By A. Sivapathasundaram –
There was a time in the Sri Lankan politics when the process of Tamil politics on the part of the Tamil politicians was carried out on the basis that the Tamils of the North and the East, as well as the Muslim people and the Upcountry Tamil people were all, as Tamils, victims of the politics of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism, hegemony, and autocracy.
Later, at a certain period in time, the leaders of the Upcountry Tamil people took the political position that the problems and issues faced by them were different from that of the others of the Tamil community. They thus veered the Upcountry Tamil populace from being part of the mainstream Tamil politics.
However, the politics of the Muslim people in the North and East continued on the basis that the Muslims are also Tamils. In course of time, the leaders of the Muslim people also began to move away from that position claiming that the Muslim people of Sri Lanka are of a separate identity of their own.
In the 1970s, the Tamil armed groups wrested the politics of the Tamil people from the hands of the long-serving Tamil politicians on the feeling that nothing viable is ever going to be generated by the politicians elected by the democratic process to end the subjugation and oppression of the Tamil people; and that neither the Sinhalese majority politicians are ever going to heed to the reasonable political aspirations and demands of the Tamil made through democratic process.
In the early stages of the commencement of the armed struggle, EROS, EPRLF, and to a certain extent PLOTE, took their politics and the process on the basis that the discrimination, subjugation and oppression unleashed by the successive Sinhala chauvinist regimes were directed against all the Tamils– North-East Tamils, the Muslims and Upcountry Tamil people; and therefore they have to be confronted and overcome by all these communities collectively as Tamils; thus the Tami politics returning to the earlier position.
However, although the role of the youth of the Upcountry Tamils and the Muslim people were significant to a certain extent in the beginning of the armed struggle, later they disassociated themselves from it. The anti-Muslim tendencies and actions perpetuated by the LTTE further alienated the support of the Muslim populace to the armed struggle. They veered from the hitherto accepted common notion that they are also “Tamils”.
Disassociating themselves from the common identity as “Tamils” and as part of “Tamil Nation”, the Muslim people and their leaders instead pursued politics of a separate and distinct identity in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, the continued armed violence and the war resulted in large scale displacements of Tamils from the North & East and from Colombo, leading to a political, economic, social and literary vacuum in the midst of the Tamils population in Sri Lanka. The leaders, intellectuals and people of the Muslims availed themselves of this situation to their advantage while also pursuing the politics of partnership in the successive Sri Lankan governments.
However, in order to encompass the Muslim community too and taking into cognisance the demand of the Muslims for a separate identity, the slogan terming the struggle as that of the “Tamils” changed to that of the “Tamil Speaking People”. Yet, the Muslim leaders continued with the politics as a separate race distinct from the Tamils.
The internal conflict in the LTTE led to the estrangement of Karuna and Pillaiyan of the East and with that, even what was regarded as the armed struggle of the North-East Tamils, was pushed further back bringing about a disaffection between the Tamils of the North & the East and causing ‘regionalism’ to emerge.
Subsequently, due to the egoistic and short-sighted Jaffna-centric Tamil politicians, regionalism further sharpened surfacing even differences between Jaffna peninsula politicians and those of the rest of the North.
Eventually, the “Eelam Peoples’ struggle dwindled and narrowed to the extent that it was open to be attributed as a conflict mainly perpetuated by the Jaffna peninsula people for their own agenda and political gains. It thus ended as exactly wanted by the schemers in the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinistic hierarchy.
They have thus very cleverly, effectively maneuvered and completed the dispersal, division and collectivity of the Sri Lankan Tamils, for which our so-called educated but vision-less Tamil intellectuals and politicians have helped in no small measure.
With the dismantling of the armed struggle and mostly forced demise of most of the leaders and stalwarts of the armed groups, once again the situation that has come about now is the same as that was prevailing at the beginning of the armed struggle. Again emerging is the feeling and frustration –with the situation even worse than before– that nothing viable would happen for the good of the Tamil people by most of the current crop of politicians now operating in the midst of the Tamils. Moreover, there is now a perception that most of the current Tamil politicians are even worse in sincerity and effectiveness, commitment and toil, than their predecessors at the time of the beginning of the armed struggle.
