Of all the political documents that came out of Jaffna there is none to surpass the Vadukoddai Resolution passed at the Convention of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) held in the electorate of Vadukoddai on May 14, 1976. It is the peak point where diverse Jaffna-centric communal forces, lurching in all directions without a clear focal point (from 50-50 to “federalism”), came together as a decisive political expression of its ruling Vellahla caste/class. It revealed the hidden political agenda of the Tamil political caste/class aggressively. It shed the earlier sham about being non-violent Gandhians in search of a “federal state” and came out openly for the establishment of a separate Tamil state through violence. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, went through it with a fine comb and “approved the choice of words”. ( p.128 – S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism,1947 – 1977, a Political Biography, A. J. Wilson).The Vadukoddai Resolution was the finale of the cryptic “little now and more later” (p.128 – Ibid) mono-ethnic extremism headed by Chelvanayakam. Later in his speech to Parliament on November 19, 1976, shortly after passing the Vadukoddai Resolution in May 1976, he spelt it out categorically saying: “We have abandoned the demand for a federal constitution.:(p.129 – Ibid.) The bogus front of federalism presented earlier was a tactical and deceptive cover to advance, covertly and incrementally, towards a separate state. The “approved choice of words” was toned down craftily to preserve the bogus Gandhian veneer while passing the ammunition. Not surprisingly, the so-called Gandhians distributed wooden pistols at their so-called non-violent demonstrations, a clear sign of coming events casting their shadows. The Vellahla masters were brain-washing the Tamil activists to be ready for what was to come.
It was a Resolution that was designed deliberately to find a military solution. The Vellahla manipulators not only “abandoned the demand for a federal solution” but also abandoned, along with it, the idea of finding a solution through parliamentary process which was the only path available for non-violent politics. The Vadukoddai Resolution contained the collective will of the Vellahlas who defined, without any ambiguity, the mono-ethnic and intransigent determination of Vellahla-dominated politics to carve out a domain that would preserve, protect and promote their traditional feudal and colonial power over the peninsula and beyond.
The flow of events that originated from the Vadukoddai Resolution had a devastating impact on the Sri Lankan polity. When it declared war and called on the Tamil youth to take up arms it legitimized violence that rolled down from the north like a demonic juggernaut crushing everything in its wake. It summarized the basic “grievances”, “aspirations”, the political parameters, the ideological base and the ultimate Eelamist objectives of Vellahla politics. Knowing that separatism and violence are inseparable it urged emphatically the violent strategy needed to achieve the final goals of Jaffna political caste/class. After listing the usual litany of complaints in its preamble it declared war in the two concluding paragraphs, which called upon the youth to take up arms and throw themselves into the struggle without flinching until “the sacred fight for ….the goal of a sovereign socialist State of EELAM is reached.”
The Vadukoddai War which began in 1976 ran its full course, through many violent twists and turns, until it went down ignominiously in Nanthi Kadal. The Vellahla fathers of the Vadukoddai Resolution of May 14, 1976 – a suicidal political act that dragged the helpless Tamils and deposited them in the cold waters of Nanthi Kadal on May 18, 2009 — never expected to be defeated by the Sinhalese. Prof. A. J. Wilson, in his hagiography, elevated his father-in-law to the grade of a “Moses who would lead the Tamil people to their promised land” (p. 8 – Ibid). In hindsight, it is clear that Chelvanayakam was more like the Pied Piper of Ipoh, Malaysia (where he was born) who lured the Tamil people of Jaffna to follow him into the watery graves of Nanthi Kadal.
Despite the devastating impact on the lives and hopes of the misled Tamils, caused primarily by the Vadukoddai Resolution, the Tamils in the diaspora have declared that they are going back to the Vadukoddai Resolution. This is stated explicitly in the provisional declaration of “the Provisional Transnational Government” which, incidentally, has no fixed abode on this planet. How far can the Tamil diaspora go down this track? What do they hope to achieve by flogging dead horse? Have they considered the deadly consequences to the Tamil people who have had enough of the Vadukoddai Resolution? Haven’t the Tamil people paid enough for the folly of their leaders in the past who led them to Nanthi Kadal?
After the collapse of the $300 million killing machine bank rolled by the Jaffna jingoists in the Tamil diaspora, after losing international support – mainly from India – and after the humiliating loss of two leaders within a space of three months, the return of the confused Tamil diaspora to a past that has no future is not only counter-productive but suicidal also. To go back to the Vadukoddai Resolution – the political altar on which the Jaffna leadership sacrificed the Tamils with no gain – can only ruin whatever is left of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The diasporic Tamils, of course, will drop their tears in their beer and whiskey and lead their comfortable lives in Western suburbs. But shouldn’t they, at least out of compassion for their fellow-Tamils who had suffered enough, give some due consideration to rebuild their lives at the end of the futile Vadukoddai War? Are they preparing to bankroll another route to Nanthi Kadal?
