‘Talk the Talk’ and ‘Walk the Walk’

by Dr. Rajasingham Narendran 

“Paalai ooti paambai naam walarthaalum- athu namaiyey

Kadika thaaney waruvathu, purindhu kholla werndumey- Tamil film song

(Translation: It should be understood that a baby snake hand reared with milk, would bite us when grown.)

The talks scheduled for April in Geneva between the GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam), is being preceded by violence- which was quite predictable, the usual threats and counter threats, demands, accusations and denials, and very little besides. The LTTE is yet talking about the so-called paramilitary groups and its own security concerns, but has not spelt out an agenda that addresses the immediate and long-term concerns of the Tamils. The GOSL true to form, is more interested in countering the military threat the LTTE poses and weakening it on the international front (not withstanding the fact that the LTTE itself is doing a better job of this!), rather than spelling out how it intends to sort out the minority issues in Sri Lanka both in the short and long term, in a rational, civilized and wise manner. The unwillingness to address and contend with core issues that have been allowed to fester and rot over several decades lies at the center of the Sri Lankan malady. The international community has also been unwilling to address these issues in a meaningful and timely manner, despite the considerable influence they can bring to bear on both the LTTE and the GOSL. 

The legitimacy of the GOSL as one party to the conflict is unquestionable, while the legitimacy of the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils and the other party to the conflict is now open to question, due to its rapidly declining credibility among the Tamils and the international community, brought about by its increasingly unpalatable behaviour. The question whether the Tamil representation at future talks should be expanded beyond that of the LTTE or separate and parallel talks between the GOSL and ‘OTHER’ Tamil representatives have to commence in the near future, is looming high on the horizon and cannot be ignored for long. The LTTE reaction to this reality will be violent, mean and extremely dangerous. Unfortunately this unsavoury situation has been brought about by the blinkered vision and arrogant attitude of the LTTE and has to be dealt irrespective of consequences, sooner than later. The longer these issues are ignored or glossed over, the greater will be the adverse consequences. The earlier a cancer is identified and treated the better will be the prognosis for the patient. In the case of the Tamils, diagnosis and commencement of treatment have been delayed far too long.

Decisiveness, on the part of the Tamils, the GOSL and the international community is the need of the hour, on the question of Tamil representation at future talks. Once this issue is directly confronted, the question would arise as to who should be the alternate or additional representatives for the Tamils. This is also bound to create more questions than answers considering the sorry state of the Tamil polity at present. The best among the bad is the only choice currently available, considering the reluctance of most Tamils who would be capable of providing wise leadership during the difficult period of serious talks and in the immediate aftermath, to come forward in the face of the multi-faceted violence that would be let loose against them by the LTTE and possibly other Tamil militant groups. Only God would be able to help us Tamils at that juncture and we should pray this would be forthcoming. 

While much adverse attention has been focused on the LTTE in the past year, both in Sri Lanka and internationally, for being an impediment to solutions and an instigator and perpetrator of mindless violence, the GOSL also deserves universal condemnation for not spelling out in clear, unambiguous terms, the solutions it proposes to the Majority- Minority problems in Sri Lanka, chief among which is the Tamil problem. The GOSL need not go to Geneva or Timbuktu to be told by the LTTE what the problems of the Tamils (and other minorities) are. The GOSL has found the LTTE a willing and convenient – though strange- bed fellow in its mission to prevaricate and delay solutions, in the hope that the Tamils will out of sheer despair give up their struggle and accept Sinhala domination as an unquestionable fact in their lives. The cynicism governing the management of this problem by the GOSL, matches that of the Sudanese government in Darfur. The only difference is that the Tamils have shown more spunk, spirit and resourcefulness than the Darfurians.

