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FeaturesNewsSampanthan’s deft throwing down of a gauntlet

Sampanthan’s deft throwing down of a gauntlet


We carry elsewhere in this newspaper excerpts from the text of the speech made by ITAK leader R. Sampanthan at the ITAK annual sessions in Batticoloa. Now, this was one speech that upped the ante, as the reader is bound to agree after perusing the facts.

In short, as has been analyzed also in other articles elsewhere in these pages, Sampanthan basically stated that his party’s goal is for secession, without voicing that thought in so many words. He completely eschewed any reference to a unitary state, and stated furthermore that the Tamils who have ruled the North ‘need to go back home.’ There is no need to labour over the semantics here, and any reader who needs a clarification on Sampanthan’s intentions could refer the article written for this issue by Sri Lanka’s ambassador to France Dayan Jayatilleke on page 7.

The up and coming Sri Lanka Freedom Party organizer for Batticoloa, the youthful and active Mr. Arun Tambimuttu, speaking to one of the writers of this newspaper said last week that Mr. Sampanthan probably felt compelled to come out with his rather out on limb secessionist tract, because he had been constantly under fire from fellow members of Parliament of the Tamil National Alliance, ever since he was seen waving the national flag with that other notable and quotable character, leader of the opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He also adds that it was to say the very least rather unnecessary for the Indian High Commissioner to be present at an annual party convention of a party with the character of the ITAK. Then, Mr. Tambimuttu goes on to say that in the current conjuncture, this and other developments, such as the fact that the British High Commissioner John Rankin has stated that troops are no longer necessary in the north, may be indicative of a coming together of certain forces to push the politics of the country in the direction that Mr. Sampanthan has indicated.

In all, it is sad that Mr. Sampanthan is in this way contributing to the dangerous polarization of the majority and minority communities while at the same time doing his deceptive flag-waving with Mr. Wickremesinghe, which was something that sent even some seasoned newspaper columnists into raptures. Those who are routinely gullible read some positive messages into the flag-waving incident that certainly were not there, considering the rather aggressive if not incendiary statements that have been made by Mr. Sampanthan at the ITAK meeting a few weeks later.

In the very best case scenario Mr. Sampanthan spoke against his conscience, having felt compelled, as Mr. Tambimuttu says, to appease TNA compatriots who were going for his jugular after his flag-waving antics with the leader of the opposition in Jaffna.

However, it is difficult to see how Sampanthan’s speech in its entirety cannot be taken as some kind of deliberate statement of policy that could be referred to particularly by Tamil politicians in the future.

History shows how the Wadukoddai resolution and various statements made by those such as the late S.J.V. Chelvanayakam became gospel invocations in the furtherance of the Tamil separatist cause down the road many years after these policy positions were taken. It is in such a context that Mr. Sampanthan’s speech would be underscored as a deliberate and considered statement of policy, irrespective of whether it was some sort of a sop to the baying mob in the TNA, that seemed to be threatening party unity by publicly faulting Mr. Sampanthan for his recent flag-waving tendencies.

The polarization that the Sampanthan policy statement would probably wreak is unfortunate at a time when a delicate process of postwar reconciliation is underway, both as a political process and a civil society endeavour.
What are the TNA’s bona fides for arriving at some sort of a meeting point that would address Tamil grievances via either the Parliamentary Select Committee process or any other, when Mr. Sampanthan’s thinly veiled espousal of the separatist cause in his Batticoloa statements only serve to compound the fears of the majority community that the Tamil Tiger separatist project is alive and kicking under the TNA banner?

On closer perusal, Mr. Sampanthan’s speech is not thinly veiled but is conspicuously out there and is in its stark and unadulterated form, a fairly unambiguous call for a separate state. He talks about achieving through other means the ‘soaring aspirations’ that he says the Tamil community failed to achieve in the armed campaign.

It is astounding – eerie almost – that he gives shape to the exact fears of the Sinhala leadership when he says things such as ‘achieving by other means what was not possible through armed struggle’ — the exact point that President Rajapaksa has been at pains to stress, each time he has been asked about details pertaining to a political arrangement to meet Tamil grievances.

Dayan Jayatilleke, in his article in this newspaper advocates constitutional measures and an improvement on 13th Amendment to address Tamil issues, but he then catches himself, and says that in view of the Tamil secessionist impulse last articulated by Sampanthan in the Batticoloa speech, any implementation of the 13th Amendment should ‘be frozen’ in time, presumably until the secessionist impulse abates.

It would make one wonder how any political acrobatics could be performed to achieve such a ‘staying in abeyance’ of the constitutional process, without flying in the face of all rudimentary democratic practice. The problem then is that Sampanthan has bequeathed us with a problem; it almost seems to be a dare to try and stop the Tamils achieving through other means the separation that was not possible through the armed campaign.
It is not conceivable that the reaction to such a speech on the part of the Sri Lankan majority leadership would be indifferent. On the contrary, it could be defining and blunt.

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