By TU Senan –
Tamil organisations and self-proclaimed leaders have so far had refused to come out clearly in support of bringing down the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime. With the position of ‘anybody but the Rajapaksas’ in the past, these leaders supported the former general who led the war on Tamils, the most right-wing UNP leadership, and even the SLFP-led coalition. Those forces that received the full support of Tamil leaders have never had any intention of ending the Rajapaksas’ rule or had given any concession to Tamils or even accepted any key demands that were prominent among Tamils. But the current mass protest movement has shown determination to end the Rajapaksa family rule and some sections had come forward with supporting some demands of the Tamils. And yet not only do Tamil leaders refuse to give full support to the movement, but some sections within their main party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), actively ask Tamils not to take part in the struggle. Two key reasons repeated by them were: “This is a struggle of the Sinhala masses to change their government and Tamils don’t have to be involved in this,” and “Not a single Sinhala person protested when Tamils were slain so Tamils will not come to the streets”.
It is possible to sympathise with the victims of brutal genocidal war. They have reasons to be bitter. No one came to their aid during the killings that took place in 2009. When tens of thousands of Tamils came to the streets in the UK and a number of western cities, the majority Sinhala masses did not take part in these protests. The so-called Marxist party, the JVP, at that time was in collaboration with the Rajapaksa regime. The communist parties in India indirectly supported the war in the interest of ending the LTTE’s terrorism. Many anti-LTTE sections within the Tamil community also kept their silence and dismissed the protesters as LTTE supporters. The mass media in every country simply ignored the massacre that was taking place in Sri Lanka. The initial resolution that the UN passed on this issue was to congratulate Sri Lanka for ending the war. Even the so-called ‘Stop the War Coalition’ in Britain refused to pass even a simple, strong resolution at its conference, despite the demands of Tamil activists taking part in the anti-war movement. This took place at the time when the Sri Lankan government had surrounded Tamils in the war region and driven them into a small strip of land and started killing them. But the self-proclaimed leaders in the diaspora and in Sri Lanka also did not support the mass struggle that emerged then. Many argued against the protesters, claiming that the British parliament and UN would take decisive action. After the end of the war, they focused on lobbying the UN and western parliaments as the only means of ‘struggle’.
Nobody in Sri Lanka came forward to organise any protest in the Tamil areas. It was not a fear of military repression that held them back, but their politics. Without exaggeration, it should be noted here that United Socialist Party (USP) was the only organisation in Sri Lanka that came forward to mount a campaign – and did all it could to oppose war and genocidal slaughter. They also became co-founders of the ‘Stop the Slaughter of Tamils’ campaign which later became Tamil Solidarity. There were a few other small Trotskyist organisations that stood strongly against the war and killing, but refused to take any action.
The utter hypocrisy of Tamil leaders and other right-wing individuals has nothing to do with how the victims of war feel. What these entire ignoramuses ignore is the fact that the Tamil masses are the most affected by the current crisis. Should the Tamils accept the price rises in fuel and food, and starve? Are no Tamils affected by this crisis? Why preach to the Tamils they should not to have a voice about the current economic deterioration? Then how can you expect them to go to vote in the next election? Why are Tamil leaders still sitting in the so-called ‘Sinhala parliament’ and still getting huge salaries? Those who argue that Tamils have no business in ‘southern politics’ must answer these questions. Does Tamil political representation mean just electing members to the Sri Lankan parliament to support the UNP? Should Tamil political representatives not have any say in any of the policies carried by the parliament? Why do you then need an electoral party? And why go to parliament? Tamil elected ‘leaders’, with the exception of very few, had one thing in common. They consistently stood by their traditional right-wing allies in the south and voted with them on policies that attacked the working class and poor. Though there has been some change in recent times, this has been the history of Tamil parliamentarians for decades. Tamil nationalist rhetoric for them worked only as a cover to hide their right-wing political positions.
So-called self-proclaimed diaspora leaders were no different. They were happy to fall behind western governments rather than support any struggle – or build real opposition. They still consider themselves as friends of the Modi regime despite Tamil brothers and sisters in Tamil Nadu in general standing in opposition to Modi. Some even built ‘Trump for Tamils’ during Donald Trump’s presidency. Such is the low level of political leadership that Eelam Tamils have. Most live in an imaginary statehood. Some well-to-do middle-class youth now follow in their footsteps. They occupy the political space of diaspora youth and push the working-class youth to the margin. However, no one openly says they are against building the struggle of Tamils as they fear losing support as a result. But in effect, they all stand in opposition to developing the serious struggle of the Tamil masses.
So-called Tamil leaders so far failed to call for protests or Tamils to come out in opposition to the Gotabaya Regime. Most of them never believed in the mass movement and never did anything to build the mass movement of Tamils in relation to any demands. There is nothing much different this time. They are, however, not holding back on justifying the inaction of Tamils as though it is a ‘conscious political decision’ of Tamils in general. “Tamils are sceptical,” claims the Tamil Guardian, a downright right-wing dominated medium. “Tamil areas are quiet,” claimed another with appreciation. While saying this, none argue for the escalation of protests or even support for the protests that are taking place in the capital. There is massive anger in Tamil areas against the Gotabaya government. This anger is now dominated by the deteriorating economic and social conditions. This so far has not had a mass expression. Despite Tamil leaders holding back the protests, there were many going over the head of these so-called leaders and protesting. If the movement develops further without an attack on Tamils, it is very likely that this will spread across the North and East (there were mass protests taking place in hill country areas). The protest wave that has emerged in Sri Lanka still needs to go far to become a strong movement. So far, the centre of these protests has been Colombo. Not just in the North, many regions have not seen significant developments. Tamils and Muslims who live in the capital have joined the protests in significant numbers. As the movement develops, we are likely to see more actions taken in the northern areas too.
The point however is not to be happy at the quietness of the Tamil region, but to call for action. So far, Tamil leaders have failed to lead. The Tamil Youth Organisation (TYO), a former strong Tamil youth group during the LTTE period that is now almost extinct, released a statement recently devoid of any political content. There is nothing in their statement except the usual call for recognition of the Tamil homeland. Of course, they did not forget to include calling on the so-called international community to deliver on this, as usual. Youth in the north are left leaderless in many senses. Some of them are intimidated enough that they think they will be considered pro-Sri Lankan government or pro-Sinhala if they come out and organise a protest. Meanwhile, the anti-LTTE loyalists are once again lifting the Sri Lankan flag.