23 May, 2018

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The Power Of Here: Tamil Politics On The Morning After

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Whatever the political configuration in the North and East on the morning after, Tamil politics will remain in the dead-end that it has inhabited for 70 years. This is not because such a sad outcome is inevitable, but simply because it is highly probable given the repeated patterns of Tamil politics.

On the morning after, mainstream Tamil politics will find that it has a much weaker partner than it did when starting out in 2015. That partner will be unable and even unwilling to risk moving on the fulfilment of promises made. Mainstream Tamil politicians will then find themselves outflanked by less moderate ones. The conclusion will be fourfold and boringly predictable: the Tamil moderates were too moderate, the Sinhala allies were too pusillanimous, the Sinhala populace too majoritarian, the Tamils can count only upon the politics of agitation and the external factor (India, the West). 

The problem will be that all four assumptions are wrong and worse still are old and have been proven wrong over and over again. Indeed it is these assumptions that got Tamil politics into the dead-end and have kept it there for decades.   

The Southern allies of the Tamil mainstream is not intrinsically weak but has been weakened both by their own follies in policy and by the pressures exerted by the Tamil politicians. In other words, there is no point in denouncing the Southern politicians for being too weak to stand up to the Sinhala populists, when it is the Tamil politicians who are partly responsible for that weakening by forcing their Southern allies in government to commit to reforms that were oversized and over hasty, and therefore bound to be counterproductive. To put it heretically but accurately, it is not because the Tamil moderates were too moderate that they have failed their Southern partners, but precisely because they were not moderate enough.

Furthermore, it is not because the Southern politicians in government were not moderate enough on ethnic policy that they are floundering but because they were perceived as too moderate in the face of Tamil immoderation (especially the behavior of Chief Minister Wigneswaran).

The next delusion is that moderation and alliance must be abandoned by the Tamils who must now shift to a policy of agitation and external pressure, culminating in intervention. The problem is that we’ve been down that road before—that of agitation, wars and intervention. None of its worked.

There could be a new twist: India-USA; manipulating the Indo-US rivalry with China, the BJP backing the hawkish RAW line, the BJP-USA-Israel triangle etc. But whatever the new variables, it is basically the same old formula. It never comes right in the final reel because of two reasons: (a) democracy in the Sinhala areas always yields a leader (even in the face of serial assassination) who gets it at least half-right and (b) geopolitical and geo-strategic realities on the island, in Asia and the world. In short, the realities on the ground.

Former Yugoslavia was in Europe and in the unipolar 1990s. That’s another era. Just look at how intractable Maldives has become. As India learned in the 1980s, Sri Lanka is the most intractable of quagmires. It’s the inherent nature of this island. You need to appreciate Garcia Gabriel Marquez’ “magical realism” to grasp my point fully.

The crux of the Tamil problem is the gap, indeed the contradiction between self-image and situation i.e. between the collective Tamil self–image and the Tamil situation. The Tamil self-image is global while the Tamil situation is both global and nationally specific. The global Tamil self-image is a collage in which all the status of every national group in every country in which Tamils live and some in which they don’t, is depicted in a crazy-quilt pattern: emergent sovereign states, liberal federal arrangements, referenda on separation “etc. etc., blah, blah, yadda, yadda” (as Slavoj Zizek mockingly says). Tamil politics then tries to redraw existing national reality to fit the delusional self-image. 

The basic line of Tamil politics is that “we Tamils are a nation who have an inherent right of self-determination and are entitled to a sovereign state but owing to the goodness of our hearts we are willing to entertain the notion of federalism, and if you don’t give it to us we’ll exit this state.” To which the collective Sinhala response has veered between “Oh no, not again… So what else is new?” and “go ahead, make our day…we can keep doing this forever”.

Now it may or may not be the case that the Tamil people the world over deserve a state of their own, and it is not my place to judge, but Sri Lanka is quite the last place in the world to strive for it or an approximation because the game here is zero-sum due to the uniqueness of the Sinhala situation: here, Tamil globalism meets Sinhala exceptionalism. The ones who are a majority, with their back to the sea and nowhere else to go, usually prevail. Eckhart Tolle, whose work my wife Sanja quite likes and has told me about, wrote a bestseller entitled ‘The Power of Now’. If I may adapt it slightly, what the Tamils must learn to recognize is ‘The Power of Here’.

Fuelled by the frustration of their global self-delusion, the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil Nadu are willing to fight the last Sinhalese down to the last Sri Lankan Tamil. It is the misfortune of the Sri Lankan Tamils that they reject any Tamil political leader or formation who rejects this delusion.

