25 September, 2020

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Sumanthiran Comes Within Slapping Distance

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

‘Moderate’ is a subjective tag.   Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran may call himself a moderate but not everyone will go along with his self-perception. The same holds for any moderate, self-labeled or labeled as such by others.  Politicians, in particular, are notorious for self-labeling and crafting speech with particular audience in mind.

Despite all these truisms and some contentious assertions Sumanthiran’s intervention in the budget debate has to be labeled ‘brave’.  It is not easy, after all, for a Tamil politician to admit that wrong was done in the name of the Tamil people.

One can argue that he hasn’t done enough, for example that he cannot be taken seriously until he acknowledges the pernicious role of pro-LTTE elements of the expatriate Sri Lankan Tamils.  Indeed, Sumanthiran’s ‘acknowledgements’ sound bland compared to the listing offered by Rajan Hoole (‘A flawed liberation Struggle: Massacres of Sinhalese civilians,’ in www.colombotelegraph.com).  When he says ‘We are in refugee camps for 23 years’ and asks ‘Why is that?’ he could be asked also to ask himself whether the question is less valid for Tamil politicians and militants.

On the other hand, reluctance to acknowledge crimes done in the name of a particular community is not the preserve of Tamil politicians.  Exchange of barbs and listing the crimes of the ‘other’ has been the order of play for several decades.

This is why, despite serious silences in Sumanthiran’s speech, it has to be seen as a brave intervention.  In all probability he would have been the recipient of much flak from his party colleagues, behind closed doors of course.  While it was not exactly an ‘own goal’ it was certainly a kick in the ‘wrong direction’ in terms of the general practice of political football, one might say.

When he acknowledges that was done in the name of Tamils to Muslims was unjust (and adds, albeit as an afterthought, that the Sinhalese also suffered), he puts himself within slapping distance of both friend and foe.  This is not courage but double courage.  It appears that he at least has understood that few Sinhalese would be interested in listening to any litany of woes uttered by any Tamil politician who pussyfoots around the vexed issue of atrocities perpetrated in the name of the Tamil community.

He is only saying part of the story when he states ‘Only when David Cameron spoke, the world heard; otherwise our voices are stifled’ for he cannot be ignorant how Cameron’s ignorance and cheap politicking.  And yet, he is correct that certain grievances fall on deaf ears in Colombo.  He probably understands that the identity of grievance-articulator is part of the problem.  What is important is that name of messenger and his/her past history should not cause listener to turn away.  Even if there is frill and inflation as per the dictates of expediency, there often is a core that is real and big enough to warrant complaint and therefore redress.

Sumanthiran, let us repeat, has come within slapping distance and this constitutes opportunity and warrants applause. This is why.

About a year ago, Bishop Duleep de Chickera during a thanksgiving service for the former Vicar of St. Paul’s Church, Kandy, Rev Fr James Amerasekara, said that Fr James’ ministry was governed among other things by Jesus’ extortion ‘If a man slaps you on your cheek, turn to him the other also’.  Bishop Chickera explained that it had taken him a long time to realize that what Jesus meant was ‘stay within slapping distance, don’t move away; because that distance is also the distance for an embrace’.

Embrace a member of a party that was once the mouthpiece of a terrorist outfit, a Tamil whose party turned the other way when in the name of the Tamil community thousands of Sinhalese and Muslims were slaughtered in cold blood?  Yes.  ‘Yes’ because perceptions aside there was a ‘real’ that happened in the other direction too.   Humility is the cornerstone of any edifice of co-existence and inter-communal harmony.  Sumanthiran is not always humble and his humility even here leaves out large parts of a very violent text, but that’s not reason enough to dismiss. Rather, it is reason enough to turn searchlight inwards.

For several decades we have had people speaking on behalf of various collectives choosing to react to slap with slap.  Someone must start by refusing to slap-back.  Someone has to come within slapping distance.  For now, it might be pointed out that Sumanthiran came within slapping distance but took care to hold a shied in front of his face.  Still, it is better than what others of his political persuasion has done and better than what his detractors have done and do.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    I say get behind Sumanthiran and put him in power. You will see Sri Lanka’s stock and credibility rise to great heights again. This is the man everyone can get behind. Please help him.

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      Burning_Issue ……… Both you and Hela are wrong. It was three thousand years ago Tamils formed the IATK for the sole purpose of driving my people away from this island………

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      Wyatt K …….. “This is the man everyone can get behind”…… If they want to stab him on his back…..

      • 0
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        Hay Eastern Tamil Vedda, How many you have stabbed from behind? Good that you don’t live in Sri Lanka.

  • 0
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    We just heard a loud thundering slap. Was it you ? Was it Malinda on Malinda ?

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    Sumanthiran, Wigneshwaran and some others represent the only viable future of Sri Lanka as a happy, prosperous, democratic country. These leaders have risen above partisan interest as well as narrow personal gain both of which are the hallmark of all but a handful of the Sinhala leaders. The UNP and the JVP can show how patriotic they are by rising above petty personal and communal interest and joining the TNA to build a national coalition with Sumanthiran as the common opposition candidate for the presidency. While the “expert political scientists” will no doubt scoff at this suggestion, it represents the only way out of the Rajapaksa dictatorship and feudal thinking, placing the country on the path to democracy, prosperity, happiness and modernity. With a well designed plan this is eminently achievable. Imagine us electing a young charismatic, intelligent Tamil as the head of our state. The news will stun the world, and all of G.L. Pieris’ foreign policy folly will be washed away overnight, and we will gain the admiration of the world. That would be an improvement on the near pariah state which the country internationally enjoys today.

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      Scott:

      A very well said comment. I do think Sri Lanka’s credibility would rise exponentially with Sumanthiran as president. He has already shown that he is looking to unite everyone under principles of liberty and democracy. Sumanthiran is all about the rule of law being applied to everyone across the board. This man represents all Sri Lankan’s who believe in those principles and that is why he can get support from among a wide cross-section of Sri Lankans of different ethnicities and religious faiths. This is a man who can bring them all together and in so doing can restore Sri Lanka to its former glory. I agree that the UNP and JVP should all unite behind him as a common candidate.

  • 0
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    Malinda is not the only journalist who writes this sort of vituperative junk.There were many others like him before like H.L.D.Mahindapala of Lake House in the 90s.Malinda knows that the more he writes in this vein,he would be rewarded with a LapTop,a Tab either Samsung or Acer Iconia and a Nokia Mobilephone,Lumia Windows8.perhaps.As he writes more and more he will be slapped with a DutyFree SuV.I REPEAT,Malinda is no fool.He knows how to play his cards,though for not long.

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