It’s heartening to note that the two rounds of talks between the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Government on finding a political solution to the vexatious ethnic issue have gone off well over the past weeks. Or, at least that is what news reports, quoting TNA leaders, say. These reports have not been contested by either side so far.
There is thus nothing to suggest that the process would not continue smoothly onto the future rounds. Hiccups and hurdles, when they come, could well be over substantive issues, where differences do persist. It is these differences that had hampered a political solution in the past.
It is these differences that the two sides would have to sort out now, and in a way that is acceptable to other segments of the Tamil-speaking communities, the divided Sinhala polity, the Sri Lankan State (as different from the Government of the day) and the higher Judiciary, that final arbiter of constitutionality and legality of the accepted solutions.
It is here that the TNA has got its job cut out. Despite the unified image that the alliance has been able to project, it continues, at best, to be an amalgam of four diverse parties of a limited section of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil‘ community, and of other desperate groups and individuals.
The TNA was a creature of the LTTE. If anything, the four parties and a larger group of non-party members of Parliament constituted the TNA. Despite perceptions and projections to the contrary, they have remained as disparate as in the past. Or, at least that is what the position of individual parties, groups and individuals within the TNA during the run-up to the nominations for the upcoming local government polls have shown.
Leave alone the reservations of some of the TNA players against the induction/inclusion of other Tamil political parties and leaders into a loose alliance for contesting the local government polls together. There were also symptoms of some of the TNA members or parties seeking to outsmart one another. Specifics are one too many to merit repetition.
Suffice is to point out that after forcing the rest of them to fall in line and contest under the Federal Party’s ‘House’ symbol, which the TNA has adapted as its own, the Alliance had to allow/accept that the combined team (which also included select non-TNA parties) contested the elections under the ‘Rising Sun’ symbol of the pre-TNA, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in some places.
The coming together of some, if not all the Tamil parties with the TNA in the vanguard, also means that the differences within the TULF, the umbrella organisation of moderate, pre-LTTE Tamil political parties have been diminished, if not wholly overcome. At the height of the LTTE era, the TULF too remained divided with a vocal and majority section identifying with the LTTE cause and joining the TNA.
Contesting along with the TNA in the local government polls is another anti-LTTE, ex-militant outfit from a distant past, namely, the People’s Liberation Organisation Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). The party, along with some anti-LTTE, non-TNA sections of the Tamil polity had contested the urban council polls in Jaffna and Vavuniya, post-war, in 2009, and won the latter, too.
It is also in this context that the TNA needs to look at the decision to keep some of the rest of the political parties of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil community’ from the electoral alliance. It defies logic in every which way. It smacks of personal prejudices of individual leaders ? or, is it an eternal sense of insecurity? — within the TNA, or select groups, both within and outside of the established pantheon within the Alliance.
More to the point, it cannot be seen as retaining past prejudices that were personal in nature, and also conveniently reflect the sentiments of a certain segment of the Diaspora view. If nothing else, it would not take the Diaspora, much time to brand the TNA or its select leaders the same way it had got used to doing with the earlier lot in the ‘LTTE era’. The Alliance hence would have to decide if it was reflecting the sentiments of those Tamils that are left behind in the island, or the reactions of those that have gone overseas, never to return.
The case of a faction of the left-leaning Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), led by Varadaraja Perumal, the one-time and only Chief Minister of a merged North-East, and that of former leaders of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) like M K Sivajilingam requires mention. If they all were/are speaking for themselves, or for their parties, those that were opposed to the TNA aligning with these two sections, cannot any more blame the Sinhala polity or community being divisive as a people.
It would be tempting for some to argue that the views of the Diaspora could not be over-looked given its commitment to the ’cause’ and that the latter has been strongly against one leader or another group. Any political solution, it has to be acknowledged, would imply a compromise of the ’cause’ in one way or more. It could well be the TNA’s turn someday to be dubbed ‘traitors’ by the Diaspora, if the latter were to pursue the political negotiations with the Government to the logical conclusion.
Weakening the other non-cause driven Tamil parties and leaders, and allowing those with an agenda of their won ? reflecting either their personal predilection or the political views of the Diaspora ? could only weaken the societal and political strength, and the consequent courage derived from the same, for the TNA to negotiate with the Sri Lankan State and sections of the Sinhala polity, which would need convincing.
If they were/are speaking for a group outside of their own personality or their own parties as groups ? and such groups branding such others nearer home as ‘traitors of the cause’, the TNA may have already lost credibility in that sense ? and ‘legitimacy’ of the claim that the Government too has conferred on the Alliance, by opening political talks with it. The TNA, having been invited by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, for substantive and structured dialogue on the ethnic issue and a political solution cannot be found wanting.
Fair enough, there are those like Minister and founder-leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Douglas Devananda and Eastern Province Chief Minister and leader of the ‘Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal’ (TMVP) S Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, who had opted to contest on the Government side in the Local Government polls. The former in particular had expressed a desire to retain the engagement with the rest of the Sri Lankan Tamil political community, their infant common cause on the common, ethnic issue. Post-poll, with the on-going talks with the Government too advancing on a positive note, the TNA has to accommodate all views and ideas, all parties and personalities.
As far as the TNA is concerned, it is not just an internal affair of the party, as to who it should align with and whom it should not, at election-time. Between them, the presidential polls and the parliamentary polls last year showed that twice as many voters in the Tamil-majority North voted Sarath Fonseka than they did the TNA candidates. Having embarked upon political negotiations with the Government, the TNA should not in word, deed and not certainly in spirit be seen as wanting to arrogate to itself the status of ‘sole representative’ of the Tamil-speaking people. It is unrealistic and has a ring of the past around it.
Among all the political parties/groupings of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’ community, only the TULF and the TNA do not carry any trace of ‘Eelam’ or the ‘LTTE’ in their nomenclature. As and when a political pact is sealed with the Government, the TNA needs to acknowledge the insolvency in its ranks in the ‘capacities’ department, in terms of politico-administrative efficiencies and experience. It is a different ball-game, particularly in the case of the TNA, or much of the rest of the Tamil polity in the country, as they had never ever played the role of a traditional political Opposition in a multi-party democracy.
This role also includes a certain aspiration for a party and/or Alliance and its leader(s) to aspire to be acknowledged as a ‘government-in-waiting’. Having had no such aspirations, and consequent understanding of the system in which and with which they will have to work with, if and when then win the Northern Provincial Council polls, as and when held, the TNA has to look inside, should have looked deeper in the weeks and months after the conclusion of the ‘ethnic war’.
Not having done that already ? not that it would have helped in capacity-creation, other than in acknowledging the reality ? it might have become more accommodative than some of its leaders wanting to be aggressive. If elected, and with financial powers and taxation powers, among others, the TNA, if nothing else, would have to learn to ‘tax’ their people who have lost their everything ? and yet, not do that, either. Running a government, and administering a government more importantly, is a tall order. And taller the order, greater are the chances of early collapse, and bottom up.