Disoriented Tamils at the cross-roads without a compass
Posted on August 30th, 2020

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Of all the oddities displayed at the opening of the new Parliament – and there were some exceptional ones like an MP arriving in a prison van and another landing in a boat etc. – the most significant one to my mind was the presence of two fathers-in-law sitting on opposite benches, facing each other, ready to go into verbal duels at any given moment.  There are, of course, many precedents where distant and blood relatives crossed swords on the floor of the House. One of the earliest was Colvin R. de Silva (Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India /LSSP) in the Opposition benches firing at the politics of his brother, Walwin, a UNPer, and vice versa. Another memorable instance was when Anura Bandaranaike joined the UNP government and tearing into his mother’s politics who was sitting in the Opposition. Considering that the genealogy of Sri Lankans runs like a wild wine creeper twining practically through each other’s legs in devious ways, there could have been many unaccounted relatives battling it out from the opposite benches.

But the marriage of Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s son to C. V. Wigneswaran’s daughter makes the two fathers-in-law a first in the Parliament. Both will occupy their seats as two incendiary explosives that could go off any moment in the House. That is inevitable, particularly because both are impulsive fire-brands.  In fact, one report said that they were exchanging heated words in the lobby on their first day in Parliament when the Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, noticing the sparks flying between the two, eased his way through the crowd and stepped in to defuse the rising tensions. But this is only the prelude for more things – more ominous things — to come later.

In the new Parliament they represent the two divisive polarities that are bound to collide. They are the outstanding and controversial symbols of the ominous forces of our time hanging overhead like the Damocles sword. Their politics has the potential to outweigh even the critical issues of the economy which are yet to unfold in all its fury. The proposed Constitution will be the new battleground for the old issues of power sharing that began in colonial times. It is predictable that the old wounds of the inter-ethnic relations between the North and the South will open up with the rival contenders going at each other’s throats, hopefully without the devastating consequences experienced by both parties in the recent past.

The Northern political elite whose life and soul depended on exploiting mono-ethnic extremism (aka, Tamil nationalism, Eelamism, federalism, separatism, self-determination) bared its tigerish teeth on the very first day of the opening debate. C. V. Wigneswaran did not hesitate to demonstrate his style and substance with his provocative and controversial speech. He did not hesitate to echo the old mantra that pull the heartstrings of the Tamils: the Tamil language. Using his standard tactic, with nothing else to crow about, he paid homage to the Tamil language which resonates as the primary source of sustaining and pursuing Tamil identity politics. This is also his signature tune and he signalled that the Parliament is going to hear more of it in the days, months and years to come. It is, of course, a variation of his notorious resolution passed in Northern Provincial Council condemning all Sinhala leaders since Independence as genocidal maniacs who had decimated the Tamils. The likes of Wigneswaram survive in the competitive politics of the peninsula only by distorting known facts, recorded history and the grim realities that refuse to surrender to their disproportionate and extremist demands.

Most of the leaders who welcomed the new Speaker maintained a neutral tone and the formal decorum that is expected on this occasion. Only Wigneswaran’s speech went off the rails. He could not help being Wigneswaran – the new kid in the bloc showing off his no-hands-on-the-handle ride down the main street. It needs to be quoted in full as it foreshadows the shape of things to come. The following quote is from the Hansard:

(The Hon. C.V. Wigneswaran) மாண்ᾗமிகு சபாநாயகர் அவர்கேள, தமிழ் மக்கள் ேதசியக் கூட்டணி சார்பில் ᾙதற்கண் உங்கᾦக்கு என் வாழ்த்ᾐக்கைள த் ெதாிவித்ᾐக்ெகாள்கின்ேறன். I start my felicitations, Hon. Speaker, hailing you in my mother tongue, the oldest living language of this world and the language of the first indigenous inhabitants of this country, and proceed in the link language. I thank you for accepting such a high position in our Parliamentary tradition. Sir, I am sure, you would bring with your high Office your experience with men and matters gained throughout your long political career. We have a very powerful Government now. A similar Government was constituted under the late J.R. Jayewardene in 1977. It was during that regime that we had the 1983 Pogrom. Certainly, this Government too could follow the path of the Elephant of that time and end up as today reduced to a single Member in the future. But, I am sure they would not. They would prefer to learn from our mistakes of the past and usher in a period of peace and prosperity where all communities would feel equal to each other and walk with dignity and pride as children of Mother Lanka. That freedom and equality could dawn only if we shed the false historical perspectives of the past and recognize the intrinsic rights of the people living in the North and the East of Sri Lanka, who are entitled to the right of self-determination as per Article 1 of Chapter one of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in addition to their hereditary and traditional rights to be recognized as a nation. Sir, I hope, we would not be called upon in this August Assembly of Parliamentarians in the future, during your term of Office, for your protective assistance since we would respect each other’s rights and our duties towards each other. We are sure that you will guide us all without fear or favour if any such impasse comes to pass. There is no need Sir, in a country which professes Buddhism to expect a hegemonic dominance from anyone. We have not forgotten what the Sinhala villager is only too well familiar with, that every act has its opposite reaction; කළ කළ ෙNJ පල පල ෙNJ. ස්ƱƯɐ, ගɞ කථානායකƱමǧ .English equivalent: You will reap what you sow.

