By Kumar David –
The country is plastered with what anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows to be cant; absurd untruths. One’s views of the provincial council system, 13A, and the provenance of 13A, is one thing; but to expound that if provincial elections are held in the Northern Province, and if the TNA wins as it will, then it will use the NP-PC as a platform to instigate a conspiracy, divide the country, and work towards a separate state of Thamil Eelam is so absurd that it has to be described as knowing falsification. Those in the educated classes who spout this sham are motivated by chauvinism; they are not persons with genuine concerns or just gullible folk. They are not folk who would, otherwise, grant devolution to the Tamils and wish them Godspeed and prosperity in the administration of their affairs.
With the North in the vice like grip of the military were even a child’s birthday party is monitored by a kaki hawk eye, where the province is de facto an armed camp, where university student societies have little breathing space, and where freedom of expression and publication is under the boot, such assertions are obscenities, knowingly propagated for communal reasons; propagated to choke off Tamil aspirations to make a success of the NP-PC Administration, stretch their limbs, and prosper. To describe a place under raw military occupation as a site for breaking up the country is a Goblesian untruth.
The Sinhalese masses
While the portion of the educated class complicit in propagating this falsehood is knavish, the same cannot be said of the Sinhalese masses. Many are taken in by these nursery tales of ghosts and goblins but to varying degrees. Since the NP-PC election fracas ignited, and the campaign to repeal or amend 13A was initiated by Gota, Mahinda, JHU, BSS and other chauvinists two months ago, I have participated in numerous discussions and study camps of political and grassroots activists. The feedback at these meetings and my own observations confirm that a sizable chunk of people at the mass level believe these goblin stories. Left and liberal activists described the uphill battles that they had on their hands. This is to be expected in a post race-war social ethos where media, regime, extremists and monks fan flames of communal and religious angst and distrust.
There is nothing to be done about the bigotry of the chauvinist middle and educated classes; it is a psychological syndrome no different from the Nazi-aligned elite in Germany in the 1930s. However, at the mass level I believe the hold of the chauvinists can be broken. Democratic social activists, left parties (inside and outside government), Muslim political organisations, and strong-willed people like Rajitha Senaratne are doing their bit in this battle for minds. However, there is a limit to what activists can do to counteract the bigotry of Gamanpila, BSS monks and ropey Wimal on the mass mind. To believe racist propaganda is easy and natural at this juncture; to accept reasoned refutation is more difficult. However, what would make a colossal difference is if the TNA and SLMC spoke up and declared that these are lies; damned lies! If they saturated the public domain and media in all three languages, spoke up in parliament and used their international spaces to explode the concocted chauvinist scare campaign, it will have a big impact. They need to explain why they want the NP-PC elections, the usefulness of the modest powers in 13A, but above all they must show that “divide the country” talk is rubbish that has nothing to do with their campaigns, activities and intentions.
I am a little surprised that the TNA and SLMC have such an inadequate feel for real politics that the penny has not dropped of its own as yet. In any case, when have Tamil politicians ever addressed the Sinhalese people directly? Their somnambulant brains have still to grasp that it is up to them to speak to the Sinhalese masses directly and declare that the chauvinist scare campaign is a tissue of lies. It is not a job to be subcontracted to others, be they ever so willing to oblige. If the Tamil leaders stay silent, the default option is that people will believe that the conspiracy theories are true. Yes, I am hoping to frighten them; why not, for a good cause!
Messers Sampanthan, Hakeem and Sumanthiran need to wake up. To be honest Hakeem has gone out on the public trail already; but he can do more. I have mentioned this to a few Tamil leaders hoping to awaken them from prolonged slumber. Let’s see if between the drafting of this piece and its publication they bestir themselves. An excellent seminar was held at the NM Centre on Cotta Road on Constitutional Options on Thursday 27 June (the Socialist Study Circle holds its seminars on the last Thursday of every month) and was addressed by Sobitha Thero, Wijedasa Rajapakse PC, and Professor Tissa Vitharana. In discussion time all three panellist heartily endorsed this imperative.
