By Kumar David –
Tamil opinion is divided on the TNA’s expression of, let’s call a spade a spade, ‘Possible support for the government’. The Pro-Group says projecting a broad-minded approach and showing “sincerity” creates an environment which will enable “progress on the problems of the Tamils”. The Anti-Group calls the Pro-Group a bunch of ever-willing-to-be-hoodwinked suckers. Since the time of the B-C Pact successive governments have not only shown no interest in addressing Tamil concerns, but have knowingly cheated. At this moment while Mahinda holds con-chats with the TNA, brother Gota appoints a Pan-Sinhala Task Force bristling with Buddhist clergy and military-police brass, but not one Tamil or Muslim, to report on Archaeological Heritage Management in the majority Tamil and Muslim Eastern Province. If Gota revokes the Task Force as a gesture, the TNA may have a leg to stand on, otherwise it will be very strange if it ignores the regime’s majoritarian mind-set which enslaves it to Sinhala-Buddhist (SB) opinion, and negotiates.
Or, the TNA is at its wits end. That may be the truth; the TNA, the Tamils and the Muslims are all at their wits end. The ethos of the SB people is that Lanka is the land of the Sinhalese and the repository of Buddhism. Most don’t want to harm the minorities but are not inclined to accept a multi-racial/religious plural nation. Leave aside whether that’s good or bad (actually, both the unitary state in Ceylon/Sri Lanka and unified India are creations of the British) but right now it cannot be disputed that most SB people are committed to retaining the dominant Sinhala Buddhist power structure of the country. That’s one fact staring the TNA in the face.
The second fact that the TNA has to live with is that the Tamils have just lost a civil-war and any more talk of an armed struggle is a shortcut to Barney Raymond’s. The roots of the war go to the treatment of the Tamils by the Sinhala state since the mid-1950s and the racial slaughter of 1983, but in realpolitik that’s all water under the bridge. The current relationship of power between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is defined by the outcome of the war and will remain so for a generation or two. And third is the stupidity of Prabaharan who hallucinated that he could murder a past and possibly future Prime Minister of India and get away with anything less than his own extermination and the subjugation of the Tamils. The “Tamil cause” has little or no support any longer in India or the West thanks to the swing of the LTTE to terrorism, arguably to counter state terrorism, but it lost the Tamils the moral high ground they once monopolised.
Following the landslide SB vote for Gota and the pending poropaya election victory, the TNA is holding a hand without a single picture card, except maybe a knave or two! It is playing against a deck stacked with aces, kings and queens. Imagine you are the TNA, grant that there are severe shortcomings that Tamils live under, then what is the best strategy? If I were the TNA I would demand that all political prisoners (some incarcerated for decades without prosecution) be released NOW, I would demand that all military occupied private lands be returned forthwith, and I would demand a full accounting of missing persons notwithstanding Gota’s admission that he can’t bring the dead back to life. None of this requires amendments to the constitution; it’s all within the power of the Administrative Branch of the state. If the state does not acquiesce to these reasonable appeals why negotiate? Why be open to constitutional talks?
The TNA and the Tamil people should be looking elsewhere to build bridges that will serve them in the future. The SLFP/SLPP and the UNP (no matter Ranil or Sajith) cannot be trusted by the minorities. In this context the National Peoples’ Front (FPP) of which the JVP is a major constituent is the only credible alternative. It is an alliance of groups, parties and individuals with progressive views; and it engenders a robust conversation on ‘minority’ issue. The NPP policy document released for the Presidential Election calls for release of political prisoners, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, empowering the Commission on the Disappeared to deliver justice to families of victims, release of military occupied lands to owners, terminating ethnic based colonisation anywhere in the country and economic upliftment of war affected areas. Though cautious on political concerns it calls for devolution of political and administrative power. These proposals motivate robust dialogue and form the basis for discussion of sound constitutional reforms. Against this setting the SLPP/SLFP and UNP/SJP (Sajith) are all a motley bunch of political scoundrels in respect of Tamil and Muslim affairs.