Mr. Sampanthan, Be Sri Lankan
By Faiszer Musthapha MP
There had been several responses to Mr. Sampanthan’s speech delivered at the ITAK annual convention held recently in Batticaloa. Those articles were by and large highly critical of Mr. Sampanthan even alleging that he was propagating the cause for a Tamil Eelam. However, Mr. Sampanthan had also sent several mixed signals in between and it is prudent to treat him with respect and explore the possibility of reaching consensus on the basis of creating a Sri Lankan identity.
The prospects of pursuance of a lasting solution for the national problem initially appeared to be shining bright as the Wesak full moon as the month began but as it waned towards the end of May the prognosis for reconciliation too waned. The impetus for both situations was provided by the leader of ITAK and TNA. The speech reported to have made by the Tamil leader to ITAK convention appeared to be a dark cloud which eclipsed all efforts seeking national consensus on reaching a solution. However, as the presence of a thin silver lining is also visible in the large dark cloud, no harm would befall in attempting to extract the silver lining for the larger benefit of the country and its people.
A hope shattered
All Sri Lankans, majority of whom are Sinhala Buddhists, joined by the larger segments of Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Burghers and many other communities hailed the veteran Tamil politician and leader of the ITAK and TNA R. Sampanthan when he had held aloft the national flag of Sri Lanka, in Jaffna on May Day this year.
It seemed that Mr. Rajavarothayam Sampanthan had publicly expressed his commitment to supporting Sri Lanka’s post-conflict reconciliation process; the ultimate desire of all Sri Lankans.
Alas! Hardly three weeks had passed when all hopes of the people were shattered by the very same Mr. Sampanthan in Batticaloa; when he echoed the words of the vanquished LTTE leader Prabhakaran resembling his annual Mahaveer speeches of the bygone era. A distinctive change in Mr. Sampanthan’s speech is that he addressed his “dear Sinhala friends” also on this occasion.
In sum, Mr. Sampanthan called for a separate Tamil state. He made it clear that they need to ‘be patient’ spelling it loudly as the theme phrase of his speech. He also expressed the objective – to achieve the ‘soaring aspiration – “to regain our [Tamil] community’s home, its historical habitat and its sovereignty”. This is exactly the definition of Eelam espoused by Velupillai Prabhakaran and his terrorist combatants.
Mr. Sampanthan’s act in Jaffna – the waving and display of the national flag of Sri Lanka and his act in Batticaloa – the subtle but determined call for the establishment of a Tamil Eelam are positions diametrically opposed to one another.
Although one would in no way belittle Mr. Sampanthan, the duplicity of his actions and utterances give rise to the question whether those are manifestations of ITAK on one occasion and TNA on the other; as he is the leader of both parties.
It was widely reported that the national flag waving incident in Jaffna had created much dissension among several constituent parties of the TNA. Therefore, one might argue that Mr. Sampanthan played a balancing role on the latter occasion, in Batticaloa.
Another may argue that it was an election ploy to win over the ‘Tamil speaking people’ in the Eastern province where the Provincial Council elections are expected to be held in the near future. His appeal to the ‘Tamil speaking people’ is directly aimed at the Muslim community. If not for Mr. Sampanthan’s silence when Muslims were evicted overnight at gunpoint from Jaffna and more than 600 Muslims including 387 Muslims engaged in Jumma prayers in Kaththankudy were massacred by the LTTE, the Muslims would have held Mr, Sampanthan in high esteem.
A fierce political enemy might try to taint Mr. Sampanthan’s political image by branding him as a ‘hypocrite’ or an ‘opportunist’.
However, the ardent followers of Mr. Sampanthan and the ordinary Tamil speaking people including the Muslims and even the plantation sector Tamil community would wish that Mr. Sampanthan being a veteran politician would espouse the cause for the minority communities and become an active partner in the reconciliation process.
Mr. Sampanthan earned plaudits overnight from the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Sri Lankan polity on his May Day gesture in Jaffna. Therefore, he has only to start the journey from there in the interest of the very own people he stands for.
Despite the presence of strong rhetoric which could be interpreted as a pro-Eelam dimension in his much talked about recent speech delivered at the 14th ITAK convention in Batticaloa, it is also observed that in the same vein he had expressed strongly his party’s will to solve the problem within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. Despite the vagueness of this statement it would be prudent to consider it on a positive note and explore the possibility of striking a deal towards reaching a consensus.
Notwithstanding the contradictory statements made by some of the TNA leaders there had been positive signs of a withdrawal of the TNA from its earlier intransigent attitude and now signaling a more accommodating stance in dealing with the government in search for a solution to the national problem. This position is again endorsed by the pledge given to Ms Sushma Swaraj during her recent visit to Sri Lanka.
