The TNA in Lankan politics today
– Dayan Jayatileka

It is significant that every Tamil leader who supported or was a fellow-traveler of Prabhakaran and the Tigers and called for foreign intervention to stop the last war, is on one side of today’s electoral divide while every Tamil leader who opposed Prabhakaran and the LTTE during the decisive last war is on the other side. While the LTTE army has been decapitated and destroyed on the soil of Sri Lanka, the global Tiger movement is out there waging a Cold war, hoping to recover by political, ideological and diplomatic means, what it lost on the battlefield.

A fairly young Sri Lankan academic and researcher of strategic and security affairs, Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe, whose Australia-based work is quite interesting and bold, posed the following question to me in an email:

"What I don’t understand is that if the LTTE had killed the members of the TNA coalition parties (e.g. TELO etc) previously, and they were forced to tow the LTTE line, why are they still doing it now after the Tigers’ defeat? Why are they not moderating their stance?"

Totalitarian Temptation vs. Democratic Ethos

It seems to me an utterly fundamental question and I suggested he explore it in his next essay. However it immediately triggered this thought within me. During the Pongu Thamil, certainly in Trincomalee, bare bodied Tamil youths rolled on the hot tarred roads in the noonday sun behind a chariot being pulled by other youths, which bore the portrait of Velupillai Prabhakaran. This was witnessed by tens of thousands and written about by freelance British journalist Paul Harris. The Sunday Times Colombo carried a front page photograph of the attendees, including MPs Raviraj and Joseph Pararajasingham, giving raised arm, palm extended Nazi salutes. Certainly only a fraction of the Tamil people attended these and still fewer participated in the rock and roll. My point is why were there no outcries from all across the Tamil political spectrum against this collective self-abnegation? Why wasn’t there a resounding cry: "Not in our name!"? If the answer is "violent intimidation" then why was there not a cry of horror emanating from the safer social spaces of the Tamil Diaspora?

If a proffered justification is the oppression of Tamils by the Sinhalese, and the nature of national liberation struggles, I must say that I never heard of Republican parades in Northern Ireland (and they have an awful lot of parades there) in which pro-IRA civilians flagellated themselves as if in a Philippine Passion play, while walking behind a portrait of Gerry Adams!

The factor of psychology was brought into the discussion of nationhood not only by the Austro-Marxists but by the tough minded realist Joseph Stalin, in his Marxism and the National Question. His definition talked of "a common psychological makeup manifested in a community of culture". What does the practice of rolling bare-bodied on hot tarred roads behind a portrait of Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the relative absence (with a few exceptions) of a negative reaction to it from the Tamil community here or worldwide, say about the "common psychological makeup" of that collective? If it is a cultural practice, what does that "community of culture" reveal about the "common psychological makeup" that, in Stalin’s definition, it manifests?

Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe’s question also reminded me that the South, by contrast, has demonstrated a resilient if rudimentary and basic, democratic and individualist ethos, in that no authoritarian project from above (JRJ) or totalitarian one from below (JVP) has been allowed to sustain itself. It must be said though that never did the supporters of the JVP roll around bare-bodied on tarred roads in the noonday sun behind portraits of Rohana Wijeweera!

The division in the wartime Southern power bloc that hotly contested Presidential elections of today, in which "regime change" is both slogan and possibility, attests to the democratic Southern ethos which is intolerant of pretensions to monarchy.

Questions for the TNA

Political stances that were correct or comprehensible in their time, thirty years ago or more, are acts of criminal folly when adhered to later under very different circumstances. It is one thing to adopt maximalist demands, and extremist strategies and tactics when the political space is closed for any other option. It is entirely another to do so when political space has been opened up by the struggle and external factors. Tamil nationalism has persisted in these stances, slogans and options even after serious negotiations opened in the mid 1980s and a reformist alternative, however imperfect, presented itself with the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987.

What is the situation today? Though Israel is an occupying power according to UN resolutions, and Sri Lanka obviously is not, the international community has insisted on certain preconditions for recognition of the Palestinians, and supported Israel in such insistence. There were originally two conditions supplemented by a third. The Palestinians had to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist and demonstrate this by amending the PLO’s Charter. The second condition was the renunciation of terrorism. The third has been the need for legitimization by elections. However, even a democratically elected administration such as Hamas has been subject to boycott for non-compliance with conditions one and two.

