Reiterating their position that “the recognition of the distinct sovereignty of the Eelam Tamil Nation and our right to self-determination is non-negotiable,” the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) in a statement released on Saturday asserted that the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Councils system, rejected by the Eezham Tamil nation way back in 1987, “can never play any part of a process to reach a political solution today.” The statement released on the 30th anniversary of Black July, further said “if there is a firm resolve of the Eelam Tamil Diaspora to be true to this righteous cause at all occasions and venues, we in the homeland believe that it can ultimately serve to reinvigorate the Tamils in the homeland to mobilize and democratically counter the machinations of the Genocidal intent of the Sinhala Buddhist state.”
TNPF leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam had elaborated on similar ideas in a two-part interview given to The Weekend Leader earlier.
TamilNet reproduces full text of the statement of the TNPF released on the occasion of Black July, followed by Mr. Ponnambalam’s interview to The Weekend Leader.
Statement from the Tamil National People’s Front on the 30th year remembrance of ‘Black July’
Like every year, for the last 30 years, you are gathered today, along with your fellow Tamils in other parts of the world, to commemorate the week commencing the 23rd of July 1983 as “Black July”. That week was the turning point in the Tamil Nation’s history. For Black July put beyond the pale of any doubt, that it was not the result of the actions of a few stray elements of Sinhala Buddhist society. Rather, it was a result of complete state sponsorship of mass racism, institutionalized within the state and political systems, and in Sinhala Buddhist society against the Tamil people.
The Black July pogrom was not an “anti-Tamil riot” but the most naked act of Genocide committed by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamil Nation. The intention was not merely to cause death to the Tamils, it was also designed to ethnically cleanse Tamils from the Sinhala homeland and at the same time structurally undermine the self-sustaining economy of the Tamil Nation.
Apologists of the Sri Lankan state are endeavouring to depict the events of July ’83 as a one-off incident that has never, and will never be repeated. But the reality is that with Black July, the armed struggle of the Tamils escalated and with such escalation, the acts of Genocide against the Tamils were cloaked in so-called counter insurgency actions. Mullivaikkal in May ’09 was merely the peak of the Genocide of the Tamil Nation that first caught the attention of the world through the events of Black July.
Every event that the Tamil Nation commemorates, like Black July, should not be a mere emotional outpouring of grief. These events should serve as stark reminders of the nature of the conflict – which is the systematic dismantling of the existence of the Tamils as a distinct Nation in the island of Sri Lanka by the Sinhala Buddhist state. In other words, the Genocide of the Tamil Nation. It is this Genocide that the Tamils need to find protection from. It is a process that delivers protection from this ongoing Genocide, that the Tamil Nation can accept as a solution to the Tamil National question.
Sadly today, the very nature of the conflict is being deliberately obfuscated by not only the Sri Lankan state and its international backers, but also by those who call themselves the elected representatives of the Tamil Nation. From Tamils needing to find protection from Genocide, the conflict is instead being portrayed as the Tamil desire for an arbitrary notion of wanting share powers of governance of the Sri Lankan state. And through these acts of obfuscation of the nature of the conflict, these elements hope to impose a so-called solution in the form of the “13th Amendment” and the long rejected Provincial Council system.
The 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system was rejected by the Tamil people in October 1987 as not meeting the aspirations of the Tamil people, nor them being in any way, commensurate with the loss of life, sufferings and privations suffered by the Tamil people. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. 30 years on the acts of Genocide have only risen exponentially. 4 years after the conclusion of the war, the systematic structural Genocide of the Tamil Nation is ongoing. There can be no doubt in our minds that what was rejected way back in 1987 as not being commensurate with the losses faced by the Tamil people, can never play any part of a process to reach a political solution today.
It is in these most trying times that the Tamil Nation commemorates this years Black July. The Eelam Tamil Diaspora along with the people of Tamil Nadu has remained the only real light at the end of, what otherwise has been a very dark and long tunnel. The mobilization of the Diaspora in calling for justice for the Genocide committed on the Tamil Nation spanning the last 65 years, along with its uncompromising and principled call for the recognition of the Eelam Tamils as a distinct and sovereign Nation with the right to self-determination has given tremendous inspiration to the homeland Tamils.
Above all, if there is a firm resolve of the Eelam Tamil Diaspora to be true to this righteous cause at all occasions and venues, we in the homeland believe that it can ultimately serve to reinvigorate the Tamils in the homeland to mobilize and democratically counter the machinations of the Genocidal intent of the Sinhala Buddhist state. This resolve can also serve to expose the betrayals of those amongst the Eelam Tamils who are willing to sell out the entire Tamil Nation for a mess of pottage!
