Genocide’ And Equivalent

The Sundayleader 02 02 2014  By N. Sathiya Moorthy

Northern Province Chief Minister, Justice C. V. Wigneswaran has to be commended for not giving in completely to hard-liners’ demands for a Provincial Council resolution seeking an (fresh?) international probe on ‘accountability issues’. He and a few others in the 30-member TNA grouping in the 38-seat PC got the draft modified to read that it was ‘equivalent to a genocide’, and not ‘genocide’ per se (until proved under international law/norms).

Yet, Justice Wigneswaran cannot justify voting for that amended resolution, along with the one calling for a ‘Mullivaikkal memorial’. Worse still, having done so, he and other TNA moderates cannot expect the Sri Lankan State and the majority Sinhala community/polity to trust them. Planting a sapling on LTTE’s “Heroes Day” and exploiting powers of the PC to pass blatant resolutions as these, while being Chief Minister, come with political and constitutional consequences.

At this rate, the TNA can become ‘untouchable’ in national politics, as they were earlier. It does not serve the Tamil cause – and certainly not the moderates’ cause. It is the hardliners alone, many of whom are outside the country forever that will be happy. They want no happy ending to the ethnic issue. They may not be able to revive the war all over again but they are still all for fending off peace. ‘Innocent Tamils’, who have chosen to stay back, will be caught once again in the cleft-stick. It is their welfare that the TNA claim to project, propagate and protect.

The Centre has chosen to play silent for the time being. It is still happening, however. The Opposition UNP has gone to town, declaring that the NPC did not have the power to pass such a ‘genocide’ resolution (even?) under 13-A. The Centre had the power to ‘dissolve’ the PC instead, that party has pointed out. The UNP has differences with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government over the way the latter handled the UNHRC issue, as on others. Yet, the party has reiterated its support for fighting off Geneva in whatever way possible. Despite losing elections successively for so many years, the UNP still has a substantial following, starting with urban centres. It’s prompting now for the Centre to act against the NPC is also a reflection of the Sinhala public mood, to what is slowly but surely being seen as the revived ‘antics’ of the Tamil moderate polity in the country. Clearly, the ethnic-divide is re-appearing. So are the internal differences within the TNA. The ‘genocide’ resolution, for instance, stood in the name of TNA member, M. K. Shivajilingam, who is known to take continual pride in defying the party’s moderate leadership. Shivajilingam is also possibly the only Sri Lankan Tamil politician, who continues to be a persona non grata in neighbouring India. With the PC resolution ‘diluted’, the SLT Diaspora hard-liners are now targeting Wigneswaran, in turn. Their websites says it all.

The message is clear. With doubts now about a ‘harsher’ UNHRC resolution this time, as had been promised, Tamil hard-liners nearer home and afar are getting back to the days of crying ‘political orphan’ all over again. It suits their milieu and mentality. They need to keep the ‘accountability’ flame alive, if only to try and thwart any successful attempt at peace-making by the TNA leadership. The SLT hard-liners also need to keep the ‘flame’ alive, if only to fuel sentiments in the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu in an election year – and by pressuring India to ‘fall in line’ with what the West has in mind. The West is talking among themselves, and with Sri Lanka at times. They have not been talking to India, but want the Indian vote as badly as they wanted it on the two earlier occasions. Channel 4 may have lost its shock-value.

Amnesty International (AI) is already at it. India-based officials of the AI are already drawing conclusions for the Government of India to back any western move at Geneva for an ‘international probe’. For this, they have cited the NPC resolution as the basis. If there are pre-poll protests in Tamil Nadu for New Delhi to ‘fall in line’ with the West at Geneva in the coming weeks, you would know why the NPC resolution was timed for now.

