Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Jaffna Challenge(r)s

by Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, Colombo Telegraph, June 14, 2012

The real tragedy is that Mr Sampanthan had to make the speech at all and in the tone and language he did. It is a measure of the state of reconciliation and unity in the country. To this columnist the speech was about consolidating the TNA position within the Sri Lankan and Tamil polity and the ITAK position within the TNA as primus inter pares rather than as sole representative of the Tamil – speaking peoples mapping out a strategy for secession.

Two contrasting insights into reconciliation were on display in the last ten days – one in the field of sports and the other in the field of politics. The former relates to the Carlton Super Seven Rugby Tournament and the latter to the ITAK or Federal Party convention in Batticaloa. The significance of the latter is of course beyond dispute given that it was the party convention of the major party in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the speech made by its leaderR.Sampanthan has been the subject of columns, editorials and dire Dr. Pakiosothy Saravanamuttuconclusions on what it portends for the fate of the nation-state ofSri Lanka. The former may seem trivial by contrast – a sporting event, even tamasha, that attracted the attention of few. Sporting events though have their role to play in reconciliation and are replete with political significance and purpose. The Carlton Super Seven Rugby Tournament was no exception. Joint winners of the tournament was a team called the Jaffna Challengers captained by a young naval officer who also happens to be a son of the president of the republic.

One assumes that the choice of name for the team had some reconciliatory purpose – there were others with regional and provincial titles. This columnist is not clear as to whether any of the other teams had any connection to the parts of the country they were named after. By all accounts the winning team did not – rugby not being a sport to have taken hold in the Jaffna peninsula to date. It would seem to be the case that the choice of team name was either prompted by a desire to introduce the sport to the peninsula and integrate the peninsula into this sporting loop of increasing prominence and profit and/or an act very much in the spirit of the captain of the team’s uncle’s remarks about all parts of the country being accessible to all the peoples of the country, the north being no exception. Yet another victory lap by the winning team before the bewildered population of Jaffna, may well be on the cards. And someone may wave a Tiger flag on this occasion too!

Talking of flags, the highly respected TNA leader Mr Sampanthan is in effect being accused of irresponsible and even dangerous “flag waiving” – by some Tamil nationalists with regard to the Lion flag at the beginning of the month at the joint opposition rally in Jaffna and with regard to the Tiger flag at the end of the month by all – Island patriots, on account of sentiments expressed in his speech at the ITAK convention in Batticaloa. The truth of the matter, as this columnist sees it, is that Mr Sampanthan has to speak to both constituencies and the international community beyond, if he is to lead and hold together his party and his people within a unitedSri Lanka. Once can disagree about language and tone, but should not lose the wood for the trees. Yes he did talk about a future outside ofSri Lanka, about external self-determination and about what could follow from this government not addressing the aspirations of the Tamil people. He did not talk about this, though, as the first option or the preferred one.

In any and every event, is not the point to pull the political rug from under the secessionists’ feet? How irresponsible, dangerous and unreasonable have Mr Sampanthan and his party been in the pursuit of a political settlement of the ethnic conflict since the defeat of the LTTE as evinced by their behavior in the direct talks between them and this government or is it the SLFP – as they are now being told, contrary to the evidence of the letter inviting them to talks which was published in a week end newspaper? Have they not demonstrated commitment and good faith, forwarded proposals – stretching from the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals to the PA 95 and 97 proposals, the August 2000 draft constitution and the APRC Experts Committee report- and made clear that they will participate in a select committee once a consensus is reached between them and the government which can be forwarded to that select committee for discussion with the wider group of stakeholders?

The real tragedy is that Mr Sampanthan had to make the speech at all and in the tone and language he did. It is a measure of the state of reconciliation and unity in the country. To this columnist the speech was about consolidating the TNA position within the Sri Lankan and Tamil polity and the ITAK position within the TNA as primus inter pares rather than as sole representative of the Tamil – speaking peoples mapping out a strategy for secession. In narrow political terms it is about holding the TNA and the Tamil polity together, lest as times goes by and is deliberately allowed to through procrastination and deceit, the Tamil polity fragments into a combination of pitiful incoherence on the one hand and obdurate extremism on the other. It probably and sadly is the case that there are two polities in this context, each delineated by ethnicity and each the mirror image of the other. Mr Sampanthan may well have a similar problem, if not the same, with his hard- core nationalists as President Rajapaksha with his!

The overarching question as always is as to whether the politics of hurt and harm and hate should be allowed to hold the country to ransom?

It should not. Mahinda Rajapaksha has a pivotal role to play in this. Quite frankly, his inability and/or unwillingness to do so, is far more damaging to unity and reconciliation than any interpretation of any speech Mr Samapanthan may make; his willingness and ability to do so immeasurably greater a contribution to unity and reconciliation than any contribution the Jaffna Challengers can make!

