By H.L.D. Mahindapala –
Dost thou know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed – Count Oxenstierna, 17th century Swedish statesman.
After attending the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, 2012, Dr. Noel Nadesan, novelist and Editor of the Australian Uthayam, and I were hanging around at the airport waiting to catch our flight back to Melbourne. As we had oodles of time on our hands we decided to have a coffee, more to dispel the boredom than for the need of a stimulant. On the way to the nearest coffee bar we bumped into amiable Gary Anandasangaree, the son of V. Anandasangaree, the veteran Tamil politician who survived the horrors of mono-ethnic politics of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of the Vadukoddai children who killed more Tamils (including his lieutenant, Appapillai Amirthalingam) than all the others put together.
Gary too was waiting to catch his plane to Canada. And, like us, he had time to kill. Gary then was a practising lawyer, aspiring to be a parliamentarian in the Canadian Parliament. Since then he has advanced to the next level of an MP, representing the Scarborough-Rouge Park constituency.
It was a pleasant meeting. We spent a little over an hour debating the Sri Lankan situation. We both stuck to our points of view and neither was conceding anything to other. This is typical of the debates that engage the expatriates in the diaspora. But I must confess that Gary was suave, polite and having imbibed strands of the democratic Western culture, sparred with me without the fanaticism of some of the Tamils abroad. We covered many aspects of the Sri Lankan crisis and one single aspect that is relevant to this essay was his denunciation of the Sri Lankan political culture which he said would not open space for a Tamil to become a prime minister. This accusation is a part of the litany of complaints which they repeat ad nauseam.
In the main, the Tamils argue that all governments have been “Sinhala governments” which had consistently denied the Tamils their rights. The known facts, however, prove that practically all governments consisted of Tamils and Muslims, including, at one time, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s representative, M. Tiruchelvam. In fact, the Citizenship Act, which they say was a discriminatory piece of legislation to deprive the Indian Tamils their citizenship, was passed with the consent and vote of the then Tamil leader, G. G. Ponnambalam who was a member of D. S. Senanayake’s cabinet. Ignoring this, they blame only “the Sinhala governments”.
Besides, the cry of “discrimination” was raised and taken to the violent extreme only by the Jaffna Tamil leadership and not by the other two minorities, the Muslims and the Indian Tamils.They also spoke Tamil. The discriminatory issues raised by the Jaffna Tamils should have affected them too, if they were valid. But they resolved their differences without resorting to brutal violence. Nor did they join the Jaffna Tamils in their campaigns against the Sinhala-Buddhists. So why did only the Jaffna Tamils resort to violent fascism, abandoning the democratic mainstream? What did they achieve?
Getting back to Gary’s accusation, my answer was that the issue of a Tamil becoming a prime minister was within the realms of possibility, if the conditions are ripe. In any case, I pointed out that the chances of a Tamil becoming a prime minister were much better than that of his father getting a “visa” to enter Jaffna. It was a time when Velupillai Prabhakaran was ruling the roost in the Jaffna and targeting Tamil leaders who were a threat to him. I quoted his father who had said that he was given the freedom to protest in Jaffna when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike opened the Jaffna University but the Tamil thalaivar, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who claimed to be the “the sole representative of the Tamils”, would not let his father even step into the north. I said that his father, like most of the old guard in Jaffna, could live under the protection of “the Sinhala governments” but not in the place which is called the “homeland of the Tamils”.
I also reminded him that in the past the Sinhalese had opted to have Tamils as their kings and there was nothing to prevent a moderate and rational Tamil becoming the prime minister. In fact, Lakshman Kadiragamar, who had won the confidence of the Sinhalese, was on his way to become the prime minister when he was assassinated (2005) by a Tamil Tiger terrorists, I said. Even the latest developments prove the possibility of a Tamil becoming the prime minister. If a Tamil can become the Chief Justice what would prevent a politically qualified Tamil to be the prime minister? Besides, both A. Amirthalingam and R. Sampanthan had been appointed as the leaders of the opposition without the requisite numbers in the House to hold that position. If a minority Tamil can beat the majority Sinhalese and become the leader of the opposition isn’t there the possibility of a Tamil becoming the prime minister under favourable conditions?