‘Innocent Until Proved Guilty’  

As Justice Wigneswaran rightly pointed out, ‘genocide’ is not ‘genocide’ until proved conclusively. Though Britain may have lost faith in its institutions, as a ‘common law’ practitioner, Justice Wigneswaran knows that ‘innocent until proved guilty’ should be – and should have been – the norm to validate sweeping charges as in the Darusman Report. Leave alone ‘conclusive proof’, there does not seem to have been much of ‘corroborative evidence’ to prove guilt – and identify the guilty. If the idea was to take Sri Lanka out, and out there, this is not the way.

If the charge is political, and the argument is that ‘genocide’ need not be proved individually, then again unthinking critics of the Government and the armed forces have a serious job at hand. They would have to explain how and why a determined political leadership and the ‘genocidal’ armed forces should ‘liberate’ 300,000 Tamil civilian ‘human-shields’ of the LTTE without allowing them to rot, or why the Government should ‘rehabilitate’ them in whatever immediate ways, as was possible. That may call their bluff, whether nearer home or otherwise.

‘Rightful Place’

Back in the North, the Opposition is too weak to protest in the PC. It is thus natural for inherent differences within the TNA amalgam to come out in the open sooner. The leadership, of which Wigneswaran is now becoming the inevitable focus, alongside R. Sampanthan, has a choice. It can wait for a showdown with hardliners on an issue and time of the latter’s choosing. Else, the leadership can set the issue, venue and time. But it has to happen – and will happen. Pre-war moderate Tamil leadership(s) failed to do so. The Tamil community as a whole paid the heaviest price in the years and decades that followed.

It is time the likes of Justice Wigneswaran spoke out even more frankly – and stood their ground. It is one thing for them to be demanding the Tamil community’s ‘rightful place’ in the Sri Lankan State – and State’s – scheme. It is another for them to join hands with those that do not exactly believe in a political solution within a ‘united Sri Lanka’, which only a few in the TNA hierarchy and the Diaspora groupings espouse from the beginning. The reality is that self-serving Tamil political opportunists on the home front and ‘separatist’ hard-liners in the Diaspora want the moderate TNA tag and brand, for legitimacy, nearer home and/or afar. The TNA leadership is going along with it, concerned more about the possibility of any showdown weakening the ‘larger Tamil cause’, and also splitting the TNA in the middle.

The Tamil moderates need only to recall that it was such vacillation on the part of their predecessors of the pre-war era that facilitated, and provided space for militancy. Indecision and internecine differences among the militant groups has since embedded LTTE terrorism in the Tamil psyche. The TNA cannot afford to fail the community just now. It has to play a positive role towards the community, not an eternally negative role viz the Sri Lankan State. If nothing else, that space has been appropriated and/or misappropriated by others from within and outside the country.

Buying Time, Not Peace

The Government needs continued TNA legitimacy for doing business with the Tamil community in political terms, on constitutional matters. It has done nothing to prop the moderate TNA in these difficult times, when the party was going through its post-war make-over. At the international-level, the Government seems to be content with continuing to buy time, at each session of the UNHRC. It should have been buying peace, instead. The TNA too should be walking the other half mile, whole-heartedly! Overseas, the split in the Tamil Diaspora camp is already beginning to have its reflections nearer home. The moderates, if any, are losing ground. Worse still, the hard-liners that are seemingly winning this round are not just political ideologues. According to news reports, ex-militants with the LTTE insignia and hidden funds behind them have been coming out of the closet, post-war. It may be good for their long-term memory, for the international community to take stock now – or, regret later.

Egged on by the ideological other-half from within the Tamil community, the TNA moderates are getting increasingly convinced that the Centre was frustrating the NPC leadership to throw up their hands and say quits. They cite the continuance of a Governor with a military past and unilateral appointment, and actions of the NPC bureaucracy as pointers. While the TNA leadership seems to be firm that they won’t be frustrated into quitting, resolutions such as the ‘genocide-equivalent’ have the potential to provoke Central intervention, with possible attestation from the nation’s judiciary, post facto. Politically, it may be a winner-loser game in the interim. In the end, it would be a loser’s game for all, politics or no politics!

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.\"">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.