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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
13 February 2007
Those who study love letters and those who had fallen in love to write love letters know something special about these epistles. The essential ingredients of love letters are dreams and hopes. Love letters are neither codified laws nor step-by-step protocols in the problem shooting page of gadget manuals. By tradition and practice, love letters are permitted to have gush and mush embellishments. So, I don’t feel ashamed in reminiscing about my 30 Year-Old Valentine to Eelam.
It appeared anonymously in two installments, in the then leading political opinion weekly in Colombo, the Tribune. S.P.Amarasingam, the venerable editor of Tribune for 30 years (from 1954 to 1985), was a no nonsense political analyst with Leftist leaning. In Ceylonese journalism, he was a giant, both literally and figuratively. But a simple truth was that the Tribune was nothing but a one man ‘Operation’; a good example for the Tamil proverb, ‘Kaduhu sirithaanaalum Kaaram perithu’ (Pepper may be small, but its pungency is profound).
Amarasingam also gave me the first break in contributing my political thoughts in English. For this opportunity, I will be ever grateful to him. My ‘Valentine to Eelam’ was written in response to Amarasingam’s savage criticism of the Eelam concept. In July 1977, Eelam had arrived in the political scene as a victorious slogan. Indigenous Tamils residing in Northern and Eastern regions of the island had voted in large numbers to the Eelam call, then advanced by the TULF, which was led by A. Amirthalingam and M.Sivasithamparam. Then followed the anti-Tamil riots of August 1977, in which the Eelam slogan became a convenient scapegoat for the unruly elements among the Sinhalese to attack the Tamils, both indigenous and recent-Indian origin groups.
Tamils who had sprouted their roots in Colombo, for more than a generation, were in a quandary. The Tribune weekly, produced and published from Colombo, had a sizeable readership among the Colombo Tamil intelligentsia and the non-Tamils living in Colombo. These non-Tamils belonged to the indigenous tribes as well as those in the foreign diplomat uniforms (including the gumshoes) who found Tribune a good read to keep abreast of weekly political developments in the island; all served within 24 pages. Amarasingam, having identified this niche, catered to this poly-glot constituency with gusto.
The last page (page 24) of the weekly had the caption ‘Confidentially’, in which the editor of Tribune mused about the latest political currents of island, unsavory deals of the politicians and their panjandrums, and anything of interest sent by the regular readers of the magazine.
By protocol, and to protect his sources from the vengeance of grieved party, the editor refrained from identifying the correspondents by name. Following the anti-Tamil riots of August 1977, Amarasingam picked up his pen to swipe at the Eelam slogan then in limelight.
He contributed two installments, under the caption ‘Is Eelam Viable’ [in the Tribune issues of Sept.17, 1977 and Sept.24, 1977] and his proposition was ‘Eelam is a myth’. In his words, which had appeared in the 1st installment, “this kind of demand harking back to a misty past to create boundaries can be only considered an emotionally romantic anachronism?”
I was a bit hurt and deflated by this barb on Eelam concept by Amarasingam. I wanted to express my disapproval. So, I sent a contra view to the one held by Amarasingam. Why? I had become infatuated with the Eelam concept, though it was only a political slogan for a plebiscite solicited by the TULF.
Amarasingam graciously published excerpts [for reasons of space] of my ‘Love Letter to Eelam’ anonymously, in the subsequent two installments of ‘Is Eelam Viable’ [in the Tribune issues of Oct.1, 1977 and Oct.8, 1977].
To introduce my ‘Love Letter to Eelam’ to his readers, Amarasingam had tagged it as “polemical onslaught”, “mushy sentimentality” and “rhetorical bravado based on onion-type export”, and also added his barb at the end. Of course, Tribune was his baby and I could only be an invited correspondent to make some thoughtful comments, which shouldn’t exceed the boundary limit that would be offensive to his non-Tamil audience. Amarasingam complimented me on my “labor”, but simultaneously pulled my collar with the following sentences, which he printed in bold-face:
It is unfortunate that now I have neither a copy nor a hand-written draft of my ‘Love Letter to Eelam’, which I had typed in a manual Underwood typewriter. But when I read now, what had appeared in print then, I should acknowledge that my 1977 effort was full of gush and mush – typical of any love letter, lacking logical firmness. My primary objective then was to negate the mighty Tribune editor’s proposition that ‘Eelam is a Myth’.
