Apartheid? Prabā-Loyalism? Questioning the TNA Stand Today

Chandre Dharmawardana, courtesy of The Island, 13 Nov. 2013 where the title reads: “Secession and the TNA stand”

Writing to the Island newspaper, 5-11-2014, Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan has contested one of the issues that emerges from the article published by Prof. Gerald Peiris (Island, 24 October). In effect, Nirmala Chandrahasan suggests that, given the assertions found in the TNA Manifesto, and the public statements of the Hon. Mr. Sampanthan, the issue of the fear of a secessionist policy is no longer a concern. In fact, Nirmala C writes: “I am not sure whether the writer is aware that the TNA leadership in general and the leader of the TNA in particular Mr. R. Sampanthan have in Parliament and outside, and in their Manifesto categorically stated that they are for a United Sri Lanka, and are not espousing a separate state.”


Prof. Gerald Peiris, Nirmala Chandrahasan and I myself were students at the Cambridge University and knew each other closely, and we all respect the advantages we had then, and have today after the Eelam wars, in being able to discuss these issues openly and  as friends, even when we may hold somewhat differing political views regarding how to achieve a peaceful “united Sri Lanka.”

As Poongakoothai Chandrahasan had noted in some of her film clips, the people in the south were immensely joyous in May 2009 “because the war is over”, while those in the North were also overcome with relief, even if expressed in a more muted manner.

However, there rests a vast bulwark of suspicion in the country, and also a genuine fear of the possibility of a recrudescence of terrorism in the country.  This suspicion  drives a  set of  low-key  Gestapo tactics allegedly orchestrated by the state, and directed towards the Tamil minority in the North.

So it is necessary for the TNA to take some explicit steps to ally these fears, rather than referring to its Manifesto. Even in the case of the TNA manifesto, an official English and Sinhalese translation should be available. Is it 13A, 13A+, federation, confederation, ISGA, or Arasu? The average person is confused. Federalism versus Arasu is a question that has plagued the ITAK since its foundation in 1949.  The Tamil language election presentations since the 1950s, often written to reflect, e.g., Mr. V. Navaratnam’s more militant views, differed significantly  from those written in English, and many Tamil-language documents are said to have talked of Arasu in its true sense, even in 1952. The Banda-Chelva pact was met with intense opposition by an important section of the ITAK who were secessionist, showing the deep divisions that existed even then.  This ambiguity in objectives perhaps still exists today in the minds of many Tamil people including those in the TNA.

What many people remember of the TNA is its clear support for the LTTE, as well as its refusal to categorically denounce the assassinations of people of the caliber of Amirthalingam, Kadirgamar and hundreds of others. Unlike, say, Mr. Anandasangaree, the leaders of the TNA have not taken a clear stand on the terrorism of the LTTE.

In France, after the World War II, the Vichy government leaders who collaborated with the enemy were prosecuted. The present government has, instead, very rightly accepted the TNA into the mainstream of politics, probably in the hope that the TNA would help in the reconciliation effort. It went ahead with the Northern provincial-council elections in spite of hard-liner attempts to prevent it. The conciliatory attitude of  the government towards the TNA — an organisation that collaborated with the LTTE — has been met with bitter amertume and indictment by the TNA with its effort to get the winners of the war in the dock.

A great step for confidence building would be for the TNA to clearly denounce the crimes committed by the LLTE – its assassinations, abductions of children etc., even when the TNA was the political mouthpiece of the LTTE. The impression that many observers have is that the TNA continues to  recognize Prabhakaran as their “guiding spirit” and Talaivar [leader]. That is a serious road-block to confidence building.

Given that most nations had listed the LTTE as a terrorist organization, what is the moral difficulty that the TNA faces in distancing itself from Prabhakaran and his legacy?

The other issue that most Southerners cannot swallow is the claim  that the North and the East , merged together, form the “exclusive” homeland of the Tamils. Prof. Michael Roberts has given an excellent narration of the rise of Tamil militant nationalism” and the homeland concept (South Asian Studies, Vol XXVII. 2004, this can be downloaded from http://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/rob-ajwilson.pdf). Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam used to assert that the whole of Sri Lanka is the homeland of the Tamils. The latter, modified to mean that it is the homeland of all Ceylonese, was the position taken by the Hon. Mr. D. S. Senanayake (Hansard,1945, Nov. 8). The TNA has to clarify its stand on this “exclusive” homeland issue as well,  not just in legalistic jargon that means nothing to the ordinary person, but in actions, by being inclusive in practice, rather than by being “exclusive”.

Ladduwahetty (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=35291) characterizes the policy of the Tamil leaders as  “the pursuit of territorially based political separateness”, i.e.,  separate regions for the Tamils and the Sinhalese – a kind of living apart or apartheid, although the leaders continue to live in Colombo.

However, the TNA itself is not a monolithic organization. There are pragmatic moderates as well as hardliner ideologues inside the TNA itself. It needs to ensure that its program is not hijacked by the hardliners and suffer the fate of the TULF in the aftermath of the Vaddukkoddai meeting. Ironically, Vaddukkoddai is a place name derived from the Sinhala place name “Batakotte” that was in vogue even at the end of the 19th century, and meant “garrison fort”, i. e., a place where the Sinhalese forces were stationed in ancient times, in readiness against invaders from the subcontinent.

Given the vast amount of incomprehension that exists between the North and the South, perhaps the TNA politicians should hold workshops, seminars and “town-hall dialogues” in the south, explaining their position (in Sinhala), and also understanding for themselves the thinking of the average Southerner in the process. Similarly, some Sinhalese politicians might find it useful to hold Town-Hall meeting encounters in the North, using their new-found competence in Tamil, in the recently launched  trilingual Sri Lanka!

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