Whither Tamil Politics ?
Posted on July 24th, 2021

Prof. N.A.de S. Amaratunga  DSc

TNA leader R.Sampanthan has called for a re-merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces and he has said that the problems Tamils face cannot be solved without the two provinces coming together. Moreover he has raised the matter with the American Ambassador Ms. Teplitz. The Tamil leader may have fired a salvo against the moves made by some nationalist groups campaigning for the abolition of the 13th Amendment which is being discussed at present by the committee assigned with the task of making a new constitution. He knows the impossibility of any governing political party granting such a demand. Even the ‘yahapalana’ regime which was  hand in glove with the TNA could not accede to TNA demands though they attempted to bring in a federal constitution. The ‘yahapalanists’ paid the price for their folly.

Tamil politics had made the decision to chart a different course and radically deviate from the main sociopolitical stream from the time of independence though there were times of  convergence and cooperation albeit of short duration. Independence and universal franchise had driven a wedge between Sinhala and Tamil leaders which was rather unfortunate for they were together  in the struggle for independence. Tamil politicians enjoyed parity of political power and suddenly they realized that their privileged position was in danger due to universal franchise which would make them a minority in the parliament. They could not reconcile with the fact that they were representatives of a minority community. What is most unfortunate is that they could not see the opportunities that were there for them to play a vital role in the development of the whole country.  The mistake the Tamil leaders committed at that time was to abandon the opportunity that was available to jointly participate in the central government and contribute to the development of not only the Tamils but also the whole country and instead choose the narrow parochial path of communal politics. This blunder has continued to plague the country and even caused the birth of terrorism and a bloody war. Power sharing at the centre by all the communities could have been a reality, ending the so called ethnic problem, if not for that grave blunder. 

The present sociopolitical chasm between the different communities had its beginnings in those early times and successive Tamil leaders have contributed to its widening instead of making an effort to achieve reconciliation. Muslim leaders had taken a page out of Tamil separatism and this has led to the emergence of Islamic terrorism too in the country. Leaders of communal politics such as SJV, Amirthalingam, Ashrof, Sampanthan, Wigneshvaran and others had adopted communal politics as their political philosophy and this had caused an intractable communal problem in Sri Lanka. Instead of advocating a common ownership for the whole country they started to carve out territories with no regard to the historical fact that a certain community had developed a civilization on this land and therefore have a claim to the entirety of it. The fact that the evidence of that civilization is strewn all over this land is of no consequence to the Tamil politicians. On the contrary every effort is made to distort this history. Could such leaders contribute towards reconciliation.

For Tamil political leaders communal harmony is an anathema. They need disharmony to create issues and slogans for their political survival. Knowing very well that no major political party could afford to grant their demands without committing political suicide these Tamil leaders continue their demands mainly to keep the fires of discord burning in the hearts of communities which would ensure their political survival. Sampanthan asking for the merger of the North and East has to be viewed in that background. American Ambassador too would welcome such signs of communal discord. They would not want to see communal harmony being achieved in Sri Lanka. That would not fit their grand designs for the country and this region. This is why they helped the LTTE to develop into the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world. The Tamil separatist agenda suits the imperialist’s geopolitical agenda very well. And they are holding the poor Tamil people at ransom in the pursuit of their dastardly agendas.

It is time Tamil leaders thought about this country. The game of political expedience they engage in will not help the Tamil people. Attempt to distort history is childish to say the least. The aim here is to create in the minds of ordinary Tamils that they have been denied their heritage, their lands and their culture. A discontented frustrated people would serve the purpose of the Tamil politicians as well as the imperialists. A permanently destabilized country which is the aim of the imperialists would not help the Tamils. Tamil leaders must realize the futility of pursuing this kind of political philosophy.

Tamil intellectuals often talk about a Tamil Course and  Tamil struggle that have been continuing since independence. The nature of this problem has never been defined in clear terms. If they describe it in terms of the need for self determination of the Tamils the counter argument would be that more than 50% of the Tamils live outside the North and the East. They cannot talk about issues concerning language, religion, education, employment, culture or infra structure for all of that have been resolved and Tamils are equal if not better off compared to Sinhalese. But the discourse on the Tamil problem continues in vague abstract terms which attempts to portray the Tamils as an oppressed group of people. This is an attempt to keep the Tamil people in a perpetual state of discontent. Yet this discourse is incomplete unless it contends with the rupture that occurred at the time of independence referred to above and convincingly show that that was not the origin of the Tamil problem. But the discourse studiously avoids any reference to those historical beginnings of the Tamil problem.

However the solution to the problem may lie in that historical error and the missed opportunities discussed above. The failure of the then Tamil leadership to face up to reality and decide on a political arrangement for power sharing at the centre has led to the creation of a situation that could be amplified by separatists into a huge problem. If leaders like Ponnambalam Ramanathan didn’t commit the mistake of misrepresenting historical facts about Tamil habitation on this land and their role in its civilization there would not have been such a Tamil problem. They should have sought political inclusiveness for Tamils at that time not by asking for 50% representation or a separate state for Tamils but by negotiating an arrangement that fits the magnitude of the problem. Instead the Tamil history in the country was blown up to fit their separatist agenda. This historical error has remained to plague the country. 

At least now after so much blood and tears the Tamil leadership must make an attempt to correct that historical error. They must realize the grave injustice they commit against their own community. They must know the immense benefits that would accrue to the Tamils if there is communal harmony. In the areas of economy, trade and commerce there could be greater inter communal activity bringing much profit to Tamils. All communities could participate without harboured acrimony in economic, social and cultural activities to a much greater degree. Such endevours would be more successful if there is unity and harmony.

If instead the Tamil leaders continue to make demands like Mr. Sampanthan  it would only cause feelings of bitterness on both sides of the divide. Extremism begets extremism. Sinhalese will close rank like they did in 2019 and will not allow minority politics to hold the country to ransom. They must think of the future of the Tamils and try to build a country conducive for communal harmony. A merger of North and East would create pockets of minorities who in their own country would feel second class. Instead a central power sharing mechanism could be worked out for the good of everybody. Peripheral administration could be facilitated by creating a system of District Councils which could reflect the ethnic composition more accurately and which will not create minorities within a devolved unit. Time is opportune for such a course of action as a new constitution is being constructed. If this opportunity is missed it would be a repetition of the mistake Tamil leaders committed at the time of independence.

Prof. N.A.de S. Amaratunga  DSc

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