.Telo leader who accompanies Sam and Suman to meet foreign dignitaries can’t understand a word of English.Seated next to me for 10 mys listening to Banki Moon at the Geneva Intl conference centre asked me, “Ayah what is he saying”. That is TNA N even God can’t save Tamils from Sam and Suman leave alone Ranil!

  • 2
    1

    Thanga

    A direct call by GTF in support of Sirisena and asking Tamil people to vote for him, in fact, could have benefited Mahinda through increased Sinhala votes. This could have been the reason for the cautious statement by GTF, though the statement could not have been interpreted by anyone as neither endorsement of Mahinda nor a neutral one.

    Is it that difficult to understand this?

    Kannthan

  • 2
    1

    Is this article an attempt to discredit CM/NPC? Otherwise why use admittedly unconfirmed controversial reports. The allegations are all about how well he is doing his job, which has minimal bearing on this article, except for character assassination. But the intention becomes clear when the CM is cajoled to “be a positive force without becoming a spoiler”. Clearly CM is a thorn on the backside for some!

    What is the relationship between the Tamils and the state? Who wants whom? Tamils are fed up with the state. There is no confusion about that. They would rather the state went away and allowed them mind their business. After all no sentient political arrangement has been implemented to allay their concerns since independence.

    But it appears the state wants them badly now, to soften the global outcry for war crimes investigation, HR violations, and racist governance in order to showcase SL governance in good light as secular and consensual to the outside world. Hence the dangling of carrots of National Question and New Constitution – which I am more than sure to say will not be to the acceptance of the Tamils. These will further alienate the Tamils and curtail their freedoms and make them 3rd class citizens. More of the same, has been and will be the name of the game. In mathematical jargon the trajectory will remain continuous, differentiable and advance incrementally; but there will be no point of inflexion or a singularity to change the trajectory, which was the dream of the Tamils happen when they voted for this govt. They find now that the Sinhala state has consolidated the war victory with the velvet glove, that was about to be squandered away by Mahinda Mafia. One wonders what advice Prabaharan would have given to Tamils in last year’s election.

    In a country that has never embraced consensual politics, but has been pervaded by Sinhala Buddhist supremacy ideals, taught from school going days, I don’t think minorities are ever confused! The TNA in the eyes of many Tamils, is perhaps getting corrupted if not already sold out. CM is perhaps the only person who could still put forward the claim for self-determination in one form or other, of a down trodden people.

  • 1
    2

    The EPLRF is in disarray. It decided to vote against the budget, but none did. Sivakthy did not turn up in parliament, and the other member Dr.Sivamohan voted for the budget. That speaks volumes about Premachandran who is addicted to verbosity. In the Jaffna electorate Premachandran demanded and got two slots out of ten. But both he and the other candidate came a distant 7th and 9th place in terms of preference votes. He now says the counting of votes was rigged, votes polled by him were distributed to others. That claim is an insult to the Returning officer, counting staff, candidates and agents monitoring the counting of votes. After losing, he demanded a slot from the TNA National list, once again claiming he is a leader of a constituent party. Kanthan says a direct call by GTF in support of Sirisena could have benefited Mahinda through increased Sinhala votes. But then TNA made a direct call to vote for Sirisena and Rajapaksa lost because of Thamils and Muslim voters voting against. As for Velu Balendran I don’t know on what grounds he could claim “Hence the dangling of carrots of National Question and New Constitution – which I am more than sure to say will not be to the acceptance of the Tamils” And who are the many Tamils in whose eyes the TNA is seen as getting corrupted? This is an outlandish and tongue in cheek statement. Only last August 17, 70% of the Thamil people voted for ITAK/TNA. As for character assassination, Wigneswaran is not a person of character when he has built a temple at Mankulam for the serial rapist Premananda, who received two consecutive life sentences. One who claims that he never contested as a candidate of the ITAK is a liar, lying through both sides of his mouth at the same time.

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