Amarasingam, as viewed by Thondaman Sr.
I had frequented the spartan Tribune office in Colombo 2 in the aftermath of August 1977. By then, I had also moved to the University of Peradeniya. Thus, since 1978, my visits to the Tribune office became impractical since I returned to Colombo only at fortnightly intervals during the weekend. As such, I was clueless about Amarasingam’s past, until I read Thondaman Sr.’s (1913-1999) autobiography two decades later. I reproduce the three relevant paragraphs in which Thondaman had provided his links to Amarasingam.
Amarasingam passed away on January 22, 1999, at the age of 84. By then, he had seen the emergence of LTTE and the Tamil leadership mantle had passed from Amirthalingam to Pirabhakaran. What Amirthalingam lacked for transforming the Eelam concept (and slogan) into reality was validly criticised by Amarasingam in 1977.
Four ‘Is Eelam Viable’ Commentaries of 1977
I provide below the complete texts of the four ‘Is Eelam Viable’ commentaries which appeared in the Colombo Tribune weekly, during September-October 1977. It’s my belief that Eelam enthusiasts can profit even now by reading Amarasingam’s hard-hitting ‘devil’s advocate’ critique on the viability of Eelam. Though Amarasingam was a giant among Sri Lankan journalists, one shouldn’t infer that he was an Oracle; he too had his blind side and pet allegiance to the supremacy of Marxist-Socialist model of governance.
In 1977, he couldn’t anticipate the emergence of LTTE and Pirabhakaran to replace Amirthalingam’s parliamentary politics. But, what Amarasingam criticised in 1977 about the Eelam sloganeering of Amirthalingam’s TULF has been proved to be correct. In the Amirthalingam model of Eelam, ‘Mother India would deliver Eelam, a la Bangladesh’, and majority of indigenous Tamils bought this model for its charming simplicity. Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, busted this ‘Bangladesh model’ projected for Eelam’s birth.
Amarasingam’s 1977 analogy that ‘Eelam if born, would be another basket case like Bangladesh’ was also faulty since it cavalierly ignored the demographic incongruity between Bangladesh and Eelam. Whereas Bangladesh was bursting with a 100 million plus population when it came into existence in 1971, Eelam will have only around 3 million legitimate inhabitants. Thus, I firmly believe that a de-jure Eelam will be viable, and it is the duty of the Eelam Tamil diaspora to design projects which can vitalise the economic needs of now realized de-facto Eelam. The italics and words in bold-fonts, wherever they occur, are as in the originals.
Is Eelam Viable – 1
Is it any surprise that Tribune should have been bombarded in the last fortnight with one question from a large number of our readers from the North, East, Colombo and elsewhere! IS EELAM VIABLE? IS IT AN ECONOMIC PROPOSITION? That from the letters we received it is clear that hardly anybody has given serious thought to this matter? That in the first place the territory of Eelam has not been properly defined and that it is therefore not possible to answer the question satisfactorily? That the TULF speak about the Northern and Eastern Provinces as the ‘homeland of the Tamils’?
That this cannot provide a complete answer because there are areas in the Northern Province (eg. South Vavuniya) and several areas in the Eastern Province (Seruvawila etc.) where the Sinhalese are in a majority? That in these two provinces there are also a whole number of areas from Mannar to Batticaloa where the Muslims predominate? That it is inconceivable that the people in these areas will want to be incorporated into a Tamil Eelam?
That many find an easy way out of the dilemma by asking for the restoration of the territory which was the Tamil Kingdom when the Portuguese first arrived in the island? That any serious political observer will admit that this kind of demand harking back to a misty past to create boundaries can be only considered an emotionally romantic anachronism? That as between sovereign states the demand to revise boundaries in accordance with something that had existed many decades or centuries earlier is described by a dirty word ‘revanchism’?
That the situation in the island of Ceylon has changed after the time the Portuguese arrived in the island? That it is not realistic to ask for a determination of a separate state on boundaries that are supposed to have existed prior to 1505? That in any case, the question of drawing boundaries is academic at the moment because the Government of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese have not conceded the demand for Eelam as a separate state (and will not)?
