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A new parliament has been elected in the island of Sri Lanka, giving a two-thirds majority to the ruling party, the Sri Lanka Podhujana Peramuna, another name for the political company of Rajapakshe and Brothers and Sons Private Limited. And family politics is not something new to Sri Lanka, and so it is not the worst part of the story, particularly from the Tamil people’s viewpoint.
srilanka tamil candidatesEven if the Rajapakshe clan had failed to secure the coveted two-thirds majority in the new Parliament, there was going to be no hurdles to overcome in consolidating Sinhala supremacist rule and scuttling the Tamil endeavors for justice. As is well-known the Sinhala parties together would always enjoy two-thirds or even three-fourths majority in the Assembly. The Tamils, or, say. The non-Sinhalese put together would always be in a pathetic minority. The Homeland Tamils that is the Tamil people of the North and East, the Muslim Tamils who tend to consider themselves as a separate ethnic community distinct from the Tamil nationality, the plantation Tamils of the hill districts and the Tamils living in the Sinhala areas, all put together, again, are only a minority, which is more or less reflected in the Parliamentary numbers.

So it has always been, and will, given the present circumstances, always be a hopeless scenario for the Tamil community of Sri Lanka.

Tamils have learnt through historical experience that the problems faced by Tamils are rooted in their loss of sovereignty to what is called the Sinhala majority. Yet it is not a question of majority vs minority. If within the borders of the island of Sri Lanka the Sinhala people constitute a majority, in Tamil Eelam, in the Noth and East, the Tamils are a clear majority. If you look at the Indian sub-continent as a whole, the Sinhalese people are a minority, a smaller minority than even the Tamils. But this way of looking at things is a travesty of the facts of history and the principles of democracy. In a multi-ethnic, multi-racial or multi-national country or state, majoritarianism in the garb of democracy leads to discrimination and oppression. It only brings forth ethnocracy in the name of democracy, as is the case in Sri Lanka.

We are reminded of the prophetic words of apprehension from Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851-1930) at the time of the introduction of universal adult franchise proposed in the Donoughmore Constitution the island then called Ceylon, a British colony: “Donoughmore, Tamils no more.”

Generally speaking, the universal adult franchise should be considered a great leap forward in advancing towards democracy, which was the case in western democracies, nation-states growing out of feudalism, monarchism and clericalism. Not on the island of Ceylon with a multi-ethnic demographic composition.

In order to bring home this point, we can point to another aspect of democracy. A dominion form of state giving way to a republic should be generally hailed as a triumph of democracy. All right, but in the case of Ceylon, the act of the Sirimao regime declaring it to be a Republic of Sri Lanka with a new Constitution was a retrograde step as it sought to remove the last vestiges of constitutional safeguards for the minorities in the Soulbury Constitution – vide Article 29(2). The new Republican Constitution made Sri Lanka a Unitary state, Sinhala the official language and Buddhism the privileged religion, thereby systemizing the discrimination against, and oppression of, Tamils. Yet Sri Lanka was in name a Republic, hold your breath, pledged to realize the objectives of a Socialist Democracy.

We can draw a parallel here with South Africa. The white racist Union of South Africa declared its independence from the United Kingdom in 1934, only in order to systemize apartheid and completely enslave the Blacks. The Blacks of South Africa, including the Africans, saw through the game and opposed this kind of independence which implied white supremacism. Just as the Blacks of South Africa (Blacks in South African freedom vocabulary is an inclusive term uniting the Africans, the Colored and the Asians and even the democratic-minded whites as allies) rejected the South African Independence Act of 1934, the Tamils of the island of Lanka united to reject the first Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka and walked out of the Constitutional Assembly, SJV Chelvanayakam, the father of the Tamil nation declaring it to be an unconstitutional constituent assembly.

Thanthai Chelva proved his point by resigning his seat in the Parliament and winning a much-delayed 1975 by-election from Kankesanthurai. The 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution of the united Tamil parties and the democratic mandate for it given by the Tamil people in the 1977 general elections are by now part of history. The Tamils had no role in the 1978 adoption of the JR Jayawardene-initiated second Republican Constitution which was but a still further systemization of the Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism.

All these facts only go to prove that the Tamils are not historically bound by the successive Constitutions of the Republic of Sri Lanka. The State of Sri Lanka is from the Tamil viewpoint an illegitimate one. The main political aspiration of the Tamil Nation is to retrieve its sovereignty, by exercising its inherent Right to Self-Determination. The 6th amendment to the Constitution forbade the Tamils even from peacefully campaigning for their freedom. This was a situation which went to justify and give historical legitimacy to the more than three decades of armed struggle for the Liberation of Tamil Eelam.

