Kumar David in his essay last week has done well to take the bull by the horns and pose the question in his own words why the LTTE has a substantial degree of support among Tamils despite the fact that there is no semblance of democratic and human rights in the land of the Tiger.
He recognises that there are sensitive Sinhalese who sympathise with if not support the Tamil cause but concedes that they themselves are baffled by this apparent contradiction. And underlying it one feels is a residual feeling of nostalgia for the gulf between a time when old Samasamajists like my old comrade Kumar of our mutual Kandy days looked forward to a grand alliance between Sinhala and Tamil Marxists and the future one-party state of the LTTE's fondest hopes to which this today has deteriorated.
Since Kumar writes partially in the hope of inviting a response may I as a 'sensitive Sinhalese' I hope butt in but with little hope of being understood by the generality of my community. As Kumar rightly points out the Tamils see the LTTE as their champions in the face of the military onslaughts and human right repressions of the majoritarian Sinhala state since Independence beginning with the disenfranchisement of the plantation workers of Indian origin and stretching through the Sinhala Only Bill, Colonisation of Tamil areas and the attacks on the Tamil people from 1958 to 1983, actions of both UNP and SLFP Governments.
It was this Tamil identification with the Tiger (the archetypal Chola symbol) which made the LTTE the 'boys' and Prabhakaran 'Tambi' in those halcyon days before the Tiger's began clawing down their own rival groups.
But let us go back a little to a more hopeful time when the LSSP and the CP saw a socialist future where the Sinhala and Tamil masses would walk under one banner to the New Jerusalem. In fact it was the CP which made some headway in this direction by getting into Parliament MPs such as P. Kandiah while that quixotic communist N. Sanmugathasan organised the depressed classes to storm the Hindu bastions of the Brahmin classes.
Something of this idyllic Sinhala-Tamil solidarity can be seen in A. Sivanandan's monumental novel 'When Memory Dies' while the best ideological argument for such solidarity was of course 'Which way for the Tamil-speaking people?' written by Kumar's older comrade V. Karalasingham in the 1960's.
These Utopian hopes however crumbled in the face of both Sinhala majoritarianism and the Brahminical politics of the Federal Party. (The Tamil Congress was merely a cypher). The LSSP and CP did not help matters either when in coalition with the SLFP from 1965 they raised the infamous 'masala vadai' line in chagrin because the Federal Party had joined the UNP in the so-called National Government of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake.
But yet after the United Front Government was formed with such high hopes in 1970 I recollect with some nostalgia Kumar and I penning an article for the LSSP's 'Janasathiya' (we met at Hotel Surasa in Kandy) seeking again to revive that old Sinhala-Tamil Socialist nexus. But little did we realise then that 'Thambi' was already preening himself for the act.
It is perhaps not within Kumar's ambit to answer the question why Socialist Solidarity was superseded by Tamil nationalism (now decayed into autocracy) but one suspects particularly after the experiences of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc that nationalism is a much more potent force than the Marxist prophets envisaged. But what I am sceptical as against Kumar is about how prepared the Sinhala establishment will be to grant the highest degree of autonomy to the Tamils or go into new constitutional arrangements particularly if the unitary state has to be re-conceptualised.
Kumar may be correct when he says that secession (that spectre which haunts the Sinhala psyche) will only be possible with international support and Indian complicity (which he dismisses as an impossibility with the LTTE's culpability in the Rajiv Gandhi murder) but we have learnt from bitter experience that old fears die hard and ancestral spectres are not easily exorcised by any cabal of conflict resolution experts, peace merchants or sadhus.
As Kumar says the JVP and the JHU may have lost much of their clout as a result of the local elections but their influence when it comes to a crunch can not be discounted. And surely there is a kind of inverse chauvinism when Kumar talks of 'some fireworks from the Tigers costly in military lives' (rather cynical that) which he sees as the reason for President Rajapaksa's supposed 'backsliding.'
He is also too sanguine if he expects the President to place the unitary, federal options let alone asymmetrical devolution on the negotiating table in the face of continued provocations by the LTTE (or is it fireworks?) and the mealy-mouthed utterances of Mr. Balasingham.
This is why the 'shackles' of Kumar's description are by no means removed for the whole resolution of the National Question revolves not round the Colombo regime but the quasi-state rotating round Prabhakaran who shows no sign of relenting. [Courtesy: Sunday Observer]