Though short it summarises the usual litany of complaints recycled unceasingly by the Tamil leadership blaming the Sinhalese. In the next day’s sittings of the House G. G. Ponnambalam, the grandson of the father of virulent Tamil communalism, G. G. Ponnambalam, Snr., who sparked off the first communal riots in 1939 by attacking the Mahavamsa and the history of the nation, went beyond Wigneswaran to focus on the two nation” theory. That is a claim that must be dealt in a separate chapter next Sunday. First, attention must be focused on Wigneswaran dragging his aggressive, anti-Sinhala-Buddhist politics from his launching pad in the Provincial Council in the North to a higher level in the Parliament.  To being with, there is nothing new in Wigneswaran’s whingeing. He is only reiterating what every other Tamil propagandist has said for the nth time before. But what does it portend? It is this kind of rhetoric that paved the path to the Vadukoddai violence unleashed in 1976. Blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists has been the only ideological trick they had to seduce their people into the path of brutal and futile violence.

For instance, Prabhakaran was nurtured, encouraged, supported, financed and defended at all times by the Tamil Vellala elite which retained their grip on power in the peninsula by demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists. Prabhakaran knew nothing but the hate politics fed to him by the Tamil theoreticians / propagandists who manufactured a fake history of Tamils which invariably ended in projecting the Sinhala-Buddhists as the permanent enemies of the Tamils. The essence of this ideology was encapsulated in the Vadukoddai Resolution which declared war on the Sinhala-Buddhist in 1976.

In the current political context of the post-Gotabaya Presidential election, the choice before the Tamils is either to go back to the Vadukoddai Resolution and kick-start the road to Nandikadal again, or carve out a more realistic path for peaceful co-existence taking into consideration the lessons learnt in Nandikadal. It is, indeed, sad that Wigneswaran has chosen to ignore the new realties haunting the Northern landscape. He has reverted to the same-old, same-old hate politics. He made use of the occasion to address the extremists who are likely to follow him into the never-never land of elusive Eelam. He talks of the right of self-determination”, the right to be recognised as a nation”, hegemonic dominance” of the majority, the 1983 pogrom”,  a claim to be ”the first indigenous inhabitants of this country”, and, of course,  the oldest living language of this world”.

Take the last one first. To boast about the Tamil language being the oldest, boosts only the egos of the Tamils who have nothing else to crow about in Sri Lanka. Besides, it is a specious argument because if antiquity is a mark of superiority then the Sinhalese language, which the Tamils say came into being only in the fifth century, should be considered superior to the English language which blossomed into what it is today, only in the 15th-16th centuries under Geoffrey Chaucer and modernised by Shakespeare later.

Besides, the Tamils of Jaffna did not create the Tamil language which, indeed, is a cultural gem. The local Tamils brought it in their bag and baggage when they crossed the Palk Straits in the 12th-13th centuries. Tamil historians have openly admitted that the Jaffna Tamils were merely second-hand imitators of the Tamil Nadu culture. No original masterpieces ever came out of Jaffna. On the contrary, the Sinhalese created and gifted to the world a whole new language rich enough to express the subtle nuances of the greatest philosophy of India, Buddhism. As opposed to this, the imitative Jaffna Tamils are prone to pretend that they have been the virtual founders of the great Tamil culture that flourished in S. India. Simply because Arumuka Navalar and C . W. Thamotherampillai excavated the neglected Tamil classical texts from S. India and printed them in Jaffna they assume that they have been the virtual founders, discoverers, and revivalists of Tamil language and culture. The fact is that Jaffna had not contributed anything substantial to the greatness of the Tamil language. So which community can claim to be superior to the other? Is it those who are parroting a language borrowed from another land? Or those who with their creative genius minted a new language?

