A Piece of Advice to the 
"Tamil Parliamentarians"

By E.A.O. Naganathan

Across the arc of Sinhala opinion and from its opposite end has the recent visit of an inter-religious group to the North, comprising leaders of the Christian and Buddhist faiths, including the gentle professor Tissa Vitharne, evoked this response.

On the one hand there has been the lofty and serene, potentially germinative and intellectually penetrating analysis by Mr. Lakshman Gunasekera in his article ‘The Nayake Theros’ Sunday Observer [21 Feb 99].

On the other hand in another Sunday paper a writer has mounted on a hoary hobby horse on another gallop of Tamil bashing in his article under the same headline in the Opinion column. This good citizen is never at a loss and needs no excuse for such outings. In this respect he represents an inglorious tradition anxious to prove its Sinhala-Buddhist bona fides by taking up an anti-Tamil, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian stance whenever the opportunity represented itself. 

What is this Citizen’s grouse now?

It is that the above group availed of an opportunity provided by Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar to meet Karikalan and Tamilchelvam of the LTTE [described by this 'Citizen' as ‘hench-men of Prabhakaran’] to explore any possible openings for the settlement of the on-going conflict between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE.

To anybody else but a war-monger this exercise, even if likely to end in a stalemate with no results to show for its trouble, would be an innocent flutter in futility. It certainly does not deserve to be shot down with the ferocity displayed by this 'citizen.'

Incidentally, in the wake of the poignant candle-light vigil held recently in remembrance of the hundreds of Sri Lankan war dead and missing, one wonders whether he has “sacrificed” any of his sons to the war effort which he so stridently espouses.

Viewed from the vantage point of a Tamil irretrievably wedded by birth and belief to federalism and later to self-determination, sovereign identity and autonomy, as first articulated at the 1951 Trincomalee Sessions of the Federal Party, where it was duly adopted as the fundamental basis of Party policy, (as repeatedly quoted recently by its detractors), this visit of the delegation to the North to me is an interesting example of a trend in the reverse. 

In days gone by it was the order of the day for the Tamil leadership of whatever hue, generally of the red, orange and green of the FP, incidentally designed by Dr. E.M.V. Naganathan, as also the red and green of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) when Gen. Secretary of that Party, prior to 1948 as soon as it had elicited a mandate at a general election in the North and East, to make tracts for Colombo to enter into discussions with the counterpart Sinhala Party which had similarly obtained a mandate in the South, with a view to seeking ways and means of satisfying Tamil “aspirations” within the ambit of the Trincomalee Resolutions.

The high water mark of such manoeuvres was reached in February, 1960, when it was entirely within the discretion of the FP as to which of the two major Sinhala parties, the UNP or the SLFP, would be able to form the government. The present Prime Minister may take the credit for the fact that it was her personal standing in his family circle that was partly responsible for influencing Dr. Naganathan to use his capabilities, which were considerable on account of his forceful personality and persuasive powers, to swing the Party round to a standpoint which left Sir Oliver no option but to invite CP to form the government, or alternatively dissolve the House.  

The good Doctor was, of course, also influenced by the palpable need of the average Sinhala voting public to express its collective will in circumstances less confusing and traumatic than the chaotic situation which followed Mr. Bandaranaike’s assassination. Besides, in common with all other Tamils he confidently expected the SLFP, if not Mrs. Bandaranaike, to keep faith with their late leader and implement his last, great stroke of policy i.e. the B-C Pact, in which, however, they have been and yet remain doomed to disappointment.  Sir Oliver’s decision (for obscure sociological reasons) to opt for dissolving the House and forcing a second round of general elections, provided Mrs. B with the cue she needed for making up her mind for accepting the mantle of leadership and leading the SLFP in April 1960 to a clear majority. 

