- Demands articulated by TNA are same clauses in its manifesto for 2015 general elections
- Burning problems of people in war-ravaged areas always being pushed to the backburner
As we said last week, the demands put forward by five Tamil parties to the three main contenders of the presidential election are not new. In fact, the most contentious demands in the memorandum of understanding (MoU) inked between the five Northern parties are derived from the first-ever ‘peace’ talks among the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil armed groups and political parties held in 1985 at the Bhutanese Capital Thimpu.
In spite of the MoU having been signed by five parties, they are four groups that travelled all the way to Thimpu some thirty-four years ago at the behest of the Indian Government headed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF were then armed groups fighting for a separate Tamil State while Illankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) and C.V. Wigneswaran’s Tamil People’s Alliance (TPA) are the two breakaway groups of the then Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).
It was a time when Marxist theories were thriving among youth in many countries. Almost all Tamil armed groups in Sri Lanka were then vying to appear to be the most revolutionary Marxist group in the country or at least in the Northern Province, as the JVP attempted to be in the South then. They applied a famous theory on the ethnic problem developed by J.V. Stalin to their struggle for a separate State called “Tamil Eelam.”
In a paper titled ‘Marxism and National Question’ in the twenties of last century, Stalin, the longest-serving leader of the now-defunct Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR), defined the term ‘nation’ as “an historically-constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” And he observed that such a nation had the right to self-determination or the right to have a separate State.
Applying this theory to justify their struggle, Tamil armed groups claimed that Tamil-speaking people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were an historically-constituted distinct nation which has a “common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture” and thereby had the right to self-determination.
With a view to present at the negotiating table at Thimpu, they broke up this theory into several separate demands which pressed the Sri Lankan Government to accept the nationhood of Tamils, the contiguity (merger) of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, those provinces being the Tamils’ historical homeland and the Tamils’ right to self-determination (secession). With the passage of time, Tamil groups and parties distanced themselves from Marxism and Stalin was forgotten but the demands formulated on the basis of his theory persisted as the driving force of Tamil politics to date.
- Most contentious demands in MoU derived from first-ever ‘peace’ talks among Govt., Tamil armed groups and political parties held in 1985 at Thimpu
- Tamil leaders cognizant of the fact that there are no takers in the South for their demands
Thus they had been the pivotal elements in all election manifestoes of the main Tamil party or coalition – the TULF and TNA since 2001. The first clause of the TNA manifesto for the 2004 parliamentary election which was dictated by the LTTE’s political wing leader S.P. Thamilchelvan had hence been “find a political solution to the Tamil national problem based on the acceptance of fundamental proposals regarding Tamil homeland, Tamil Nation, Tamils’ right to self-government (autonomy).”
On the eve of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010, ITAK, the main constituent party in the TNA, passed a resolution which said among others that “the Tamil ethnic issue should be resolved on the principles based on a Tamil traditional homeland” and “the Tamil nation and self-rule should be adopted based on the right to self-determination,” at its diamond jubilee celebrations held in Jaffna.
Then came the first-ever Northern Provincial Council election in September 2013 for which the TNA put forward its manifesto. The first three operational clauses of it were: 1) The Tamils are a distinct people and from time immemorial have inhabited this island together with the Sinhalese people and others; 2) The contiguous preponderantly Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces are the historical habitation of Tamil-speaking people; 3) Tamil people are entitled to the right to self-determination.
The same three clauses with same wordings and same prominence had been included in the party’s manifesto for the 2015 general elections. And now, they have signed an MoU articulating the same points as demands.
Hence, the Tamils -- despite endorsing these demands -- know they are never going to materialise, but are just cosmetic expressions of their leaders. The burning problems of people in war-ravaged areas are thus always being pushed to the backburner. However, every time Tamil leaders hoist the Thimpu flag on the eve of elections, it was the Southern nationalistic and racist elements that are jubilant, since terms in the Tamil leaders’ vocabulary such as Tamil homeland and self-determination are fodder in their campaign.
These terms help them create the Tamil or terrorism bogey. In the run up to every election, they including the so-called intellectuals in their ranks “discover” a “secret pact” (Hora Givisuma)inked between Tamil leaders and their Southern adversaries. But never in history had the existence of such a Hora Givisuma been proved. Nevertheless, they shamelessly stoop to such a low level that they repeat the allegation time and again.
On the other hand, the Tamil leaders too face a dilemma due to their own demands. They are cognizant of the fact that there are no takers in the South for their demands and some of them are unrealistic. However, circumstances force them to support one or the other South-based political parties at major elections, ignoring their own demands. Thus they boycotted the presidential election in 2005, at the instance of the LTTE, knowing very well that it would boost the prospects of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa. The UNP still alleges that Rajapaksas paid the LTTE for this.
"Circumstances force Tamil leaders to support one or the other South-based political parties at major elections, ignoring their own demands"
Interestingly, the Tamil leaders on the wake of the end of the war supported former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka who spearheaded the victorious last lap of the war against the dreaded LTTE, despite all including the Rajapaksas having given the total credit of the war victory to him.
In an interview with State-run ITN after the end of the war, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the then Defence Secretary, stated “Indian Defence Secretary M.K. Narayanan called Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka the best in the world.” He further said, “these achievements would never have been won without the experience, knowledge, bravery and heroism of Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka.” Pointing out another reason why the armed forces won in the fourth Eelam War, Mr. Rajapaksa said “the Army Commander used tactics and strategies against the LTTE which Prabhakaran could not figure out how to react.”
Yet, the TNA wholeheartedly supported Fonseka accusing the Rajapaksa regime for what they called the genocide against Tamils. Now, they are in a quandary as to what to do after signing an MoU incorporating some unrealistic demands. This situation was clearly manifested in some of the headlines carried by major Tamil newspapers over the last weekend, despite them having praised the MoU. Here are some of them: “What’s next after bringing in unity among the five parties?”, “Where is the five-party accord heading to?”, “Unity among five parties: What’s next?”,“The common accord: A blunder committed wittingly.”
The feature article on the last headline stated above, authored under a pseudonym, argued that Tamil leaders would anyway support one of the main presidential candidates who rejected their demands outright and thereby even the remaining loincloth around the waste of the Tamils was going to be undone. Such is the dilemma faced by the Tamil leaders.