Two contrasting insights into reconciliation were on display in the last ten days – one in the field of sports and the other in the field of politics. The former relates to the Carlton Super Seven Rugby Tournament and the latter to the ITAK or Federal Party convention in Batticaloa. The significance of the latter is of course beyond dispute given that it was the party convention of the major party in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the speech made by its leaderR.Sampanthan has been the subject of columns, editorials and dire conclusions on what it portends for the fate of the nation-state ofSri Lanka. The former may seem trivial by contrast – a sporting event, even tamasha, that attracted the attention of few. Sporting events though have their role to play in reconciliation and are replete with political significance and purpose. The Carlton Super Seven Rugby Tournament was no exception. Joint winners of the tournament was a team called the Jaffna Challengers captained by a young naval officer who also happens to be a son of the president of the republic.

One assumes that the choice of name for the team had some reconciliatory purpose – there were others with regional and provincial titles. This columnist is not clear as to whether any of the other teams had any connection to the parts of the country they were named after. By all accounts the winning team did not – rugby not being a sport to have taken hold in the Jaffna peninsula to date. It would seem to be the case that the choice of team name was either prompted by a desire to introduce the sport to the peninsula and integrate the peninsula into this sporting loop of increasing prominence and profit and/or an act very much in the spirit of the captain of the team’s uncle’s remarks about all parts of the country being accessible to all the peoples of the country, the north being no exception. Yet another victory lap by the winning team before the bewildered population of Jaffna, may well be on the cards. And someone may wave a Tiger flag on this occasion too!

Talking of flags, the highly respected TNA leader Mr Sampanthan is in effect being accused of irresponsible and even dangerous “flag waiving” – by some Tamil nationalists with regard to the Lion flag at the beginning of the month at the joint opposition rally in Jaffna and with regard to the Tiger flag at the end of the month by all – Island patriots, on account of sentiments expressed in his speech at the ITAK convention in Batticaloa. The truth of the matter, as this columnist sees it, is that Mr Sampanthan has to speak to both constituencies and the international community beyond, if he is to lead and hold together his party and his people within a unitedSri Lanka. Once can disagree about language and tone, but should not lose the wood for the trees. Yes he did talk about a future outside ofSri Lanka, about external self-determination and about what could follow from this government not addressing the aspirations of the Tamil people. He did not talk about this, though, as the first option or the preferred one.

In any and every event, is not the point to pull the political rug from under the secessionists’ feet? How irresponsible, dangerous and unreasonable have Mr Sampanthan and his party been in the pursuit of a political settlement of the ethnic conflict since the defeat of the LTTE as evinced by their behavior in the direct talks between them and this government or is it the SLFP – as they are now being told, contrary to the evidence of the letter inviting them to talks which was published in a week end newspaper? Have they not demonstrated commitment and good faith, forwarded proposals – stretching from the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals to the PA 95 and 97 proposals, the August 2000 draft constitution and the APRC Experts Committee report- and made clear that they will participate in a select committee once a consensus is reached between them and the government which can be forwarded to that select committee for discussion with the wider group of stakeholders?

The real tragedy is that Mr Sampanthan had to make the speech at all and in the tone and language he did. It is a measure of the state of reconciliation and unity in the country. To this columnist the speech was about consolidating the TNA position within the Sri Lankan and Tamil polity and the ITAK position within the TNA as primus inter pares rather than as sole representative of the Tamil – speaking peoples mapping out a strategy for secession. In narrow political terms it is about holding the TNA and the Tamil polity together, lest as times goes by and is deliberately allowed to through procrastination and deceit, the Tamil polity fragments into a combination of pitiful incoherence on the one hand and obdurate extremism on the other. It probably and sadly is the case that there are two polities in this context, each delineated by ethnicity and each the mirror image of the other. Mr Sampanthan may well have a similar problem, if not the same, with his hard- core nationalists as President Rajapaksha with his!

The overarching question as always is as to whether the politics of hurt and harm and hate should be allowed to hold the country to ransom?

It should not. Mahinda Rajapaksha has a pivotal role to play in this. Quite frankly, his inability and/or unwillingness to do so, is far more damaging to unity and reconciliation than any interpretation of any speech Mr Samapanthan may make; his willingness and ability to do so immeasurably greater a contribution to unity and reconciliation than any contribution the Jaffna Challengers can make!

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Sri Lanka: Much Ado about Sampanthan’s Nothing

Guest Column by Dr Kumar David, South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, June 12, 2012, paper no. 5065

Would there be consternation, palpitation and a media storm if some chap said: “The sun rises in the east, but sets in the west?” So why all the rumpus about TNA leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan’s (RS) remarks at the TNA sessions in Batticaloa? RS said that if the denial of basic rights to the Tamils is not halted, there will be a backlash and secessionist demands will again come to the fore. What’s novel about that? Methinks it a pretty obvious platitude. What’s got government party politicos, the press and a johnny-come-late opportunist diplomat so hot under the collar? The left in Lanka (not the Dead Left in government) has long been explicit that if this racist government goes on the way it is – it knows no other way in any case – the country will implode and explode. I don’t know when, but when the sun rises in the east we can be reasonably sure it will set in the west.   