In an attempt to drive his point home, Gary cited the example of Barack Obama, a member of the black minority becoming the President of white America. I countered by saying that Obama was elected not because he was black but because he was white. Obama made himself acceptable to the white majority by articulating and defending their values, their aspirations, and their interests. He went all out to identify himself with the greater America. He succeeded because he was more white than Bush. Available statistics prove that he had killed more civilians than Bush in “protecting the national interests of America”. In fact, when his family pastor in Chicago, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who baptised his children, declaimed America, crying out loud from his pulpit : “Not God bless America but God damn America!”, he quickly dissociated with such anti-American politics which he considered blasphemous.
Besides, how many votes would he have got if he followed Malcolm X or Louis Farrakhan who advocated a separate state for the Afro-Americans? Clearly Obama won not by identifying himself with the Afro-Americans but with the White Americans. Of course, he is with Afro-Americans like the way white liberals are with this minority groups. But, in essence, Obama succeeded because he decided to work meticulously and unerringly within the white framework.
Gary too can succeed only if he gets out of Tamil ghetto in Toronto and embraces the greater Canadian community. How far can he go if he demands a separate state in Toronto? Even the French Quebecois are finding it difficult to get ahead with their separatist agenda. What are the chances of Gary succeeding if he adopts the politics of Prabhakaran and Wigneswaran in Canada?
The irredeemable flaw in Tamil politics is that they prefer to believe in their myths and not the realities facing them. They blame “the Sinhala governments” at all times because that is the only diversion they can provide to cover up their inherent failure to serve the socio-economic needs of the Tamil people. For instance, Tamil propaganda machine had blamed “the Sinhala government” for every Tamil leader killed by the Tamil Pol Pot, Prabhakaran. They never accepted responsibility for their criminal activities. In their heart of hearts they hero worship Prabhakaran – the most efficient mass killer of Tamils after Sankili. But they abandon him when they can’t defend his Pol Potist fascism and accuse “the Sinhala governments” of creating him. As usual, they want to have it both ways. The Jaffna Tamils prefer to hide in their myths because there is no hope in the grim realities facing them. They fear that the advancing realities will drag them to Nandikadal again.
The “Sinhala governments” have become the scapegoat for their failed politics. They even accused “the Sinhala government” of assassinating Neelan Tiruchelvam (1999). And, believe it or not, some pro-Tiger elements in the West, had swallowed that lie hook, line and sinker. For instance, at a Geneva session I openly accused the Tamil Tiger terrorists of planning and executing the cold blooded murder of Neelan. Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the Opposition in UK Parliament, a pro-Tamil Labourite, was seated next to me. When I finished my presentation he turned towards me and asked why I blamed the LTTE. I replied: “Simple! Only the Tigers produce suicide bombers. No one else. The Tiger footprints were all over Neelan.” He turned away with a sour face.
These remarks are written as a prelude to the latest news item published in the Indian Express (8/10/2016) extolling the achievement of Gary in getting a resolution passed in the Canadian Parliament declaring January as “Tamil Heritage Month”. The news item did not elaborate as to what form or shape this would take. It merely stated : “Come January, when Tamils around the world will celebrate Thai Pongal, the whole of Canada will celebrate it as Tamil Heritage Month. Festivities for the inaugural Tamil Heritage Month across Canada will commence in January 2017, which coincides with the Canada 150 celebrations…..”
My friend, Mahinda Gunasekera, a leading activist in the Canadian front combating anti-Sri Lankan propaganda, explained to me that the motion presented by Gary Anandasangaree, MP (Liberal Party) was adopted by the House of Commons of Canada in October 2016. He added : ”The Tamil organizations would have lobbied the various federal legislators to win their support, mainly those MPs in the Greater Toronto Area where most Tamils live and make up a fair share (10 to 15 per cent) of the vote bank, which makes it helpful to win the assent of the legislators. Although adopted by the House of Commons, it is not binding on the populace. For the Tamils in Canada who have had an unfavourable media with several of their members engaging in crime and violence such as passport fraud, credit card fraud, human/drug smuggling, extortion, funding of the LTTE which is a designated international terrorist group banned in Canada effective April 8, 2006, staged accidents to swindle auto insurers, intra-community gang violence including shootings, etc., necessitating the Toronto Police to set up a Special Tamil Task Force, will now be able to use the official declaration of the Tamil Heritage Month’ to whitewash their past ugly history. Although this declaration does not entitle the Tamil community to any special privileges or grants from the three levels of government, they have succeeded in milking every level (municipal/provincial/federal) to the fullest of all grant funding available to the multi-ethnic community.”
