28 April 2016

The NPC Resolution is both a threat and an opportunity

Canagasabapathy Visuvalingam Wigneswaran has a lot of opinions.  To him, Velupillai Prabhakaran is a hero.  He is entitled to that view – after all some people swear by god and some by the devil.  C.V. Wigneswaran is not thanking anyone for the fact that he can actually issue statements from Jaffna without getting them vetted by a hooligan.  That’s ok too. 

He is probably the architect of a resolution titled ‘Final proposals for finding a political solution to the Tamil National Question, and passed by the Northern Provincial Council, which he heads.   The resolution (title and content both) could be called presumptuous, tendentious and even hilarious (to some), but then again it is expected, given Wigneswaran’s track record as well as that of moderate (sic) Tamil politicians and political parties.  Moreover, it is a democratically expressed proposal and as such legitimate. 

No doubt the document will be ripped apart for falsehoods, exaggerations and absolute impractical nature of its proposals.  The very fact that the Northern provincial entity assumes the right to speak for the people of the East itself indicates the land-grabbing intent that runs through the document and which of course has framed Tamil chauvinistic discourse for decades and which, let us not forget, is the bread and butter of politicians such as Wigneswaran. 

Some might say (generously) that it is but a product of ‘Sinhala nationalism’, but the truth or otherwise of such claims notwithstanding it is in and of itself a boost for that very same ideology. Nationalisms feed off one another.  It remains to be seen if the ardent critics of Sinhala nationalism who say ‘it is the last refuge of scoundrels’ will call Wigneswaran a crook, rascal, good-for-nothing, blackguard, caitiff, reprobate, villain, mischiefmaker, bad egg, incorrigible, scamp or scalawag. Tribalist too, of course.  

I consider the Resolution both a threat and an opportunity.  It is a threat, because it appeals to the same kind of extremist sentiments that the Batakotte (aka Vadukkoddai) Resolution of May 14, 1976 targeted.  We know that the political processes it prompted ended in the Nandikadaal Lagoon 33 years later almost to the date and that probably 200,000 people had to die. For nothing.  The architects of that Resolution perished in the process, one notes. 

However, the tragedy cannot be blamed on the architects of the 1976 Resolution alone.  That moment constituted an opportunity, as my friend Pradeep Jeganathan mentioned a few years ago.  Anyone can promise a constituency the sun, the moon and the stars, but that alone does not constitute reason enough for casual dismissal.  Regardless of the tall stories, the exaggerations and the out-of-this-world nature of aspirations, democracy calls for a sober and rational engagement with anyone and everyone and especially a political entity that has the backing of any significant segment of the population.  This didn’t happen back then.  There’s no reason why it should not happen now.

One of the main reasons for continuing inter-communal mistrust and even hatred is the absence of dialogue or (in a sense) worse, the reduction of ‘dialogue’ to a shouting match where debating points (half truths) replace logical consideration and rebuttal of claims.  In my view, the NPC has done the Tamil community a massive disservice by a frilling that has all but obliterated legitimate grievances.  When the grievances and aspirations of a community are laid out in the quicksand of fiction, they get buried pretty fast.  But that is a problem that the particular political community has to deal with.  The question is, what is the Government going to do about it?

The easy response is to say ‘anyone can say anything’.  That’s being said, by the way, by way of alleviating the apprehensions of the Sinhalese and to mitigate possible political opposition.  On the other hand, that kind of dismissal, coupled with little or no serious engagement, gives legitimacy to the claim that ‘the Sinhalese (sic) ignored us’.  True, you can’t ask for the moon and in the event that the request is rubbished or ignored, there’s no logic in saying ‘we asked democratically and there was no response, so we are taking up arms’.  However, it is important that even those who consider all this a bluff (and I count myself among such people) respond less with emotion than with reason.  The Government, for its part, must engage as a matter of utmost urgency if not for any other reason than the violence which non-engagement with the 1976 Resolution helped precipitate.

Simply put, the NPC Resolution has to be considered line by line, from preamble to proposal with all the ‘recollections’, ‘notes’, ‘acknowledgments’ etc. therein. We need to separate fact from fiction, history from myth, evidence from conjecture, so that the preamble is shed of all rhetoric and frill and the true dimensions of the so-called ‘Tamil National Question’ can be obtained.  Thereafter, everything in the proposal predicated on frill and rhetoric, will have to be rewritten or abandoned. 

This is not and should not be a yes or no matter, it is not and should not be something to be either embraced or dumped in a waste paper basket.  It has to be accepted not as the ‘basis for negotiation’ but an articulation of a particular position.  For example, the Resolution refers to the Thimpu Principles as being ‘cardinal’.  There is nothing ‘cardinal’ in anything except those documents that seek the preemption of discussion.  This is, unfortunately, such a document, but given histories referred to above and most importantly the fact that the Government is mandated to ensure the security and wellbeing of all citizens, such careless wording has to be treated as ‘inevitable’ from the likes of Wigneswaran.  The Tamil people as well as the rest of the population cannot be made to pay for the violence that such carelessness can engender.  For this reason and this reason alone, Wigeneswaran must be indulged. 

Let the NPC Resolution, then, be taken as an opportunity to have the discussion that has not taken place, i.e. the exercise to determine the true dimensions of grievances and pave the way for the resolution that such determination alone can yield. 

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.  Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Twitter: malindasene.