Sri Lanka elections & Tamil voter mentality
Democracy in Sri Lanka accepts the right for political parties to contest & people to vote for their choice but in reality governance will fall into one of two parties only. That is the undeniable truth. The recently concluded local body election results were proof that delivering peace, offering freedom, providing development has no bearing on the minds of Tamil voters. It is important that the rest of Sri Lanka & the world read the message behind the results. Why would Tamils continue to vote for separatism?
The propaganda campaign championed by separatist activists both home & abroad have orchestrated the necessity to separate & fight for a Tamil eelaam. Sinhala racism is what they use & Sinhala discrimination is what they say is enough grounds to seek refugee status & for foreign Governments to side with the separatist agenda & support a separatist homeland quest. Thus, 1million Tamils today have made up the Tamil Diaspora, in the height of the LTTE they were able to accumulate USD300m annually, foreign leaders & Governments have openly supported the quest for eelaam though banning it.
But there is a catch. The oft used excuse as the trigger point to take up arms has been the Sinhala-Only language policy introduced by then Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike in 1956. How was it that S J V Chelvanayakam formed the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) party on the basis of separating & creating an Eelaam in 1949?
To clothe the agenda behind the party the English translation for ITAK was given as Federal Party. Chelvanayagam’s goals for a separate state were ratified in the Vaddukoddai resolution of 14th May 1976. The convention called on "the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward and throw themselves fully in the sacred fight for freedom and to fight till the goal of a sovereign socialist state of Tamil Eelam is reached."
It is therefore clear that Tamils & the separatist agenda had nothing whatsoever to do with Sinhala discrimination or racism. On the other hand much of the separatist sentiments taking place in India’s The concept of Dravida Nadu had its root in the anti-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu, whose aim was to end the alleged Brahmin dominance in the Tamil society and government. But, in reality it was to create a separate sovereign state. There are 74million Tamils living across the world & 64million of this number live in Tamil Nadu. 11million Dalilts or low castes live in Tamil Nadu that is 20% of the region’s population. More than 50% live below the poverty line. Dalits own no land, majority work as land workers & over 90% are illerate. Indian statistics had revealed that 40,000 dalit children go missing annually & the Indian authorities have “failed” to tackle the issue. LTTE agents had been offering payments from Rs.10,000 upto Rs.25,000 to these poor Dalit families for recruiting them. Some have been turned into suicide cadres while others are used for prostitution, forced labor, sale of body parts etc. This is one good reason why there is controversy over the real population statistics of the North & East especially during the period that LTTE prevailed in Sri Lanka. The numbers of civilians amongst LTTE & how far they are “Sri Lankan” remains a big question mark. since 1920s came to be shared amongst Tamils in Sri Lanka. The struggle in Tamil Nadu was for a Dravida Nadu or Dravidistan a proposed sovereign state for all speakers of Dravidian languages in South .
The undeniable truth is that for an ethnic group as large as the Tamils, it has been denied a separatist state status. It has fought democratically for it in but India had been effective to constitutionally deny any party or person from separating from India. We don’t need to be repeated of India’s gameplan in importing that separatist struggle to Sri Lanka to delay & deny such in Tamil Nadu. Nevertheless, with Sri Lanka’s ability to crush & eliminate LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka, the recent visit of Hillary Clinton & her meeting with Tamil Nadu leader Jayalalitha must surely wake up a sleeping Indian government into realizing that some meetings are not ideal especially when western governments openly declare their decision to support rebel groups. India is no peaceful nation & poverty can easily resurrect separatism this time in Tamil Nadu itself! India please beware!
Returning to the question of elections it is natural for most to think that upon freeing the Tamils from LTTE at the least a sense of gratitude ought to prevail. Inability to understand why Tamils may lack gratitude will depend upon who one questions. Thus, if one asks Tamils who directly suffered from the LTTE what they would say would be totally different to what Tamils who have been living amongst the Sinhalese or those living overseas would say. Therefore, one is unlikely to get a coherent answer to determine whether Tamils are truly happier without the LTTE. However in the rest of Sri Lanka whatever political party people may belong to, even UNPers are not shy to appreciate the achievement by the armed forces & the Government.
This is why it becomes difficult for us to fathom how Tamils think.
In a country where elections & voting systems makes it impossible for any party other than the two main political parties to between them run the country, it makes logically sense to vote the main opposition directly & bring that party into power while overthrowing the incumbent party if the people are dissatisfied with its governance. Therefore, the only way that people can show dissent towards the ruling party is to vote for the main opposition & bring that party back to power. Voting for smaller parties who are insignificant in so far as making a countrywide impact really makes no sense though it sends a different message.
It was in 2009 that the armed forces carried out the world’s first humanitarian rescue operation alongside a military drive that crushed & eliminated the entire LTTE leadership & captured surviving LTTE cadres who are now undergoing rehabilitation before being reintroduced into civil society. While the entire country especially the people outside of the North rejoiced we expected Tamils in the North to feel that same or even greater jubilation for it was they who were suffering far more than others. Outside the North & East, we suffered unpredicted bomb attacks & suicide attempts but it was in the North & East that people had to live in fear of their children been snatched & turned into terrorists or have their wealth taken from them including their lands. Three decades to live amongst a terror outfit would have made the majority accustomed to terror & mentally accept their life amongst a terrorist group but post 2009 & two years thereafter we would have thought that people in the North & East in particular would have wanted to become part of the rest of the island & think of themselves as part of the Sri Lankan family.
