By S. Sivathasan –
The prevailing wish of the country is to put the past behind. A rare unity of purpose that obtained in January is needed again. For nearly a century, Sinhala Tamil ill-will, erosion of cordiality, loss of trust and growth of enmity have plagued the nation’s polity. Now they have begun to thaw. Making them thaw further needs a fresh political ethos.
The past was riven with debate as if arguments well phrased or ideally rephrased can change the course of the future. They were hurled at one another interminably bringing no benefit to anybody. The communities can remake their future if the leadership in the North and South begin to engage in an honest dialogue. The South to part with power and the North inclined to take it. Ask for more not like Oliver Twist but like Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman.
A Smart Turn
In a very remarkable turn of events, the bloodless change of January 8, 2015 thrust a glorious opportunity into the hands of the political leaderships of different hues. As of now even as a rare chance for a fresh beginning seemed slipping away, another occasion has arisen. To all political formations and ethnic entities, the day of decision is August 17. To the Tamils the challenge is to dispel diffidence, dissipate cynicism, forget impotent Boycott and forge a solid political unity among themselves. Respond to Sampanthan’s call and give the TNA 20 seats to parley with a sense of power.
“Know your friends, know your enemies”. This was a profound political verity advanced by Mao in trying times of conflict. Tamils too had challenges to test their political wisdom and they yet have. It appears that for a century, only slips and not success were overwhelming. Cataloging them all will only immerse the Tamils in despondency. Yet a few need mention. Through them all runs a single consistent thread. What is it? Looking afar outside of themselves and the country, spurning self-reliance and hugging phantasms that were external.
A greatly flawed approach of Tamils has been to subserve self-effort to external intervention and support. In 1922, a memorandum called ‘Minorities Scheme’ was sent to the Secretary of State for Colonies, Winston Churchill by Sir P Ramanathan. Since then with hope against hope, weighted representation was canvassed before Donoughmore, balanced representation before Caldecott and constitutional safeguards before Soulbury. Perhaps in colonial times there was no other way for a threatened minority. It is distressing that the majority community never sought to assuage the apprehensions of the Tamils. The latter too continued the same strategy and tried out only foreign friends.
From independence to now, appellate institutions are seen elsewhere in UN, US and India. For once when times are seen at least remotely propitious for cutting the tangled knot, the chance should not be missed. Leadership on both sides have seen blood and gore to favour understanding and compromise. TNA in the last six years has raised the level of consciousness among Tamils. Protracted parleying, losing no time is needed.
For this the mandate to TNA from the Tamils should be unequivocal, loud and clear. Seat strength of 20 and no less needs to be unwavering and explicit.
Even as political thinking was evolving in Ceylon a century ago, the levers of the economy were changing. By early nineteen twenties North-South divide was developing. The former relied on services for its economy and saw education as the assured course. The latter had mature plantation agriculture to foster incipient industrialisation. The South sought to strengthen both.
The emerging pattern of the economy had its impact on the social structure and the people’s aspirations. It was inevitable that the ruling ideas that were gathering momentum were those of the ruling class. The subtle relationships that grew between the rulers in Britain and the ruled in Ceylon favoured the South. The ethnic composition of the ruling class itself was changing. These developments were more from the nineteen twenties till independence.
For a century from 1915, Tamils had recognition as the principal ethnic entity of Ceylon. Close on the heels of the powerful mass movement in India for independence, was a stirring in Ceylon as well. There was however a difference in dynamics. In India people in the mass measured their strength in numbers as shown in streets and public squares. In contrast, the leaderships in Ceylon engaged in negotiations with the British rulers and were sending petitions for reform.
The people’s agitation for independence was never in the reckoning of Ceylonese leaders. Those who had moved upward economically also moved forward socially. Having caught the limelight, next in line of capture was political power. Leaders of all citizens came together into one caucus to form the Ceylon National Congress in 1919. In no time primeval instincts surfaced and ethnic concerns came to the fore. The formation was riven by minority apprehensions. It was feared that accession of power will be not to the nation but to a coterie from the single major ethnic entity.
