Jehan Perera –
The main political representatives of the Tamil people, the MPs of the Tamil National Alliance, have been under pressure from the government which frequently refers to them as the “LTTE rump.” During the latter period of the three decade long war, the LTTE was able to persuade the TNA politicians to fall in line with their position that the LTTE was the sole representatives of the Tamil people. Prior to this capitulation, several leading politicians from constituent Tamil parties had been assassinated by the LTTE, leaving those who survived with no option. Some either joined the government or stopped criticizing the government in order to obtain government security to protect their lives. Those who preferred to remain independent of the government made the choice of falling in line with the LTTE.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the government leaders who frequently refers to the TNA as holding on to LTTE positions. He has appealed to those perceived as being influential in regard to the LTTE, such as the Indian media, to convince the TNA to be reasonable and to discuss how to resolve the problems of the Tamil people with the government. There is a section of the government that sees the TNA as being unreasonable in continuing to insist on old positions held by the LTTE, such as the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces. But the LTTE also held on to the notion of an independent Tamil state and sought to achieve it through violent means. By way of contrast the TNA has been the victim of violence by all sides and holds to the ideal of a federal Sri Lanka, which fall short of independence.
The situation that the TNA finds itself in today is not enviable. The TNA is not only under pressure from the government. It is also under pressure from the Tamil people who voted for it by large majorities in the areas in which Tamils predominate. The majority of those who voted for the TNA would be amongst the worst off in Sri Lankan society. They lived in the midst of war that despoiled the North and East of the country for nearly three decades. Only few of them were unscathed by the disaster that unfolded during that long period. Invariably the war entered their lives, either by collateral damage, having their children forcibly recruited or being forced to flee from place to place.
Even today more than 100,000 Tamil people live displaced and outside of their homes, either with relatives or in transit camps awaiting relocation to their home areas. They would be seeing the peace dividend in the form of government buildings that are coming up and roads being repaired and tourists from the rest of the country traveling along them. But, unfortunately for most of them these developments remain outside of their reach, as those contractors who build the government buildings and roads come from outside the North and East for the most part, and bring their own labourers with them. Even the tea kiosks by the side of the road are manned by army personnel. That is the people who could have done that small scale enterprise are denied that opportunity as well.
So far the TNA has failed to persuade the government to deliver more resources to the people of the North and East. In a democratic polity where politicians need votes of people to remain in power, it is inevitable that governments in power would prefer to allocate scarce economic resources to those who will vote for them. As the TNA does not support the government and instead engages in confrontational politics with it, the government is not inclined to be responsive to the needs of people who vote for the TNA. This keeps in motion a vicious cycle of neglect and hatred that is not good either for reconciliation in the country or for the people in the North and East.
As the political representatives of the war-affected Tamil people, the TNA has to consider engaging in politics that helps the people rather than leads to their neglect. On the one hand, it is important for the TNA to keep the aspirations of the Tamil people in mind. It is also important that the basic needs of the people are also met so that lead a normal life in which there is material progress for themselves and their children. The TNA needs to reconsider its apparent policy of total confrontation with the government at all levels. As a beginning in the process of reconciliation with the government, the TNA could reconsider their strong rejection of the final report submitted by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to the President.
The report of the LLRC would count as amongst the most important public documents that investigates and analyses the causes of the ethnic conflict and problems of governance in the country. However, the TNA’s preliminary statement on it echoed that of international human rights organizations which strongly critiqued and rejected the LLRC report. Earlier they had found fault with the composition of the LLRC and now they found it wanting in terms of international humanitarian law. However, the TNA is not an international human rights organization but a political party. Politics has been defined by those skilled in the profession as the art of the possible.
The TNA’s preliminary statement rejecting the LLRC report focused on its failure in holding the government accountable for human rights violations and war crimes and for attempting to pass them on to the failures of individual soldiers. It stated that “The LLRC report categorically fails to effectively and meaningfully deal with issues of accountability.” The TNA statement did not consider the LLRC’s analysis of the causes of the conflict and its prescriptions for the resolution of the conflict. What the LLRC had set out in terms of good governance practices and a political solution was not new and has been stated by the more liberal and thoughtful politicians and civil society groups on numerous occasions before. But what was special this time was that the LLRC was appointed by President Rajapaksa, whose government has taken a diametrically opposed position on almost all of the issues addressed.
The government’s decision to make the LLRC report public could be due to a variety of reasons. In the case of previous commissions of inquiry that seemed to come up with inconvenient truths, the government either stopped them three-quarter way or suppressed their findings, as in the case of the report of the All Party Representatives Conference on a political solution. On this occasion there was considerable international pressure on the government to come out with the report, as the government itself held out that the LLRC report would provide the answer to international allegations of war crimes in the last phase of the war. This is an opportunity to be taken and not rejected. Although the TNA may find fault with how the LLRC addressed the issue of accountability, its analysis of the conflict and its prescriptions have much to commend in them.
As the third largest political party within Parliament and the largest Tamil one, the TNA needs to consider joining hands with the other political parties and with like-minded civil society organizations to ensure that the LLRC recommendations are implemented. While the government has given the impression that it accepts the LLRC report, its decision making circles may believe it is not in their interests to implement the recommendations any time soon. The LLRC’s vision is that of a plural and multi ethnic society in which there is the rule of law and checks and balances on unbridled power. As a result it is possible that the government leadership will prefer to drag their feet when it comes to implementing the recommendations of the report. It is important that the Tamil polity become a vibrant one that is integrated into the larger national polity. It is in the larger national interest that the LLRC recommendations be implemented.