Strange, painful and despicable is that almost all of the remaining leaders of the organisations that embarked on the armed struggle have also, in every aspect, perfectly aligned and incorporated themselves into the same lowly levels and degraded styles and system of the very politicians whom they condemned and also killed branding them as “traitors”.
The immense sacrifices, destructions, loss of lives and deaths emanating from the armed struggle have ended in futility – as an empty dream – leaving the Tamil people left on Sri Lankan soil in worse off position than ever before.
Now, the government formed following last election victories of the Rajapaksas, the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinistic outfits that helped in the election victories and the militaristic structure and set-ups in civilian affairs has turned the cycle of time a full wheel. It has once again brought to the situation that was prevailing at the initial stages of the political and armed struggle – the feeling, sentiments and thinking that all the minority communities – the people of the North-East, the Muslim people, and the Upcountry Tamils – ought to confront the onslaught and face them together and collectively.
Pottuvil to Polikandi Rally
The Pottuvil to Polikandi Rally (P2P) the demonstration and the participation of the people in it, is a move that reflect that feeling, sentiment, and thinking. It is different from the characteristics of the Jaffna-centrist events such as “Pongu Tamil” and “Ezhuka Tamil”.
In fact, since the very same causes and factors that led to the taking up of arms still exists and if that is to be changed or ought to be changed, with the intransigence of the Sri Lankan governments, the seeds would be sown to the thought and a logical, theoretical conclusion that once again ‘armed revolution’ is the only way out.
However, the conditions in Sri Lanka and the regional and world geo-political interests now prevailing today are hugely different from then. Any attempt at an armed struggle will only bring about more disaster to the Tamil people. True, there are no changes nor new creations without destruction; but it is equally true that wanton destructions would not amount to creations nor would they bring about positive changes. One must also take full cognisance of the struggle of the Palestine for their self-determination and their present plight.
Therefore, with the current caliber of politicians we have in Sri Lanka, it is the activists and leaders of the civil society who work amongst the masses of all the minority communities and genuinely concerned in the welfare of the people, who must take direct action to mobilise the common people against the Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinistic machinery that is bent on a strangle- hold of even the fundamental human and political aspirations and rights. They are the ones to provide impetus to turn them into mass movements.
Need for Involvement of the Sinhala Society
All communities are facing massive socio-economic crisis; they are facing enormous economic hardships and adverse impact on their lives. The imposition of autocracy and the involvement of military in civilian affairs of the country are also detrimental and negates the welfare of Sinhalese particularly those in the lower strata of the society. It is therefore also essential and imperative to take significant and concerted efforts to make the ordinary Sinhala people understand that their life too is affected by the current governance; and to change this, they must be confronted collectively with the participation and representation if not just the Tamil people but people of all communities. They should be made known that the actions of the government done in their name and purported to be for their welfare would not yield fruits for them to enjoy; rather, they are being done in their name only to perpetuate the gains of the upper echelons of their society.
Hence, such events should be expanded and the support, cooperation and participation of the civil society leaders, activists, intellectuals, and progressives among the Sinhalese people genuinely interested in the welfare of the country and all its people should have been seriously solicited for this event; their contributions too must have been there. Whether it was done in the organisation of the Pottuvil to Polikandi Rally and to what extent was it successful is not known.
Involvement of Politicians
There are many possibilities of dangers that such events and the future mass movements would be hijacked and usurped by the politicians who are bent on using the Tamil politics as their “profitable business ventures” and for cheap popularity for a short-cut for electoral gains or by planted agents of the regime. It is therefore important for the people and the civil society leaders to be wary of such nefarious characters and keep them away.
Politicians are also needed; and to except the politicians of the modern day to devote only to public interest would be utopian. However, it is essential to ensure that their selfishness for personal gains does not supersede the public good. If that situation is allowed, there will be only jealousy, deceit, deception, and cut-throat competition at the expense of the suffering masses and torpedoing of the whole effort. One could see this situation already taking place. To what extent the civil society leaders are independent of the Tamil politicians is a question mark.