India tried its best to square the circle, by pushing through in Sri Lanka in 1987, the closest approximation of what the Tamils of Tamil Nadu have. It was rejected by the Tamil nationalist mainstream, then and now. Most Tamil people here and overseas backed the LTTE right to the bitter end and remain loyal to them still. This makes the Sinhalese even more suspicious of Tamil political demands. This is not Sinhala paranoia. Urmila Phadnis, the late doyenne of Lankanology in Indian scholarship, noted in her last book, that the Tamils of Sri Lanka were different from the minority nationalities of South Asia in that they have an “autonomist-secessionist continuum”.  It is this continuum that makes the Sinhala majority suspect that autonomist demands are a mere stepping stone to separation.

Either we can play this game for the next 70 years as we have for the past 70 if not more, or we can get real. The Tamil politicians have to work with a Sinhala leader who can deliver the majority of the Sinhala majority, and that certainly doesn’t seem to be the ones in government. The Tamil voters can no longer decide who will win the Presidential election. That scam was pulled once and it is all unraveling now, mainly because Tamil politics pushed way beyond the possible (as usual) by lobbying for a brand new Constitution instead of a prudent re-set which could have garnered an all-parties consensus.

As the outcome of the Brigadier Priyanka Fernando episode proved, helping win an election in 2015 does not enable you to compensate for losing a Thirty Years War in 2009, or having backed/been fellow-travelers of those who did. Sri Lanka is not merely postwar, it is post victory—which places parameters on how far and in which direction the Tamils and the west can shape the postwar, peacetime Sri Lankan State and its behavior. Furthermore, Sri Lankan politics is beginning to normalize and be determined in the last analysis by Sinhala populism.

The Tamil politicians must now talk to those who can carry the Sinhalese with them– and arrive at a settlement that can be sold to their constituency. It is the only game in town. The alternative is for Tamil politics to stay out in the cold, in its ethnic ghetto, gazing out at the Diaspora, the West and Delhi, for another 70 years.

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Latest comments

  • 7
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    CT

    I felt dropping some names.
    Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is a good read according to my mate.

    The first chapter is beautifully written, its about destruction and renewal of the Earth.
    The book talk about “illusory sense of self”. I wonder whether Eckhart Tolle had Dayan in his mind when he explained what it was.

    • 2
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      Dumb Native Vedda: You like Eckhart Trolle ha.. good for you. Read BrainWeiss, a former Surgeon, now a Pshychiatrist. I hear he is a Monk in Sri lanka now, I do not know the truth. some where nearby your area, check Kaluthara district.

      • 3
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        Jim softy the Dimwit

        “Read BrainWeiss, a former Surgeon, now a Pshychiatrist. I hear he is a Monk in Sri lanka now, I do not know the truth. some where nearby your area, check Kaluthara district.”

        Good, you found the right person to seek treatment for hearing voices in your head as well as the opportunity to learn authentic Buddhism from him.
        Go meet him.

    • 0
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      Look at the election results. Mahinda’s SLPP runaway train winning most.

      Sinhalese have woken up!

      The London affair only helped them.

  • 6
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    Idiotic Dayan does not understand the history of Tamilians. May be he will understand Ireland which fought for 300 years for liberation. so will Sri Lankan Tamils. 70 years of their fight has left Sri Lanka in a terrible state. Sri Lankan Tamils are better off thanks to the diaspora support to their realties on personnel basis. but poor Sinaloa man in ghettoes. until poor Sinhala man realises this and elect leaders who can work with Wigneswarans like (not traitorous Sumanthirans like) without racist like Mahinda, Srisena, they will have live in ghettoes not for another 70 years may be another 300 years

    • 0
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      LOL

    • 2
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      Dayan has not heard of the statement by Namal Rajapakse that he respects the verdict of Tamils and wants to work with them. So all Dayan’s postures come to zero. There is no way of denying rights of Tamils to rule themselves in their historic homeland. Even if MR comes to power, he cannot hoodwink the international community any more. So this talk of finding a solution acceptable to Sinhalese only is sure to bring disaster.

    • 0
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      As Dayan is fond of saying, the majority of the majority has voted for MR.. The majority of the minority has voted against him.
      Now let us analyse this. The majority of the majority contributes bugger all to the economy of this country. But they still gripe about the COL. The majority of the minority (read plantation workers, Northern farmers, Tamil/Muslim businessmen) produce most of the economic output, and pay for the lazy majority bums to sit at home and send their wives to Dubai.
      Do the majority of the majority deserve to have a vote? Stupidity is not a reason to pamper them.

