December 07, 2009

Tamils meet in Switzerland: Minimum of understanding / Minimising the understanding

Source: South Asia Analysis Group

Guest column by Ravi Sundaralingam

(The views expressed are his own)

Amid the election fever in Sri Lanka, some leaders of Tamils met in Switzerland, and the communiqué put out by the Tamil Information Centre London on their behalf read nothing of substance. This can only raise the level of intrigue of the purpose and those who organised it.

At first sight, seeing many Tamils calling themselves leaders of dead militant groups, some with members less than the attendees, can be an encouraging sign. Instead of killing each other or outsmart one another with their incapacities, it seems the shadowy powers behind the scene were persuasive enough for the attendees to shelve their over-inflated egos a while, at least until someone else tell them what to do. They know those egos are only for show within the communities than an expression of power outside. Those familiar with the Tamil militant struggle or the Tamil-on-Tamil violence among Expatriate communities understand what we are on about. Obviously the LTTE was an exception, in that it was also willing take on the outside powers, consistently. If this aspect were to be commended as an achievement then Tamil speaking communities should thank those shadowy powers and secretive wheeler dealers for their effort.

Then that is where we take leave of them, referring back to our past experiences with the LTTE. It also participated in many ‘talks’, ‘understandings’, and ‘agreements’, all very secretive with absolutely no information were shared with its own members, let alone the people, keeping the issue neatly off the agenda of the West, so that the ethnic cleansing of the Tamils could go on.

As for the LTTE, this secretive behaviour along with their socio-military/regional/international policies, and terrorist acts was also a chasm, which was complete when they lead their own to a cul de sac where they perished, and the final culling of the Tamils was declared a victory against terrorism.

The cloak and dagger stuff, a culture developed and encouraged by the International Community, including India, during the militant-phase, talking and deciding about a people and their rights without any consultations with them, while repetitively uttering the word ‘democracy’ as some sort of mantra to cheat the poor and feeble, raises many questions just as it gives an impression to solve a single issue; persuading many Tamil ‘leaders’ to meet.

To their credit participants had understood, but didn’t promise, they “should not kill each other”, and accepted they had “separate agendas”. Even with our positive attitude towards such efforts we find it almost impossible to interpret the statement in any other way.

Beside the public consultations we notice, absence of an agenda, common political understanding or future program, and absence of others who fundamentally disagreed the Sri Lankan state. Instead, we see the domination of a tendency that denied any discussion about the plight of the Tamil speaking people in real historical terms.

All attendees had renounced or denied their past association with the campaign for a separate Tamil state. Their reiterated argument is, just as it was when the LTTE was dominant, is about ‘reality’ and “the need to work along the powerful”.

This feudal wisdom, which was absent at least among the Sinhala communities until four decades ago, is now the most prevalent theme, as all the social and civic structures in Sri Lanka are militarised for the purpose of the government in power. This can be ‘argued’ as a progress if it were done on behalf of a state, instead of the ruling party or family. This regression into modern feudalism necessitate similar responses from the under links, the communities and their alleged leaders, thus the confusion between the state and the government is perpetuated.

The attendees could have clarified this situation a little by coming to a common understanding to abandon the terms Tamileelam or Eelam from their party labels. How can any group working with the Sri Lankan state hold on to these terms is a mystery, beyond comprehension. Having endured the LTTE and lived off them for political philosophy of sort, they could have taken the opportunity to make their own political demarcation, by dropping these bogus labels.

Sinhala government’s demand that they dropped these, made good sense on the ground of loyalty to the state, and to good taste to their definitions.

And it is indeed strange, when all attendees had already agreed in their relationship with the Sri Lankan state, they had to come a long way, into the winter months in Switzerland, to let each other know they existed.

At least they could have listened to the inner calls, the chance to ‘make money’, and uttered a few words about the war devastated and state deprived economies in the North, East and Central provinces and any effort to improve them should abide by some principles, even if couldn’t agree on those principles.

If this is far reaching, they could have agreed how they could approach the impending election, not in terms of candidates, but about the scope of democracy within the system.

Those forever speculate on the role of India and China and the past mistakes by the LTTE could not see an opportunity to put the records straight, for a different relationship with India, and even China. Again, everyone of them will probably tell that they are ‘speaking’ to ‘India’, in secret.

The meeting of similar minds may have been part of a program of someone else. But more than their intentions, the results are spelt out by consequences and their perceptions. For an outsider, it was a project browbeaten into nothing by the confusion between loyalty to a government and a state. And, it was also a missed opportunity to gain some political credibility by the so called alternatives to the LTTE, who turned out in Switzerland only to make “Mahinda Chinthanaya” look as it were the real alternative.

If wiping out the LTTE, having used them to wipe out the entire Tamil leadership was a program, then this meeting, may be unintentionally, in a small way was part of it to ensure the ethnic issues didn’t dominate the presidential election.

This gives ground to the speculation that there must be a deal about these issues with the Sinhala political and military chiefs before the okaying end of the LTTE. It made sense, only if you believed the powers actually cared about the status of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Because, the rationale starts with the question, “why would the International Community create a political vacuum for the Tamils, deplete their stay on the ground, and make them a defeated people?” Once again, deals or no deals all what we have is secrecy and intrigue.

Have they been aware of their opposition to the hijacking of votes by the LTTE, urging a boycott or support a candidate. Thus, should have been willing to reach an understanding to desist from declaring support for any candidate or putting up a stoking-horse only to declare a preference in the end. Instead, they would have agreed to spell out their ideal candidate, who would address a list of issues, which they agreed in the meeting.

