By TU Senan –
The West’s conscious promotion of ‘moderates’
The brutal end of the war in 2009 had demoralised en masse not just the Tamils living in Sri Lanka but also those in the diaspora. But that onslaught was not a complete defeat for the idea of struggle. The mood was such that the leaflet with the headline, “struggle must go on,” was grabbed by the crowd. The Tamil Solidarity campaign was the first to produce such material to lift the mood of the people, and constantly ran out of their leaflets. The idea of struggle was not defeated. The oppressed Tamils in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora maintained their hope for struggle. The idea that a decisive struggle is needed to win concessions and most of all a meaningful solution – ie one that can satisfy the long-standing national aspiration of the Tamils – was strengthened by the genocidal slaughter. Various groups emerged who initially campaigned for justice for the war victims, human rights, and improving other democratic conditions. The idea of a ‘return to normalcy’ was supported by all groups – not as a compromise or indicating they had ‘given up’ – but because they saw it as a necessary step towards building future struggles.
The centrality of the idea of the struggle – particularly among the diaspora – is seen as a ‘potential danger’ not just by the Sri Lankan government, but also by the western governments. It is important to say from the outset that the actions of Western governments, referred to also as the West, do not reflect the mood or desires of the 99% of the populations in these countries. After all what is foreign policy but an extension of domestic policy abroad? and the domestic policy is dominated by attacks on living standards and democratic rights. The International Crisis Group, whose reports are used by the western establishment to understand the situation, published a special report on the question of diaspora in 2010. The ICG was then less ‘subtle’ in its wording – such was the heightened mood that existed among the youth then. It warned against potential radicalisation, arguing:
“In the closing months of the war, many young Western Tamils believed that if they played by the rules of their democracies, the West would ultimately broker a settlement between the LTTE and the government, saving thousands of lives. That this did not happen was a demoralising lesson in democracy for young, first-time protesters. As a result, a number of Tamils lost faith in the West and the democratic process ever delivering anything for Tamils. A young Tamil activist in Toronto explained that many “have lost trust in their government and no longer feel primarily Canadian”. He said that, “There’s fear in the community of where this will lead”.
This was a correct assessment. A strategy of ‘convincing the sceptical crowd’ that took various shapes emerged from the West. The first condition before any negotiations can take place, repeated zillions of times to all the active layer and organisations, is that they must renounce the LTTE. The UN report published in 2011 levelled its attack against the diaspora. Disgracefully that report argued:
“Some refuse to acknowledge the LTTE’s role in the humanitarian disaster in the Vanni, which is creating a further obstacle to accountability and sustainable peace.” (Read the full review here – Two years after the massacre – UN produces words but no action.)
To kill any potential attempt to struggle – or even a discourse of struggle – the West aims to alienate all those forces who maintained or argued for the continuation of struggle. They directly promoted the so-called ‘moderate’ forces who will agree with them rather than argue the case for human rights and justice. They wanted youth to do a ‘civilised advocacy’ rather than demanding justice – which they characterised as “bullying”! (Refer to the above ICG report).
In the diaspora they identified individuals they felt they could promote. Although the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) does not have mass support in the diaspora, it is promoted as the voice of Tamils. Money came with this endorsement, further strengthening it. This is the short story of how such moderates received a helping hand from the West to grab the leadership among the diaspora. They have been carefully promoted by the West, not due to ‘talent’ or ‘ability’ or ‘services to humanity’ but because they are ready to capitulate to the West’s interests.
To kill the idea of struggle
Support for the idea of working with the West is manufactured by these elevated ‘moderates’. This is not a ground reality. People remained sceptical of the West despite hoping against hope that some good may come out of it. The British Tamils Forum (BTF), another diaspora organisation which has significant influence in the UK, further demobilised the masses by arguing that every effort should be directed to lobbying the West. And as is normal in such scenarios, the closer they came to the ‘diplomacy’ of the West, the further they travelled from the idea of struggle. This of course helped to strengthen the hands of the most right-wing forces within these organisations. Now most of the leaders of these so-called ‘diaspora organisations’ are Conservative Party members or supporters. They have no link whatsoever to the struggling masses. These Conservatives often argued that they will have to work with right-wing forces to “advance the interests of Tamils”. They argued that they are prepared to work with any devil to reach that aim. With this argument they established close links with right-wing politics. None of these leaders has shown any enthusiasm or readiness to congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on his incredible victory in the Labour Party leadership election – although they may have been very quick when previous leaders won that role. Their readiness to deal with any devils to advance Tamils’ interests doesn’t apply when it comes to dealing with those who clearly challenge austerity, war and the status quo. This shows the right-wing character of these self-proclaimed leaders.
While this morphing of political ideology was taking place among the diaspora leaders, the TNA leaders also gained confidence to express their real political character. To tell the truth, the TNA always feared the diaspora. They feared its influence and political critique. They still mobilise the Tamils in Sri Lanka by claiming to be the sole ‘supporters of the LTTE’ and on the basis of Tamil nationalism. They know very well that an open critique of the past struggle or the LTTE will jeopardise their vote base. So they carefully construct their campaign to condition the masses to accept capitulation. That means they insist on both their extremely limited ambitions of what can be achieved and the extremely limited ability of any forces outside of pro-capitalist Western
governments to achieve successes. They are wrong, utterly wrong.
