Unity makes us stronger. But not always. All those fighting for their rights must choose their alliances wisely or risk swapping one oppressor for another.
The old adage of by your friends shall you be known is sometimes useful. Recently at the UN, Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan regime managed to mobilise some of the most undemocratic countries to its support. The 21 nations, including North Korea, Iran, etc, who supported Sri Lanka, have consistently opposed western governments on almost all issues in the past. That does not mean that they offer any challenge to the horrors perpetrated by western imperialism against the peoples of the world, at home and abroad. Far from it.
But it was no surprise that they took the side of the dictatorial Rajapaksa as part of opposing what they portray as the US-led domination against them, in reality the struggle for power and influence in a world wracked by crisis and instability. This represents a significant defeat for Sri Lanka. These states, who deny democratic rights to their own people, have no problem tolerating the heinous crimes of Sri Lanka and to use this opportunity to advance their own political agenda against the west.
The Indian government were even more deceitful in their abstention. They argued that they took “positive note of Sri Lanka’s engagement with the UN” and criticised the absence of UN cooperation with Sri Lanka. They urged that India and Sri Lanka “should be given all necessary assistance in a cooperative and collaborative manner.” Of course the western countries, also advancing their “politically motivated agenda”, would use all they can to nail the current Sri Lankan regime as it moves closer to China. The casualty of this ongoing game is ‘human rights’ – the rights and justice of Tamils in particular in this instance.
It is absolutely clear that the western governments are not ready to surrender their interests in Sri Lanka to regional powers. The UN-led investigation, Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Tamil diaspora will continue to be their tool to find a way in. The TNA reveals itself to be absolutely hopeless, with no understanding of these processes. It has become voluntarily submissive to the aims of the Indian government.
The extent of the TNA’s hopelessness means that in the past R Sampanthan wrote to Jayalalithaa asking her to fully cooperate with the central government of India. The totally incapable TNA leadership makes their decisions based on random guesses and a black and white view of geopolitics, rather than a real understanding of the socio-economic developments in the region. Manipulating the “show me the money”-TNA leadership is not a big deal for the regional powers. Tamils in Sri Lanka or the diaspora will never be able to express their fightback through the current TNA leadership. TNA leaders are losing without a fight. And they create false illusions among Tamils that Indian and western governments will somehow act in the interest of Tamils.
Apart from Tamils, can India or the west rely on any other forces within Sri Lanka? At least sections of Tamils, like in organisations such as Tamil Solidarity, continue to expose the TNA/West/Sri Lankan government’s roles and adamantly demand self-determination. All the above interest groups listed could happily do without it – rather than be constantly annoyed by it. Then what would be better than relying on a tiny minority for them to advance their interest? Apart from the left parties, such as the USP, FSP, etc, which they cannot rely on, there are no forces in Sri Lanka, that are supporting any sort of war crimes investigations. But that’s not a problem if the traditional ally of the capitalists – the UNP – steps forward to create a real challenge to the current regime, their problem is solved.
Following the setback faced by the government in the recent Uva provincial election, the UNP sees its chances. Now quick, dirty deals are made. There are reports of huge money exchanges with big businesses and media moguls. And back on top again is Sajith Premadasa – considered by many as more of a Sinhala chauvinist than the current president. After consolidating Sajith’s faction with the deputy leadership position, the UNP believes it can put up a challenge to the regime. Gone with the wind is the debate on a “common candidate”. Ranil now claims: “Only the UNP can form the government”. The possibility of a UNP victory is what all the western governments and India want. They need no more than a ‘regime change’ to carry on with business as usual.
The British Conservative Party openly announced this by inviting Ranil to participate in their conference this year. The Tamil diaspora was never consulted or informed about this. It’s funny – but the Tories could do with Ranil’s advice! Cameron is also facing discontent among the most right-wing sections within his Tory party. Two of their MPs recently defected to UKIP – an even more right-wing, racist party than the Tories, but with a populist twang to try to appeal to the millions of angry people turned off by politics. It’s little wonder people seek an alternative when the Tories are proposing even more severe austerity on working people. Tory Lord Naseby recently accused the Tamil diaspora of being “racist” and called Channel 4 documentary witnesses “fully paid up members of Tigers” and defended the war. From the disgraced Liam Fox to other prominent Tories, they are vehement supporters of ‘collaboration’ with the murderous Sri Lankan regime. Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi called for “Sri Lanka [to] be given time to conduct its own internal inquiry into the allegations of human rights violations”. British foreign policy will never be ‘Tamil friendly’ – instead it will always be determined by the British big business interests in Sri Lanka.
Foreign policy is only ever an extension of domestic policy – and domestic policy in Britain is to squeeze the working class and poor to enrich the super-rich 1%. Would it not be foolish to think the Tories, renowned for their cold cruelty, would look across the world and find a heart? It is a simple point – and one that is made time and time again by many. But so far this simple clarity has not been adopted into the strategy of the Tamil diaspora organisations (with the exception of Tamil Solidarity).
The UNP, the historic ally of western big business and government interests, are now turning further to the right, just like the Tories, to satisfy the most right-wing voters – their traditional voters. They want to make themselves more ‘electable’ by appealing to the more Sinhala chauvinist sections within the party and outside.