The Tamil National People’s Front wishes to recommit, on this very significant occasion, that the recognition of the distinct sovereignty of the Eelam Tamil Nation and our right to self-determination is non-negotiable. It is self evident to mankind that the truth will prevail. The Eelam Tamil Nation stands for the truth! The Eelam Tamil Nation will prevail!
President: Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam
Secretary: Selvarajah Kajendren
Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s interview with The Weekend Leader dated 27 July follows:
TWL: How do you respond to accusations that you are continuing with dynastic politics without a real grasp of ground level Tamil politics?
Gajendrakumar:I don’t see coming from a “dynasty” of Tamil politicians as an issue, as long as I have the capacity to serve my people in my own right. One’s own personal achievements and failures are what I believe one must be judged by, and not by the family one belongs to.
But quite honestly, I find the suggestion that I have not grasped ground level Tamil politics a little surprising. I say this because I happen to be the only Tamil politician who was born and bred in an elite Colombo background, but who chose to eschew that same Colombo elite thinking and move to Jaffna and settle down there.
In fact, most Tamil elites accuse my politics of compromising their interests and only addressing the interests of the ground level Tamil society.
TWL: Do you believe what happened during Eelam War IV was genocide? Is there any hope of international investigations?
Gajendrakumar:I have no doubt whatsoever that what happened, not only during Eelam War IV, but ever since the British departed from the island of Sri Lanka, is an ongoing systematic genocide. The Sri Lankan state is systematically dismantling the existence of the Tamils as a distinct nation in Sri Lanka.
What I mean by nation is Tamils being a people who have a distinct language, distinct territory, a distinct culture, and a self-sustaining economy of our own. It is this nationhood that the Sinhala State wishes to see the end of, as Tamil nationhood is the biggest threat to Sinhala Buddhist nationalism that wishes to turn the island into a Sinhala Buddhist Ethnocracy.
So in this genocide, the loss of Tamil lives is just one aspect of the picture. Every one of the pillars that qualify us for nationhood is being systematically destroyed. It is the truth. And this is what the Tamils need to be safeguarded from. This reality is what the conflict is all about.
War crimes and crimes against humanity were also committed. What I oppose is merely calling for the investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and leaving out the crime of genocide. Investigate all three crimes is what we are saying.
The international community is only interested in the last stages of the war. This is unacceptable. The period that needs to be investigated is the last 65 years – that is, the period ever since the British left the island. That is when the Genocide against the Tamils commenced.
As to whether there ever will be international investigations, well as you know, it all depends on geopolitics and how the US (and the western countries) and India view Sri Lanka’s shift towards China.
Even if you look at the way the West and India frame the issue of accountability, they are merely trying to use the issue to bring about a regime change and not genuine accountability. If genuine accountability is what the West and India want, then they should have no problem in investigating charges of genocide, and also the last 65 years of Sinhala rule over the Tamil nation.
There is a danger that international investigations will only become a reality if the West and India believe that the regime change that they want to see in Sri Lanka will not take place!
As for the Tamils, we must not merely let geopolitics decide our fate. It is the duty of every Tamil to mobilize our people in a democratic way, to pressure the international community to act. I believe, if the Tamils here, the Tamils in Tamil Nadu and the Diaspora mobilize in a coordinated way, the international community, and particularly India and the West will have to act.
TWL: You were the first Tamil leader to demand internationally supervised transitional administration of the Tamil homeland in the North and East of Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva. Can you elaborate how it would function and fulfill the aspirations of the Tamils?
Gajendrakumar:We want an internationally backed Transitional Administration for three main reasons. Firstly, we need to secure the Tamil Nation from the ongoing Genocide. This can only happen if we are taken out of the hegemonic grip of the Sinhala State.
The second reason is that if we truly want an accountability mechanism to be successful, then the Tamil people must feel safe in being able to come out and give evidence.
This can only happen if the Tamil homeland is taken out of the strangulating grip of the Sinhala State, and a protective mechanism is put in place. We see the Transitional Administration as such a protective mechanism.
And thirdly, a meaningful reconstruction of the destroyed livelihoods of our people can only happen through an administration that is accountable to the Tamil people.
In other words, the Administration we envisage is not merely a protection mechanism, but one that would have sufficient powers to handle the immediate resettlement, and the rebuilding of livelihoods and development needs of our people.
It is important to state that this Transitional Administration would exist only till such time an acceptable political solution is found to the Tamil national question. So it is not a substitute for a negotiated solution. It is something that must be set up in the interim period.
