By S. V. Kirubaharan, France
The President of the US, Abraham Lincoln once said, “you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Likewise, “we can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but we cannot please all the people all the time.” I would like to share my views regarding various ground realities and facts which are not seriously considered by some.
Well, today what is the position of the Tamils in Sri Lanka? A few years, even months back, it was said with conviction that the North East is the ‘homeland’ of ‘Eelam Tamils’. In the island of Sri Lanka, there are two nations –Tamil and Sinhala. This is a historical fact and the living proof was visible until 19 May 2009. This reality was not only acknowledged by the people in the North and East but also by many others who visited those areas.
Where do we stand today? Some say, all thirty years of struggle brought nothing other than disaster to the Tamils. Others say that even though the Indo-Lanka accord in 1987 was not a good solution and didn’t have the majority support from Tamils and Singhalese – today there is not even ten percent of what was stated and implemented through this accord. Furthermore, take into account the merger of Tamil homeland – North and East and the Tamil Chief Minister, as well as the fact that the Secretariat of the North East Provincial council was in Trincomalee, considered the capital of the homeland of Tamils.
Fighting and branding each other
Today where are those who were leading the struggle? Not seen, not heard, but of course Tom, Dick and Harry in the diaspora make use of their names for their own benefit. In fact, the structure of the people who were leading the struggle was massive and it had a huge support. But today, what we see among the diaspora is a few tiny groups, fighting and branding each other as ‘traitors’. This makes the task easy for the oppressor. This is not the path to find any political solution for the oppressed people. Maybe even for some individuals, this is simply a leisure time entertainment.
How can one get out of this pathetic situation? Every minute we delay, we are losing each inch – not only of our hereditary land, but also our economic, social, cultural and political rights. Some don’t realise that the oppressor is a state. Whatever oppressed people do internationally should be superior to, or at least equal to that of the oppressor. All other tasks will be a waste of time and for the name and fame of some individuals.
We proudly say that there is a massive population of Tamils in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia, South Africa and a few other countries. But what have we achieved through those brothers and sisters? The outcome is the opposite of what we hoped for. Countries like India, Malaysia and South Africa, listen more to the oppressor than to the oppressed. This convinced other states to follow the same path.
Now what can we do to follow the right path? Firstly, we all will have to unite and stop fighting and slinging mud at each other. Each one should realise that fighting among us is not going to bring anything productive. All those who do not want to be united are working either for the oppressor or other actors. Secondly, we will have to set our priorities in a proper manner. The IDPs and the political prisoners should be given priority. Thirdly we should seriously work on a durable political settlement, at least as a preliminary step. Fourthly, in the future, all these three cannot be worked on by us alone. We need to be backed by a state, at least behind the scenes. Otherwise, there will be a negative impact once more.
This is the best time for us to go back in history to the 1950s. On 26 July 1957, an agreement known as “Banda-Chelva” was signed between Prime Minister S. W. R., D. Bandaranayake and the Tamil leader Chelvanayagam. This agreement was based on a quasi federal system devolving certain powers to the Tamils in the North and Eastern provinces. On 4 October 1957 the opposition, United National Party – UNP headed by J. R. Jayewardene and Dudley Senanayake, went on a procession from Colombo to Kandy, in opposition to this agreement. Anyhow the participants were forced to give up this procession in Gampaha.
J. R. Jayewardene speech in 1987
Interestingly, the same J. R. Jayewardene was President in 1987 and signed the Indo-Lanka accord, merging the North and Eastern provinces, accepting a Tamil as a Chief Minister. When this accord was signed, then opposition political parties in the South were protesting against it and the JVP members were setting fire to buses and buildings, staging their protest.
During this time, J. R. Jayewardene said in a speech to the people in the South that “it’s me who went on a procession against the Banda-Chelva agreement in 1956, but today the situation is not same as before. In the recent past, we requested for help from many of our friendly countries. They want to know the position of India. They are refusing to help us and insist that we should seek the help of India. Therefore I am compelled to sign this agreement, considering long term benefit for Sri Lanka”. This shows how difficult it is for a State to do business ignoring neighbouring India! If that is so…..