Stunned by the unexpected defeat and without knowing how to face the new ground realities the frustrated and disillusioned Tamils in the diaspora have plucked out of thin air another bogus theory of shifting house from Vanni to a non-existent “Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam”. Without a fixed address on this planet and with no takers at an international level to give it some credibility it is purely a pie-in-the-sky “government” which exists only in the imagination of the big-noting, expatriate Jaffna jingoists who are behind it. Their grand standing may help them to console each other and send message that they are doing something to salvage their tattered reputations after their millions went down in Nanthi Kadal. But how is a return to Vadukoddai politics going to salvage the Tamils after what happened in Nanthi Kadal?
Their so-called “Provisional Government” is a “government” which is running around like a chook without a head. It is a “government” that no one has recognized – not even the majority of the Tamils whose first-hand experiences of going through the Vadukoddai disasters are still vivid in their memories. The fanciful description of its latest political fiction advertised as the “Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam” is an unrealizable figment in the fevered imagination of political stunt men who have not learnt a single lesson from their failed past. Besides, it is a government”, according to its own statement, that is looking for an international company to register voters to hold elections in a transnational electorate that excludes Sri Lanka. It is the first airy-fairy mobile “government” that exists, if at all, somewhere in the far distant stratosphere and they don’t have a rocket to get there. How much more comic can they get? In fact, the text which announces it reads like a hilarious sit com written by a B-grade script writer who was in a hurry to get to the toilet.
They are so bankrupt that they can’t even find a valid legal justification for their “Transnational Provisional Government”. No other known diaspora waging wars against their governments from abroad have ever come up with such a weird notion. This is typical of the dysfunctional Tamil political imagination. Politics is meant for the salvation of the people. But the Tamil leadership has shown a defective genetic trait for leading the Tamil people to either become suicide bombers or to commit mass suicide in the nearest lagoon. The Tamil leadership also has this incurable capacity to create political illusions which eventually lead them to their own destruction. They believe that the political utopia they concoct will bring salvation whereas, in the end, their beliefs drag them to a brutal dystopia in which the Tamils find no redemption.
What is the glory left in the Vadukoddai Resolution after it ended in shooting, at point blank range, its own people who were running away from its horrors as fast as their feet could take them? The Jaffna jingoists have a consistent record of becoming the victims of their own political machinations. They declared war against the Sinhalese of the south in the Vadukoddai Resolution and, ironically, it was the children born out of this Resolution that decimated the fathers who drafted and passed the Vadukoddai Resolution.
Any serious or concerned Tamil must take a hard look at the Vadukoddai Resolution and ask: What has it done to the Tamil people of Jaffna? What are the great achievements that the Tamils of Jaffna can boast of now after the Vadukoddai Resolution ended in Nanthi Kadal? How many lives of Tamil children were cut short in their prime as a result of the violence unleashed in the Vadukoddai Resolution? Was the Vadukoddai route the only path available for the Tamils of Jaffna? If all the other Tamil-speaking minority communities decided to co-exist in a multi-cultural society, without resorting to Vadukoddai violence, why did the Jaffna Tamil leadership, which pretended to be non-violent Gandhians, declare war in the Vadukoddai Resolution, unleashing the most brutal violence on the nation and most of all on its own people? Who suffered most from the violent consequences of the Vadukoddai Resolution?
On what non-violent principles did the Jaffna Gandhians endorse violence which was the driving force of the Vadukoddai Resolution? How wise were the leaders of Jaffna to drag the Tamil people into the Vadukoddai nightmare? Why did the so-called superior intellectuals in the Jaffna peninsular fail to follow the more humane and civilized path of non-violent co-existence like the other minority leaders whose first language was also Tamil? If the Vadukoddai Resolution is the highest peak of their political imagination then what is the calibre of their intellect? Did not the Tamil leadership overplay their hand imagining that they had the power to defy the whole world and impose their will on Sri Lanka? Who should take responsibility for leading the Tamils into the hell hole in the Vadukoddai Resolution? The ending of the Vadukoddai Resolution in Nanthi Kadal is the conclusive and triumphant argument that demolishes the unsustainable accusations of blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists of the south for everything that went wrong in the peninsular politics. It is the mono-ethnic extremism of the north that produced the Vadukoddai Resolution. And finally when it sank unceremoniously in the brackish waters of Nanthi Kadal they were dumb founded, more so because they could not scapegoat the Sinhala-Buddhists this time. They launched the Vadukoddai War. They financed it. They directed it. They recruited the old and the young into it. They even forced the young pregnant girls to eat raw pineapples and jump from tree-tops to abort the children in their wombs so that they could be forced to fight in the futile war declared in the Vadukoddai Resolution. And when they lost the Vadukoddai War, after fighting for 33 years rejecting international and national offers of peace, the violent villains of Vadukoddai had no one to blame except their own monumental folly.
