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‘Unite, Tamil-speaking people’ – but, how?

4 June 2012 03:47 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By N. Sathiya Moorthy
TNA-ITAK leader Sampanthan’s Batticaloa speech, calling upon all minorities in the country to unite as ‘Tamil-speaking people’ could not have come a day later. It is better now than never. Yet, the contours and consequences of such a course need to be discussed in detail before conclusions could be drawn. Such a course also needs to be balanced with the intra-SLT (Sri Lankan Tamil) polity problems, which again Sampanthan’s Batti speech flagged in a way, flagged off, otherwise.

For any call for unity to be successul and meaningful, Sampanthan needs to clarify if he was referring to all Tamil-speaking in the North, including political parties and leaders that now form part of the Government. His reference to the common linguistic identity of the SLT in the North and the East that his ITAK has been espousing since birth in post-Independence Ceylon,  implies a mindset from those days. Whether it is relevant in the post-war era is unclear at best.

Answers to these queries need to be found before taking up the question of the Tamil-speaking Muslims, first in the East and those taking refuge in the West, after their forced exit from their northern homes. Or, should the reverse be attempted first, if so how? There are also more Tamil-speaking Muslims in Colombo than SLT and/or Upcountry Tamils. The ‘linguistic minorities’ as a group, acknowledged since by Sampanthan at Batticaloa, are numerically stronger in the national capital than the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist majority’.

The ITAK chief also has to address the issue of the Upcountry Tamils. The Tamils in the North, and those in the East to a lesser extent, have been fighting for their rights. Those in the Upcountry have been seeking sustenance, instead. Both need to be married if the larger ‘Tamil cause’ would have to be served the way Sampanthan intends. For this to happen, the SLT community in the North and the East, need to acknowledge the presence of both Muslims and Upcountry Tamils in their midst – and their societal and political leadership(s) have to shed their ‘holider-than-thou’ attitude, and literally so.

In his speech at the ITAK annual at Batticaloa, Sampanthan praised the Diaspora, but urged them to have faith in the wisdom of those living in Sri Lanka admist conditions that they alone could appreciate, to find solutions to their problems – political and otherwise. The Diaspora that he was referring to was possibly that of the rights-seeking Tamils, particularly from the North. At least none in the past or the inevitable present has spoken about any other denomination, including the equitable, if not equal rights of the Muslims within the ‘larger Tamil-speaking minority’ group.

Some in the Sri Lankan Tamil polity, and many in the Diaspora, may feel that uniting all Tamil-speaking people for a larger cause may dilute their motives and weaken their modus, intended or otherwise. From the other side, it could also be seen as a fresh and emerging threat to the nation’s unity and national identity – and all that. Yet, such an amalgam alone could make the Sri Lankan State and the Sinhala polity to take notice, without having to sit up. Such a course alone would help strike the right balance within the diversified and divided Tamil-speaking community and polity, in terms of agenda and participation, goals and achievements. It is difficult to achieve but then divided polity and divisive agendas have not achieved anything, either.

Sampanthan can start with reviewing the forgotten efforts to expand the TNA in the months after the conclusion of ‘Eelam War IV’.  
He has to fix responsibility for failure on that occasion. The effort at the time was reportedly aimed at trying to set a common agenda for all sections of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’ polity, without involving other denominations in the first phase. There was freedom of action, to arrive ata  common, moderate political goal within a united Sri Lanka. As the strategy at the time went, or so was it reported, some would be seeeking those demands from outside the Government, while others would be pressing for the same from within. Or, so was it believed. It did not move on to the second stage. Why?

Only by finding answers to this question could Sampanthan, moderate as he is, expect the rest of the Tamil-speaking people and their equally divided polity to take his call seriously. Solutions that are inveitable could also flow only from such introspection and follow-up action. 

The Tamil leader would then have to decide if he was ready to take those solutions to their logical conclusion – and act accordingly.

Alternatively, Sampanthan’s call may have been addressed to all sections of the TNA and the SLMC, from among the Muslim parties, and nothing more – at least, at this stage. That could mean a lot of voice, if not noise. The consequences could be inconsequential at the end. It would only leave a bitter taste, for the pro-LTTE sections of the Diaspora to relish.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, alongside, has reiterated the Government position that all of North is not exclusively for the Tamils. TNA’s Suresh Premachandran has joined issue, to argue that Gota R was implying demographic changes (in the form of ‘Sinhala-isation) of the North.

Premachandran has referred to the available Census figures from the distant past, to argue that the North was Tamil-dominated, with Sinhalas constituting a miniscule minority. He has not clarified if Muslims also formed part of his 900,000-strong Tamil community in the North of the pre-war past. If so, that would tell a different story. Truth be told, Census-2011, whose final figures are expected any time this year, may have a different story to tell. Then the question could well be not of ‘Sinhalaisation’ of the North, but of having to find enough Tamils to live there, for the community and polity to claim it as their own, even if only in electoral terms.

In a world where opportunity-driven migration cannot be contested, externally or internally after a point, the Northern Tamils may be on a losing wicket, before long. That attitude would have to change, if Sampanthan has to have his way. During the war years, for instance, the LTTE worked assiduously for a separate nation but wanted vertical integration within the SLT community.

It could not have been achieved through divise methodologies as the LTTE had employed. Trickle-down effect of participatory democracy dictates that such divisions can be delayed, not avoided. Sampanthan that way is seeking to put the natural course on its head – but he needs to succeed, if Sri Lanka has to have permanent peace.

If Gota had his demography-centric discourse on BBC, so did the ITAK-TNA differences broke out on ‘BBC Tamil Osai’. At Batticaloa, Sampanthan indicated that the ITAK was the leader of the TNA grouping. As the elected president of the former and the acknowledged leader of the latter, he has the responsibility to guide his people to the pragmatic goals that he has set for them all. On BBC Tamil, EPRLF’s Suresh P has consented to Sampanthan’s leadership of the TNA but has openly contested the claim of the ITAK playing a ‘leadership role’ within the TNA.

With Prabhakaran arrogating to himself the Tamil leadership during the war years, Sampanthan’s leadership had to wait for the post-war era to become relevant first, and acceptable, since.

 Even this was not his making. Prabhakaran made it a post-war necessity by passing by every chance of winning peace. Peace, to him, was a tactic at recommencing war at a time of his choosing. As Sampanthan recalled in Batti in a different but relevant context, that did not pay.

To that extent, Sampanthan has his job cut out. For President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in comparison, the transformation from being a war-time leader to a peace-time achiever is not proving to be easy, either. Both have Time on their side – but then, time is running out, too.

  Comments - 2

  • Vijendra Tuesday, 05 June 2012 02:21 AM

    Most politicians try to use divisive politics for their own ends, with no consideration for what it does to the community as a whole. Pirahakaran's tactic was to separate the Tamils and Sinhalese by causing brutal murders of innocent Singhala villages and suicide bombings of the Singhalese places of importance and worship. Sampantha wants to continue along the same lines to keep the Tamils separated from the Singhalese. The only way the two communities could live together is if they learn to give up the differences and build on the commonalities. With the trilingual policy of the GOSL, hopefully the future generation will be able to communicate with one another with mutual respect and irrespective of the ethnicity, leading to building trust and comraderie, like what it used to be half a century ago. So my humble request to Sampanthan is to give up the hatred and teach coexistence and not division as he continues to do at present.

    Aberatna Monday, 04 June 2012 03:46 PM

    In short,even in step by step you can't divide the country. Please do not misleed innocent Tamils again as you did.

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