The GOSL can deal with the LTTE and the problems it represents as a separate issue whilst dealing with the core problems of the Tamils directly. If the Tamils were presented reasonable proposals that recognize historical realities of the post-independence era and offer acceptable remedies, unilaterally, we would see the beginnings of the end to the current stalemate. The Tamils will see alternatives to the LTTE, other militants and Tamil Ealam as a real possibility and will be freed from the dilemma of having to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. The Tamils are currently unable to choose between two alternatives they through experience recognize to be equally bad. This should be patently clear to any one with even a modicum of intelligence. The continuation of the status quo in the political arrangements in Sri Lanka is as unacceptable, as embracing the LTTE and the future it offers. The GOSL omissions and commissions of the past are part of the historical memory of the Tamils and is frequently reinforced by the mindless actions of the armed forces and police (instruments of the GOSL) – such as the murder of the five Tamil youth in Trincomalee recently. This reality cannot be forgotten, when one talks of possible solutions. On the other hand, Tamils are having a taste of life –rather bitter and very disappointing experiences- under the LTTE, and are without doubt fearful of a future in a Tamil Ealam ruled by it. The GOSL and the Sinhala polity have to offer reasonable alternatives to the phenomenon represented by the LTTE and other militants to the Tamils immediately, if they are serious about seeking a peaceful end to the on-going conflict. 

While taking a thorn with a thorn may be an acceptable tactic and a necessary tool, the GOSL should realize the LTTE is also pursuing the same tactics under the same compulsions. Machiavellian politics and tactics have been used by both the GOSL and the LTTE for too long and have only made what was already bad worse at every stage. Because the LTTE is not restrained by any religious, moral, cultural or legal scruples and is not accountable to the people, a constitution or international law on account of its nature and composition, it will ultimately prevail in a contest governed by only Machiavellism and militarism. However, it cannot and will not be able to counter a response based on righteousness, honesty, truth, pragmatism, justice and reasonableness. The GOSL that is planning Buddha Jayanthi celebrations on a grand scale should contemplate whether it would be a better tribute to Lord Buddha, to resolve the problems in Sri Lanka on the basis of the fundamental truths revealed by him. It is indeed food for thought at this juncture that injustice, corruption, inequity, murder and mayhem have become the norm in a country that is predominantly Buddhist and takes pride in its close links to Lord Buddha himself. 

The Tamils are not the enemies of the Sinhalese as much as the Sinhalese are not the enemies of the Tamils. This fact applies to the other minorities in Sri Lanka as well. Instead of laying the foundations for greater divisiveness and violence in the future, through such measures as a separate Muslim regiment within the national army, the GOSL should seek a path of national reconciliation and peace. All minorities should be recruited to the Sri Lankan armed forces, police and the public services, in proportion to their population ratios immediately and treated as equals to the Sinhalese recruits in every way. This will be an administrative measure that will give the right signals to the minorities and assure them of the good will of the GOSL and the Sinhala polity. The cost incurred in enlarging the government payroll as a result of this measure, will be much less than what we are spending and losing as a nation in a war of attrition. What cannot be immediately achieved at the mental plane can be then achieved at least partially through the pay packet. As much as the route to a man’s heart for a woman is supposed to be through his stomach, it may be also the route the GOSL should take to reach the hearts, if not the minds of the minorities.

We have to ‘Talk the talk’ while ‘Walking the walk’ if we are to resolve our problems fast. Nonsensical talks and no walk is the reality today. The talks that have hitherto taken place have skirted the core issues and have been centered on the peripheral non-essentials. For how long are we going to pursue this directionless and meaningless path? The LTTE that epitomizes violence and has dished it out to the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils in equal measure is now concerned about the safety of its delegates to the Geneva talks and has sought guarantees from its enemy –the GOSL. Who will guarantee the safety of the non-combatants threatened by the LTTE? The LTTE that has been described as the most efficient Para-legal military and terrorist organization currently operating in the world, is demanding that the GOSL- its avowed enemy, disarm the other Tamil Para-military groups operating in the North and East! The cynicism inherent in these demands is nauseating. Can the talks be centered forever on such nonsense and contradictions? The LTTE should state clearly that its only goal is an independent Tamil Ealam and walk out of the talks to pursue its stated goal in the only way it knows. It will be respected by the Tamils and the world for this honest stand. However, to engage in talks to seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict and thereafter not pursue that option seriously is chicanery of the worst sort, by charlatans of the worst kind.