The Sinhala-Buddhists also gave the world a new civilisation and a new culture. In fact, the great aesthetic savant, Ananda Coomaraswamy, wrote a classic monograph on Medieval Sinhala Art. Being a Tamil, wouldn’t he have written an equally great monograph on Jaffna art if the Tamils had anything comparable to that of the Sinhalese? So what is Wigneswaran crowing about? Why is he trying to pretend that the Tamil language came from his father’s loins when its origins go way back in time to the dim distant past in another land? In comparison let’s take the case of the American and the Australian migrants who took the English language with them as they migrated into new lands. They do not bask in the supremacy and the glory of English language created in Britain. They take pride in the creative power of their own people who produced a new culture of their own demonstrating their innate genius. Can Wigneswaran at least point to the genius of the Jaffna Tamils comparable to that of the English migrants domiciled in America or Australia? He may not be familiar with these two cultures. Can he, therefore, tell us in what respects the Jaffna Tamil culture – not that of Tamil Nadu – is superior to that of the Sinhalese?

Then he talked about the first indigenous inhabitants of this country.” This is another symptom of the common Tamil malaise to imagine histories that never happened. Their political aspirations are based on believing in a fabricated past that could justify their current political agenda to create a separate state.  Vadukoddai Resolution (1976) is a typical example of the Tamil mytho-maniacs concocting a political manifesto to sustain and pursue their unattainable aspirations”. Besides, conflicting theories question the validity of their self-serving history which eventually led to the Vadukoddai Declaration of war in 1976. Political violence depends on the extent to which it is possible to manufacture hate politics, extremism and myths. As the primary aim of the Vadukoddai Resolution was to provide a valid justification to claim proprietary rights over Sri Lankan territory they went overboard by declaring the myth that they were the first arrivals.

This claim also makes them believe that they are superior to all other migrants who came later. Let us for the sake of argument concede that they came first. Then they must explain why the inferior Sinhalese who came later built a unique civilization, culture and language that stand to their glory surpassing all activities of the superior Tamils. Besides, if they came earlier why did they withdraw and confine themselves to a littoral strip in the sands of the North? Isn’t it because the Tamils began their settlements, according to Tamil historians, only in the 12-13th centuries?

Each time the Tamils claim that they are superior to all others in the island, they are forced to explain why they played such an inferior role in the history of the nation. For instance, if the Tamils are so superior to the Sinhalese and the Tamils played such a pivotal role in the national history how did the inferior Sinhalese come out on top dominating every inch of the way in history to the 21st century, overcoming all challenges they faced, mostly from the Dravidians of the North?

Take, for instance, the simple issue of demographics. If they came first they had the field wide open for them, with no opposition, to populate and leave their indelible stamp on every conceivable aspect in history. But they didn’t. They had Paskaralingams, Mahalingams, Panchalingams, and whole lot of lingams none of whom had the capacity to populate the island with sufficient demographics to dominate the historical landscape.  So how did the Tamils fail and why did the Sinhalese succeed? Recorded history states categorically that the Sinhalese were exceptional because they outstripped the Tamils in their historic journey through the ages gone by. Throughout the better part of history, the Tamils lived under the shadow of Sinhala rulers. They accepted Sinhala as the official language with which to communicate, from royalty down to the common trader in Chetty Street. This also leads to a serious question: Does history belongs to those who make spurious claims to justify the politics of the day or to those who made history with their blood, sweat and tears down the ages?

In one of Wigneswaran’s sober moments he states that we (should) shed the false historical perspectives of the past”. True. Absolutely true. But he has a motive for saying this. He wants the world to accept his narrative of events rejecting the one that contradiction his version. As in any other conflict there are two sides to story. He wants the world to shed the false historical perspective” that contradicts his narrative. In other words, like all Tamil partisans marketing their one-sided story to the world he is making a strong bid to hide the subhuman history of Jaffna that humiliated, persecuted, oppressed, suppressed and even massacred their own people on a mass scale for centuries under fascist Vellalaism. He is deliberately falsifying the historical perspectives of his past because the truth will blast his political myths to bits. He would, for instance, find it very difficult to give another example of the ruling class/caste denying their own people the right to walk in God-given sunlight. These outcasts were allowed to come out only in the night declaring loudly as they walked that the Turumbas – the lowest of low castes — are coming, purely to warn the Vellalas to close their doors and windows to maintain the purity of their eyes.

