By Dayan Jayatilleka –
We have already had a bitter experience with Mr. Wigneswaran and we mustn’t repeat or compound it. Mr. Sampanthan is a cultured gentleman, a superb speaker and a fine parliamentarian in the old tradition. But he would be most unsuitable to be made Leader of the Opposition. It is neither because he is an ethnic Tamil nor because he is the leader of the TNA that Mr. Sampanthan must not be appointed the Leader of the Opposition of the Sri Lankan parliament. It is because of the political project he subscribes to and the political views he holds. Going by those declared views, he would, as Opposition Leader, not oppose only the policies and practices of the Government of Sri Lanka. Indeed he probably won’t oppose the present Government at all, since he helped bring it into office; his party colleague Mr. Sumanthiran is a co-drafter of the 19th amendment which castrates the executive Presidency, turning that office into a constitutional eunuch; and his party the TNA has gone on to defend the 19th amendment in the Supreme Court. Instead, Mr. Sampanthan as Opposition Leader would be opposed to the very political community, the very political unit, which he would be sworn to uphold and operate squarely within.
To put it differently, one cannot have as the Leader of the Opposition someone who is not loyal to the Sri Lankan State. One cannot have as Leader of the Opposition, someone who refuses to uphold the very character – unitary, not merely united—of the Sri Lankan state.
I refer not only to a decade ago, when Mr. Sampanthan and his party contested the election on a single point platform, namely that the separatist-terrorist LTTE was “the sole legitimate representative of the Tamil People”. I do not refer primarily to the fact that he has yet to express regret and apology for that stand.
I refer primarily to Mr. Sampathan’s stand on so solemn an occasion as his party’s 14th Annual Convention in 2012 a mere three years ago, well into the post-war period when his political conduct cannot be excused by the invocation of a likely LTTE threat to his life.
A mere three years ago, Mr. Sampanthan, the most prominent local leader of the Northern Tamil community, which exists a few miles away from the sub-regional landmass of Tamil Nadu with its aggressively hostile streak towards Sri Lanka, reiterated his party’s commitment to achieving with the support of the international community, the same ‘soaring aspirations’ that could not be achieved through the force of arms.
He asserted—some would say confirmed—that ‘the international community’, through its current stance, may open the space for the achievement of that goal: “…The current practices of the international community may give us an opportunity to achieve, without the loss of life, the soaring aspirations we were unable to achieve by armed force.” (R. Sampanthan, speech at ITAK 14th Annual Convention, Batticaloa, May 2012, Colombo Telegraph)
Plainly the “soaring aspiration” which was unsuccessfully sought to be achieved through “ armed force” is that of the separate state of Tamil Eelam, which axiomatically entails the dismemberment of Sri Lanka. This is the gentleman who some openly recommend for the post of the Leader of the Opposition!
In his keynote speech on this formal political occasion, Mr. Sampanthan called for the restoration of the degree of sovereignty that the Tamil people are said to have enjoyed over 500 years ago, prior to the advent of colonialism. This refers to a completely independent political existence. “…Up to 500 years ago, the Tamil people established their own governments, and governed themselves. Our party symbolizes a time in history…during which our people had their own sovereign Tamil governments…Our fundamental objective is to regain our community’s Home, its historical habitat and its sovereignty. The symbol of the House symbolizes this unshakeable aim…” (Ibid)
The House Mr. Sampanthan is talking about is not the Parliament of Sri Lanka, where the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress ( SLMC) and certain ideologues of the LSSP such as Mr. Lal Wijenaike would like to see him as Leader of the Opposition! No, Mr. Sampanthan is clearly calling for a separate house as a home—not a roomier room in the existing house of the unitary Sri Lankan state.
If the world were to be re-ordered by restoring the pre-colonial status quo ante of no less than half a millennium; if every minority of roughly a million people or a fraction of a country’s citizenry, were to demand this right and seek its exercise, the world would be plunged into anarchy, chaos, bloodshed. This project cannot be entertained—and most certainly not on a relatively small island with no ‘defense in depth’; adjacent to a landmass which has been historically hostile.
