05 August 2011

TNA, Tamil aspirations, post-war amity and the local government elections in the North

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the umbrella organization of once unabashed apologists for the LTTE secured control of 18 local government authorities while its arch rival, the Tamil United Liberation Front, which openly criticized the LTTE won two while the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance also took control of two bodies in the strongholds of key ally, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party of Douglas Devananda. 

The results have provoked hurrahs on all sides, some chest-beating and some condemnation of an ungrateful and even communalist electorate.  Cogent arguments have been presented to support each thesis, referring numbers, contexts and the dimensions of ingratitude and racism.
I am of the view that it is too early to be hasty in concluding this, that or the other about the election result.  It is useful, however, to review the various ‘last words’ on the results. 
First of all, there are some indisputable facts that need to be taken into account.   This was the first election held in these areas sans the heavy sway of gun-wielding terrorists who have on occasion exacted boycotts (Presidential Election 2005) as well as return of preferred candidates (TNA in 2001 and 2004). 
For more than half a century, politics of identity have held sway over all other considerations. There has been a lot of stress on communal grievances, real and imagined, a natural tendency to make mountains out of mole-histories and of course the closing of communal ranks in a conflict deliberately portrayed in ethnic terms.  All of this was buttressed by the fact of an overwhelmingly Sinhala army taking on an exclusively Tamil insurgent group, even though terrorism was the principal modus operandi and one which was glossed over by those who abhorred method but identified with objective.  We should also factor in the reality that the length of conflict does not necessarily make a freed people less impatient in the matter of benefiting from war-end.  No human being is ever happy with his/her lot.  Few would weigh relative merits.  Tamils are human beings.  Just like the Sinhalese.
It is against all this that the ingratitude claim needs to be assessed.  True, the Tamil people are now better off than they were during ‘LTTE-time’.  Today there is development and a relatively high-speed catch-up with the rest of the country.  The Northern Province was denied all that and the people can thank the LTTE for development lag.  There are no bullets whizzing over people’s heads.  No parent spends sleepless nights wondering if his/her child would be abducted by gun-toting thugs.  No one is pilfering food, medicine and other essentials now being freely transported to these areas.  No one is being taken hostage by a rascal who wants to save his blood-stained skin using a human shield.  Should not the Tamil people say ‘thank you’ then?  Have they not?
The numbers indicate that the majority have backed the pro-LTTE TNA.  People back parties for different reasons and don’t necessarily have control over the ways in which that support is interpreted by the winners.  The TNA, given its long history of separatist communalism said it was a vote for self-rule, never mind the fact that history does not support the traditional homeland thesis, demography shows that more than half the Tamils in the country live outside the North and East, that vast swathes of the so-called traditional homelands are inhabited and have been inhabited by Sinhalese and Muslims for centuries, and that the place names of the relevant electorates secured are mostly recent Tamil corruptions of original Sinhala names. 
Forgotten is the fact that the TNA got just 34% of the total eligible vote.  Forgotten also is that significant numbers voted against the TNA.  Even if one were to correct for twisting of election regulations and even downright violation of the law, the anti-TNA numbers remain significant given context.   It can be read as gratitude and it can be read as rejection of communal lines. 
The TNA, during the election campaign, made the valid point that development is part of the politician’s/government’s job description.  People may or may not reward, even if the reward-seeker has performed beyond expectation. It is not and should not be a given. 
On the other hand, some TNA candidates took the communalist line that it was not largesse but recompense.  It reminded me of a sign in Tamil that was visible to all at the Jaffna library (post-rebuilding) stating that the facility was destroyed by Sinhala racists and was rebuilt by Sinhala racists to alleviate guilt.  I’ve not heard of signs in Tamil thanking Sinhalese for post-tsunami largesse (I doubt any Tamil believes the tsunami was wrought by Sinhala racists) or for the unprecedented voluntarism that Tamils in IDP facilities benefited from after being rescued from certain death at the hands of the would-be liberator in the first 5 months of the year 2009.  And yet, I am sure there is appreciation.  Thanksgiving need not take tangible form. 