Tamil political leadership inside “peninsularity of their minds”
A few Sundays back I stopped in my tracks and re-read Prof. Kumar David’s condemnation of the Tamils of Jaffna as “congenital idiots”. He was angry that the Tamils were accusing the Marxists of betraying the Tamils when in reality it was the Tamils of Jaffna who never responded positively to the Marxists who had stuck their necks out to champion their causes. Of course, as a committed Marxist Prof. David was labelling the Tamils as “congenital idiots” for not embracing Marxism as a liberating political force. But the idiocy of Jaffna Tamil politics (if I may borrow Prof. David’s vocabulary) goes beyond the confines of Marxism. It covers a wider spectrum.
I am postponing a discussion on this aspect for the moment to agree with Prof. David wholeheartedly. I would not have dared to say so publicly because I would have been called a “racist” or a “Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist”. However, in private conversations with my Tamil friends in Melbourne I have said something to that effect in a broader sense, going beyond the narrow Marxist context. Now that Prof. David had described the Jaffna Tamil political class as “congenital idiots” I’m somewhat emboldened to say in public what I had said in private.
My point is that Jaffna Tamils had shown almost an inexhaustible capacity to produce engineers, doctors, academics, accountants, shopkeepers, businessmen, jewellers, bureaucrats, especially clerks, etc., but the Jaffna political culture failed to produce an enlightened political leadership that could rise above their “peninsularity of mind”, (p. 8 Communal Politicis uner the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931 -1947, Jane Russell quoting Leonard Woolf), and lead the people towards realistic and attainable political goals. Not since Ponnambalam Arunachalam left the Ceylon National Congress, rupturing hopes of communal harmony, has Jaffna produced a leader who has had the vision to accept co-existence in a multi-ethnic society as the most natural, viable and peaceful path for the welfare of all communities.
It is this “peninsularity of mind”, fixated immovably on casteism and communalism, that led them eventually and inexorably to the futile Vadukoddai War. Once the Vellahla ancien regime declared war they couldn’t back track. In 1976 Velupillai Prabhakaran was already looming in the background shooting at his targets indiscriminately.
Once the old guard legitimized violence Prabhakaran got the licence to go on the rampage eliminating all his Tamil rivals. For the next 33 years he lived by the fire power of Vadukoddai violence until a part of his head was blown off when he was trying to cross the waters of the Nanthi Kadal lagoon in May 2009. Isn’t there a lesson in all this for the Jaffna Tamils? Or do they think that the past in which they invested all what they had and lost is irrelevant? Isn’t the decision of the Tamil diaspora to go back to the Vadukoddai Resolution a suicidal act to lead the Tamil people to another Nanthi Kadal once again? Have they given any thought to the possibility of losing the balance of Tamils left behind in Sri Lanka to Vadukoddai War II?
Of all the communities in Sri Lanka the Jaffna Tamils suffered most because of their leaders’ blind refusal to co-exist in a multi-ethnic society sharing the land in common with the other communities. Their suicidal political ambitions, arising from an exaggerated view of their self-importance and superiority, drove them to an end they never thought would come. With the whole world rejecting their claim for a separate state, only “congenital idiocy” would have led them to believe that they were all set to get their separate state.
Only “congenital idiocy” would have made the Jaffna leadership believe that they can win the war by throwing under-aged children into the battlefield. Only those infected with “congenital idiocy” would rely solely on the single strategy of killing and destroying as a means of attaining their political goals, rejecting alternative paths of diplomacy and negotiations.. Only “congenital idiots” would use Tamil civilians as human shields to prolong a war they had lost ever since the Army asserted it superiority in Mavil Aru. If Velupillai Chelvanayakam, the father of the Vadukoddai Resolution and his successor, Velupillai Prabhakaran, are the typical kind of leaders that Jaffna can produce do the people of Jaffna need any outside enemies? When Prabhakaran began shooting his own people – the Tamil people who had sacrificed everything to protect him and all that was contained in the Vadukoddai Resolution – didn’t it confirm that the Jaffna leadership was not only idiotic but brutal as well?
