Policy in Tamil National Politics – A Public Challenge?

by J. Jathindra, Facebook post, July 19, 2022

[translated from the Tamil original by Google Translate with corrections by the editor.]

It has been 16 years since the death of LTTE leader Anton Balasingham. December 14th was his sixteenth death anniversary. On that day, an all-party meeting led by Ranil Wickresinghe was held on the national ethnic issue. There are different opinions regarding the participation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in this meeting. A comment is made that the Tamils should have put conditions on their participation. Another point is being made that we should talk to the Sinhalese side only if Samasti is accepted. Another point of view is that one should not participate in negotiations without a third party. None of these are misconceptions, because the history of Tamils is that they have been deceived by talking to the Sinhalese. But the question that arises at this point is what strength do we have to press all these, to hide, to negotiate?

Anton Balasingham speaks on the first day of talks between the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the LTTE. His voice sounds very majestic. No compromise on disarmament. It is the power of our people. That is the bargaining power of Tamils. It is a tool for the protection of our people. There was no objection from the Sri Lankan government. Because you can’t resist. If not, the negotiation will not take place. In fact Balasingam did not speak, Prabhakaran’s military prowess did. The negotiations took place during the period when the Tamils were at their peak. It is a past that does not bring pleasant memories. No matter how wonderful the past may feel, it has no value in the present. This is like saying that our grandfather had an elephant. The elephant may have been with Grandpa but what do we have?

Tamil national politics can be divided into four phases. One is the Chelvanayagam period, followed by a period of two liberation movements. Three, the period of the LTTE movement. Four, the period of the Tamil National Alliance led by Sampanthan. Viewed in this background, only two periods are during a time when the Tamils had the power to force Colombo. Both the periods were when Tamils were armed.

There is a record that there were 36 armed forces at that time [in the beginning of the armed movement]. Some also post it as 32. Some people say this as a joke. Movements created by putting all the English letters back and forth. It is said that the manpower of the movement at that time was three times that of the Sri Lanka Army. What was the main goal of these movements? Their goal was to achieve a separate country by force of arms, which the moderates could not achieve. A friend told me that one of their teachers told me that all these movements are ultimately just going to create a strong army for Sri Lanka. Looking back today, that is what happened.

The first and second periods in which the Tamils were strong were the period of struggles.  A compromise was reached in the first phase of the movements, resulting in the Thimpu talks. As a result, the India-Sri Lanka Treaty was signed. The provincial council system was proposed as a solution.

As a result of the military strength of the LTTE movement, the Oslo talks took place. But nothing could be achieved as a result of these negotiations, instead the entire strength of the Tamils was destroyed. There are similarities between the Thimpu talks and the Oslo talks. However, there is a difference. Unity, both had a third party. Differences: The Indian intervention and the Norwegian intervention are completely different. At the time of Indian intervention, India was the coercive power of Colombo. But during the Oslo talks, Norway was not a coercive force.

It is from this background that Sambanthan’s period should be viewed. After 2009, the Tamil National political situation completely changed. In fact pre-2009 Tamil national politics was oriented around reliance on military might. After 2009, conditions returned to the old moderate politics. When the Tamil National Alliance came under Sambanthan’s leadership, Tamil National politics entered the old moderate politics. But it looked weaker than before, because Sampanthan is not a strong enough person to lead a national movement, because he is not confrontational by nature. It is said that Amirthalingam had such a characteristic. As a senior leader, Sampanthan sought to lead the confederation. But even he could not get it right. Before 2009, the TNA was only the electoral face of the LTTE.

What can we expect from the Sampanthan-led TNA? What can be done by moderates who have already failed?

With this background in mind, today there is no internal strength. India’s position as a regional power is limited by the Ind0-Lanka Accord. America’s concerns do not move beyond the issue of human rights – they have never spoken of a political solution. Pressures from the UN Human Rights Council have not met our expectations, even in the slightest. What can be done in this situation? A condition can be made for Colombo. We can talk loudly that we will negotiate only if Samasti is declared publicly – but how can we compel them to do so?

What are the Tamils doing in this place? When will we regain strength? When shall we go to speak with our former majesty? Does any researcher, any intellectual, any civil society member have an answer to this. Do diaspora organizations have an answer?

A Mongolian saying: Drive the donkey until you get the horse. Now we are debating what that donkey is. Now, when the number 13 is uttered, some people shudder as if it is a great sin. This columnist poses a question to everyone. Answer according to conscience. During the last 73 years of the Tamil National political journey, have we only traveled on policy? Have we not failed in principle? Haven’t you ever thought – never acted?

On what basis did Chelvanayagam, who made the Samasti demand, go for the Banda-Selva and Dudley-Selva accords? On what basis did the Tamil United Liberation Front, which presented the demand for a separate state, come down to the district council? On the basis of which Tamil National Party, in 1965, was part of the national government of the United National Party led by Dudley Senanayake and also participated in the cabinet? Can we forget the story of GG Ponnambalam, who demanded Jampatu for Jampatu, when he was a minister in the United  National Party government led by DS Senanayake? All these took place on the basis of which Tamil National Policy? What is the answer to these? If the answer to these is tactical – why not make the most of the only available trump card, the provincial council? Why can’t it be a tactic?

No! – If this is treason, is it possible to declare what happened earlier also as treason? Considering the situation today, if it is wrong to advance some issues tactically, the first traitor of Tamilness would be SJV Chelvanayagam? Wasn’t it GG Ponnambalam who betrayed Pachi before that?

What is the history of movements? Any movement that does not necessarily interact with the alleged enemy. The LTTE made an agreement with Premadasa to escape the threat of being completely destroyed by the Indian peacekeeping forces. In 2000, Anton Balasingam, in an interview given to an Indian media, had put it truthfully. The Indian peacekeeping force had taken control of the entire North East. At this stage, an understanding was made with Premadasa with a view to escape complete annihilation. Then realizing India’s need, Balasingham turned towards India.

(When we entered into negotiations with President Premadasa, we were on the brink of destruction. The IPKF had taken over the entire north and east and the LTTE and Prabhakaran were fighting for survival. So we entered into an understanding with Premadasa to escape from total annihilation)

When faced with a setback, being able to be tactical means going to any length for that strategy! Where is the principle in this? So the point is that strategy should not be confused with policy. If we think in this background, the last 73 years of Tamil national politics have only thought in terms of policy – there are no parties and no political parties. History is that no one hesitates to take the decisions that the situation dictates. Now the new Tamil National class, are you ready to discuss on this basis? Shall we discuss? This article calls out to those who are curious.

As we utter each and every thing, we – the common question we must ask ourselves – how are we going to achieve what we say? How are we going to muster the strength for that? Even at a time when the LTTE was militarily strong, Balasingham, sensing the dire situation, turned towards India. In fact, no one who remembers Balasingham today or talks about his final movements. Even when he was strong, he could not advance anything beyond a point. After Prabhakaran walked out of the talks, things turned against him very quickly. At some point everything got out of hand. How can we deal with issues that could not be faced when the LTTE was strong, today in an environment where there is no strength.

May be an image of 9 people, people standing and indoor

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