The energy of Tamil Nadu’s Eelam backers would be better spent demanding that New Delhi find ways to push the domestic Sri Lankan debate on power sharing

I read with much sorrow that Vikram, 30, set himself on fire and died in a hospital. He was the second such victim of the new campaign in Tamil Nadu for Eelam. The first was Mani, 41, from Cuddalore who set himself ablaze on March 4. Mani and Vikram will be remembered only when the numbers have to be counted if there is another self-immolation.

But wait, where do they want this Eelam established and for whom? The separate State cannot be for Tamil Nadu. It cannot be for anybody there, nor for those students who are fasting and agitating.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) raised a separatist demand for a “Dravida Nadu” many decades ago, but had to give up its call as, after the creation of linguistic States, there were no takers for Dravidian separatism. In 1963, the DMK officially dropped its demand. Murasoli Maran had said, “I am Tamil first, but I am also an Indian. Both can exist together, provided there is space for cultural nationalism.” A leading theoretician in the DMK, Era Sezhiyan, had said it was more practical to demand a higher degree of autonomy for Tamil Nadu, instead of a separate State.

The “Eelam” demanded by students, activists and political groups in Tamil Nadu, in the name of Tamils in North-East Sri Lanka, has no takers in post-war Sri Lanka. It was a group of U.S. citizens, “Tamils who have settled in the U.S. or who were born in the U.S.,” as they introduced themselves, who first appealed for a referendum in Sri Lanka, supervised by the U.N., as in East Timor. Calling themselves, “Tamils for Obama,” they argued that “genocide” against Tamils living in Sri Lanka can be prevented only through creation of a separate Tamil State.

Genocide is a much abused word in protests and rallies in Tamil Nadu on Sri Lanka. In the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, it is explained in Article II: “...acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group....” amount to genocide.

Census, election facts

According to the 2012 census, post-war Sri Lanka’s first, there are 2.27 million Sri Lankan Tamils (excluding Tamils of Indian origin) living permanently in the country; in 2011, within Colombo city, there were 7,53,000 (almost 29 per cent) Sri Lankan Tamils, with another 2.2 per cent Tamils of Indian origin. It could be more now with internal migration. Over 2,07,000 out of the total Tamil population, about 10 per cent, live in Colombo and adjoining Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia alone. Can that be, in a genocidal situation?

In post-war North and East, Tamil people, like Sinhala and Muslim people, have been voting in presidential and parliamentary elections. In the 2010 parliamentary election, the people of Jaffna voted 48 per cent for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and elected five out of nine MPs, while in the Vanni, where there is a Muslim vote of about 26 per cent, Tamils voted 38.9 per cent to the TNA and elected three out of six MPs. They have also voted at local government elections to have their own third tier of governance. The TNA won 24 out of the 32 local government bodies for which elections were held in 2011 in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts. And in the East, they have voted in Provincial Council (PC) elections twice — in 2008 and 2012. In the recent PC elections in the East, where the demography is Tamil 40.2 per cent, Sinhala 22.3 per cent and Muslim 36.5 per cent, the Tamil people almost voted en bloc for the TNA to emerge a strong opposition with 11 Councillors.

Heavy militarisation

Can all that happen in any society that is being ethnically eliminated or cleansed? Can it happen if there is any “genocide” of the Tamil people in the north-east?

What the Tamil people are living through in Sri Lanka is not genocide. Rather, they are living through the atrocity of heavy militarisation. What is not taken note of in Tamil Nadu is that this militarisation is extending beyond Tamil society and is a common factor for both the Northern Tamils and Southern Sinhalese. In about three months, 4,000 out of over 7,000 schools in the South will have gazetted military officers as principals. The whole of Colombo is being taken care of by the military. The Urban Development Authority is now under the Defence Ministry, which is now the Defence and Urban Development Ministry.

For democratic space

There is now no validity or possibility for a separate Tamil State in Sri Lanka. What is valid is the demand that Tamil people should have their own civil and voluntary organisations in their own areas. In a land where war has torn the entire social fabric apart, what political mechanisms, what social structures could take up the challenge of establishing a new State? What is now valid is the demand for democratic space for participation within the State that could be restructured for sharing of political power; political power for “Tamil Nationalism” as interpreted by the DMK in 1963, perhaps even for “Internal self determination” interpreted by Dr. Anton Balasingham, when the LTTE agreed to the “Oslo Declaration” in December 2002.

The recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission should be given political weight and a devolved mechanism put in place. The Final Report of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), a committee appointed by President Rajapaksa, has for the first time gained a southern Sinhala consensus for power sharing. All constituent parties in the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) have agreed on the APRC’s Final Report, which proposes devolution far beyond that in the 13th Amendment, with a bicameral parliament, accommodating provincial representation in the upper chamber. It also proposes nationally elected Committees for Muslims outside the East and for Tamils of Indian origin, to represent them in matters of cultural importance.

The diaspora groups have their own agenda and their politics has nothing to do with their kin in Sri Lanka. If the people of Tamil Nadu want to be in sincere solidarity with the Tamils in Sri Lanka, they need to tag their demands to those being politically debated in Sri Lanka. Solidarity is not about outsiders coercing their own governments to impose their demands on the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Therefore, Tamil Nadu should shed its extremism and demand that New Delhi get President Rajapaksa to table the APRC Final Report in Parliament. A broad consensual formula on power sharing, with the TNA being allowed to sit in the Parliamentary Select Committee, would be the only constitutional process to have a permanent solution to the Tamil conflict.

The present extremist anti-Sri Lanka campaign in Tamil Nadu does not help achieve any solutions for the Tamils and makes no martyrs out of innocent, self-immolating victims in Tamil Nadu. Giving space for a healthy, intelligent debate on how to move ahead is the responsibility of the mainstream Tamil Nadu media.

(Kusal Perera is a Sri Lankan journalist and political commentator based in Colombo.)

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