Sri Lanka Brief
FeaturesNewsMuch Ado about Sampanthan’s Nothing

Much Ado about Sampanthan’s Nothing


by Dr Kumar David
Would there be consternation, palpitation and a media storm if some chap said: “The sun rises in the east, but sets in the west?” So why all the rumpus about TNA leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan’s (RS) remarks at the TNA sessions in Batticaloa? RS said that if the denial of basic rights to the Tamils is not halted, there will be a backlash and secessionist demands will again come to the fore.
What’s novel about that? Methinks it a pretty obvious platitude. What’s got government party politicos, the press and a johnny-come-late opportunist diplomat so hot under the collar? The left in Lanka (not the Dead Left in government) has long been explicit that if this racist government goes on the way it is – it knows no other way in any case – the country will implode and explode. I don’t know when, but when the sun rises in the east we can be reasonably sure it will set in the west.  

In fact the first person to enunciate this platitude, at a time when he was still a Marxist and before he got hired to draft constitutions, was Colvin R de Silva. Long before RS cut his teeth in politics old hands of my generation remember Colvin’s apt and grandiloquent turn of phrase in the 1950s: “You can have two languages and one country, or you can have one language and two countries”. Now isn’t RS simply paraphrasing the same sentiment, but in pedestrian prose? 

I suggest that international readers who want easy access to important articles on this topic contact SriLanka Brief at and ask for the combo they have done. They provide a page with click-click links to an interview with RS himself, Rajan Philips’ medium-term historical analysis, Jehan Perera’s assessment of RS’s tactical stance, an interesting piece by Kalana Senaratne, and three items of horse manure, one from the aforementioned opportunist, another by Dead-Leftist Tissa Vitarana, and the third, a piece by aging chauvinist Gunadasa Amerasekara. The last three are a blend of comic entertainment and obnoxious witch-hunting.

The state of play
More interesting than the RS melodrama are the inferences to be drawn from the clamour that confirm the Rajapakse government’s do-nothing intentions. I am not alone among those who have steadfastly maintained that this regime will not devolve power to the Tamils or allow them self-administration of their own affairs, will not implement the LLRC Recommendations, will not relax military subjugation of Tamils, and now intends to repudiate elections for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). All this should be obvious even to the blind, and the RS hullabaloo is a diversionary contrivance towards these ends. It beats me that India, the US State Department, and Commonwealth governments cannot see through all this. In how much starker terms do they need to have it spelt out? The visiting Indian parliamentary delegation could have benefited more by dropping in at the Deaf & Blind School in Ratmalana!  

Let me cut it short because repetition is not going to make the deaf hear or the blind see. This episode has little of importance to do with the TNA or Sampanthar; it is simply further affirmation that the Rajakakse government is wedded to the bunch of no-no’s stated above. The one new element is the kite that the regime floated via one of its hirelings: ‘If this is how the Tamils feel about their subjugation, let’s not hold provincial council elections or allow them to have the NPC; hang the Constitution’ – that’s the gist of it. No provincial elections for the NPC unless you damnable Tamils undertake to vote for our side; that’s the long and the short of Rajapakse democracy! I must pause here for this has much deeper repercussions than for the Tamils. 

I make bold to say that the national question, which underwrote all other discourse for decades, has receded from the spotlight and the State has taken its place as the primary contradiction in Sri Lankan society. It is unnecessary to recount the bizarre degeneracy of regime and State at any length; it is the currency of daily conversation.  Degradation of democracy, perversion of justice, crumbling law and order, profiting from drugs, and governance shoddier than at any previous time, all have surfaced jointly, worse than ever before. Finishing off the LTTE and Prabakaran and ending civil war and LTTE terrorism (Sate terror goes on) have morphed the political landscape. 

However, the State is the central focus, not only because of this ongoing ruination, but also because of more ominous trends immanent in Lanka’s regime. What does the political state of play portend for when Rajapakse or the UPFA lose elections and have to relinquish power? Nothing is more dangerous than a cornered animal, none more perilous than a fugitive fearful of termination. I speak not of the inevitability of future elections rigged for eternal UPFA victory. No, it’s more perilous; the powers that be are predisposed to putsches and coups rather than the lawful transfer of power. You think my fears excessive? Or maybe you will live to call them prophetic!

Transition of power is deadly for a regime with too much to conceal and will be prevented by force when rigging becomes inadequate. How many times has history taught this lesson and in how many places? Mubarak, Gadaffi and now Assad had no other choice than to call out the troops or face the hangman? They conspired against democracy hoping to rob the hangman of his fee. 

Sri Lanka is staring into a future starker than ever before in its 65 post-independence years. History has shown that even insane rulers cannot be ousted by internal strife alone after they score big military victories over hated enemies. The threat can be defeated only by an alliance of an awakened populace with a democratic international community, but that’s a topic for another day.

Ironic out verbal contortions

There is one bit of verbal jugglery in TNA-Sampanthan lexicography that needs ironing out. If the Tamils are denied “internal self-determination” the time will come when they will seek “external self-determination” they contort. For heaven’s sake, there is only plain vanilla self-determination in respect of minority nations, and not a multitude of flavours thereof. I have met and heard RS a few times; he has a sharp and logical mind and speaks with clarity; so why this verbal jumble? What he means is perfectly clear: Either it is devolution and self-administration; otherwise it will be the exercise of the right to plain vanilla self-determination, including the right to secede. Plain and simple that’s what he means and it’s obvious, logical and correct. I might add, on my own bat, that all nations, Lanka’s Tamils and India’s Kashmiris included, are morally entitled to it. 

The verbal gymnastics finds its way in because nationalist hotheads in the Tamil community can’t do with devolution and self-administration unless it’s dressed up in the garments of ‘internal self-determination’. Conversely one dare not speak of ‘including the right to secession’ without being marched off by Lanka’s Sinhala-Buddhist state and tried for treason.  In this context, these verbal contortions are forgivable. I only want to spell it out in plain language for the benefit of simple readers of common English.

Back to Top