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Understanding Sampanthan’s speech at the ITAK convention


Mr. R. Sampanthan, the leader of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK, aka the Federal Party), gave a fine speech at the party’s national convention held in Batticaloa recently. His speech has raised the hackles of the opinion-makers in the Sinhalese community.

Let us put some context to understanding Sampanthan’s speech: the elected leaders of the Government of Sri Lanka remain war criminals; they continue to indulge in abductions and extrajudicial killings; more than 3 years after the brutal war, the larger Sinhalese polity says Tamils have no grievances, that they already have equal rights, and insists that Tamils should continue to live in a unitary Sri Lanka in a subservient position, where the Sinhala language and Buddhism will continue to enjoy constitutionally protected primacy, and where the government can arbitrarily dispossess, arrest, detain, or disappear Tamil people at will.

None of that is worth getting exercised over; after all, thousands of Tamils were slaughtered in the name of counter insurgency, what is just another abduction and killing of a Demala? But an aging Tamil leader who has no choice but to go through the charade of talks with war criminals because of the oppressive power they enjoy, as well as pressure from international community, decides to speak some truth to power, and presto, look at how people are exercsed!

What Tamils need today is not a condescending political solution from war criminals and their sycophants. They need justice, dignity and security. As long as these are missing, Tamil people will continue to articulate their aspirations; while the majority of Tamils do not want secession in their hearts, they know from experience that the Sinhalese polity at large will not even agree to a substantive political solution within a united Sri Lanka.

How will people who say the 13th amendment is already too much, ever agree to federalism, for instance? Tamil people at large have no illusions about it; it is only the international community that continues to indulge in wishful thinking about the GoSL. It is that point that Sampanthan is articulating. And if Sinhalese polity doesn’t prove that deeply held conviction among Tamils wrong even at a late stage within a reasonable time, Tamils are entitled to think aloud about secession as long as they remain steadfastly non-violent.

Sampanthan is simply implying—
1. Talks with the GoSL has remained a charade because the GoSL is a regime of war criminals that simply wants to continue the status quo.
(Though some Sinhalese say the JHU is a fringe party, the Rajapaksas have embraced them and point to their opposition to political solution to maintain the status quo. And the Sinhalese polity does not get exercised about it; rather, it continues to support this criminal regime with gusto.)
2. ITAK as a responsible party should still counsel patience and try to work out a solution within a united Sri Lanka even if it is Tamils’ belief that the GoSL will never grant anything substantive even within a united Sri Lanka; saying secession will remain a longer term option is to just to tell the hardline elements that though they may have truth on their side, they shouldn’t do anything violent out of frustration, and still give the Sinhalese polity and the international community a chance.

I see no contradiction in Sampanthan’s speech.

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