Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

The ‘post-LTTE’ misnomer

[Note from author: I had a piece in the web-magazine Lines that attracted an extremely detailed response from someone who called him/herself John the Baptist. The comments were embedded within the text of my article. I am sending the article with the comments embedded just as it was in red because I think it will interest Groundviews readers and trigger of much more discussion.]

The term ‘post-LTTE’ is a misnomer; there will be no post-LTTE period in a political sense. There will certainly be a ‘post-LTTE as a conventional army’ phase, and there will be a ‘post-Prabaharan’ phase if the government succeeds in catching and killing him as it intends to. I can also discern a ‘post-hope’ or disheartened and subdued stage in Tamil nationalism, within the Island, which could last maybe months or over a year. It is not uncommon to see middle class Tamils slink around, cowed down, head bowed. People with deep LTTE paranoia, have pointed out to me: “See, so-and-so, he is really an LTTE sympathizer; remember the way be used to talk? Now not a squeak out of the bugger – slinks away when he sees me”. Indeed, a great majority of Tamils, whether previously sympathetic to the LTTE or not, are downcast; only a particular type of Tamil rejoices in GoSL’s military victory. [The latter are largely silent. You hear nothing from Douglas except for the occasional hand-out to the deaf, the blind and the lame – not his supporters, but the beneficiaries of his ministry! Even Anandasangaree cannot avoid ‘criticizing’ the regime if he is to retain any credibility in the eyes of the Tamils.]

Yes, all this is post-something, but it is not post-LTTE in three important ways. First, it is not ‘post Tamil nationalist’; on the contrary we are entering a period when Tamil nationalism is angry and its mood hardening. That ‘so-and-so bugger’ is only biding his time; only fools imagine that he has mended his ways, seen the true unitary light, and come to the blessed faith at the alter of state and regime. What goes on in the diaspora and what goes on in the Island cannot be polar opposites. [Very true. In fact one of the facile errors that most supporters of the regime make, and here I am not talking about the JHU or the monks. No I am talking about the LSSP, the Victor Ivans, etc. Because the Tamils in Sri Lanka (like the Tibetans in Chinese Tibet) say nothing critical of the regime it is assumed that they are loyal subjects and it is only the demented diaspora that opposes Colombo. Every member of the Diaspora was once a SL resident. The free liquor during the flight out of Katunayake didn’t unhinge them; they just didn’t risk speaking their mind when in-country.]

Indeed, in private, Lankan Tamils voice pleasure when they get a chance to talk freely about the big protest movements overseas. Sinhala chauvinist state power, including the current version, is incapable of solving the national question for reasons to do with its own internal composition and because of Lanka’s historical carryovers of decades. [You have put your finger on the critical issue. If people can get that right then there will be no more bullshit being thrown around!]

At the same time, one thing is certain, the Sinhala State is not about to disappear, hence the national question will remain unresolved and bitterly contested, because, at the core of the matter, lies the question of the nature of the state. [Again you have put your finger right on the problem. With regard to the durability of the state I both agree and disagree with you. Yes I do not have any reason to imagine that the state is going to collapse any time soon. But I do believe that the state is in crisis; and has been in crisis ever since the national question was internationalized circa 1983. And what is more important is that it is neither able to overcome nor mitigate the crisis. So while it has been able to weather and survive the crisis it cannot get out of this crisis. Not unless it is so able to destroy Tamil nationalism such that it ceases to pose any future threat to the survival of the Sri Lanka state. Until then the state will remain in crisis, will retain its present instability and will exist in the shadow of defeat and collapse. Right now the growing international criticism and the possibility of some kind of external intervention in the Wanni is only heightening the level of crisis. Similarly if the Regime accommodates its western/Indian critics and devolves political power to the Tamils it will face a threat from the Sinhala Right (a la 1987) heightening its instability.]

Therefore, continuance of conflict by this, or other, or several means is inevitable. Again the inability to bring closure to the military conflict as widely expected by its southern constituency will only serve to undermine its stability; and prolong and enhance the crisis of the Sri Lanka State. This is not what intelligent people should be inclined to describe as a post-LTTE scenario. Whether post-war Tamil nationalism will be led by the old or a new LTTE, or by a new grouping (in which former LTTErs will, necessarily, play a major role), I cannot now say.

