Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

'Sef-Determination' Comes to the Fore Again

by M.S.M. Ayub, Daily Mirror, Colombo, August 1, 2009

The concept of self-determination was obscured during the World War II and the cold war that followed, since the smaller nations needed the larger ones’ safety cover. However, with the end of the cold war in early nineties, the concept re-emerged, coupled with a new adaptation to the present context. Thus, it has been postulated that the right to self-determination can be exercised "internally" as well. Internal self-determination allows a people broader control over their political, economic, social and cultural development, while stopping short of secession.

It is unimaginable that the Tamil leaders for the past three decades have put forward only one package of proposals- that was the ISGA- for the consideration of the government. The idea behind the non-presentation of solutions on their part was to “expose” governments’ unwillingness to the world, in order to justify the secessionist movement. This mindset in a way contributed among so many factors for the prolonging of the problem. In that sense TNA’s proposed move to present a set of proposals is highly commendable.

The Tamil daily Thinakkural on Tuesday published a news item that could be considered  important, surprisingly without attracting much attention of politically conscious people in the country. According to the news item, the Parliamentary group leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Rajavarothayam Sampanthan has said that his alliance is in the process of preparing a set of proposals in order to solve the ethnic problem.

At a meeting held at the TNA parliamentarian Sivasakthi Anandan’s office with regard to the Vavuniya urban council election that is to be held on August 8, Mr. Sampanthan has further said that the solution they are preparing now will be on the basis of “internal self-determination” for the territory where Tamil people historically lived. TNA is to place this new set of proposals to the Indian Government and the international community, before the party discusses it with the Sri Lankan Government, according to the paper. Citing the reason as to why the party intends to place the proposals before the Indian Government, Sampanthan has said that it is only with the facilitation of the Indian Government that the Tamils can find a just solution.

Recently President Mahinda Rajapaksa had invited the TNA for talks on the solution of the ethnic problem, first of which TNA boycotted and took part in the All Party meeting that was convened after the defeat of the LTTE and the killing of its leaders by the security forces. Both occasions President specially called the TNA for the meetings.

Sampanthan while boasting that the international community is now on Tamils’ side attributes to what he called the pressure by the international community including India for the President’s interest in the TNA. The TNA leader, who boycotted a meeting of minority party leaders convened by the President in March this year, said that his party never ignored meetings with the President. However, he says his party would submit its set of proposals to the government after placing it before the international community.

The remarks by Mr. Sampanthan incorporate two significant points to ponder on. This is going to be the second set of proposals to be presented from the Tamils’ end for the resolution of the ethnic issue for the past three decades, since the problem took its present shape. That is the first significance. The first attempt by the Tamils happened to be the much-hyped Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) presented by the LTTE in September 2003 as a precondition for the resumption of peace talks. (Peace talks between the UNF government and the LTTE was stalled after the LTTE’s withdrawal from the negotiating table on April 21, 2003.)

The other significance in Sampanthan’s speech is that a concept – “internal self-determination” - brought forth by the LTTE has been resuscitated. Almost all Tamil parties and groups as well as leftists including the JVP espoused the concept of “self-determination” in early eighties. However, it was the LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham who, for the first time in Sri Lanka, presented the theory of “internal self-determination” at the press conference held by his leader Velupillai Parabhakaran on April 10, 2002 in Vattakachchi near Kilinochchi. Now Sampanthan echoes the theory once again.

However, TNA seems to have departed from the LTTE’s line of thinking in respect of Indian intervention. The LTTE and the PLOTE unlike the other Tamil political parties and groups never preferred Indian meddling; rather they wanted mere Indian support for their struggle. For instance, once in mid-eighties, when Prabhakaran was told Kittu, the former LTTE leader in Jaffna had cried as he bade farewell from the Indian General who imparted him military training in India, Prabhakaran had told that he would order Kittu to shoot the same General if circumstances demanded. Later in late 1987 he kept his words by ordering his cadres to shoot the Indian troops. Uma Maheshwaran, the founder leader of the PLOTE on his part, wrote a book titled “Vangam Thantha Paadam” (A lesson from Bangladesh) in late eighties, when India militarily intervened in Sri Lankan affairs in 1987. He referred in his book to the Indian intervention in Bangladesh- then known as East Pakistan- and argued that India will install a puppet regime in North- Eastern Sri Lanka , which came true soon after the Indo-Lanka Accord.

Now Sampanthan has gone back to the eighties and nineties when the constituent parties of the present TNA and several other non-LTTE groups were highly dependant on a solution through Indian intervention.

Self-determination of nations was a notion emerged with the advent of capitalistic nation states in the nineteenth century. It was well articulated and further theorized by the founders of Marxism. The essence of Carl Marx’s theory was nothing other than to recognize the right of a nation or a national minority to secede from a particular country. However, Marxists did not utilize this theory always as a license to promote separatism.

The concept of self-determination was obscured during the World War II and the cold war that followed, since the smaller nations needed the larger ones’ safety cover. However, with the end of the cold war in early nineties, the concept re-emerged, coupled with a new adaptation to the present context. Thus, it has been postulated that the right to self-determination can be exercised "internally" as well. Internal self-determination allows a people broader control over their political, economic, social and cultural development, while stopping short of secession.

It is unimaginable that the Tamil leaders for the past three decades have put forward only one package of proposals- that was the ISGA- for the consideration of the government. The idea behind the non-presentation of solutions on their part was to “expose” governments’ unwillingness to the world, in order to justify the secessionist movement. This mindset in a way contributed among so many factors for the prolonging of the problem. In that sense TNA’s proposed move to present a set of proposals is highly commendable.

The assertion that India should be reckoned with is realistic. LTTE did not or could not realize as to how much India place emphasis on its geo-political interests and that played a major role in the downfall of the outfit. Anyone who plans to use India’s intervention or support in the Sri Lankan affairs has to get it that India under no circumstances would allow any party to the Sri Lankan problem to disturb the tranquil situation in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

One among the dozens of factors that had hampered an agreement between various governments and the Tamil leaders for the past several decades was the blind usage of terminologies, theories and dogmas. But, what Tamil people sought throughout was an assurance and a feeling of assimilation. Logically the assimilation is something that has to be achieved through a process of mutual swapping of ideas, which in turn has to be started at a point on which both parties would concur upon.