Colombo, Jaffna, Politics and Governance, Post-War

TNA and the New Era of Tamil Politics: Are They Living Up to the Challenge?

The TNA, the remnant of old politics in the Tamil community has entered a new era. The post LTTE politics has made it possible to create conditions for a democratic culture in the North and East. But the defeat of the LTTE alone will not make it possible to create a genuine democratic culture. The Sinhalese political leadership should show its sensitivity and empathy towards a community of people who have suffered nearly three decades of the most destructive and the brutal war the country had ever seen. The IDPs are becoming almost a forgotten human tragedy. Some of them are still languishing in camps. The most important and crucial input should come from the Sinhalese political leadership in their responsibility to offer a genuine political solution. None of the main contenders in the Presidential election did talk about any political solution in a way that would satisfy the democratic aspirations of the Tamil people. At this moment the TNA has a major role to play in democratic politics. The TNA’s endorsement of Sarath Fonseka in the Presidential election and his success in receiving a wide margin of Tamil votes than President Rajapaksa shows that the  TNA’s strong influence on the Tamil vote even without negotiating a substantial package of devolution of power for the Tamil community. However, can the TNA be trusted as a democratic party? They have not announced any new policy or explained how they are going make changes to their old politics in the aftermath of the LTTE’s military defeat. The TNA can not survive as a democratic party of the Tamils without making changes to its political ideology inherited from its association with the LTTE and its allotted role as the silent partner of violent politics.

The main thrust of this article is to discuss the political problems that the TNA  poses for Tamils and themselves by  not understanding or willfully disregarding the changes that they should be making in order to be available as a safer democratic alternative for the Tamil community.

Importance of repositioning
The unexpected, dramatic and decisive military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 at the hands of the Sri Lankan military marked a seismic shift of the politico-military landscape of the Tamil community to the political proper by opening a new era of democratic space in the North and East. Throughout its existence, the LTTE acted as if the historical burden of the Tamil’s national future had rested on their shoulders, a self professed moral responsibility that required them to make others subservient to their political ideology by coercion and political violence. The TNA (Tamil National Alliance) became their proxy. The LTTE military defeat has changed the whole scenario and the huge political vacuum left by them has not been filled by the TNA or the ex –militant groups (EPDP, EPRLF P, PLOTE and TMVP) who work with the Sri Lankan government. The TNA appears to be the most favorite candidate to fill this vacuum because of their political base in Tamil nationalism but they are unable to do so without demonstrating how they have come out of the violent and totalitarian cohabitation with the LTTE.

Neither pro -government and ex- paramilitary groups nor the TNA can pursue old politics in the new era of democratic politics. Unless the TNA makes it quite clear about their association with the LTTE and how they tolerated an unprecedented political and military suppression and targeted assassinations of their own community by the LTTE a Tamil militant organization, TNA’s political honesty and democratic morality becomes dubious and questionable. If they disregard this, it will be incongruent with the Tamil community’s democratic project.

If political parties are not open to their political past and hide their serious political mistakes they will tend make the same mistake again and again. In the South the JVP has adopted this kind of evasion about their past. If the TNA continues to do that it would be possible they will be easily become the pray to another narrow nationalistic military project. This could be avoided only if they accept it as anti- democratic and a political mistake.  It is necessary to make parties responsible for their anti democratic and other kind of political criminality they have committed in the name of liberation. If the TNA wants to re-enter democratic politics it has to forge a new political identity and make a departure from its questionable past as the proxy of the LTTE.

Nature of old politics
In order to reposition as a democratic party it is necessary to look at and understand the serious political mistakes the TNA were responsible for during those dark years of violent politics.

The LTTE on its journey to totalitarianism used the TNA to acquire a democratic face for its undemocratic activities. The TNA provided a mass base for the LTTE’s military project. The LTTE also brought the TNA under its political wing into submissive politics fusing their political ideology with the TNA’s narrow nationalistic politics.  Even though they appeared as genuine and equal partners the TNA was not able to be critical of the LTTE’s political and military line. When the LTTE eliminated all the other militant groups, political activists, Tamil political leaders and intellectuals in the Tamil community, the TNA never criticized the LTTE for these crimes. The TNA should have opposed this anti democratic assault on their own people and the way in which they managed keep quiet and offered tacit support is unacceptable. It is interesting to know whether or not they were able to oppose these and the response that they received from the LTTE. The TNA also demanded that the Sri Lankan government must negotiate with only the LTTE and campaigned vigorously that no other Tamil group to be included in any negotiations. This political demand, for the benefit of the LTTE demonstrated that inclusive practice and political pluralism was sacrificed for the politics of totalitarianism. In the process the TNA also argued for the LTTE as the sole and authentic representative of the Tamil people and equated the Tamil community with the LTTE.When the LTTE made it clear that they would not accept any political settlement short of separate state, the TNA kept quiet and did not explain their political position on the issue at the time and did not make any effort at distancing themselves from the separatist political line of the LTTE. Mr. Sambandan’s recent statement that they never advocated a separate state and their long held political view from the TULF days that any settlement would be within a unitary state of Sri Lanka has been clarified only after the LTTE’s defeat It is also important to know whether the TNA made any protest about the expelling of Muslims from Jaffna and its subsequent perpetuation of ethnic cleansing by the LTTE as this forms the very basis of depriving the ethnic minorities of their legitimate rights.

The whole political association with the TNA was part of the LTTE’s military project. The TNA never condemned armed violence nor did they repudiate armed struggle in achieving political aims. At least now they should understand the futility of the armed intervention and how the armed struggle could close democratic space rather than opening it. Only through honesty and genuine reflection can people become able to trust their political integrity and their genuine desire for a democratic alternative in similar situations.

The Challenge
If the TNA wishes to face up to the new challenge of democratic politics they will have to accept the new political culture that is evolving after the defeat of the LTTE.The TNA needs to declare in no uncertain terms that they will not pursue separatist politics and will accept political solution within a  unitary state. This will not be a difficult task now as   Mr. Sambadan has clarified that they never advocated a separate state in the past. The main political benefit of this would be the weakening of the foundations of the Sinhalese hegemonic forces. The Presidential election and the unexpected huge margin of UPFA victory demonstrates that any political move or even a slightest suspicion and indication that would potentially divide the country will be defeated. This is the reality and if you want to change this reality you need to accept a separatist political ideology is a non-starter. Along with this the TNA should repudiate the armed violence and actively work towards democratic politics in their struggle for the maximum devolution of power. They need to condemn the political assassinations carried out by the LTTE and assure people that they will never be silent about such criminal activities in future.  They also need to build bridges with the Sinhalese south in their democratic struggle against the authoritarian tendencies of the Sri Lanka state. Such a move will pave the way for a greater understanding in their common struggle for democracy. The LTTE dominance in Tamil politics was a great hindrance for such an understanding and this should end now. The TNA has to make their views clear about the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims and oppose such fascistic tendencies within Tamil politics. They should act responsibly in the North and East with regard to potential Muslim return to former homes. If they continue with old political ideology they will strengthen narrow Tamil Nationalism which would take them to the past. This will destroy the current achievements and close the democratic opening that is already in place.

This account shows that the TNA has a long way to go in clearing their undemocratic past and rebuilding their political profile in order to face the challenges of new politics. They need to throw away their dogmatic politics. Unless they achieve this they will repeat the history of submissive politics when there is another armed project in place. That would be politically dangerous and democratically disastrous. The TNA’s politics needs to be widely debated as the future implications can be very critical for the democratic politics of the Tamil community if they are unable to reposition democratic politics in a meaningful and genuine way.