Deproscription, legitimization and the pathways to suicide


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by Malinda Seneviratne
Over the past few weeks, the so-called peace lobby has been working overtime. Even the JVP, which places great importance on maintaining its political presence on the city walls, has been upstaged by a splurge of posters, all screaming about the rights of Tamils. And they have not even bothered to disguise their approval of the LTTE’s mission.

Posters offer us an important index into ideological predilection. Like advertisements, they tell us something about who calls the shots and about how consent is sought to be manufactured.

PAFFREL, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, has put up a poster claiming that "negotiations are the only way to peace". They have not given us any evidence to support this claim. I wondered why they didn’t run to their various funders in Europe and probably North America too and tell them to negotiate with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. More than that, I couldn’t understand the connection between "free and fair elections" and talks with the LTTE. Perhaps it is because the chief spokesperson for PAFFREL, Kingsley Rodrigo, also sits on the board of the National Peace Council, that other well funded anti-Sinhala, anti-Buddhist, front organisation of the Eelam lobby.

PAFFREL, we must not forget, was set up to give "foreign observers" a paid holiday in Sri Lanka. PAFFREL receives large amounts of money, a better package for each election. It has been characterised by total failure, for each election since it was set up has been more violent and more fraudulent that the previous one.

Another group called INPACT, Initiative for Political and Conflict Transformation, also came out with a poster, claiming that 77% of the people believe that the best way to end the conflict is through negotiations between the government and the LTTE. Apparently this figure had been the result of a survey. According to Prof. Hettige, who carried out that exercise, there had been just 3 questions pertaining to the conflict. He stressed that not too much should be made of these numbers.

A spokesperson for INPACT, one Indika, told me that his organisation was not averse to using its money power to promote only those "results" that supported their political position. What this means is that INPACT and other such organisations are doing nothing less than prostituting that vague word called "peace", and that behind that white flag of surrender they have concrete political agendas.

Further investigations revealed that INPACT has been founded just four months prior to this study. That INPACT, with such a short history could have attracted the kind of money required to carry out an all-island survey, and according to Indika from four European countries, is remarkable. Actually, it had been a piece of cake. For Indika and his friends in INPACT had earlier been associated with the National Peace Council, and had been key figures in their money soliciting section. Apparently, they could not get along with Jehan Perera and had decided to set up their own organisation.

My question is this: Why couldn’t Jehan and Indika "negotiate" a settlement to their dispute? Mind you, neither Jehan or Indika have a history of resorting to guns to settle differences. Surely they have the clout to hire some conflict resolution expert from, say, Norway, to facilitate "peace" between the warring factions? The point is, if these "peaceful" people can’t resolve outstanding issues through talks, what kind of moral authority do they have to tell the Sinhala people that a government that refuses to represent them should negotiate on their behalf with a gun-toting bunch of maniacs?

The mushrooming of "peace" NGOs has very little to do with good heart and genuine interest in peaceful coexistence among people. They are the result of two distinct and in many ways inter-related phenomenon.

First, it is a verifiable fact that the aid industry has once again shifted focus. We have seen how blanket assistance shifted to issue based support. We had sustainable development, gendered development, traditional technologies (read, "robbery of intellectual property, including gene piracy"), good governance, poverty alleviation, micro-credit and participatory development. Today, the buzz word is "conflict resolution", so much so that even international NGOs which used to give us biscuits, have taken the official position that the "future" lies in the conflict resolution industry.

This should not be a bad thing. After all if INPACT were to carry out a survey asking people if they are for conflict or for a conflict-free society, everyone except those who benefit from war will vote for peace. The problem is that it is not only the arms industry that benefits from war. Those who fiddle around the issue without bothering to address the real political problems also benefit. It is all about profit. Jehan Perera and Indika also have to live. In this market economy, they sell Eelam propaganda wrapped in the atrractive panty called "peace". Good for those who are fascinated by lingerie. They are businessmen, not "activists" in the purer sense of the word.

The second reason for the peace-NGO phenomenon is religious fanaticism. For a long time Christian Fundamentalism used poverty and development as the convenient name boards behind which they could safely carry out their nefarious activities. Now these are old fashioned.

Peace, not development, is the new vasthraya that covers the naked violence these alter-ego of capital perpetrates against cultures such as ours. I am willing to wager that the key positions of all these "peace" outfits are held by non Buddhists and non Hindus. This is why I find it hilarious that some Sinhala Catholic businessmen are offering themselves as possible peace-envoys to speak on behalf of the government. In their identity strands, more often than not, their religious faith and more than that, their naked lust for profit figure far more prominently than any concerns for their Sinhala heritage.

Naturally, Christian fundamentalists and NGO racketeers are not the only people jostling for the lime light in pacifying the LTTE. Of course, no one wants to say they are fans of Prabhakaran. That "love" is always couched in Eelam doublespeak. So the buzz words are usually "the right of self determination", "devolution", "political solution", "negotiation", etc.

The ICES, Social Scientists Association and others who believe that touting federalism qualifies them to wear the "left" label are also fishing in the "peace" market. Among them, one of the more colourful characters, happens to be Lionel Bopage, former General Secretary of the JVP and second-in-command to Rohana Wijeweera. Now domiciled in Australia, Bopage makes the occasional visit to Sri Lanka, and being the "revolutionary" that he believes he is, fraternises with other "revolutionaries" some of whom are pensioners from the aborted JVP adventure in 1971.

