26 October, 2020

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On Eelam Tamils’ Politics: A Rejoinder To Shanthi Sachithanandam

 By Krishna Kalaichelvan

Dr. Krishna Kalaichelvan

Veteran civil society activist, Shanthi Sachithanandam, has bravely touched some of the most sensitive aspects of Eelam Tamils’ political struggle. Though I am disappointed on her reading of current democratic Tamil politics, but I welcome her effort to stretch the political imagination of Tamil body politic towards a greater emancipation of mankind.

Unfortunately her response to TNA/ITAK’s post-2009 politics is, typical of the current wave of normative-filibustering that emanates from the Jaffna bourgeois elite, in order to scuttle the new political consensus that is emerging from the Tamil body politic. Let us analyze, what is she attempting to state in her polemic, the author has raised three main issues in her writing, firstly, the ITAK’s “grave error” of failing to “acknowledge the legitimacy of the armed struggle”, secondly, she denounces the current statist system [state based] that underpins the mankind’s organized life and blames the ITAK/TNA for “constantly talking about “Tamil Rights””. Thirdly, her pedantic reading of ITAK/TNA’s declared commitment for non-violent politics.

On the conflation of Tamil militancy and LTTE legacy

Firstly, the author asserts that it is “necessary to acknowledge the legitimacy of the armed struggle of the Tamil people, regardless of the disagreements one might have in the particular methodology applied” and she declares “denying this past amounts to totally undermining the Tamil Nationalist Movement. It seems ITAK stands guilty of this grave error”. It is interesting to note that by singling out the ITAK – when ex-militant groups themselves have been expressing political pragmatism similar to the ITAK’s position – for committing this “grave error”, the author cleverly avoids her argument ringing hollow, where even former militant groups have taken a radically different attitude to their militant past. [1] Even few LTTE members have clearly expressed their dissenting voice regarding the legacy of Tamil militancy and especially the LTTE’s conduct, [2] not surprisingly they have been branded as traitors.

By blurring the margins between the conceptions of Tamil militancy as a whole and the legacy of LTTE, the author attempts to salvage the LTTE’s name rather than defending the “legitimacy of armed struggle of the Tamil people”.  It is true that the LTTE was the elephant in the room when it comes to the topic of Tamil militancy, but the author’s not so honest attempt to defend the legacy of LTTE by invoking the justification and legitimate-contextualization of the emergence of Tamil militancy must be highlighted here. A legitimate defence of Tamil militancy is different from defending the LTTE’s track record.

She eloquently writes, “When a community had been backed into a corner by a superior power and saw no better alternative, it resorted to terrorism generally and suicide terrorism in particular. His [Pape] studies establish that the military occupation of a superior force always preceded the outburst of terrorist movements. In Sri Lanka also, sending the garrisons to the North East began the militant protests and armed violence.Thus, it becomes necessary to acknowledge the legitimacy of the armed struggle of the Tamil people, regardless of the disagreements one might have in the particular  methodology applied”, as if none of us have recognized this salient aspect of post-independent Eelam Tamil political history.

Her selective reading of Sampanthan’s speech will further demonstrate her motive of writing this piece, in that same speech, the TNA/ITAK leader has stated unambiguously:

“There was the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact. There was the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact. If those Pacts had been implemented this country will not be in this position today. We were never a violent people. We carried on a legitimate, democratic, non-violent political struggle. We performed Satyagraha, we observed Ahimsa. When we did all that, there was violence unleashed against the Tamil people. It happened in 1956; it happened in 1958; it happened in 1961; it happened in 1977; it happened in 1981 and there was a genocidal Tamil pogrom in 1983. These are indisputable. We were prepared for a reasonable political solution within the framework of a united and undivided Sri Lanka. My Leader, Mr. Chelvanayakam very clearly enunciated that position. There can be no question about it, there can be no denial in regard to that matter. Therefore, that was the history of our struggle and it was because these reasonable political demands which were advocated in a democratic non-violent way were not accommodated and because there were repeated consistent anti-Tamil pogroms that took place over a long period of time, it was in those circumstances that the LTTE emerged. One must understand the true circumstances in which the LTTE emerged. I have always taken the view that the LTTE was not created by the Tamil people, that the LTTE was in fact created by successive governments in this country which did not accommodate legitimate Tamil political aspirations and when the Tamil people carried out a non-violent, peaceful, civil disobedience struggle, they were subjected to violence. That was the reason why the LTTE emerged. There were legitimate reasons for the emergence of the LTTE. Nobody can deny that. It came to be termed as a terrorist organization when it attacked civilians: Sinhalese civilians, Tamil civilians, Muslim civilians, when they started attacks on civilian leaders. That was the time that the LTTE came to be termed as a terrorist organization.” [3]

