TNPF leader speaks on independent, concerted, Tamil foreign policy
Realising that our struggle has long been used by powers in their engagements with the island, we as a nation must work towards a concerted foreign policy, although we don’t have State, said Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) leader Mr. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam in an interview to TamilNet on Saturday. In meeting the challenge of achieving this, we should incorporate Tamil Nadu in creating a power centre in a geopolitical sense and the dynamics will change very quickly. Compared to the Congress, the BJP is little bit more blunt and more strident in containing the nationalist nature of the struggle. This is the carrot to the Sri Lankan State and the TNA is a co-partner. The TNPF leader argued for a breakthrough by addressing the situation in three ways.
“The reality is that we have States and those interests of States that are severely run by militaristic logic,” Gajendrakumar said and argued that this has to be addressed through a Tamil foreign policy including Tamil Nadu and coming out with a geopolitical equation.
“There is no ‘one international community’ we recognize,” he said.
With regard to non-State entities, which is the real international community, and which is the populations not structured, Gajendrakumar said that we have an advantage through the pressure exerted on Sri Lanka particularly by the Western governments and by the resulting awareness. With the general international community, we can move forward by the presence of the diaspora, if we have a coordinated foreign policy, he said.
Thirdly, with regards to unrecognized informal nations, Tamil Nadu is the foremost, Gajendrakumar said, urging coordination at the level of Tamil Nadu government and at the level of people to make the breakthrough.
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Full text of Mr Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s interview follows:
TamilNet: What are the current needs that the nation of Eezham Tamils should have an independent foreign policy?
Ponnambalam: If you look at what is happening internationally and the way various international actors are reacting to Sri Lanka in general and the Tamil national struggle in particular, what you will find is that when countries deal with Sri Lanka, the Tamil national question plays a central role. If you take the UN Human Rights Council, whatever action is being contemplated with regards to Sri Lanka has the Tamil question and the suffering of the Tamil people as the key element in order to justify those steps.
If you take relations with regards to India-Sri Lanka, you will find that at various points, right through the history ever since the British left Sri Lanka, India has always used the Tamil national question as leverage when dealing with the Sri Lankan state. At times, they have used the Tamil national question to put severe pressure on the Sri Lankan governments. And at times they have done the complete opposite. They have appeased the Sri Lankan governments by completely containing, if not in fact acting to the severe detriment of the Tamil national question and the Tamil national struggle. So that is the reality.
The Tamil nation and the Tamil people’s struggle for liberty, equality and self-determination, in particular has been essentially used as a tool and it continues to be used as a tool even as we speak. So as far as we are concerned when foreign countries and their policies to Sri Lanka have used the Tamil question as leverage and as a tool, it only shows the importance of the Tamil question with regards to these actors.
And unfortunately, where the Tamil people have failed, we failed to understand the importance of the Tamil nation and the Tamil homeland in a geopolitical sense. And in a larger sense, the Tamil polity which includes Tamil Nadu in a geopolitical sense. We have failed to realize the importance of this region and the role that we play in this region. As a result, we are impotent in dealing with these major power struggles and geopolitical struggles that are taking place. Quite contrarily, we are simply being used.
So it is our party’s position, and it has been that position for a long time, that we must work towards a concerted foreign policy as a nation although we don’t have a state, we must have a policy of our own. And it is only if we have a policy of our own when dealing with the international community and its various actors – there is no one ‘international community’ we recognize that – can we actually further our own struggle for justice.
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TamilNet: Given the circumstances of dispersed Eezham Tamils, what are the prospects of achieving a concerted foreign policy?
Ponnambalam: It is a very crucial question. The fact that the Eezham Tamil nation today is dispersed right throughout the world, obviously we are physically present in our homeland, but there is a considerable diaspora which can play a key role, that is spread throughout the western world.
There is a small number of Eezham Tamils who are living in India, in South India in particular, in Tamil Nadu, and it is these various groupings that comprise the Eezham Tamil nation. The challenge is whether we can actually come up with an independent foreign policy of our own as a nation considering these factors.
Why it might be a challenge – and I use the term ‘challenge’ deliberately – is when you are physically situated in various different parts and your circumstances are different, you might have an emotional attachment to the Eezham Tamil nation and the homeland. But your needs, your interests obviously might be different, when you are physically situated in various other countries. There can be, in those circumstances, conflict of interest.
But I think if we look at our interests as a whole, and also if we look at it in an unemotional way, my belief is that we can find a common ground. And we can find a common ground if we also go beyond looking at a Eezham Tamil foreign policy, but also incorporate Tamil Nadu into this equation, then the dynamics will change very quickly because there is a substantial power-centre that we can create in a geo-political sense. That will give an impetus for these scattered interests to come together in a concerted way.
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TamilNet: What could be the role of the people and Government of Tamil Nadu in contributing to a foreign policy conducive to the struggle of Eezham Tamils?
Ponnambalam: Tamil Nadu is key. As far as our party is concerned, geopolitically we look at Tamil Nadu as even far more important than the island of Sri Lanka in a global sense. Tamil Nadu’s population is that much bigger. It has physical and geographical contiguity with the continent, and it strikes the same physical presence with regards to the Indian Ocean. So all the importance in a geopolitical sense that comes to the island of Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu has a much bigger importance, in that it has a physical contiguity with the continent and has a much larger population.
