TESO conference reveals who stands in the interests of the oppressed masses

The Tamil Eelam supporters’ organisation (TESO) acts as a tool for the Dravidian Progress Federation (DMK) to sooth their voters. This has been the case since its formation in 1985 with the leader of the DMK, Mr M Karunanidhi, as its president. This organisation has been defunct for a long time. The revival of TESO and its first conference, held on 12 August and organised by the DMK, also lived up to its reputation as a party tool for mobilising votes rather than having any real concern for the struggling Tamil masses. The DMK is one of the two main political parties in Tamil Nadu, India.

Hypocrisy of Tamil Nadu ruling parties

Since the brutal end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009 evidence of the horrific genocide that took place has shocked the Tamil Nadu masses. Huge sympathy has followed among both Eelam and Diaspora Tamils, as well as Tamil Nadu Tamils. As a result the link between Tamil Nadu and Eelam Tamils has become stronger. A wave of radicalisation among young people in Tamil Nadu has resulted. Many of the organisations that have emerged since 2009 stand for continuing the fight for Eelam as a separate Tamil nation. One of the key reasons for the recent historical defeat for the Congress party in Tamil Nadu was the campaign of Tamil nationalists. Congress is seen as the Indian ruling collaborators in the Sri Lankan government’s war against Tamils.

This is inevitably linked to the rise of Tamil nationalism as a whole. However, its full impact in Sri Lanka has not been felt because of the Sri Lankan government censorship and counter-propaganda. Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu is, in general, a left nationalism and linked to anti-caste struggles. Among certain layers there is now some enthusiasm for the possibility of a revival of a genuine movement to represent the interests of the poor and most exploited masses of Tamil Nadu, hence the rapid growth of the Nam Tamilar (We Tamils) movement. However, this version of Tamil nationalism – as in any previous nationalist development in Tamil Nadu – historically misled the toiling masses and prevented any emergence of genuine forces to represent the real interests of struggling people. For example the populist leader of Nam Tamilar, Seeman has now been criticised for artificially trying to model himself on the leader of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). He has also been attacked for his uncritical stance on the ruling All India Anna Dravidian progress federation (AIADMK). Given the lack of an alternative he retained his support to an extent. However other movements such as May 17, that Tamil Solidarity collaborates with, are emerging as a serious force that is challenging all the establishment parties.

Using Tamil nationalist propaganda to mobilise has been the traditional role of the DMK and other Dravidian parties – as they originated from the Dravidian movement. The emergence of new organisations such as Nam Tamilar not only challenged this but also the DMK and AIADMK were totally discredited due to their involvement in massive corruption scandals that shook the whole of India. Jayalalitha, leader of AIADMK won the last election comfortably as DMK key leaders were submerged in the mammoth spectrum scandal in which tax payers’ loss is estimated to be over $32 billion. The daughter of the DMK leader Karunanidhi charged for involvement in this corruption. DMK’s continued collaboration with the unpopular Congress party (their natural ally at the centre who they are expected to form a coalition with in the general election) has also been a vote-loser for them.

Nonetheless AIADMK is rumoured to have exchanged money to buy out the Nam Tamilar movement’s support prior to the last state election and somehow silenced its criticism of AIADMK. Jayalalitha’s government passed a resolution in the state assembly calling for a war crimes investigation in 2011. It was an attempt to take away the DMK’s traditional voters. TESO’s revival of the DMK is partly is an attempt to counter this to safeguard their vote base.

Though both parties now want to pretend they support the plight of Eelam Tamils to get votes, it is already acknowledged that they no longer represent the interests of struggling masses either in Tamil Nadu or in Eelam. Jayalalitha become a chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the first time in 1991 after forming a coalition with the Congress party and took a very strong stand against Eelam Tamils following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Congress leader and then Prime Minister of India. Almost all the young Tamils of ‘Sri Lankan origin’ who lived in Tamil Nadu at the time went through a horrific experience of being interrogated and their educational rights, among many other rights, were denied. AIADMK had been power twice already and each time they quickly lost support due to their unpopular actions such as that of mass sacking of teachers etc. Jayalalitha has a notorious reputation as someone who has a ‘mind of her own’. Leading party members and assembly members are reported to have spent more time in practicing speeches of carefully phrased praise for her than on government affairs.