Bopage, who joined the JVP around 1968 while he was an engineering student at Peradeniya, had served in the Central Committee of the party until Wijeweera’s arrest in March 1971, after which he was inducted into the Politburo. Whereas many people left the JVP in the aftermath of the insurrection consequent to the intense debates that took place in prison, Bopage stood with Wijeweera, and functioned as the General Secretary of the party from 1980 until 1984, when he quit the party due to sharp ideological differences with Wijeweera, particularly in relation to the so-called "ethnic problem".

When the JVP was proscribed in 1983 July, Bopage along with 20 others were arrested. The JVP, which had stood for the "Tamil peoples right of self determination", had changed its tune after the Presidential election of 1982, Wijeweera insisting that this was alienating the Sinhalese from their party. Bopage disagreed and resigned in 1984. He was arrested in 1985 under the PTA and held for 10 months, during which time, apparently, he was approached by the UNP with an invitation to join that party. Later he was to receive such invitations from the SLMP and PLOTE. According to Bopage he refused, because he was not agreeable to "Eelam".

When I met Bopage last week at the Kamkaru Sevana in Ratmalana, he quite candidly described his reasons for joining and leaving the JVP. He also dwelled at length on his position with respect to the so-called "ethnic conflict". Although he has shunned political parties, he has remained political in the 18 years that have passed since he left the JVP. He has expressed his views publicly about the JVP and other political issues, as a result of which he received death threats both from the JVP and the UNP. After leaving the island, he had gone to Japan and then to Australia where he now works for the Ministry of Industry, working on intellectual property. He is also on the executive committee of "Friends for Peace in Sri Lanka" having earlier served on its board of presidents.

Bopage has stated that Ponnamblam’s 50-50 demand was one for equality, a demand that has snowballed since then into Eelam, an idea which is accepted by all Tamils. According to him before British rule, administration was always decentralised. This is why he believes that a federal system would go a long way in resolving the conflict.

I put it to him that Ponnambalam’s proposal was for parity, for equal power and that the Eelam map is in any case quite disproportionate to the actual percentage of Tamil people living in those areas. I also pointed out that there was a difference between decentralising administration and devolving power. He agreed and said that he believes that the Tamil people would not be averse to a redemarcation of the "traditional homelands".

The political reality, however, is that not once has any Tamil ever disputed Prabhakaran’s homelands fiction. Bopage believes that the main issue for the Tamils is "identity". If "identity" is such a big issue for Tamil people (and I believe it is so, and not just for Tamils but for the Sinhalese too), I am at a loss to understand how come all the organisations who are tearful about the problems of Tamils don’t say one word about the violence that "globalisation" does to cultural identity. Bopage believes that globalisation is about erasing national boundaries but not about cultural erasure. I disagree. Bopage acknowledges, however, that religious faith is a key component of identity and that it is true that various Christian organisations, some supported by the BOI, are actively engaged in efforts to convert Buddhists and Hindus to Christianity.

While all these not-so-fringe players in the LTTE theatre of ideological war are making statements, Ranil Wickremesinghe came up with the most preposterous one-liner of the week: "Keeping LTTE ban means losing international help"! I believe that there is a serious misreading of the concerns of the so-called international community.

To begin with, there is no "community" worth that name internationally. There is only a cartel of capitalists operating through the so-called multilateral organisations such as the UN, World Bank, IMF and WTO. And often enough, certain countries, in particularly the USA, don’t give a hoot to the views of those who people such bodies (consider the USA’s track record regarding Palestine, Iraq and all the unhappy nations in Latin America).

Ranil ought to know that the LTTE is a pariah internationally. No one is interested in legitimising a pariah. Ranil is worried about foreign investors and what they think. For such people, deproscribing the LTTE is just an academic matter. What they want is a stable political climate in which they can prosper. If the LTTE is really interested in alleviating the suffering of the Tamil people (suffering which the LTTE is primarily responsible for), the ban is nothing more than a sillara karanava.

In contrast, the latest statement from the Harim Peiris, presidential spokesperson, rings with a certain maturity surprising for something coming from the President. How can the government even think about deproscription without taking up the issues of forced conscription of children by the LTTE, the rights of Sinhalese and Muslims violently evicted from Prabhakaran’s mythological homelands and the rights of Tamil people living in areas not under LTTE control, denied essential supplies because the LTTE will not allow the re-opening of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 route?

Legitimising a terrorist organisation like the LTTE will create a serious precedent. Neither the LTTE nor the Eelam lobby has any legitimate claims. "Recognising" the LTTE as representatives of the Tamil people would mean that brutality and blatant disregard for human life will invariable extract goodies from a generous and naive government. In this case, the LTTE is political weak, here and abroad. And it is the government that is acting as though it has been forced on the back foot.

Thamilchelvan, we must not forget, has openly stated that this is a "rogue state" engaged in "state terrorism". Only a madman or a beggar would "talk" to someone who insults him so much. I hope Ranil is neither. He promised us during his election campaign that "de-proscription will be considered only on the outcome of talks". The only "outcome" that can warrant deproscription, I believe, is a total surrender of arms by the LTTE and an ideological commitment to drop all myth-powered notions of exclusive traditional homelands. Going by the LTTE’s history and its operations since the so-called unilateral cessation of hostilities, as has been reported in the Island and the Hindu, that would only be a dream. A man whose survival depends on his gun, will not give it up voluntarily. Prabhakaran is such a man. We can ignore this fact only at our own risk.