Colombo Telegraph

The Way TNA Handles Its Options

By S.Sivathasan

S.Sivathasan

In sixty years since independence, Tamils have come one full circle. At which juncture have we arrived and are staying now? Have we come to a point of interdiction in 2009 and yet set to describe the second circle. Or have we reached a point of departure, from where we set out on a new course? If the latter be the choice of prudence, are there options before the TNA? Yes. One is, even after emerging as the acknowledged depository of trust, to belie it and to trumpet that they have lived true by the politics of self-imposed exclusion. The second is to win the election, get lost in the trappings of seeming power or the lack of it and be immersed in minutiae and routine. The third is to secure a decisive victory, consolidate it, capture the office of Chief Minister, establish a strong and clean administration and  coterminously mount a struggle for more finances and greater authority.

Why do Provincial Councils get little money and less authority? The system was emasculated at conception itself and the law ensured deformity. Hence the limp. The Provincial Councils Act was drawn up in the wake of the demand and later a struggle for four decades by the North East for a substantial measure of autonomy. No other Province ever asked for it because they experienced neither marginalization nor deprivation. More pertinently, the interests of the Centre and the periphery coincided. But in the final stages of formulation, Devolution encompassed all nine Provinces. What started as a major step towards pacifying the aggrieved minorities of the North East with ethnic peace as the quid pro quo, digressed into nominal devolution in the whole country. It failed to meet the power needs of the North East but certainly catered to the status seeking proclivity of the rest of the country. Neither finance nor authority worth speaking about was handed over.

What is money? It connotes power. With power goes prestige. When both are gone everything is lost. The major community with its hands securely on the state apparatus had no illusions about it.Parting with them to one segment may not be objectionable. But extending it to all would mean multiplying it eight fold. When all the yolk reposes in the Province, only the shell remains at the Centre. So come what may, dilute devolution and give the shell to the Province while retaining the yolk where it remained. This was the sum and substance of 13A. An exercise in which even if JR was willing, Rajiv was weak. He had an overarching cast iron frame to contend with at home. Power to be devolved to the Provinces in Sri Lanka cannot exceed the power enjoyed by the States in India. If it does the bluff of quasi federalism, passed on as federalism in India will be called. With this constraint, 13A was made a mess of. Unraveling it will be the primary task of the Chief Minister.

Among the three options mentioned earlier, very definitively, the TNA has placed its bet on the third ie to capture the NPC and to invest it with the power to deliver. What are the compulsions and the constituents that determined such a decision? The failure of two successive approaches of non-violence and violence. The resulting environment mandates a strikingly unconventional course. What is that course? Not too close and not too far with the powers that be, and yet to maintain a constancy may seem a good option. Such a path needs to be taken in a local scene drastically altered by military decimation and consequent domination. This apart, the better informed elements long suppressed are rearing their heads and peering beyond to see the changing geo political situation. China’s increasingly strident assertion that the Indian Ocean is in her ‘Sphere of Influence’ is weighty enough. It took her more than sixty years of political consolidation and development to say it. It is only the beginning of Napoleon’s prophetic remark “When she awakes she will shake the world”. It’s a pointer to the direction and the island nation has to take note of it with the reaction and response of the neighbouring nation.

Sri Lanka’s strategic location and the power play of major powers are going to influence the nation’s policy stances. At the helm of Tamil affairs should preside, a personage fully appreciative of these sea changes. In what measure? An anecdote would illustrate. Soon after independence, at a state banquet in Delhi there was a stir about seating since protocol was not duly followed. When the ambassador made a mountain of it, Nehru wrote to him saying candidly “as you would know some of us spent much time inside prison walls and had no occasion to get abreast of such refinements”. Thus he enlightened Indians that the glamour of prison cannot meet the rigours of governance. On a different occasion Nehru also said that he didn’t see like Gandhi much meaning in rubbing shoulders with the multitude and having “one’s feet crushed”. Such perceptions made Nehru reach for non-congressmen for his first cabinet.

In the NPC election there is a great advantage for the TNA. The parliamentary leadership and the Provincial leadership are one. The MPs are in the field. The stature of Mavai Senathirajah has grown instantly when he stood down in favour of Justice W. With him are other MPs, who too have sweated it out in previous elections. They have had their fingers on the pulse of the people for long and are sensitive to their sentiments. Their support for the PC candidates comes with a fund of goodwill from the people making the candidates formidable.

The Chief Ministerial candidate was selected by Mr. Sampanthan to meet challenging situations and multiple purposes. The Tamil segment of the country was long habituated to being out of power whereas the South handled it ever since independence. We took to boycott like duck to water, reveled in getting marginalized and prided over the relegation. With no place in the higher bureaucracy for Tamils, there is hardly anyone to apprise the political elements on the nuances of administration and still less on the ramifications of foreign relations. Nowhere is foreign affairs devolved, but an appreciation is vital for TNA’s relations with Tamil Nadu and India.

