24 September, 2023


No Tiger Symbolism, No Troop Withdrawal

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The men of the Sri Lankan armed forces did not die, lose their limbs, their eyesight, their futures, so that the fascist separatist Prabhakaran could be openly hailed as a great hero, his photographs distributed, his songs sung and his organization sanitised in the same battlefields. The revivalism that we have seen in the past weeks could, among other things, trigger a backlash that may initially be subterranean but has far reaching political and systemic consequences.

Jaffna’s Uthayan newspaper, as cited in the political column of the Sunday Times, (Colombo) quotes TNA’s chief ministerial candidate as having said:

“Prabhakaran is not a terrorist. He is a hero and a warrior who fought for the liberation of the Tamil nation. A Sinhala newspaper that interviewed me recently, quoted me saying that I had said Prabhakaran is a terrorist. I told them Prabhakaran is not a terrorist and that he is a great hero. It is the angle from which we look at, that makes the estimation of the person. In my view he is not a terrorist. In Kandy, Keppetipola Dissawe who fought against the whites was declared as a terrorist and punished, but now the Sinhalese have installed a statue and celebrate him as a hero. Once viewed by the Whites as a terrorist, was later declared a hero and warrior. It is in the same manner, Prabhakaran is seen to me as a liberation fighter…” (‘Showpiece Development in North but TNA victory inevitable’, Sunday Times, Sept 15, 2013)

As far as I recall, Keppitipola didn’t murder anyone on the side of the anti-imperialist resistance while the ‘Great Hero’ Prabhakaran slaughtered pretty much the whole leadership of the TNA’s constituent parties—Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran, Mrs Yogeswaran, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Sri Sabaratnam, K Pathmanabha—as well as the former Prime Minister of the world’s most populous democracy, and the grandson of Shri Jawaharlal Nehru! Some ‘Great Hero’ that.

Meanwhile, the respected academic Prof Ratnajeevan S. Hoole, discloses that

This morning, Sept. 13…40 youths campaigning for the TNA were arrested in Kodikamam….The 40 youths had copies of the newspaper [TNA’s newspaper Veedu/House,] …and Prabhakaran’s picture for distribution.” (‘The Northern Provincial Council Election’, Colombo Telegraph, Sept 14, 2013). 

Prof Hoole sees nothing wrong in the dissemination of Prabhakaran’s photograph and denounces the police action.

The TNA’s electoral rhetoric is in the same category that got the Basque parliamentary party Herri Batasuna gavelled out of the game by the Spanish courts.

The fealty of even well-educated Tamils to the memory of the Hitleresque Prabhakaran; the bitter reaction to the movie Madras Cafe, coupled with a continued refusal to denounce the murder of Rajiv Gandhi by the Tigers; the failure of Tamil communities in the liberal First World to absorb and replicate the values of these societies by producing a moderate Tamil political alternative reveal not only the commitment of Tamil nationalism to a secessionist project but also the covertly/latently fanatical and politically fundamentalist character of Tamil nationalist consciousness itself. If as Jesus said “tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are”, the same goes for heroes, especially Great Heroes, and political communities which regard them as such.

Is it possible then to reconcile the necessary respect for the democratic process and the Sept 21st outcome of the Northern provincial election, the prudent preservation of the existing framework of provincial devolution (not least because to do otherwise would capsize our relations with India), and the moral imperative to suppress the glorification of fascist separatist symbolism? The answer is yes.

In the struggle against neo-Nazism, many Western societies have illegalised the display of Nazi symbols, regalia etc. In Sri Lanka, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was initially known as the ‘Tiger Law’. When it was enthusiastically moved in Parliament by the Prime Minister of the day, Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1979, it was called the Proscription of Liberation Tigers and Other Similar Organizations Act’. This legislation needs to be reviewed, revised and revived and any glorification of Prabhakaran, the LTTE and its terrorist ‘struggle’ must be illegalised; re-criminalised.

For those who will doubtless ask why it is alright for Wijeweera’s likeness to be displayed while Prabhakaran’s should be proscribed, I would request them to ponder why it is not illegal to display Stalin’s portrait but it is to display Hitler’s in many societies.

Of course, an individual or party may consider Prabhakaran a ‘great hero’ and are free to do so. But they mustn’t articulate it publicly. If they wish to do so, they may, but not in Sri Lanka. They may do so for instance at the splendid Mahaweera Commemorations in the UK or in Tamil Nadu. They must be made fully aware though that if and when they return to Sri Lanka, they face prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.

