by N. Sathiya Moorthy
There is a message from the Jaffna rally, both from the TNA and for the TNA. Sampanthan used the occasion once again, urging the Government to create conducive conditions for the TNA to join the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) mooted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s leadership, for resolving the ethnic issue through a nation-wide political consensus
By waving the national flag so very openly at the ‘May Day’ rally at Jaffna alongside UNP Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, TNA’S R. Sampanthan has taken the national discourse on the ‘national problem’ to a higher plane altogether.
Not that anyone could have suspected his nationalist credentials or patriotic fervour, yet telling visiting Indian MPS earlier that he would be proud to die a Sri Lankan should tell the Sinhala hard-liners, both within the Government and outside, why and how to delineate the Tamils’ nationalist intent from ‘Tamil nationalism’.
Sampanthan’s gestures should be considered more than symbolic. They have come at a time when DMK supremo and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu had revived the call for a separate ‘state’ in Sri Lanka. Karunanidhi had also revived ‘TESO’, an organisation that the LTTE did not associate with even when active in the Eighties.
Karunanidhi’s message is addressed to select sections of the Diaspora Tamil. The TNA’S missive is for and from the masses of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
There is a message from the Jaffna rally, both from the TNA and for the TNA. Sampanthan used the occasion once again, urging the Government to create conducive conditions for the TNA to join the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) mooted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s leadership, for resolving the ethnic issue through a nation-wide political consensus.
The message for the TNA came from sections of the Diaspora media, which claimed that less than 100 local Tamils participated in the Jaffna rally, which was overwhelmed by Sinhalas from the South, courtesy UNP.
These Diaspora sections feel mighty uncomfortable whenever the TNA is seen talking to the Government or leaning on the Sinhala polity for supporting the just Tamil cause. They make their unhappiness plain. It used to be the case with the LTTE in its formative years, when it would torpedo moderate Tamil polity’s efforts at national reconciliation. In doing so, the LTTE would cite past failures in the matter, and act in a way that there was no another day, there should not be another chance.
So much so, Diaspora Tamil media put the number of Tamils at the TNA-UNP rally at 100 against ‘only’ 4,000 for Minister Douglas Devananda’s EPDP rally (even while charging him with the abuse of official machinery).
As if by comparison, a separate report in Tamilnet said that Diaspora Tamils could influence the British Establishment in London’s mayoral elections if they voted for issues and not parties. “Tamils numbering over 300,000 constitute the largest single issue vote bloc in southern England, with over 250,000 in London alone, have the ability by exercising their vote to directly determine the outcome of the Mayoral elections, 25 of the seats in the London Assembly, and tilt the balance in favour of one party or the other in another 10 seats,” the report said.
According to the Tamilnet analysis, “Of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, only 45 to 50 marginal seats are likely to change hands in future elections. And, all major parties realise that their ‘core’ vote is not sufficient to secure them. Most of these are in and around London.”
Independent of the Government’s position on the TNA having to join the PSC to revive the negotiation process, the party should still reconsider its pre-conditions for the purpose.
The TNA needs to recognise that no worthwhile solution can be implemented on the ground without a kind of national consensus, particularly between the two ‘Sinhala majors’, namely, the UNP and the ruling SLFP. The ‘Sinhala-buddhist’ nationalist sections, too, need to be heard, just as the TNA wants to hear out, if not listen to the Tamil Diaspora.
To be fair to the TNA, what had started off as official talks with the Government has since been branded by the latter, as party-to – party talks. There can be further slippages, as had happened in the decades that led to war and violence. Yet, with a full quorum of political parties, particularly with a friendly UNP too on board, the PSC process could be an opportunity for the Tamil moderates to address ‘Sinhala nationalists’ across the table.
It would be an occasion for the TNA to address the international community, post-geneva.
The Tamils’ concerns from the past often relates to the indifference of the international community in their affairs. Their complaints need to be contextualised. Post-war, post-geneva, the world is tuned more to Sri Lanka, and the purported plight of the Tamils in politics and governance, even while acknowledging the visible improvement in rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The PSC would provide a forum for the Tamils to take the national discourse forward without having to embarrass the likes of UNP ‘ally’ of the time.
The UNP wants a home-grown solution and would loathe internationalising the issue, given the complexities involved nearer home and afar, alike. It had burnt its fingers more than once on both counts.
Barring the unilateral but well-meaning ‘Chandrika Package’, the SLFP in power has not attempted anything like this in recent times. Their anxieties and suspicions are justified in a way, and has nothing to do with the two-thirds parliamentary majority that the Rajapaksa Government now enjoys.
The party and the leadership were witness to the Jayawardene Government, with five-sixth numbers in Parliament, not being able to deliver on the India-sri Lanka Accord and the Thirteenth Amendment. Instead, the UNP drifted from within, what with slain Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa contesting both, and moving away from them, too, once he became President. The rest, as they say, is history.
The TNA also has to acknowledge the issues involved. It goes beyond powers for the Provinces, which some sections within the Government are making to look more complicated than they are. But that is how these sections seem to see – and believe it to be.
More importantly, there is the revived TNA demand for ‘remerger’ of the North and the East, which may still be contested by sections within the Eastern Tamils. Numbers again won’t matter, as the LTTE experience had shown. Nor can anyone overlook the consequent ‘Muslim factor’, which the TNA cannot negotiate with the Government, either.