Lest there be any misapprehension, I hasten to mention that the Sinhalese at all levels, bureaucratic, technical, political and even ministerial open up with ease and will discuss any matter proactively. However what is given out will be proportionate to the receiver’s reputation, intellectual capacity, ability at presentation and personability. Whatever has been my experience, Justice Wigneswaran will get by far a more rewarding response. To compensate for many a shortcoming like paucity of personnel, we will have a person endowed enough to assimilate the best of advice on political, economic and social issues. He has the advantage of drawing talent towards him because anyone would respond to his call. Besides, he will grant full rein to them since he has no misgivings of anybody overshadowing him.

It is in the nature of man to give weighty advice only when a person in authority commands his respect. The same would hold with foreign personnel who will make him the first port of call and will engage his attention in increasing numbers. As for qualification and experience the story as related by McNamara is revealing. He had caught the eye of Robert F Kennedy, who recommended to JFK that McNamara was best suited to be Secretary Defense. When he was interviewed by President and his brother and offered the post he protested saying he was not qualified. President asked ”Are we” and the issue was clinched. The world knows how well all three performed in the eyes of Americans.

But whatever their performance, Vietnam with mass support and correct strategies won. In the hinterland was China triumphant in a protracted revolutionary war. We too had one and lost it. Some of the successes and failures in China are instructive to us. Even the 1924 decision of the Communist Party to lend support to KMT was on Soviet directives. They were thrust under duress of either do or no funds or arms. There were quite a few on subsequent occasions as well and Mao abided by them much against his more astute judgment and even paid a heavy price, when resources were threatened to be withheld. Likewise there are ways in which TNA too is denied the ideal leeway. It is inescapable in our case when issues have gone beyond national frontiers. Sampanthan is generally placed between the hammer and the anvil.

A few more lessons from history may be brought to mind because they bear a parallel to our situation in the seventies and may show VP’s thought process. In the 1840s when Germany was only a geographical expression, the Liberals endeavoured to unify and failed miserably in 1848. Marx poured scorn on them and said that like a set of old women they chatted interminably and could accomplish nothing. Bismarck’s perception and policy were encapsulated in the words, “The major questions of the day will be decided, not by speeches and parliamentary majorities, but by blood and iron”. VP’s perception was identical and he saw the FP in the same light as the Liberals. Bismarck even though inheriting the Prussian militarist tradition, set about his wars of unification 1863-71, having diplomacy and statecraft to underpin his ventures. ‘Never a war on two fronts’ was the corner stone of his policy in both military and foreign affairs. In our case, what was created was an inhospitable climate on all fronts. Bismarck succeeded in his unification effort in 1871. VP failed in his liberation attempt in 2009.

Picking up the debris, piecing them together, insulating it from insidious assaults by the enemy within and forming a credible foundation was the unenviable task devolving on Sampanthan. Within seven months of his labours, he was forced to seek people’s endorsement and they were sharp enough to give it unreservedly in January 2010. Like Ellaalan he went into ‘Single Combat’, but unlike him was victorious. Now to build on the foundation he has a triumvirate, ably supported by veterans with mass appeal built over 30-50 years. It is at this moment of hope and anxiety that the enemy within has risen from its slumber and has chivalrously unleashed itself. One such is thrilled that JR spat on the mandate of 1977. Having relished the spit, he wants all Tamils to share the delight. Exasperated by such situations Bharathy sang a 100 years ago “The very thought of such characterless people is unbearable.”

Why did JR do that? Because Tamils were weak. Authentic information has it that in 1987, before inviting India to intervene, he summoned the military and posed only one question. Can you meet the twin challenges in the North and South simultaneously. The answer was no and he took his decision. There was no spitting because the militants were powerful. Flawed thoughts, erratic judgments, wrong strategies and mistaken actions are all inevitable overheads in a struggle. A man of honour would seek to correct them proactively. As if discovered and brought from the beyond, he unravels a secret that people’s power has to manifest in the streets. More than fifty years ago, the FP and later the TULF were adepts at it.

In India not even Tilak brought the Congress to the streets. Gandhi drew the Congress to the masses in the street. That was at a time when defense forces in India numbered about 1 per 500. In the North it is 1 per 6, having crushed in war and now ready to pulverize in peace. When democratic space is available for Dr.Sathananthan to reach for the masses in the North, force march them, declare that Sampanthan is the ‘God that Failed’ and proclaim the advent of the new Messiah, why doesn’t he attempt? If he cannot mobilise so much as two souls, should he vent his spleen at Wigneswaran and Sampanthan? “Oh fate all mighty what on earth have you in store for the Tamils?” asked Bharathy in desperation.

Justice Wigneswaran has indicated very clearly that he is not going to get a chick by hatching a shell. The will of the people to be expressed at the hustings is to go for a hatchable egg. TNA commands the intellectual resources for an adroit handling of this exercise, is the hope of all Tamils. The new Chief Minister with the authority of his office will lead the way is their expectation. We Tamils must have the understanding to know that it is a protracted undertaking. The effort is arduous in a context where the water has been muddied for no reason. All those who are knowledgeable enough can convey their ideas from now on. Expatriate Tamils can virtually drown the TNA office in a sea of memoranda. So can the resident Tamils. This is the great benefit of IT. By way of reciprocity, if we do not place more faith in two or three sensitive words and on the last comma, we may be going with the leadership towards the achievable.

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