The pro-LTTE revivalism in the TNA’s election campaign erodes the legitimacy of the call for troop withdrawal from the North. The North is a vulnerable strategic border zone, within which there is obviously an attempt to re-legitimise the Tigers and their leader while across there is a hysterically hostile anti-Lankan movement. The military must remain there, though redeployment and reconfiguration are necessary, so as to reduce the military ‘footprint’ in everyday existence.

While there must be a sufficiency of troops to guarantee overwhelming superiority to in the face of any separatist resurgence, any troop build-up may be imprudent, for three reasons. Firstly the outcome of the Soviet troop presence in Eastern Europe shows that a heavy military presence perceived as alien, generates a long term social alienation that actually undermines strategic interests. Secondly the concentration of troops in the North may also make them vulnerable to bottlenecking, especially by a force that may have the capability to aerially interdict supply lines, neutralising the excellent road networks. Thirdly large troop dispositions constitute a target rich environment for a superior military force.

The TNA has issued a qualified denial and a clarification of its position with regard to secession, in the English language press. It has not said a word about the whitewash of the LTTE in the manifesto and the glorification of Prabhakaran from the platforms. That is the litmus test.

The problem is that Tamil nationalist politics has a long and demonstrable history of sounding eminently reasonable in English while rabble-rousing in Tamil. After all it must be something of a world record for a political party to have had two distinct names, one in English and the other in Tamil. The parent party of Tamil nationalism is the Federal Party, or the FP as it was known in the South. As far as I know the Tamil equivalent of Federal is Sandeeham.   However the same party is registered as the ITAK, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi. This means the Lanka Tamil State Party (or less charitably, the Lanka Tamil Kingdom Party, since ‘arasu’ is used for state as well as kingdom).  Either the party should have had the same brief nomenclature in Tamil, with the Tamil word for Federal in it, or the English language version of the name of the party should have been Lanka Tamil State Party.

Why was it not the case? A plausible explanation is that the Tamil version sounded more emotive and ambiguous than did the English language one, and that is precisely the way that the Tamil nationalist ideologues wanted it. One result of this duplicity is that the Tamil nationalist politicians were mistrusted among the Sinhala majority. The habit of sounding eminently reasonable in English and far less so in Tamil, lasted down the decades, with Anton Balasingham and Prabhakaran being extreme examples.

Let’s say it plainly. It is increasingly obvious that the global movement for a separate state of Tamil Eelam carved out of the soil of this island is readying for a re-match. The game plan is simple. It assumes that the external factors are ripening, by which is meant the separatist surge in Tamil Nadu, and the growing negativity in world public opinion with regard to Sri Lanka. The global Eelam movement hopes to incorporate the TNA as part of its bloc.

The strategy is clear. The leader of the self-proclaimed Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, Mr Rudrakumaran, articulates it in a call for a vote for the TNA, as follows:

“…As a body committed to struggle for the creation of a free and sovereign State of Tamil Eelam through political and diplomatic means, we feel it is the responsibility of the TGTE to clarify its own position with regards to the Northern Provincial Council elections. The TGTE is of the firm conviction that the 13th Amendment as well as the idea of Provincial Councils have expired long ago. The TNA leader, Mr R Sambanthan himself, once said in a BBC interview after May 2009 that the 13th Amendment was a “dead corpse for many years now”.

…We believe that the TNA has launched into the NPC elections with the clear knowledge that the Provincial Councils are a meaningless void, yet they are in it only to win over the support of the International Community…The Eelam Tamil Nation could win over its rights only by liberating itself from the bondage of the Sri Lankan State. We believe that the TNA leadership is taking cognizance of this reality. We do wish whole heartedly that the TNA reaches an unprecedented victory at the NPC elections…

Given this backdrop, the TNA should make the decision now itself that a likely failure of the Provincial Council system could be used to propel our freedom struggle to the next level. They should take up the lessons of being part of the PC, to make it known to the world that a solution to the Tamil National Question could not be reached within the State structure of Sri Lanka. We should harness the mass support in our homeland, the Diaspora, the Tamil Nadu and in the many countries where Tamils live throughout the world, and re-launch political and diplomatic struggles, joining hands with friendly forces throughout the world who believe in justice. History has this expectation from us. We believe the TNA will give weight to this call on behalf of history. ‘The Thirst of Tamils is the Freedom of Tamil Eelam’  ” (‘NPC Elections: What is to be Done’, Colombo Telegraph Sept 17, 2013)

This confirms DBS Jeyaraj’s reading of the strategy of the secessionists. He wrote: “The avowed purpose of Tamil hardliners is not to gain power in the Provincial council and use it constructively to better the lives and economy of the Tamil people in the North. Their objective is to capture power and then ruin the council thereby demonstrating that no scheme of devolution could satisfy the political thirst of the Tamils.”

