Mistaking the Tiger for Tamil (Once Again)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun Dec 11 17:29:05 UTC 2005

>>From Asian Tribune, Date : 2005-12-11
Mistaking the Tiger for Tamil (Once Again)
By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"Surely he wandereth from the way,
His reason lost"
Aeschylus (Promtheus Bound)

So the first round of the battle between the LTTE and the Mahinda
Rajapakse administration went to the Tigers. It could not have been
otherwise given the delusions that the new President and his allies seem
to be labouring under. Once Mr. Rajapakse took his here I stand, I will
move no further stand on the unitary state his camp behaved as if the
battle against the Tigers was already half won. It was as if the worst
crime of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe was
not that they were soft on the Tigers but that they were soft on
federalism. Once Mahinda Rajapakse took his stand against federalism
loudly and clearly (not to say proudly!) his allies and supporters were in
a triumphant mood; that would teach the Tigers they cannot mess with us
seemed to be the gist of their thinking.

Then the Tigers attacked, and for a couple of days blood flowed freely.
The hitherto jubilant Rajapakse camp was forced to confront the reality -
that the LTTE has not been tamed by the new Presidents uncompromising
stand on the unitary state. Then came the announcement that the Rajapakse
administration wants Norway to act as the facilitator once again. Having
no room to retreat on the devolution front, the President had to concede
on the appeasement front. Mahinda Rajapakse, the JVP and the JHU have one
illusion in common with Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Ranil
Wickremesinghe and the local and international peaceniks the belief that
federalism is what the Tigers are really after. The Sinhala supremacists
think that federalism is what the LTTE is actually after since in their
fevered imagination it is akin to Eelam; the Tiger appeasers believe that
the Tigers would settle for federalism only if there is a Southern
consensus in favour of it, soon. It is this illusion that is sustaining
the federalism vs. unitary debate and enabling the LTTE to further the
Eelam cause irrespective of who is holding office in Colombo.

Tiger Demands and Tamil Demands

The LTTE is not interested in federalism except as a stick to beat the
Sinhala supremacists with. The Tigers public (and repeated) rejection of
the Oslo Agreement should have made that clear but this rejection is being
glossed over by proponents and opponents alike, albeit for different
reasons. The Oslo Declaration had the blessings of the four Co-Chairs;
rejecting this internationally backed consensus after Anton Balasingham
put his signature to it could have been politically extremely costly for
the Tigers. But the LTTE did not care because what it wants is nothing
less than its own separate state and federalism (not to mention the Oslo
Agreement with its democratic safe guards) is definitely not It!

For the Tigers the entire debate of federalism vs. unitary is thus
irrelevant (they may intervene in it occasionally but that is only as a
means of discrediting the enemy, as they are doing quite successfully
vis--vis Mahinda Rajapakse). Otherwise the LTTE has no interest in the
issue. Unfortunately both sides of the divide refuse to accept this
reality since it violates some of their most cherished beliefs. For the
opponents of federalism it is important to equate federalism with
separation/Eelam in order to justify their refusal to compromise on the
unitary state. For the peaceniks it is equally important to cling to the
illusion of the Tigers willingness to settle for something rather less
than Eelam to justify their limitless appeasement of the LTTE.

The issue of the ISGA is different as it falls outside this debate. The
ISGA proposal  unlike the Oslo Agreement  is not supposed to be a
blueprint for a final solution; it is a temporary arrangement, a bridge
between here and the final solution. Therefore it does not require
structural changes as it is by definition only a temporary, transient
arrangement. The ISGA is supposed to be implemented sans a constitutional
reform  i.e. without the transformation of the state structure from
unitary to federal, precisely because it was only a temporary arrangement.
This way the Tigers can have their interim solution that is much more than
federalism, which unlike Oslo is not an alternative to Eelam but a bridge
to it; and they can have it fast without any messy constitutional reforms
which can delay and dilute the proposal. This is one of the reasons why
the Tigers rejected the Oslo Agreement and substituted it with the ISGA
proposal; one impedes the Eelam process; the other facilitates it.

The federal vs. unitary debate matters to the Tamil community and
especially to anti-Tiger Tamils. It is an important indicator of the Sri
Lankan states willingness to move beyond 1956, 1972 and 1978 and to
restructure itself in such a way that the Tamil people can once again feel
that they are secure within it and that they do not need the Tigers to act
as a restraint on the extremism of the majority. It is an indication that
a truly pluralist Sri Lankan state that is reflective of Sri Lanka the
country is possible. A Sinhala state is not reflective of Sri Lanka the
country; it is reflective of a truncated Sinhala country (the one that the
Tigers keep on referring to); a Sinhala Buddhist country is even less
reflective of an undivided Sri Lanka; it is reflective of a far more
truncated, internally divided Sinhala Buddhist country. Willingness to
compromise on federalism is thus a necessary pre-condition to prevent the
division of the country; it is just as important as refusing to appease
the Tigers. Conceding on federalism while not conceding on the LTTE is the
basis of a policy that is hard on Tigers and soft on Tamils, considered
Tiger-unfriendly and Tamil-friendly.

