29 December 2022

Let's unpack the query in 'Tamil National Question'

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has called all parties to get together and solve what he calls the ‘ethnic-problem’ that has remained ‘unresolved’ for decades. Meanwhile, parties that claim to represent ‘Tamil interests’ have put forward a set of demands: a) stop ‘land grabs in the Northern and Eastern Provinces by armed forces the state institutions while releasing all lands so acquired earlier by them in those two provinces, b) hold provincial council elections forthwith after implementing all provisions in the Constitutions and other laws in respect of power devolution, and c)  implement power devolution under a federal framework through a new Constitution are the three demands.

Any private lands acquired by the state for military purposes should be returned to original owners provided that doing so does not compromise strategic interests. It is hard to imagine that there are ‘strategic interests’ that are vital that such an exercise should be ruled out. Using state lands for state-purposes is of course another matter.

State operations may one day be carried out entirely in virtual space. Maybe state institutions would one day be moved to floating facilities in the sea or in the sky. Until then, they need land and there’s no logic in demanding that they should be located in or out of a particular province. Calling it ‘land grab’ is downright silly. The use of the term ‘land grab’ is interesting. A Freudian slip, in fact, considering the entire discourse of Tamil nationalism, sorry, chauvinism.

Holding provincial council elections, on the face of it, is a legitimate demand. However, it is strange that these very parties have been conspicuously silent about elections not being held for years! It’s almost as if they’ve never been serious about devolution of power. More importantly is the fact that provincial council were set up illegally via a constitutional amendment forced on Sri Lanka by India in a do-it-or-else manner following the infamous dhal-drop by that country’s Air Force.

The third demand is fine: power devolution under a federal framework through a new constitution.  Anyone (including Tamil chauvinists who were vociferous approvers of terrorism and terrorists) has the right to demand anything. Whether such demands can be met is another matter. They can and should be considered. That’s what one expects from a functioning democracy. There should be mechanisms for this and if such don’t exist then they need to be put in place.  

There’s a problem though. Why federalism? Why devolution? On what basis? Grievances, did someone say? What grievances? And, if such do exist, what logic dictates ‘devolution’ as the one and only way of resolving them? Well, Tamil chauvinists are pretty thin on all this.  History is not on their side. Archaeology is not on their side. Demography is not on their side. Geography is not on their side. And even economics is not on their side.

There are serious problems with Tamil nationalism and nationalists.  Substantiation is not their thing. Ask them to do so and they twiddle their thumbs. Talk history and they dodge. Talk about demography and they pretend people and land don’t go together. Talk solutions and they start shifting goalposts. Talk economics and the logic or otherwise of devolution (the Western Province has close to 75% of the country’s GDP and if we played devolution-logic to the letter we would see the continued relative impoverishment of certain districts and provinces) and they will talk about human rights violations. Talk about human rights violations and they act as though it all happened in 2009 and that the LTTE was a band of angels.  Insist and they mutter 'Darusman Report.' Ask a few pointed questions about veracity of claim and they rant and rave about something else in the manner of artful dodgers.  

Thus, when they demand devolution under a federal framework they are talking absolute rubbish.  Not too long ago, i.e. in November 2019, the people of this country voted at a presidential election. The winner and the candidate who came second together polled 94% of the vote.  Both pledged to uphold the unitary character of the state. The Tamil National Alliance supported one of these candidates, Sajith Premadasa. So what talk of federalism? If they were so principled, shouldn’t those in the TNA and other ‘Tamil’ parties have disassociated themselves from any individual or party that did not espouse their cause or at least claim that they will consider a ‘federal’ constitution?

The Tamil National Question. That’s what they like to call it. Question. That’s the key word here. Tamil chauvinists do have a problem, a question. They really don’t care about ground realities. They don’t care about history. They don’t care about demography. Yes, we need to say these things again and again, simply because the biggest question about Tamil Nationalism is this: ‘why is the word ‘substantiation’ not in their vocabulary?’ Why cannot they come out with the true dimensions of grievances and explain how ‘devolution’ and/or ‘federalism’ resolves these? Why do they talk of ‘unity’ when that word is not ‘constitutionable’ and why do they fail to acknowledge that close to 100% of the voting population was not interested in federalism?  All these are questions. All questions that Tamil nationalists must answer but will respond with the kind of navel-gazing that they’ve indulged in for decades which of course did nothing in improving the well being of anyone, including Tamil people in this country.

That’s the ‘Tamil Question’ then — simply a misnomer, a proposition of a racist and a land-grabber.  So when Wickremesinghe wants all parties to come together to resolve the ethnic-conflict, he should first get them to agree on the truth about this ‘ethnic conflict,’ which includes the lie that has been the political foundation of racist, chauvinistic, land-grabbing Tamil politicians and parties for decades.  As for the demands of ‘Tamil’ parties, the time has come to politely tell them, ‘how about an audit of history or histories claimed, how about talking demography and geography, how about discussing voter behaviour and how about dumping the 13th Amendment because it was forced on Sri Lanka by the neighbourhood thug?  

Yes, more than one question. Easily answered. All of them. And, in answering, something could happen to the so-called Tamil Question — a problem of chauvinistic Tamils which can be easily resolved if the chauvinistic Tamils closed shop.  Shouldn't have taken decades. Need not take the five weeks left until the 75th Independence Day celebrations. Five seconds should do.