How would the TNA fare if Sri Lankan society should subject those segments of the Tamil movement that until recently supported the LTTE, both here in Sri Lanka and overseas, to such a litmus test? The equivalent would be (i) the willingness to officially and unconditionally renounce Tamil Eelam and accept that any solution will be within the borders of Sri Lanka as currently constituted and (ii) unconditionally renounce the use of violence and to denounce the LTTE and Prabhakaran for having resorted to a campaign of terrorism. In short, Tamil nationalism has to demonstrably break from the LTTE and "Prabhakaranism" and from the secessionist goal. This is hardly unfair or unprecedented given that EU member Spain has imposed a ban on Herri Batasuna, the parliamentary party of Basque separatism nationalism for its links with armed separatism.

Where would Tamil nationalism stand on these three fundamental (and several ancillary) queries:

1. Is it positive/a good thing or a negative/bad thing that Prabhakaran was killed/is dead?

2. Is it a good thing or bad thing that the LTTE was militarily defeated by the Sri Lankan armed forces?

3. Is it desirable/ good or bad that Sri Lanka remains one country whose borders encompass the entire island?

These three main questions can be supplemented by several others, none of which contradict or even impinge upon the legitimate demands of the Tamil national minority in Sri Lanka.

* Was it correct for the TULF not to have participated in the North East Provincial Council established under the Indo-Lanka Accord?

* Why doesn’t the TNA denounce the LTTE for having walked out of the September 1987 agreement, following the Thileepan fast, by which President Jayewardene was to establish the interim council for the temporarily merged North and East, with seven out of twelve seats including the chairpersonship given to the LTTE? Where are the Diaspora voices which denounce that walkout?

* Why doesn’t the TNA denounce the LTTE for having gone to war against the IPKF?

* Why doesn’t the TNA denounce the Tigers for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi?

* Why doesn’t the TNA denounce the Tigers for the murders of TULF leaders Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran, the latter’s widow Sarojini Yogewaran and Dr Neelan Tiruchelvam?

* Why doesn’t the TNA denounce the LTTE for having murdered President Premadasa, and Gamini Dissanayake, and attempted to murder President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga — all Sinhalese leaders who held moderate views on the ethnic question?

* Why doesn’t the TNA make a self-criticism of its refusal to accept the 1995 and 1997 union of regions package of President Kumaratunga, and support in Parliament, her draft Constitution of August 2000?

* Why doesn’t the TNA condemn the Tigers for having violated the Ceasefire agreement over 4,000 times, i.e. several times more than the Sri Lankan military did?

* Why doesn’t the TNA condemn the Tigers for unilaterally backing away from the Oslo 2002 agreement to explore a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka?

* Why doesn’t the TNA condemn the Tigers for the boycott of the April 2003 Tokyo donor conference?

* Why doesn’t the TNA condemn the Tigers for the manner in which they refused to negotiate with Karuna during his schism?

The Sri Lankan state would naturally feel it is unsafe to consider as a peace partner and an ally in nation-building, party or formation which failed to arrive at a consensus with it on these issues. Public opinion could be reluctant to fully devolve power to such an entity.

The Big Lie & the Intellectual Cover-up

Even the best engage in the cover-up. Rajan Hoole, a respected human rights activist and intellectual, vitiates a valuable new UTHR-J report on the 4th anniversary of the atrocity that was the murder of the Trinco five, by writing of "the ideology of Sinhala hegemony which invented its counterpart the LTTE". This is a fallacy several times over. The LTTE was not invented by the ideology of Sinhala hegemonism any more than Tamil separatism in Tamil Nadu was invented by Sinhala hegemonism. While, arguably, the LTTE is a product of Sinhala hegemony – note that I say a product, not the product, since it was a product of a few other factors as well — the LTTE is certainly NOT the "counterpart" of "the ideology of Sinhala hegemony". Sinhala hegemony was well, hegemonistic, chauvinistic, even racist, but the LTTE, in addition to being all of these, was or became totalitarian-fascist. While every fascist is racist not every racist is fascist. Kurt Julius Goldstein, German, Jew, holocaust survivor and chairman of the Anti-Fascist Fighters Front told me in Moscow in 1985 at the World Festival of Youth and Students, what one of the biggest mistakes of the German Left movement had been. (I wrote this up in The Island and the Lanka Guardian at the time). He said that they confused racism for fascism when they should even have worked with or neutralized racists, ultranationalists and chauvinists and isolated the fascists.

Hoole’s distortion is part of a larger ideological game or narrative, in which all depredations of Tamil nationalism are sought to be rationalized by the argument that this nationalism was but reactive and defensive. That’s the Big Lie. Writing on the 20th anniversary of Black July ’83, I proffered an alternative explanation: "We didn’t create Prabhakaran, but we created the conditions in which the Tamil people called Prabhakaran into being from the dark underside of their collective psyche; and we provided, with Black July ’83 the conditions in which Prabhakaran grew into a Goliath". (‘Black July 83: The Stain of Guilt’, Sunday Island July 27, 2003).

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