TWL: It is a common perception that TNPF prefers to work with civil society than the government of Sri Lanka. If that is the case how would you negotiate for a settlement with the government?
Gajendrakumar:We are not saying that the Tamils should not negotiate with the government of Sri Lanka. What we are saying is that when we do sit down to negotiate, the government of Sri Lanka must first accept certain fundamentals.
They must accept that we are a distinct Nation with our own sovereignty and that we are a people with the right to self-determination. It is on this basis that negotiations can take place to work out the modalities on how the Tamil and Sinhala Nations can coexist in one country.
TWL: There have been severe threats to your life. Recently there were reports of four unidentified men visiting your house. The TID (Terrorism Investigation Department) had summoned you to its headquarters. How do you cope with all this given the fact that your own father was gunned down?
Gajendrakumar:I work on the basis that I rather be killed than accept the genocide that is being committed on my people, as a way of life. I am doing nothing wrong!
I am not doing anything that even violates the most draconian laws of the Sinhala State, like the Prevention of Terrorism Act, or the notorious 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution that prohibits the espousing of a separate state. All I am agitating for is a re-envisioning of the State. That is my fundamental right and democratic right!
TWL: What is your reaction to the Tamil Eelam Freedom Charter declared by TGTE (Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam) in May 2013?
Gajendrakumar:The 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution prohibits me to say or do anything that might be construed as espousing the creating of a separate state. Therefore I cannot comment on this matter.
TWL: How do you view the resurgence of the Tamil Diaspora world over?
Gajendrakumar:We believe it is inevitable that the Eelam Tamil Diaspora would mobilize again. Each and every member of the Diaspora is directly in touch with their family members back in the homeland.
They know about the genocide that their brethren are facing. They also know of the unprecedented oppression that the Tamils are facing here. So it is only natural that the Diaspora will take up the cause of the Tamils in the homeland, when the Tamils here have been made voiceless. I fully appreciate most of their efforts.
There are some groups though, unfortunately, that are behaving in a very naïve way. These groups refuse to see the geopolitics that is driving policy in the western countries that they live in, and as a result are formulating strategies that I believe are a waste of finances and effort. But these groups will realize soon why their efforts will not succeed.
Then of course there are some groups and individuals who are being promoted by some western governments to more or less lobby the Tamil Diaspora on their behalf. These groups function very similar to how India uses the Tamil National Alliance to do its bidding in Sri Lanka. Such groups will get discredited as time goes by.
But by and large, the Diaspora and their organizations are an asset to us.
TWL: What is your opinion on the students’ movement in Tamil Nadu in support of the Eelam struggle?
Gajendrakumar:The students’ movement in Tamil Nadu is the very bright light that we see at the end of the tunnel. My firm view is that the students’ movement and their continued strategic mobilization are going to be the key for the future of the Eelam Tamils.
TWL: India still feels the 13th amendment (to the Sri Lankan constitution) is the final answer to the Tamil problems and keeps pushing for it. Why are you against it?
Gajendrakumar:The 13th amendment purports to provide devolution within the unitary framework structure of the Sri Lankan State. The term “unitary” has very specific legal connotations under constitutional law.
All legislative and executive powersare vested in one power centre in a unitary state. In other words, the unitary state structure cannot provide for devolution of power.
The 13th amendment only provides the mirage of devolution.
The provincial councils that were created by the 13th amendment are mere appendages to the central government. As several constitutional experts have observed, the relationship between the central government and the provincial council is akin to a principal – agent relationship.
Simply put, thecentral government and the governor appointed by the president ultimately control all the so-called powers that are to be vested in the provincial council.
The provincial council’s elected chief minister and the board of ministers’ official role can at best be described as advisors to the governor, who is appointed by the president. They hold no power.
What is actually happening in Sri Lanka is a systematic genocide of the Tamil nation. That is the conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhala Buddhist State.
As far as Tamils are concerned, the solution lies in not only recognizing Tamil nationhood, but also preventing any future undermining of its existence. Then the question must be asked, given the nature of the 13th amendment, how on earth is it going to be a basis for a solution to the Tamil National question?
The truth is that the 13th amendment and the provincial councils were forced on the Tamils by both India and the Sri Lankan State.
This happened after India managed to use the Tamil liberation struggle as a convenient pressure point to get the then JR Jayawardena government to course correct its shift towards the USA and firmly commit to India’s sphere of influence instead.