Had Mr. Sampanthan’s transparent declaration of tactics at his party’s Annual Convention just three years back been authored by a Sinhalese, it would have been dubbed ‘racist stereotyping’. “…The softening of our stance concerning certain issues, and the compromise we show in other issues, are diplomatic strategies to ensure that we do not alienate the international community. They are not indications that we have abandoned our fundamental objectives…In other words – we must prove to the international community that we will never be able to realize our rights within a united Sri Lanka… Although the issue at hand is the same, the prevailing conditions are different. The struggle is the same, but the approaches we employ are different. Our aim is the same, but our strategies are different. The players are the same, but the alliances are different. That is the nature of the Tamil people. Although we still have the same aim, the methods we use are now different…” (Ibid)
Simple logic tells us that if such a person who holds these views is appointed the Leader of the Opposition, he will use his office to further the aims he believes in and is committed to. Thus we shall have a Leader of the Opposition who has “not abandoned [their] fundamental objectives”; who believes that “the struggle is the same” and “the aim is the same” (as that of those who used “armed force”). Logic tells us that he will use “different strategies”, “approaches” and “alliances” in the service of the unchanged fundamental objective and aim. Most clearly of all, Mr. Sampanthan as Leader of the Opposition will continue to think and feel, and act on the thinking and feeling, that he and his party “must prove to the international community that we will never be able to realize our rights within a united Sri Lanka”. Thus Mr. Sampanthan is committed to proving to the world that Tamil rights can be realized not “within” but only outside a “united Sri Lanka”.
Note that Mr. Sampanthan used the term “united” and not “unitary’. If he does not believe that Tamil rights can be realized within a “united Sri Lanka”, is he not making the case for separation? Do we believe his Supreme Court affidavit or his address as leader, the annual convention of his party? In other words do we believe what he says in English in Colombo or what he says on a formal occasion, in Tamil, in the North and East? At the very least we have here a case of political schizophrenia. Do we wish to have a democratic separatist or at the very least, a political schizophrenic as the Leader of the Opposition of Sri Lanka? Those who advocate this are either utterly irresponsible or subscribe to a sinister separatist project. They are either fools or knaves.
Shrinkage of Sinhala Political Power
Already the combination of the 19th amendment which dismantles the strong Presidency would place national decision making in the hands of a Prime Minister who could be the willing or unwilling hostage of the TNA and a parliament and a Cabinet that could be bought up by Diaspora slush funds. Taken together with the drive to go beyond the 13th amendment and Mr. Sampanthan’s belief that Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga will settle the ethnic problem by the end of this year on the basis of her political ‘package’ of the mid-1990s, what the Ranil-Chandrika-TNA troika and their external patrons are embarking on is a road map to weaken the centralizing capacities of the Sri Lankan state and reduce the share of state power, political power, that the Sinhala community has and is rightfully entitled to be given (a) its overwhelming demographic preponderance, (b) antiquity (if the Northern Tamils had preceded the Sinhalese they would hardly have remained stuck in the least arable Northern cone of the island) and (c) the fact that it is the only community whose language, an ancient one, is spoken only on this island.
The suggestion to make Mr. Sampanthan the Leader of the Opposition is part of a macro-strategy to reduce the share of political power and size of the stake-holding within the Sri Lankan state that the Sinhala nation is naturally and organically entitled to. Ranil, Chandrika, the TNA, and those countries with significant concentrations of Tamil voters are moving to dismantle the safeguards for Sinhala political power in this island state. The strategic aim is the dilution and dissolution of Sinhala power, the power of the majority on the island—not least because the Sinhalese are seen as the sole obstacle to Western and neighboring hegemony and as allies of China on this strategically placed island on the Maritime Silk Route, while the Northeastern periphery is seen as a potential base by the external hegemons, who will therefore tilt towards maximizing the power of the North as a distinct, highly autonomous, indeed quasi-independent political unit a la Kurdistan. This is why Mahinda Rajapaksa was externally de-stabilized and ousted, and a puppet regime “democratically” installed. And that in turn is why the multitude wishes him to return, to steer the destiny of their country; a country that is now manipulated by external hegemons and their disgraceful local lackeys. The multitude knows in its bones, nay, in its collective soul that this island is the only country they have on this planet.