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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2673

V Anandasangaree: Resisting the Moral Debacle of Our Times

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"When a man is stalked by terror; when the man turns and stalks the terror…
That man becomes a hero".

Gilgamesh

V Anandasangaree was an unarmed rebel twice over. His first rebellion was against the Sri Lankan state; his second against the LTTE. The first rebellion would have come naturally; it was a road taken by most Tamils, especially after the Black July. The second rebellion was the more difficult one, because that entailed going against the dominant and dominating mindset of one’s own community.

When your rebellion is seen by your own brethren as treachery, its price is a psychological burden difficult to bear (quite apart from the dangers involved, given the Tiger policy of exterminating dissenters). The fact that he has continued to speak out on behalf of the Tamil people, that he has endeavoured to find a viable formula of devolution within a united Sri Lanka counts for little in the minds of those who had ceded to the LTTE the right not only to speak but also to think, judge and murder on their behalf.

Mr. Anandasangaree is remarkable in his unwillingness to excuse let alone justify the mistakes made by those on his side of the ethnic divide. This was one of the factors which led to his parting of ways with his former colleagues; they would excuse the atrocities of the Tigers in the name of liberation; he did not. He operated on the principle that an error is an error, a crime is a crime, irrespective of who commits it. Targeting unarmed civilians, recruiting or conscripting children, killing political opponents – all this is wrong irrespective of the identity of the perpetrator.

Mr. Anandasangaree did not distance himself from these political immoralities in disgusted silence; he spoke out against them, loudly and clearly, even though he knew full well the price – the maligned and lonely life of a fugitive from injustice, and in the end possibly a violent death, at the hands of the sole representative.

Like Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama, whose death anniversary falls next week, V Anandasangaree too was supportive of the Tigers once. Like Rajini he too rebelled when he became aware of the true – and un-reformable - nature of the beast. Part of that awareness may have been the realisation of how counterproductive the Tiger is to the Tamil cause. The fact that the dominant representative of the Tamils is a terrorist-fascist entity (palatable only to Norway) cannot but undermine the Tamil cause. One recent example would suffice. If the TNA was not seen as a proxy of the Tigers, all doors in Delhi would have been open to its representatives now kicking their heels in Tamilnadu; they could have presented the case of the Tamil people not only in Delhi, but anywhere else in the world, from Washington to London, from Brussels to Ottawa. The fact that the granting of the UNESCO’s Madanjeet Singh Award for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence to V Anandasangaree was announced while his erstwhile colleagues of the TNA were rediscovering their ‘persona non grata’ status thanks to the Tiger-proxy stigma (and it is a stigma) is not merely poetic justice but also a clear indication of how best the Tamils can further their own cause (as distinct from the cause of the Tigers).

Counterproductive

V Anandasangaree has proven through the example of his own life that it is as necessary to turn the spotlight on one’s own side as it is to be critical of the enemy. Impunity is not just dangerous but also corrosive. It breeds what Hannah Arendt called ‘a radical loss of self-interest’. States and organisations which are accountable to none and permit no dissent, often act with "supreme disregard for immediate consequences rather than ruthlessness and neglect of national interest rather than nationalism" (The Origins of Totalitarianism). In short, they undermine the very cause they espouse - far more effectively than their enemies do.

Like the Tigers. If they did not kill political opponents or terrorise civilians, if they did not conscript children or engage in suicide killings, the Tigers would not have been ostracized by the world as terrorists. The international bans came not because the LTTE was demanding a separate state, not even because of its recourse to arms. Fighting for a separate state is not a crime under any international law; the Tigers turned themselves into criminals with their terrorist ways, making it easy for the Lankan state to win the sympathy and support of an international community outraged by the anti-civilisational conduct of the LTTE and exasperated by its failure to reform.

Today the Lankan state is in danger of doing to its own cause what the Tigers did to themselves. We have lost the sympathy of Tamilnadu, we are loosing the sympathy of India and the Co-chairs have put us on notice in no uncertain terms. I believe that the move by the Wickremesinghe administration to tie up aid to peace was a monumental error (another such error was inviting of Norway to act as the facilitator) but the damage has been done. The danger of the international community wielding the economic/financial stick is a very real one and is something that has to be taken into account seriously if we are concerned about the sustainability of the anti-Tiger war. In this context the penultimate paragraph of the Brussels statement by the Co-chairs contains a very clear warning: "Failure to cease hostilities, pursue a political solution, respect Human Rights and protect the Humanitarian Space could lead the international community to diminish its support". It is a warning that cannot be ignored because the necessary military campaign to keep the pressure on the Tigers may become unsustainable if there is an appreciable reduction in international aid.

