North & East Sri Lanka: A New Political Force Is Necessary

By TU Senan –

The TNA leaders have begun to show just how far to the right they have travelled. It appears their every action demonstrates further their inability to both understand and respond to the developing political situation. Party members have been disciplined for not supporting Maithri in the election and the diaspora has been condemned for organising protests against that war criminal.

In fact the TNA seems to be on a ‘protect Maithri’ mission. Conflict also exists within the TNA and the proposal to ‘discipline’ dissidents adds to the discontent. However, the problems that the TNA faces go much deeper than a quarrel between some of its members. It is worth remembering how its predecessor Federal Party (TULF) demise begun.

The march organised by Tamil Manavar Peravai (TMP) in November 1970 against the standardisation was the first biggest demonstration to be organised by Tamil students. The Federal Party (FP) leaders were prevented from either leading this march or even speaking at the final rally. Then the TULF leader Amirthalingam stood behind the stage and insisted that he speak. Navaratname, another leader, also demanded to speak.

However, they were resisted by the student leaders and sent home. Many leaders of the ‘militant’ organisations that were formed later have their political origins in this TMP. At that time the popular student magazine ‘Tamil Youth’ wrote: “We must teach a lesson to ‘great’ leaders and Commanders” – a direct attack on then Tamil Congress leader GG Ponnambalam and FP leader Amirthalingam.

Wigneswaran MahindaIt must be noted that what the FP leaders’ stood for in terms of national rights for Tamils then is more advanced than what the current TNA leaders advocate. Even then the youth expressed their dissatisfaction with these ‘moderate’ politicians who planned to drown them in endless ‘diplomacy’.

These so-called ‘moderate’ political leaders create an enormous gap – between what they claim to represent and what they do; between what is possible and what they are prepared to do. They show willingness to compromise for a parliamentary position – but do not show similar conviction when it comes to standing with the masses. Those leaders (often on the left) who take a bold stand to be on the side of the exploited and oppressed are often side-lined by the ‘moderates’. And of course they declare all protests and youth activities as reckless, pointless, useless, and so on, with other ‘immortal’ names. Those who demand rights and are prepared to struggle, and those who are looking for a comfy seat in the parliament or aiming to gain from the continuing oppression and exploitation against the masses, don’t even share the same vocabulary, let alone actions and tactics. They differ fundamentally – they are diametrically opposed to each other.

While effigies are burned by the protesters the leaders are prepared to sit at the table of compromise. Leaders throw names at the protesters and try to silence them with whatever means they have, while protesters look for a new political vehicle to express their interests. It is from this vacuum sometimes that a new force emerges. How far this new political organisation can advance the interest of the masses will also depend on the far-sighted perspectives of the new leaders and the ability to involve workers, young people, the oppressed.

The TNA hides behind ‘diplomatic’ rhetoric. They have gotten away with this for a period, partly due to the low level of political participation that has been a feature of Tamil society. All sorts of rudimentary arguments are floated. Ludicrously it has been claimed that ‘One only needs to be a ‘devout Hindu’ to lure the Indian state to support Tamils in Sri Lanka. Similarly some argued that the Indian state will have to rely on Tamils to keep its interests in Sri Lanka. So we could play that to our advantage by being extra friendly to the Indian state. Now that China may be in opposition to the new regime will they argue that they should be used as a playing card by China? These sort of black and white absurdities are very common among these ‘leaders’.

Every time they stand for election the TNA leaders create an illusion that the west and UN can be won to support the Tamils, as they do with India. Now they need a new spin to justify the actions of Modi and the inaction of the UN. When news of the six-month delay in publishing the UN report came, Sambanthan’s reaction was telling. He declared that he was neither happy nor sad about it. Now consider how a young man whose family lost everything in the war would respond. It is therefore no surprise that protests are emergent in Jaffna and in the diaspora – not just against the Sri Lankan government but also against the TNA leaders.

