A constructive way forward, to the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis

Empowering Tamil Nadu within empowered India: A constructive way forward, to the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis

By Ravi Sundaralingam

Abstract: If ‘politics’ is the domain of the professional politicians we are puzzled by the furore raised by those wanting to take decisions without ‘political-responsibilities’ in democratic countries. On the contrary, politics should be a tool of empowerment, available to everyone, not every four or five years, but to be exercised on every occasion, daily, provided constructive structures are available. However in our context, far removed from these ideal scenario we argue the Tamil Nadu politicians have the right to be involved in the ‘politics’ of Sri Lankan ethnic issue for socio-economic, socio-psychological reasons. We also argue, it is when Tamil Nadu feel empowered at the centre, with an empowered, strong India a constructive way can be found for the resolution for the crisis.

When Tamil Nadu politicians pick up the case of their suffering Tamil brethren, only twenty miles away, all sorts of cynicisms are spouted out from all corners. It may be because of the chaotic and disunited manner, without a political framework, they seem to let loose the genuine sympathy and anger of the ordinary Tamils in the state. May be also because some do not want the politicians reasserting their legitimate power over an issue hitherto a going concern for only a few; for an outsider it is very hard to say. The general accusation boils down to that the politicians are using the issue for their own party political benefits, therefore somehow morally corrupt.

 It is understandable when these objections come from our Indian brethrens, passing themselves as concerned intellectuals and observers as they have own political or personal agendas. Some who have been ardently promoting the Tigers at the expense of all other groups, at the expense of ‘pluralism’, now trying to purify their souls for the sins with the blood of Rajiv Gandhi, and the IPKF Jawans who perished in the island. Some have sought their redemption on the other side, and gone over to the Sri Lankan state, with the sole aim of liberating the Tamils from the LTTE; no change in their concept on killings or mass murder, just a readjustment about the legitimacy to kill. Few are also discovering that there are many different Tamil speaking communities suffering under the Sinhala state, and the Tamil Nadu politicians are ignorant to all these ‘newly’ unearthed facts, and they appeal with “do you know many are badly treated by the Tigers” condescending brand of conferred wisdom; presumably all of them will be better off with the Sinhala supremacist state. Some call for the defeat of the Tamil militancy by all means, as it has challenged a legitimate state, to recover the land and to impose authority over it, but with the best possible taste, of course: just politely ask the Sri Lankans to kindly refrain from aerial bombardment.

In all these, one only detect only a weak sentiment towards the suffering, and absence of understanding of the fundamental cause of that suffering; mere gesture towards the cruelty of war, alas, also the preparedness for the fatality of humanity.  It is strange and create unease within us, when minds of the finest quality, held in high regards by many of us loose their finesse and exhibit their wants than rational or humane nature. What difference would it make for the Tamils if the bombs fell on them in dozens from air-crafts or rained down on them relentlessly from multi-barrel rocket launchers? While speaking of the ignorance of their politicians they also fail to note that the Human Right Watch are now accusing Georgians of violation of Geneva Convention precisely for using such imprecise weapons indiscriminately on the South Osscestians during their misadventure recently, a people they claim to be part of a ‘legitimate’ state.

 Is it the choice of weapon that put an end to ones claim for a territory and the peoples who inhabit it for centuries? Before that state itself came into being? Or is it the fact, that any state prepared to use any form anti-people violence, including a full scale war against them in the name of destroying a group, and worse still feeling the need to articulate its atrocity in the name of one particular nation within itself, automatically terminate its claim?  Especially when those committing such ‘feats’ against minorities on territories they inherited from their colonial masters, never having convinced those peoples of collective nation building after the Whiteman’s departure?

Does India or its armed forces have the heart or the will to bomb and wage a full-scale military attack against its own citizens in Kashmir, Assam, or Naxal areas, and still expect them to become part of India?

Even for a Ceylon Tamil, experienced to the utmost confusion within our own struggle and seen that confusion perpetuated beyond endurance by our own well-meaning, but pig-headed intellectuals, the criticisms and cynicisms of the Tamil Nadu politicians by the Tamils on both shores most puzzling. Perhaps, some of us have come to view politicians and ‘politics’ as a choice between the disastrous and the unpalatable, as Kenneth Galbraith would have us believe, but why?

