The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil party amalgam in the North has been putting forward the same manifesto with few changes in wordings at every election since 1977. Every time they demand especially the right to self-determination for Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and a lasting solution to the Tamil issue in the country.
After 2006 - in which year the Supreme Court ruled that the merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces under the famous Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed in 1987 was unlawful - they have been including the re-merger of those provinces as well in their election manifestoes.
The TNA has been successful in emerging as the prime political force in the north at every election in the past, despite a drastic erosion of its vote bank being evident at the last local government elections held in 2018.
Yet, it is not clear whether people have been happy with their traditional demands and have been voting the party especially due to them. However, there are political parties and groups in the South that are jubilant when they make these demands, as those parties and groups feel they could make political mileage with them, by stirring communal feelings among the majority community.
The manifesto launched by the TNA for the next week’s Parliamentary election contains the same decade-old demands – right to self-determination of the Tamil people and the amalgamation of Northern and Eastern Provinces – apart from the demands they have been making since the end of the war – releasing of the prisoners arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for being involved in acts related to the separatist struggle, releasing the lands that have been occupied by the armed forces during the war and an international mechanism to investigate past crimes and human rights violations committed during the war.
In a way, it is logical and correct to stick to the same demands or policies at every election by a political party, if they are its basic demands and policies, rather than putting forward ad-hoc or contradictory demands or programmes at consecutive elections.
However, the problem lies not in the consistency but in the practicality of demands or policies of a political party.
For instance, the demand for the merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces is perceived now even by people who are most sympathetic towards the Tamils as utopian for two reasons. One is the heterogeneity of the population in the Eastern Province over 60% of which comprises non-Tamils. Secondly, it would be suicidal for any south-based major political party to merge those provinces, just because of TNA demands it. Even Indian government - one of the signatories of the Indo-Lanka Accord under which the two provinces were merged “temporarily” - and the Tamil leaders in the East are non-committal towards the issue now.
It is clear that the Tamil parties including the TNA demand more powers exclusive for the units for which powers are devolved, with the dogmatic terms “self-determination” and ‘federalism,” as they openly say that they stand for an undivided Sri Lanka. However, South always sees an agenda to bifurcate the country and in fact the term “self-determination” was originally used in the late 19th century by the founders of Marxism to indicate the right of a nation to secede from another nation.
Each Tamil party has become a prisoner of these terms by now, as it would be branded as traitors by other Tamil parties, if it abandons them in their propaganda materials. They are well aware that neither would they be able to convince the Southern leaders to accept them. It is prudent for the Tamil leaders to modify their demands, by accepting realities on the ground such as the heterogeneity of the East and make them specific and development oriented, rather than using ambiguous and dogmatic terms.