TNA’s Failure to Seize the Moment: Who Will Fill the Vacuum?
The TNA’s ability to negotiate a comprehensive devolution package for the Tamil community with either Mahinda Rajapaksa or Sarath Fonseka is becoming more and more distant as the Presidential election draws nearer. This has greatly benefited Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka as they could play safer electoral politics in the Sinhalese South without dealing with the issue of Â the devolution of power to the Tamil community. The TNA’s misery is a direct result of their current disunity and their lack of political direction in the democratic politics after the military defeat of the LTTE. There is no emerging political leadership that is farsighted and politically mature enough to take the Tamil community’s democratic rights to the centre stage in the Presidential election. The outcome of the Presidential election will be crucial and can usher a new era to the nation only with the participation of the Tamil community in securing their democratic rights.
The aim of this account is to make a case for a new political leadership in view of the TNA’s political failure and its disintegration.
The TNA believed that the Tamil Tigers’ military project was invincible. They have not come to terms with its demise and the LTTE’s total defeat. Their rapid political disintegration following the announcement of the Presidential election shows that they have no consensus about their future political direction. They need to understand that Tamil Eelam as a political utopia is now dead and the road to win the Tamil democratic rights lies across the A9 with Colombo and not across the Falk Strait with Delhi or the Western cities. The Diaspora’s influence will not be decisive enough as a single factor to revive separatism in Sri Lanka. It is also very hard for the TNA to negotiate a substantial devolutionary package as the Tiger’s historic military defeat has deprived of them grabbing more than the 13th amendment.Â Tamil nationalism should demonstrate their willingness to join the democratic politics and shed their separatist ideology and reconsider their options in changing times. The formation of the TNA was to provide a narrow nationalistic political line to support the LTTE’s military project but following the LTTE’s defeat and the TNA’s disintegration shows that these narrow nationalistic currents will be consolidated by a new leadership. It appears that some remnants of the TNA will undertake this role and have already made their intention known to boycott the Presidential election.
The TNA’s inability engage in democratic politics stems from their failure to carry out the root and branch destruction of the narrow nationalistic political ideology they inherited from being a proxy to the LTTE. They are unable to tell the Tamil community that they should take part in democratic politics and negotiate with Colombo. They never thought they would have to seek the support of the Tamil people without the LTTE’s support and their military strength. They turned a blind eye to the political assassinations carried out by the LTTE within their own community thereby depriving the Tamil community of its much needed public intellectuals to mould and advance their political demands in the course of the struggle. The LTTE conducted two wars, one with the Sri Lankan State often targeting the civilians in the South and the other with their own people when it summarily executed Tamil political leaders, intellectuals and faceless Tamil youth activists who belonged to other organizations. The TNA kept its silence and failed to guarantee the right to life for their own community for more than two decades of the LTTE’s totalitarianism. The TNA’s is inability to rise up to the challenge in leading the Tamil community through the Presidential election shows that they can no longer lead the democratic struggle of the Tamils. They are only a part of history: they do not represent either the current moment or the future.
Then who could take over the leadership? The ex-militant groups such as EPDP, TMVP, PLOTE and EPRLF have been suggested as an alternative leadership who are presently aligned with the current regime. It is true that historically all these groups have been pushed to support the regime due to the fact that the LTTE determined to destroy them. But when these threats no longer exist their support is more difficult to explain. Whether they can be a credible and progressive alternative is an open question. If they do it they will have to climb a steep mountain. Secondly these groups have a very difficult question to answer: what is their answer to the thousands of civilian deaths? They are unable to ask the Tamil people to forget war time memories. Â Have they expressed sensitivity towards the IDP’s flight in the Vanni? What is the guarantee that they will not use violence against their political adversaries in the future? The political culture we need to build and respect throughout the country is that the right to life cannot and should not be calibrated according to ethnicity, political agenda and the final goal of the regime as well as the militant groups. All the groups who took up arms in the country from the JVP in the South to the LTTE in the North and East as well as the Sri Lankan regime itself failed to respect the right to life of political dissidents and the lives of the innocent people alike. And these militant groups who have now given up arms are also culpable of these criminal activities in the past.
What is required is a new political leadership in the Tamil community to take up the question of Tamil rights with the Sri Lankan state.Sri Lanka has a fragile democracy but the State is not going to crumble. It has not closed the door on negotiations and compromises. It will be a long and painful struggle to win the democratic rights and there will be no shortcuts. It will not be a very seductive political line for young activists to accept in the Tamil community or Diaspora. Nonetheless, there is no other way out and the armed struggle is not an option which was tested and end ended in tragic failure .To repeat it again will be a monumental mistake and a major disaster. Non violent democratic struggle is the future and that alone will be capable of producing a trustworthy, genuine and talented leadership that will respect human dignity and the right to life throughout the struggle and after the victory.
The issue, then, is who will be the potential candidates for such a leadership? It might emerge from the TNA or outside of it as the current political moment unfolds. But it will not occur naturally. It has to be consciously organized and developed within the most advanced sectors of the Tamil community. The role of the Tamil intellectuals and activists at this hour of need is crucially important. It remains to be seen whether they take this task beyond the confines Diaspora to the North and East where the memories of the war are still fresh and the people are in need of support in order to tie their hopes with a fresh political discourse. This is a challenge as everywhere there is a sense of helplessness following the war.
There is a mammoth task ahead apart from creating a new political leadership. The war took the Tamil community about 30 years back in terms of social and economic development. There a great disparity in terms of physical and human resources development between the South and Tamil areas. In those terms there is much to catch up. Any new political leadership will have to deal with this aspect of social and economic inequality. Before the war was started in earnest in the mid 1980’s political marginalization of youths in Tamil areas and the hopelessness and poverty was quite apparent. This gave rise to a ready supply of carders to the militant organizations. The current generations of Tamil youth are still confronted by such challenges and it is crucial that comprehensive social ladders should be visible in order to utilize their talents and give them hope. After so many years of war weariness and the absence of democratic politics it is the paramount duty of the new political leaders to engage them in new politics.
Whoever wins the Presidential election, there should be a new political leadership in Tamil areas to deal with Colombo. They should be able to maintain their distance with Colombo and argue for the devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka consistently and persuasively taking the democratic struggle to the centre stage. If this happens it will be a return of history where the TULF was forcibly stopped and the Tamil Tigers marched for 30 years until their guns were finally silenced on 18th May 2009 in Vellamullivaikkal.