Deproscription, dignity and cooking the numbers in favour of the LTTE


By Malinda Seneviratne
The word in the street is ‘deproscription’. Deproscribing, which means nothing less than legitimising all the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the LTTE, has suddenly become the key issue with respect to the so-called peace process. Of course there are other ‘words in the street’. We have had all kinds of ghost organisations operating on behalf of the Eelam lobby plastering the walls with outrageous demands, frilled with equally outrageous statistical claims.

One group screams, ‘svayang theerana aithiya diyaw’ (Give the right of self-determination). Another, Janatha Prajathanthravadi Vyaparaya, came out a couple of weeks ago, with this : Demala janathavata ekva siteemata ho venva yemata aithiyak etha (The Tamil people have the right to stay or go). A third, ‘INPACT’, tries to make out that the vast majority of the people are for talks with the LTTE.

Let us take these contentions one by one. The LTTE has already won the ‘right of self-determination’. They never needed any by-your-leave in determining their future. They never asked for permission when they ethnically cleansed the Jaffna peninsula of all Muslims and Sinhalese. They never had to get anyone’s approval when they attacked the Dalada Maligawa, the Sri Maha Bodhi, when they assassinated people or massacred innocent villagers in the threatened areas.

The much celebrated right of self-determination is something that Lenin proposed. It is not God-given and is certainly subject to critical appraisal. Self-determination is not necessarily co-terminous with secession. It need not refer to ethnic groups. And it is ridiculous to talk about the rights of self-determination of Tamils in terms of Eelam.

First, the Tamils, the vast majority of them, have already decided that they are not for Eelam. They have decided that their future is with the Sinhala people, which is why they have come to live among us, outside of the so-called traditional homelands. Yes, there are those who have chosen the "venva yana" option. They are in Canada, USA, Europe and elsewhere, happy in their ‘exile’.

The right of self-determination become ridiculous when one considers the fact that the Eelam boys and their front organisations are asking us to give the LTTE, a ruthless terrorist organisation, a full third of the island and half the coast line. This is preposterous even on the simple grounds that less than half the Tamil population live in these areas. The LTTE is asking all this for less than 8% of the population.

The survey funded by the Initiative for Political and Conflict Transformation (INPACT) claims that 77% of the Sri Lankan electorate believe that the best way to end the conflict is through negotiations between the government and the LTTE. Interesting. I was reminded of that old saying, "There are lies, damn lies and then there is ‘statistics’!"

INPACT insists that there is an ‘ethnic conflict’. It has not bothered to ask the question, "Is what is happening an ethnic conflict, or is it a terrorist problem?". INPACT is not interested in finding out what kinds of ‘solutions" the people are thinking about.

INPACT believes that "conflicts do not end, they only change". In other words, they are of the view that there cannot be any "resolution". Makes me wonder why they are touting "negotiations". INPACT was formed just 4 months ago by people who, by their admission, are strongly advocating "negotiations’. INPACT is funded by Britain, Germany, Sweden and Norway. We all know how these countries have helped the LTTE in the past and how some of them are still pleading the terrorist case.

According a spokesperson for INPACT, had the people surveyed expressed opinions that were in opposition to INPACT’s political position, they would not have given publicity to the findings. There would not have been any posters. INPACT takes care not to reveal the operational fact that there are no such things called ‘independent surveys’, that results are more often than not guided by ideological predilection and certainly the positions held by those who fund these exercises. INPACT pleads poverty as the reason why the survey "results" were not expressed through posters in LTTE held areas.

Among the glaring errors in the survey is the fact that only 7% of those interviewed were engaged in agriculture. Makes me wonder who they were talking to, considering that we are still described as an agricultural people.

Even if we are to accept the ‘major finding’ of the survey, that 77% are for negotiations, we are not told what these ‘negotiations’ are about. I challenge INPACT or anyone else to carry out an island-wide survey asking the following question: "Would you be in favour of the government negotiating a full surrender of the LTTE where the LTTE promises to lay down arms and join the democratic process?" I predict that INPACT will not publish the findings. The point I am making is that these questions that have been asked are not value-neutral and are framed in ways that elicit answers that help the political projects of these organisation with dubious agendas.

