The sharpest criticism of the Tamil National alliance (TNA) to date comes from C. V. Wicgneswaran, the TNA’s Chief Minister of the Northern Province. His criticism can be summed up as follows: TNA leaders don’t listen; they don’t give opportunities to youth activists; they treat politics like a business; and they don’t have sufficient integrity to fight for the demands of the Tamil people.
Basically these accusations amount to a claim that the TNA (ITAK specifically) is a business party and incapable of leading the struggle of the Tamil masses – an assessment which matches what many of us have been arguing for some time.
This is hardly a “neutral stand” from the Chief Minister, as has been claimed. Rather it is a decisive attack on the leaders of the very party that he represents. This is the first election since the 2009 massacre where the TNA is facing this level of opposition.
TNABut these developments reflect another process at work and another key phenomenon is fast emerging. There are many voices that are now emerging outside the parliamentary process which is in opposition to the so-called “Tamil leaders”. Small youth groups have been formed. Young people who don’t ally themselves with any of these right-wing parties are beginning to question the integrity of the TNA, the TNPF and others who have turned their full attention to the electoral games. This is still a minority but it nonetheless reflects a significant process that is developing. The fact that the TNA leader in Britain classifies these new groups as “leftovers from Vanni” speaks volumes. Some leaders became a laughing stock after they publicly claimed that “the US is with us for the only reason that they care about Tamils”. Sumanthiran (or whoever runs his Facebook account) posted a picture of him with British Prime Minister David Cameron with the caption: “We concurred the world powerful countries – but littles bees are now just making noises” on his page.
In the last election they campaigned among the Tamils saying they are winning the “international community” and India to their side. This is now backfiring, particularly given the new standpoint of the UN and the west who have shown desire to work with the Maithri–Ranil regime. The TNA’s propaganda that the west is on their side is as false as the camp of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s propaganda that he is “anti-imperialist”.
The TNA’s hopes of turn the wheel of history back by becoming the new version of the old ITAK is failing. The section of the diaspora leaders who took a sharp right turn after the war, such as the few people form the so-called “global” group GTF, with hopes to spin their way into the pocket of the UNP, is now faced with opposition. The couple (Suren of GTF and Sumanthiran of TNA) are becoming hated figures fast.
Why this is taking place?
It’s a reflection of the increasing polarisation along ethnic and class lines in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora. TNA leaders and those in the diaspora who seek alliances with so-called ‘good capitalists’ are prepared to compromise on the national aspirations and other democratic demands of Tamils. They have to do this however by relying on the masses who are moving to the left of the TNA leaders. In fact the demands for national rights are becoming sharper as living conditions are deteriorating. Unlike the GTF, the BTF did have some muscles among the Tamils in Britain. But the current political forces will not spare them either.
The British Labour Party leadership contest has provoked a huge debate about the left of the Labour Party and unravelled a truth that the mainstream right-wing media continue to ignore or refused to give attention to. Global economic crisis and ruthless austerity measures have exposed all capitalist institutions in the eyes of the masses. In Britain, Tamils have traditionally chosen the “lesser evil” and voted Labour as have other minorities. However, the new hardships that the Tories are forcing on the majority of the working people – including a majority of Tamils – is polarising the community along class lines. The shift that is taking place to the left is made more visible by the Labour leadership contest. Apparently moving in the opposite direction, the BTF is rumoured to have hired one of the most right-wing Tory MPs, Lee Scott, who was defeated in the last election. Though the BTF was never outspoken in the way the GTF was, it also tail-ended the TNA and lobbying western governments has become their core strategy of struggle. Thus there are sharply contradicting turns – leaders to the right – masses to the left and the impact of this is starting to show.
Neither the TNA nor the GTF and BTF ever stood for any far reaching social demands – or allied themselves with even the ‘populist’ demands which might have been proposed by nationalists such as the SNP or Sinn Fein. It should not be misunderstood here – merely having demands for equality and “social justice” as the JVP propagates is not enough. Standing firmly on the side of the oppressed Tamils means not only taking up their demands and fighting for democratic rights, but also seeing how they are connected to their national aspirations. Ignoring this will cut off activists from the masses.
The TNA include in their manifesto the demand for “federalism” but that doesn’t go far enough for the majority of the Tamil youth living in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora. But the JVP argues that this demand is strengthening “hard liners” in the south and should not be put forward. This exposes the hypocrisy of the JVP on the one hand and the complexity of uniting Tamil and Sinhala masses around social demands on the other. The JVP has no base or influence in the Tamil community and has always based its support among ‘patriotic’ and nationalist sections. The new leadership and change to some ‘Marxist phraseology’ is not enough to cover up their own divisive politics.
The JVP’s tactics provide a clear lesson in what the left should never do! The idea that standing for the national rights of Tamils is a barrier to work among the Sinhala workers, peasants and poor is wrong – and alien to Marxism. The old LSSP built its support while standing for the right to self-determination of the Tamils. There is no middle way. United struggle cannot be built without accepting the national aspirations of the Tamils. The growth of chauvinism and Sinhala nationalism must be combated by the left, instead of pandering to it and arguing that Tamils should give up their rights for the sake of “unity”. Unity of the class is built by allowing rights and fighting for them, not by curtailing them. To my knowledge it is only the United Socialist Party (USP) that seems to be openly campaigning for the right to self-determination and other democratic demands. Even on a smaller scale they were able to bring together progressive sections in the south and north.
The argument of Sumanthiran and some TNA leaders is not far from the simple logic that the JVP follows. They argue that they have to be “moderate” in the “current context”. They share the UNP’s new found “enlightenment” that “reality should be accepted”. This means accepting that the Sri Lankan state will always be oppressive and the west will always dominate the world. Through this they justify their collaboration and compromises with the regimes and governments whose interests are the opposite to what we want. The TNA is now preparing the masses for their betrayal. In the next government they would like to be on the side of UNP.
The Tamil masses have so far taken their ‘revolt’ to the ballot boxes. But the rebellion at the ballot boxes did not transfer the necessary power to the masses who wanted change, instead to the hands of a part of the old regime that broke for their own selfish reason after they came under powerful geopolitical forces. The appearances of “change” that the defeat of Mahinda brought has evaporated and this is exacerbated by his possible return. Anger against all of these developments will grow although a real showdown is unlikely to take place inside the parliament. Those who are on the side of the oppressed should prepare for it.