Secondly, there is the question of the Tamil diaspora. Post! Heavens no, the diaspora seems to be all pro-LTTE, more so than before. [No they are not all pro-LTTE. In fact I am aware that people who up until recently were vocally non-LTTE (but not supporters of anti-LTTE groups) are taking part in the Australian protests.] It is my prognostication that the diaspora will move increasingly into a leadership role in the Lankan (internal) Tamil national movement. [There are two other factors that may contribute to this. Firstly the landmark video conference in which the US State Dept included its Tamil Diaspora may open the way for other players: London, Ottawa, Canberra, Paris, Berlin and Prague doing likewise. This will give the Diaspora status and recognition and lead the Sinhalese to bash their heads against the nearest wall. Secondly (and I have made this point before) there is a new second generation Diaspora (my children’s contemporaries). They are no longer the boys and girl from the villages of Jaffna who did nothing beside study to be a doctor or engineer or accountant. They have a more comprehensive, liberal education, are cosmopolitan and cultivated, have a better understanding of the world around them and the levers of power in western capitals. Some of them are politically active and hold office in political parties and governments in these countries. In one word they are better equipped and capable of employing new strategies that eluded their predecessors.] In the absence of a credible alternative within the Island, this will be the trend.

It is a good development if it facilitates a change from silly, AK-47 and RPG popping youth militancy, to a more balanced political and global diplomatic approach, and closer alliances with non-opportunist left and democratic organizations in the south. The slogan of the moment has to be: Put politics in command. My concern is whether the diaspora, as yet, understands and grasps this task, whether it can get its act together and evolve a unified leadership to win acceptance among Tamils across the West. [The inability of Tamil Nationalism to deliver in the last 25 years is partly (only partly) due to the failure of the Diaspora. Yes. If new people with new ideas appear they may be more successful. I don’t think this necessarily means global unity in terms of organization, in fact this may have been their undoing, their subservience to a single strategy mapped out by the LTTE. Different perspectives, new ideas and plurality is not a bad thing if it does not prevent unity of purpose and does not promote working at cross purposes. However I fully agree with you that the Diaspora will become increasingly important.]

[But the problem with the Regime in Colombo and its supporters is that it will demonise, reject and oppose anyone who comes forward to mediate; this happened to India, it happened to Norway and as I write it is happening to the North Atlantic Community. Colombo has survived for decades on the hatred of the Tamil diaspora – one has only to listen even to the pro government ‘progressives’ to get a taste of their paranoia. How will they accept a larger role for the Tamil Diaspora?]

These are early days; it remains to be seen. Obviously the ability of the diaspora’s different strands to rise up to this historic task, to change; that is the issue! A new leadership will not come out of thin air; it will emerge from existing proven forces, so this is a critical question. The real test comes in the months ahead, post prevailing hostilities, when the drama of mammoth demonstrations is past and the time for patient political and organisational reflection resumes.

The overseas ‘13th Amendmentists’ (there are but a handful among Tamils domiciled at home), the overseas Sangareeites and Douglasites (in cahoots with the regime), and the recent Mount Lavinia Hotelites and Basil’s much sought after Tamil investors of the morrow, none of this menagerie constitute a credible alternative leadership for Tamil nationalism. These guys don’t count, so forget about them. [It’s nice to be a Marxist and not a Tamil nationalist; one can take a step back, survey the scene like “stout Cortez”, and make unpopular pronouncements!]

[Douglas and Sangaree’s servility and Karuna joining the SLFP show us very clearly that in the existing climate there is no space in Sri Lanka for an independent Tamil voice (Mano Ganeshan being the exception). So even if the LTTE disappears politically, which you are justifiably dubious about, it is hard for an independent Tamil leader to emerge and survive in Sri Lanka.]

The third reason I think ‘post-LTTE’ is a misnomer is that the outcome of the next phase of LTTE combat, reversion to guerrilla warfare, is uncertain. I concede that this is the weakest of the three points – though all other commentators dwell exclusively on this matter. Conditions for going back to the 1980s and 1990s do not exist; hence ‘back to the bush’ is a low priority. I certainly hope so, because it would be a diversion from what Tamil nationalism needs to do. That is, it needs to (a) put politics in command, and (b) enter into alliances with the left and democratic activities in the rest of Lanka. [While I accept ‘politics to the fore’ ‘politics in command’; but if one is dealing with an intransigent Sinhala Buddhist Regime in the south as has been the case since 1956 it will take nobody nowhere to once again revert to a purely political strategy. Without a corresponding military component, Tamil nationalism cannot expect a purely political/diplomatic campaign to produce any results.]

We are not entering a post-LTTE phase, rather a new phase of political struggles, in the north and south, the east and west, against anti-democratic politics and a chauvinist state, not a period of compromises and capitulations as the regimes fellow travellers, the weak hearted who are forever searching for a compromise, and left opportunists within the regime, try to persuade us. How silly! Some people saw the military defeat of the LTTE, without a single step forward on the national and the democratic questions, as the opening up of some phantasmagoric new world – where, on Planet Mars? And I haven’t even touched on the impending economic debacle!

What Next?
This submission is in response to a question posed by Groundviews posed here that asked readers to opine on a war ‘over in 3 weeks’ and a ‘post-LTTE’ Sri Lanka. Please visit this original post to read a rich spectrum of opinion and commentary on the nature of post-war Sri Lanka.