Colombo, Diaspora, Identity, International Relations, Peace and Conflict, Post-War

Eelam experiments: The transnational versus local realities

‘Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign.
But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.’[1]
Chimamanda Adichie

I was inspired by the above words of Chimamanda Adichie talking about the ¨Danger of a single story’ and I reflected on how true this has been and will be in the case of Sri Lanka and its instrasigient history of political misfortune and human suffering. It’s been a year since the decisive end of the military offensive that had succeeded in re-claiming territorial sovereignity of the Sri Lankan state, but it was a victory that failed in claiming the Tamils as an integral and respected part of it is citizenry.

The recently concluded elections in Sri Lanka which registered a low voter turn out in the North & East  draws focus to a deeper political malaise. While procrastinations and empty promises along with an impotent Tamil political representation within the country symbolise a crisis in Tamil political representation including the fragmentation of existing political parties which plagues the post-war context, the desperate second bid for Tamil Eelam has taken centre stage in a renewed diabolic game.

The Tamil diaspora has undoubtedly been very vocal during the last stages of the military offensive and has through its extreme activism summoned widespread international attention raising the question whether there has been an oversimplification of the power of diaspora activism. Their activism took the form of media campaigns and public protests which fueled nationalistic sentiments and crippled transport systems of their host countries but essentially their activism seemed to continue the chase after an unrealistic dream at an unbelievably high cost.

R. Cheran believes that this latest obsession of the Tamil diaspora, the Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) should be viewed positively and encouraged as an ‘experiment in democracy’[2]. But would this experiment steal another generation of Sri Lankans from an opportunity of breaking away from the time hardened vines of the failures of the past? and could it in reality be an attempt at harnessing international credibility, creating hardliners and even fuel the resurgence of terrorism?

The TGTE Advisory committee report[3] quotes examples of the Eritrean, Israeli and Croatian diaspora and their political activism regarding the politics of their respective homelands. While this reiterates the importance of diaspora activism and its contribution as critiques of internal political processes including political representation and their function as key players in reconstruction and investment, equating the activities of the Tamil diaspora with these diaspora groups seems to be inappropriate  even though the potential of the Tamil diaspora in functioning as a social movement would be able to harness more realistic and far-reaching consequences.

One of the most important issues is that the TGTE Advisory Committee while claiming to find a solution to the aspirations of the Tamils has made a colossal mistake in failing to de-link itself from the LTTE which is clearly highlighted in their final study report which glorifies the role played by the LTTE, ‘The LTTE’s military power and the resultant de facto state created a political space for Tamils to freely express their political aspirations for the realization of the right to self-determination. However, that political space no longer exists‘. This also symbolises a deeply fragmented Tamil community and its inability for self reflection. A future Tamil Eelam will not succeed in bringing together the whole Tamil community together as it transgresses the core elements of democratic theory; legitimacy and a healthy representation.

Another issue of concern is the potential resuscitation of the Eelam campaign of ‘fundraising for the cause’ which had a large part to play in the protraction of the military side of the conflict in Sri Lanka. Groups supportive of the TGTE and Eelamist propaganda are getting increasingly vocal in relation to this as illustrated by the statement of the spokesperson for the US based group ‘Tamils for Obama’ states[4] that ‘One of our duties will be financial support of the TGTE. We suggested that each diaspora Tamil should make a monthly contribution of $25 to the TGTE after the election when the TGTE is able to accept and use the money. Tamils should consider this a voluntary tax. The TGTE is going to need the money for all of the things of any national government does. For the TGTE these tasks will include maintaining a think tank to advise them on how to advance the goal of Tamil Eelam“.

In terms of the more operational aspects of the TGTE the final study report outlines the tasks of the provisional government states the following:

  • Uniting Tamil entities and subscribing to the Vadukkodai resolution
  • Work with the Tamil leadership in SL
  • Negotiating with the Sinhala nation
  • Direct links with foreign governments and international organization
  • Political programme with participation of Muslim representatives

Nevertheless, these tasks are merely secondary when compared to a much more important issue which is the acceptance of the TGTE as a government or power centre. The report states that in order to recognise the TGTE as a power centre key actors such as the Tamil diaspora, Tamil people in homeland, global Tamil community from other countries such as Malaysia, India and Singapore and the international community need only to accept it through their ‘actions’ – ‘These actors need not publicly endorse TGTE but should accept it through their actions’. As it is the case with the entire report the vagueness and lack of forethought into the practical application of the concept of transnational governance is severely lacking as is the explanation of how such a government will ensure legitimacy and its territorial sovereignty .

Also while the TGTE claims that it will be ‘formed and sustained by the people‘ and that ‘it relies on the exercise of the democratic political rights such as freedom of association and freedom of expression’ and that it will accommodate the Muslims within the TGTE and ensure that they will be able to exercise their right to a separate autonomous state if the need arises, it has failed to acknowledge its part in the deaths, disappearances and its role in the deprivation of the Tamils’ right to peaceful coexistence thereby ignoring the need for truth seeking. Will the Tamil diaspora fail to acknowledge the past suffering of all Sri Lankans, the half-truths[5] and the wrong choices and continue this foolish gamble, deaf to the real aspirations of the Tamils who are living in the country, in a sad bid to appease their guilt ridden desires?

The elections for Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) commenced on May 2, 2010, in 26 countries with an expectation of a 60 – 70% voter turn out. While detailed information regarding the elections (number of votes polled etc.) is still not publicly available the representatives have been identified and the inaugural sessions of the TGTE took place on May 17 – 19, 2010 in Philadelphia. Conversations with some of the diaspora Tamils who had voted in this election reveal a disturbing but persistent trend that has marred the politics of the Tamils for a long time, essentially the danger of the single story. Tamils keep repeating the same mistake of uninformed decision making while standing steadfastly to the belief that as ‘victims’ all their actions would amount to self-defence; at any cost.

[1] ‘The danger of the single story’, Chimamanda Adichie, Novelist on TED Talks,

[2] ‘Transitional government of Tamil Eelam is an experiment in democracy – Dr. Cheran’, Antony Reinhart,

[3] ‘Formation of a Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam: Final report based on the study’, TGTE Advisory Committee,


[5] ‘Provisional Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam is a dangerous exercise’, Rajan Hoole