Prof. David’s friend, Prof. Sivaguru Ganesan asks a pointed question that goes to the heart of the moral crisis in the Jaffna political culture: “How could a community, so educated, numerate, literate and much internationalised, have put up with this degree of brutality and lack of vision in its leading representative?”
A similar question was raised by Prof. Rajan Hoole in the mid-nineties when he asked: “How could such an evil monster come out of the womb of Jaffna?” (I am quoting from memory.) The Tamil intellectuals are baffled. They cannot comprehend or come to terms with Vadukoddai violence that militarized and brutalized Jaffna society. How could the Jaffna leadership that accused the Sri Lankan government of turning a blind eye to the riots of 1983 kill more Tamils than all the other forces put together, as stated by S. C. Chandrahasan and V. Anandsangaree.
Prof. David attributes the distortions that misdirected the peninsular political class to the “socio-economic underdevelopment and cultural peculiarities” of Jaffna. As an “unrepentant Marxists” he explains “the 60 year non-relationship between the Tamil people and left politics” in predictable Marxist terminology, which has some relevance more than validity even in Marxist terms. He says: “The reason why a left ideology could not put down deep roots and either link up with the southern left or grow its own indigenous left tradition was the same; the social soil was not fertile. The deleterious effects of caste and the hidebound social ethos were supplemented by the absence of a modern working class. The backwardness of capitalist production denied Jaffna a proletariat, and more generally, a modern ethos.”
In classical Marxist terms this argument is wonky because there wasn’t much of “a modern working class” in the south. Bala Tampoe was leading the white collar workers in the mercantile sector and I. J. Wickrema was leading the clerks in the Government Clerical Service Union. These were two most powerful centres of trade union power held by the Trotskyites. If you leave the harbour workers and the workers of the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills out there wasn’t a working class of any significance to lead a revolution. In short, “a modern working class”, arising from a solid industrial base with a revolutionary potential, was no where in sight.
Besides, capitalist production was not much in evidence in the south either. It was basically a plantation economy with a sprinkling of the compradore middle-men dominating the export-import economy locked into the old colonial enterprises located in the city of Colombo.
The plantocracy was the ruling elite because those who had money invested in land and not in industries. If there was a working class it was found only in the plantations and that class too was dominated by ethnic forces rather than by Marxist theories.
In fact, it can be argued that Marxist leaders, who emerged as the alternative political force to the Senanayakes and the Bandaranaikes in the colonial and post-colonial periods, were not only overshadowed but ultimately buried by identity politics which the gurus of Prof. David embraced eventually in their twilight years.
Unfolding events in Sri Lanka proved that ethnicity stood Marxism on its head. The cultural dynamics embedded in ethnicity were the forces that were driving politics more than the imported and rootless theories of Marx.
The Sri Lankan crisis can be understood best in the cultural context than in any other theoretical construct. It was primarily a clash of cultures. It was a clash between the closed, rigid and cruel culture of the north and the open, flexible and liberal culture of south. Prof. David admits this partially. He says that “the (Jaffna) social soil was not fertile. The deleterious effects of caste and the hidebound social ethos were supplemented by the absence of a modern working class.” However, he gets it wrong when he mixes “the deleterious effects of the caste” with “the absence of a working class.” The fact remains that with or without the working class “the deleterious effects of the caste” had distorted and perverted the Jaffna political culture beyond redemption. Only violence could dismantle the entrenched Vellahla caste.
The Vadukoddai violence, as it worked out, was targeting the south as well as the north – the north suffocating under the oppressive pressures of traditional casteism.
It is most significant that Chelvanayakam launched his racist political movement, Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (the Tamil State Party) to carve out a separate state for the Tamils from the GCSU Head office in Maradana on December 18, 1949. Mark you, he did not choose Jaffna but he chose the GCSU Head Office in Colombo, to launch his campaign for the mono-ethnic state.
The left too was wooing assiduously and relentlessly the government servants in the public service which, incidentally, was the only growth industry under colonial rule. In the grand theory of the Marxists the GCSU was to be a part of the vanguard that was to lead the revolution. But it was Chelvanayakam who won the day. He chose the GCSU because the Vellahla vanguard of Jaffna communalism was in the public service. He assessed correctly and astutely that they were going to be the carriers of his communal message and also the driving force of communal politics.
PS: Please note that I am using Prof. David’s telling phrase only to describe the Jaffna Tamil political caste/class which dragged the Tamils, under false promises, into Nanthi Kadal. As individuals the Jaffna Tamil is a splendid specimen of generosity, kindness, and loving care. I know this for certain because I am married to one from Madagal.