All said and done, Gary deserves a pat on the back for getting the resolution passed even though it is only a cosmetic exercise to give a bit of shine to the exaggerated claims of Canadian “multiculturalism”. To the Tamils, of course, this would be an additional boost to their ego. They would claim this resolution as a great victory for the Tamils. They will use it to taunt the Sri Lankan government of not giving the Tamils their due place, their rights and dignity unlike Canada which has declared January as the “Tamil Heritage month.” But a close examination of this statement would reveal that it is nothing more than hot air. It does not elevate Canadian Tamils to anywhere near the status enjoyed by the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In fact, not even in India, the only historically valid homeland of the Tamils, do the Tamils have the dignified status granted to the Tamils by “the Sinhala governments”.
Take for instance, the declaration of January as “the Tamil Heritage Month”. The month of January was declared as the “Tamil Heritage month” because Thai Pongal falls on January 15. Despite what the news report states, the Canadians are not going to drop everything else and spend the whole month dancing kavadi with the Tamils in the kovils. That is the hype. The reality is that the Tamils have been given far greater respect and dignity in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka they are entitled to two other days as public holidays. March 7 is a national holiday to celebrate Maha Sivarathri. And October 29th is also declared a national holiday to celebrate Deepavali. These are substantial and meaningful acts enacted to honour and respect the Tamil community. “The Sinhala governments” have gone beyond empty words in a parliamentary resolution. The vilified “Sinhala governments” have bestowed glory and respect to the sacred days of the Tamils long before Canada took to “multiculturalism”. Words in a resolution are cheap. But have they granted even one day as a holiday for the Tamils? No such honour has been granted to the Tamils in Canada. Nor will they ever get such privileges. In short, while the Sri Lankan Tamils will be enjoying each of these three days as a holiday the Canadian Tamils will have to toil the whole day at work.
The “Sinhala governments” have also declared the sacred days of Muslims and Christians as statutory holidays, despite Article 9 of the Constitution which is meant to give only Buddhism “the foremost place”. Canada, which claims to be a secular state, has declared only Easter, Christmas and Boxing — all three celebrate Christian events – as national holidays. Is this secularism? Is this multiculturalism? If only the days sacred to the Buddhists were declared as holidays in Sri Lanka the Tamils would have gone round the world, crying from roof tops, accusing “the Sinhala governments” of discrimination. But the Tamil Canadians are quite content to live as second-class citizens without due recognition given to their religion. This inability to distinguish between illusion and reality confirms only the incurable propensity of the Tamils to believe in their own myths. In Canada they hail Christian supremacy as a mark of democratic secularism. In Canada they are quite content to accept obediently their second-class status without a protest. But in Sri Lanka they will complain to the Canadian High Commissioner that they have been deprived of the sanctity of their sacred days.
According to my understanding of the news item, the Tamils can organise their own celebrations throughout the month and enjoy it as much as they want. So what’s the big deal? They can do that with or without the resolution from the Parliament. Contrast this to the respect given to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It goes beyond empty words uttered in the Canadian Parliament to make their sacred days more meaningful. At least the holiday would give the pious Tamils the opportunity to devote their day for spiritual activities, without being encumbered by labouring in whatever place they work. Tamil bigotry, bent on demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists, refuses to recognise the higher status granted to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. They will continue to dismiss these acts of “the Sinhala governments” that give equality and dignity to the Tamils as having no value. They argue that they will get equality and dignity only under their “Pee-lam”.
Their double standards expose their hypocrisy. Take the case of the Tamil expatriates who boasts of being treated as equals, unlike in Sri Lanka. In which Western democracy are their sacred days recognised as holidays? Or their language given the official status? Or their culture honoured the way it is done in Sri Lanka? Which Canadian prime minister would go to a Hindu kovil to pay pooja and worship a Hindu deity? Of course, a Canadian prime minister may make a political visit to a Hindu kovil to grab Tamil votes. Nothing beyond that. But these cosmetics and optics satisfy the Tamil Canadians because they see their heavenly paradise not in kovils but in the supermarket.