The lesson from the Israeli misadventure in Lebanon is clear – means can de-legitimise a cause and if international public opinion turns against you then your cause becomes indefensible, whatever your battlefield successes may be. When the Israeli military operations in Lebanon began, the world was more or less on the side of Israel. The operations had to end because the world, outraged by mounting civilian casualties, had ceased to be on the side of Israel. The same fate can overtake us. The targeting of civilians or the use of disproportionate force comes at a price – and that price may well be the continuation of the military operations against the LTTE.

A war against the Tigers is sustainable; a war in which we fail to make a distinction between the Tigers and Tamils is not sustainable. If we ‘pursue a political solution, respect human rights and protect the Humanitarian Space’ then it will be easy to justify another self-debilitating ceasefire. But if we dither on devolution and permit human rights violations to proliferate we may not have any choice but to agree to a self-debilitating ceasefire, however unwillingly. As international pressure mount, and as we lose critical Indian support, it is time to follow the example of Mr. Anandasangaree and look inwards. The Vallipunam raid lost us the sympathy of Tamilnadu. Was it worth it? Was that raid critical to the battles of Mavil aru, Mutur or Sampur? A simple cost-benefit analysis would give us the answer. The Killing of 17 aid workers in Mutur – if we did not do it, then we must investigate it in a credible manner. Actions such as the highly questionable move by the government to transfer the case from the Mutur magistrate court to Anuradhapura (outside the North-Eastern province) indicate not innocence but guilt – and help none but the Tigers.

Less than a couple of months into the Fourth Eelam War, and we have already earned for ourselves a reputation of callousness towards the Tamil civilians. Remedial actions are necessary, at least in our own self-interest. In its September 14th report the UTHR (a stringent critic of the Tigers and a fearless campaigner of human rights) has warned of the presence of a large number of Tamil refugees (especially in the East) uncared for by anyone. These people have two choices – remain as refugees in Tiger controlled areas, eventually becoming an excellent recruitment base for Tigers; or flee to India, thereby causing an exacerbation of the disquiet in Tamilnadu. Both outcomes are helpful to the Tigers and dangerous to Sri Lanka. We need to provide these people with a viable alternative to becoming cannon fodder or propaganda props for the LTTE. This is why urgent steps must be taken to provide a refuge for these people in government controlled areas under the auspices of international humanitarian organisations.

Choices

The international recognition granted to V Anandasangaree sends a strong signal to both Sri Lanka and the Tamil community. Mr. Anandasangaree is for peace but he is also an unequivocal critic of the policy of appeasement which characterised the last peace process. He opposes the LTTE and its separatist project while remaining a Tamil nationalist who is committed to finding a political solution to the ethnic problem within a united Sri Lanka. He epitomises the anti-Tiger, pro-devolution point of view; the Madanjeet Singh Prize indicates the increasing receptivity of the world to this alternative to both Tiger fascism and Sinhala supremacism.

The Co-Chairs in their statement had put the LTTE also on notice – insisting that any political solution should be within the confines of a united Sri Lanka, thereby ruling out the ISGA. This provides us with an excellent opportunity to checkmate the Tigers politically. If we come up with a devolution proposal which is either quasi-federal/unitary (the Indian model) or federal (the Oslo model) the Tigers will be faced with an unenviable choice. Given its nature the LTTE will reject any such offer, thereby proving that it is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. With the Tigers thus forfeiting the sympathy of the international community, the war against them can then be pursued as the only way to bring about democratic devolution to the Tamil people.

The world while rejecting the fascism of the self-made Sun God has decided to honour the non-violent and democratic nationalism of V Anandasangaree. This confronts the state of Sri Lanka and the Tamil community with identical choices. The Tamils must decide whether they want to be identified with a set of terrorists who conduct themselves in a manner that is reprehensible by civilisational standards. This identification has not brought them any tangible benefits for two decades; only death, destruction and dishonour. Sri Lanka too must decide whether it opts for the moderate path advocated by the leader of the TULF and other democratic Tamils or whether it continues to justify the existence of the LTTE with its short-sighted refusal to share power with the minorities.

Pro-Tiger Tamils and Sinhala supremacists both ridicule efforts by Mr. Anandasangaree and other democratic Tamils to find a political solution to the ethnic problem saying that these leaders have been rejected by the Tamil people. A manifestly untrue assertion, since the Tamil people have not had the opportunity of accepting or rejecting any leader in a free and fair elections thanks to the violent machinations of the Tigers. Though a policy of opposing Tiger fascism and supporting democratic devolution is the only way out of the quagmire, we may persist in ignoring it given our remarkable lack of foresight and the disunity of the democratic Tamils (which fatally weakens their own cause). But the political and moral resistance of V Anandasangaree and others (especially the UTHR) will not be in vain because they, with their example, help keep alive hope of a more humane future. As Hannah Arendt said "Politically speaking it is under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not…. Humanly speaking no more is required and no more can reasonably be asked for this planet to remain fit for human habitation" (The Banality of Evil).

- Asian Tribune -

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