According to reports, “India’s opposition leader Sushma Swaraj hailed Sampanthan’s leadership, declaring at a press conference that he had assured her ‘not once but three times that he sought a political settlement in an undivided Sri Lanka’
There are some hard truths that the stakeholders of both sides of the national question need to understand.
Firstly, the Tamil politicians should accept the fact that the Tamil people have never endorsed violent struggle and called for a separate state. The LTTE leader himself had opined this hard truth when Prabhakaran in his Mahaveer Day speech in November 2000 stated that “only when the public at large joins our liberation struggle does it elevate itself to the political status of a peoples’ struggle.” This reveals the naked truth that both the armed struggle and the call for a separate state had never been the aspiration of the Tamil people.
It is interesting to note that Prabhakaran lamented the lack of people’s support for his struggle when the LTTE was riding high after its high flying military successes which included the capture of the government’s strategic military hub at Elephant Pass and Pooneryn camps.
Although the ITAK( Federal Party) was founded in 1949, establishment of a separate state was never mooted by them until after 1972. The election manifesto of 1970 of the ITAK/FP had stated that the Tamil people “should not lend support to any political movement which advocates separation of the country”.
Secondly, the southern polity through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact (B-C Pact) in 1957 and the Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact in 1965 had made genuine efforts to address the national question. Both agreements carried a solution that would have brought the country to a continuum between the two extremes championed by chauvinists on both sides of the divide. The opposition to the proposals emerged not only from the Sinhalese but also from the Tamils. On both occasions the accusing finger was pointed towards the Tamil Congress leadership. On the first occasion the Tamil Congress joined hands with the opposition to the B-C pact and on the latter it was rumored that the Tamil Congress being a partner in the Dudley Senanayaka government had leaked a copy of the draft agreement to the press which action was purported to have created the formation of an organized opposition to the set of proposals.
Thirdly, it must be noted that any solution which cannot be promoted within the majority community and other minorities will not yield desired results. Imported solutions to political problems in any country are doomed to fail.
Fourthly, President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a politician commands respect from the majority of the Sinhalese and other communities, irrespective of political, ethnic or religious differences; on wiping out the LTTE terrorist menace decisively. Therefore, President Rajapaksa, with the trust he has won from all sections of the people, including the Southern polity and his political stature, is the only person who can win over the large majority of the people to accept a solution which would appease all communities. If the Tamil politicians lose this chance, they lose it forever.
Fifthly, President Rajapaksa has declared very clearly that he was anxiously awaiting a solution emanating from the Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to recommend suitable proposals to resolve the national question.
Those who advocate federalism as panacea for all ills of Sri Lanka should clearly understand that asymmetric federalism will be totally rejected by the Southern polity as well as the Muslim community in the Eastern province who form the largest minority community. It is difficult to allay their fears built as a result of large scale discrimination by the LTTE of which Mr. Sampanthan and his alliance had been acting as proxy.
It is true that federalism has taken roots in several countries; though not without ever-growing strong movements demanding secession. The existence of federal states in certain parts of the world does not assure the success of a transplanted structure elsewhere.
In this context there is no other alternative to the national problem than finding an indigenous solution. A lasting solution could only be arrived at, by reaching consensus among all stakeholders. All issues have to be weighed in the post-conflict present day context taking into consideration the rapid changes which have occurred after the military victory over the LTTE and liberation of the Tamil people from the yoke of the fascist rule of Prabhakaran. Since 19th May 2009, the landscape in the North and East has changed. The people who were made slaves of the LTTE now earn their living by engaging in farming, fishing and contributing in large measure to development projects. More than 10,000 LTTE combatants who were rehabilitated have been integrated into the society. The Northern Province has recorded a 22% growth as against the national growth figure of 8%. The people of the North and East have seen unprecedented development. If calculated family-wise the development is Rupees one million per family.
Be Sri Lankan
Therefore, it calls for a new approach to solving the national problem and all previous proposals will have to be reviewed in the new context. The Parliamentary Select Committee is the best mechanism that all parties and stakeholders can rely on for reaching consensus.
As President Rajapaksa has already declared his willingness to pursue any proposals approved by the Parliament it is incumbent on all political parties represented in Parliament to shun all ideological differences and sit together in the interest of the nation, especially the future generation.
Mr. Sampanthan being the leading Tamil politician in the opposition should translate his May Day gesture into action and prove that he is truly a Sri Lankan.
All Sri Lankans look forward to the day when everybody would emulate our world renowned cricket legend Kumar Sangakkara and echo his words, winding up the prestigious Colin Cowdrey commemorative lecture: “I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.”