That only after the establishment of a separate state has been agreed to by the Sinhalese does the question of boundaries arise? That the question of boundaries will arise either when the Sinhalese agree (by persuasion to Eelam or the Tamils are the victors in a fratricidal war? That there is not the slightest chance now (or in the foreseeable future) for either the Sinhalese to concede a separate sovereign Eelam or for the Tamils to win a war and compel the Sinhalese to concede it? That a struggle by ahimsa and peaceful satyagraha to carve out a separate state is only a fanciful dream of demagogues who do not mean what they say? That a separate state cannot be won by a satyagraha and ahimsa?
That it is inconceivable that the 1.5 millions of Ceylon Tamils can possibly win a war of attrition to force the Sinhalese to concede a separate state? That some dream that in some distant future a separate Tamil Nadu and a greater Dravidastan will help a sovereign Tamil Eelam to come into existence in Sri Lanka? That it is foolish to speculate or depend on what a separatist sovereign Tamil Nadu (which has not yet come into existence and which is not likely to come into being ever) will do to help the Ceylon Tamils to form a separate state?
That it is realistic only to take into consideration the immediate possibilities? That in the absence of a separate state being conceded or being won by force of arms it is a futile exercise to discuss the boundaries of Eelam? That in the absence of a defined territory it would not be possible to make a scientific determination of the viability of an area which is only a mirage-like dream?
Is it not true that pragmatic realists among the Tamils (with common or horse sense) consider that District Councils or Regional Councils which coincide or incorporate the ‘traditional home-lands’ of the Tamils constitute the best way of safeguarding the self-respect, dignity and integrity of the language, culture and civilisation of the Tamils of Ceylon? That such distinct or regional councils with adequate autonomy to safeguard Tamil rights has been considered by many as the best way of preserving the identity of the Tamils in the multi-racial, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-caste state of Sri Lanka?
That the Federal Party had unfortunately mixed its ‘federalism’ with propaganda slogans of independent sovereignty (Tamil Arasu) – no doubt for electoral success and bargaining – and many times missed getting either Regional Councils (of the abortive Bandaranaike/Chelvanayakam Pact) or the District Councils (of the ineffective Dudley Senanayake 1965-1970 Government)?
That on each occasion extremists and chauvinists among the Sinhalese were able to torpedo the regional or district council by raising a hullabaloo about ‘Tamil Arasu’ which they said sought to divide the country? That ‘Tamil Arasu’ was a rhetorical emotional slogan that had made any settlement impossible? That when the Sinhalese were in a mood to agree to regional autonomy, extremists and chauvinists among the Tamils (fearing an electoral challenge from more realistic and pragmatic Tamils) launched the cry for Eelam? That Tribune had warned its readers about the dangers of this slogan of Eelam? That Tribune had also pointed out that it was the built-in chauvinism of the United Front government (including the LSSP and CP) that made discriminatory practices like standardisation a way of life that enabled Tamil chauvinists to raise the slogan of a separate state?
That in the atmosphere of discrimination, Tamil extremists had also raised slogans about the boundaries of Eelam which has played havoc as recent events will show? That from pre-election platforms in recent months these Tamil fanatics had talked foolishly about getting every Sinhalese out of the Northern Province and pushing the boundaries of Eelam well past Medawachchiya and other places? That such speeches were made use of by Sinhala extremists to mount attacks on the Tamils in the whole of the North Central Province and elsewhere? That when the trouble had erupted the vast majority of such Tamil slogan-shouters in the so-called border areas had fled pell-mell to the safety of the peninsula leaving the poor Vanni Tamils to face the music alone? That this attempt to define the territory of Eelam by slogans on election platforms has only brought disaster?
Is Eelam Viable – 2
Is it not true that many Tamils who have so far talked enthusiastically about a separate state and Tamil Eelam are only now seriously examining the question about the viability of such a ‘sovereign, secular and socialist state?’ That it was because a large number of our readers had asked us this question that we started on this series IS EELAM VIABLE in this column last week? That we had set out some preliminary thoughts about the totally evasive TULF vagueness about what constitutes the territory of Tamil Eelam? That elsewhere in this issue, Fr.Tissa Balasuriya – a great friend of the Tamils if there is one – has carefully explained how in the recent general elections, the Tamils had not given a mandate to the TULF to demand (or attempt to set up) a separatist Tamil Eelam? That in the course of his arguments he touched on the question of the ‘territory’ the TULF claims as the Tamil Eelam? That Fr.Balasuriya cites the TULF’s manifesto,
That Fr.Balasuriya then goes on to say, ‘that there was no clear indication of the area claimed for Eelam? That the only reference is to the 13th century position:
That Fr.Balasuriya commented: ‘This is a fairly large chunk of Sri Lanka; it is far more than the Northern Province. This is also the area in which the TULF contested’? That Fr.Balasuriya is not the only person who has been stumped by the failure of the TULF to define the territory of Tamil Eelam in a way that even friends of the Tamils in other communities can understand or appreciate?