This commitment to India by Sri Lanka can be clearly seen in the Letters of Exchange annexed to the Indo – Sri Lanka accord (of 1987).
The quid pro quo of Sri Lanka committing to India’s sphere of influence was that the Tamils were asked to effectively surrender their struggle.
The Tamils, my party and I personally, have repeatedly stated that we are India’s natural allies.
We are not against the provisions in the Indo – Lanka Accord that safeguard India’s national security and strategic interests. What we cannot accept is the part that prescribes a solution to the ethnic conflict in the form of the 13thamendment and the provincial councils.
We have in the past, and we will in the future too, do our utmost to safeguard India’s interests in Sri Lanka. But India must not merely look to safeguard her own interests at our expense. That is just not acceptable.
TWL: Do you believe India can play a concrete role in getting justice for the Tamils? If so what do you expect India to do?
Gajendrakumar:Of course, India can play a concrete role. I would go further and say that India must play a concrete role. But that role cannot be played in a constructive and honest manner as long as India only seeks to safeguard its interests in Sri Lanka.
As starting point, India should recognize the Eelam Tamils as a distinct nation with our own sovereignty and right to self-determination. India must urge the Sinhala nation to negotiate with the Tamils to arrive at a solution that re-envisions Sri Lanka into a new plurinational state that is mutually beneficial for both nations.
But as a matter of urgency though, India must play the key role in setting up a Transitional Administration in the North – East of Sri Lanka.
TWL: Given the animosity between the Tamils and the Muslims who live in the north and east, how do you propose to work with them in future?
Gajendrakumar:I cannot agree with the view that there is animosity between the Tamils and the Muslims in the North and East.
There have been unfortunate mistakes made by the Tamils (against Muslims). The Tamils have unreservedly apologized for those mistakes.
We are keen to make sure they are never repeated. As far as the TNPF is concerned, the North-East is as much the homeland of the Muslims as it is for the Tamils. There can be no questions about it.
My party however refuses to speak on behalf of the Muslim people. They don’t like us to speak for them, as if we have a common identity. I think the Tamils must respect their feeling and accept whatever identity they choose for themselves.
We are committed to working out a framework for the North-East that the Muslims and Tamils will feel mutually comfortable and secure with. I have no doubts that such an arrangement can be arrived at.
TWL: How do you view the attacks on Muslims by the BoduBalaSena?
Gajendrakumar:The attacks on the Muslims by the BoduBalaSena are deplorable without reservation. But quite honestly, the TNPF has been saying this (such attacks) would happen for sometime now.
What the Muslims must understand is that in the Sinhala-Buddhist-Nationalist scheme of things, the Tamils were the No.1 targets.
Now that they believe the Tamils have been sufficiently dealt with, they are going after the next obvious hurdle to their vision of a Sinhala Buddhist Ethnocracy, the Muslims.
TWL: Is your party contesting the forthcoming provincial elections in the north? If so,do you plan to go alone or strike an alliance with TNA? Do you believe these elections will be free and fair?
Gajendrakumar:We completely reject the 13th amendment and the provincial councils that were created by it. We will have nothing to do with these elections.
TWL: Do you believe any Sinhala regime will give justice to the Tamils?
Gajendrakumar:Not unless the international community intervenes in a meaningful and effective manner. And for that to happen, the Tamils the world over need to mobilize in a well coordinated and strategic way.
TWL: What are the future plans of TNPF?
Gajendrakumar:Our vision is to transform the TNPF into a people’s movement. It is a tough task given the conditions that prevail in the homeland.
But this is where we see Tamil Nadu’s students’ movement and the Diaspora mobilization as key. We take great inspiration from them. The people here will follow provided we can give honest leadership.
TWL: Lastly, what are the memories you have of the Black July (the anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983 in Sri Lanka that claimed the lives of hundreds of Tamils) and how it shaped the political course of your father and now you?
Gajendrakumar:Well I was 9 years old when Black July’83 happened. My family didn’t flee Sri Lanka like many Tamils did.
Instead we were fortunate to find protection amongst Sinhalese friends of my father. We would move from house to house as most Sinhalese families were too frightened to shelter us beyond a couple of days.
The truth is that Black July itself didn’t have too much of an impact on me. I was sheltered by my parents from seeing the genocidal destruction to life and property of the Tamil people. But it was my overall experience as a Tamil that shaped my views. There is no single event that I can point to and say “this is what convinced me!”
Many people think that my political views were shaped as a result of the assassination of my father. But that is not true.
My views had been formed much earlier. My father’s assassination merely served to reinforce the correctness of my views about Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism and its genocidal agenda.