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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Sri Lanka:Should a solution create another problem? An open letter to Anandasangaree, Leader of Tamil United Liberation Front

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Dear Mr Anandasangaree

You are a very brave leader of the largest democratic Tamil political party in Sri Lanka. You deserve all the plaudits that peace loving Sri Lankans have bestowed on you and are continuing to do so for your valiant and single minded effort to show the Sinhala people, all the moderate Tamils and the international community that there are Tamil leaders with a very substantial following who are unafraid to expose the LTTE for what they are. You have also exposed the LTTE myth that they are the sole representatives of the Tamil people. Without doubt, if all Tamil people in Sri Lanka, especially the one’s who are living under gun barrel of the LTTE in the North and the East of the country were allowed to express their views without fear of reprisals from the LTTE, it is quite certain they would endorse you and your stated views that the conflict that is killing so many people on both sides of the divide need not continue any longer and that it can, and must be resolved by peaceful means. You have advocated a Federal system as the political solution to ending this conflict.

As would be expected in any democratic environment, you would find that there are those who endorse your views and others who do not. Suffice to say that amongst those who do not endorse your views on the model proposed, an overwhelming majority would still continue to support you and other moderate Tamils that the conflict must be solved by peaceful means. Except for a handful of rabid nationalists on both sides of the divide, it is very unlikely that there will be any disagreement on the need for a peaceful resolution of this conflict. Importantly and interestingly, this view is held by many people not just because they are tired of war and the killings. They hold this view today because there is an increased awareness that some discrimination had been made against Tamil people in the past and that all communities in Sri Lanka should have equal rights, equal opportunities and guarantees for their security from the State.

There is also general agreement amongst many, certainly most Sinhalese, and although not proven, even amongst many Tamils, that most of the discriminatory issues that confronted your community no longer exists, although it may be said that some of them are yet to be introduced into the administrative system of the country. There is also agreement amongst many, again mostly Sinhalese and probably the Muslims, that Sri Lanka is one homeland for all communities. There is also a view shared by many people, Sinhalese as well as Tamils and Muslims that the wider Sri Lankan Tamil community includes those of more recent Indian origin who live primarily in the plantation sector in the country, concentrated mainly in the Central province.

Some of the contentions noted here have been borne out by various surveys while others have been articulated in views expressed by Sri Lankans in numerous newspapers, journals and other media outlets. Being the astute leader you are, it’s very likely that you are aware of these views.

While a Federal model, as a solution to this conflict, may appear to be a solution, this open letter would like to argue that it will not be a solution, and that it could be the beginning of another problem.

Firstly, it is felt that any proposed solution that challenges the majority thinking in the country about what constitutes a homeland, and why a special case should be made in respect of only a section of the Tamil community (in fact a minority today) who happen to live in the North and the East of the country when there are large numbers of Tamil people living in the Western and Central provinces, and why Muslim people, specially in the Eastern province should also not be given similar recognition, are bound to make the majority of the country unhappy and provide opportunities for ultra nationalists amongst them to begin a political campaign and even an armed campaign to destabilize and challenge a Federal system for the North and the East, even if such a model was introduced as a solution. Hence the argument that a Federal solution may very well be the beginning of another problem.

Secondly, as far as the writer understands, a Federal model implies that two or more “States” have to agree to form a Federation and that a Federal model is essentially a union of States. In the absence of more than one State currently in Sri Lanka, another State has to be created before the two States agree to a union. This model will naturally challenge the unitary status of the country, and such a challenge is opposed by a majority of people. Again, any change to the unitary status could give rise to political and even armed opposition from ultra nationalists who may end up enjoying the support of a majority of people for what they would call a liberation struggle. Once again, changing the unitary status of the country could well be the beginning of another problem rather than a solution to end the current conflict.

Thirdly, the very idea of a small percentage of the population in the country having a Federal State in nearly one third of the land mass an nearly two thirds of the coastal area would be looked upon as unjust and unfair by the majority of the population, when the reasons given for such a demarcation are highly contestable to say the least.. Suffice to say that this would not be a fair and just solution when viewed from the prism of the majority population. The question may be asked, would such a demarcation be a solution or the commencement of another problem.

As a political visionary and a fearless leader of moderate Tamils, it is incumbent upon persons of your caliber to find a peaceful solution that does not create another problem not just amongst the Sinhalese, but also amongst the Tamils. It is also important for you and fellow moderate Tamil leaders to consider the interests of all Tamils in Sri Lanka, including the Tamils of more recent Indian origin, and those living in the Western province of the country, not just the Tamils in the North and East of the country. As has been proposed in these columns before, a solution has to be found at the centre where real power that applies to all communities are vested, where some decisions detrimental to the Tamil community were made in the past. If the welfare of all Tamils living in Sri Lanka is to be considered, not just the ones in the North and the East, then, there needs to be a power sharing model at the centre to ensure no community is disadvantaged by any other community, whether in majority or minority. Devolution indeed is needed, not as a solution to the ethnic conflict, but to ensure policy decisions taken at the centre in sociological as well as economic spheres are effectively and efficiently carried out, so that people living in all parts of the country would have the their right to be served by politicians upheld irrespective of where they live and irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.