The same INPACT spokesperson, when reminded of the fact that there were no negotiations with Hitler or with the Taliban, said that that was a different time and a different context. When asked how he would react to someone attacking his house, demanding half his assets and whether he would start negotiating, he responded by pleading the subjectivity of things. At least he is honest. Where there is subjectivity, there cannot be ‘traditional homelands’, there can only be perceptions. And it would be downright stupid for anyone to offer ‘solutions’ to perceived problems.

INPACT’s sinister designs became even more apparent when I contacted Prof. Siri Hettige of the Department of Sociology, University of Colombo, who, according to INPACT, had carried out the survey ‘to test the views of the public on the value of negotiations to end the conflict in Sri Lanka’. Prof. Hettige said that the exercise was about political issues in general and not limited to the conflict, as claimed by INPACT. Only three out of some 30 questions asked, were related to the conflict. In addition, he admitted that these questions tell little about people’s perceptions about the nitty-gritty of conflict resolution, and agreed that it would not be advisable to come to definitive conclusions from the data. He also said, "INPACT was interested only in the conflict, while our exercise was much broader and too much should not be made of these particular numbers".

In the meantime, Thamilselvan, head of the so-called ‘political wing’ of the LTTE, wants to enter dialogue only as a ‘legitimate’ organisation. Hence, the demand for deprospcription. Thamilchelvan has, not in so many words, acknowledged one fact, the LTTE has lost considerable ground ideologically. One does not demand ‘dignity’. Dignity is the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect. It is not something that is conferred. One does not beg for dignity. And beggars cannot demand the heaven and earth.

Appathurai Vinayagamoorthy of the ACTC and spokesperson for the TNA has stated that there hasn’t been anything sinister in Tamilselvan’s statement. Actually in response to a question, this terrorist has said (and is quoted in the Tamilnet) that the LTTE is a liberation organisation and that it is fighting a ‘rogue state’ (referring to the Sri Lankan government) which is engaged in state terrorism. Now why would a ‘noble’ terrorist organisation like the LTTE even want to talk with rogue state? Simple, the LTTE is not interested in any kind of resolution (in this they are like INPACT). They know the talks will fail (because ultimately the government will not give in to their Eelam demand, which is something the LTTE will not back down from) but not before they are deproscribed.

Sunanda Deshapriya, recently came on Rupavahini to say that the ban serves no purpose and has not changed anything. According to him both sides engage in preparing for war during ceasefires. Sorry Sunanda, there is a difference between a state engaging in arms purchases and a terrorist organisation doing the same. Sunanda, like the rest of the peace-velendas, is only trying to give legitimacy to the LTTE, elevating them to something equivalent to a representative body of a state. He argues that it was after the last round of peace talks that the army was able to capture Jaffna. He keeps mum on the fact that the armed forces suffered their greatest debacles after the ‘peace talks’ were scuttled by the LTTE.

Sunanda also points out that the ban on the LTTE imposed by the Sri Lankan government is separate from those imposed by the USA, UK and Australia. True. But surely, Sunanda cannot be blind to the importance of symbolism? In this case, it is more than symbolism, deproscribing a terrorist organisation prior to it denouncing terrorism and laying down arms is a prescription for disaster. There is no political logic in strengthening your enemy, and of course giving him the legitimacy it so sorely needs.

If the LTTE is serious about the plight of the Tamil people (a plight which they are suffering more on account of the LTTE’s bloody agenda than anything else), they are not going to let something as sillara as their organisation being banned stand in the way of negotiations. If the Tamil people really believe in this myth about traditional homelands, let them back their bags and go live in these delirious places. This having the cake and eating it too has gone on for too long. If Sunanda Deshapriya and the INPACT people find the LTTE so appealing that they have to operate as Prabhakaran’s mouthpieces, let them join him in his rat-hole in the jungles.

The UNF government, meanwhile, needs to take a time-out. You cannot negotiate anything if you are muddle-headed.