Now they are claiming victory with the current UNHRC report. With it they hope to complete the process of liberalisation of the struggle. This was evident in the meetings that the TNA and GTF organised in Europe recently. M.A. Sumanthiran declared that this report is a result of conducting an international inquiry into war crimes. The TNA leaders are claiming “this report is the best that they can get”. Together with the GTF and BTF they are championing the West and campaigning for the support of the West. UK members of the TNA urge the masses to thank the United States for the report. Sumanthiran attacked Thirumurugan Ghandhi (May 17 Movement leader in Tamil Nadu, who heavily criticised the UN report) and others who protested against the report as “scoundrels”. “You burn the US flag, then why did you come to the UN?” asks another TNA ‘think tank’. Sumanthiran further attacked the protesters in general as “uncivilised”. If you have to protest it has to be civilised says Sumanthiran. You have a “luxury of criticism which you are abusing – don’t antagonise the countries that are helping” says another wise voice of the TNA. (In a meeting held in London on 19/09/2015).
They advised the Tamils that they have to be “clever” to do the politics – indirectly dismissing all those working to build struggle as “idiots”. They have adopted the language of the West and the Sri Lankan government. To protest is to bully – that is what we have been told in the past by the establishment. We have told by the Mahinda regime that there are no minorities and Tamils have to learn to live as “equal citizens” in Sri Lanka in the same as the way they live in other countries! Now, outrageously, this language is adopted by the TNA and the GTF leaders. No surprise then that little noise is made against the TNA by the Sinhala chauvinists inside Sri Lanka.
The tone of Sumanthiran is one that is familiar – reminding us of the Jaffna superiority complex. He believes in his ability to crush the heads of protesters with his ‘simple logic’. His arrogant arguments sound ‘reasonable’ only to those who are already tuned in for the capitulation discourse. Sumanthiran often reminds his audience that he is a lawyer. “As a lawyer”, he claimed the “premature” push for the genocidal claim is a “legal blunder”. ‘You have to prepare for it and only take it to the court when it is winnable’ – advises the lawyer. His failure is to explain how this blunder is made by the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) which is controlled by the TNA. Why wouldn’t the TNA vote against the so-called ‘genocide resolution’ that was passed in the NPC. Of course that’s a doing of chief minister – doing things in a ‘closed room’ apparently.
The current TNA leadership’s hostility to the CM is evident from their tone. They are vehement. The CM should expect harsh treatment from them in the future. What was his crime in their eyes? He made critical remarks about the TNA leaders, saying they are out of touch with the ground reality and don’t give any opportunity to young people. This criticism is widely accepted by many – even by those who are part of the TNA. By contrast, Sumanthiran brags among the diaspora Tamils that he understands the mood on the ground and accuses the diaspora that they don’t. People on the ‘ground’ know well how poor Sumanthiran’s judgements are. So far, only during the election time, did he even bother to meet people. He, like many key leaders of the TNA, entered politics through the back door. He came to prominence through appointment rather than working to earn authority among the masses to gain a leadership position. Now they feel they have a right to bully those working among the people.
The fact remains that none of these leaders would win a considerable vote if they stood alone. The TNA ‘brand’ is currently seen as the only option available through which the Tamils can express their protest. The TNA leaders rally on this protest – while working hard to kill it. But the TNA claims the votes it receives as a mandate for their right-wing ideology. This unconditional support of the Tamil masses gave these leaders the opportunity of space and time to shift the political ideology to the right. As a result the struggle for winning the rights of Tamils had taken a back seat.
Sumanthiran claimed that the Tamils’ demands will be satisfied if Ranil and Maithri accept the demand for federalism and that their ultimate aim is to “negotiate” for that. He further claimed the aim is to achieve “equal citizenship”. It’s strange that our ‘lawyer’ did not study the constitution properly. Fundamentally all constitutions agree with equal citizenship. But no matter what the agreements will be in relation to the constitution, the division will continue as long as the political establishment in the south is dominated by a minority bourgeois Sinhala nationalist force. Racism is illegal in many countries in the West and blacks and Asians are supposed to be equal citizens. Did it achieve equality or abolish racism? No.
Sumanthiran and the current TNA leadership appear to have no idea and no care for the danger of political processes that can create all sort of divisions and inequality in society. There is no understanding of history: of how the division between the Sinhala and Tamil population deepened; who and what politics were responsible for that process, etc. This hope of winning federalism through “negotiations” is not new. Tamil elites in the past have a record of compromising oppressed people’s interests and securing their own position with the same arguments. They always took the side of the capitalists to achieve their goal; it is their failure that led many youth to seek alternative methods of struggle.
The TNA leaders cannot kill the struggle. Unknown to them opposition is emerging in the north, particularly among young people in Sri Lanka against this right wing ideology. This will find its political expression and – especially if it can seek an ally in the oppressed Sinhala workers and youth – can become a powerful force. That will require an understanding of the lessons of history that can arm the formation of a new leadership. The TNA is redundant in the building of such a struggle – it can neither provide a platform nor act as a vehicle for it. Instead they will play their traditional role, of serving the interests of the oppressing forces inside and outside the country. But, given the historic social and political crisis and the determination emerging to not accept the limited perspective of the TNA and their co-thinkers, there is no doubt that a new organisation will emerge.