With respect to gratitude transforming into votes, all that needs to be kept in mind is that the UNPers in Colombo would never vote for the UPFA even though under this government the city has become far more livable and beautiful than under any UNP mayor or government. 
Nevertheless, extreme communalism made for easy rhetoric on the part of many TNA candidates who are yet to say ‘thank you’ for being able to speak with their own tongues now, whereas that particular organ was the play thing of a terrorist.  The blood-call of the TNA would have played a part and if more enlightened Tamils do not step in to warn of the possible consequences, then we could very well see another 30 year war and a repeat of this article by some unknown scribe consequent to 100,000 people dying unnecessarily for nothing.  Sadly, the likes of Sambandan, Senathiraja, Premachandra or Sumanthiran will be around to be held accountable to their crimes of omission and commission.     
Rajan Hoole offers a different gaze at the results.  He attributes low voter turn out to disenchantment regarding the TNA and its unholy association with the LTTE.  On the other hand, he attributes the TNA victory to a rejection of the EPDP, which he says has replaced the LTTE as the local thug and value-extractor through all means available and is also a veritable safe house for approvers of and perpetrators of sexual abuse.  Most importantly, Hoole offers that it was not about Tamil or Sinhala, but about the corrupt and the clean.  Oppressive government was rejected, he argues, even if fronted by a Tamil.  He does not explain how LTTE proxies were seen as ‘clean’, though.  Still, that is an element that was very present and the Government can thank Douglas Devananda for compromising any positives that ending the war and developing the region may have won it.  Hatred or at least default loyalty to Prabhakaran should not have been assumed to translate into love for Douglas.  It is in this context perhaps that TNA, communalist and complicit in the crimes of terrorism, was seen to have a prettier face than the EPDP.
Despite all this, it is not illogical for Sinhalese people to ask themselves ‘why bother?’ for very few Sinhalese would see themselves as racists and moreover would not see ‘Tamil’ in the recipient of assistant but fellow Sri Lankan.  I know that many Sinhalese, here and abroad, are frustrated that Tamils abroad are hardly lifting a finger to support various fund-raising projects aimed at helping people in the North recover their lives, livelihoods and dignity, especially in a context where such Tamils have pumped inordinate amounts of bucks so the LTTE could procure arms and ammunition used to kill thousands of Sinhala people.  
Gamini Gunawardane has the last word on all this, I believe.  In response to an ingratitude claim, he wrote the following.
‘Personally, I do not think that a good government could afford to be petty minded. A government needs to be about Bahujana jana hithaya, bahujan sukhaya (for the good and wellbeing of the masses). Merely because one section of the people rejects them, a government should not marginalize the entire community. A government cannot afford to think and act like them, a minority, and expect them to come into its fold, thinking as one country, expecting fair play. Good Governance is a far more broad concept. I think we should all as a nation do Metta (compassion) on these unfortunate people, some of whom are immersed in hatred, believing their own lies, unable to get out of that hell they created by themselves.’
We live in complex times.  Let us be conscious about the fact.  It is not an easy path to navigate, this road to peace, tranquility, solidarity and equal citizenship. We are hampered by map-lack as well as map-suffusion.  As always, wisdom and compassion will help.  If we have room in heart and mind for such things.

                                                    

Reactions:

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

you have totally missed the comments by a Tamil Journalist which is very relevant to all this that appeared in the Sri lanka Guardian; see:

http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/07/local-elections-in-north-futile.html

Malinda Seneviratne said...

I saw those comments Anon. Agree with some, disagree with others. This was written on Monday, by the way.

ramdez said...

I am part of the 'why bother?' group. Tamils collectively have a racist vision; like the Jews did before Israel. No amount of truth, good deeds, reconciliations.... are going to make them take their collective racist goal of a Tamil State..... We need to move on...

I believe I noticed somewhere that voter turnout in the North was only 20%. Is this correct?

ramdez said...

I was going to say "....are going to make them take their eyes off the collective racist goal of a Tamil State." in the above posting.

Anonymous said...

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

In your never ending war against the TNA/Tamils you say that "TNA got just 34% of the total eligible vote."

Using this warped logic the UPFA only received 36% of the total eligible vote. Hardly a resounding mandate that UPFA supporters claim to have. I have never heard you state this fact in your much syndicated columns? Why is that Mr. Seneviratne?