Failing all these, they could have at least set up a ‘team’ to investigate and compile a list of immediate issues and, the principles that defined them for the benefit of such a meeting in the future.

Unfortunately, every possibility raised by us were far removed from the attendees, as they spent a weekend in Switzerland and flew back for further instructions.

Democracy, state and government

The misrepresentation of a state and its government and their authorities is one of the fundamental political problem in the developing world. The problem is as organic as the corruption that plague the lives of the billions, and as relevant as the poverty itself.

In advanced nations civic institutions are the basic structures of a society. But, what are these civic institutions? Are they the family, community, socio-political / economical / religious institutions?

The clans and extended families existed only for socio-psychological continuities than socio-economic advancements. The cyclic relationship between the individual, family, community and state are the result of the historical struggles for the betterment of the terms and conditions of the economic and social relations for the communities and individuals for their being. The main engine providing the motive force has always been the economical development and the accumulation of the surplus capital. Even the domain in which these activities take place has evolved from a nation to region and, now to a global scale. As the area of the domain increases, so is the tension on the cyclic-relationship, changing the nature and the structure of these institutions.

Therefore, the concept of a family has very little economical value for the individual, unless it is wealthy. The expectations of their lives and welfare are so high, it would be almost impossible for an ordinary family or clan to provide for them. In fact, there are even predictions of end to the nucleus family. As traditional institutions, such as family and community fade out of this relationship the dynamics between the individual and the state become strenuous yet, stronger through newly found common socio-political institutions. It could be a single issue campaign group or an NGO to work abroad or a psycho-cultural sect, but they all link the individual to the state at various connection points, which may be outside the geographical nation-state.

Therefore, even within the stranglehold of a capitalist corporate state structure, individuals and ‘communities’ still see ‘sense’ to transfer their sovereignties into common currencies.

In fact, the transformation of this process is so deep, it would be impossible seek meaning of an individual or community without shared sovereignty. This is true even for those immigrants who claim to hold on to their ‘values’ and wage a war against their respective states.

It is therefore possible in the advanced states to construct sovereignty of an individual and community within a framework of human-rights.

The conditions in the underdeveloped societies are opposite. Without the support of the dominant clan or extended families an individual or a community cannot move forward. Therefore, the expectations and the notion of a state are severely limited in scope and practice. It is not so strange for a serious commentator to say, even for the oversimplification, “Pakistani army is primarily fighting against the Massud’s clan in Warristan” when there is a full scale war on a people or to know that the voting in Afghanistan are decided by clan elders, who impose hefty fines if directions are not followed by members. Or in India, many more communities want to be recognised as scheduled-casts to access state quotas or the LTTE was controlled by the Valluvettithuari-fisher folks and, the new feudal lords in Sri Lanka, the Rajapackse family are Govigamma, but need the backing of the Sinhala Parava communities.

Under such conditions sovereignty and authority of a state are easily misrepresented, and those in control of the tools of power deliberately focus their arguments on authority of the government than the sovereignty of the individual or communities. As heads of clans or ‘families’, when individuals take control of a state they translate their communal models as the norm of the state and the government.

Having accessed the powers of the state through feudal means it would be impossible for them not to use its powers to ‘better themselves’, in the process institutionalising the casts, corruptions, discriminations and whole lot more. It is no surprise then, the development of a sense of common sovereignty, and collective responsibilities are severely undermined. Therefore, what is intended and what happens are two different things as the majority chase the dream of social advancement through an enforced “feudal-democracy”, in essence a parliamentary dictatorship, which clearly cannot suit the purpose.

What to do?

There are desires, and beside them are the realities conditioned by socio-economic tendencies. The struggle for those who want to truly lead their people is to bridge the gap between them. As for us, firstly, we see the terms ‘leadership’ or ‘leader’ utterly meaningless in the context of the Tamil speaking communities at present, and secondly as Expatriates, see our limitations. Therefore, our the main objective is to engender a process of ‘thinking’ rather being ‘right’, which has been drained out of the socio-political system.

In this respect, we hope the attendees of such future meetings would realise,

i. Tamil or Sinhala speaking communities, living outside the Western province and the wet zone, have similar economic conditions.

ii. The consequences of those are accentuated by ethnic differences, which in turn are exploited by bigots and opportunists.

iii. Sri Lanka is a failed state where the militarization of all of its civic and social institutions in support of the ruling party of the day is complete, and the National minorities aren’t even recognised as part of the structure.

iv. This process has wiped out any chance of social or political democracy without serious economic development.

v. Tamil speaking communities have specific issues with the state, which is now completely in the hands of the Sinhala majority.

vi. India as a determining power of the region, and can play a constructive role to upgrade the economies of the people, particularly in the Dry zones of Sri Lanka.

vii. Any such development program can be linked to the security of the region in which Tamil Nadu can play a role, departing from its partisan historical past.

Can all this observations be part of any program?

We suggest two ideas that could have far reaching consequences to the underdevelopment and thereby, to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, which need not copy any Indian model. Concept of these can be discussed on another opportunity.

1. The regions of North, East and adjoining districts should be declared a demilitarised Special Environmental and Economic Zones (SEEZ).

2. A special regional development agency, South Asian Regional Economical and Development Agency (SAREDA) is created to oversee the projects within a regional context, especially for the southern tip of the Subcontinent.

(The writer is a London based expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil and the The Academic Secretary of ASATiC. He can be reached at E-Mail:- academic.secretary@gmail.com)

2 comments:

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