The Tamils of the North & East can never deny that in addition to the provisions sent to the North & East by the Government, the people of the South united to send enormous loads of food, clothing, medicines & other necessities throughout LTTE domination despite presence of a large number of NGOs/INGOs in these areas. From early 2009 when the armed forces started to break LTTE defences the people were quick to unite & send across emergency provisions.
Today, many people visit the North on a daily basis to see for themselves an area that they had been denied entry to & to also strike links with people that are very much part of Sri Lanka. They return appreciative of the massive development drives taking place as well as the hospitality afforded to them by the residents of the North & East. What puzzles these people is why the Tamil people of these areas should continue to associate themselves with separatist agendas. Today they can make choices without fear.
We can well understand that prior to the LTTE defeat, these people would have lived in fear of their own lives. The LTTE had practically eliminated all Tamil moderate leaders & those Tamil leaders that survived are alive solely because they chose to openly support the LTTE. So voting for Tamil political parties pre-LTTE defeat & post-LTTE defeat certainly has mixed connotations & signals different messages. In the present context, given that Tamils are voting for political parties that aspire to separate from Sri Lanka & voting so without fear of bullets or death it clearly spells that Tamils are voting for separatism it clearly indicates to the rest of Sri Lanka that Tamils continue to want to separate & create an eelaam.
Many would argue that Tamils are compelled to vote for the incumbent Government as a gesture of gratitude. On the contrary, if Tamils of the North & East are not happy with the Government the logical thing would have been to vote for the main Opposition – the UNP. Both these political groups are represented by all ethnic groups. Voting as they have done has not made the Government loose in any way. At most what Tamils have done is to in reality strengthen Rajapakse’s Government further. The simple truth is that as a Government that has saved the country from terrorism, the gratitude of the South will remain despite the scores of corrupt practices that are being associated with the Government. Therefore, every time foreign leaders, war crimes probe calls etc & even lack of Tamil voter appreciation takes place, the Southern voters will protect the Government with the numbers & in the game of politics that’s what counts & that’s what will keep the Government in power.
Sooner or later, minorities especially minority parties must realize that in a country of 20million wherein 15million make up the Sinhalese population, it is advisable to live in a reconciled manner instead of taking the path of separatism for that is likely to fail & likely to take them further away from democratic rule & they would only have themselves to blame.
The Tamil Nation Alliance formed in 2001 comprise of 5 political parties – ITAK, ACTC, TULF, EPRLF & TELO. Its website http://www.tamilalliance.net/index.php?page=about-us&hl=en gives the following policies.
Tamil National Alliance Election Manifesto 2004
".....Accepting LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of the Tamil Eelam Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representatives of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers’ struggle with honesty and steadfastness.Let us endeavour determinedly, collectively as one group, one nation, one country, transcending race and religious differences, under the leadership of the LTTE for a life of liberty, honor and justice for the Tamil people...."
Tamil National Alliance Election Manifesto 2001
"........unless meaningful negotiations are held with the L.T.T.E. no just solution can be found to the Tamil national question and that such negotiations should be held immediately only with the LTTE. This Alliance further states that in order to ensure that the negotiations are properly focussed and are purposeful and successful, no parallel negotiations should take place with any other Tamil political formation....."
Vaddukkoddai Resolution 1976 May 14
"...And this Convention calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of TAMIL EELAM is reached...."
On the same website under “Our Homeland” it reads “Geographically the island of appears as one land but historically there have been two nations in it. North and the East of the island of Ceylon is the traditional homeland of Tamils”. It declares , Batticola, , , , , , Puttalam & as the Administrative Districts of the Tamil Homeland.
Why does the Government remain silent to such open acts of separatist tendencies & not seek legal action to stop political parties such as ITAK & others openly canvass for separatism?
In many ways the Government must be happy with the results of the North for it can continue to say that it will despite people’s lack of support continue the development drives & the negative response by the people of the North will only make Southern voters to provide the political backing needed for survival for in the minds of the people of the South they do not wish to loose the freedom gained at any cost. That is one reason why UNP has failed Sri Lanka especially its votebase by compromising the integrity of the country towards appeasing foreign interests. If UNP wonders why it cannot reach out to the people it is important for UNP to realize that aligning itself to minorities alone especially those that aspire separatism is unlikely to ever give them the numbers needed to govern. In politics it is numbers that count & the Rajapakse Government has mastered how to win the majority vote.
Tamils need to realize that aligning themselves to political parties that aspire separatism is unlikely to get them anywhere. Neither will these parties ever be able to come into power nor will the Tamil people be regarded as Sri Lankans until they shirk themselves from the desire to separate. Aligning to political parties that work towards their own policies of development in Sri Lanka is certainly different to aligning & voting for political parties that openly desire to separate. These political parties may have vocalized separatism out of fear during the LTTE pogrom however with the LTTE eliminated when they continue to openly work towards separatism it means that the dangers of rebels emerging still exists & the Government has every right to continue the high security zone areas throughout the North & East as well as monitor the areas for such movements coming up. We must not forget that the LTTE started out as a group of just a handful of brainwashed youth & became the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit.
Tamils need to now look within and understand & accept their own errors post-LTTE defeat & rethink how they should function amongst Sri Lankan society. Repeated again lest anyone misunderstands is that Tamils are not being asked to vote for the UPFA but Tamils need to realize that they must now firmly say no to Tamil political parties that aspire to separate from Sri Lanka. It behoves all Tamils to take that first important step for no amount of reconciliation will work until they abandon the thought of creating a separate Tamil homeland.