Karunanidhi and his family members who lead the DMK are not very different to the leaders of AIADMK when it comes to the looting of government resources and hierarchical control over the party. The DMK was in power in Tamil Nadu during the massacre in Sri Lanka in 2009. During that time the DMK collaborated with the central government and successfully prevented any development of an anti-war movement in Tamil Nadu. Which is no secret and young activists and students who were struggling to build a fight back at that time could never forgive the actions of DMK. Tamil Solidarity was set up in Tamil Nadu at this time to mobilise the activists and to unite all the forces against the war. These efforts were largely countered by the then DMK government. Some activists are imprisoned and some came under police investigation. One of the Tamil Solidarity presidents and Siritunga Jayasuriya gave interviews to almost all the media at that time condemning the inaction of the DMK and urged for emergency action to be taken to prevent the imminent massacre. Siritunga was the only politicians from Sri Lanka who had the bravery to do so at the time. Despite carrying parts of Siritunga’s interview in their media the DMK largely ignored the appeal. They conducted ‘token’ protests and fasting and managed to hold back the masses while the Sri Lankan government committed one of the worst massacres in the history of Sri Lanka aided by Indian government.

Leading members of both the DMK and AIADMK were among the rich elite in Tamil Nadu. Leading television networks owned by these parties are among the many other businesses owned by key party members. The level of corruption that exists is no new news for the voters. However they are forced to believe that there is no other alternative than choosing between the devil and the Beelzebub – the DMK and ADMK. Given the undemocratic electoral laws small parties who want to participate in the election are also pushed to take the side of one of these parties. Furthermore they together created a bribing culture for the electoral reasons. They will announce gifts during the election period, such as fans, TVs, computers and even a cow for those who vote for them. Now mistrust has grown so much that these parties take an oath of promise from the voters in front of the temple or God, that they will vote for the party after receiving the gift. The money for the gifts, however, is not paid from party pockets as these were announced as government projects!

TESO conference – deception from real issues

So it’s no surprise that the so called TESO conference was largely ignored by the Tamil Nadu masses as anything serious. It created no enthusiasm neither among the Tamil masses in Tamil Nadu, nor among the Tamil Diaspora. None of the grassroots organisations in the Diaspora fell for the pretence of the DMK. None of the political parties or organisations, including the TNA, took part in this conference for various reasons. Running up to the conference it emerged that the ministry of external affairs (MEA) in India granted permission to hold this conference with the condition that the word “Eelam” should be dropped from the title of the conference. This central government decision indicates their nervousness about the potential trajectory of the developing mood in Tamil Nadu. This not only confirms the continued complicity and corporation of Indian government with Sri Lankan government, but also verifies clearly that they have no interest whatsoever in aiding deliverance of any solution that would meet the aspiration of the Tamil-speaking masses.

The decision of the MEA was used by the DMK to create a certain momentum for the conference. However a number of organisations questioned the background of the ban on the word ‘Eelam’ – and they questioned whether the DMK was using the central government to cover up its own inability. The May 17 movement, for example, questioned the legality of it having organised several protests, including one just days before the conference, and used the very same word in the title. However the MEA decision was used by the DMK to justify their ‘carefully worded’ 14-point resolution that they passed at the conference, though it included the word ‘Eelam’ in it. The main objective of this resolution was summarised in the 14th point which simply condemned the AIADMK administration for being ‘hostile’ to Sri Lankan Tamils! This shed light for those who hoped these two right-wing parties may cooperate in coming forward with a united call for the right to self determination of the Tamil-speaking people! Incidentally uniting the various groups fighting for the right to self-determination was one of the key objectives when TESO was set up initially.

Having secured the full support from the Indian government and assurance that any possible development of support for Eelam in Tamil Nadu would be countered, the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka set out to further whip up Sinhala nationalism. This could not have come at a better time for them as they faced a key election in the east. A new wave of rhetoric emerged from the government, supported by the media/intelligentsia in Sri Lanka, that the military defeat of the LTTE was not enough so it was necessary to secure the unitary state by changing the territorial/cultural/language differences that currently exist. With militarised land occupations and sales of land to big corporations or military families, it is clear that a long-term plan to change the territorial differences is being followed by the regime. This plan appears to include the introduction of new Sinhala names to streets, villages, etc, and the imposing of Buddhist temples in the north and east, part of the country where no Buddhist population lives. Furthermore the education materials provided for the state-run schools (the majority of the schools in Sri Lanka) has been changed to introduce the government’s version of the history of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
While had done nothing to advance the struggle for the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka, the TESO conference re vitalised the Chauvinist propaganda of the Sri Lankan regime and racists who associated with it. All their attack on the activists and nationalist rhetoric must be condemned.

