Lessons of a political murder

A tribute to Nadaraja Raviraj: Lessons of a political murder

By H.A. Seneviratne

The assassination of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Member of Parliament for Jaffna District, Nadaraja Raviraj, has brought to the forefront, with added momentum, the elementary and immediate political issues standing in the way of a peaceful settlement to the armed conflict in the North-East.

[Nadarajah Raviraj – at his last press conference, which was held at hotel Renuka in Colombo, on September 23rd 2006]

In an interview telecast live by Derana TV just an hour before he was killed on November 10, Raviraj highlighted the latest of such issues, namely the government’s closure of the A9, the highway that linked Jaffna Peninsula with the rest of the country. In fact, that interview opened the way to a proper analysis of the reasons as to why the killers would have wanted to cut short his life. Such an analysis could even give more than a clue to the detection of the real killers.

As a mark of respect for this remarkably outspoken young leader of the Tamil-speaking people and fellow member of the legal profession, I quote here, some of the most important words mentioned by Raviraj at the interview, extracted from its text, published in the Daily Mirror the very next day after the assassination.

Regarding the question of the closure of the A9 by government, on the ground that the LTTE took ransom and taxed the people for using the roadway, this is the crux of what he said:

“Jaffna people are starving due to closure of the A9 ……… The LTTE never ever imposed tax on essential items sent by the government to be distributed freely among poor people in the area through Divisional Secretariats and on items related to education.”

About the offer made by the government to open an alternative route to Jaffna via Pooneryn as a face-saving devise, he asked:

“Is not the Pooneryn route also going through Kilinochchi? Will there be no taxing then?”

Again on the closure of the A9:

“The A9 road is closed causing innumerable hardships to the innocent people. Even the animals in the area are starved to death.

About the LTTE and government positions on the A9:

“The LTTE is willing to reopen the road in their area with the intervention of international observers.”

“But the government is only providing a civilian cover to firing soldiers. You will understand that if the A9 road is open; these problems will not crop up. In 1995, the government launched Jaya Sikuru operation to open the A9 road. Thousands of our youth were killed. Now the government has closed the same road.”

The irremediable contradictions faced by the government in its so-called peace initiatives were exposed to the core by Raviraj in the interview. His criticism of the JHU and the JVP on the matter penetrated to the very depth of their petty- bourgeois hypocrisy, as seen in the following extracts of the interview:

“The Buddha preached the benefits of alms giving ………….. However; the monks who follow the Buddha are opposed to the opening of the A9 road to supply food for the people in Jaffna. Wimal Weerawansa (JVP MP and Party’s Propaganda Secretary) said that if the UNO intervened in the problem it will be a violation of the country‘s sovereignty. What right does he have to talk about sovereignty? It was they who took up arms against the democratically elected government in 1971. In 1988/89 period, they did not allow us to light even a kerosene lamp. So how can they talk about sovereignty today?”

In contradistinction to the policy of the government and its JVP and JHU allies on minority rights, Raviraj counterpoised the human kindness of the predominantly Buddhist masses in the following manner:

“When the tsunami hit Mullaitivu area, it was the Sinhala people who helped the Tamils. They do not want war. I am for a negotiated settlement.”

“This is not only what I say. The first such example was set by Emperor Asoka after the Kalinga war. First of all, the people who starved should be given food and confidence must be built.”

There is no doubt that the final words of Raviraj were a clear and forceful expression of the political views he held on the question of a peaceful settlement to the armed conflict in the North and East. Such views and their forceful expression are anathema to corrupt bourgeois and petty-bourgeois politics in its era of degradation. That is the political reality epitomized in the present Executive Presidential system which is now fast reaching its inevitable downfall.

Raviraj was fighting for a section of the country’s oppressed, namely the Tamil-speaking people in the North and East. A fight of that nature would be the forerunner to a future struggle of the oppressed masses in this country for their true and complete freedom from oppression and exploitation. In that sense, Raviraj sacrificed his life for the people of this country to enjoy freedom of thought and expression in the future.The North-East armed conflict has been made more complex and almost irremediable by the chauvinist political line of opportunism taken by the ruling party and its allies during the Executive Presidential election. It has now become difficult, nay impossible, for the government to disentangle itself from that stance. A political retreat from its opportunist stand has to be effected by the government if it is to save the country from complete disarray. But it is almost certain that the government can neither retreat nor advance now.

This situation became evident when the government turned down the TNA request to reopen the A9 highway at least to allow the body of Raviraj to be taken to Chavakachcheri for the performance of funeral rites. There is every likelihood, therefore, of the government becoming more arrogant and repressive before it falls.

The killing of Nadaraja Raviraj, who advocated unity in diversity as a young leader of the Tamil-speaking people, could push the government into a political crisis, since a peaceful settlement to the armed conflict in the North-East has become an impossibility with the government and its armed and unarmed allies. The closure of the A9 by itself would contribute to the worsening of the economic crisis as the rise in prices of essential goods in Jaffna due to the closure tends to follow suit in other parts of the country as well.

It will do well for us, at least now, to remember the words of Jean-Paul Satre in his 1961 preface to Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth.’ Referring to the French colonial government’s repression of the people of Algeria he said, “In other days France was the name of a country. We should take care that in 1961 it does not become the name of a nervous disease.”

Notwithstanding its smallness, Sri Lanka is on the verge of being so named, thanks to the policies adopted by succeeding governments culminating with the present one. We, as the people living in Sri Lanka, have to disassociate ourselves from this legacy and prove to the world our sense of humanity and humility.

That indeed is the stark reality to which Nadaraja Raviraj opened our eyes by sacrificing his life. [dailymirror.lk]

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