That a careful scrutiny of the TULF Manifesto (vide, Tribune, August 6 and 13) does not help? That the Manifesto in a bid to bring the Muslims into Tamil Eelam states:
Is it not a fact that the Muslims in the Eastern Province and Puttalam have now made it amply clear that they are not Tamil Eelam? That the total rejection of Tamil Eelam by the Muslims in the so-called Tamil areas has knocked the bottom out of the TULF’s Eelam as defined in the Manifesto? That the Manifesto further seeks justification for Eelam in ancient history?
That after indulging in speculative and doubtful dicta about Sinhalese and Tamil kings and kingdoms in the distant past it pounced upon a situation that is said to have existed when the Portuguese conquered the maritime regions of Ceylon:
That all that is said in the TULF Manifesto only makes the confusion more confounded? That if one sought assistance from the speeches of the TULF candidates and spokesmen during the recent election campaign to define Tamil Eelam, one will have no alternative but to conclude that if the full implications of TULF speeches were made known in the Sinhalese areas this country will become a veritable hell for several generations?
That even at this late stage TULF propagandists should learn to forget emotional rhetoric and resolve the problems confronting the Tamils in a realistic and pragmatic way? That we have strayed away from the question IS EELAM VIABLE? That we have done so only because this question is intimately tied up with the exact boundaries of Tamil Eelam? That everybody will also acknowledge that Tamil Eelam has not been defined by the TULF in a way that will enable either economists or social scientists to decide whether Tamil Eelam is, or is not, a viable proposition?
That it will be interesting, nevertheless, to examine the arguments of TULF apologists about the economic viability of the yet uncertain area of Tamil Eelam? That in answering the question whether a Tamil Eelam would ‘be able to pay its own way in the world’, Amirthalingam, according to the Asiaweek of July 8, ‘has no doubt on the score; last week he made the point of reminding his listeners that the North produces the bulk of Sri Lanka’s onions, potatoes, chillies and tobacco as well as a goodly volume of rice and grapes’? Asiaweek itself had commented on this claim thus: ‘None of these crops is even remotely near the tea, rubber and coconut bracket as a foreign exchange earner – but an independent Tamilnad presumably would have a ready market for its products right next door in Sri Lanka; if that was what Amirthalingam had in mind, however, he seemed less than concerned about staying in the customer’s good books…’
That, in the interests of all people in Ceylon it has become necessary to examine critically the claims for economic viability for Tamil Eelam put forward by TULF apologists? That the TULF is as evasive about economic viability as it is about the territory of Tamil Eelam? That the time has come for this demogogic bluff about the economic viability of Eelam to be called? That the time has also come to discard illusions of viability because of such dispensable or importable onions, chillies, potatoes, rice and grapes? That it is necessary to examine (critically) the TULF case for viability even on the basis of territory that cannot be Eelam?
Is Eelam Viable – 3
Is it not a fact that TULF apologists are now bombarding Tribune with communications about the economic viability of Eelam (again without defining territory)? That Tribune this week, will take one of these polemical onslaughts and examine the logic and validity of the arguments seeking to show the economic viability of Eelam? That this is what the diatribe stated:
Is it not strange that the Manifesto should overlook the fact that ‘licences’ were never required to develop agricultural land? That hundreds and thousands of acres allotted to Jaffna Tamils in the Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts after 1958 were not developed? That, instead, those who should have developed these lands invested their monies in the developed Sinhala areas in the South?
That one important TULF leader invested and reinvested over a million rupees in tea lands up-country in the 1960s? That the point Tribune made was that if the FP and TULF was serious about a Tamil homeland, its supporters should have developed these areas agriculturally with private capital? That, the setting up of Industries (there are industries which do not require licences) come in subsequent stages of development possible only after the lands (prsently jungle and undeveloped) have been opened up?
