The Presidential election, and the politics of the Tamil-minority
by Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana
Prabhakaran is no more. Fonseka, an architect of the fall of the Eelam regime has crossed over to the pro-western, seemingly more minority-sensitive UNP led by Ranil Wickremasinhe. That the UNP is in a cabal with the anti-western, minority-insensitive JVP seems to have become as irrelevant as the JVP itself.
While many Diaspora Tamils welcomed all mishaps to the Rajapaksa regime, they don't seem to know which way to turn. What should the Tamils do ? What should anybody do? I have heard this question being debated by expatriates, be they Tamils or Sinhalese living in Canada.
Most of the ex-expatriate Tamils have been pro-LTTE or sentimentally close to the Eelamists. Unfortunate personal experiences of humiliation and hurt that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, has fueled an anger in the hearts of many Tamils. They have worked to discredit and fight the Sri Lankan government. Funds, extorted or willingly given have animated these efforts. Many members of the diaspora have embraced the belief that only partitioning the country on ethnic lines will solve Sri Lanka's problems. This diaspora had no hesitation in endorsing suicide bombers, child soldiers and terror as an answer to the anti-LTTE war seen as nothing but "state violence". It suppressed dissent within itself, mis-informed itself, some of the western media, and its own youth. The youth have been goaded into militant activity in Canada and elsewhere. Violence has been idealized and allowed to permeate the whole expatriate society.
The diaspora has ignored that the government in Colombo had changed hands many-times over, and had in all instances included many distinguished Tamils in its ranks. They were dubbed "traitors" and condemned to the bullet or forced to quit.
But that was essentially the tone set by Prabhakaran.
An election is an opportunity for politically engaged groups to make their case heard in a democratic manner. And yet, the political bankruptcy of the Tamil Diaspora is such that it cannot use its funds, power and influence in a useful way. Its main instrument in Sri Lanka, the Tamil National alliance (TNA) rose into prominence as an LTTE-proxy. The TNA cannot possibly support the UNP-led Fonseka without splitting apart, loosing face and loosing Diaspora support. A part of the TNA may be morally concerned and politically upright. They may have bowed to the LTTE only because of the need to survive. They may now have the courage ("tayiriyam") and fortitude ("ormam") needed to announce a new vision for the Tamils. But they cannot do it with its current vision, and its preesent out-dated political program.
The TNA leaders have already met Mr. Sarath Fonseka, ex-general, on Sunday. Apparently they are consulting with Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa's team as well. The democratically minded members of the TNA have a major task in front of them.
They have to announce a new Vaddukkoddai resolution calling for a Sri Lanka where all individuals have equal rights in every part of the country, irrespective of caste and race labels. The "exclusive Tamil homeland" claim must be explicitly expunged and a multi-ethnic concept must be explicitly stated, correcting errors put in place not just at Vaddukkoddai, but already in the 1949 Maradana resolution of Thamil Arasu Kadchi. This "exclusive Tamil-homeland" doctrine was, and is, nothing but the Tamil version of Apartheid. A new vision must include the fact that the basic bio-chemical. economic and psychological needs of all citizens, be they Sinhala or Tamil, are the same. There is no room for race-based, caste-based, or even class-based politics.
Until this is done, the TNA, and the Diaspora which backs it, will not be able to operate democratically in Sri Lanka. The diaspora, with its money and violent traditions based on hate may attempt to finance new youth terror groups. Such militant policies, entertained by some Diaspora groups confirm the bankruptcy of their politics. New Tamil-militant youth will not be confronting a ceremonial Sri Lankan army of the type that existed in the 1980s. It will be confronting a very different, battle-hardened, well-equipped victorious security force.
I believe that the TNA must suffer a split if it is to survive. Putting up a "Tamil Candidate for Presidency" is to follow the same race-based politics that has failed since it was explicitly announced by G. G. Ponnambalam in 1935 (Hansard, Column 3045, 1935). Ponnambalam declared in the State Council that he is "a proud Dravidian" and that, in effect he does not accept the "Ceylonese" label.. The Maradana resolution of the Thamil Arasu Kadchi and the Vaddukkoddai resolutions of 1976 were just extensions of the "non-Ceylonese" concept and specifying the Dravidian label as "Tamil".