Sir P Arunachalam, the founding President of Ceylon National Congress was elected in December 1919. He sensed looming marginalization of Tamils from mainstream progress. In a few years Sir P Ramanathan who served the country as Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General for long years and later as a member of the Legislative Council, joined his younger brother. He had enough political maturity to nurture still greater misgivings and he made them overtly clear. The growing negative trek of the twenties was superseded in the thirties by the potent cry of balanced representation for all minorities. Failure to accept this proposal brought forth in 1949 a sensible demand which was federalism. The rulers of Ceylon and later Sri Lanka saw no wisdom in this proposition. Their limited outlook found meaning only in destruction of several hundred billions worth of assets, not to mention elimination of lakhs of human beings.
This was the run up to the foisting of brutal state power and armed action against the Tamils from Presidential Election, November 2005. This became the precursor to the riveting of a fascist dictatorship from 2010. In 2015 January the stage was set for a Hitler to reign supreme. The prospect was thwarted by the collective intelligence of the persecuted Tamils and Muslims joining hands with the Sinhalese. It was this single act of wisdom and courage that saved the nation. For this the country stands beholden to the principal leaders especially to President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and Former President Chandrika.
From the day Presidential election was announced in November 2014 to elections on January 8 2015, what have the Tamils done? They united to a man with a resolve to vote. Faint voices about boycott went unheard. Intimidation by state agencies was repulsed. Unethical intervention by the Governor was thwarted. The TNA having led the people quite adroitly from 2010, sought their endorsement in 2013 at the Northern Provincial Council election. A positive response was given unreservedly. An impressive record was set in voter turnout and in the mandate to the TNA. Fortified by that success Tamils in 2015 were in the vanguard of the minorities in effecting a change of regime. It was accomplished without fear and with determination.
Having achieved Himalayan success in January, they have a still greater duty to perform from now till August 17. If not even a whisper arises from Tamils now for a boycott, it will be a first in 84 years since 1931. All Tamils owe this as a duty by their ethnic brethren and other minorities. As much or more is their obligation to make common cause with the Sinhalese, consolidate their victory in January and secure a decisive elimination of fascism and the return of a Hitler.
TNA’S Huge Responsibility
Having done their work by the nation, the Tamil leadership can yet fail in its duty by their own community. Worse when it is allowed to happen through stark irrationality. It is true that GG Ponnambalam erred after leading the Tamils, accepting a portfolio and then betraying the cause. For this he was relentlessly pursued by the Federal Party, roundly condemned for decades on end and soundly defeated at no less than three elections.
Virtually all Tamil Ministers who joined later – with the exception of one from the FP – were never faithful to the cause. Not one among them had any Tamil sentiment. They sold their soul and they were used what they were paid for. From 1960 to last week, it was the same story when Karuna was thrown away like a squeezed orange. Is it not a signal that now, not even the losing coterie needs a fifth columnist?
When the present government is returned with a strong fresh mandate, an offer of portfolios to the Tamil Leadership may be anticipated. This can be in an effort at nation-building. Will it be responsible conduct for the Tamil leadership to spurn power, shy away from authority and to stand aside? From 1956 this has happened with a small break in 1965. Making a break with the last 60 years is the task before the TNA.
What is politics all about? It is pursuit of power, capture and sharing. Power is held collectively by the Cabinet as per the mandate granted by the people. If TNA is chosen by the Prime Minister to hold a few portfolios, they will hold them as of right. Power is at its maximum with a Minister and gets transmitted down the line to districts and the periphery. In a sense it is similar to electricity, generated at Victoria and taken to Jaffna. Who will say, let us not take it because one abused it earlier and got electrocuted?
As the world knows, a parliamentarian is not appointed a Minister because he loves power or lusts authority. Conversely it does not follow that non appointment means one spurns them. Then his place is the monastery. Therefore discarding such gibberish, the high caliber men in the TNA must be brought to the fore to shoulder higher responsibility. Tamils cannot wait till their problems are solved in order to make them Ministers. They must be appointed Ministers to solve their problems in areas like: Education, Health, Reconciliation, Agriculture, Land, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Devolution etc. By themselves hands on and through their cabinet colleagues.
If there be a streak of light extending a ray of hope, it opens up space to prospect afresh.What do Tamils need now? Unprecedented solidarity for voting in the largest number of TNA MPs. This is indispensable for a repeat victory of the incumbent government. TNA has perforce to negotiate for two or even three formidable portfolios. This is the prerequisite to restore Tamils to a position of dignity and equality. Relegation to the level of veddhas and gypsies otherwise. No exaggeration.