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Tamils need to rebuild self-confidence

[Lakbima News, Sunday, 6 December 2009 09:12 No Comment]

Zurich was not a bad start

The defeat and destruction of the LTTE has been a psychological blow to the Tamils, even the neutral and the anti-LTTE. They were left exposed and vulnerable and the sight of 300,000 locked up in concentration camps was of no help. Fortunately, the triumphal mood among the Sinhalese did not spill over into anti-Tamil violence, hence fears subsided but hope and self-confidence has not returned yet. Within Lanka, Tamils have been afraid to openly espouse political demands other than voice human rights concerns about the IDPs; this they felt comfortable to do thanks to the support of the international community. Hence, anything that restores the unity and self-confidence of the community is welcome, even if practical achievements are small. Therefore the November 22-24 meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, attended by 16 organisations of Tamil speaking peoples is a positive step, though immediate consequences will not be noteworthy, and the organisations will pull in different directions in the current election cycle.

18-4 The 16 organisations included R. Sampanthan of the largest Tamil group, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and Mano Ganesan of the Democratic Peoples Front which is a member of the UNF.

Thondaman and Chandrasekaran of the upcountry Tamil parties were there, and so were Douglas and Pilleyan from pro-government Tamil parties. Very significantly, the presence of Rauff Hakeem and Mohamed Hizbullah ensured that the Muslims were well represented. The other eight included PLOTE, EPRLF (two factions), TELO, EROS, Sangaree, Tamil Congress and the Thamil Arasu Katchi (former Federal Party). Some of these later eight are also members of the TNA.

It is most significant that all three major sections of the Tamil speaking people – the N&E Tamils, the Muslims and the Upcountry folk – were fully represented. Also significant is that Karuna, a traitor and self-serving playboy in the eyes of most Tamils, was left out.

The confab was organised in secrecy, understandably so, because of security concerns and because political troublemakers would have tried to upset it. Funding and support was provided by the Swiss government, the Conflict Prevention unit of the University of Essex took intellectual initiatives, and the Tamil Information Centre in the UK handled logistics.

A final statement was issued – one must read between the lines and into the silences to fully understand. There is no need to doubt the sincerity of purpose of the event.

Achievements

To be frank, the main achievement was that such a wide variety of Tamil groups came together at all and discussed the common problems of their people. To expect some world shattering unity to emerge from this confabulation is unrealistic. We can be pretty sure that some hard things would have been said behind closed doors, and that is just as well since otherwise the meeting would not have been productive. However, the final statement is bland, again understandable; sixteen different organisations of different backgrounds cannot abruptly get together and produce a joint programme.

The statement recognised the existence of different sections of Tamil speaking people, it recognised the need for unity and consensus, and promised to work jointly towards a just and durable political solution. Well a little platitudinous; one would have liked to see the principle of devolution and power sharing mentioned, one would have liked to see a demand for the immediate release and resettlement of the IDPs, one would have liked to see a demand for freedom of assembly, travel and speech in the N&E, the lifting of the emergency and the abrogation of the PTA. This was too much to get 16-party consensus on and a more limited but unanimous statement is better than a split.

The bigger achievement may be yet to come. If after this confabulation the Tamil people feel more self-confident, speak up and advance their issues, that would be a big step forward. It is important that the Tamils stop putting their heads down in fear of chauvinism; the diaspora has done its bit and now it is time for political leadership to come back home. Hence this is an excellent moment for a reawakening since two elections are to be held and a united Tamil candidate at the presidential election is a means of drawing attention to Tamil issues.

The Tamils should open up negotiations with Sarath Fonseka, and as a formality with Mahinda Rajapaksa, to see if they are prepared to verbalise some insincerities.

They may mouth statements about devolution, power sharing, playing fair by the minorities; remember they want votes. Fonseka is the more interesting candidate since he has not yet rotted away, and if verbally he takes a progressive position on the national question, it may be useful. The millstone round his neck is the JVP – let us see how he handles the scoundrels.

I hope Tamils vote for Siritunga or Bahu, and if this is too advanced a call for some, I hope a Tamil candidate is available. Those who vote for these three candidates have to consider how to use with their second preference, but it is too early to talk about that and I will return to the topic when the electoral landscape is clearer.

Limitations

The limitation of the Zurich conference will be if people enjoy a Swiss holiday and return to the same old ways. One cannot expect Douglas to do anything that risks his ministerial privileges, but Pilleyan, will he rethink whether to go on forever a stooge of the state? It is known that Pilleyan, Sidharthan and Sritharan refused to sign the statement issued in October by five Tamil and Muslim parties, demanding the release of the IDPs and restoration of freedom of travel and movement in the North and East, because they were afraid to offend the government.

Today these demands are coming true and the joint efforts of the five parties which did sign-up were contributory to the achievement.

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