So the sort of impact, if this little island called Sri Lanka in its present state can play such a dominant role when it comes to major powers, on just imagine if Tamil Nadu chooses to use its geopolitical importance what a tremendous impact it would have in a global sense.
And this is where we believe that if Tamil Nadu does live up to its potential in formulating a foreign policy, then obviously that policy will have very strong leanings and will incorporate the Eezham Tamil presence in our own struggle, I think we will be in a position to make a substantial difference.
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TamilNet: Unlike the Congress regime, the BJP regime of today is very explicit in declaring a foreign policy formula that places India’s national interests and expectations of Eezham Tamils at loggerheads. The Eezham Tamil experience is that the Indo-US competition over the island always kept them at the receiving end. Considering New Delhi’s declared stand and unfolding global scenario, what could be the foreign policy options of the nation of Eezham Tamils?
Ponnambalam: With regards to the Congress and BJP, our party, even before the new government in India came into power, has said that the foreign policy element with regard to Sri Lanka in general and the Eezham Tamil nation in particular is not going to change.
What you are seeing today is the Congress government was a little bit more subtle and sophisticated in its rhetoric and the way it took certain positions. But the BJP is a little bit more blunt and a little bit more strident. Much like what you have in the United States, where you have the Democrats under President Obama and the previous Republican government under George W Bush, you’ll find that in the nuances they are different, but by and large, the policy hasn’t substantially changed. Its in the way it has been packaged, but the substance hasn’t changed.
So we believe that for as long as we don’t have a policy of our own, and as for long as we are not seen to be serious about what we stand for, we will simply be used as tools. Today what is happening, as far as India is concerned, India is simply on an appeasement mode to the Sri Lankan state. They are using the Tamil issue and India’s ability in a post-LTTE scenario, to completely contain if not completely stifle the Tamil nationalist movement and the Tamil nationalist struggle to a point that it will become non-nationalist in nature. Where it dissipates to point where Tamil politics is ripped of nationalism and the policies that the Tamil people have stood for over the past 65 years.
So that is the carrot that is being dangled in front of the Sri Lankan state. And the co-partners in the appeasement policy of Sri Lanka are the current elected representatives of the TNA who blindly accept whatever position or whatever diktat New Delhi gives to them. In that scenario, obviously as elected representatives if they are prepared to go down that path, the prospects of having a foreign policy and an independent policy of our own being a stand and actually being to negotiate, becomes negligible if not zero. That is the problem that we see today.
So unless our people begin to realize that if don’t take a stand if we don’t get our act together soon, because there is a moment right now for us, I believe that we will simply be used and discarded. Like in the 80s how we were used when India wanted to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government when it was trying to contain the United States’ influence in Sri Lanka. Through the Indo-Lanka accord being signed, the purpose of the Tamil pressure point ceased to exist and the Tamils were asked to forget about everything they had fought for and struggled for. Of course, there was one organization that refused to do that. So that organization had to be got rid of. And that has been done.
Now since you have a pliable Tamil leadership in the form of the TNA, that position continues. Unless we realize this is what is happening and that we need to make a complete change and a complete break from this trend and have a policy of our own, we will be seeing more and more of what we have seen for the last five years.
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TamilNet: What could be the foreign policy models that could go beyond States and militaries, in achieving the expectations of the nation of Eezham Tamils that doesn’t have State or military?
Ponnambalam: As to what foreign policy option the Eezham Tamil nation has, I would like to look at it in different sort of frame. The reality is that we have states and those interests of states that are severely run by militaristic logic. Then there is also the non-state element, which is the real international community which is the general population, and then there is a much more informal international community that is not state structured but certainly lives in unrecognized nations that are struggling.
My belief is that we can have a concerted, coordinated foreign policy to deal with all these three scenarios. With regards to the first, which is the formal state structure that exists, I think that the first part of this interview dominated with regard to dealing with that element.
With regard to the general international community which is the populations not structured, the people so to speak, I think we have an advantage because there has been this need to try and put pressure on Sri Lanka particularly by Western governments to use the last stages of the war and the tremendous crimes that were committed against the people, the genocide that was committed against the Tamil people, to be used as leverage and pressure points.
We have a head start because that in itself has created awareness with regards to what has actually been happening to the Tamil people. So much so that you have general people living in countries like Australia questioning their own government’s policies with regards to Tamil asylum seekers. So that advantage has already been created. We need to capitalize on that awareness. Once again, if we have a coordinated foreign policy, particularly with the presence of the diaspora in most of the Western countries, and with the Western media that tends to dominate, our view is that we can move forward in that sense as well.
The third, with regards to unrecognized, informal nations our view is that we prioritize Tamil Nadu as foremost. If Tamil Nadu and the Eezham Tamil nation can cooperate into forming a common position, I believe that the geopolitical weight that can be brought about will create substantial changes. As I said right at the beginning, Tamil Nadu to us is key, and it is through working with Tamil Nadu, both at the level of the Tamil Nadu government, but also with regards to the general population in Tamil Nadu, we believe that we can make a breakthrough not only with our own interests in the form of policy making to the international community, but also with regard to the world Tamil population in general.