Besides, they dare not admit their second-class status in Canada and in other Western nations because it would give the lie to their bogus claim of being discriminated by “the Sinhala governments”. So they pretend to be equal to the Canadians when their culture and religion are not on par with that of Sri Lanka. They pretend that they are equal when the Tamil Hindus are herded into a Christmassy barn to enjoy only Christian holidays. So don’t be surprised if they go out of the way in January 2017 to celebrate some puffery in the Canadian resolution and even dance a kavadi, beating a drum that produces only sounds ( goo-ooo – rung! goo-ooo-rung!) as vacuous as the words in the Canadian resolution.
Canada, which has the largest concentration of Tamil expatriates ( “from just around 150 in 1983, the Tamil diaspora has grown manifold to an estimated 3 lakh plus at present” — Indian Express) boasts of being the first to introduce “multiculturalism” to the world. The one-eyed jacks of Canada hardly know that tolerant multiculturalism has been an established way of life from the time the Indo-Aryan settlers (Sinhalese) transformed the primeval jungles into a habitable civilisation in the pre-Christian era. They are unaware that the inter-ethnic relations exploded into violence only after the mono-ethnic extremism of the north abandoned the traditional principles of co-existence in a pluralistic nation and pursued divisive politics to create an exclusive racist enclave for the Tamils of the north. Their racist ideology based on hate politics of the “other” (i.e., the Muslims and the Sinhalese) resulted in ethnic cleansing of the north. Their hate politics turned into Pol Potist violence dragging the Jaffnaites to the lowest circle in the Tamil inferno.
The irony is that the Tamils of Canada, like the Tamils in other affluent Western societies, are quite happy to live as second-class citizens in their Western places of domicile without any of the social, political and cultural gains that had elevated them to the level of the most privileged community in Sri Lanka. (I shall come to this aspect on another day.)
But for the moment let us consider how Canada had treated its minorities, particularly its First Nation and the Innuits. Take, for instance, their national flag which displays only the maple leaf, representing only the White settlers who destroyed the indigenous people and their culture. Compare that with the Sri Lankan national flag. The two leading minorities – the Tamils and the Muslims – are represented side by side with the majority Sinhalese. A national flag is the highest symbol of any nation. The Tamils in Canada are quite happy with the Maple Leaf – a symbol that has ignored the existence of Tamils and other minorities as citizens of Canada.
Sri Lanka, on the contrary, went out of the way to give the minorities their due place in the national flag. The Tamil leader, G. G. Ponnambalam and the Muslim leader, T. B. Jayah, sat in a committee with the Sinhala leaders to design the flag of the nation. The orange stripe gives the Tamils the highest place of honour, as equal partners, in the nation. And the green stripe represents the Muslim. There are 193 flags flying at the UN and only the Sri Lankan flag has given a place of honour to the Tamils. When the president salutes the flag he salutes all three communities without any discrimination. That is the highest place of honour that can be given to any community in any nation. Tamils fly high in the Sri Lankan flag.
Take also the case of the national anthem. It was first sung in Tamil on Independence Day and, though it was not featured at state function for some time, it has been revived once again. It was reported that there were tears in the eyes of R. Sampanthan when he heard it being sung in Tamil. More than the music his heart must have been overflowing with the elated feeling roused by the sweet sounds of the Tamil language ringing in his ears. The Canadian national anthem is sung in French and English. Since Canada is supposed to be more liberal, democratic and pluralistic than Sri Lanka when are the Sri Lankan Tamils likely to listen to the Canadian national anthem in Tamil? If it can be sung in French why not do so in Tamil too? Does the secular Canadian state recognise only the English and French as citizens of Canada?
It is clear that the Tamils have no symbolic representation at the highest level of the Canadian state to make them feel that they are respected citizens of Canada. They are reduced to invisible non-entities. To emphasise the difference it is necessary to repeat that in Sri Lanka their identity is given a dignified place in the flag. Their language is enshrined as an official language. Their dignity is reinforced each time the national anthem is sung in Tamil. And their religion has been placed on the same privileged position as the other religions. But in Canada no language, no flag, no national anthem, no religion to give them even a semblance of dignity at the highest level of the state. So of the two nations which one has given the Tamils their due place as a minority? Is it Canada? Or Sri Lanka? So who is discriminating against whom?