What happens when one fails to understand that though Tigers are Tamils,
Tigers are not equal to Tamils (any more than the JVP is equal to
Sinhalese, the JHU to Buddhists or the UNP or the SLFP to the people,
whatever delusions these entities may harbour in this regard)? Though some
Tamils are Tigers (perhaps even a majority of the Tamils) not all Tamils
are Tigers. Consequently the more anti-Tiger one is, the greater the need
to differentiate between the Tigers and the Tamils; the more opposed to
appeasement one is the greater the need to accommodate the Tamil demand
for power sharing within an undivided Sri Lanka as opposed to the Tiger
demand for sole power in a separate North and East.

Mahindas Folly

Unfortunately the new President has failed to grasp this reality. He has
not understood that given our past sins as a community we need to be not
only non-Sinhala chauvinist but also anti-Sinhala chauvinist. We need to
prove to the Tamils that we will not use our numerical superiority to
impose politico-legal and economic inequalities on them again. We must
remember that the Tamil people are not yet convinced of our bona fides,
that even the anti-Tiger Tamils wonder whether we will go back to our
usual antics, the moment the Tiger threat is gone. We must understand that
the Tamil people are not enamoured of Sinhala supremacism in any of its
forms, not even its friendly, benevolent, unconscious variety that Mr.
Rajapakse seems to represent.

In a situation such as ours even little gestures can matter a lot. Take
the announcement by the new President that in future he will speak to the
diplomatic corps only in Sinhala. This is probably only a cheap theatrical
act which may not mean anything much in terms of policy. However in
reporting this announcement the pro-Tiger Tamil Net referred prominently
to Sinhala Only implying that this Sinhala Only is really a manifestation
of that earlier Sinhala Only which by excluding and humiliating Tamil
brought about this entire problem. It is perfectly possible that Mr.
Rajapakse did not mean it that way; he is obviously playing to the
gallery; perhaps he is merely speaking in a language that he is more
familiar and comfortable with. There is no harm in that, if he stated it
that way. Most of the Sinhalese and Tamils would have understood such an
admission. But the way the President made his announcement it left room
for mischief makers to imply that he is identifying Sri Lanka with Sinhala
and that this is really a reversion to the old, divisive One Language
policy of 1956.

Gestures are important given historical memories and current
sensitivities. That is why clarity is necessary and confusion is
unaffordable. For example when one the Rajapakse camp speaks of desheeya
(indigenous/ national) as they are wont, they must be clear, they must
make it clear that the desheeya they are talking about is not the old
Sinhala Only desheeya but a new pluralist Sri Lankan desheeya. Such
distinctions are important because the task is not to make the minorities
feel more alienated, more excluded but more included. Inclusiveness and
pluralism are essential to create a Sri Lankan nation, as President
Premadasa emphasised: Ultimately, Sinhala and Tamil people must learn to
become one people through a knowledge and practice of each others language
and culture, only then will we become one nation, a Sri Lankan people (A
Charter for Democracy  March/April 1990). It is also important to remember
that the Tigers are waiting for every single mistake we make, to use it to
bolster their flagging popularity, nationally and internationally.

When one prefers theatrical gestures instead of and in place of meaningful
actions, when one cannot really differentiate between Tiger demands and
Tamil demands then one paints oneself into a corner. Forced to make
concessions by circumstances, one concedes on important points while
clinging to the trivial. That is what seems to be happening to Mahinda
Rajapakse. He is clinging to the unitary state while conceding on the
pro-Tiger Norwegians. He will be advised not to provoke the Tigers by
talking to anti-Tiger Tamils or searching for a final settlement outside
of the peace process; and he is likely to accept this path as it enables
him to cling to the unitary state. True it would entail appeasing the
Tigers, but in the perspective of the Rajapakse camp that seems to be a
lesser sin than conceding on devolution.

If the events of last week are a foretaste of things to come then we can
expect the Tigers to become strengthened, almost as much as they would
have been under a Ranil Wickremesinghe presidency. What Mr. Wickremesinghe
did and would have done consciously and deliberately Mr. Rajapakse seems
to be doing unconsciously, all the time believing that he is doing its


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