No retreat permissible on ‘hybrid-mechanism’
Confusion in Tamil politics is understandable
by Kumar David
Seven years have passed since the LTTE was wiped out but it has not been time enough for the Tamils to find their feet. Thirty years of civil war cast a pall; the LTTE conjured up phantasmagorical images of a leader and an imagined Eelam divorced from all reality; war-crimes seared people’s lives. The Jehan Pereras, bless their souls, who advocate reason and reconciliations are a minority in Sinhalese polity. To most Sinhalese: “The LTTE has been vanquished, the Tamils ground down to their senses, all is fine. Devolution after they lost the war! What planet do these liberals and leftists inhabit!”
In the context of defeat, Sinhala indifference and ineffective governance, it is understandable that the Tamil political universe is in turmoil. Therefore when I was invited by a Tamil diaspora group, which suggested the topics to explore, I engaged my knowledgeable political colleagues and comrades in an e-mail consultation. The concerns of the group as summarised in my e-mail were:
“What on earth is going on in Tamil politics at home; it seems to be a complete mess with everybody fighting everybody? Is the TNA telling the complete truth to the Tamils or is it hiding some things? What are Wigneswaran’s motives and strategies? Will anything come out of this hybrid mechanism? What is the government’s real game plan?”
The response was large, prompt and edifying. It alerted me to how complex the issue was and taught me to appreciate the difficulties Tamils face in coming to terms with their predicament. The right thing to do, for Tamils, is not cut and dry as it is in the south; it is clear-cut for us in the south who all along grasped the importance of defeating the Rajapaksa Mafia and now keeping it at bay. In the rest of this piece I have shamelessly plagiarised these responses but take responsibility for what I have selected.
Are NPC and CM playing politics with the people?
The Northern Provincial Council’s (NPC) performance has been disappointing from the start. Chief Miniter (CM) Wigneswaran and his ministers did not organise the NPC to optimise its functions within available constitutional spaces. It could have been armed with subsidiary legislation under existing powers and done a lot. Instead it gave vent more to political opinions and less to delivery of services. A trenchant critique of the NPC and CM has come from Mylvaganam Soorisegaram, an old Trotskyist who used to work with Upali Cooray. It was circulated by e-mail and uploaded on Colombo Telegraph:(https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/logic-behind-the-actions-politics-of-the-npc/).
The two key points in the critique are; (a) the CM/NPC is obstructionist, did not implement measures for which the Central Government made resources available, was insensitive to the hardships of the people and more concerned with political mileage than practicalities; (b) CM/NPC and their Thamil Makkal Peravai (TMP) are an ideological throw back to LTTE-era Eelamist views, can lead the Tamils into another tragedy and should be defeated. Sooriyasegaram says: “Separatist ideology and an attempt to return to the barren politics of the LTTE can be seen in every one of their actions”. Others communicating with me added “CM and NPC have not spent allocated funds and that is their fault. Why is CM not spearheading a massive development plan? Why not demand more and lead the way saying ‘To hell with the military?’ Isn’t this what we want for the development of the North?”
Examples adduced in support of (a) are: The minuscule number of statutes enacted (LSSP Majority Faction comrades have told me how much they assisted CM/NPC with translation of statutes which simply languished in a drawer); the Rs 25 billion offered by the Centre for a water supply scheme for Jaffna and Kilinochchi which allegedly was sabotaged by CM/NPC; obstruction of a scheme to sort out oil pollution in the vicinity of Chunnakam power station poisoning ground water, and much else. However these allegations were refuted by other correspondents. While Sooriyasegaram alleges the NPC refused to use available funds with the intention of obscuring links with the south, others assure me that 80 to 90% of the funds have been employed. Another correspondent made the point “I find it difficult to believe the charges. It is not possible that the four ministers in charge plus the entire TNA-sourced members of the NPC are engaged in a conspiracy without the public being aware”.
A truer picture on alleged obstructionism will emerge in the disputes that are sure to explode in the coming weeks, but I wish to insert a reminder of what I said at the start. Confusion and disarray in Tamil society is not easy to overcome in the context of physical trauma spread over decades and limping impotence in central governance now.
