Has ‘moderation’ helped the TNA?

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By N. Sathiya Moorthy

For the ‘moderate’ Tamil National Alliance (TNA), it is becoming a thankless job all over again. On the one hand, they feel that the Government that they (alone) are keeping alive is ‘cheating’ the Tamil people. On the other, the otherwise forgotten LTTE is, continually, plotting to kill at least one of their leaders.

Around the time the Government, all but asked the UNHRC to take a walk on the implementation of Resolution: 30/1 on war-crimes probe and the like, Police arrested some persons, back home, for plotting to kill a TNA leader. Though, Police did not name the targeted leader, Media reports said, it was TNA Parliamentarian and Media spokesperson, M. A. Sumanthiran.

If true, this is the second time in almost as many years that the Police have arrested ex-LTTE cadres and/or sympathisers, for plotting to kill Sumanthiran. The TNA has promptly sought increased security for the targeted leader, which in the case of Sumanthiran was upped after the earlier, ‘Jaffna plot’. It is another matter that Police have, also, not denied Media reports naming Sumanthiran as LTTE’s intended victim.

Post-Geneva, Sumanthiran has been more vociferous than in the past, whichever Government was/is in power in the post-war era. After Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana contested the rationale and content of 30/1, almost point-by-point, as the earlier Rajapaksa regime had done – but by staying away from UNHRC, and on principle – Sumanthiran has gone hammer and tongs against the Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

However, Sumanthiran’s threat to take the Government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) has already been contested. As pointed out, the Ranil leadership has not signed the international convention subjecting the nation to the rigours of ICC. It was the line of ‘defence’ taken by all previous Governments before this one.

When SJV too lost out

Sumanthiran is also the story of the Tamil moderate polity, post-war. It was so before the war, too. At the time, none less than Tamils’ tallest leader, the late S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, lost out to the emergent groups of Tamil militant youth of the seventies. Tamil politics was not the same again.

The question has no answers. Was ‘Vaddukoddai Resolution’ SJV generation’s very own way of seeking to neutralise the Tamil youth militancy – as it was about demanding ‘separate Tamil homeland’? The demand, after all, was that of the youth groups, which were many in number and caste-centric at times.

Even at the height of the LTTE dominance of Tamil politics and society, through three decades, whatever moderate polity remained, their demands were much the same as that of the militant terrorist outfit. Only on the execution part, they differed. The LTTE wanted to take it by force, but the moderate TNA, which was the creation of the very same outfit, still hoped to achieve it through democratic, Constitutional means.

Post-war, post-split TNA, now again is divided only on the issue of ‘methodology’. The mainline TNA under R. Sampanthan continues to swear by Constitutional means, and by a ‘United Sri Lanka’. The splinter group, including the one under former Supreme Court Justice C. V. Wigneswaran, who was also the Northern Province Chief Minister, not very long ago, is not as categorical.

But after the exit of the LTTE, and with an early revival of Tamil militancy of any kind not in sight for a long, long time to come, there is no clear methodology to the anti-TNA ‘Tamil political cause’, as well. They indicate that they cannot live under the same, Sri Lankan State, roof as the rest of the nation. But they are unwilling and unable to spell it out. Nor do they have a cohesive strategy to be able to convince the Tamil people.

More than the Sri Lankan State, the Sinhala majority and also the international community, the Tamils of the North and the East have no mind or stomach for more of militancy, now and possibly ever. They want the diaspora kin’s money, but not the suffering that the latter want to continue inflicting on them, from the comfort of their own western homes.

Balancing act

The one difference between then and now is this. Before SJV, the ‘Sri Lankan’ Tamil leadership of G. G. Ponnambalam & Co freely cohabited with the monolith Sinhala UNP within Government and outside. SJV took the Tamil polity under his ITAK out of Government, and the community away from the majority Sinhala. There wasn’t adequate justification for the former, which might have been a contributing factor for the fomentation of the latter.

The present-day TNA’s efforts at building a political bridge to reach out to the Sinhala community through a select section of their polity has had mixed responses, at best, through the past four years of Prime Minister Ranil W. They need not have made a choice, but in their circumstances and environment, they did it.

Yet, they were ready to do business with the Sinhala polity in the language they understood, making a choice between the available two. However, their current arguments against the erstwhile Rajapaksa regime flies in the face, considering that they did do post-war business of whatever possible kind with the same leadership. Their aversion came more after international intervention, which again influenced the Tamil locals through the Diaspora – than should have been the other way round.

Today, if the TNA feels cheated, they are also to blame. TNA’s Siritharan, MP, has since declared that they would ‘defeat’ any Rajapaksa who contests for the presidency later this year. It is not always in their hand. Certainly, Ranil and his UNP cannot alienate their own Sinhala majority on a sensitive issue as ‘war crimes probe’ and/or ‘political solution’ and yet hope that the Tamil votes alone would see them through.

Today, the TNA needs to go back to the drawing-board, and with all their fellow Tamil allies and adversaries, alike. The Party in general and the Sampanthan leadership, more so, attempted the same after the war, but failed because of some selfish, short-sighted, support-less leaders who have since deserted the TNA, too. That kind of balancing act to keep the TNA intact to begin with did not help – the larger interest of the community and the possible road map to reach where the community needs to be, alone would help.

They have since begun well, after Wigneswaran and TNA’s Mavai Senathiraja participated in the Jaffna University students’ protests a few weeks ago. But, the TNA cannot continue to ‘run with the hare and hunt with the hound’. They need to do some soul-searching, all, but they do not have time on their side – what with the Presidential, Parliamentary and PC polls, all waiting to happen any time from now – any time soon, the last one, but most definitely the other two, when they are even otherwise due.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: [email protected])