Also, don’t forget that the Indian Prime Minister Rajivi Gandhi who visited Sri Lanka to sign the accord in 1987 was assaulted in a guard of honour with a gun by a naval soldier. In fact, this was a manipulation by top politicians who were against this accord. Nevertheless clever politicians from the South played their diplomacy in the right direction and earned the support of India, which was ultimately a serious cause of disaster to the Tamils.
Therefore, this is the right time for the Tamils to think whether we are going to continue with a wrong political approach lacking diplomacy. This will lead to earning increased animosity of India and face further consequences. Rather than making someone a life time enemy, it is better to use polite language and to manage the future. For example rather than we analyse one-sidedly what India did to the Tamils, why not analyse impartially?
Last March, when the President of East Timor, Mr José Manuel Ramos-Horta was speaking to members of civil society in the UN in Geneva, he said “we never claimed that we defeated the Indonesian forces. We maintained that Indonesian forces left East Timor. This made the Indonesian President to participate in our first Independence Day celebration on 19 May 2002.” This is a good example of matured politics and good diplomacy.
Renewal of relationship
The LTTE leader Pirabaharan said in his annual Heroes’ day speech on 27 November 2008 that, “Our freedom movement, as well as our people, has always wished to maintain cordiality with the international community as well as neighbouring India. With this in view, we wish to create a viable environment and enhance friendship. We wish to express our goodwill and are looking forward to the opportunity to build a constructive relationship. ……….Today, there are great changes taking place in India…………The positive change in environment gives us courage to seek renewal of our relationship with the Indian super power……"
What can the Tamils do with neighbouring India? It is well known that Sri Lanka has signed security agreements with India and China and is going to sign another with Pakistan. What does this mean? Sri Lanka is an Island. Is there really a threat to it from any other country? It is obvious that these security agreements are intended to suppress the voice and the rights of the Tamils.
The last parliamentary election has taught a few good lessons! Firstly, the people in the North and East have rejected the politicians who scared them with extreme political ideology. Secondly, certain candidates for their own political mileage said that the Tamil National Alliance – TNA is pro-India. But the voters have overwhelmingly voted for TNA. Does this mean that those voters prefer a party which is pro-India or are they giving the green light for Indian involvement? Thirdly, as said by many politicians, Tamils prefer the merger of the North and East which is one of the positive clauses in the Indo-Lanka accord.
Whether one likes it or not, let us seriously analyse the possibility of an armed struggle emerging in the future! Firstly, the people in the ground are not ready to support it for obvious reasons. Secondly, when militancy was born in the 1970s, then there were only two or three Army camps, one Navy camp and a few Police stations in the Jaffna peninsula. It was the same throughout the North and East. Presently, there are hundreds of Army camps, sentry points everywhere. Thirdly, at that time militancy had the full support of India. Now what is the reality? There is no way of entering neighbouring India as before. Fourthly, in those days, there were only a few government informants in the North and East but now there are Tamil paramilitary groups operating with heavy weapons. Under these conditions, is it possible for an armed struggle to be re-born? Therefore, only the involvement of India will make anything possible for the Tamils to find a durable political solution.
Presently the Sri Lankan government has rejected many clauses in the Indo-Lanka accord but the Indian government has a duty to answer the Tamils, at least about the merger of the North East.
The latest development in Sri Lanka is that now the Sri Lankan President and his cabinet ministers are saying that there are no minorities, all are Sri Lankans – we don’t want to talk about Tamil people! In a recent interview given by Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, he said that, “we need to win the hearts and minds of the people. You know, I don’t want to talk about Tamil people. They all are Sri Lankan now!” At the same time the Ministry for human rights has been scrapped in the new cabinet. Not that the human rights ministry in the past has done a wonderful job! But anyway there was a ministry where foreign dignitaries and institutions could raise their concerns about the violations of human rights. These things are casting a shadow on the future of the Tamils in Sri Lanka!
