It is worth commenting on this issue of self-determination and federalism. It has, once again, become a ‘hot’ issue. These are proscribed words that have been expunged from the common political vocabulary and discourse. Words that can immediately incite feelings of fear, terror, anger and suspicion, even among liberals and moderates. This is because, the concepts self-determination and federalism have come to be equated with ‘separatist terrorism’ and the LTTE, among the broad masses, professionals and intellectuals. Of course, they have become the opening volley of the neo-fascist chauvinist marauders and their ideologues. The issue of self-determination and federalism is most current, with the Chief Minister of the Northern Province- Hon. Vigneswaran – openly declaring his view in public. His view is that any political solution to the National Question must be sought within a federal framework, based on the recognition of the inalienable right of the Tamil people to nationhood and statehood – that is, the right of self-determination.
First of all, this is a principled stand that takes exceptional courage of conviction. For one thing, the war on the part of the Lankan State waged by the Rajapakse Regime was designed and executed as a ‘war of national liberation of the Sinhala-Buddhist nation against a ‘Tamil terrorist conspiracy with a separatist agenda, led and dominated by the LTTE’. This chauvinist-supremacist ideology, politics and its accompanying military doctrine had a definite objective. That was to decapitate the head – the top leadership and cadre- of the LTTE and quartering its political and organizational body apart, and by that action. to liquidate the dream and aspiration for self-determination –seed, root and branch. The war was aimed at the final and decisive violent liquidation of the fundamental democratic right of the Tamil people to exercise nationhood and statehood. The war was to liquidate the LTTE, and with it, vanquish any dream or aspiration for independence and freedom. The war was mobilized based on ‘patriotism’. All those who opposed or resisted were treated as traitors. The war was most explicitly intended to impose the political will of the Sinhala-Buddhist Nation over all of society, as one, undivided, united country, expressed in the form of the Unitary State, forever under the command of the ruling Rajapaksa dynasty. Forget about the fact that under this Regime, the “Motherland” was open to plunder by the most rapacious drug dealers, international racketeers, and financiers that formed a crony-mafia cabal that robbed the people, amassed fortunes and ran the economy and the country to the ground.
That was a military project and a political agenda that have had lasting and most dreadful consequences. Now, the principle of the unitary state has come to embody and concentrate that majestic and heroic political, ideological and military victory over the ‘alien Dravidian forces and foreign powers’ that had conspired to divide the country and destroy the besieged Sinhala-Buddhist nation and civilization’. The Unitary State has been sanctified with the blood of the Tamil people and stands as a symbol of undisputed Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy and hegemony over the whole of the island and its people. No one in his right mind would even think of challenging this established and entrenched ideological, political and military status quo, lest he be branded and hounded as a torchbearer for the LTTE, and an agent of its separatist –terrorist agenda. The very thought, let alone any discussion, agitation, activity and struggle, on the question of self-determination and separation has been proscribed by the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, and is punishable for up to 20 in years in jail, and confiscation of all property. This is how the political frame and environment, and the political game, has been effectively constructed, where the defense of the unitary state is drawn as a dividing line between patriots and traitors, to be targeted as enemies of the State.
Federalism is a means of giving expression to the right of national self-determination, which means the right to form one’s own state, as an independent and fully-fledged nation. It incorporates the democratic right of nationhood and statehood. But it is this very demand, this fundamental democratic right and aspiration that had been buried in rivers of blood through the war of military conquest and occupation – at great cost and sacrifice! How dare does one think of snatching this glorious victory by raising the voice of federalism. It certainly would take exceptional courage of conviction for Hon. Vigneswaran to dare to challenge this ‘historic verdict’ of the final and decisive liquidation of Tamil nationhood and statehood. With this position, Vigneswaran has opened a veritable tinder box, where all stripes of political snakes and vipers shall come out to hunt and prey. Vigneswaran is blamed and even accused by many for being selfish, irresponsible and senselessly radical. He is vilified by some for capitulating to narrow nationalism and tailing the LTTE. He is caricatured as one who has become divorced from the people and who lives in a subjective world of his imaginary dreams and illusions.
It can be said that there are three distinct ideological and political trends within the Tamil national movement, reflecting the various class forces at play. One extreme nationalist trend clearly and unequivocally calls for a separate, independent state of a Greater Tamil Eelam. These are the ambitions of the relatively marginalized big compradors, who see no stakes in the present game and dispensation. The other extreme is the one that places all hopes on the present Ranil-Sirisena Regime and the Lankan State to deliver some acceptable solution – acceptable to them so they may share some power, and also some share of the spoils of imperialist exploitation and plunder. These trends are represented by the dominant landlord/comprador classes, who wish to bargain with imperialism, the regional status quo and the Regime for some autonomous share of power – , in gleeful unity with the brotherhood of oppressors. These forces, generally, are referred to as the ‘moderates’. This is because they are so flexible and eager to compromise with the State and the prevailing ruling status quo, that they could be relied upon to totally capitulate and become part of enforcing the game of the oppressors. Then there is Hon Vigneswaran, heading the Tamil People’s Council and the Northern Provincial Council, who stands uncompromisingly for a political solution based on recognition of the right of national self-determination to be exercised within a united country and shared sovereignty, that is, within a federal framework. That is the essence of the proposal for a federal solution.