It is very important to disentangle the debate about LTTE’s practices and its conduct of liberation struggle from the justification of historical and ideological context that led to the emergence of Tamil militancy in the first place. Neither the TNA nor Sampanthan had made any attempt to delegitimize the role of Tamil militancy in Eelam Tamils’ history.  If the author wants to defend the legacy of the LTTE in toto, that’s her wish and liberty to do so, [4] instead she has decided to embark on this kind of straight-from-Tamilnet attempt to stifle free speech within the Tamil body politic. Effectively she is asking for a complete silence on the legacy of LTTE and I hope that the Tamil body politic will strive to uphold free speech and dissent, despite this kind of intimidations. This is especially importance, when she views Pirabakaran as a “person who was single mindedly committed to the cause” in contrast to other Tamil militant groups, whom she views them as “went off the mark” because “they were then agents of some agenda or the other”. [4] She is clearly articulating a hegemonic, uncritical, parochial Tamil nationalistic view on LTTE’s role, and that view effectively demands a religious loyalty from every Tamil.

Throwing Pape’s study is a red herring; do we really need an American political scientist to say the obvious? Only reason is to give a veneer of respectability to her otherwise polemic piece intended to distort the stated position of TNA/ITAK on the legacy Tamil militancy.

ITAK and statist international system

Secondly, the author laments the present international system and stresses the “dire need to rein in the extraordinary powers amassed by most States”. Fair enough, most people with a slightest interest in social science would find the state as a problematic institution bringing misery to majority of the population on Earth. This debate is as old as the Modernity and the emergence of nation-state system in the Western world. Our learned author wants the poor ITAK/TNA to change this miserable statist system because she found out that “gradually it is dawning on the world community that there is a dire need to rein in the extraordinary powers amassed by most States”. Above everything, her ludicrous assertion, the “doctrine of Responsibility to Protect [R2P] is one indication of this trend”, has no basis. I hope that she is referring to the same R2P that was agreed upon by the head of states during the 2005 UN World Summit. No one is hopeful about R2P, [5] except people like Gareth Evans, who co-chaired the commission that came up with the doctrine of R2P. [6] Ominously, some critics even say that the R2P doctrine is actually valorising the state by reframing the sovereignty as responsibility to protect, hence a wrong step in the direction of emancipation. [7] This is not a place to write an essay on R2P, it is to reiterate that the author’s optimism regarding the R2P doctrine has no basis, both theoretically and empirically.

She wants the ITAK/TNA to “to engage with the larger democratic questions nationally and internationally” to work for a “new world order” consist of “restructured” “multi-national” states. She needs to be reminded of a Tamil proverb, ‘you can get something in spoon only if you have something in the pot’. The ITAK/TNA or TNPF or any other political party doesn’t exist in a void. The backward culture of Tamil body politic is simply the reflection of the society that holds this body politic. There are serious issues that need to be addressed and reconciled at the societal level, before “envisioning” a grandiose “new word order”. No one is disputing the author’s claim that the election-oriented-Tamil-politics has made blunders since 1948, but her conclusion based on that observation is nonsensical.

Even her revered leader Prabakaran couldn’t rise above the parochialism practised by the ITAK/TULF leaders.  To quote Sivaram [where else to go?]:

“In Valvettithurai and Pt. Pedro, the politics of the Navaratnam School was propagated by Venugopal Master, a school teacher. He was the Suyadchi Kazhakam’s candidate for Pt. Pedro at the 1977 elections. He is Pirapaharan’s political mentor, the man who shaped the political outlook of the young rebel when he set out to wage an armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state….Pirapaharan has come a long way politically since he was one of Venugopal Master’s nocturnal students. At fifty, his biggest political achievement is the confluence of the Chelvanayagam and Navaratnam Schools of the Tamil movement. The Tamil National Alliance is the manifestation of this political confluence, which he has brought about. ” [8]

It is a well-established fact that Prabakaran’s political lineage can be traced back to Suyadchi Kazhagam Navaratnam, but when he passed away, Prabakaran conferred “Naattu Patralar” (Patriot) title on him. Ironically, the LTTE posthumously conferred “Naattu Patralar” title on Prabakaran’s father-in-law as well. This can be explained, again in the words of Sivaram [before his transformation], “For the Tigers to assert a monopoly right over Tamil politics, they must logically affirm a monopoly over its history too. If anyone from Prabhakaran’s era was the first to take up his pen to have his say, it was Sabalingam. Now he is dead…To Prabhakaran, who regards himself the ultimate glorious hero of the Eelam movement, any challenge to his monopoly of history is intolerable. No matter how many lives he must sacrifice to assert this self-given right: It is the core of his being”. [9] This is the only explanation, that we can arrive at Prabakaran’s reluctance to confer Navaratnam with the highest title ‘Maamanithar”, for a politician who defied the status quo at a historical juncture to shape the future of Tamil political struggle. Regrettably, the Tamil nation could produce the militants only from the same stock that had produced the Tamil demagogues previously.

