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this is my nation
Whither moderate Tamil sentiment?
Karuna- Quickly realised there was no room at the top of the Eastern Province for two and in a politically astute move threw in his lot with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) itself Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan- Now the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province acts in tandem with the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA)

Of the other groups that claim to represent the Tamil community, the Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) has been the first to jump the bandwagon in welcoming the recent military successes in the North. It is a significant announcement in that it indicates that other Tamil parties and groups are slowly but surely mustering the courage to speak up against the LTTE. While these parties and groups are struggling to come to terms with the sudden challenge thrown at them by the departure of the LTTE from the political scenario, one group which is capitalising is the TMVP

It is election time in India and we see Tamil Nadu politics come to the fore: rival factions jostling with each other, trying to proclaim themselves as the saviours of the Tamil community across the Palk Straits in Sri Lanka especially in the end-game of the Eelam War.

But that must bring us to a more pertinent question. What has become of the representation of moderate Tamil sentiment in this country? Can the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) still lay claim to that mantle? What of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP)? And what would be the fate of the various splinter groups that originated from these outfits?

Then, last but not the least, what path will the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) take, especially in the context of the leadership struggle between Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna?

Power of the bullet rather than the ballot

Hitherto, when the writ of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) held true, they claimed rightly or wrongly that they were the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. It was never a claim substantiated by the ballot; instead it was a claim enforced by the power of the bullet.

Thus, for all practical purposes, their word was law and in that sense, they usurped representation of the Tamil community which is the basis on which they agitated for more autonomy for their community at talks with successive governments in Colombo.

Now, within the space of a few months, the authority that the Tigers commanded has evaporated in the face of the military onslaught by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. They no longer control territory and they are fighting for their own survival. They are anything but representatives for the Tamil community and any suggestion that they are will be met with derision.

Who will fill the vacuum?

But who then will fill this vacuum? The TNA, at least at present, continues to toe the Tiger line, although it is understood that some parliamentarians in that party are in favour of abandoning this stance and carving a new political identity of their own. But so far, none have dared to speak against the LTTE in public and the fear of reprisals-no matter how militarily weak the Tigers are-must be a defining factor of this standpoint.

The importance of the TNA lies in the fact that, among the parties that claim to represent the Tamil community in Parliament, it has the greatest numbers. Therefore, almost by default and in the absence of the LTTE they are now the de facto representatives of the Tamil community.

But this status will not go unchallenged and they appear to have failed the first test: they boycotted an invitation from President Mahinda Rajapaksa for talks recently and thus lost an opportunity to establish themselves as a credible and democratic alternative to the LTTE.

The EPDP has of course been ensconced with the government for some time now. Its leader Douglas Devananda never fought shy of being critical of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the latter has plotted Devananda’s demise more than any others.’ The EPDP will obviously be very keen to step in as the representatives of the Tamil community but what is not clear is whether the party has a sufficient vote base to stake that claim. The same holds true for the TULF.

Of the other groups that claim to represent the Tamil community, the Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) has been the first to jump the bandwagon in welcoming the recent military successes in the North. It is a significant announcement in that it indicates that other Tamil parties and groups are slowly but surely mustering the courage to speak up against the LTTE.

While these parties and groups are struggling to come to terms with the sudden challenge thrown at them by the departure of the LTTE from the political scenario, one group which is capitalising is the TMVP.

TVMP, a power block?

Its’ leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan is now the Chief Minister of the Eastern province and acts in tandem with the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The TMVP clearly has higher political ambitions and wishes to establish themselves as a democratic power block in the region. It even made a symbolic handing over of its weaponry to the government and if other political parties do not get their act together soon enough, it will shortly emerge as a political force to reckon with, at least in the East.
Contrast this with the stand taken by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, Chandrakanthan’s erstwhile colleague but present day political rival. Muralitharan quickly realised there was no room at the top of the Eastern Province for two and in a politically astute move threw in his lot with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) itself. His reward-a non-cabinet portfolio and now the vice-presidency of the SLFP!

Muralitharan’s thinking is that it would be a better strategy to win minority rights by fighting for them within the mainstream parties rather than by establishing communal based parties which only encourage dissension and divisive politics.

Indeed, if more and more leaders of ethnic communities embrace the mainstream parties, that would mark a welcome trend in national politics-but then, the distance that Muralitharan can go in the SLFP will be a benchmark for such moves in the future.

What is clear then is that in the aftermath of the war and in the absence of the LTTE, the political landscape of Tamil representation is rapidly changing. The architecture and shape it will take in the next few years will depend on how the existing political parties and groups fashion their foundations-and already, some appear to have had a head start over others.

 


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