The State of Sri Lanka instead of respecting and accommodating the Tamil national aspirations only strove to unleash a literal genocide that culminated in the Mullivaikkal massacre of May 2009. The Tamil nation, in spite of the Mullivaikkal disaster, has lived to fight for remedial justice on the Homeland and in the Diaspora. The Tamil national question has been truly internationalized, and the UNO has produced three Reports on the final stages of the civil war, reports whose findings, put together and set in historical background, go to substantiate the grave charge of genocide. The state of Sri Lanka has sought to withdraw from the international arena and has been trying to ignore the calls for justice quite like the proverbial cat closing its eyes and imagining the world to be dark.

It was in such a background that the recent elections to the Parliament of Sri Lanka were held and Tamils could not ignore them as absolute nonsense. Now the election results are before us, and the prime accused of the guilt of genocide are back to power with a vengeance. Even though the Tamil national question cannot by any stretch of imagination be solved in this Parliament, the mere arithmetic of numbers going against such a possibility, the open supporters and defenders of Tamil genocide occupying an overwhelming majority of seats is a real threat to democracy, peace, and any kind of reconciliation through justice. Yet this pigsty of a Parliament can and must be utilized even with a very small number of members who stand for a principled approach to the national question.

We have Justice CV Vigneswaran, former CM of the Northern province and the Chairman of the Tamil People’s National Alliance (Tamil Makkal Dhesiya Koottani) and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, the President of the Tamil National People’s Front (Tamil Dhesiya Makkal Munnani), the two who won the elections on the basis of the twin demands of an independent international investigation into the crime of Tamil Genocide and Referendum to find a political solution to decide the future of Tamils. Both of them are categorical in asserting the right to self-determination of the Tamil nation and the three cardinal principles of Tamil Homeland, Nationhood and Self-Determination. Added to these two is Selvarasa Kajenthiran of the TNPF entering Parliament through the national list. We have very high expectations from these Tamil representatives. There is also a good possibility of a few more Tamil and Muslim MPs to support them on principle as time progresses and the Sinhala lion bares its fangs more and more.

Vigneswaran did well to go to Mullivaikkal to swear by the victims of genocide before starting his parliamentary career. He sounded very confident and convincing in his maiden speech in Parliament and made it a point to remind one and all that the Tamil people are entitled to the right to self-determination.

Gajendrakumar also opened his innings like a seasoned parliamentarian that he is and refused to be diverted or shouted down when referring to the crimes of the Sri Lankan State. His objective interpretation of the election results gives a lot of hope on the future of Tamil politics in the island. If the Sinhala voters gave their mandate in the South in favor of Sinhala consolidation, the Tamil voters in the North and East gave their mandate for the rise of the Tamil nation irrespective of who won votes and seats. Well-said!

The Tamil parliamentarians can do well to take forward this trend and support the causes that the Tamil nation in the Homeland and in the Diaspora is fighting for. They only know too well that mass struggles are primary and provide substance to parliamentary work. By combining parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of struggle, the Tamil national movement can regain lost ground and make giant strides by giving hope to the Tamil people across the globe.

As the elections are over and there is not going to be another election in the near future there is a valid ground for reviving the Tamil People’s Forum, (Tamil Makkal Peravai) consisting of the Tamil parties and movements and civil society organizations and also concerned citizens, and carrying forward the good work done in the past.
The Tamil MPs can have three main objectives in their parliamentary work:

1) Building up a case for justice for Tamil genocide and other international crimes committed by the State of Sri Lanka and always keeping the topic alive not only in the island but on the international plane. Uniting the Tamil community behind the demands of instituting an independent international investigation or referring Sri Lanka to the International Court of Justice and referendum for a lasting political solution.

2) Building bridges with the Tamil Muslim people, standing with them against the Sinhala chauvinists, securing their confidence by removing their valid fears and making them feel secure in the Tamil Nation and strengthening the perspective of Tamil solidarity with them.

3) Supporting the Sinhala democratic forces and the Sinhala masses in their fight against the authoritarian measures of the Rajapakshe regime without ever compromising on the Tamil demands.

It goes without saying that the Tamil MPs should always be alert to take care of the immediate problems of the Tamil people and do their best to solve them by all means. Let them not be overawed by the Sinhala supremacist and Tamil conciliationist MPs surrounding them and always remember that the Tamil world and the inexorable of dialectics of history are with them.

- Thiagu

(This article was originally published in Fortnightly Magazine 'Abel', August 2020)

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