The TNA is a collection of parties, an electoral alliance. Before the end of the war it included the ITAK, Tamil Congress (TC), LTTE supporters, TELO and EPLRF. TC and the LTTE supporters quit for the 2009 elections and EPLRF leader Suresh Premachandran lost in 2015, so now the TNA consists of the ITAK (the dominant partner), TELO and a new member PLOTE. It is not an integrated structured organism and has no forum to generate policy. Leader Sampanthan sets policy, Sumanthiran his loyal prodigy shares in decision making and engages with the international community, nominal ITAK leader Mavai Senathiraja tags along. As there is no policy making forum in the TNA (oddly even the ITAK suffers from this deficiency) amorphousness becomes a breeding ground for intrigue and jealousies. Wigneswaran is the elected CM of the NPC but excluded from formal decision making. This is one reason he is assembling a group to challenge the way the TNA functions; the other reason is that he is more of a Tamil nationalist.
The TNA helped mobilise Tamil votes for MS and RW and gave its people hope that the new government would deliver on their concerns. The Global Tamil Forum campaigned for Sirisena in January and pulled Tamil votes for the UNF in August. Now some Tamils say it is unfortunate the TNA, GTF, Sampanthan and Sumanthiran hitched their stars to this administration and if the regime fails in general or is a flop on Tamil concerns, these two worthies will be in the front row facing an executioner’s firing squad. Opponents who lost elections have united in the hope of burying them. If RW/MS fail on governance they will be powerless to combat chauvinism and deliver even crumbs to Tamils, even if they wish to, which some unjustifiably doubt.
If this government flops Lanka will be pushed back several years while the plight of the Tamils will be nasty. If this government falls in the near future I am certain Lanka will face chaos and repression on all fronts. Our best bet is to graft resolve and guts onto this government. A Tamil comrade and strong critic of the TNA says: “Despite contradictions we must recognise that for the first time since 1948 senior national leaders, President, PM, reconciliation chief Chandrika and Foreign Minister Mangala are calling in unison for a genuine political solution to the National Question. Significantly, they are in a position to mobilise two-thirds votes in Parliament, and a simple majority at a referendum. War defeated Tamils simply cannot afford to ignore this opportunity”.
The next phase
Successive betrayals by Sinhala governments (B-C Pact, Dudley-Chelva deal, emasculation of 13A) make this apprehension understandable and justifiable. I associate with numerous non-sectarian Tamil intellectuals and comrades who are keen on a sustainable political solution (not a fake like 13A minus) but for the aforesaid reasons are not prepared to condemn the TMV until the government shows its hand in draft constitutional proposals.
For good reason the Tamil struggle needs an independent voice and since the TNA is close to the regime there is a constructive role for the TMV to play. Tamils need an independent force critical yet supportive of the strategy of negotiation; this is where Wigneswaran can be a positive force without becoming a spoiler. Tamil leaders need to be less hostile to each other, appreciate the uncertainties of the current conjuncture and evolve a strategy. There is no alternative to a negotiated settlement – that’s the bottom line; they need reliable negotiators and they need monitors to keep an eye on the negotiators; this is a complementary not an antagonistic relationship. The nature of state being drafted into the constitution is a guarded secret. Very likely it will be one unit (I hope they avoid the regressive word unitary) but regional power sharing will be affirmed; the devil will be in the details.
Realists knew all along that Lanka would not be referred to the International Criminal Court once the Rajapaksas were defeated. For the first time a country accepted a UN spearheaded probe with unanimous international support. The hybrid concept is born of the perversity and duplicity of the previous regime. No one trusts Lanka’s judiciary which for a decade stooged the President. It was in this context that Britain and Canada insisted on Commonwealth judges which Ranil accepted – he knows our judiciary well enough from the time his uncle manipulated it! The US opposed Commonwealth judges in Geneva but David Cameron’s insistence got it through. I am not able to fathom the American game plan.
A friend remarked “I am worried that the Wigneswaran drama may be a US hatched plot that I don’t yet understand”. I am not alleging a US plot to strip the hybrid process of Commonwealth judges or that the US is in cahoots with the TMP – that is unbelievable – but I won’t cease to be alert.
In private conversations democratic minded government leaders insist they will not allow the investigation to become a charade and will not let the process be stripped of Commonwealth judges. I am satisfied that if the PM could have his way without fear of a racist backlash he would be of like mind; but I am not satisfied the PM is free of this fear. Months ago I advocated that the chauvinists be provoked on to the streets and then soundly thrashed, not by the state, but by mobilisation of political activists and civil society. It can still be done and after his new alignment with the trade unions the PM can appeal to the working class as well. If we confront it early we can defuse the Sinha-Le provocation, incited I have read, by stooges of a strong man in the last regime. Confronting proto-fascism on the streets is only a starting point, the long-term depends on an island wide education and consciousness building programme on pluralist democracy starting with schools and the military. My frequent pleas in this respect have been ignored by everybody; state and civil society alike.