Colombo Telegraph

Vijayakala’s Protests Repeat What Northern Tamils Are Grousing About: Integrate Tamil Ex-Militants Into Society

By Kumar David –

Prof. Kumar David

There are few things at this late stage of life that give me more pleasure than thumbing my nose at racists, craven politicians and adults who believe in Aesop’s fables; all these types I hope are outraged by this piece. Here is a summary of what I will elaborate in the remainder of this article.

* There has to be a genuine, well thought out and energetic programme to rehabilitate Tamil ‘youth’ who were involved in the civil war back into society and the democratic process 

* Sinhala chauvinists will demonise this as capitulation to Tamil terrorism (for example Dayan Jayatilleka’s piece “Vijayakala’s suicide bombing, Northern Nazism, the Tamil Hitler and north-south politics”). Such efforts must be exposed, opposed and eviscerated. 

* Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition are the principal organs of chauvinism, the Dead Left of Vasudeva, Vitarana and Raja Colure its auxiliaries, reactionary monks its ideologues, former military officers its strong-arm and businesses finance it. The rising Hitler is Gota.

* The UNP section of this government has done much less than it could have to redress post-war grievances of Northern Tamils. The President and SLFP are ingrained racists – refusal to release or prosecute Tamil political prisoners is one example of betrayal of a Sirisena election pledge.

* The LTTE and Prabaharan were terrorists and assassinated Duraippa, Amirthalingam, Rajiv Gandhi and Premadasa, made an attempt on Chandrika’s life, and carried out indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets. They murdered Rajini, Neelan, Anandarajan, Vijeyakala’s husband Maheswaran and many others. The LTTE slew hundreds of cadres of other militant groups. 

* At the same time, however, it stood up and fought against Tamil oppression and for this reason Tamils admire Prabaharan and the LTTTE. This and the previous point are facts of history that cannot be wished away by apologists on either side of the chauvinist divide. History is what was, not what the par-blind wish it had been.

Vijayakala

I believe these points are true, not conjecture. It would be marvellous if it were not so, but if wishes were wings, pigs would fly. I also believe that it is from this prevailing reality that we must start out if we are to understand and progress. The first condition is intellectual integrity; I invite you to accept these points as a truthful summary of the status quo. Austin Fernando says in another context “It will be difficult if politicians, public service leaders, law enforcers, judiciary, media and civil society do not individually and severally shoulder the reform process”. But hopes of such felicitous unanimity are farfetched, hence oft times we will need to swim against hostile currents.

I can only make a rough estimate of the number of cadres not only of the LTTE but also of other movements (TELO, PLOT, EPRLF and EROS) who still stand outside the political process though many individuals and organisations have already re-entered the mainstream. There are12,000 Tamil political prisoners – I presume nearly all are former armed cadres. If one adds to this those not apprehended or who quit the movements before the war ended but continue to be resentful of the Sinhala State, the number of ex-cadres who psychologically stands outside the system is much larger, maybe 30,000 to 50,000. 

There are in addition sympathisers who did not get involved in the war, and also Tamils who since the end of the war have come to feel alienated. The 5 July Daily News editorially intones “Although the LTTE was militarily defeated, Tamil youth still harbour nostalgia. Chief Minister Wigneswaran, who is not shy of defending the LTTE, has a huge such following. Vijayakala has no alternative but to follow if she hopes to re-enter parliament.” This suggests that the alienated Tamil population that shuns the state may number in the hundreds of thousands; a perilous predicament for Lanka’s future.

In the case of the JVP, after the insurrection of 1971, and after the Pol-Potinian savagery of 1989-90 when more lives are said to have been lost than in the civil-war, governments and civil society came to their senses and evolved a programmes that brought the JVP within the bounds of democracy and the social ethos of the nation. However there is opposition to an undertaking of similar nature in the case of Tamil ex-militants. This is partly for racial reasons (villains of the “other race” are more hated than villains of “our race”). The other reason is that race-baiting propagandists of the Rajapaksa genre (eg. Jayatilleka’s piece cited above) exert themselves to keep ethnic antagonism alive. Some media outlets use Vijayakala’s controversial speech as a mirror image of Asgiriya Anunayake Vendaruwe Upali’s exhortation to Gota to embrace Hitler as his role model. This is incorrect as I will argue below.

