Ilankai Tamil Sangam
Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
Politics: Tamil Resurgence Meetings – How They Have Changed!
by T. Sittampalam, Northeastern Monthly, October 2005
What we are witnessing today in Tamil politics is not the unusual phenomenon of Sri Lankan national elections going together with Tamil nationalist resurgence. To those who have been following Sri Lankan politics, a similar situation prevailed in 2001 before the general election of that year, which resulted in the establishment of a UNP administration in Colombo and - what was for those times an aberration – four Tamil parties forming an alliance that made a significant political impact on the Tamil areas.
Plaque erected on fourth anniversary of first Pongu Tamil
By end 2001 the LTTE had long demanded a ceasefire and political negotiations. The Elephant Pass base camp had been overrun more than a year previously and Katunayake Air Force Base was attacked less than six months ahead of elections. Therefore, with the military balance firmly in the hands of the Tigers, the LTTE set about a concerted campaign to consolidate political power.
The primary political task of the LTTE at that time was to build up a Tamil consensus of being the acknowledged sole representative of the Tamil people. The Tamil National Alliance, then newly formed, put forward this demand in its election manifesto, along with those of an urgent need for a ceasefire and political negotiations.
These demands were also made at the Pongu Thamil celebrations held in different parts of the northeast. Pongu Thamil is what is now better known as 'Tamil Resurgence celebrations.' As important as the LTTE seeking legitimacy for its political role was the emphasis placed on the inalienable right of the Tamil people to self-determination. These two issues formed the cornerstones of the Pongu Thamil demands.
Compared to the years 2001-2002, today’s prospects appear almost dismal for the Tamils. Though nobody is sure what President Chandrika Kumaratunga will do to fetter SLFP candidate Mahinda Rajapakse’s presidential campaign, whatever she succeeds in doing, will not erase the fact that he represents Sinhala nationalism at the forthcoming elections. If he indeed accepts federalism and Post-Tsunami Operations Management Structure (P-TOMS) as his platform, it would be due to intense pressure applied on him by Kumaratunga, and not of his own free will.
Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe, on the other hand, upholds federalism and P-TOMS. He will also be seen as the better advocate of the CeaseFire Agreement (CFA) and the Norwegian-facilitated peace process, because he has not wavered from these principles in the past, unlike Rajapakse.
To the Tamils, however, the candidates represent two aspects of Sinhala intransigence in addressing the ethnic conflict – one, crude, the other, sophisticated. Both approaches are nonetheless detrimental to anybody who wishes a honourable settlement to the conflict.
Although the MOUs concluded by Rajapakse with the JVP and JHU make him a bad boy in the eyes of the Sinhala liberals and most Tamils and Muslims, the deals he struck were the logical conclusion of the line his party was following while the JVP remained in the government led by none other than Kumaratunga herself. Her moves to pull the rug from beneath the feet of the Wickremesinghe government by taking over the ministries of defence, law and order and the media, expressing the vilest sentiments about P-TOMS, Norway and the Interim Self-Governing Administration (ISGA), and, to crown it all, giving protection to Karuna, all point to the calculated undermining of the LTTE and the summary dismissal of Tamil demands.
Wickremesinghe’s game has been to harness whatever support he could attract from the international community to contain the LTTE from resuming an armed struggle. The containment policy was also reflected by refusing to negotiate a CFA that would allow the Tigers greater access to re-supply by sea, and movement of its cadres by land. Similarly, the High Security Zones (HSZ) was not dismantled, no substantial investment was allowed in the northeast that led to massive outflows of funds from that region to the south, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) remained on the statute books.
Nor does Wickremesinghe’s manifesto for the 2005 presidential election, just released, spell out his commitment to federalism unequivocally, though it states any solution would be based on the Oslo and Tokyo Declarations.
Therefore, neither Rajapakse nor Wickremesinghe are offering anything substantial to the Tamils. However, the intensity of their rivalry in southern Sri Lanka has led to the Sinhala polity being divided vertically and driven to take positions that are polar opposites. This would inevitably impinge on any sort of consensus emerging between them - a consensus which will be vital for long-term solutions to the ethnic question.
These developments have forced the Tamils to realise that the forthcoming elections will not be much more than of cosmetic significance for them, but one that would force them to vote because boycotting could drive both candidates to take on more extreme anti-Tamil positions.
Realising that very little could be got through the flawed political institutions prevailing Sri Lanka, the Tamils have been compelled to turn to the international community. This is despite feeling distinctly aggrieved that there is an inherent bias in its dealings in favour of the state party. The best example of such bias is the skewed orientation of the CFA.
Pongu Tamil, Mannar, Sept. 28, 2005 (photo courtesy Tamilnatham.com)
On 27 September the European Union issued a statement that LTTE delegations would not be received in any EU country until further notice and the Union was actively contemplating the formal listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation following the Lakshman Kadirgamar assassination. What reciprocal strictures, if any, it was hoping to impose on the Sri Lanka government was unclear at the time of writing. Earlier, the co-chairs on Sri Lanka’s peace process critiqued the Tigers for political assassinations, child recruitment, etc. very severely, while merely referring to the government’s responsibility to disarm or relocate paramilitary forces, "which fuel the cycle of violence and unrest" (meaning Karuna) from the northeast.
It was not certain at the time of writing whether the LTTE will reverse its stand of neutrality between the two candidates, because it is the present government’s campaign that has brought about the latest restrictions imposed on the Tigers by sections of the international community.
Despite the naked prejudices of the international community, the Tamils have had to turn to it to deliver them from the awful mess they are in. This was the message at both the Vavuniya and Mullaitivu Tamil resurgence meetings. Statements by the TNA and Jaffna Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam were also on the same lines.
What is interesting is that almost four years after formal hostilities were suspended with the signing of the CFA, Tamil resurgence meetings have not given up the call for Tamil self-determination. But unlike three-four years ago when these calls were coupled with the LTTE entering the political mainstream and working towards politicising the conflict among the Tamils, today these celebrations are accompanied by appeals from various quarters to the international community for deliverance.
That is non-violent politics for you!
Posted October 2, 2005