While the analyst must guard against an intellectually lazy and obsessively monotonous mono-causality which in a ‘unified theory of everything’ explains it all away as the fault of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his siblings, it must be recognised that the government played its part in creating this situation. As I had repeatedly argued (in a polemic which is said to have lost me my job) in mid-2009 in the pages of The Island, the Govt should have held provincial council elections in 2009 before the TNA revived (the EPDP did well at the August 2009 municipal elections). In 2011, it should not have allowed its junior-most negotiator to insult the senior-most Tamil politician and plant the story in the newspapers. It should not have broken off talks with the TNA, insisting that the latter participate in the discredited parliamentary select committee. All this pushed the TNA into the waiting arms of the secessionist, pro-Tiger networks of the Tamil Diaspora.

But no one can push a party that wasn’t ready to be pushed. The collective or communitarian mentality it represents is what made the TNA reject Chandrika Bandaranaike’s quasi-federal proposals of 1995, 1997 and 2000. It is also what made the TNA, while still engaged in post-war talks with the Rajapaksa administration, produce a lengthy exegesis of the UNSG’s PoE (‘Darusman’) Report in which it improbably accused the ‘deep penetration teams’ of the Sri Lankan armed forces of killing ‘tens of thousands of Tamils’ and follow this up months later with a near 100 page document of which the first 70 plus pages were a slashing critique of the LLRC Report (while in the last 30, the Report was “damned with faint praise”). Even in its proposals of 2011 which it presented while negotiating with the Government, the TNA sought to go well beyond the carefully worked out arrangements on land as contained in the 13th amendment –and negotiated for the Sri Lankan side by Minister Gamini Dissanaike and Dr Sarath Amunugama.

Having been the fellow-traveller of a fascist formation that lost the war, but obviously utterly oblivious to the post-war context,  the TNA called in 2011 for all power over land to be vested in the province, with any usage of land by the Government to be strictly with the permission of the council.  Reading the TNA’s proposals I recalled the decisive and spontaneous pronouncement of President Premadasa chairing the All Parties Conference of 1990 (and contradicting the young leader of the Liberal party, Dr Chanaka): “land is the patrimony of all the people”.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Will Vellala Wiggy as CM adorn his family room in Kurunduwatta with a garlanded photo of his new Hero Maha Veera Prabakaran ?.

    After all he ought to pay gratitude if he wins and please the Diaspora as well.

  • 0

    Its difficult for many of us to get in to the right frame of mind to behave as responsible citizens and help to look after each other as we did immediately after tsunami.
    I hope we all know the dangers in front of us before its too late.

    Dayan you should know better. You could make an effort to convince the president and SLFP to put forward their proposal to the national question and to devolve power to the provinces to promote participatory governance along the line suggested by APRC. This is the first step in the right direction. This could stop TNA feeling insulted and ignored making defensive statements to save their face among their people. if you are not making any appeal to the president and UPFA and accuse TNA for standing on the other side of the fence one may have to doubt your intentions.

    I have no doubt Dayan can do lot better and can bring hope for better future.
    watch stealing a nation
    Srilanka is not far away.


  • 0

    The reason why the registered Tamil political party since 1951 had two different names in Tamil and English has to be understood in the proper historical context. The name ‘Federal Party’ fully implied what the party stood for politically, namely federalism. The latter word could be easily understood by the English educated people of the country. The Tamil word for federalism is NOT ‘sandheeham’ as Dayan says because that word means ‘doubt’. The Tamil word used by the Federal Party to explain the political context was ‘samashti’, which word itself was new to politics and would have been hardly understood even by those who were literate! In order to simplify the term for the masses, the word ‘arasu’ was chosen to mainly imply self- rule, though literally the word could mean State or Kingdom as well.

    So one should not try to split hairs now and look for excuses to deny proper autonomy for the Tamils!

    Sengodan. M

  • 0

    To be fair to Mr. Wigneswara he may be a honest person and his words merely vote grubbing. But those words can’t be ‘unsaid’ and he may well find that with them he has sold his soul to satan. President Obama fell into a similar trap when he drew his ‘red line’for the Syrians.