The Rajapakse’s and the extremists seem to have retreated under Indian threats and infighting in the government. This may induce TNA and SLMC leaders to settle back to slumber. That would be a big mistake; the government is unstable and in deep crisis, the JHU, BSS and other extremists have yet to mobilise in full and occupy the streets; rapid and erratic swings are still possible.
Is the TNA in a fix?
The TULF, forerunner of the TNA whose centrepiece was the ITAK or Federal Party and which included all the groups now in the TNA, unwisely rejected 13A at the time it was enacted twenty-five years ago. It is now up the gum tree demanding PC elections in the NP and full implementation of 13A when it is on record as having opposed it in the first place. The TNA will be foist with its own petard unless it boldly corrects this blunder. It had better grow up and declare, whatever reservations it had in the past, it now firmly endorses the full implementation of 13A. If it stays ambiguous and prevaricates on making a definitive declaration that it now supports full implementation of 13A, it will land itself in all manner of contradictions.
Certain Tamil political entities outside the TNA (and possibly some elements inside) are under pressure from extremists in the diaspora. The diaspora is not an undifferentiated whole, the spectrum ranges from rump-LTTE bunches to very TNA-like entities. However, every Tamil political entity, whether radical or moderate, asks: “What about self-determination? In asking for full implementation of 13A are you turning your back on self-determination?” The British Tamil Forum made an inane pronouncement rejecting 13A and demanding a referendum on secession right now. I had to refute its confused thinking in this column on 16 June.
The gist of my reply was that the BTF is farting against thunder; there is a right royal battle, right now, on the ground, against chauvinism in respect of NP-PC elections and against watering down 13A. The need of the hour is to enter this fray and to defeat the racists, instead of splitting ranks. The TNA has to spell out to hot heads at home and in the diaspora that the first priority is to participate in the urgent task of the moment. Self-determination and secession become relevant if this and subsequent battles are lost and the Tamil people cannot win their democratic and community rights in a unified Lanka. Will it come to that? I don’t know; nobody has a crystal ball with the answer engraved, but only fools give up a fight prematurely instead of first throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the real world fray.
The Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA)
The Thirteenth Amendment flows from the ILA which is a state-to-state treaty, not an agreement between political leaders or parties. It is binding on the two governments that signed it, and thereafter on all subsequent Indian and Lankan administrations. It can be abrogated by mutual agreement. Or it can be abrogated unilaterally, but does Rajapakse wish to go that far? The regime is so batty that it may indeed do just that, but that would untie Delhi’s hands. It is unwise to forget that Delhi has kept RAW on a tight leash all these years, and the bad old days of Indira Gandhi’s second term (1980-84) is a JR period of nightmares the Rajakakses may prefer not to summon up again.
Mrs Bandaranaike was excellent at managing relations with India (the Sirima-Shastri Pact which India honoured to the letter, and the handover of Katachchaitivu gratis, were foreign policy coups) and Chandrika managed relations reasonably well. Not even morose Yankee Dickey made such a hash of things as this loony lot is now doing. I am quite serious, don’t think me flippant because of the adjectives; I am convinced that the Rajapakse regime has no consistent or thought out strategy in respect of India and lives from day to day and hand to mouth.
There are sonorous formalists who proclaim that Lanka is a sovereign nation and it can do just as it wishes with 13A; amend it, repeal it or throw it in the dustbin. This would amount to binning the ILA. These windbags need a wake up call to the real world where big powers (be it America, China, Russia, India or the EU) have interests that spill over their borders and who exercise this power, gently or stridently. India has an interest in the Upcountry and Ceylon Tamil communities, and to a degree the Muslims, and also in other issues such as Indian Ocean security which are not directly relevant here. This is reality; it is a fact that may incense local patriots, but the wiser among them will protect sovereignty by not risking another fatal backlash.