That in private industrial ventures there is no requirement to employ ‘a majority of Sinhalese’? That it is a lame excuse to blame the Sinhalese government for the failure to develop the Tamil areas through Tamil private enterprise? That a few pioneering Tamils have indeed succeeded in setting up successful small farms in the so-called Tamil areas without any support or encouragement from TULF leaders whose entire horizon has, unfortunately, been circumscribed by an inordinate desire to enter parliament?
That same writer quotes with relish the news items in the Sun of August 26 and the Daily News of August 29, that 10,000 pounds of onions and 700 pounds of beetroot has been airlifted from Jaffna and that 2,000 hundredweights of dried chillies and 35 hundredweights of pumpkins have been sent by steamer (which took the refugees) to Colombo?
That the writer therefore argues that Jaffna’s economy was not dependent on inflows from outside? That this kind of rhetorical bravado based on onion-type export from the peninsula is only an echo of Amirthalingam’s statement to Asiaweek and other magazines that Jaffna and Tamil areas produced the ‘bulk’ of the onions, potatoes and chillies in Sri Lanka and also ‘a goodly’ quantity of rice and grapes and that Eelam was therefore economically viable?
That the writer, after a side-shot at ‘Colombo Tamils’ who had scoffed at the TULF’s Eelam (he seems to think that because SJV.Chelvanayakam endorsed it, Eelam had near-divine infallibility), goes on to quote excerpts from latest Central Bank Report (vide Daily News, June 28) about paddy purchases by the PMB [Paddy Marketing Board]? That he picked on the ‘statistics of paddy growing areas in what he considered was Eelam? That he asserted the figures spoke for themselves:
That by citing these figures the writer seems to be satisfied that Eelam was viable? That he did not take into consideration that the market for these goods was in the Sinhala South and that a trade boycott would bring disaster to the Tamil farmers? That before examining the other arguments advanced for the economic viability of Eelam (fishing, cement, salterns, tourism etc. etc.) it is necessary to decide whether onions, dried chillies, potatoes, beetroot, pumpkins, plantains, grapes, rice and other agricultural produce from the yet-to-be-defined territory of Eelam can make the territory economically viable, even partially? That, except the most myopic, all will admit that these products cannot be the basis for viability of any state? That these are not sure foreign exchange earners? That without hard currency it would not be possible to obtain supplies of fuel, agricultural inputs (fertilisers, insecticides etc) for Eelam? That the economic viability of a new state can be gauged only from the quantum of possible exports that will fetch high prices (in hard currency) and ready buyers in the world market? That Jaffna and the rest of the Tamil areas do not qualify to be a separate state (as the TULF demands) if the main economic wealth of the area is based only on its present production of onions, potatoes, chillies, grapes, rice and the like? That Bangladesh, though in a position to export vast quantities of jute, tea, fish, paper, cement and other products in demand in the world market yet finds it difficult to sustain economic viability?
Is it not the fact that most Eelam-minded Tamils have never given serious thought to the question of the economic viability of a separate Tamil state? That in mushy sentimentality they had imagined that the disadvantages and disabilities they suffered under a Sinhalese government (they never thought of the disadvantages and disabilities suffered by many Sinhalese themselves) would disappear in a separate Eelam? That these Tamils had unfortunately accepted the assertions of some TULF leaders that Eelam was economically viable as gospel? That they have never examined such questions available natural resources, as much-need imports, revenue, foreign exchange, investment capital and a host of connected matters?
Is Eelam Viable – 4
Is it not interesting to refer to letters and articles sent to Tribune regarding the viability of Eelam? That we quote below further extracts from the article referred to in this column last week?
That this is one of the most laboured studies on the viability of Eelam that has reached us? That the arguments advanced speak for themselves? That even if these resources referred to are developed after giant-size dozes of capital investment over a number of years, the territory covering the Northern and Eastern Provinces cannot make Eelam become a viable state?
That Tribune does not propose to labour the question of the viability of Eelam any more? That whilst leaving the columns of this paper open to anyone who wishes to argue (on a reasoned and factual basis only) about the viability of Eelam, Tribune will in future go on the footing that the viability of Eelam is as much a myth as Eelam itself? That the country, and the Tamils in particular, have paid a heavy price because of myths like Fifty-fifty and Eelam and the sooner these myths are forgotten the better?