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TNA and Ranil on the right side of argument, wrong side of history

“Until the lion has a historian of his own, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” – African Proverb

Speaking at a Vipakshaye Virodaya press conference in Colombo on Sunday, 7 June 2013, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran asserted the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed to look into any changes to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is not a Parliamentary Select Committee at all, but actually a ‘President’s Select Committee.’ He stated the idea for a PSC to find a solution to the national issue was formulated in September 2011 during bilateral discussions between the TNA and the government and that it was pushed ‘in-between’ talks.

He further elaborated the government asked the TNA to put aside the discussions and join the parliamentary committee instead, with the assurance that agreements they had already reached during the talks would be taken to the PSC. He stated that after an agreement was reached between the President and the leader of the TNA on conditions for both to participate in the PSC, the government went back on its word, exited the bilateral discussions and asked the TNA to just attend the parliamentary committee.

Sumanthiran said, that was the reason the TNA did not attend the PSC, and that this matter was even raised in Parliament by the Opposition Leader. “Now after two years have passed they are saying the Parliamentary Select Committee is being established and are asking us to join it,” he said. “We are not that stupid to attend such a select committee just shaking our hands.”

The only negative aspect of the whole press conference was the very premise on which it was held. Vipakshaye Virodaya is a farcical front that is being utilized by its main player, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Leader of the Opposition and the United National Party (UNP), for his own insular reasons. It is a platform, which is being used by the UNP leader to show the country that he is not alone in his fight against the government. But in his mad rush to search a national stage, Ranil does not seem to care that he is being identified and teamed up with those who have been totally discarded by the electorate. Other than the UNP itself and the TNA, there is no Vipakshaya in the truest sense of the word. Members of all other factions that gather on this platform could hardly fill two buses today.

Timing is critical

Good arguments have to be brought out on good platforms and at good times. Timing as well as placing is very critical in political calculations in today’s world. And above all, credibility of those who argue must stand above the rest. Sumanthiran’s efforts would surely fail for those reasons alone. Wickremesinghe, by aligning himself with the TNA and other three-wheeler party leaders is not only lending this ‘common platform’ a sense of desperation and despair, he is jeopardizing the electoral chances of his own Party, the UNP, by alienating it from the Sinhalese Buddhist majority of the country. This imprudent tactic so adopted by the UNP leader has cost the Party so dearly and the growing sense of dissatisfaction towards it has been shown in successive election results over the last couple of decades. Political leaders must have the capacity and foresight to engage in the right kind of politicking at the right time and the right place. In this sphere, Wickremesinghe has shown a remarkable deficiency. Not only has he displayed that he does not have the capacity to lead from the front, he has gone a couple of steps further and shown that he even doesn’t care. That is a very pathetic situation for a political party such as the United National Party which over its entire history has exhibited extraordinary powers of resiliency and resistance.

Yet, taken in the context of the current political background, one can understand the unfortunate position that the UNP has to adopt, especially with regard to the Thirteenth Amendment and its proposed alterations. But the examples are aplenty and Ranil could have learnt, if he had the desire and capacity, from his Uncle JR himself. When the Lanka Sama Samaja Party brought a no-confidence motion in Parliament in the mid-nineteen seventies, J.R. Jayewardene adopted a very unorthodox strategy in manoeuvring his meagre number of seventies MPs to speak one language in Parliament and vote in a diametrically opposite way, thereby confusing the then Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government as well as the whole of the Opposition-politics.

MP Sumanthiran’s basic argument on the validity and legitimacy of the Parliamentary PSC is sound and solid. Fundamentally, this is the same argument that Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan professed in 1931 when the British colonial powers granted Universal Franchise to then Ceylon: Sinhalese majoritarian rule will crush all aspirations of the Tamils and continue a ‘rule of dominance’ amounting to total subjugation of the minority ethnic group in the North and East. Sir Ponnambalam foresaw what was to come and his vocal eloquent opposition was recorded in Sri Lanka’s pre-Independence history as a landmark position taken by the Tamil leaders of the time.

That’s all history now. Ever since Independence, the Tamil cause that had been advocated by their various political leaders, from G. G. Ponnambalam, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, A. Amirthalingam and now R. Sampanthan, have been based on devolution of political power to the regions and the unit of devolution has now assumed even a larger area – a province as opposed to a district and with land and police powers.

Material conditions
Nevertheless, unfortunately for these Tamil leaders, the material conditions have changed drastically. The false hope of an independent separate State of Eelam, which seemed a near-probability when the LTTE dominated the politics of the North and East prior to its total annihilation in May 2009, has just evaporated into thin air. The licking of wounds is still being indulged in and real and honest dealing with facts seem to evade even the sanest minds of the TNA. While the TNA is getting bogged down in this insular thinking, the Sinhalese Buddhists, backed by the extreme elements, both within and outside the government, have cornered themselves to another dangerous position in the national equation. The Bodhu Bala Sena and Ravana Balaya are mere symptoms of this dangerous disease, the root cause of which is deeply hidden in the very psyche of both peoples, Sinhalese and Tamils. These extreme elements based on unquestioning belief in their respective historical myths and fantasies and refusal to adapt to current universal principles of globalization and inclusive politics are dragging their respective leaders and communities to further social degeneration and political irrelevancies.

In the face of such a powerful push from the extremes, the whole argument of the 13th Amendment becomes even more relevant, valid, legitimate and above all else fair. But the opposition to that argument stems from the majority Sinhalese, particularly the middle-class Sinhalese whose powers of decision-making have grown over the last couple of years after the war-victory. They are of the firm belief that the Sinhalese were wronged and now is the time to right whose wrongs. In that part of history both Wickremesinghe and the TNA find themselves on the wrong side.

The superiority of the Sinhalese majority, both in numbers as well as a self-perceived ethnic pre-eminence is fast becoming an inescapable reality and in the face of that superiority, any demand or claim on behalf of the Tamils becomes anti-national, unpatriotic and traitorous. This results in both Wickremesinghe and the TNA being on the right side of the argument and wrong side of history. ‘An argument without end,’ that is how Robert McNamara describes history in his book Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy, and it is indeed true. McNamara made mistakes and had the strength of character to admit and own them. Our leaders sadly lack both, character and ability to do things – mistakes or great deeds.


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