Author’s pedantic reading of ITAK/TNA’s commitment to non-violent politics

Thirdly, the author was putting up a sophisticated attempt to bring the ‘just war’ doctrine without naming it. She claims, “now that the option of the armed struggle has failed the Tamils for the present” and asserts, “history shows that nowhere in the world a non-violent movement succeeded on its own”. Then her argument gets into bizarre and mystical terrain; non-violence is “more about maintaining a righteous frame of mind rather than about the action of not using arms”. The problem with the ‘just war’ doctrine is that it was the refuge of every warmonger in history, including Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Her nitpicking of ITAK/TNA’s commitment to non-violence is more polemic than any substance. She ridicules the ITAK/TNA: “It is hilarious to listen to pompous statements issued by them on being “non violent” which is basically saying that they are prepared to talk with the government, as they have been saying for the past 60 years. Conducting talks with the government is not practicing non violence by any stretch of our imagination.”

The ITAK/TNA talking with the government of the day could be the only sensible policy translation of a non-violence politics, what is “hilarious” in that? On the other hand, the ITAK/TNA is so far resisting pressures to join the Parliamentary Select Committee, on a principled position. Hence, it cannot be claimed, that the ITAK/TNA is meekly surrendering to the government demands. Towards the end, she writes, confounding further, “ITAK and the other constituent Tamil parties of the TNA come forward with honesty of purpose and the willingness to change their entire approach to political engagement with the government of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala people”. The authorial intention of the above mentioned words are not clear at all, on what kind of “approach” and “engagement” she expects from the ITAK/TNA.

There are profound contradictions in her writing; on the one hand, she defends the LTTE’s legacy in toto unapologetically and justifies ‘just war’ doctrine and on the other hand she denounces the statist international system and urges the ITAK/TNA to “envision” for a “new world order”. Her discussion on non-violence is entirely polemical against ITAK/TNA.

After the end of war in 2009, the ITAK/TNA or any other Tamil political party has to build-up their cadre base and the party infrastructure from scratch, in the backdrop of an intimidating military occupation, continuing brain drain in Tamil land, and a war-battered society. Hence it will take time to build a democratic body politic grounded in ‘the people’. The more serious issue here is that the Eelam Tamils should sincerely conduct introspection into our social fabric and honestly confront the evils of our society, in order to transform into a progressive and ethic-based democratic body politic. Effectively, there should be a process of reconciliation must be happening within the Tamil body politic, and any attempt to discredit and ignore the dissenting voices, wont succeed and in fact it may endanger the whole architecture of Tamil nation building project. Ominously, there is a strong tendency to push – a particular set of ideas and solutions – “down the throats of the Tamil people” [10] [in author’s words] by the Jaffna bourgeois elite.

Reference

1] http://groundviews.org/2011/07/27/exclusive-interview-with-tna-mp-suresh-premachandran-on-the-lg-elections-parliamentary-select-committee-and-political-solution/ *** http://www.tamilwin.com/show-RUmryETbhFKWi.html

2] http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/1607

3] http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/13539

4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4nQljK90o *** http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=24300

5] http://www.e-ir.info/wp-content/uploads/R2P.pdf

6] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/11/28/gareth_evans_end_of_the_argument

7] http://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/roundtable/2012/panel-b/10-2012/cunliffe-2012a.html ***

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8305208

8] http://tamilnation.co/forum/sivaram/041126.htm

9] http://www.island.lk/2005/09/17/features3.html

10] http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=24300

*Krishna Kalaichelvan (anapayan) is a UK based commentator on Sri Lankan and South-Asian politics, global health and international security, he is a medical doctor by training. His writings may be accessed via  anapayan.wordpress.com

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    What is he trying to do. Blame here and there and going no where.

    • 0
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      What he is saying is simple to understand. Don’t curb the democratic ideas and free speech of Tamil Politics. It would in turn damage the Tamils.

      Dr. N. Satchi uk

      • 0
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        Dr. N. Satchi

        “Don’t curb the democratic ideas and free speech of Tamil Politics.”

        Leave it to the state, it will take care of curbing.

        • 0
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          How can the state curb the diaspora?

      • 0
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        Telling who? Are they listening?

    • 0
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      Lanka liar

      “What is he trying to do. Blame here and there and going no where.”

      Remember he is a Tamil, that’s what all Tamils do.

      • 0
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        At least he is blaming not lying as you know who do

        • 0
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          Lanka Liar

          “At least he is blaming not lying as you know who do”

          Who does?

