Denial of self determination and autonomy legitimates
By V. Thirunavukkarasu
I write this article with reference to the speech that appeared in the press, reported to
have been made recently by Mr K.H.J Wijedasa, former Secretary to the late President
R. Premadasa, at a seminar organized by the World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka.
Tracing the history of events leading up to the P-TOMS, Wijedasa takes one's mind
back to the “early 1970s, when the Mayor of Jaffna was gunned down by the ‘boys.’
Of course, assassinations are no answer to political questions, and everyone has to
bear this in mind, including those responsible for gunning down the late Mr S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike in 1959. Wijedasa did not think it fit to make at least a passing
reference to the preceding three-decade-long non violent campaigns by the Tamils, to
secure their political and economic rights, to live in dignity, within a united Sri Lanka
(then Ceylon). For, the ‘boys’ came to the fore, given the absolute futility of all such
campaigns, and pacts entered into with Tamil leaders, but unilaterally broken by the
Wijedasa states that the communal carnage of 1983 caused a major rift between the
Sinhalese and the Tamils. Actually, the rift was not between the Sinhalese and Tamils,
but between the Oppressor State and the oppressed Tamil-speaking people. In fact,
the rift dates back to the 1920s, when cleavages surfaced between Sinhala and Tamil
leaders within the Ceylon National Congress, on account of marginalization of the
latter, then the pan Sinhala Cabinet (1930s), the State-sponsored Sinhala colonization
(from l930s) of Tamil areas in the Northeast, and the Sinhala Only Act (1950s), to cap
it all. State repression to crush peaceful struggles of the Tamils, paved the way for
armed struggle by the Tamils. The Sinhala Only Act really pushed the Tamils to
second class status and thus polarized them, with simmering discontent ever growing,
until it reached bursting point, further fuelled with the standardization of marks of Tamil
students, so as to deny them access to higher education.
Besides 1983 (Black July), the carnage of 1958 too was horrendous enough to prompt
the then doyen of journalism, Tarzie Vitachchi, to bemoan the atrocities heaped on the
Tamils as "man's inhumanity to man, that signalled the parting of ways between the
Sinhalese and the Tamils". (Emergency '58 - Tarzie Vitachchi)
Thimpu Principles - 1985
Wijedasa contends that the “so-called Thimpu principles” further widened the rift,
because they stood for a non existent traditional homeland and nationhood. This
assertion is nothing but the threadbare stereotype to which, the hardline Sinhala
chauvinist lobby continues to cling to, much to the detriment of the country's unity and
progress. Blind refusal to accept the political reality of a Tamil majority region, with a
legitimate democractic right to self determination and autonomy, in turn, provided
ample steam to propel the demand for an outright separate State since the 1970s,
and the emergence of armed struggle.
“What is wrong about the Tamils calling an area, which they consider as safe and
secure, as their homeland?,” is the question posed by veteran journalist Lucien
Rajakarunanayake, mid-August this year, at a Seminar on the theme of "Peace
process and the use of the media,” organized by the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs
and National Integration. Lucien did point out, inter alia, that Tamils who lived in
Colombo were dispatched to Jaffna, Trinco etc., by ships, during the 1958 riots and
again in 1983, to - Vavuniya, Jaffna etc. in lorries and ships by the Government( as
happened also during the 1977 riots which surpassed those of 1958). ; “What then,”
Lucien queries, “is wrong in the Tamils as well as the State considering territories
where the Tamils are safe as their homeland?”
The Thimpu principles demanded, not a separate State, but acceptance of the
concepts of homeland and right of self determination and full citizenship rights for all
the Plantation sector Tamils. It was all arbitrarily rejected by the Government
delegation led by President’s Counsel H.W. Jayewardene, brother of then President J.
R. Jayewardene. Another eminent lawyer and former UNP/SLFP MP S.L Gunasekera,
who has always opposed, tooth and nail, any demand of the Tamils for power sharing,
was one of its members. Given their Sinhala, majoritarian, hegemonic mindset, they
paid scant regard for the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people. It is in such a
convoluted spirit that even the P- TOMS has been slammed by hardliners as a
blueprint for a separate State.
Moving to the Eastern Province, Wijedasa maintains that though the Muslims speak
the Tamil language, the Muslims and the Tamils are poles apart in all other respects. It
is clearly fallacious to say so. For, Tamils and Muslims have lived in harmony, side by
side, for generations. There were Muslim MPs who had won elections on the Federal
Party ticket. The late M.H.M. Ashraff was a young member of the FP. The Sinhala
majoritarian State has alienated, not only the Tamils, but the Muslims as well, and then
adopts a divide and rule tactic, occasionally shedding crocodile tears for the Muslims.
