The TNA must be explicit about the dangers posed by the forthcoming NPC Election
Having accepted that the Thirteenth Amendment cannot fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has nevertheless decided to participate in the forthcoming election for the new Northern Provincial Council. In light of this decision, British Tamils Forum seeks reassurance that the TNA is fully aware of the significant risks posed to the Tamil people by its decision to participate and that it has taken all reasonable steps to mitigate these risks.
Furthermore, British Tamils Forum calls on the TNA to set out clearly and accountably how it intends to use its participation in the council for the benefit of the Tamil people.
It has been widely acknowledged that the forthcoming first ever Northern Provincial Council cannot meet the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamil people and resolve the root causes of conflict on the island. The Provincial Council is merely an advisory body under the control of a Governor, appointed by the President of Sri Lanka. All powers are vested in the Governor, within a unitary state; the Provincial Council system is in no way an exercise in power sharing. Even in its advisory capacity, the Council will be largely ineffective within the deeply majoritarian Sri Lankan state. For these reasons, Tamils have time and time again rejected the Provincial Council arrangement.
Indeed, the Eastern Provincial Council, established following the atrocities committed against Tamils in Mullivaikkal in 2009, provides a salutary lesson on the failings of the Provincial Council system. It has not enhanced the political or socio-economic status of the Tamils in any meaningful manner. It has failed to comprehensively assess or meet the needs of the war-torn Tamil populace of the Province. Instead, the human rights of Tamils in the Eastern Province are continually being violated and their lands and properties expropriated or colonised by the Sinhala population. By trumpeting small, token acts of assistance as enormous achievements, the Eastern Provincial Council enables the Sri Lankan state to project the image that it is faithfully devolving power to the war-affected people, when it is really doing nothing of the sort.
The TNA’s decision to contest the Northern Provincial Council election cannot even be described as a low-risk, speculative venture – harmlessly undertaken on the off-chance that it succeeds. Rather, TNA participation in the Council poses significant risks. Complicity in propping up a Provincial Council system that provides token benefits – perhaps a bicycle here and a rice sack there – while perpetuating the Sri Lankan state’s structural genocide of Tamils, could strike a devastating blow to the decades-long struggle by the Tamil people for their rights and freedom. There is a real danger of unwittingly playing stooge in the Sri Lankan state’s campaign to regain legitimacy on the world stage: if Tamil participation in the Provincial Council is used to provide a distraction that undermines global campaigns for an international independent inquiry into the crimes committed by the Sri Lankan state and recognition of the Tamil people’s right to self-determination.
Despite the significant pitfalls and unlikely benefits of participation in the Northern Provincial Council, British Tamils Forum acknowledges that – by standing for election – the TNA provides the Northern Tamil voter his or her only legitimate choice at the polling booth. However, the onus is on the TNA to reassure the Tamil people that it has taken the decision to participate in full knowledge of the risks described above – and that it has contingency plans in place to ensure that it never ends up harming the very people it seeks to represent. The TNA must also clearly spell out in a manifesto how it seeks to benefit the Tamil people by participating in the Provincial Council System, so that it may be held to account by Tamils following the establishment of the Council.
By contesting the election, the TNA does have an opportunity to demonstrate to the international community the true aspirations and demands of the Tamil people. Hence, British Tamils Forum hopes that the TNA’s manifesto will reflect these aspirations – including, in particular:
1. The need for a political solution that recognises the Tamils as a nation, with the right to self-determination in their homeland, which comprises the combined North and East;
2. The call for an international independent inquiry into crimes committed against the Tamils;
3. The call for national and international action against the grabbing of Tamil land in the North and East and the dismantling of Sinhala settlements installed by the Sri Lankan state;
4. The campaign to establish an interim administrative mechanism in the North and East to facilitate relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction for the benefit of Tamil war victims, with the direct participation of homeland Tamils, Tamils living abroad and the international community.
Over sixty years of oppression at the hands of the Sinhala state has provided ample evidence that the Tamil people will not gain their political and human rights through political representation alone: this is effectively impossible within Sri Lanka’s majoritarian political system. Therefore Tamil leaders must also focus on mobilising the Tamil people at the grassroots level. These leaders are far more likely to reap benefits for the Tamil people by building a mass movement and organising innovative non-violent resistance across the North and East against the occupation of the Tamil homeland by the Sri Lankan state – than by solely focussing on political participation within the Sri Lankan unitary state, where the odds are stacked wildly against them. Such a mass movement, combined with the broad influence wielded by Tamils across the globe, would present a formidable force to fight against the Sri Lankan state’s genocide of the Tamil people.