By N Sathiya Moorthy
It is anybody’s guess why Erik Solheim chose to speak one of his irregularly regular outpourings just now. However, the one-time Norwegian peace negotiator’s assertion that the Diaspora Tamils misled LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran should be worth recalling, for current and future generations of Tamils to remember – unless of course, ideological LTTE remnants, nearer home and abroad, want to brand Solheim as traitor as Prabhakaran had all but done with his one-time deputy Mahattaya and later, political advisor, Anton Balasingham.
Solheim’s current intervention, though unintended, should contextualised to the state of Tamil politics and society in the country. Through the parliamentary polls this year, the new generation Tamil voter has given the impression that he is tired of all thoughts of war full ten years down the line. But vocal sections of the Tamil political old guard, having won parliamentary representation for the first time after the war, which continue talking about ‘rights’ more than livelihood, too is allowing itself to be fed by the Diaspora – and is feeding them in return.
Neither during Prabhakaran’s time, nor at present does these Diaspora groups come and settle down in the ‘homeland’ of their dreams. Certainly will they not send their children and grandchildren to schools here. No thanks to Covid pandemic, the annual guilt-washing annual pilgrimage did not happen during the Nallur kovil festival this year. It may not happen for the Christmas and Pongal festivities, too.
At the international-level, a social media discourse/campaign is already on, to prove Solheim, wrong, if not motivated. Nearer home, even without Solheim, the weeks after the parliamentary polls is filled with days, where Justice C V Wigneswaran especially is busy with proving to the Tamil people that he and he alone is speaking up for all of them and also all of Tamil polity. Wigneswaran has a point as he is the only parliamentarian from his grouping, but that does not give him the right to speak up for everyone as if he alone were their ‘sole representative’…
The TNA is at sixes and sevens, and it is anybody’s guess if the alliance will recover from the shock and surprise that it inflicted on itself through the past five years – culminating at a less than expected show in the parliamentary polls. Likewise, Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam, too, is still caught up in the intra-party rivalry, which he seems to have settled in his favour, post-poll.
In the midst of all these, a concerted campaign has begun in the Tamil social media space to make their youth to feel guilty and sinful for voting a ‘non-Tamil party’, in Jaffna district. A re-education programme has been launched by fellow youth, again on the social media and YouTube space, for bringing back all those prodigal sons, back to the shepherded fold.
In doing so, the campaign-managers are missing the point, knowingly or otherwise. Whether they are TNA-sympathetic or whether support is for the larger ‘Tamil cause’ (which has become an amorphous term at their hands and those of their parental generation), whether they are pro-Wigneswaran or pro-Gajan, they are only deflecting the internal contradictions within the Tamil polity and community, to blame it on the ‘national party’ that won its only seat from Jaffna. As a fall-back option, they are blaming their youth, who fell for ‘development and jobs’ kind of slogans.
Pride and culture…
The one unmissed point in this free and free-for-all discourse is that it has reduced Tamil politics down to being ‘Jaffna politics’ or ‘Jaffna Vellalar politics’. Their resentment is not over the Tamil parties fighting among themselves, losing grip over the emerging situation and letting the Sinhala ‘national parties’ taking them for a grand ride. If there is something that the LTTE did in its time, it was to take Tamil politics outside the hands of the ‘Jaffna Vellalar’, who were anyway a divided lot.
It is not unimaginable how the collective TNA leadership let UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to lead them up the garden path very many times through the four-plus years he was in power. It was possibly enough for Ranil, the past master in political chicanery, to tickle the ‘Jaffna / Tamil ego’, and the rest fell in place. The TNA leadership possibly did not say to say ‘No’ and how to say ‘No’, because that was against the grain of their ‘Jaffna pride’, which they have branded as ‘Jaffna culture’.
All of it meant that they also reduced the election results to the one seat that the SLFP won in Jaffna district. That the winner was a Tamil candidate like any of them did not matter. Their problem is even more as Angajan Ramanathan has polled the highest number of ‘preferential votes’. It needs no divine knowledge to acknowledge that his votes were also for a fellow-Tamil, not the SLFP candidate that he was.
It is sad the post-poll Tamil campaigners, independent of those carrying political identifies, have reduced everything to Jaffna. They are thus not peeved at the fact that Ampara district in the East not sending in any Tamil MP this time. For that they blamed Vinayagamurthy Muralidharan alias Karuna even during campaign time. Through the post-war era, the Tamil parties (read: TNA) has been losing seats in the East, and also in Vanni, but that did not hurt them as much as it hurts now.
It is not even about ‘national parties’, as UNP’s Vijayakala Maheswaran won a Jaffna seat in the previous elections. Thanks to Angajan Ramanathan, Douglas Devananada seems to have become relatively acceptable this time. In a way, it is not even about his winning or his belonging to a ‘national party’, but it is all about a candidate of a non-Tamil party getting the highest number of preferential votes in Jaffna electoral district.
Cause for concern
It is certainly a cause for concern for self-styled ‘Tamil nationalists’ and their Diaspora managers. The message is not for them to become more inward-looking than at present, but to open the eyes to the outside world, and see and hear what their youth have to say, and what those youth want. Whole generations have been rendered wastrel, where they have survived the war, and their ‘legitimate aspirations’ are not the same as what their parental generation was made to believe, theirs was.
The ’rebellious’ segment of the vote was against the status quo, including the politics of all self-styled ‘Tamil nationalist’ parties on the one hand and against the TNA, overall. All votes that the non-TNA parties and Independent groups polled was against the TNA kind of ‘appeasement politics’. The youth want change, and so do all others – in the case of some alone the vestiges of contemporary history hangs on.
The Tamil political leadership needs to look only across the Sinhala majority to see the fate of the UNP, the nation’s very own ‘Grand Old Party’ (GoP). The TNA is in the UNP’s place in the Tamil political arena, but has not been mauled as badly, as such. It owes to the post-Independence political history of the Tamil society war and violence. But the message is clear, all the same.
It is time the Tamil Diaspora groups that dictate ethnic politics from a distance acknowledged that not just Sinhala or Tamil politics, but the nation’s politics as a whole is changing. There is a silent cry for change, and those that read it even half-correctly, like SJB and Sajith Premadasa, have survived.
In turn, the ruling Rajapaksas have had their ears always close to the (Sinhala) ground, and they thus have come to retain a 40-per cent vote-share even when not in power. They have also recorded huge electoral victories owing to this one single trait of theirs – it’s not just Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism, as is being often reduced to, but to one of national and personal security, jobs and development. There is a message for the Tamil polity, too. Or, that is the message of the parliamentary polls for them.
(The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: firstname.lastname@example.org)