Leaving aside the lunatic fringe, “the Sinhala-Buddhist governments” have established, from day one of independence, and with incremental steps to this day, that the minorities should not be reduced to second-class status. They have gone out, as far as they could, to be inclusive. The Canadian example proves it. There was / is discrimination of sorts no doubt. The fact is that in Sri Lanka discrimination is the only factor that is shared by all communities. The myth is that it is applied only to the Tamils by “the.Sinhala governments”. As everyone knows, it was the Sinhala youth who first took up arms, crying discrimination. Their cry was on a class basis. The Tamils turned it into a racist cry. And like the Sinhala fascist of the JVP the Tamils fascists too had to pay a heavy price for resorting to violence.
Of all the minorities only the Tamils of the North – not any other region – raised this racist cry and dragged it to the extreme. And they reaped what they sowed. The irony, however is that studies have confirmed that the Tamils have been the most privileged society in Sri Lanka. (More of this later). Their cry of discrimination has been to exploit victimology as their favourite marketing tool to gain political mileage. They raised the cry of “discrimination” as an anti-Sinhala-Buddhist slogan purely to retain their feudal and colonial powers, privileges, positions and perks. In reality, the English-speaking, Saivite, Vellahla Tamils of Jaffna never lost their grip on Jaffna and outside Jaffna from feudal times. (They lost it for a brief while when their protégé, Prabhakaran, put them in their place). The primary objective of their politics was to cling on to their feudal and colonial status. They could do so in the 20th century only through violence. That is how they came to drag the Tamil people to Nandikadal.
Which takes me to Count Oxenstierna quoted above. The ignorance that darkens this vexed issue is as vast as the clouds that covers the sky in the rainy season. In the case of the Vellahla leadership of Jaffna, they manufactured political myths to keep the Tamil people in the dark. As a caste transiting from Vellahlaism to a 20th century class they could no longer maintain their supremacy based on Arumuka Navalar’s Saivite theology which elevated the Vellahlas, the Sudras, to the acme in the caste hierarchy. The old feudal order was dying, if not dead. Having lost Saivism as a justification they took to racism to hold the divisive forces rising within the peninsula under their casteist jackboots They could maintain their supremacy only by diverting the focus on an external bugbear – the Sinhala-Buddhists. They manufactured political myths and theories to hide the internal dynamics of casteism that had distorted and perverted Jaffna politics.Having lost Vellahlaism as a hegomonistic force, legitimised by revised Saivite-Navalarism, they raised anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hate politics as a defensive mechanism to retain their grip on peninsular politics.
As shown in the Canadian example, they held a higher status both in Jaffna and outside the peninsula than any Tamil in the affluent West. But they cried discrimination which was the most marketable slogan to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists. The English-speaking, Vellahla, Jaffna Tamils constituted the most reactionary political force that fought tooth and nail from feudal times to retain their power as the ruling caste/class. It is the non-Vellahla Tamils who had to pay dearly with their lives.
The darkest chapter of Sri Lankan history has been the criminal oppression of the low-castes by the Vellahlas. Obsessed with a misguided sense of caste superiority they enslaved and persecuted their own people throughout their brief history. They never opened out to embrace liberating ideologies either of the Left or the Right. They were stuck permanently in the narrow rut of casteism, racism and now rabid Saivism. They never produced an enlightened leadership to lead Jaffna out of its oppressive, fascist past. In the end the best of the English-speaking, Vellahla, Jaffna Tamil elite begat the Vadukoddai Resolution, which begat Prabhakaran, which begat Pol Potist fascism, which begat Nandikadal. Prof. Kumar David put it more bluntly when he condemned the Tamil leadership as a bunch of “congenital idiots”. The record reveals that the Tamils of the North suffered more under the Tamil leadership that under any other regime.
It is their folly that led the Tamil people all the way to Nandikadal. The new signs rising in the peninsular landscape indicate that the “congenital idiots” of Jaffna are preparing to take the people, once again, to Nandikadal.