The President and the PM may, perhaps, care to contemplate the possibility that if Doctor N had not acted the way he did, and if, in different circumstances, there had been no quick succession but instead a lengthy hiatus in a Bandaranaike leadership of the Party at that critical point in history, there is no gainsaying that the Bandaranaike mystique may not have survived in the form it has since taken, but instead gone the way of the Senanayake legend! Dipping into the family cupboard, it is meet and just to recall for the sake of the younger Tamil Parties with the name of Eelam, that the Trincomalee Resolutions, which were, indeed, the paradigm of the Thimpu Principles, were the brain-child of Doctor N and formed the centre-piece of his address on the occasion of his election at the 1951 Trincomalee Sessions, as President of the FP. 

As I remember he spent quite a deal of his waking life at home in tinkering and perfecting the wording of the Resolutions, even to the extent of whispering permutations of it in his sleep. Of course, his draft, as befitting a Hensman born in Madras and educated for a good part in Britain was in “Tamilish”, and it is to Mr. Vanniasinkam’s academic and professional touch in the interpretation of it into pristine Tamil that we owe its present and prescriptive Tamil form. But the English version is undilutedly the good Doctor’s.  

Be that as it may, with the benefit of hindsight it becomes clearer, day by day, that nothing was ever gained, if indeed there was anything to gain, by those “delegations to the South”.

In my own personal experience the discussions (and decision) in February 1960 were disastrous to the Tamils where the leadership of the FP was, in Sir John’s words in another context, well and truly “led up the garden path” by Felix and CP, and callously dumped by Mrs. B. after the April 1960 elections which gave the SLFP the working majority it needed.

Betrayal of the Tamils at every turn has been the order of the day with all Sinhala governing groups, beginning with the experience of G.G.,  whose “responsive cooperation” led at a national level to the infamous Citizenship Act of 1948, and consequent installation of Sinhala majoritarianism as a permanent feature of parliamentary democracy in this country and at a personal level to his needlessly nasty removal from the Cabinet by Sir John. 

It ended, for the nonce, with Mr. Thiruchelvam and the abortive Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact for District Councils which was so cold-bloodedly clobbered by the SLFP in its short-sighted kow-towing to the Sinhala chauvinist gallery.

Perhaps, the Devolution Package as allegedly fathered by Neelan and G.L. may see a re-play of that theme with the UNP applying the “nyet” in this instance. 

In the context of the no-win situation which has confronted all Tamil Parties which have sought to play the game according to the rules, my personal view is that the Tamil Parties should turn their backs on the Government, or for that matter any government. They should close down their offices in Colombo and move to the Tamil homeland.

They may be risking the loss of parliamentary pay and other perks, but in a real sense they do not properly-speaking qualify for these as their vote base was so woefully narrow [not exceeding 2 percent.] As Mr. D. B. S. Jeyaraj correctly points out “franchise rights (in the 1994 general elections) were infringed (without a whimper of protest) in a region that is still considered to be part of the country. 

They should shed their differences and, if their separate identities are still a point of honour with them, at least agree on a common program and agenda and begin to work towards a Union, pending the unification which should be the final goal. 

Such Unions based on common perceptions are more the rule than the exception among other groups all over the world that are engaged in ‘liberation’ struggles eg. the Kurds. 

The South African parliamentarians who visited Sri Lanka in December, 1998 expressed their dismay over the way in which the Tamil parties were weakened by divisions caused by military strife, and which they had not expected.

The Tamil parties should go to the Tamil people in the Tamil homeland, keep close to them, give them the comfort and inspiration they so badly need, ensure that they get their basic rights and freedoms, facilitate their self sufficiency in employment, aid them with relief programs that cater towards self reliance in respect of food, clothing and shelter, assist them towards access to better quality of water resources and toilet facilities, and service their need for education and health service. 

The Tamil parties should treat their people in the homeland compassionately, help to mend their damaged if not fractured identities, restore their sense of self-respect and dignity.

They should not order them about like policemen, or bully and demand ‘contributions’ from them, if such has been the case, or shout at them through loudspeakers. They should talk to them like Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah when inculcating the ‘independent’ concept amongst the Indian and Pakistan peoples.