  • 3
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    You always talk to the gallery in politics. There is another side in Tamil politics that you are not aware because you are of the type who make economic policies for Ranil wickramsinghe but they live in a building near Hrrvard but not affiliated at all with it or in Washinton or in New york. . You think TNA, wigneswaran, GTF, BTF etc., are the Tamil voice. I heard Mano Ganeshan, A estate Tamil from india living In colombo wants more than one Local council named afterr him. Now he is happy, because he gets the opportunity to sit as the boss and VVIP. the Last time he had that type of position was only in the constitutional councill; because CBK wanted it that way. So, it is Honourables at the expense of poor voters. what ever those extremists are just a minority. UNP blameed Mahinda Rajapakse for living on War victory which he gave the leadership to. Yet, it is the HORApalanaya including the president, and UNP which made the most out of the Army oficer making a simple gesture. Even Naveen dissanayake who slept all his life made something out of that probably becuse his rlatives are in england.Many idiots in UNP was talking about that. In Ct, President became a Brigadier at least for the election. Cheap politics because they can not arrest BOnd scam thieves. Bond scam had happened since the last govt. Ranil and his gang says I di dnot I did not do it. but Arjun Aloesius proved what is coming. He wanted to spend the time in Prison hospital. So, Arjun aloesius is also a VVIP ? Kasun Palisena said they solrd govt banks, employee provident find moneh to the govt and made profits as high as 29%. Yet the govt profitted 26 billions which is about what the EPF lost. Forget what other banks lost.

  • 8
    5

    Dayan,
    If Sinhalese wanted to live in peace they have to go with Tamil speaking Tamils and Muslim leadership not other way round. Tamils and Muslims had enough under Buddhist Fundamentalism. Elections come and go. But if Sinhalese go with Buddhist Fundamentalism, it is sinhalese who have to face the reality. If Sinhalese wanted to destroy Srilanka into pieces that is unavoidable. Even Lord Buddha cannot save Sri Lanka from disaster if they give this land again the murderous Mahinda family.

    • 2
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      Ajith: you Tamils are stupid and you do not accept. I say Tamils are pushing too hard if you try to go that way. RAW may be, because, they are scared to China. West may be, because they want our assets, money and neocolonization..

      • 1
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        Jim softy the Dimwit

        ” you Tamils are stupid and you do not accept.”

        True, look at you.
        Look at Champa, soma, Laloo, Percy, Wimal, ………………

  • 0
    2

    Too early to say anything about the election results. But UNP’s vote rate is not normal. There is no way they get this many votes from Down South. Something is fishy. Then again Hotu Pohottuwa’s vote percentage is also alarming. The reason is UNP and Hotu Pohottuwa/JO both support Federal Constitution for their own personal gain. JO-minus-WW is still in the Constitutional Assembly in support of Ranil. They gave a different picture on stage hoodwinking Sinhalese. They hardly talked about Federal Constitution, Magampura or Mattala. They didn’t even vote against Magampura sale agreement in the Parliament. JO/Hotu Pohottuwa rarely attacked Ranil on stage and Ranil also rarely attacked Mahinda but both attacked the President merciless to weaken him to have their way so that they both can please Tamils and garner their votes at the next election. President fought alone against both parties and I am sure he is satisfied with the result of his solo fight.
    Both UNP and JO (except WW) are against Auditor General too. They used their allies to attack Auditor General for telling the truth. On the other hand Tamils will be happy for UNP to have so many votes as Ranil is their godfather to get everything what they want and they have the backing of JO too.
    What’s wrong with our Sinhalese? The lack of having an alternative party will cost citizens country’s unitary state and many more.

    • 0
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      Anyways, LG results has no impact on the President as he holds the power and the last word. As said even before the election, I am not interested in this election. It was the President who stopped Ranil in getting a vote for his Federal Interim Report where MR/JO were ready to cooperate with him and then fortunately WW intervened and stood by country as usual. It was the President who stopped ICPPED too. Ranil/Mangala’s Geneva Report is inactive at least for the time being because of the President. Basil at a meeting in Jaffna said that Army may have committed war crimes and MR/others also said that local court is more than enough to punish if there are any such crimes committed, whereas the general public wants all our war heroes be protected at any cost irrespective of their ranks. That means it is again President’s word which will save war heroes. Next two years is crucial as UNP/JO will get together in the Parliament and try to please TNA and Muslims especially passing the Federal Constitution, may be in installments. Knowing Yahapalanaya, they might get together at LG bodies though contested separately. I urge the President to keep his word and not to fall into the same basket where UNP/JO/Hotu Pohottuwa heading for passing the Federal Constitution. It is ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ politics what prevails in the Parliament which is corrupt to the core. It is President’s word which will be crucial in terms of maintaining country’s sovereignty. I hope President will pay good attention to the economy too as promised at least to save the rest of national assets from Ranil.
      Finally, as the duration of the Constitutional Council coming to an end this year (3 years), I urge the President to seriously consider in advising the new CC to recommend a woman to the post of Chairman/Election Commission in keeping with government’s gender equality.

