Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance


Fashionable as any aspiring theoreticians, writer Publius with above article once again takes on a contemporary and important topic, yet with wider pseudo interpositions and an assumed role of political advisory.

Following is a very short response.

Those who know me will bear witness that I am neither an Eelamist nor a separatist. I envisage and endeavour for a normative multination democracy where the Thamil nation, legally, constitutionally and normatively will restore its nationhood with or without a state because all nations does not need to own a state (Taylor 1992,2004) ,but every nation needs to live in its fullest freedom including the right to self determination. (Connor 1990, 2002)

The core of the argument forwarded by Publius is encapsulated

‘’…A debilitating weakness of Tamil nationalism, both in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora, has been its proponents’ unwillingness to ask this question and engage the debates on this theme within liberal constitutionalist theory to suit their particular context. In not doing so, and in dogmatically pursuing an all-or-nothing strategy of secession (parsimonious public references to internal self-determination during a short phase notwithstanding) they have not merely ignored a rich source of constitutional and political ideas, but made a serious strategic error in the engagement of the international community with regard to the realisation of Tamil aspirations…’’

This is a deliberate or ignorant selection bias of the history of negotiations between the Thamil elites and their southern counterparts. Very briefly, during the pre independence era Ponn. Arunachalam on behalf of the Tamils, and James Pieris and E. J. Samarawickrama K.C. on behalf of the Sinhalese, based on the 1919 Ceylon National Congress pact, agreed for a seat in the Western province legislature in 1922. This was rejected by the J. H. C. Pereira led faction in the CNC closing the era of bi-ethnic politics and ushering politics of ethnic identities. From 1922 Mahendra Pact to 1977 Vaddukkodai Declaration, over a period of 55 years the major focus of the Thamil elite negation was for a liberal constitutional reform within a unitary state. This is because negotiating elites themselves were urban and westernized largely governed by cosmopolitan framework.

Nationalism weather primordial, constructed or instrumental, was integral part of the Tamil political identity for various historical reasons. Yet the respond to the wider liberal demands from Tamil polity was a very exclusive religio- ethnonationalism from the South. (The historical trajectory of promises and pacts are well documented now)

True, the Thamil national demand presently dominated by the LTTE, has transformed from a socialist notion of liberation (Shanmugadasan, EPRLF to Balasingham) to an ethnic based identity politics and committed itself to unreserved level of violence as a means of negotiation. However, is this only an exclusive and organic character to the LTTE? Eighties were the last few years of USSR and the ideological camp it represented. From the PLO, IRA even ANC all migrated from a global identity towards a local articulation of ethno/religio- polity. The universal transformation in politics and the subsequent third wave (of democracy) was necessarily manifested in ethnic or religio identities. Balkanization of the Eastern Europe is the case in example.

The negotiation and bargain in military terms were not isolated or unique achievements/ (or failures) of the LTTE. They are rather products of global and regional super power transformations as well.
From the Thimpu demands to the (Harim Peris’) post Tsunami PTOM, the LTTE has agreed and taken serious interest in negotiating a solution this side of a separate state. The LTTE is fully aware of the difficulty of creating an Eelam without the midwifery guidance of India. (Narayana Swamy’s recent writing on CFA reveals this). It is too naive to expect such ethnocentric and unalterably military outfit like LTTE to overtly and abruptly denounce, one of their core combinative demands on the hope of a futuristic support from the indifferent international community. LTTE on its part has maintained that ISGA is a ‘maximalist’ demand. Further, in presenting and continuing to gravitate around ISGA is clearly emitting few coded political messages to those who care to study.

1. They have accepted and agreed the legitimacy and the political ability of the Sinhala nation and their state in the south.

2. LTTE has come to the uncomfortable truth that a military victory over the state of Sri Lanka is not viable.

3. Further they have indicated their belief that a negotiation could led to better results like that of a CFA.

4. Unfortunately, for the liberal peace-loving individuals (like Publius) and me LTTE firmly believes that a tigerish military campaign is a fundamental necessity to influence the dogmatic and historically intransigent Sinhala polity.

Ignoring these realpolities to import and superimpose a Kymlickan (Kymlicka 2001, 2005, 2006) understanding of citizenship and nationhood may appear to be pedantic but will amount to a misjudgement and even an error in reading Kymlicka.

Weather it is a rights based approach or a conflict resolution approach, the modern day realities forces to define a demos only within an ethno (or religio) identity. Because enough studies have shown that the ontological insecurities generated through neo-liberal globalization has forced traditional identities to emerge with vengeance. Within the popular liberal analysis we have continued to deny political realities as we dismiss them as ‘imagined communities’. It was decades ago, Yale Tamir questioned “what am I without my linguistic and ethnic identity?” (Tamir 1989). It is important to allow room for such normative liberalism and democratic nationalism without which the Sinhalaness represented in SLFP, JVP and JHU (because masses still vote for them not for Publius or me) and the Thamilness represented by LTTE cannot coexist. Annihilating one does not garreteer the future of the other.


Charles Taylor , The Ethics of Authenticity, Harvard, Harvard University Press, 1992)

Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, California, Duke University Press, 2004)

Connor, Walker, ‘Nationalism and Political illegitimacy’, in Daniel Conversi (Ed.), Ethnonationalism in Contemporary World (London, Routledge, 2002)

Connor, Walker, “When is a Nation?”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, 1990.

Kymlicka, Will, Liberal Multiculturalism: Western Models, Global Trends, and Asian Debates, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Kymlicka, Will, Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001

Kymlicka, Will, ‘Federalism, Nationalism and Multiculturalism’ in Theories of Federalism: A Reader, Dimitrios Karmis and Wayne Norman (Eds.), (New York, NY, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism Princeton University Press 1995