They should live among them, dress and travel the way they do, eat their food and drink their beverages. The early Christian apostles did it this way, so also the early Buddhist missionaries, likewise the Saivite saints who sang in thevaram their message to the masses. 

Since the Eelam parties have the largest number of organised, trained, youth cadres they should be able to carry out this program relatively successfully.

If the Sinhala leaders wish to speak with them let their spokesmen undertake the journey to the Tamil homelands, as in the case of the recent delegation.

The Tamil leaders, on the other hand, if they undertake the above program in a proper systematic and methodical way, should have little to say to them. They would be too busy with their homework i.e. putting their own house in order i.e. the autonomous Tamil homeland.

I remember when serving in Area (North) for the Petroleum Corporation, coming across Mr. Chelvanayakam stumbling across a village street in the burning glare of the noon-day sun, somewhere in the Vanni. That is how the good news was spread in the heroic days of FP.

Can any Tamil party truly claim that the average Tamil man in the Tamil homeland knows what the Devolution Package is all about? The average Sinhala man may if he is interested, as he is kept informed by the media. Otherwise, he can always find out from his local Party organiser.

In the case of the Tamil people in the Tamil homeland the polarity between them and the Tamil parties has grown too distant, and needs to be bridged as a matter of urgency at all costs.  This is the only way the true autonomy can become a reality and is the best way - from bottom up, not top down.

There is no further use in the parliamentary game at which the Tamils have been out-witted and beaten time and again, or in esoteric discussions in the seminar circuit or in splitting hairs with our Sinhala brethren across the seas or in the country.

The Tamils should establish the Tamil homeland on the ground and as the Irish did successfully with the boycott, dispense with the Sri Lanka (Sinhala) Government and all its works both in the flesh and the spirit.

Parallel structures should be set up for Tamil autonomy in the Tamil homelands, with the difference that this time they will be for Life and Peace, not Strife and Death.

I believe too that it is essential for the Tamil Parties to keep away from the embassies, particularly the Indian. Theirs is a different ball game, which may suit our up-country brethren. But ours has been a bitter and invidious experience with Indian agencies, both over and underground and having been once bitten we should be twice shy. I speak without malice as a member in the 4th generation of a family where the immediately preceding three generations were very closely connected with India having lived their entire working lives there, or been and raised and even married there and so in the case of several lines in parallel to the total family group.

The unasked question that has been waiting to be answered is that if the Tamil parties consider security to be a priority , they are entitled to take all necessary precautions for it.

They seem in those parts of the Tamil homeland where they have established a presence to be looking after themselves quite adequately. However, if they cannot or believe they cannot function in the pursuance of the program referred to above without protection from the ‘Sinhala Buddhist supremacist state’ and its combat arm the Sri Lanka Army, then we are looking at a basic self-contradiction.

Would Ayatollah Khomeini have sought US assistance and the services of the C.I.A. to topple the Shah’s government? He ran his revolutionary campaign from Paris with his cadres in place in Iran, facing frightful odds, very much on the lines of the Christian apostles confronting the might of the Roman Empire.

If the Tamil parties cannot manage their affairs in the Tamil homeland with the backing of the Tamil people only, and without that of the ‘ultra nationalist chauvinist and hegemonic interest group’ which seem, in the final analysis, to have the last word with all Sri Lankan (Sinhala) governments then they should not be in the business of Tamil politics in this day and age.

The Tamil people will give them a fitting reply for not taking them into their trust, at the first available opportunity.

If the Tamil Parties want an exemplar for future activities in relieving the Tamil people in the Tamil homeland of their present burdens, whilst forsaking the children’s party ‘war games’ in which they seem to be presently engaged, and which is so unworthy of them, considering the piteous plight of the Tamil people in the Tamil homeland, I would invite them to visit the PROTEG organization in Chennai, established by S. C. Chandrahasan, and see for themselves how PROTEG has been setting about the self-reliant placement of the Tamil refugees’ in Tamil Nadu for the past 15 years with the minimum of handouts from the Tamil Nadu Government, and, at one time, during Jayalalitha’s regime, despite its overt and covert hostility.