  • 0
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    I think there are lot of Tamils who are not caught in this main stream exploitation and manipulation. TNA also knows that, I think. Even though Ranil wickrmasinghe says I did not I did not do, at least for three years he was coovering it up. That is Ranil’s problem. He is an idiot and he does not want to accept. Because of that Whole UNP is a waste bucket. On the other hand, JACKOL opposition is hiding behind PATRIOTISM and was stealing. It is very possible Ranil and Mahinda tried to gang up. Now, Ranil thinks you back stabbed me too which can not be true.

  • 1
    1

    Dayan:

    The reason why there is no amity and resolution of the divide is because of the corrupt, greedy Sinhala politicians. Add to that the menace of the monks. What a better recipe for a disastrous nation? Almost all of them have built their lives and careers by using the Tamils as their punching bags. Mahinda Rajapakse, rose to the highest office because of the Tamils (not voting) and was dumped also partly because of the Tamils. The summing is quite apparent – the Sinhalese won’t live and won’t let others live.There cannot be any doubt that the Sinhalese are a selfish, greedy and corrupt bunch. Even the Enlightened One has not been able to bring some or any sense in an island that has gone to the dogs. If you are that smart as you write, get all the Sinhalese politicians to a state where they won’t go begging for votes to the Tamils, just like the “ingenious” Mahinda who had the cheek to tell the Tamils to “vote for the devil you know rather than the angel you don’t know” That pretty says it all. So, the Tamils are not moved by the phony you.

  • 2
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    Dr Dayan, creating quagmire is not a good defence against external influence or Tamils achieving their fundamental rights.

  • 2
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    For Tamil, Sampanthar’s mistake of supporting CC has destroyed any possible international brokered solution, in the near future. 2014 Resolution 30/1 is gone without Tamils utilizing it. Now Tamils have to wait for on another occasion for IC to regroup on Lankawe matter. Without IC, there will be never ever any solution that Sinhala Buddhist government offering to Tamils. Period.
    Sampanthar missed last two elections; but hearing that message from Tamils in this election.
    It looks like Ranil has built his dream palace with Lacquer, which is now catching fire. He appears to be having many master plans. Under those, he was so busy planning ejecting and evicting many; Not just locally; internationally too. In that busy dream, he neglected worrying about winning LG election.

    New King, who is known for not to win any near future elections, could have had Plan B too to win LG election, instead destroying UNP, who is his partner. He thought hanging Mahendran alone will do the trick in the election. It did not help to win the election. But it has done unrecoverable damage to UNP.

  • 1
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    New King was hanging Mahendran on gallows. With the same hand he opened the door to let go Rapist Army Brigadier Fernando. It is not clear why Russia banned Lankawe tea. Who’s idea to reintroduce the Asbestos? Did Russia asked for it? Nobody clear on what was the deal on the Russian war ship. Has Sachini Navaratne been paid for the book she wrote for New Royals? What happened to Dilrukshi? Why? There will be many questions in Sinhala Buddhist voters mind. Apparently those did not got answered so the mass can believe that, late or Early, but their president is determined to clean the political corruption. Shortage of food, water, kerosene, electricity housing…. are additional.

    The formulae have got complicated after the election. What the Old King going to do with the Slap Party? What New King going do? Is he going to travel on two boats or going to settle in one. Do the UNP backbenchers want to accommodate the New King anymore after he has done so much of damage to UNP.? How much of the flesh Old Royals wants from New King to excuse his replication Judas, in Jan 2015?

  • 1
    0

    Ranil is leaving to India. Lankawe doesn’t let it for India to manage it. So why wants he go without ready to corporate with India. His best art of Managing things is buying time out. He wants to buy time out from India for other problems he has. March is coming fast; UNHRC will call its wages. Currently, Lankawe is in on geometric center of a square where America, India, EU and China are on the angles. To keep the center balanced, he needs at least two opposing angles balanced. So when EU was grumbling he used India, when India grumbled he used China, when China grumbled he used America. But at this moment, EU is not settled properly. America has cut off GSP+. It is hard to get it back because it is not just for Lankawe, but if so, Lankawe can use Aappa diplomacy to bring America in line. India was abandoned after Chinese deals, last year. Only one settled now is China. He needs one more. Inia is begging on the Feb 4th Message. So he will go there and renew the talks of ETCA, Airports, Sea Ports, Trinco Oil Farm, …. This can put India in ice bucket for years to come. He would take that time to decide of what to with America and EU. He needs have iced Mr. Modi before March. India desperately wants Lankawe not just for trade, but leaving it open will make Pakistan and China thinks that India is only an invalid, handicap. If that happen, even if India throw an atomic bomb on them, they still will be back and scratch on India’s face. So this time Modi will settle any dispute with Lankawe in the way Lankawe wants it. Even if some obstacle appears locally after this election, Internationally Lankawe Appa Diplomacy games will keep on going.