Once the talks start, there must be simultaneous walking towards set goals. Where are these goals and walking in the talks that the GOSL and the LTTE are engaged in with Norwegian facilitation? Norwegians are yet to facilitate any talks that have borne any fruits for the Tamils, in the post-ceasefire period. They have however helped appease the LTTE directly and though various interventions at the Sri Lankan and international levels. This has delayed the advent of permanent peace and given the wrong cues to the LTTE. Having hoodwinked the Tamils and the GOSL for dog’s years, the LTTE has been made to believe that it can hoodwink the world too. The Norwegians are like a referee without a rules book officiating in either a cricket match without wickets or a soccer match without goal posts! The Norwegians have to realize that they are prolonging the agony of the Tamils with their approach to facilitation. The saga of their involvement in the Palestinian – Israeli problems and the current situation on this front should ring some warning bells in the Norwegian minds. The GOSL and the LTTE have found Norway a convenient cover to implement their hidden agenda. The Norwegians should insist on an agenda that centers on the Tamils and their problems, and work towards setting goals that have to be reached within fixed time frames (a road map). A facilitator may not be a mediator, but a facilitator is not a messenger boy or an appeaser either. The time to ‘Walk’ in the peace making effort has been delayed inordinately and the responsibility definitely lies with the Norwegians. It may be better for the Norwegians to walk out of their current role in the present talks, if it is ineffective, than be part of a charade that only prolongs the agony of the Tamils.

It is better for the Tamils in the North and East to suffer and die en-masse in an open war than die in installments at the whim and fancy of the LTTE, GOSL and a largely senseless Tamil Diaspora. It is better to die knowing that it may come upon you at any time and expecting it, rather than die while living under the illusion that one is safe because of the ceasefire. The fact of confronting the reality of death will at least galvanize the Tamils to take a do or die stand against the forces arrayed against them- both within and without. Once a person or a people are ready to face death, nothing can stand in their way. They will have nothing more to lose! This defiant stance need not be violent and has to be only in spirit. There will be more hope and fewer deaths for us as a people in such circumstances than in the ‘Fools Paradise’ the North and East have become under the present ceasefire and Norwegian facilitation. The Tamils living in the North and East of Sri Lanka deserve the pity of the world, as both the GOSL- their legal guardians and the LTTE- their so-called liberators, have failed them miserably. The international community is their last hope and if the Tamils are let down by the world as well, only divine intervention can save them from extinction. It is indeed heart rending to contemplate the sad plight of a once proud people who were equal to any in this world in intelligence, ability, culture and resilience.

The story of Draupathi while being disrobed by Dukchadhana in the audience hall of King Dhritharaashtra as related in the Mahabharatha will be of some solace to the Tamils and reinforce their spirit for the fight that lies ahead. As Dukchadhana continues to peel away her garments, Draupathi failing to get any help from the Pancha Pandavas, cries out in utter despair for help to Lord Krishna. Her heart rending cries of Krishna, Krishna, —- were unanswered until she was fighting with her hands to hold on to her garments. Finally in utter despair she takes her hands off her garments, and concentrates on her appeals to Lord Krishna. Her cries are then heard, and her garments keep unraveling in an unending mass. A tired Dukchadana gives up and Draupadi’s honour is intact. The morale in this story is that total surrender and absolute faith in God are necessary, if God’s help is to come our way, when we need it most. The anger that welled in Draupathi’s heart that day laid the foundations for the Kaurawa’s defeat at Kurukshetra. [TamilWeek, Apr 16, 2006]

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