British historian questions ‘parliamentary freedom’ in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia

Reputed British Marxist scholar specialised in intellectual history, Perry Anderson, interviewed by Indian magazine Outlook, opined that as regards ‘parliamentary freedom’, Jamaica and Mauritius fared better than Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia, citing respectively, disenfranchisement of Tamils, Kashmiris, and the lack of freedom during polls. He was responding to columnist Praful Bidwai who asked whether Indian democracy was a ‘unique achievement’, better than SL where “a state of war and emergency has prevailed for decades, with effective disenfranchisement of the Tamils” and Malaysia that has a “corrupt Lebanese-style ethnic power-sharing system”. Prof. Anderson’s observations were further elucidated by an Indian academic researcher writing to TamilNet that the disenfranchisement of the Eezham Tamils is a structural necessity of genocidal and unitary Sri Lanka.

Prof. Anderson, currently professor of history at the University of California, was interviewed by Mr. Bidwai for the November 12 issue of Outlook, regarding his latest book ‘The Indian Ideology’.

The British scholar’s recent book is a critique of the dominant ideology created by modern India that eulogises the Indian formulation of ‘nation-state’. The book deeply analises the negative role played by the politics of the Congress party of both the pre and post Indian independence eras.

The Outlook asked Prof. Anderson: “You bracket India with Malaysia and Sri Lanka as other countries that have held regular elections since independence. But polls in Malaysia have always been rigged within a corrupt Lebanese-style ethnic power-sharing system; there is no independent electoral commission. In Sri Lanka, a state of war and emergency has prevailed for decades, with effective disenfranchisement of the Tamils. So isn’t Indian democracy a unique achievement within the Third World after all?”

Prof Anderson responded: “It is unique, as I have written, by reason of the size and poverty of its electorate. But too often this is taken in a vainglorious, rather than comparative spirit. In most of the Union, polls are indeed freer than in Malaysia; but there is also far more torture, and the lot of the least advantaged is much worse. Tamils have indeed been long disenfranchised in Sri Lanka, but the same can be said, for similar reasons of Kashmiris; if these form a far smaller proportion of the population, it is also true that Sri Lanka has a much longer record of political alternation in government than India. Jamaica or Mauritius would score higher than any of this trio as examples of parliamentary freedom.”

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Bringing out the interview to the notice of TamilNet readers, an Indian academic researcher came out with the following observations:

The acknowledgement of a protracted state of emergency and war in the island of Sri Lanka by both the interviewer and Prof. Anderson is laudable. But what is of even more interest is the recognition of “effective disenfranchisement” of the Tamils.

In a simple sense, ‘disenfranchisement’ is the denial of the right to vote to a person or to a people. In a broader sense, it also includes making a person’s or a people’s vote meaningless. It also brings into its ambit legal, quasi-legal or illegal means used to coerce a people either from voting or from exercising their votes in a manner beneficial to their interests.

After decades of persecution, systemic discrimination, colonization of Tamil tradition homelands and state sponsored pogroms which were carried out with a genocidal intent, the Eezham Tamils in the island gave popular mandate for their self-determination as a nation in the historic Vaddukkodai resolution of 1976.

Soon following this, the Sri Lankan state enacted the 6th amendment to its constitution which stated in its article 157A that “No person shall, directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka.” The other clauses of this article made any person or organization demanding self-determination as beyond the frameworks of ‘civic rights’.

Combined with these was the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 that was made permanent ever since 1982, which gave arbitrary powers to the Sri Lankan forces to detain and ‘interrogate’ anyone suspected of being against the Sri Lankan state.

What these legal measures in effect did was to disenfranchise the entire Eezham Tamil nation that voted for self-determination, placed it beyond civic rights, and gave Sri Lankan forces to exercise their powers as and how they saw fit. And the Sri Lankan government was free by the constitutional mechanism of the unitary state to use the police, army and paramilitaries for genocide against the Eezham Tamil nation that was effectively disenfranchised.

The majoritarian Sinhala state’s genocidal designs were thwarted for a brief period with the de facto state of the Eezham Tamils, led by Pirapaharan’s LTTE. In the short time where they gained civil rights under that apparatus, the Eezham Tamils gave their popular support to the de facto state. The Tamil Sovereignty Cognition succinctly mentions that “People nominated by the de facto state winning the elections in 2004 show the endorsement of Eelam Tamils to the de facto state that came into being by Earned Sovereignty.”

However, this Earned Sovereignty was brutally denied by a globally abetted genocidal war as counterinsurgency which was waged on the Eezham Tamil nation by the GoSL. After this, the Eezham Tamils were again left as disenfranchised people in unitary Sri Lanka that has gagged them, constitutionally and also by means of force, both as individuals and as organizations from stating their demand for Tamil Eelam.

Eezham Tamils, the Tamil diaspora, and the Tamil Nadu Tamils should also study here the continuing role of the global system of injustice that is contributing to this ‘effective disenfranchisement’ of an entire nation. The manoeuvres of various establishments to cajole activist groups in the diaspora to not use the politically powerful demands of referendum, concepts of historical, earned and remedial sovereignty, are becoming obvious. These establishments also drop a blindfold over their failures to prevent the genocidal war when it was happening or to recognize the legitimate right of the Eezham Tamil nation to self-determination.

Alan Keenan of the ICG tells now that the charges of genocide need to be investigated but that demand for separation is contextually unwise because of the “virulent opposition that it would provoke among the Sinhalese”. One is tempted to ask what position did ICG and other establishments take on the demand for separation when the “virulent opposition” was manifesting itself as a genocidal war leading up to 2009.

It would be no exaggeration to state now that the countries that abetted the war, the countries and establishments that failed to recognize the historical and earned sovereignty of the Eezham Tamils when the Tamils had their de facto state, all played their own parts, some large some small, in the structural, protracted genocide that is unfolding.

And now, these establishments want to thrust half-baked approaches like ‘try internal solution first, consider external solutions later’ onto Eezham Tamil activists. In effect, they want the Tamils to accept the constitutional disenfranchisement in the unitary Sri Lankan state, but bring about only a regime change giving maybe this or that concession.

This again brings to the other observation of Prof. Anderson that “Sri Lanka has a much longer record of political alternation in government than India”. Hoping that it wasn’t said as a positive remark, it needs to be pointed out again from a tortuous history that no matter what political alternation or political alteration happen in unitary Sri Lanka, genocide of the Eezham Tamils has only changed hands. The Sri Lankan structure cannot function otherwise.

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