Forgotten Tamil unity talk

By N Sathiya Moorthy

Even as Tamil parties in the North are protesting on the Government’s denial of freedom for them to observe the LTTE’s ‘Heores’ Day’ as their own ‘Martyrs Day’, they need to ponder over the question, what had happened to the so-called Tamil political unity moves initiative in the immediate aftermath of the 5 August parliamentary polls. The question needs to be asked in the light of news reports in a section of the Tamil media that Prime Minister Mahinda had mentioned the revival of ethnic talks with M A Sumanthiran of the TNA, that too in the presence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in the Parliament canteen the other day.

There is nothing that explains the rationale behind former TNA Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran’s Tamil People’s National Alliance (TPNA) joining hands with a Government party, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda’s EPDP, to defeat the annul budget of Nallur Pradesiya Sabha. The episode may be an one-off affair (let’s assume) but it has not reflected the kind of unity that needs to prevail among all Tamil parties, or at least those in the Opposition at the national-level, whether it is for protesting against the Government or holdin g talks with the very same Government.

There are multiple issues here. The Tamil parties cannot fight with and talk ot the same entity, at the same time. Both the protests and the talks would lose their credibility, or whatever can be invested on either of them, by the frustrated sections of the Tamil population. Simply put, you cannot hunt with the hound and run with the hare, full-stop.

If there is anything that spurred the multi-polar ‘Tamil nationalist polity’ to talk and/or work together, it owed ot their collective loss of face in the aftermath of governmental parties winning more seats than they were ready to concede at the start-point, and also the kind of vote-share SLFP’s Angajan Ramanathan obtained in that very Jaffna citadel of Tamil wisdom, political and cultural leadership. In the process, EPDP won two seats, instead of the ‘mandated’ (!) one. Less said about the traditional and new-found ‘Tamil nationalist parties’ performance in the parliamentary polls in the Eastern Province, the better.

None expected the ‘Tamil nationalist unity’ to hold on and on, but none of their sympathisers and supporters, outside of their respected cadre-base, may have wanted their intra-Tamil talks to fizzle out the way they have done. The least that they expected was a party like the TPNA joining hands with the EPDP, to topple a TNA-led pradesiya sabha, as in the Jaffna suburb of Nallur, a historic landmark for the Tamils and Tamil parties, owing to the existence of the kovil for Lord Murugan.

Mutual incompabilities

The fact remains that the Tamil polity is using occasions like the martyrs’ day, or whatever it is, to blame the Government and divert Tamil public attention from their own mutual incompatibilities. In the name of ideology, et al, what they are panning are personal ego clashes, nothing more, or disciplinary issues as Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam initiated against his top aide within his Tamil People’s National Front. That way, barring the appendage, whether it is an ‘Alliance’ or a ‘Front’, what is the difference between the nomenclatures of the outfits that Wigneswaran and Gajan Ponnambalam lead?

In a way, all Tamil parties, including the ITAK-TNA should thank the ruling Rajapaksas for giving them an occasion to protest, and be heard, at least by their people. When the nation is reeling under Covid pandemic, and has commenced a Colombo-centric blame-game, the larger Lanka polity has no time, interest or inclination for the cause of the Tamils’ protests, not at least this time.

They need to understand that by coopting the TNA at least, erstwhile UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ensured that the alliance lost credibility and standing among the Tamil society. By provoking the LTTE by their very presence, the Rajapaksas temped Prabhakaran to take them on militarily. The world now knows the results of the LTTE’s folly, so do the Tamils and their political leaders.

Belling the cat

The question is square and simple. Who is going to bell the cat in terms of bringing together the Tamil parties when they are still electorally relevant. Had it not been possibly for the pandemic, Minister Devananda and parliamentarian Angajan Ramanathan, and competitively so, may have brought in more jobs to the North, and that could have turned the tables against the protesting polity, even more than already.

It is easy to blame that the two, among others, are corrupting the Tamil youth, and the latter too are falling prey. It is easier said than done. The likes of Douglas had tried giving jobs to the Tamil youth in the North even at the end of the ethnic war, but LTTE remnants were known to threaten families that accepted those jobs, including those in the police force and even the armed forces. Now the situation on the ground may have changed – and those ‘ivory tower’ leaders whose children are brought up and settled outside the country, or at least in Colombo, should be taking a look at their own face in the morning mirror.

Between now and the much-delayed provincial council polls, whenever held, the Tamil polity should jointly and severally introspect and try to sort out their mutual differences and personal contradictions. They neither have Prabhakaran’s appeal or gun to ‘convince’ the post-war Tamil youth otherwise. The straight path requires that they come up with solutions to the existing problems, not more problems, especially more of the same old stuff. Both the wine and the bottle are old, and unfortunately so for them.

Smart move

The Rajapaksas are known for their smart political moves, especially when it power. If the reports about Mahinda-Sumanthiran tete tete is true, then it is not inconceivable that the Government will invite the TNA for talks, first but they need not be the only one. Even when the forgotten and agenda-oriented post-war talks between the Rajapaksa Government of the day and the TNA collapsed, there was a clear message that the TNA would be the prime contact-point with the Tamil community, but not the only one.

Today, the TNA is weakened and the ITAK is in sixes and sevens. They are fighting more and more about the role of Sumanthiran, or a role of Sumanthiran. The TNA’s grand old man, R Sampanthan, who is Sumanthiran’s godfather, is neither healthy enough, nor powerful enough as in the past, to fight Suma’s battel for him.

Yet, the Government seems to be centring on Sumanthiran, a President’\s Counsel, who has since studied the Constitution threadbare from the point of view of the ethnic issue, political solution and legal issues and possible solutions. Barring Wigneswaran, who is a former Supreme Court Judge and Gajan Ponnambalam, whose political genes has given him a clear view of the legal and constitutional matters, the rest of them are politicians, and are capable only of talking politics.

Even here , Sumanthiran, Wigneswaran and Gajan Ponnambalam are looking at different directions. For any clever Government, it is enough to commence the political negotiations with the Tamils, then ask them for a round-table or a one-on-one talk. Either way, they are going to be divided, with the TNA first and the ITAK even more on the choice of Sumanthiran being their front-liner for talks with the Government, this or any other.

Then, the Government can tell the so-called international community, or whoever there that is willing to listen that they had tried but the Tamil parties are not united for taking forward the talks, leave alone come to a stage where they can discuss political solutions. And that can happen, who knows, before the crucial March session of the UNHRC, which anyway, the Rajapaksa Government had decided, long ago, to boycott – as they did, before Mahinda lost the presidency in Elections-2015.

(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: