By 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”.