Struggling Tamil Nationalism

And Tamil aspirations in Sri Lanka

by Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [London] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 18, 2020

For the recognition of nationalism, the prerequisite are the existence of a nation, defined by J. Stalin as follows:

“A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, economic life and psychological makeup manifested in a common culture.”

Maqauire’ s dictionary defines a nation as “An aggregate of persons of the same entire family, speaking the same language, a body of people associated with a particular territory who are sufficiently conscious of their unity to seek or possess a Government of their own.”

Historical records evidence the Tamils ruling their own nation in the island of Sri Lanka right from 101 BC and until British ended that rule in 1618.  H. Cleghorn, A British envoy in 1779 sent his report confirming “Two different nations from the very ancient period had divided between them the possession of the land Sinhalese in the South and Western parts and the Tamils in the North and East.”

The Tamil nationalism got its birth and recognition in 1921 when Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, in his speech in 1923 at the Ceylon Tamil League conference “Promoted the idea of Tamil Akam or Tamil Land” even encompassing South Indian territories where Tamils live.” Tamils’ nationalism took hold since then and was the base for leaders like G. G. Ponnambalam, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader Veliupillai Prabaharan whose death only blunted it not destroying it.

It has to be noted that the current major Tamil political parties carry the name national like Tamil National Alliance, Tamil National People’s Front Tamil People’s National Front and some other carry ‘Eelam’ in their names.

The Tamil National Alliance was mooted and accepted by Velupillai Prabaharan to continue the political struggle in and outside Parliament through non-violent ways advocating Nationalism, Tamil Homeland, and Right of Self-determination. Tamil Nationalism after 2009 has been polluted and stained and is currently facing life and death battle, due to the confusing, shaky, conflicting and contradictory stands and behaviour of Tamil National Alliance, the control of which has fallen into the hands of controversial “dual role player M.A. Sumanthiran who has also lured R.Sampanthan to toe his approach with his conflicting and damaging statements exploiting his old age and weak health. Tamil National Alliance’s performance in the 2020 election proves its gradual fall from its zenith position in 2010. In 2015 TNA polled 515,963 votes in the North and East but in 2020 it polled 327,168, a sharp decline. Furthermore, out of the 26 seats in the North and East only thirteen members espousing nationalism were elected, while the rest are obviously opposed to Tamil nationalism and political opportunists supporting the Government in power.

There is not an inch of doubt that the Tamil National Alliance is fully responsible for the present despondent and directionless state of Tamils due to their in action, incompetence and discarding the Thimbu Principles. The ten year period from 2009 to 2019 produced nothing concrete as far as the causes and grievances of Tamils were concerned. Pledges given in the manifestos remained on paper and intact while co-habitation, hobnobbing and flirtation accompanied with deadly silence prevailed instead of raising voices and agitating for or demands to solve the festering issues like release of political prisoners and Sinhala-Buddhisisation measures taken by the Government.

The Tamil voters disillusioned with the sordid performance of Tamil National Alliance have vented their anger and frustration through the weapon of votes in the 2020 Elections. The result was Tamil National Alliance which obtained 22 seats in 2010 and 16 in 2015 has now survived to get 10 seats in 2020. The disturbing outcome is the battering of nationalism by TNA due to its cavalier and lack-lustre attitude and actions for the demands associated with nationalism including their election pledges.

There is no denying of the fact that the Sinhala leaders’ parties have exploited the dismal failures and performance of TNA including their submissive and docile approach to the 72 year old festering issues of Tamils. The frustrated Tamils have obviously chosen to vote for candidates who can extract concessions and development schemes to better their personal needs, electorates and their local interests. Sensing this weak political spirits of Tamils, Sinhala parties, particularly Sri Lanka Freedom Party. SLPP led by Rajapskshas, alleged war criminals who inflicted the sufferings and caused the miseries, have set their feet in the North and East with the help of some Tamil opportunists opposed to TNA and Tamil nationalism. It is nothing but stomach turning to note the Tamil MP’s surrender and knee-bending support to the leaders without any prick in conscience ignoring the brutal massacres by these parties in the 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 pogroms against the Tamils ending in the genocidal war between the years 2006 to 2009.

This irrational behaviour and conduct of TNA has brought about the decline of nationalism as well as the devaluation of basic demands of Tamils endorsed by the Tamil leaders and parties since Thimbu Declaration in 1981.Compounding the miseries is the in-house fighting in TNA sparked by the controversial statements of Sumanthiran who dish them out suiting the place, occasion and audience. Furthermore, his contradictory and confusing statements as to the correct paths of Tamils, cast doubt on his devotion and dedication to the Tamils nationalism and Tamils aspirations. It is high time he is reined and disciplined by TNA

To expect the present dynastic rule by the Government of Rajapakshes’ to deliver anything worth for consideration is like chasing mirages as water in the desert, as President Gotabaya who solicited only Sinhala-Buddhist votes vowed to make Sri Lanka exclusively owned by and meant for Sinhala Buddhists.

TNA’s dismantling of nationalism coupled with its abandonment of the other demands of self-rule, right of self-determination and North-East as Tamils homeland, does not mean the automatic death, of these demands from the politics of Tamils. Though this general election exposed the divisions, and Tamil parties pitting against each other, throwing unity to the wind, a silver lining appears to have emerged in the form of Tamil National Makkal Munnani (TNMP) led by Gagendra Kumar Ponnambalam whose great grandfather during the debate in Parliament on Sinhala Only ACT 1956 warned the parting of Tamils from Sinhalese if Tamils were treated unequally, meaning a separate state for Tamils.

Gajendra Kumar’s party has shown remarkable progress in capturing the imagination of Tamils increasing its votes from 10,000 in 2010 to 67,000 in 2020. With TNA in tatters and facing possible disintegration, there is no other party or leader who can unite all the Tamils and bring them under one umbrella

TNPF led by Gajan appears to be united and maintains an unwavering stand and commitments to its pledges for the “two nations in one country” demand The other pledges are taking steps to refer Sri Lanka to ICC though difficult but surmountable with the full support of Tamils in Sri Lanka and worldwide particularly soliciting the support of a powerful friendly nation.

The responsibility on TNPF is all the more heavy and urgent viewing the present Rajapakaha’s Government which will leave no stone unturned to destroy the nationalism of Tamils and pave the way for their gradual extinction in Sri Lanka as JP Chelliah forewarned in 1923 “The Sinhalese lion and Tamil lamb might lie side by side but the latter should not be allowed to be swallowed up the former.”

However, TNPF is duty bound to release its ground map of actions detailing its agenda of political agitations in and outside Parliament while inviting all likeminded parties, leaders, Members of Parliament and activists to forge a united front to confront the rising threats to the existence of Tamils emanating from the present ballooning Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism and supremacy embraced and adopted by the present government.



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  1. Kumarathasan Rasingam

    Excellent article with clear picture of the activities of Tamil Political parties especially the TNA. TNA failed miserably in finding justice to the Tamils and spent most of the Time with Ranil and UNP to get their own benefits forgetting the burning problems of the Tamils. They have now learnt a biter lesson from the Tamil voters