Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Some Thoughts on the 2005 Heroes Day Speech by LTTE Leader and its Aftermath

by S.Muttiah, TamilWritersGuild

Reading the much-awaited speech of the LTTE Leader Pirabhakaran for 2005 on the occasion of Heroes' Day (27 November) reminded one of the immortal opening lines of the poet William Cowper (1731-1800):

Toll for the brave -
The brave! that are no more:
All sunk beneath the wave,
Fast by their native shore.

And eighteen thousand of the brave have fallen, the Leader intoned, along with many tens of thousands more civilians. Not to forget an equal number of  Sinhalese, also hailed as their Heroes along with their civilians, in the course of an ethnically driven war from 1983 to 2001. At the heart of the conflict, Tamils overwhelmingly believe, has been colossal state failure to get the core issue of governance right by a centralised unitary state stripped of any minority guarantees under the unilaterally imposed 1972 constitution.  Which begs the question in a democracy: why should anyone have died in vain? Unfortunately, history is replete with unforgivable follies through repression and wars on account of a few for which the ultimate price is paid by the many. Sri Lanka is no exception.

A few days earlier newly elected President Rajapakse, inter alia, affirmed after taking his oaths of office that his government was committed to: implement unitarism, institute a New Peace Process (and abandon what had preceded under the current Peace Process for some 4 years), as well as abandon the signed P-TOMS agreement with the LTTE for sharing tsunami foreign aid. It all seemed as if more ‘salt’ was being rubbed into open political wounds as far as the LTTE and Tamils were concerned.

But, in a surprising gesture, the LTTE Leader paid tribute to the President’s realism and pragmatic politics, while reciprocating positively to the offer of possible friendship by the latter. Pirabhakaran also called for “an offer of a reasonable political solution to the ethnic conflict without delay.” He continued, “should this not be forthcoming within the next year they [the LTTE] would intensify the struggle for self-determination and political independence” for continued failure to resolve the problems of the Tamil people. Thus Pirabhakaran put the ‘ball’ into the President’s Court. However, the President has tossed the ‘ball’ back, like in a game of ping-pong, and saying he hoped for a positive reply to direct talks while ignoring any reference to the ‘offer’ of a reasonable political solution. Unless there is some quicker way of breaking the ice it would appear that the first round of indirect contact initiated through the media is already getting stalemated. One positive spin off of the Heroes' Day speech was the news that the stock market was regaining its strength, sending a note of guarded optimism in the financial markets, presumably because of Pirabhakaran's  'wait and see' approach.

The task of communication and facilitation of any new peace process has been rendered difficult by the marginalisation of the role played hitherto by the Government of Norway. Instead, an as yet nebulous and an unfathomable role seems to be on the cards for a new facilitatory mechanism as proposed by the President from among the UN, all friendly countries, the International Community, India, other regional states and Norway. It is quite an impressive and long list indeed. It seems like a long, long way is ahead until all the complicated diplomatic manoeuvres are finally sorted out and organised all over again. Meanwhile, thousands of people adversely affected by war and the tsunami, who were naturally longing for a quicker peace dividend, have no alternative but to keep their fingers firmly crossed. Begs yet another question: Is this a stalemate a new form of mental and physical torture?

In what reads like the underlying philosophy of his speech, the LTTE Leader emphasized the underlying ' Mahavamsa' mindset of Sinhala leaders, which lies behind the systematic state repression and their failure to grasp the basic concepts and fundamentals of the Tamil national question, preventing a reasonable settlement. He highlighted the primacy of ‘justice’ for the Tamil people. The President, on the other hand, has referred to: an ‘honourable peace’ for all citizens, one set of laws throughout the country, no geographical divisions within the country, the primacy of democracy and pluralism, and the right of any citizen to settle anywhere in the country.

Once again, the pronouncements by the two Leaders strongly suggest they were talking past each other, rather than at each other, which makes one wonder whether after all: north is north, south is south and never the twain shall meet! The President’s words take the political clock back to 1948, with the singular difference that supreme power no longer resides in the British Crown, but in the Sinhala Buddhist state. Is it any surprise that Pirabhakaran referred to the LTTE's resolve to intensify the struggle for self-determination and political independence if the central unitary state continues to adopt a hardline position and fails to resolve the problems of the Tamil people?

It not without coincidence that former President Bill Clinton, after his recent visit to Sri Lanka, including a visit to the tsunami-affected area in the east, referred to the need for ensuring justice, security, quick restoration of livelihoods and equitable distribution of aid for all people. 

The national task ahead has never been so grave, nor so gigantic.