The TNA’s decision:
Revenge politics or ‘Second Operation’ for separatist politics?

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) couple of days ago decided to back Sarath Fonseka at the forthcoming presidential election. Although it was said that the decision was unanimous it seems that the three-way split of the TNA remains unrepaired. All Ceylon Tamil Congress wing of the TNA headed by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam has asked Tamil voters to boycott the election on the basis that the Tamils have nothing do with the election of Sinhala leaders. So the usual politics of abstinence has been upheld. In a way, the ACTC decision appears to be much closer to the old position of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). On the other hand, Sivajilingam and his colleagues have accepted the first part of the ACTC position, but emphasised the importance of reentering independent democratic politics. In this sense, his candidacy signifies a qualitative shift in Tamil politics. Anyone who has been following Tamil politics vis-à-vis elections in the last 25 years can easily grasp the logic of these two positions. Sambandan wing of the TNA has refused to accept either of these positions and finally decided to support Sarath Fonseka and his candidacy at the forthcoming presidential election. It is interesting to note that Sambanthan has declared that the support of his wing of the TNA is unconditional and that General (Rtd) Fonseka has not promised anything substantial in relation to Tamil national question. If it is so, how do we explain this position? What led Sambanthan’s wing of the TNA to take a decision to support General (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka? How could this riddle be resolved?

In addressing various professional groups in Kandy a couple of weeks ago, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that he had decided to advance the presidential election for two reasons. The first reason was that he had fulfilled his main promise in the election manifesto, namely, uniting Sri Lanka by defeating LTTE comprehensively in military front. The second reason he gave was interesting. President observed that in 2005, he had been elected only by Sothern Sinhala voters and that fact did not give him full legitimacy to rule the entire country. Now that the war was over, he wanted to be a President of the people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as well.

This is a commendable objective. Nonetheless, President Rajapaksa and his government failed to take necessary political steps to make Sri Lanka a more accommodative polity and society. His approach is developmentalist and assimilationist. This was demonstrated by his refusal to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully. Hence one may understand why ACTC and Sivajilingam decided to stick to old line of Tamil politics at the forthcoming presidential election. However, one may wonder, how the position taken by the Sambandan and his supporters of the TNA could be justified if as he informed that Sarath Fonseka has not promised anything. Is Sambanthan hiding something?

It may be useful to look at the genealogy of Tamil politics since independence. Although the formation of the Federal Party (FP) was coterminous with the formation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the FP never shared the anti-imperialist and social democratic programmatic position of the SLFP. The FP and later TULF felt more comfortable with the United National Party in spite of the fact that 1983 pogrom against Tamils were led by some leaders of the UNP. The FP always maintained distance from the Left political parties that stood for Tamil also as an official language and for rata sabha system. This right wing politics of the FP had, in the past, contributed to separate Tamil national question from the general issue of poverty and inequality. Hence, Sambanthan wing of the TNA may have found it easier to link up with Sarath Fonseka and his main supporting party, the UNP, the presence of JVP notwithstanding. However, this genealogical account in itself does not offer an adequate explanation for TNA’s decision.

Sambanthan represented the LTTE position within the TULF and made it almost a proxy of the LTTE. This was the reason why old stalwart like Anandasangree finally decided to leave the party. Sambanthan was conspicuously silent about the assassinations of Amithalingam, Yogeswaran, Yogarajan, Neelan Thiruchelvam and other leaders of the TULF by the LTTE. Sambanthan appears to have observed that some sections of Tamil population for many reasons some of which are genuine want to take revenge from the Sri Lankan government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa for defeating the LTTE in the military front. A significant section of Tamil population believes that the LTTE would be sooner or later would establish Tamil Eelam in within the territorial boundaries of Sri Lanka. It was not surprising that the military build-up and resources of the LTTE, its ruthless treatment of opponents and the commitment of it cadres contributed immensely to generate that kind of belief. Sambanthan wing of the TNA has recognised the extreme anxiety that created in Tamil mind by the defeat of the LTTE and wants it to be converted once again into extreme Tamil exclusionist politics before it evaporates into thin air. In order to create a space for such politics, most important thing at this moment is to destabilise the country by making a political change and such destabilisation would even have repercussions on the Sri Lankan military establishment. This seems to be the project of the Sambanthan wing of the TNA.

Sambanthan has repeatedly said that the support of the TNA was unconditional. How could a party that even assumed 2000 constitutional draft inadequate and decided to oppose it in the Parliament agree to support a candidate unconditionally? Ranil Wickramasinghe offered during the 2002-2004 peace process a wide space for Tamil nationalism to agree on reasonable political package that includes a federal political structure. How could a party that did not utter a word against the LTTE decision to boycott 2005 Presidential election now come forward to support a candidate who promises, according to Sambanthan, nothing in concrete terms? It seems Sambathan wing of the TNA began with this decision the ‘second operation’ for separate Tamil Eelam. Sambanthan understands that Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s politics of election boycott would be effective only when a strong militarised political entity exists; but in a situation in which that organisation was decimated, politics of boycott would be ineffective. What is most suitable for exclusive Tamil nationalist project is to create chaos and instability that would provide a breeding space for the second round of separatist politics. Hence, in my view, this decision is an outcome of multiple positions that are closely integrated with one single goal, i.e., a formation of a separate Tamil Eelam.

Should Tamils fall once again into this trap? Or should they start negotiating to begin with the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and to expand on the basis of it their rights? Are Tamils going to take once again the disastrous path shown by exclusive Tamil nationalism or are they exploring the path shown by democratic Tamil organisations like EPDP, PLOTE and TMVP? This is the issue, in my view, that Tamil should seriously consider at the forthcoming Presidential election.

The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya.

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