If the involvement of politicians is required, it would be good if at least they are not the old “rats”. Such should be kept at bay and young politicians who have the energy and freshness of ideas and be able to dedicate themselves at least to some extent being active on the ground could be given place.
The politics of all those who work with the government in the name of ‘economic development’ is the politics of unconditional surrender without any fundamentals and with no other goals but power, perks, and wealth. This will only lead to further suppression of the minority communities and strengthening the hands of the chauvinists and the autocrats.
The old Tamil politicians are never going to retire on their own unless either death catches up with them or the people give them their much-needed retirement. To make them retired may also turn out to be good for them as well as the much-needed revamp of Tamil politics.
It is not unusual for those who work in Companies or Corporations and not capable of performing what is required of them, or do not perform their duties expected of them effectively, are asked to retire or made to retire. Why should the “profession of politics” be any different?
The remark by Margret Thatcher, although aptly made subsequently applicable to her as well is relevant: “Both politicians and nappies need to be changed often and for the same reason”.
LTTE Flag Wavers
The absence of pro-LTTE slogans, flags or pictures in the rally was a good omen. The antics of some of the vociferous LTTE supporters in the various countries they have settled in and their waiving of LTTE flags, posters, and shouting of slogans while making sure that there is no dent to their personal life or prosperity, only serve to dilute and deviate the seriousness of such demonstrations and protests.
Pro-LTTE involvement also gives rise to an erroneous view that such demonstrations and protests are not a mass awakening of the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka for their emancipation but as ones by LTTE proxy politicians, to enhance their political status and survival.
They also serve to brand such protests to the Sinhalese masses as organised by the residual LTTE elements as part of their attempts at dividing the country and provide the excuses for the government to dilute them of its effectiveness and even their violent suppression.
Such LTTE elements are mostly motivated by emotions and sentiments that do not take account of realties, or driven for cheap popularity and desire for social recognition or as a good past- time or as a ‘picnic’ or as a safeguard to the assets that some of them have accumulated in the name of the LTTE. They even ignore or dismiss by self-denial that all accusations of human rights violations by the international bodies and organisations are not just against the Sri Lankan government but also against the LTTE leadership. There is no introspection on their part on the dismal failure of the diplomacy and lack of vision of the LTTE leadership that has led the Tamils left to remain in Sri Lanka to a life much worse plight than that was at the beginning of the armed struggle and a Tamil society that has disintegrated and degenerated in respect of all its noble values.
Would it be just a cloud? Or would it be a fertile rain?
What is happening in Geneva is a different matter; but such popular uprisings, mass demonstrations and manifestations of their grievances must continue.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has, in order to sustain his support base, which is fast dwindling, publicly proclaimed himself to be a Sinhalese-Buddhist leader in his speech at the last Independence Day — i.e. he is not the President of the Sri Lankan people. Under the circumstances, and in the situation of himself having amassed with colossal powers by the passage of the 20th Amendment supported by some turncoats, ethnically unbiassed socio-economic development of Sri Lanka of peace and harmony where every citizen will have equal opportunity and live with dignity to progress together could not be expected of him.
With such a hefty majority in the Parliament, the Rajapaksas could have easily chosen to function not as mere “politicians” but as “statesmen” who would be remembered for ever by all Sri Lankans for having paved the path for inter-ethnic harmony and prosperity, like what Lee Kuan Yew made of Singapore. It is indeed unfortunate that instead, all the signs are they have decided to exit from this world just as any other ordinary politician—un-mourned, and un-sung by this generation as well as the generations to come.
It is not clear of the exact source and origin of the Pottuvil to Polikandi Rally. This may fizzle out with that. If they are truly of the newly awakened and revived civil society, it is to be very welcome, and support should be provided to strengthen it. It must be ensured that it is continued without being diverted by vested interests; and instead, taken continuously in different forms with mass participation of all of the minority communities as well as human rights organisations and the progressive forces that work with the Sinhala people.
To ensure so is the responsibility of the political, social, and civil society leaders and of all those who want peace, prosperity, and justice to prevail in the interest of the county as a whole that is Sri Lanka.