There are some fundamental differenes between moderates and extremists that go beyond the obvious degree of flexibility. Extremists are upfront, moderates are cagey. Extremists may believe (even if they don’t say it) that the fact of extremism gives moderates maneuverability and therefore increases the chances for moderates to secure ground. Moderates tend to believe that the non-negotiability that is inherent to extremism hardens the other side to a point that makes such extraction difficult if not impossible.
When extremists have the upper hand, moderates are rendered into docile yes-men and yes-women. When moderates are stronger, extremism goes underground, surfacing only now and then to mark presence. Extremists use language that is intransigent, moderates keep things vague.
There is then a symbiotic relationship between the two groups. The history of Tamil Nationalism (or Tamil Racism/Chauvinism if you will), for example, demonstrates all of the above. Indeed, if you take the history of Sinhala Nationalism (or Sinhala Racism/Chauvinism, if you will), a similar case can be made. In this essay I focus on the former, simply because there seem to be some tension between the Tamil ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’ which can give the false impression that they are essentially at odds with each other when in fact they are not. The ‘tension’ came into the open with the racist posturing of the Chief Minister, Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran. The ‘moderates’ who have some voice in the Tamil Nationalist discourse were quick to censure. It was as though they were in damage-control mode. Some even observed that Wigneswaran’s antics could only strengthen Sinhala hardliners and argued that this would compromise the Tamil project which they probably believed was on the verge of securing some real estate (political and otherwise) from a
Yahapalana Government they believe owes them something for winning the Presidential Election, 2015. They’ve argued that Wigneswaran and other extremists are essentially an unnecessary distraction that robs something from the more important discussion of ‘The National Question’.
‘The National Question’ indeed! Now that is the Grandmaster (Grandmonster?) of moderate-speak, i.e the Vagueness Device. Let’s consider a few terms by way of illustration before we proceed. The unrepentant and unabashed Eelamists (extremists) will say ‘Separate State’, the shy-making Eelamists (moderates) will say ‘Self-Determination’; the extremists use the Eelam-Sri Lanka distinction, the moderates say ‘North and South’; extremists will talk about ‘our/my people’ and moderates will say ‘multi-ethnic’ and ‘multi-religious’ taking care not to mention numbers and proportions; the extremists will say ‘border’, the moderates say ‘border villages’; the extremists will the inalienable rights of Tamil people to Eelam (contoured by lines arbitrarily drawn by the British and indefensible in terms of history, demography and geographic realities), the moderates say ‘The National Question’. The extremists are upfront about Eelam-need, the moderates blur, tease and deceive — when they say ‘national’ is could imply a reference to Sri Lanka when in fact they are thinking ‘Tamil Eelam’.
The truth is that there are grievances that are enumerable and their resolution do not necessarily require division or even devolution of power. Indeed, devolution cannot resolve the kinds of grievances that have been articulated and whose articulation is buttressed by substantiation given the demographic spread of the Tamil community. Devolving to British-drawn lines is no resolution but in fact could lead to the creation of a truly ‘national’ question in that it could rip the country along ethnic lines that could be much worse than what the partition which created India and Pakistan did.
But that’s the bread and butter of the moderates. They have to keep it vague. Ask them to break down this ‘national question’ and the Tamil nationalism that’s hovering at tongue-tip will pop out, legitimate grievance will be exaggerated and coupled to unreasonable aspiration, fact will be inflated with fiction-air, history will be obliterated in myth, and history supplanted with source-poor heroic epics, and selectivity will underline the entire narrative. The other option is to distract. They’ll talk about secularism, the removal of certain articles that privilege Buddhism, the celebration and affirming of diversity by allowing for multiple systems of law (thesavalamai, sharia) and will essentially keep the ‘national question’ afloat when in fact it should be buried if not for anything for it’s affront to intelligence.
Wigneswaran is a distraction, yes. He feeds and feeds on the worst sentiments of ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’, both among Tamils and Sinhalese. He essentially contributes to the postponement of a sober, logical and fact-backed consideration of grievances. His ‘detractors’ among the ‘moderates’ (or the necessary adjunct of the ‘Tamil Project’ as opposed to fellow articulators of real and unresolved grievances) are worse because they are the frill-makers; frills distract, camouflage and lulls into a sense of false security all peoples of all communities.
There is a ‘National Question’ (if you want to use the term). It is the fudging of ‘nation’ and ‘question’ by all Eelamists of all hues and all degrees of flexibility, the extremists as well as the moderates. It is high time that they are called upon to make list, shake it as many times as they want and submit it to public scrutiny.