There is increasing apprehension amongst the majority of the population in the country that the Tamil "homeland" concept has been fuelled and kept alive by forces outside the shores of Sri Lanka, when it is no longer a viable or just solution to the conflict in the country. It is widely believed that these forces, well funded and well organized in several western countries, have done this by using a dual approach of funding a military engagement with the Sri Lankan Forces and also sponsoring despicable terrorist acts, as well as a political strategy by funding and sponsoring front organizations in the form of political and humanitarian entities that cater to the International community as well as sections of the more moderate Tamil community. This external force is understood to be a large economic conglomerate that sustains itself by using the "Tamil cause" as a marketing tool to raise funds and maintain its empire. Needless to say, this economic empire will collapse if the "Tamil cause" is addressed and it is no longer an issue. If indeed such an external force is really the mover and shaker of the conflict and the real power that dictates military, terrorist, political and humanitarian activities related to the Tamil "cause", leaders like yourself would be impotent unless you are also willing to be led and dictated by this force.

No one amongst the majority of people in Sri Lanka believes you are, and most emphatically would like to believe you are not a tool of this force considering the courage you have shown in standing up to a terrorist organization like the LTTE. In this respect you have the support and the encouragement of the majority of people in Sri Lanka to work with the Sri Lankan Southern polity to work out a just and fair solution for all communities in the country.

The real test of your vision and leadership will come if you were able to consider this conflict from a more contemporary perspective rather than from a historical one, which, as stated earlier, is highly contestable in any event. A contemporary perspective will have to consider the issues faced by Tamils today and not 20 or 50 years ago. It will have to look at population demographics today and not before the gal oya dam was constructed and people resettled in hitherto jungle land. It will have to consider the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils of more recent Indian origin, some of who were not citizens of this country perhaps less than 50 years ago. Whatever rights they enjoy today have been due the efforts of leaders like the late Mr Thondaman and no other Tamil leader. It is time that leaders of your caliber spoke on their behalf as well if the welfare of all Tamils is what matters and not the welfare of only a section of Tamils. You will have to educate the international community, who are probably totally oblivious to the fact that this large section of Sri Lankan Tamils had been ignored by past leaders of mainstream political parties, with the exception of late Mr Thondaman and his Ceylon Workers Congress, and by this external force that has been behind the moves to keep the conflict alive by funding war and terrorism and also dubious political and humanitarian organizations.

You will also have to show a genuine desire, which to your credit you already have, to engage with the Southern polity to find a just and fair solution. You must understand and appreciate the fears and apprehension that the Sinhala people have in having an ethnically carved piece of Sri Lankan territory next to the real homeland of Tamils, the State of Tamil Nadu with more than 50 million Tamils just 20 miles away from the border of that carved territory. A solution has to be found within these realities, and not within any ideological fantasies and questionable concepts.

Mr Anandasangaree, it is well to remember that citizens of any country, of any ethnic or religious group, will have the full protection of the law only if there is law and order in the country and agencies that are responsible for maintaining law and order are independent of political machinations, and are able to carry out their duties without fear or favour. The failure of such agencies to protect Tamil people in 1983 was because political machinations at the highest levels made sections of some of those agencies State terrorists. This was a failing on the part of a few individuals at the highest levels and a failure of the State and the political structure of the country at the time. Leaders of your calibre are needed to ensure such violations never ever occur in Sri Lanka by the failure of State machinery to enforce law and order. 1983 was not a back lash against Tamils by the Sinhalese people. If it were, there could have been many more such ugly incidents since the killing of 11 soldiers in that fateful year. Thousands of soldiers have died since at the hands of the LTTE and there has not been a single ethnic clash in Colombo. Surely this must prove to all moderate Tamils and the international community that Sinhala people as a whole are not murderers that they are made out to be by the tools of this external force. It must prove that the two communities can co exist anywhere in Sri Lanka as they did before some Tamil leaders took it on themselves to base their political agenda’s on dividing the country on ethnic grounds, and before some Sinhala chauvinistic elements decided that they were more superior to other communities in the country.

The actions of a few must not distract Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala leaders of today from thinking laterally, and outside the square. If they continue to live in the past, and be directed by extremist elements, they will do so at their peril, sadly, not only they who will be at peril but also the future generations, for no fault of theirs. Politicians must remember that they have borrowed the world from future generations and that they must give it back to them in better shape than when they borrowed it, as the future belongs to them and not to the current set of leaders.

Finally, Mr Anandasangaree, this writer would like to leave you with a quotation attributed to George Bernard Shaw who said "Some people look at things as they are and ask why, while others look at things as they never were and ask why not?." We like to believe you are a leader who belongs to the latter category, and someone who will look towards the future rather than dwell on the past, and who will look at options that have not been considered and as "why not?".

The write hopes you will see this letter and that it will be of some help in directing your thoughts to alternative solution models and not just a Federal model you have espoused so far.

- Asian Tribune -

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