  • 0

    Dayan you have become very devious in your articles.If your Sinhala
    genocidal President can say that Prabhakaran is a “brave soldier”,
    why cant Judge Wigneswaran call him a “hero”?. In case you are suffering from amnesia, Mahatma Gandhi,Nelson Mandela and Gerry Adams of the IRA were considered terrorists?. Dont forget the dictum today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s hero.
    Who are the people who killed innocent children at Sencholai and people of Chemani not forgetting the mass murder of your Sinhala youth killed by
    Premadasa and Srimavo Bandaranayake in 1971 and later. If you want evidence go to Matale and see for yourself.The Sinhala soldiers and the Sinhala Governments are the real terrorists.
    Why dont you write about them?.

  • 0

    Sinhala nationalism is there. It is real and it’s positive side has to be accepted by ALL, which means respecting and developing Sinhala culture and traditions; advancing the Sinhala language to suit the modern computer age etc.,etc.

    Similarly, Tamil nationalism is also there and it cannot simply be wished away by anyone! It had its beginnings in the early part of the last century and reached its zenith during the Tiger period. These are facts.

    If we are to evolve a Sri Lankan nationalism as such it could be done only on the basis of 1) accepting the above TWO realities and 2) forging the two, looking for common ground wherever possible. It can NEVER be achieved by one assimilating the other.

    If we accept the above three as real, the only way forward is to look for the provision of adequate autonomy for the Tamils!

    Sengodan. M

  • 0

    “…As far as I know the Tamil equivalent of Federal is Sandeeham. However the same party is registered as the ITAK, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi. This means the Lanka Tamil State Party (or less charitably, the Lanka Tamil Kingdom Party, since ‘arasu’ is used for state as well as kingdom).”

    Sandeeham? Hello Snake Oil salesman, first consult someone who actually knows Tamil well before you write your drivel.

    “…tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.”
    Let us see about some of your friends:

    1. Ranasinghe Premadasa — murderous thug
    2. Mahinda Rajapaksa — mass murderer, thug, brazen liar
    3. Douglas Devananda — murderer, thug, rapist, child molester

    So we know who you are.

    • 0

      Velu Pirapakaran – Gandhian, philanthropist, human savior, no tiger.
      How is that Agno eh.

      • 0

        First change your handle if you want anyone to engage you.

  • 0

    Ok my dear friend dayan, now you have a reasonable reason to continuously subjugate and harass Tamils and treat them as second class citizens. What a racist basket!! ok, now you can go to Geneva or is it Paris that you want, my boy.

  • 0

    Dr.Dayan Jayatilleke is no doubt a well educated and very well read political scientist. His association with the JVP and later the EPRLF revealed the idealist in him. Unfortunately, as a political strategist he tends to be somewhat Machiavellian. His support for Douglas Devananda and the EPDP, despite their unacceptability to the northern Tamils is a case in point. His crusade against Ranil Wickremasinghe, in the face of the corrosive nature of MR’s governance and its long term impact on this country is another instance. He places tactics of a ‘End justifies the means type’ on a higher pedestal than ethical principles.

    This is unfortunate, although there are many others who are worse, while not being intellectually endowed as he obviously is.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0

    For all you separatists,
    Neo Cons are your world. But everyone knows that Neo Cons are in absolute trouble now. The US owes the world more than their GDP and it is galloping beyond one’s imagine. The US and its allies expect to get out of the shit they are in now through civil commotions, and wars, and robbing oil, and promoting deceit against countries that wanted to have independent policies. The US do not have wealth or produce enough to pay back their mounting debts – over sixteen trillion US dollars now.

    But look at their record. The leader of the neo cons, the US had dropped not one but two atomic bombs ever by any nation on a country, and it dropped over 20 tons of nerve gas called ‘agent orange’ on Vietnamese and Cambodian civilians for ten years or so in the sixties to stop communism. Just a decade back this gang had killed and maimed well over a million Iraqis on a concocted story, and are mounting routine drone attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and many other countries for the last ten years. Amazingly these are the people who complain that varied number (10,000 to 150,000) of civilian were killed in the last Eelam war.

    Civilians get killed in any war especially if it is a one with heartless terrorists like LTTE who use humans as bombs as well as shields. Everyone knows that neo cons have wide Geo political aims. We all know that neo cons wanted to stop Chinese having a foothold in Sri Lanka. So they got the so-called free journalists to disseminate that the new harbour build by China in Hambantota is for a Chinese base. When it was declared a free port, neo cons got their stooges to decry the new Colombo south harbor is owned by China and even Sri Lanka will soon be swamped by Chinese.

    But we know that neo con crocodile tears are to divide Sri Lanka and then establish military bases in the Elam part. But Neo Cons will never be able to fulfill their dastardly aim for we the majority in Sri Lanka, the Sinhala Buddhist villagers are now united under the patriotic leadership of MR more than the days of the Eelam war.

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