By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“This accursed, shortsighted statecraft!” – Heinrich von Kleist (Prinz Friedrich)
The state-owned ITN devotes one segment of its main Sinhala news telecast to remembering the Tiger. Evening after evening, the viewers are reminded of some long ago LTTE-deed, in lurid detail.
There are political forces, in the North and the South, who want ordinary Lankans live forever in the shadow of the Tiger. Sinhala and Tamil extremists need to keep the memories of the war vividly alive, because that is their only escape from the looming wilderness of irrelevance and obsolescence. This desire to constantly remind ordinary Lankans about the foul deeds of the enemy (and their own ‘heroism’) is something the Rajapaksas (and Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists) have in common with the pro-Tiger elements in the North and abroad.
Sinhala and Tamil extremists do not want a sober and informed discussion about the reasons and consequences of the war. They just want to keep hatred and fear alive, to lengthen the walls and deepen the dykes which divide ordinary Lankans.
The Rajapaksas need Tamil politicians to sound like cardboard versions of the LTTE. Every time some leading Tamil, here or abroad, waves the Tiger flag, the Siblings are delighted, because they can use that essentially silly spectacle to frighten an increasingly restive Sinhala public into obedience. The Rajapaksas do not want the Tamil polity to occupy the moderate centre and to reach out to their Southern counterparts and to the world. They do not want the Tamils abandon the counterproductive roar of the Tiger and find a rational and pragmatic voice which becomes acceptable to the Southern opposition and the international community.
That was why the Rajapaksas were obviously thrilled with the pro-Tiger outpourings of TNA parliamentarian S Sridaran and equally obviously dismayed by TNA Leader R Sampanthan’s measured and reflective discourse. TNA parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran publicly wondered why the “…government MPs allowed Sridharan to continue with a speech, which the government later termed as supporting extremism” while continuously obstructing “Sampanthan when he made a more moderate speech yesterday”[i]. Mr. Sridaran was allowed to speak because his speech was helpful to the Rajapaksas; Mr. Sampanthan was rudely interrupted, time and again, because what he said damaged the enemy image the Rajapaksas need to keep alive.
In his speech, Mr. Sampanthan debunked the Sinhala Supremacist myth which reduces all Lanka’s ills to the Tiger. He also commented on the LTTE’s own transition from a potential solution to a new problem: “At the earlier stages, the manifestation of the LTTE seemed inevitable and even justified. It was the several aberrations, primarily the adoption by the LTTE of an authoritarian approach and the disrespect for democracy and human rights the tarnished the image of justification and eventually resulted in several countries the world over, branding the LTTE as a terrorist organisation”[ii].
Instead of welcoming this sober and acute analysis, the regime and its extremist acolytes are focusing on Mr. Sridaran’s pro-Tiger peroration. Understandably; the Rajapaksas know that the best way to de-legitimise the demand for a political solution to the ethnic problem is to daub the TNA with red-and-yellow Tiger stripes.
The LTTE became a victim of its own terror. The Tigers were proscribed not because they were separatist or because they engaged in an armed struggle; neither of these are crimes according to the international law. The LTTE was banned because of its strategic use of terror against civilians and unarmed political opponents. If the Tigers did not employ suicide bombers, if they did not conscript children, if they did not murder political opponents they would not have been banned in the West/India.
The world continues to be a rather unwelcome place for the Tiger. Not even Tamil Nadu would permit any public commemoration of Mr. Pirapaharan’s Birthday[iii].
The Rajapaksas do not have a problem per se with India. Their problem with India is sourced Delhi’s inability to turn its back on Lankan Tamils. Therefore the Siblings would do what they can to create a rift between the TNA/Tamils and India. What better way to achieve this goal than through the use of the Tiger – the killer of Rajiv Gandhi? It is not accidental that in the same week he made his lightening visit to India, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa “alleged that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was making a deliberate attempt to sabotage the post-war reconciliation process. The Defence Secretary told The Island that the TNA’s tribute to the dead LTTE leader Velupillai on his birth anniversary was meant to provoke the government as well as the armed forces…. He alleged that the TNA continued to take orders from the LTTE rump even four years after the end of the conflict”[iv].
That is why the government wanted Mr. Sridaran’s words to resonate nationally and internationally. That is why the government wanted to silence Mr. Sampanthan. That is why the government is ignoring the fact that the TNA publicly disowned Mr. Sridaran’s views[v].
Last week Sri Lanka asked Australia to ban the LTTE. The regime reportedly wants to stop a planned fund raising campaign by the TNA in Australia by arguing that the TNA is a Tiger-rump[vi].
The Rajapaksas need to isolate the TNA and the Tamils and to de-legitimise the demand for a political solution – nationally and internationally. What better way to do so than by fixing the Tiger mask on peaceful and democratic Tamil nationalism?
Since independence, two antithetical forces had impeded the creation of a Lankan nation. One was Sinhala supremacism which saw the island as the sole property of the Sinhala-Buddhists and regarded all minorities as ‘guests’ with no inalienable rights. The other was the LTTE, which was wedded to the notion of a separate state completely under its control and waged an incessant and total war against its various ‘enemies’ from the Lankan state to India, from non-Tiger Tamils to Muslim and Sinhala civilians. Effort after effort to settle the ethnic problem peacefully, via a power-sharing agreement, had been defeated by one or the other of these antipodal forces, curiously alike in their visceral opposition to any moderate solutions.
The Rajapaksas are Sinhala supremacists secondly and Rajapaksa-supremacists primarily. They do not want to share power even with fellow Sinhala-Buddhists of the true blue variety. There is an irresolvable contradiction between the Rajapaksa desire to concentrate all power in familial hands and the Tamil demand for a political solution. Just as the Siblings used the impeachment travesty to kill separation of powers and subjugate the judiciary, they will try to use the Tiger spectre to stymie power-devolution.
Vellupillai Pirapaharan, with his obdurate maximalism and violent intolerance, became a millstone round the collective necks of Lankan Tamils. The Rajapaksas do not want Tamils to cast that affliction aside. How can the Familial State survive, in the absence of spectral Tigers (plus shadow Jihadists and Christian expansionists)?
Maximalism is as visceral to the Rajapaksa project as it was to the Pirapaharan project. The Siblings need an enemy who is more objectionable than they are, to Sinhalese, Indians and the West. Those Tamils who are lured by necromantic politics should know that by waving the Tiger flag they are playing the Rajapaksas’ game.