  • 2
    1

    Dayan refuses to understand SL politics.
    He starts ~ “…..Tamil politics will remain in the dead-end that it has inhabited for 70 years…………….”
    So will Sinhala politics and all of us.
    .
    Since independence in 1948, Tamils have sought justice. All along, this was the basic quest. Dayan should have grasped this during his membership of a Tamil liberation group.
    Sinhala politics was about denying the basic human rights and now we know that the politics was a means to get filthy filthy rich.
    This “The Power of now” is non-sense. Hitler thought the ‘morning after’ will never come but it did! You may tell your wife Sanja that.
    By the way, you refer to Urmila Phadnis noted in her last book, that the Tamils of Sri Lanka were different from the minority nationalities of South Asia in that they have an “autonomist-secessionist continuum”
    The “autonomist-secessionist continuum” was never continuous. It came after several pogroms – the final one in 1983. Of course you do not know that.

    • 0
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      So will Sinhala politics………………..the point is, it does not matter to us. You are just a foreign policy or security concern..that is all

  • 3
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    Dayan, I was wrong on the order of the first two parties coming in first and second. YOU WERE RIGHT and I was wrong. UNP also got their arrogant corrupt ass handed to them. SLFP came a pathetic 4th in some cases. I was surprised at this verdict. I was wrong ; you were right. This was a landslide for SLPP in the Sinhala areas. Now Tamil racists will say they are not racists when in their areas TNA and separatists won all the seats. Back to square one. RW and Sirisena must be shitting bricks.

    • 2
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      what has TNA winning all the seats, in predominantly Tamil ares got to do with Racism.? On that count Mahinda also won in Sinhala South due to Racism!

      • 1
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        TNA has been working on a racist and a separatist agenda from the beginning of the century. It just shows Tamil ppl as a whole support it. As I always say Tamil Nationalism belongs to the league of Nazism, Zionism and Islamism

        • 2
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          on the same count…..that Sinhala Party that shout we will beat the Tamils ….always win….and they compete with each other who will beat the Tamils more!!!!! if one party shouts we will beat up the Tamils if we win,,,,,,,the other Sinhala party shouts “oh they will only beat up the Tamils!….we will slit the Tamils throat”

          • 0
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            what is that Sinhala party? Recently SLPP won…did they talk about Tamils? They hardly talked about tamils……

            But remember what Tamils in SL say. Their ONLY agenda is undermining Sinhalese

  • 1
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    Champs
    President is dead in the water! Powerless. Do you realise that all Mahinda needs is an impeachment motion against Sirisena. There are enough grounds to do so.Let me give just one eminently suitable one. The dismissal of Chief Justice Mohan Peiris. That was a barefaced violation of the constitution which requires that a duly appointed Chief Justice cannot be removed from office without a motion supported by two thirds of the MPs. Due process was not followed and Sirisena brazenly violated the constitution. The time is ripe to take him to task and Mahinda should get about securing the numbers.

  • 1
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    Tamils need to be trained in politics

    • 0
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      I think you have a point there, politics and diplomacy, work with the existing status quo, like our the forefathers of independance in this country, instead of raising a hue and cry about every little thing.

      Many people are not afraid of the Rajapakses or Gota or anyone, but afraid of the LTTE and its resurgence, call me crazy, but wasn’t the point of a terrorist organization to keep people in terror? So you would want them to be successful, right? Hence fear of their resurgence is justified.

      We can all live together without cutting our Mother Lanka into 2/3rds, I mean you sing the National Anthom in Tamil, Namo Namo Mother Lanka and then try to cut her into two thirds. Shame on you.

      We need to develop the country, get rich and drunk or better still, rich and religous, so we won’t care anymore, even about the Indians and Chinese.

      Maybe Dayan could run some Diplomacy classes for the TNA, after all that’ s his speciality.

  • 1
    1

    Dayan”….Tamil Politics will remain in the dead end…”
    on the contrary Tamils always have been the king makers. ….even in the LG Elections Tamils….

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