Those TNA members who believe in democracy must come forward and support Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, even if it be for the simple reason that a minority is better-off with the winning party than with the looser. There are many other valid reasons to not to support a politically immature Fonseka who, though a distinguished warrior, has now proven to be as unprincipled as the worst of the pack. Although the Rajapaksa regime has been criticized for its handling of the IDPs, it has actually kept its promise to release the IDPs in about six months.
Minority politicians should learn from the greatest and most successful Tamil leader of the 20th century - Mr. Thondaman senior. Thondaman steered his community to full citizenship, and protected them from the attempts of both the Marxists and Tamil extremists to wanted them to take the path of violence.
Will Mr. Rajapaksa win?
I believe that Mr. Fonseka's arrival into the political arena will in fact have the effect opposite to what political schemers like Mangala Samaraweera have been hoping for. The positioning of Fonseka as the opposition candidate will in the end have a disastrous effect on the UNP organization. Many will now clearly see the bankruptcy of the Ranil-Mangala politics of hatching plots and following a policy based on devious deals, personality politics and sleight of hand.
Many UNP supporters will surely cross over to the Rajapaksa campaign.
The Tamils who supported individuals like Mano Ganesan would see that Ganesan is a totally unprincipled politician who cannot understand the thinking of his own voters. When Ganesan was visiting Canada and Europe, he had no hesitation in participating in meetings where Prabhakaran's picture and the Eelam flag were prominently displayed. Today he is endorsing Fonseka. Some of Ganesan's votors wiil feel that their dignity has been severely offended. Those Tamils who may not have voted for Rajapaksa may now vote for him to spite Mr.Ganesan.
The up-country voters, be they Tamil or Sinhala would have little reason to opt for the UNP-backed Fonseka. With S. B. Dissanayake's cross over, there will be others who will follow the trend.
As the steam gathers, support for Mr. Rajapaksa will gather even more, and a momentum that no one expected will come into being. Mr. Fonseka will have to content mainly with larger and larger doses of stories of corruption to support his claim to the throne. Managala Samaraweera will use his artistic talents and past knowledge in constructing new corruption stories. As the campaign sputters, the JVP will begin to blame Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe for mismanaging it. Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe will blame Mangala Samaraweera or the JVP and plan another brilliant exit plot. He will go on a speaking tour in India and Europe while the presidential electron campaign is roaring away in Sri lanka, and go to Phukut to relax.
The Sinhala nationalist voters (SNV) will not forget that the Mavil Oya (Mavil aru) battle was declared and won when Fonseka was in hospital. The SNV will remember that the East and North were de-merged under Rajapaksa who refused to yield to the UNP and TNA demands for an executive remerger. The SNV will remember that the UNP, Mangala Samaraweers and others opposed the Rajapaksa government's early military tie-up with Karuna. The SNV will note that it was Rajapaksa who crafted a foreign policy which was at once friendly with Pakistan, China and India, and levered these countires to Sri lanka's war effort.
The SNV will note that the Rajapaksa government stood firmly against Columnists who continually hounded the administration demanding to stop the war and declare a political package to appease Prabhakaran. The SNV will remember with satisfaction that the British and French foreign ministers who came with a mandate to free Prabhakaran were rebuffed. The SNV will remember that all this was done by a president who had to buttress a minority government by generously laying out the bacon. Irrespective of one's political beliefs, these reveal the hand of a master political strategist at the helm. Thus the SNV will see that the war against the LTTE was not won just on the battlefield, but that it owes its success to a lot of political positioning and a definite vision on the part of the incumbent president.
Fonseka's foray into politics would be a meaningful step if he stays in politics, comes forward as a member of parliament and run for high office after establishing his credentials as a principled politician, be it in the UNP or elsewhere.
As it is, Fonseka is due for ignominious defeat.
Mr. Rajapaksa will win his second mandate hands down.
The Marxist candidate, Wickramabahu and Sirirtunga cannot even convince themselves to agree with each other. They will lose their deposits.
[The author was a Vice-Chancellor of the Vidyodaya University (now Sri Jayawardenapura University) during the time when Mr. Rajapaksa worked there and S. B. Dissanayake was the student leader. The author is currently affiliated with the National Rsearch Council of Canada and the University of Montreal in Canada].