In my considered view, in relation to the prevailing spectrum and landscape of opportunist bourgeois politics of the Tamil nation, this stand represents the most advanced, principled and balanced viewpoint of the Tamil national liberation struggle. Unlike those capitulating comprador – landlord forces, who would grovel before, and get kicked around by the hegemonic, chauvinist, supremacist Sinhala-Buddhist State and its terminally corrupt and vicious ruling class, Vigneswaran has objectively stood for the dignity, equality, security, autonomy and democratic freedom of the Tamil nation. He has declared his stand for the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lanka and its people, based on a system of shared power- both at the center and the periphery. This is while reaching out to the oppressed Sinhala masses in powerful symbolic gestures and measures of solidarity. In these respects, Hon. Vigneswaran has demonstrated exceptional qualities of statesmanship – as an honest, committed, progressive bourgeois democratic force. The federal solution is offered as a negotiating platform, subject to discussion and mutual compromise from all sides. However, it is clear that any negotiated settlement must be based on respect for the right of national self-determination of the Tamil people.
Federalism is a constitutional principle and a form of State that can guarantee the broadest and fullest autonomy and democratic freedom for diverse nations to realize their national-democratic aspirations, based on relations of unity, solidarity and cooperation, for the common good. The struggle for the right of self-determination is a struggle for freedom and independence. It is a struggle to be liberated from national oppression and subjugation. It is a struggle aimed at the oppressor by the oppressed, to overthrow oppression – no matter who leads it. Therefore, any democratic political settlement must be based on recognizing the right of self-determination. Recognition of the democratic right of self-determination is not a call for separation. In proven fact and deed, federalism is the best solution to prevent separation, since it offers a way for all the diverse nationalities and communities to share their Land and their Future, together as a human community and as an inseparable, indivisible Nation, bound by relations of voluntary union, conscious choice and positive coexistence.
The principled stand taken by Wigneswaran and his call for a federal solution may not appear practical or pragmatic. He may be criticized, as he is, for going back to the pre-war era, for holding on to the legacy of the armed struggle and still grieving for the loss and sacrifice, and for raking up the ghost of the LTTE and so on. He is being lambasted for being provocative, extreme, radical and irresponsible; for providing the necessary ammunition to the chauvinist-fascist camp to derail the’ liberal-pluralist’ Ranil-Sirisena Reforms.
Well, the first thing to say is that no liberation struggle can ever win victory by playing up to the oppressor, playing his game, and waiting until freedom is delivered on a golden platter. If you really wish to struggle for liberation, to fight to win freedom, you cannot play by the rules of the game. This game has been set up to force and channel all opposition and resistance into a choice between various fractions of the very same ruling class. Then, you are forced to choose between this or that oppressor, to keep the system of oppression going. You cannot abide by the framework, the terms, conditions, even the vocabulary imposed and enforced by the oppressor. You must have faith in your own conviction and rely on your own strength, to generate the peak of conscious energy for standing for truth and principle, above all else. You must formulate your own objectives, define your principles and methods of struggle, and make up the framework in which you need to fight and win – on your terms. Well, if being pragmatic and reasonable means that you have to capitulate to the enemy and betray the people and the struggle for liberation, just to satisfy the status quo, then, by all means, you have to be most radical, provocative and challenging against the status–quo.
In my opinion, the prevailing Lankan State is a creation by colonial powers to keep us forever in (neo) colonial subjugation, which is managed and controlled by a class of Comprador-Bureaucratic Capitalists, tied to Imperialism. It has been designed and structured as a majoritarian, hegemonic, chauvinist class dictatorship, based on greasing, perpetuating and living off the system of imperialist exploitation, profit and plunder. ‘Divide and conquer’ is an integral part of division and suppression of the mass revolutionary class struggle against the system and the State. The ideology and politics of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism, hegemony and supremacy is not an aberration, but an essential, integral , foundational element of the State. Mahinda, as much as Ranil or Sirisena, or any other, are but manifestations, agents and enforcers of this dysfunctional, defunct, decomposed, feudal-(neo) colonial state.
It would be a fatal illusion to place hopes that this State, drenched with the blood of the people, or any of its loyal enforcers or guardians, would ever have the need, nor the will and capacity to produce a democratic political settlement to the National Question, based on recognizing the right of self-determination. Just for the simple truth that it is this very State and ruling class that have reigned genocidal terror and destruction upon the Tamil nation, just to keep this Unitary State in tack and to keep them in power.
The alternative is for the advanced revolutionary forces to forge their principled unity to build a genuine, advanced, revolutionary party, movement and united front that can mobilize the oppressed masses and unify all national-democratic and revolutionary class struggles against the common target – imperialism and the feudal-colonial State. Then only that we can establish an independent, self-reliant, people’s democratic state to represent the principled revolutionary unity of the all the oppressed classes, nations and communities constituting the People of Lanka. Then shall we write our own history, rejoice in our diversity, and take a historic leap to the outer horizons of the 21st Century, to stand tall, independent and proud among the community of nations – equal to all and second to none!
It depends upon those who dare to cross the line, reach across the barricades, reach for the skies; crush the old frames and put on new lenses, to see beyond the horizon to gaze at the light of freedom; those advanced forces of history who have the will, conviction, consciousness and courage to build the organizational foundations of the people’s democratic revolution of Lanka. While respecting Hon. Vigneswaran for his principled and courageous stand, this is the message that we can truthfully give the people.
*The writer is Secretary; Ceylon Communist Party-Maoist.