No room for separatist ideology | Sunday Observer

No room for separatist ideology

30 August, 2020

Every MP has to take an oath that he or she would not either directly or indirectly espouse the cause of a separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka. Ministers, the Prime Minister and the President also have to take this oath. This was one of the features added to State administration following the LTTE’s separatist campaign that lasted for nearly 30 years. It ended just 11 years ago, in May 2009.

Unfortunately, even the eradication of the LTTE does not seem to have eliminated separatist ideologies in some persons and organisations. There is a number of Tamil Diaspora organisations that still actively campaign for the establishment of a separate state in Sri Lanka. They still engage in demonstrations and raise funds with this aim in mind, supported by several MPs of Sri Lankan origin in various Parliaments. While most of these organisations are banned in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, the Yahapalana Government lifted the ban on some of them in a misguided move and some other countries have taken the cue, which has emboldened them.

However, the local Tamil polity has by and large moved away from this belligerent position, knowing very well that establishing a separate state in Sri Lanka is an impossible dream under the present circumstances. In fact, this was one of the main reasons for the split in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), as moderates who saw the futility of separatist ideologies backed away from hardliners including former Justice of the Supreme Court and former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wignesawaran.

If the recent polls results were anything to go by, the message from the Northern voters is crystal clear: they want peace and development, not war and separatist rhetoric. In giving a historic mandate to a candidate from a mainstream national party, (Angajan Ramanathan of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party), they have fired a shot across the bow of the separatists’ vessel. In fact, the TNA itself fared rather poorly, getting only 10 seats instead of the 16 it got in 2015. Moreover, the voting percentages in the North were consistently higher than those of other provinces, proving once again the avowed commitment of the Northerner to the democratic process in a unitary Sri Lanka. It is clear that a majority of Northerners have rejected communal and extremist politics that can take the North back by another few decades.

However, there are signs that some Northern politicians have still not learned the lessons of history. Wigneswaran used his maiden speech in the ninth Parliament to make a vituperative speech that cast aspersions on the majority community while espousing the cause of separatism. Similar sentiments were expressed later by MP Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. Incidentally, both have lived among the Sinhalese and Muslims in the Southern parts of the country and one of them has Sinhalese relatives. Their speeches naturally shocked MPs representing all parties in the House to the core. In fact, SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara was the first to condemn MP Wigneswaran’s incendiary speech. He and several MPs called for expunging that speech from the Hansard. MPs including Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekara, who had experienced the harsh realities of the battle against terrorism first hand, were among those who heavily criticised Wigneswaran’s speech.

While Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has defended the right of any MP to express his or her opinions in the House, it is still saddening that a couple of MPs used the mandate given to them by the people to violate the very unity of the House. This has left even their former colleagues in the TNA petrified and few of them did make an effort to mend fences with the Sinhala community. At least one TNA MP made his maiden Parliamentary speech in flawless Sinhala, pointing out the need for amity among communities. That is also one way in which the Tamil MPs can reach out to the Sinhalese community, bearing in mind that Parliament proceedings are shown on television and given wide airplay in the TV newscasts. Wigneswaran himself, having been educated in Colombo, is a fluent speaker of the Sinhala language and should use that as a bridge to close the gap between communities instead of engaging in vitriolic communalist politics.

The time has come to call for a complete ban on any new ethno-religious extremist parties or entities, regardless of the community or religion they represent. The Easter terror attacks last year were an abhorrent manifestation of such religious extremism. LTTE terrorism too was based on the false premise of ‘liberating’ a particular community they claimed to represent, though they ended up ripping that community apart. There are entities holding extremist views in the majority community too who eschew reconciliation with other communities. All these extremist organisations are a toxic blend that inhibits our progress as one nation, one people.

The recent poll results indicate that Tamils and Muslims are increasingly voting for mainstream secular and national parties such as the SLPP and SJB. Many new Tamil and Muslim candidates also contested through these parties and won. This augurs well for the future. It seems that the sell-by date of communal politics has long since passed. The likes of Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran must realise their folly even at this late stage, give up their divisive politics and join the political mainstream to serve all Sri Lankans irrespective of any divisions. That is what the people expect of them.