by Sumanasiri Liyanage
Both print and electronic media in Sri Lanka and abroad have reported that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party meeting held in Jaffna was attacked by an armed group in uniforms on Thursday 16 June. It was also reported that a number of TNA parliamentarians were present at the meeting when the attack took place.
As Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathna informed us, ‘this attack was made by a fully armed contingent’ and ‘over forty participated’. If his information is true, there is no doubt ‘it is a planned attack’.
It is also interesting to note that this dastardly act was executed while the government was having talks with the TNA over the Tamil national question and just after high-powered Indian delegation left the island following talks with the President over, inter alia, the issue of devolution of power. Although Secretary of Defence, Jaffna Army Commander and the police have promised time and again that “the matter will be investigated and the miscreants severely punished” irrespective of their political affiliations or positions, people are yet to be informed of the outcome of the promised investigation.
When we reflect on similar attacks on media personnel, the Opposition and trade unionists in the south during the last two years, one can easily guess that such investigations would not reveal anything and the perpetrators would be allowed to go scot free. A couple of months ago, the deteriorating law and order situation in the North, was raised in Parliament. It was also reported that a JVP meeting in Jaffna had also been disrupted by armed thugs in the recent past. It seems that no concrete action has been taken to correct the situation.
Who is responsible for this situation? The government is totally responsible for these horrendous acts of violence.
What do these events signify? Although such an analysis requires serious research and investigation into the socio-political formation in the country, it may not be improper to have some preliminary observation.
The TNA is an opposition political party representing Tamils in the North and Eastern Provinces and it won many seats in the Parliament in the last Parliamentary election as well as at the local government elections.
It stands for the rights of the Tamil people that include the constitutional arrangement of power-sharing. The TNA has also raised the issues of return and resettlement of internally displaced persons and reconstruction of the war-torn areas paying attention to the immediate and medium term demands and requirements of the people.
Although the TNA is not the only political formation in the North and East, it is an undeniable truth that the TNA is the major political party of the Tamils at the moment. In the past, the TNA might have been sympathetic towards the LTTE, but there have been no serious allegations that it has crossed the democratic boundaries and engaged in ‘terrorist’ activities. In the post-war context in which elections are scheduled, the TNA as any other political party should be ensured the rights of nominating candidates to the elections and campaigning for their election.
The attack on the TNA party meeting by uniformed thugs signifies that the government is not ready to accept the changes that should prevail in the post-war situation. The current tactics by the government is basically similar to those adopted by the UNP government prior to the infamous District Council elections and those by the LTTE in many elections held in Jaffna. The disruption and suppression of democratic oppositional politics, among other things, paved the way for armed conflict and terrorism. If the government is not ready to draw its lessons from the past, what is the kind of future that we could envision?
While the war was going on, people were made to believe that the violations of democratic and human rights were part and parcel of the war situation and everything would be hunky-dory after the war came to an end. War came to an end in May 2009, but the pre-war situation characterized by the violation of democratic rights remains essentially unchanged. The ruling party politicians are now trying to dupe people into believing that this exceptional situation should prevail without any significant change for some time as the new task, namely, economic development, calls for its continuation. This hypothesis raises many theoretical and practical issues.
Let me focus on only two. First, does it mean that the war and the economic development that has been brought to the fore have quintessential similarities? Is the economic development as bad as the war? One may argue that even posing the issue in this manner is absurd. Nonetheless, I submit that although there are noticeable differences, many similarities exist between the two, war and economic development.
First, both the war and development in capitalistic context are beneficial for only some groups. Hence, these hegemonic groups are keen in continuing the war process as well as the process of economic development.
Secondly, both are essentially oppressive and exploitative. No economic development can be achieved without exploiting human beings and nature. So is the war. The modernist development has proved that it was achieved through and at the cost of exploiting and suppressing nature and human beings.
Thirdly, the war and economic development confuse human minds by propagating nationalism and patriotism in the case of war and human progress and social welfare in the case of economic development.This fetishist and mystifying nature of war and economic development has been widely deployed by the ruling elites or families for their own benefit and survival.
The second issue that I wish to highlight is the notion of the exceptional state as developed by an Italian contemporary political philosopher, Giorgio Agamben. By extending the notion of biopolitics advanced by Michael Foucault and mixing it with Carl Schmitt’s definition of sovereignty, Agamben has made an attempt to lift the veil over the ambiguous zone locating between the political and juridical.
Is the state of exception an opposite of normal conditions? Or has it become the normal political condition in modern context irrespective of the fact that the political system is democratic, authoritarian or totalitarian?
Usually, the state of exception is linked with civil wars, insurrection and resistance. However, biopolitical argument links political power with ‘simple’ ‘natural’ life, homo sacer. The new governmental technologies have been devised in the modern context through the inclusion of ‘natural’ life in the mechanisms and calculations of state power.
Hence, in order to reveal the secrets of power, analysts have to transgress her focus from the juridico institutional models to the space in which power penetrates subjects’ lives. In Jaffna, the government is trying to penetrate into peoples’ lives. In this perspective, there is no big difference between ‘normal’ situation and ‘exceptional situation.
The killing of a young worker in the FTZ is not a separate issue; it is very much linked with the Jaffna attack. If we look at the recent Sri Lankan history since the early 1970s, the country has been in a state of exception. Although we were forced to believe that it has been a result of insurrection of 1971, rebellion in 1987-89 and the identity-based armed conflict, a careful analysis shows that the state of exception was very closely linked with the highly valued notions of territorial integrity, national independence and economic progress and development.
Does it mean that we have to accept the state of exception as a natural thing? This acceptance leads to subjectivization of self and that is the second dimension of biopolitics of power. Breaking this trap of subjectivization may be extremely difficult; but we all have to be conscious that it is imperative for just politics.
The writer teaches Political Economy at the University of Peradeniya