In fact the first person to enunciate this platitude, at a time when he was still a Marxist and before he got hired to draft constitutions, was Colvin R de Silva. Long before RS cut his teeth in politics old hands of my generation remember Colvin’s apt and grandiloquent turn of phrase in the 1950s: “You can have two languages and one country, or you can have one language and two countries”. Now isn’t RS simply paraphrasing the same sentiment, but in pedestrian prose?  

I suggest that international readers who want easy access to important articles on this topic contact SriLanka Brief at srilankabrief@gmail.com and ask for the combo they have done. They provide a page with click-click links to an interview with RS himself, Rajan Philips’ medium-term historical analysis, Jehan Perera’s assessment of RS’s tactical stance, an interesting piece by Kalana Senaratne, and three items of horse manure, one from the aforementioned opportunist, another by Dead-Leftist Tissa Vitarana, and the third, a piece by aging chauvinist Gunadasa Amerasekara. The last three are a blend of comic entertainment and obnoxious witch-hunting. 

The state of play 

More interesting than the RS melodrama are the inferences to be drawn from the clamour that confirm the Rajapakse government’s do-nothing intentions. I am not alone among those who have steadfastly maintained that this regime will not devolve power to the Tamils or allow them self-administration of their own affairs, will not implement the LLRC Recommendations, will not relax military subjugation of Tamils, and now intends to repudiate elections for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). All this should be obvious even to the blind, and the RS hullabaloo is a diversionary contrivance towards these ends. It beats me that India, the US State Department, and Commonwealth governments cannot see through all this. In how much starker terms do they need to have it spelt out? The visiting Indian parliamentary delegation could have benefited more by dropping in at the Deaf & Blind School in Ratmalana!   

Let me cut it short because repetition is not going to make the deaf hear or the blind see. This episode has little of importance to do with the TNA or Sampanthar; it is simply further affirmation that the Rajakakse government is wedded to the bunch of no-no’s stated above. The one new element is the kite that the regime floated via one of its hirelings: ‘If this is how the Tamils feel about their subjugation, let’s not hold provincial council elections or allow them to have the NPC; hang the Constitution’ – that’s the gist of it. No provincial elections for the NPC unless you damnable Tamils undertake to vote for our side; that’s the long and the short of Rajapakse democracy! I must pause here for this has much deeper repercussions than for the Tamils.  

I make bold to say that the national question, which underwrote all other discourse for decades, has receded from the spotlight and the State has taken its place as the primary contradiction in Sri Lankan society. It is unnecessary to recount the bizarre degeneracy of regime and State at any length; it is the currency of daily conversation.  Degradation of democracy, perversion of justice, crumbling law and order, profiting from drugs, and governance shoddier than at any previous time, all have surfaced jointly, worse than ever before. Finishing off the LTTE and Prabakaran and ending civil war and LTTE terrorism (Sate terror goes on) have morphed the political landscape.  

However, the State is the central focus, not only because of this ongoing ruination, but also because of more ominous trends immanent in Lanka’s regime. What does the political state of play portend for when Rajapakse or the UPFA lose elections and have to relinquish power? Nothing is more dangerous than a cornered animal, none more perilous than a fugitive fearful of termination. I speak not of the inevitability of future elections rigged for eternal UPFA victory. No, it’s more perilous; the powers that be are predisposed to putsches and coups rather than the lawful transfer of power. You think my fears excessive? Or maybe you will live to call them prophetic! 

Transition of power is deadly for a regime with too much to conceal and will be prevented by force when rigging becomes inadequate. How many times has history taught this lesson and in how many places? Mubarak, Gadaffi and now Assad had no other choice than to call out the troops or face the hangman? They conspired against democracy hoping to rob the hangman of his fee.  

Sri Lanka is staring into a future starker than ever before in its 65 post-independence years. History has shown that even insane rulers cannot be ousted by internal strife alone after they score big military victories over hated enemies. The threat can be defeated only by an alliance of an awakened populace with a democratic international community, but that’s a topic for another day. 

Ironic out verbal contortions 

There is one bit of verbal jugglery in TNA-Sampanthan lexicography that needs ironing out. If the Tamils are denied “internal self-determination” the time will come when they will seek “external self-determination” they contort. For heaven’s sake, there is only plain vanilla self-determination in respect of minority nations, and not a multitude of flavours thereof. I have met and heard RS a few times; he has a sharp and logical mind and speaks with clarity; so why this verbal jumble? What he means is perfectly clear: Either it is devolution and self-administration; otherwise it will be the exercise of the right to plain vanilla self-determination, including the right to secede. Plain and simple that’s what he means and it’s obvious, logical and correct. I might add, on my own bat, that all nations, Lanka’s Tamils and India’s Kashmiris included, are morally entitled to it.  

The verbal gymnastics finds its way in because nationalist hotheads in the Tamil community can’t do with devolution and self-administration unless it’s dressed up in the garments of ‘internal self-determination’. Conversely one dare not speak of ‘including the right to secession’ without being marched off by Lanka’s Sinhala-Buddhist state and tried for treason.  In this context, these verbal contortions are forgivable. I only want to spell it out in plain language for the benefit of simple readers of common English.