It really amuses one, when Wijedasa states that 500,000 Muslims and 400,000
Sinhalese, making up 60% of the Eastern Province, face the threat of being forced out
of the East. It has been a ploy for the Sinhala hardliners to lump the Muslims with the
Sinhalese, just to show that the Tamils constitute a weak segment in the East, just to
deny their claim to homeland and self determination. Contrariwise, it is the recognition
of such a claim that would avert the separatist demand and bring about unity and
political stability. “Nothing will grow without political stability,” emphasized former
Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, in a speech delivered in Colombo
less than two months ago at a CIMA-sponsored seminar.
Wijedasa calls this a 4-letter dirty word, rejoicing that it has been placed in cold
storage, thanks to local opposition and international pressure. He then contends that
the ISGA was unsolicited and unilateral. This is not so. Actually, ISGA was the LTTE's
response to the inadequate and imprecise nature of the proposal for an interim
administration, submitted by the then UNF regime, not just once, but twice over.
President Kumaratunga's initial reaction to the ISGA was that it could be taken up for
discussion, notwithstanding her own view, as well as the SLFP's position, that it was a
blueprint for a separate State. One has to remember that the demand for a separate
State, made by the Tamils, even before the LTTE emerged, has a historical
background of struggles waged by the Tamils for three decades, that proved
absolutely futile, and that is clearly why armed struggle emerged in the late 1970s, as
already pointed out.
The LTTE has admitted that all controversial questions could be ironed out across the
table. This has been stated by none other than Prabakaran in the 2004 “Heroes Day”
message, delivered less than a month after the submission of the ISGA, adding that
the Tamils are "still willing to co-exist in this beautiful Island", provided the powers-that-
be created the conditions necessary for that purpose.
On this question, Wijesasa says that the LTTE has been ably assisted by Norway, and
aided and abetted by the International community, applying P-TOMS only to the North-
East as a step toward a separate State. He further argues it should have been
extended to the Western and Southern Provinces as well in the name of equity and
fair play. This is an implicit admission that P-TOMS per se, isn't bad in spirit and can,
in no way, be called a scaled down version of the ISGA. Any student of politics will
know that P-TOMS was conceived for the North-East, given the ground reality that
there are separate Government controlled, as well as LTTE controlled areas, and so
engaging the LTTE is necessary, not only for delivering tsunami relief and
reconstruction, but also for confidence building, to take the peace process forward.
It is not proposed to go into the details of P-TOMS, given the interim stay order
obtained by the JVP from the Supreme Count, Moreover, UPFA Presidential candidate
Rajapakse has vowed to scrap it, if elected as President, in exchange for support from
the JVP and the JHU, for his candidature.
While Wijedasa faults the Government for not extending P-TOMS to the South and
West, he also complains that it cannot be forced down the throats of the Eastern
Province because, it has a combined 60% Muslim-Sinhala population. Didn't the
tsunami teach a resounding lesson not to go by communal considerations etc. Why
resort to parochial, inflammatory inputs, even in the matter of delivering relief,
following the most unprecedented tsunami disaster?
The Federal demand made by Tamils, in the early 1950s, was misrepresented by
opportunist politicians in the South, as separatist poison, just to gain pyrrhic political
mileage. Wijedasa laments now that there is no firm commitment from the LTTE to
federalism. Why forget that LTTE chief spokesperson, Anton Balasingham, dropped
the demand for a separate State in the very first round of talks at Sattahip, in
September 2002, and later subscribed to the Oslo/Tokyo documents concerning the
question of exploring a federal solution, in the areas of historical habitation of Tamils,
acceptable to all communities.
Now, come to think of it, Singapore and Malaysia were far behind Sri Lanka (then
Ceylon) in the 1950s. In fact, Singapore's former Premier Lee Quan Yew's target then,
was to catch up with Sri Lanka. Lo and behold, Singapore has since traversed from
third world to first world status, prides Lee in his recent memoirs.
As regards the phenomenal rise of Malaysia to its present status, the recipe has been
political stability, unity, humility and dedication, as has been underscored by ex
Malaysian Premier, Mahathir Mohamed.
In conclusion, it must be stressed that it is really the Sinhala extremists and inveterate
hardliners, who have all along 'Worked overtime to make the soil fertile for the
separatist demand of the Tamils. Their outcry has always been that any demand by
the Tamils for power sharing is a step for a separate State.
Time is running out, and the forebodings continue to be ominous. The Presidential
elections are only weeks away. Whatever the outcome, the end product is unlikely to
be significantly different in the matter of nation building, judging from the track record
of both the UNP and the SLFP, unless both parties genuinely adopt a solid,
consensual, bipartisan approach, to resolve the Tamil national question, via a federal
solution, in order to put the country back on track. On the contrary, to form unholy
alliances with motley racist, religious formations, just to grab power, will be most
foolhardy and counter productive. (The writer is a former Member of the Colombo
Municipal Council) [Courtesy: Daily Mirror]