When Ceylon Tamils, whether a member of the Sinhala government or those fight against it ask for “Indian help, without interference”, what does it mean? Didn’t we use the Tamil Nadu politicians when we sort out their patronage in our petty fight to ascend the mole-hill, the leadership of our people? Aren’t we trying to use the Tamil Nadu politicians when we speak of Tamil as an alternative to Indian identity? Shouldn’t these be viewed in same cynical-light one sees the Tamil Nadu politician? Or should we make exceptions for the Tamils in Malaysia, despite their differences in origin and social status plead for Indian help? Aren’t these people and communities want to “use India?”

The Ceylon Tamil Expatriates are familiar with the accusations, (i) the betrayal of the LTTE by joining the Sinhala state to eject India from the island, (ii) the murder of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and (iii) the murders of EPRLF leaders in Chennai, on the soil of Tamil Nadu, amid the people who provided sanctuary and support. Most of us share the shame, pain and feeling of betrayal with them without even a murmur in protest. Some of us used to the view that understanding and acceptance of ones wrongs as a weak form of human response, may hold their ground and offer a few pitiful defence on behalf of someone else, yet, deeply repentant inside.

When recalling the status and respect we have had as a movement, the support and assistance we found from the ordinary Tamil Nadu people and their politicians, we are depressed by a greater pain realising, that there is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery as Dante Alighieri, 13th century Italian Poet observed. However, there are many other pains our Tamil Nadu brethren endure, perhaps as consequences of our actions that hurt more deeply than we appreciate or hear about.

Yet, if we could only pay attention we could see them in the brims of their eyes, and discover there are so many. The killing of TELO leader Sri Sabaratnam, and the elevation of the LTTE leader as the leader of the world Tamils, inexplicably by some of Tamil Nadu politicians, must have estranged the heart and soul of the CM, he has written so much about them, most of them in cryptic odes. AIDMK, the party under MGR promoted the LTTE to the hilt, became so violently opposed to it, it’s the leader Ms. Jayalalitha was prepared to shut anything down that uttered two syllables about the Tigers. Tamil Nadu communist parties, which are animated now, went into hibernation, except to re-release their statement on the ethnic crisis time to time.

The past fifteen years, since the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, has been a wilderness for the Tamil Nadu politicians, and our issue a taboo subject, endured with the help of an imposed or self-imposed censorship, a situation which only a few individuals could take advantage of. To the credit to its politicians, Tamil Nadu became occupied with its own economical development and its social and political institutions during this time. Therefore, their non-interference in our affairs has served well to readdress Tamil Nadu at the centre-stage of Indian politics, institute it as one of the fundamental pillars of new India and governance, without any contradictions as patriot great poet Bharathi foresaw, and become inseparable part of the state itself. Yet, the feeling of impotence in their own backyard, for all those lost years, for something they never did, must have been painful for the Tamil Nadu politicians and people.

Though as part of a movement we recall with pleasure and pain of our time on Tamil Nadu soil, it is sad to see the psychosis of fear some of us has created still lingers on, like a bad smell that would not go away. There were times when the politicians were genuinely terrified to come out to meet their own people, let alone people of Ceylon origin. No one can for sure say this nasty mist hanging around the state has fully lifted, as the mainstream politicians and leading people are still jittery about terrorism at their doorstep, and not surprisingly they are not thankful towards our contribution.

Every state has its own internal dynamics, with open and hidden variables that direct them, and India is no different. If we are to suggest that the Tamils in the Indian bureaucracy, especially in every branch of its diplomatic corps, had suffered terribly in the aftermath of the fallouts that began with the war between the LTTE and the IPKF, only those with excessive expectations of us will object. Those with the verve and expertise survived the cull, as the Tamils lost out once again, and today we see only a very few Tamils have made it up the ladder, and that is not because of lack of ability or knowledge; a heavy price Tamil Nadu and its people had to pay for their support for our movement.

When Tamil Nadu and its people feel that they have either lost out, in pain or fear, how can anyone accuse its politicians of using the Sri Lankan ethnic issue for their advantage? Even if they did why would that be wrong? Why can’t they use the issue, which made them lose heavily and that directly affect them? What is wrong for them to demand for more Tamil people in the government services, rather, the end of ‘discrimination’ against the Tamils, now they have come back from their self-imposed exile, having proven their ability adopt and change accordingly and as true Indians, and more importantly, as a high income state?