JVP leaders were killed in 1989
There may be a reason for some Tamils to be suspicious of Indian involvement. But we should learn something from the past rather than making things worse for the future. At this juncture, take the JVP as an example. During their first attempt to overthrow the government in 1971, it was India which helped Sri Lanka. In their second attempt in 1987, it was purely on the pretext of being against the Indo-Lanka accord. With all these ups and downs, when all the JVP leaders were killed in November 1989, one of their leaders escaped to Europe via India. Presumably this was with the full knowledge of the Indian government.
Tamils should not be the losers any more. Therefore the Tamils’ strategy should start right now. There are obvious, positive and good reasons for this approach.
Presently with so much of pressure from VVIPs around the world, nothing is moving even on human rights, humanitarian affairs and accountability process on Sri Lanka. Why?
Whether one likes it or not, we should insist on India’s responsibility for the merger of the North and East under the accord signed in 1987. Even though this is only a part of the solution, this may be the way forward. The day Sri Lanka refuses to merge the North and East, India will be compelled to take this case to the International Court of Justice in Hague.
When one talks about a political solution, it is worth considering Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is obvious that the Scottish people are moving in the right direction. One should not forget that the World order has been changed since new countries like Eritrea and East Timor were born. In the 1990s the autonomous republics of the USSR – Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics were able to achieve their independence, because of the political structure in the USSR. Also those states had indirect support of another super power. Tamils haven’t reached any of these stages and don’t have any support of any state. Hope you all know what has happened and what is happening to the people of Kosovo! Therefore rather than making many more mistakes, it is the right time for every Tamil to call for the support of neighbouring India.
Please don’t jump to conclusions that I am trying to divert your political ideology. You have your freedom of choice, thought and expression. A journalist friend in Europe told me that, presently there are certain trains of thought along the lines that “let us be without any cloth until we find a suit or a sari”, which may or may not be possible for another couple of decades. These individuals should realise that we have already lost even the underpants that we had in the 60s, and since July 1987 – merger of the North East. After May last year, it has become a question of looking for piece of cloth and it is a question of survival, for the people in the North and East.
The only way out
Since the formation of the new cabinet in Sri Lanka – following the changes that Sri Lanka has brought in to impress the international community, a general Amnesty was given to Journalist Tissanayagam, and certain elements of the Emergency Regulations (ER) were relaxed and so on. This is to satisfy the international community and also an attempt to gain the GSP plus.
If we continue to fight among us, in a few years time, we will lose our identity in Sri Lanka. At the moment Tamils are not in a strong enough position even to call for negotiation. Therefore we should be united to be strong and need a friendly state that will support the right to self-determination.
I have personally witnessed a few ugly incidents carried out by the Indian Peace Keeping Forces – IPKF in Jaffna. In the recent past maybe many worse incidents have taken place. But if we continue to antagonise each other and take revenge, this will only bring ultimate disaster to the Tamils. As we are focussed on one single oppressor, can’t afford to have any other hostile countries.
These are realities – so this is the best time for all the Tamils, from every nook and corner of the globe to work hard and seriously earn the support of India. This is the only way out, for a durable solution. All other acts will be a waste of time and cause more disaster to the future generations as well.
Presently the right to self-determination of the Tamils is caught up into geo-politics. Therefore without making any more mistakes, we will have to look at the countries which have achieved their right to self-determination in the past. Bangladesh had the support of India. Before the cold war, Eritrea was supported by Iraq and Syria and also had the support of US and USSR in different stages. East Timor was supported by Portugal and so on.
The longer we delay our approach to India; the oppressor will benefit the maximum from India and do more damage internally and externally to us. Let us be wise and move in the right direction.