So when he says that we should shed the false historical perspective of the past” he should begin from his end before pointing fingers at his bete noir the Sinhalese. He should first examine critically and objectively how his forefathers treated their own people before he accuses the Sinhalese of discriminating against the Tamils, or denying them their dignity and rights. What dignity did his ancestors give the low-castes when they refused to open the doors of the Vellala-owned temples to the low-caste Hindus to worship their common God/gods?  Or kept the front pews of the Church to the high castes and the last rows to the low-castes? In America the Negroes were not allowed to sit in the front rows of the busses but only in the back seats. In the Vellala fiefdom the low-castes were not allowed to sit on any seat, front or back. They had to sit on the floor of the bus. This was institutionalised discrimination that dehumanised Wigneswaran’s own people. He refuses to examine the horripilating tortures, persecutions, oppression and agonies of his own history. As a former judge it is his moral duty to weigh the available evidence before passing judgment. He should begin by asking: Why didn’t our leaders make our own people  feel equal to each other and walk with dignity and pride as children” of Tamil homeland?

The debacle at Nandikadal must open the eyes of the Tamils to recognise that the Tamil leaders have been congenital idiots” (Prof. David Kumar). With all the accumulated knowledge gathered from their misadventure on the road to Nandikadal they must, at least at this late stage, accept responsibility for their folly. Blaming the Sinhalese is not going to take them to their unattainable Eelam. They must be more pragmatic and admit that it is the false historical perspective of the past” that led the Tamil leadership to the self-destructive Vadkoddai Resolution. They were arrogant and intransigent political animals who led their people to a humiliating and disastrous end in Nandikadal.  The rhetoric recycled by Wigneswaran can lead only the next Nandikadal. Is this what the Tamils want?

Quite rightly he says, in one of his lucid moments, that we should learn from our mistakes of the past and usher in a period of peace and prosperity where all communities would feel equal to each other and walk with dignity and pride as children of Mother Lanka”. But here he is pointing his finger, as usual, at the Sinhalese. In saying this he is in denial. Actually, he is lying through his teeth. He is the living example of Tamils and Sinhalese walk(ing) with dignity and pride as children of Mother Lanka.” He was given a free education at Royal College, the best school run by the Sinhala state”. He was also given a free education at Law College run by the Sinhala state”. (In Chennai he would have had to pay through his nose to qualify as a lawyer). 

He practiced as a lawyer in the courts of the Sinhala state” and not in any of the pseudo courts in de facto state run by his Tamil hero, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He rose to the highest rank as judge in the Sinhala state” where he could walk with dignity and pride as an independent judge who would not have to bow down to the dictates of his Tamil Thalaivar. Above all, his daughter is married to a Sinhalese. Would he ever have given his loving daughter to a Sinhalese if he knew that she would not feel equal to each other and walk with dignity and pride as children of Mother Lanka”? So why is he painting the Sinhalese as the evil demons when he has, all his life, thrived and walked with dignity and pride as a child of Mother Lanka? Besides, should he not think compassionately about his own people, who had suffered enough due to the follies of their leaders, and ask what chances he has of taking his people beyond the next Nandikadal with his kind of logic and rhetoric?

Wigneswaran is typical of the derelict, rudderless Tamil leader wandering in no-man’s land in the post-Prabhakaran period. With Prabhakaran the Tamils had a center to hold them together, however obnoxious he was to the civilised world horrified by his fascist violence. With Prabhakaran they had something to lean on. After him the Tamils have fallen into a vacuum and they are running around like chooks without heads. Finding a  new path that would not lead them to another Nandikadal is the task for the Tamil leadership. Threatening the nation with another round of Vadukoddai violence is counter-productive. But the rhetoric unleashed by Wigneswaran and his fellow-Vadukoddian, Ponnambalam, on the first two days in the new Parliament expose not only their obsession with the failed politics of the immediate past but also the bankruptcy of the Tamil leadership stuck at the cross-roads without a compass. To go back to regain their political leverage by militarising and weaponising their separatist politics they have to find another Prabhakaran. Neither the ground realities of the post-Nandikadal period nor the international support for Prabhakaranist terrorism is there for them to go that far. Clearly, they have to find a more viable alternative. Ponnambalam spoke arrogantly of his two state theory” as if nothing has happened since his Grandfather sparked off the first communal riots in 1939 with anti-Sinhala rhetoric in Navalapitiya.

For what it is worth, this theory must be revisited next Sunday for the pragmatic Tamils to realise that they can no longer float forever in the dark clouds that thundered and drenched them with the blood of their own people at Nandikadal.

One Response to “Disoriented Tamils at the cross-roads without a compass”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Criminals should never be allowed to contest any election and to escape jail and gallows enter Parliament. This disgraces our culture that is supposed to be great.At this rate likes of killers like Silva from the death row may contest from the death row to enter parliament or given a pardon.What country are we creating for the next generation and our politicians can’t 3whitewasw by venerating before sanga,thus disgracing that great religion.

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