Sumanthiran, a practicing lawyer, seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel to come with arguments to stop the UK protests against Maithri. He claimed that the president is making some good gestures towards Tamils and we should not react badly. He warned that a protest would send the wrong signal to the Sinhala masses in the south – they might think: ‘look our president is doing something good for the Tamils, and even then the Tamils are not happy. So there is no point in giving anything to the Tamils’. What a laughable logic!

Why then did you pass the so-called ‘genocide resolution’? Leave aside the point that none of the promises made are delivered, since when did winning the Sinhala masses’ support become so important? None of the TNA leaders put forward this as a strategy. Sivajilingam who supported Siritunga in the last election is called an ‘unruly maverick’ by the defenders of the moderates. Such is the state of affairs among the TNA on this issue.

If the TNA really cared about winning the support of the Sinhala masses they should oppose the attacks on the Sinhala masses perpetuated by the Sri Lankan state. They could effectively use their parliamentary positions to defend the free education, free health service and many other gains that the Sinhala masses care about. Will they stand against the privatisation initiative proposed by the Bank of Sri Lanka or will they oppose the move to drawn Sri Lankan masses interest payment to IMF? That’s how you win the support of the Sinhala masses – stand with them in their suffering and fight with them to change it. You will not win their support by welcoming the ‘president’ and stopping protests against him.

Some journalists have written cynical reports of these protests. A significant number of the young people who participate in political activities now are not in any way linked to the LTTE in the past. Their actions are denounced as “London antics”, they are called a “lunatic fringe” and many other names. One piece concludes that: “It is important therefore for saner elements in the Tamil community to realise that “moderate”sections of the polity despite their shortcomings should be supported against the Tamil lunatic fringe… This is the time to shed silence and speak out against those political extremists in Tamil society within Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and the Global Tamil Diaspora”. Where does the urgency to defend the ‘Tamil moderates’ came from? Contemptuous name calling and framing students and youth as extremists will not be enough to remove the conditions that are forcing a new layer of youth towards struggle. As long as these conditions exist the frightened ‘moderate’ should continue to live in fear.

Protests would have continued, even under the Rajapaksa regime. Yes a little breathing space in the light of Maithripala’s seeming conciliatory approach could add to the confidence of the masses to protest, but the world is filled with history where the mass of people bravely stood up against all sorts of tyrannical regimes. The will of the masses can be, particularly in the period when mass struggle is emerging, expressed by a smaller section of society who can help the masses to see the need for their participation. But it must also be said that if significant majority support is a precondition for forming a government, then the majority of the governments in the world will have to fall.

The attempt to dismiss protest because only a ‘small’ number of people attend is invalid. And short-sighted. At this stage it is true that a minority understand that the delay in the UN is not by an accident but a consequence of the intentions of western capitalist governments. Their interest is not in justice for the Tamils who suffered so horrendously but securing big business interests in the pacific region. And it is this small minority who understand that the delay of the UN report – is not just a delay – but will result in a rewrite with insistence that Tamils follow the ‘internal justice’ delivered by the war criminals themselves.

Can anyone explain why a ‘breathing space’ is required to publish an already written little report regarding such blatant and well-documented human rights violations? Will Sumanthiran as a lawyer and Wigneswaren as a judge accept the argument that the murderer who committed crimes under one regime should be given breathing space and impunity under another regime?

In the face of brutal repression, there is an overwhelming yearning among Tamils for unity. The need to stand together is felt strongly. The TNA has used and abused this desire; behaving as though they are the ‘sole representatives’ of Tamils. But who are ‘Tamils’. Can the urge for unity overcome the gap between what different sections of the community need – young people, workers, women, the exploited and the poor? Apart from the Tamil Solidarity campaign none of the diaspora groups has come out with direct criticism of the TNA leaders so far. But that utopian view of uniting competing forces is now burning to dust along with the effigies. This situation begs for a new political organisation to emerge.

Interesting times lie ahead.