“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?” ~George Orwell, 1984
Most men and women in Sri Lanka are ‘reasonable’ individuals. Whether they come from remote parts of the country or cities, their foundation of values remains grounded on solid logic, argument and judgment. Whether one’s educational background is university or higher, elementary or secondary or no formal education whatsoever, a reasonable man or woman makes reasonable judgments on matters that concern them. Yet, when such matters become a combination (or a concoction) of issues with diverse means and ends, especially when such issues pertain to their DNA or identity, collective judgments gets coloured and shaded by the vagaries of intricate innuendos; they make a deliberate choice to ignore the ‘obvious’ or in a most convoluted way to look beyond the ‘obvious’.
Collective mindset gets warped; its eruptions become explosive and judgments shaded and ostensibly justified. Emerging from this parade of issues, a less educated and an ill-disciplined mind gets warped in contradictions; instead of responding from a rational standpoint, man begins to rationalise a predetermined solution in search of a problem that does not exist.
Nevertheless, one simply cannot disregard the legitimate grievances of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. Standing amongst those grievances that the Tamils in Sri Lanka, are treated ‘differently’. That is a profound complaint and it ought to receive attention from the majority Sinhalese and their elected leaders. Yet, the very numbers, the reality of which I wrote about last week, have given the Sinhalese leaders and their subjects, a notion of legitimacy and strength, a belief of inevitability and fait accompli. Emanating from that cushion, the majority Sinhalese have chosen to treat their Northern brethren as inconsequential. And when that is applied individually it manifests itself in a collective body- the Tamil minority.
When this festering wound was allowed to become gangrenous, one step followed its logical sequential path. Issues that were not addressed by the Sinhalese leaders from the beginning of the Twentieth Century up to the signing of the JR-Gandhi Accord in 1987 coupled with the animosity and antagonisms of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists towards Tamils which were reinforced by a few fringe groups became unmanageable in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
Arguments of being second class plays a critical role in shaping the mindset of Sri Lankan Tamils. In circumstances where both ethnic groups have to share and lead mixed-lives under one roof, attitudinal change is essential and directly correlated to the physical changes, laws, and legislations Sinhalese leaders have to introduce and implement.
After failing to reach accord in the SWRD-Chelvanayagam and Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pacts, the solitary agreement that both parties, Sinhalese and Tamils, agreed to was endorsed by the JR-Gandhi Accord signed under the most trying conditions in 1987.Devolution of powers to a vast region defined as a ‘Province’ consisting of five separate districts, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar, was real and could have been productive had the implementation of all chapters and clauses of the Thirteenth Amendment been adhered to. But powers were withheld by the Central Government via its hold on the line-ministries in the Cabinet. Refusal on the part of the Centre to devolve Land and Police powers to the provinces was the Achilles’ heel and the price Sri Lankans paid in blood and flesh is unspeakable.
The gulf between the two ethnic groups got wider and the distrust and suspicions went beyond normal margins. Quite contrary to the accepted proposition of the Thirteenth Amendment, which was the core element of the JR-Gandhi Accord, Prabhakaran continued his murderous struggle, not as a ‘freedom fighter’, but as a brutal terrorist leader whose arrogance and inability to settle for a compromise knew no frontiers. Instead of countering Prabhakaran’s violent thirst for glory and glamour by calling him a terrorist, the civilian Tamil leadership began to feed the Elam fire. What could have been contained within reasonable boundaries was blown out of proportion and the Tamils started fantasising about Elam.
The Sinhalese leadership that governed the country after the JR-Gandhi Accord, starting from Premadasa up to Mahinda Rajapaksa, instead of laying emphasis on the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment, appointed select committees to look into the problems between the two communities. It was only President Wijetunga who called the Northern problem what it deserved to be called- a terrorist problem. After the Thirteenth Amendment was passed and partially implemented, with the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) being greeted with open arms by the Tamils of the North, it was Prabhakaran who unleashed the second, third and fourth Elam wars causing irreparable damage to his own people.
On the part of the Sinhalese leadership after the JR-Gandhi Accord, Premadasa, Chandrika and Mahinda barring Wijetunga, tried to deal with Tamil terrorism separate from the Thirteenth Amendment. In such a scenario, even a reasonable man or woman could be persuaded to adopt a bigoted stance in relation to the issues at hand. And what Prabhakaran preached in the eighties, nineties and the early part of this Century is being bolstered by new calls for federalism by the TNA of today.
Premadasa, Chandrika and Mahinda, I dare say were not wise. Socrates said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. Wijetunga had that wisdom. Instead of raising false hopes by calling terrorism as what it was, he accomplished at least one major feat. He identified the primary cause of the continuing conflict; Prabhakaran and the LTTE. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), as the TNA was called then, was more than willing to endorse the JR-Gandhi Accord. Why not ask the present government for a meaningful discussion on the honest implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment? The ghosts of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his variety of chauvinism must be left in a political graveyard. The Tamil leadership should not be haunted by Rajapaksa ghosts and Bodu Bala Sena thugs.
Noam Chomsky, the celebrated American philosopher, historian and political activist said thus about terrorism: “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” The modern day Tamil leadership must be careful when they give expression to their socio-political goals and beliefs.
A bright and intelligent set of leaders should not repeat the historical mistakes of their forerunners. As much as the Republican Party in the United States is suffering the humiliation of having to go to bed with Donald Trump, the Tamil leadership condoned and supported Prabhakaran when the going was good, hoping for ‘a place in sun’ in Elam. Tales of human folly are many. Condoning violence and terrorism as a means to power is as old as man and his beginnings. But we become alarmed when we have to live through such treacherous times and among treacherous individuals. It is still not too late for the Tamil National Alliance and its leadership to adopt a wiser stance.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org