As the government stretches the economy to maintain the militarisation, the horrendous onslaught on democratic rights and the very obvious attack on Tamil population is causing anger among the Tamil masses, and discontent among the Sinhala masses. For a long time the Sinhala poor masses have been told that Tamils are to blame for their suffering. But the war, the horrendous way it was ended and the poor living condition that followed exposed the reality behind this lie. The Sinhala chauvinist regime has been forced to go back to old tactic of ‘scare mongering’ about the danger from India, to which the false pretences of the ruling parties in Tamil Nadu give strength.

Once again NSSP creates illusions

However the reason why some TNA leaders refused their invitation to take part in the TESO conference is not because of their clear understanding of the character of the DMK. The TNA is playing a rotten role as the stooge of the Indian government and continues to create the illusion that there is a possibility of winning some rights through Indian influence. Their key reason for refusing the invitation is related to their position on the demand for the right to self-determination – which they reject in principle. Their fear of an attack from the regime also needs to be considered here. The current TNA leadership has no programme or willingness to take forward the struggle of the most oppressed Tamil masses in Sri Lanka which they claim to represent. A few others rejected the invitation on a principled basis.

The only politician who participated in the TESO conference from Sri Lanka was Wikramabahu Karunaratne, Bahu, the leader of the NSSP. In the interview the NSSP gave to the media prior to his visit to India, they shamelessly boasted how Bahu had a friendly conversation with DMK leader Karunanidhi who helped clear his visa to participate in the TESO conference. Prior to the visit they claimed that the NSSP would campaign for the implementation of the LLRC – claiming there is a possibility of achieving autonomous rule through that! The LLRC has been rejected by the Tamils as a shameful attempt to cover up the genocide. The NSSP has yet to explain how autonomous rule could be won through it. Bahu’s only emphasis was to beg the Indian authorities to press for the implementation of LLRC. Incredibly he stated that the LLRC report contains “very important recommendations” and claimed its “very similar to the resolutions approved by TESO”! It’s breathtaking to see how the NSSP is still ready to be capitulate to the Indian ruling class rather than standing in the interests of the working and struggling people in Sri Lanka and in India.

This is not the first time that NSSP had the wrong perspective in relation to India. NSSP stand on supporting the Indian peace-keeping forces landing in Sri Lanka, and the Indo-Lanka accord that followed led to the split in the NSSP. Bahu’s faction shamelessly argued then that India was somewhat progressive! The full details of this debate that led to the split and formation of the United Socialist Party (USP) is recorded in a new book, The Left, Discourse between Reality and Expectations, written by Siritunga Jayasuriya. So far there has been no response from the Bahu faction in the NSSP on that book. Instead they lives up to their reputation as and creating illusions in the Indian ruling class at the time ruling elite in India are more and more exposed as supporters of the regime and a brutal oppressive force in India. NSSP is adding another chapter to the continued betrayal of the interests of the workers, poor and the national aspirations of Tamil masses by the left in Sri Lanka.

Despite the NSSP’s failure, they recently came under heavy attack from the chauvinist forces that support the current regime. This attack must be condemned strongly. the government-supporting right-wing media is using the opportunity to attack the left as a whole. They dishonestly linked the USP to support for the TESO. The USP released a press statement exposing this lie while also strongly condemning the chauvinist forces’ attack against the NSSP. The USP correctly urges the Tamil and Sinhala masses not to fall into the trap of Sinhala nationalism or the false promises of the Indian ruling elite.

W are now in a very sharp period where the denial of rights by the ruling class will not go unchallenged. At the same time the ideas and programmes of those who claimed to represent the struggling masses will be tested. A claim to support the right to self-determination can no longer be used as the ‘get out clause’ for lacking a correct programme and perspective. Given the worldwide crisis for the capitalism and the discrediting of the ruling parties all over the world, there is an urge among the masses to enter the political arena sooner or later to defend their interests, either through reforming existing progressive organisations or forming new organisations of their own. This is especially true in the case of the Tamil-speaking masses in Sri Lanka. Genuine revolutionary left organisations will act as a catalyst in forming such a mass organisation rather than concentrating on stunts that could only create illusions.