The way the JVP was rehabilitated was correct, though the regimes of the day also blundered. In like manner ex-LTTE cadres too should be brought within the democratic political process. This would be wise. Whether a new-style LTTE (like the new-style post-Wijeweera JVP) will one day enter the mainstream is speculative and depends on willingness the hypothetical new-style, maybe new-name, entity to renounce terrorism and embrace democratic norms. Let us leave speculation aside and for now focus on creating avenues for individuals to acquire political legitimacy. To this extent Vijayakala is on the ball and on sound moral ground; her courage is praiseworthy. I am afraid I don’t know more about her except to say I support her campaign of opposition to the incarceration of Tamil youth without trial.

Her anger that school-girls are raped, that parents are afraid to send children outdoors, that the dire condition of widows has been ignored and that the return of some lands seized by the military is all that has been done, is a constant refrain I hear from Jaffna people. Lanka e-news translates Vijayakala as having said: “If our children and women are to come home safely, an LTTE administration is again necessary”. I think it is obvious if you listen to the whole speech that hers is an expression of exasperation; a verbal ejaculation to say ‘Tamils did not have such a bad time even when they lived under those bastards who killed my husband’. The reasons for her anger are understandable and acceptable though taken literally her statement is a politically stupid verbal excess even if the precise intent of “bad time” is arguable. Interestingly though, Vijayakala, whatever party she contests from, is certain to be returned to parliament with a thumping majority next time. A spate of such events, if they occur, will set the scene for the next stage in Lanka’s ethnic imbroglio.

There are demands to bring her to trial for treason and lock her up; preventing her re-election may be a motive, though I don’t think dimwits think that far ahead. Be that as it may, on the one hand while I am opposed to secession at the present time, simultaneously I opine that threatening those who campaign for secession with imprisonment is undemocratic and an impediment to freedom of expression. Such laws should be repealed. Should 2 million voters in Catalonia in October 2017 (90%) and 1.6 million in Scotland (45%) in September 2014 be put behind bars, greatly swelling the expenses of their respective Spanish and Britannic Majesties?

I hope Vijayakala stands firm and refuses to retract the concerns she is projecting. What are they? No credible development programme in the North, fear and insecurity, refusal to form an Administrative Secretariat in the Thennamarachi District, little done for 30,000 war widows etc. Now she has been forced to resign her ministership because the government is in a funk in the face of a chauvinist backlash; but thankfully this will free her hands to stand firm on the national question. Elections are due and a fascistic-chauvinist tide is on the rise, it is no surprise that the UNP and its leaders are sallow cowards; the country trapped between diffidence and extremism. Nevertheless it remains true that though a UNP-Ranil (or Karu or Mangala or Sajith) victory promises little for the morrow, a Gota-UPFA-Mahinda conquest will herald hard-power and a diminution of freedom. 

To stem this trend we cannot depend on possible UNP presidential candidates, whether Ranil, Karu, Sajith, nor on the UNP’s parliamentary morons. Sirisena is an insidious fifth-column, the Dead Left traitors. The Better-Left (JVP, ULF, Bahu’s NSSP etc.) and the residues of liberalism need to pull together. Left-unity is useful, but paradoxically the obstacle is the JVP, potentially its biggest beneficiary. A united left and bold liberals who are willing to align must, without illusions but out of necessity, collaborate with the UNP, democratic SLFPers and Tamil and Muslim organisations. The challenge of working together demands flexibility and intelligence; both in woeful short supply especially in the JVP. The unwillingness, nay the obstacles placed in the way of a left-unity strategy by the JVP, which it is in a position to spearhead, prior to dealing with the UNP and SLFP, is hard to comprehend. 

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