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Tamil politics on a slippery slope

21 January 2022 12:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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On the same day President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, contrary to his stance on Tamil politicians called on the Tamil leaders of the North and the East to support his government, the same Tamil leaders handed over a special letter to Indian High Commissioner Gopal Bagley requesting India to press the Sri Lankan government to implement a federal solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem.   


President Rajapaksa, many an occasions after he assumed office, has reminded that he was elected by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority community, a comment by which the minorities of the country felt being excluded. However, he while unprecedentedly claiming that he rejected racism, during his policy statement delivered in Parliament on Tuesday requested the Tamil leaders to help solve the problems of the people in the North and the East.   


It is not clear as to what sort of help the President expects from the Tamil leaders. Did he mean them joining the government? It is ironic that Rajapaksas who deemed Tamil politics as political leprosy and twice in the history – in 2010 and 2019 - boasted about forming governments exclusively with the support of the majority community, are requesting support from the Tamils. Even if the call was genuine, the Tamil leaders are not supposed to trust him. Also even if they are prepared to support the government, they fear that the very anti-south ideology they have created among the Tamil community would not permit them to join a government led by Rajapaksas, in spite of the Tamil mindset having begun to change lately.   

"During the past several decades the Sri Lankan governments have been  compelled to find or pretend to find solutions only by violent reactions  by the Tamil youth or by the high-handed Indian diplomacy"

Tamil leaders by the time, seemed to be of the conclusion that there is no point in banking on the Sri Lankan government to solve their problems and were preparing to make a special demand to the Indian government. In their letter which is to be sent to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi through the High Commissioner Bagley, they had requested the Indian government to prevail upon the Sri Lankan government to introduce a Federal form of government until which time they had demanded the full implementation the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.   


The letter was the result of a long series of discussions among the Tamil political parties excluding the pro-government Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) headed by Minister Douglas Devananda and Parliamentarian Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF). Despite the number of discussions, in-between various hiccups among the parties and the media hype over the preparation of the letter for the past several weeks, they ultimately arrived at the conclusion merely to demand a federal solution through the implementation of the 13th Amendment. In fact, this is, in a way, not a new position as they have been demanding a federal solution even during the war and also supporting the Indian leaders’ occasional assertions that the 13th Amendment be fully implemented.   
Since the Tamil parties have almost totally distanced themselves from or ignored the national political and economic issues, they would seem vanished from the political arena unless they raise any political issue relating to the Tamil community. Hence, they occasionally write such letters, issue media statements or make speeches in Parliament relating almost everything to the ethnic problem.   

"The Tamil people apparently realising these realities, seem to be  inclining more towards national politics which was evident by the  results of the last Parliamentary election"

While they were preparing the letter, a group of Tamils in the UK had gathered in Downing Street in London on January 16 and protested against the 13th Amendment while calling for a complete end to what they called “the occupation of the Tamil homeland.” Tamil diaspora groups have heightened their agitation for Tamil Eelam, a separate State for Tamils within the territory of Sri Lanka, for the past several months and protested against the Tamil leaders who are demanding the full implementation of the 13th Amendment or any other political solution.   
On November 20, last year, TNA Parliamentarians M.A. Sumanthiran and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, had been forced to leave from a meeting they held in Toronto, which is home to the largest Sri Lankan Tamil community in the Western world by a group of Tamil Diaspora, who branded the two MPs as ‘traitors.’  The rioters had claimed that the Diaspora wanted a separate Tamil State in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka and not a political solution within the country, as the MPs of the main Tamil amalgam were stressing at the meeting.  
The Canadian Police had to intervene and lead the two Parliamentarians out from the ugly scene. The TNA spokesman Sumanthiran had reportedly faced a similar issue at similar meetings recently in Australia and in Switzerland. These incidents have put the Tamil leaders in the North in an awkward position as neither are they prepared to fight for a separate State – in peaceful means or otherwise nor can they fully integrate into the national politics by way of joining hands with southern parties.   

"While unprecedentedly claiming that he rejected racism, during his  policy statement delivered in Parliament on Tuesday requested the Tamil  leaders to help solve the problems of the people in the North and the  East"

In spite of the Tamil Diaspora groups insisting on their demand for a separate State, they do not seem to be prepared to come to Sri Lanka to fight for their demand. It is obvious that occasional demonstrations from far away countries would not bring in a separate State in Sri Lanka or at least make any impact on the decisions made by the Sri Lankan government. There are also no objective and subjective factors currently prevailing, including the geo-political context that would lead to peaceful creation of a separate Tamil State in Sri Lanka, as Norway separated from Sweden in 1905 or Czechoslovakia divided into Czech and Slovakia in 1993. They while living in greener pastures and total safety seem to want others to fight and carve out a Tamil Eelam in the North and the East.  


One might recall that most of these protesters or their parents were those who fled the horrors of the war while many LTTE cadres chose to blow themselves up with the hope that the rest of the Tamil community would achieve the “Thamil Eelam,”. It must also be recalled that some LTTE leaders especially Kasi Anandan who is known by many Tamils as “poet laureate of Thamil Eelam” severely criticised them as cowards. However, later there was some sort of patch-up between the Sri Lankan Tamils in developed countries and the LTTE.   
During the past several decades the Sri Lankan governments have been compelled to find or pretend to find solutions only by violent reactions by the Tamil youth or by the high-handed Indian diplomacy. Only effort that was made to find a solution to the Tamil political grievances after the war, contained in the process started by the previous government to introduce a new Constitution. Also the only “solution” the Tamil leaders achieved for the past several decades was the provincial council system that was imposed by India on Sri Lanka through the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Hence, Tamil leaders turning to India for help is comprehensible.   

"It is not clear as to what sort of help the President expects from the Tamil leaders. Did he mean them joining the government?"

However, it is clear that India does not have the compulsions that required the country to intervene in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs in the way it did in the 1980s. India is not interested now even to insist on the provisions of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. Responding to a request by EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran in February 2017 to prevail upon the Sri Lankan leaders to remerge the Northern and Eastern Provinces, Dr. Jaishankar, as the then Indian Foreign Secretary said “much water has flowed under the bridge since 1987 and it will be better for all concerned to make use of the various windows of opportunity which have opened up recently with the change of regime in Colombo and secure the rights of the Tamils.” He had further argued “it would not be wise to hold every other matter hostage to one issue - the merger of the North and East.” Indian leaders just like a ritual have been calling on their counterparts in Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment whenever they meet them, for the past three decades.   
The Tamil people apparently realising these realities, seem to be inclining more towards national politics which was evident by the results of the last Parliamentary election. This compels the Tamil leaders to develop new political strategies, rather than hanging on to the same old slogans.  

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