Nation State and Sovereignty
By Sugeeswara Senadhira
The rubble-rousing TNA Jaffna District MP Abraham Sumanthiran now wants the Tamil people to seek their own sovereignty as he believes that only the majority in Sri Lanka enjoys sovereignty. Participating in the budget debate last week, he said, “Sovereignty of a country is for all people. If the majority only enjoys sovereignty, then you are leaving the other people out. You are forcing them to claim their own sovereignty. That will be your own doing.”
The learned lawyer did not give any evidence to prove either the lack of sovereignty for the minorities or the ‘exclusive sovereignty’ of the majority. Referring to Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s correct history lesson to educate errant opposition Members of Parliament that India was a federal nation because it had princely states previously and at the time of independence in 1947 all those states had to be brought together, Sumanthiran attempted to distort history by asserting that Sri Lanka too had different kingdoms. Sumanthiran conveniently forgot the historical truth that many Sri Lankan kings – Dutugemunu, Vijayabahu and Parakramabahu to name a few – ruled the entire Island Nation. Sumanthiran, with incorrect historical interpretations, is following the former Supreme Court judge-turned-politician C V Wigneswaran’s claim that the Tamils were the earliest residents of Sri Lanka.
“When the Europeans arrived and conquered this island, was there one state here? Was there one kingdom on this island then? No. There were three kingdoms on this island. All of them fell for Western powers at different times. It was only in 1833, consequent to Colebrook-Cameron report, for administrative convenience, that it was made one country,” Sumanthiran said, thus wiping out completely the pages of history where many Sinhala kings ruled the country as a single entity.
He gave his own interpretation of sovereignty and said, “You cannot hide behind the concept of sovereignty and violate international law and claim that these are domestic matters. Fashioning the country’s foreign policy you have now gone on reverse gear, you put the country at peril. It is our duty to call you to turn around. Promoting accountability and reconciliation is not a matter that violates sovereignty of any country,” he said.
Sumanthiran finally came to the main point he wanted to press, i.e., right to commemorate terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birth anniversary on 26 November, which the separatists have named ‘Mahaveeru Day’. “This is the month of November and it is considered the time to remember the dead. That is why poppy flowers are sold all over the world. In Sri Lanka, the people in the north remember their family members who died in the war. Not allowing people in the North to remember their dead kith and kin is an undignified act by the state. Honouring the dead, remembering the dead is in our culture a solemn affair. Why are you so worried, why are you so scared of the dead? Is it because you put them to death in the most brutal manner violating all the international norms.”
Sumanthiran did not say how those international norms could be followed to the letter when the soldiers in any country fight dreaded terrorists who brutally killed civilians, women and children. The soldiers in India, Africa or any other part of the world, while fighting ruthless terrorists could find it was not possible to strictly adhere to international conventions when the terrorist use suicide bombers, female terrorist posing as pregnant women to kill soldiers and civilians in their unconventional acts of terrorism. But Sri Lankan armed forces took every possible step to safeguard civilians in their operations. Sumanthiran and other so-called human rights champions have not made any comment on Australian soldiers killing prisoners in Afghanistan to practise first-time killings to ‘blooding’ of new soldiers.
Banning ‘Mahaveeru’ commemorations
Tamil leaders Sumanthiran, Wigneswaran and Sivajilingam continue to create communal disharmony by racist statements without giving a second thought to the harmful effects and wrong influences they make on Tamil youths. Such vengeful statements by Tamil leaders have resulted in youths resorting to illegal activities. As the law enforcement agencies were vigilant to enforce the court order given by Tamil judges in the North banning ‘Mahaveeru’ commemorations, some misguided Jaffna youths attempted to mark the event online. They were arrested by the Police and those misguided will have to languish in remand prisons as they cannot afford the high legal fees charged by Sumanthiran and other top-ranking lawyers.
Tamil leaders must understand the Tamil people refused to give them a mandate for a separate state with ‘Tamil sovereignty’. At the last General Elections, the TNA called for a fresh mandate from Tamil people to work for a North-East merged federal solution in an undivided country. The TNA, which had 16 seats in the last Parliament, lost 6 of them to other parties. There are 29 seats from northern and eastern provinces, including Tamil-dominated and Muslim-dominated areas in the two regions and TNA now holds only 10 of those 29 seats.
The TNA contested under the banner Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) and won 3 seats in Jaffna District while Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) came in second with two seats including one seat from the National List. The Ahila Ilankai Tamil Congress (AITC) and Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK) won one seat each and Angajan Ramanathan of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came first on the list. The Batticaloa District elected 2 members from ITAK and one from TMVP). Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) came in third and also won one seat. SLPP received 33,424 votes (11.22 per cent) and managed to secure a parliamentary seat. Meanwhile, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) secured 51,330 votes in the Mutur electorate in Trincomalee District, recording the first electorate win for the party in the 2020 General Election.
Sri Lanka has overwhelmingly voted for the current unitary system and in the last Presidential Election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who stands for a sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country, received an unprecedented mandate from the people. The Election manifesto of Gotabaya Rajapaksa clearly outlined that Sri Lanka would continue to be a unitary state. The mandate has been reconfirmed at last August 5 Parliamentary Election in much stronger terms by giving the SLPP a 2/3rd Parliament.
Good sense prevails
It’s hoped that the federal rhetoric by the Tamil candidates was only for the purpose of winning the preferential vote war and good sense would now prevail. Their cooperation is very important to finding solutions to the issues faced by the people in the north and east. Hence, Sumanthiran, Wigneswaran and other hawks should give up their separatist agenda and work with the Government for the benefit of the Tamil people.
Terrorism expert Dr. Rohan Gunaratna said that research demonstrates that if there is looseness (Government neglect) as opposed to tightness (Government vigilance), terrorist groups exploit the gaps and loopholes and come back. The groups and personalities that glorify terrorism should be identified and punished to deter future violence. Most terrorist groups abuse the freedom of expression to promote their vicious ideology to radicalise the youth into a culture of hate and violence, he added.“If a democracy permits display of terrorist paraphernalia and allows the dissemination of propaganda, the next step will be protests and demonstrations breaking out into violence. Like the Islamic State and al Qaeda, LTTE glorified death. If commemoration and celebration of death is permitted, it will lead to a culture of destruction,” Dr Gunaratna said. Law makers must take this warning seriously and take required preemptive action.