But the workers and the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka cannot share the UNP’s optimism of the possibility of defeating the current government. The powers of the current regime cannot be curtailed through election alone. Even in the unlikely event of a UNP victory, we will still be losers. Ranil’s meeting with the so-called ‘business community’ in Britain including Tamil businesses, who are eagerly waiting for an opportunity to plunder the resources of Sri Lanka, was orchestrated by the Sri Lankan embassy. For now those who engage in business in Sri Lanka, like Lyca mobile, face significant opposition from the Tamil diaspora as people are not prepared to tolerate the collusion with a genocidal regime. But under a different regime the game will be different. All business, including Tamil business interests, will rally behind the UNP (of course with the blessing of TNA). But Tamils’ interests will be squeezed. A few crumbs and concessions in the direction of minority rights may be thrown at us to silence any discontent. There is no doubt that a section of the Tamil diaspora – including active campaigns and campaigners – will openly support the TNA/UNP.
At times the Tamil diaspora gives an illusion of ‘unity’ but in fact it is strongly divided along class lines. Regime change in Sri Lanka will sharpen this divide within Sri Lanka and among the diaspora. Those who continue to support the struggle – a decisive opposition to all Sri Lankan governments who act against the interests of Tamils, workers and poor and the youth – and defend the national rights of Tamils, will have to take a strong stand against the section of Tamil activists and organisations that are prepared to cooperate with the oppressive class forces. The Tamil struggle should take an anti-corporate, anti-big business, anti-capitalist position at the least. Without the development of a class approach, there is no hope for the continuation of struggle for the Tamils. And there should not be any place for the most right-wing individuals within any organisations who wish to lead the struggle of the Tamils.
Severe criticism must be directed to some organisation in particular. A largely inconsequential group called British Tamils for Conservatives (BTC) spends its time attempting to gather votes for the Tories. While some among them claim to represent Tamils’ interests, they have never raised any serious opposition to the rotten Tory policies, domestic and international. They sided with the Tories, the banks and big business to call for a No vote in the Scottish referendum, they support the privatisation offensive and austerity, and they support all sorts of attacks against minorities. They in no way represent the vast majority of Tamil people.
The argument that the Tory party needs to be lobbied from inside to advance Tamils’ interests within it is also utterly false. Respect for the demand for human rights and rights of people living in Britain should be demanded of any party standing for office – but it will not be forthcoming. We should mobilise our strength against all the parties that fail to represent us. This mobilisation should reach beyond the vote base, building organisational strength, by seeking allies in those who represent our demands. It is our strength that will give us the power to change things – not the BTC’s strategy of building a vote bank for Tories among Tamils.
The Labour Party cannot be exempt from the same charge – using us as a vote bank. Tamils in Britain have traditionally supported Labour for various reasons. In the last council elections in London, Tamil voters showed that they didn’t buy into the hype that David Cameron, the Tory PM, tried to create during the CHOGM. In fact the Conservatives were given a significant punishment by Tamil voters.
However, this does not mean that their support for Labour is automatic. Key leaders of another group called Tamils for Labour behave almost the same as the BTC. They have no understanding of struggle. For them, Labour loyalty precedes the interests of Tamils and all workers. Some Labour councillors openly support the cooperation with the Sri Lankan government. The Labour Party mayor in Brent, a Tamil, stands accused of discrimination against a women worker who was employed by him in his business. The class interests of these leaders matches those of the BTC leadership. They joined these parties, not to advance the interests of the British working class, or the Tamils’ interests, but to pursue their own careers in electoral politics.
One of the key leaders of Tamils for Labour spoke at the Labour Party conference this year and had nothing to say except making himself a bit of a clown. The Labour Party congress this year gave a special welcome to shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander for “saving the United Kingdom” and defeating the Scottish national aspirations. But the Tamils for Labour speaker ignored all this and claimed: “I have watched with great interest the referendum campaign in Scotland… millions of Scots embraced their democratic rights – lot to be learnt from the British example – it is so different from everything I have known in our struggle in Sri Lanka…”.
Such a ridiculous statement reveals that he failed to see how the democratic rights of millions (45% of Scottish) is denied. He had no understanding whatsoever of the role of the Labour party that pro-actively worked to undermine the democratic rights of the Scottish people. We have more to learn from the Scottish example than the British example.
There are more giant pandas than Tories in Scotland. The Labour Party, choosing to front the Tory campaign against the right to self-determination of the Scottish working class and youth, is also fast becoming an endangered species in Scotland. The Labour leadership should have been criticised, and our position should have been made strongly. Even Rajapaksa could agree to a one question referendum – that’s not our sole demand. Instead of relying on the ‘mercy’ of these oppressive forces, building our own strong independent class strength and struggle is vital to finally achieve our demands.
Cross-class unity does not serve cross-class aims. It serves the oppressor class and denies a voice to the oppressed. Recent events Sri Lanka, Scotland, Catalonia and across the world have shown clearly how class forces are at play and which side we should be on. Anyone who is determined to building the struggle of Tamils should take this message seriously.