  • 0
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    Is this Satchi school of thinking? [Edited out]

  • 0
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    If anybody defends / upholds LTTE terror , then they should know they lost their own game & logical thing now is to lick wounds.

    Only time tested way is to be democratic & non violent, but they started with (1920’s)asking 50/50,for some 12% of Ceylon Tamils, so naturally never got & then asked for 33 % country’s land mass & 66 % territorial waters for 12% & gave hopes to youth, who in the absence of delivery took lives of own god fathers, the rest is history now.

    Brought in death & destruction to all & some one million Ceylon Tamils left Lankan shores as refugees & perhaps due to greener pastures has no plan to come back & it’s Diaspora who now finances & decides what TNA etc. should do.
    No wonder, it doesn’t look TNA has any plan in horizon to rebuild Ceylon Tamil/Hindu society, perhaps Diaspora too favours only continued struggle for what they never get, Eelam /Interim Admin etc. & to keep pot boiling, so that those without PR / Citizenship would get those, so they are happy & just ley lets Lankan govt’ to look after poor who remains in North Lanka (“Eelam”?)

    • 0
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      “they started with (1920′s)asking 50/50,for some 12% of Ceylon Tamils ..”. GG asked for 50/50 not all Tamils asked for 50/50. How did we end up with this 12%? It was nearly 30%.

      • 0
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        50-50 is another way of saying Equality, irrespective of Races?

        • 0
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          They asked executive & legislative power 50/50.
          We got Universal Franchise in 1931, (one person ,one vote), what else constitutes equality in democracy ? & The Constitution was drafted by British Colonials.

      • 0
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        Check 1920 census results, Ceylon Tamils were only 11.2 %

        • 0
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          Before the arrival of Vijaya – Tamils greater than 0%, Sinhalease 0%

  • 0
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    Looks like a family job . Trying to make a leader out of something. Good try. But SS is not leadership material

  • 0
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    Dear Anpu,

    You are one of the keener readers in these pages. It will surprise me
    if you too believe GGP asked 50/50 only for Tamils. He did not, my friend. It is Sinhala interests who twisted this to capture and mislead the public imagination – from then till now. That included the urbane Stage star ECB Wijesinghe, a Premadasa favourite, who came out with the two hit plays “Fifty-Fifty” and “He came from Jaffna” – the former suggestive even the liberal English-educated in elite Colombo society were confused.

    I believe GGP’s suggestion was 50% of the seats in the House for the Buddhist Sinhalese and the balance 50% for the rest of the minorities -including Christian Sinhalese. The visionary he was, as did Sir Ivor Jennings, he felt the time was coming when majoritarianism will lay its claim on the resources of the State that will result in the submerging of the interests and rights of the Tamils and other minorities. You know as well as I do post-1956 that is exactly what happened. It has become worse in the recent months. Tamils in the North are being targeted to be made minorities in their own ancient land. The tragedy is so compounded some of our Tamil friends are batting with the other side against the Tamil Nation even when the Tamils are battered and their lands surreptitiously stolen.

    Senguttuvan

    • 0
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      Dear Senguttuvan,
      Thanks. I wish we could meet one day.
      Anpu

      • 0
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        My friend Anpu,

        There are many fine Lankans in these pages – from all communities – I’d love to meet and carry on our discussion. But we live in a Police State environment. I read some who attended
        the Viharamaha Devi “No hate” meeting were followed by men in mobikes. I know some who crossed words with us here have provided details of contributors here to the intelligence services. It is low – but that is the society we have become. I thought with the demise of the latter LTTE we saw the end of this outrage. Sadly, it is with us – and perhaps growing in intensity.

        But worry not – it is not the end of the world. Worse despots who batted longer have all gone to their graves – unceremoniously.
        The world will go on. Cling to what is right, moral and just –
        the good will eventually emerge. Good always prevails over evil.
        In some ways I am incurable optimist.

        Kind regards/Senguttuvan

  • 0
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    A very thoughtful, reasoned and well-argued piece by ‘Anapayan’. A valuable contribution to the contemporary political conversation. Pity there aren’t more intellectuals like him.

    • 0
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      Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      “Pity there aren’t more intellectuals like him.”

      You take every opportunity to elbow them hence they avoid you.

      How about Nesan (EROS leader?)is he not an intellectual giant?

    • 0
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      Dr Dayan Jayatilleka,
      A while back you replied to one of my comments in GV or DBSJ – “it is because Tamils asked for 50/50” (or something simillar). I did not reply to you and never had time to check GG’s 50/50 speach. Like punchinilame ( May 4, 2013 10:34 pm) I also thought he might have meant equality. It could have been as Senguttuvan (May 4, 2013 9:42 pm) commented.

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