How can a people empower themselves, if they cannot use the issues they see fit to enhance their position? How can Tamil Nadu contribute constructively, if it is not empowered and at the centre, and it didn’t own the issues it has rightful ownership over due to socio-psychological reasons?

Can the Tamil Nadu politicians by their ‘political interference’ influence the lives in our homelands more than their socio-economical projects for the region?

When people of the same language are separated only by a few-miles sea, lives are inextricably linked for centuries, our cultural lives as Ceylon Tamils are so dependent on our Tamil brethren across the sea, the talk of one using the other is merely a ‘political’ stand, perhaps, to asserts each according to other and remind our particular responsibilities, and nothing more. Therefore, using each others issues and making them into ‘politics’ are as natural as ones daily duties, and to question that would be to question our very existence itself as human beings.

‘Politics is an art of the possible’ not as Otto Von Bismarck intended to say, but in its entirety, more than what he could have understood about modern and complex nations and their regional responsibilities, beyond his time. We are all political animals, if not should be, and we become informed and enlightened individuals only when we feel belonging to an empowered society. An animal that usurps and grows as a social being to become an individual not to stand alone and wither, but to advocate for its prosperity and prosper within it. Those who feel they are alien to ‘politics’ can only be those at the margins of  an exclusive society, whom some individuals may prefer to remain un-‘politicised’ and ignorant; at its lowest level, like those who dip into the deep raw swage without a bit of protected clothing, sloshed with numerous chemicals and human waste as the passing motorists in their 4-wheelers admiring their sacrifice, courage and for their being, and those beaten to death because they are ‘North Indians’ and labourers, in the streets of Mahraashtra.

For reasons outside our understanding Tamil Nadu politicians have broken through a mental barrier that may not serve the Tamils of Ceylon much this time, but will render them in good stead for their own people. In the way they have handled their actions vis-à-vis with the centre in Delhi, they have shown a political maturity that has developed alongside their economical prosperity. Only a few days ago, it would have been hard for any of us to imagine that Ms. Jeyalalitha could have put a marker for a resolution to our crisis; her recognition of our peoples right-to-self determination within a united Sri Lanka, along the line what Mr. Balasingam has proposed during the Oslo talks. The popular ‘events’ organised to vent their pent up emotions against their self-imposed conditions that prevented them from raising an opinion on our matter, also provided an opportunity to assert their entity as Tamils and Indians. They may have over reached their organisers’ markers at times, nevertheless, served their own course well.

It is the empowered Tamil Nadu within and empowered India that can argue well for a reasonable resolution for the crisis in the island. To seek it though a difference between India and Tamil Nadu, or elsewhere though a single party or political patronage can only be futile attempts that befit the ignorance of the sea change India and Tamil Nadu and its people have gone through, which some of us may still have.

However, having used our issue to empower the Tamils and Tamil Nadu how can the politicians fulfil their wishes for constructive engagements and their duties that can benefit us?

We are convinced Tamil Nadu politicians can build on what they have already achieved: behaviour and mannerism that befit a true Indian and a Tamil, responsibility and the sporadic unity shown in their actions, and their full understanding of their role as ombudsman and no more. When Indian Foreign secretary says “see how you can contribute to a solution”, when speaking to the Tamil Nadu CM, then the onus is on all the Tamil Nadu politicians.

In this respect,

(1)   They can all come to a “minimum of understanding” based on the ideas of right-to-self determination as suggested by the AIDMK leader, without party political competitions, with the view of forming a steering committee towards a resolution

(2)   The steering committee can be made up of experts on the issues and serving or retired civil servants that will have constant dialogue with Colombo, and Delhi.

 (3)   They should also address their Tamil brethren beyond their shores, in the island and elsewhere to bring about their own separate “minimum of understanding” for a possible resolution to the crisis.

(4)    They can also appoint a group of Ceylon Tamil people, after consultations, with the view of having continuous dialogue with every party, to work towards the formation of a structure appropriate for the phases that are to follow.

We would wish that these ideas and suggestion be viewed within the context of, and together with what we have already proposed in the paper titled, “Indian strategy in full circle;…” published in the SAAG web site (No 2894) recently.

Ravi Sundaralingam can be reached by E-mail: academic. secretary@gmail.com