Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thoughts on the Tamil problem

The King has won his seat again and his erstwhile General is on the run. The TNA would have preferred the ex General. I dont know why.

God does not give us the benefit of knowing the consequences of 'non-choices' - basically the course of event that would have followed if we had chosen an alternate we had not chosen. We can speculate - but that is just that. So we dont know what the General could have done. We have seen too many politicians to believe in promises.

In India, the Hawkish NSA, MKN has been replaced by Mr Menon. We will need to see how this will translate into policy actions. India has a huge strategic stake in the Island. Time will tell how the Indians act.

Whom should the Tamils look to ?

Relying on the Sinhalese Government or the Indian Government or the International community is putting the locus of control outside the Tamil hands. I still believe that the Tamils will need to do their part correctly.

Is an Independent State a solution ?

Any solution should not be too costly for its people. And Independent state will be costly solution. There are two ways for a separate territory to be carved out.

a) The State which has it cedes it.

This is not a likely solution. Nations are comfortable annexing territory - not ceding it. I am not aware of any instance in the recent past where it has happened peacefully. Plus, that is a difficult solution for any Government to sell to its 'majority' people.

b) The State is forced to cede it. This can happen if

i) The community fights and gets its region separate

I have not been convinced by the idea of fighting a State by military might in the current era. Let me elaborate this point.In a State, where a community - or race - or group in question is in minority in terms of numbers and is ruled by a Government of the majority community or race or group - fighting it for social, economic and political space militarily is a difficulty.It almost always does not succeed and is in general, bloody, painful and long. The State is all powerful. It can oppress, suppress and repress and still get away with it. A few heads may roll down the line and after significant damage is done, but as a State, it can get away with it. A State can pledge its territory , buy ammunition and fight a war against its people. Strange - but true. Look around the world and see what is happening. The fact is - the State can. So this does not appear to be great option.

ii) The international community - steps in , overwhelms the State , carves out a territory for the minority and gives it to it

Now, why will the international community step in. Certainly such a move will not come without economic costs - strings which may not necessarily be cheap. And even in this case, the State has an upper hand. It can go about promising / pledging market access / policy comforts, strategic interests easier than a region seeking independence. For example, it is easier for the Sinhalese government to 'buy' international support than for the Tamils - because the Government has more to offer - has it on its hands - than the Tamils. And the State can also counter one attempt at external interference with a support from another. This is what has happened. When the Tamils were drumming support from the EU , US - the Srilankan President met with Chinese premier. So this also does not appear to be great option.

So what could be a solution ?

In my view, atleast initially an even socio economic and political space on par with the majority sinhalese community is what is needed. Autonomy may be an ideal solution , but that might take time. The Tamils have shed too much of blood and tears. But, fighting physically for freedom is a passe. The game has changed.

Across the world, it is not the majority that rules. The community or group that is most powerful is the smarter ( and wealthier) minority.They may not be apparent - but look closely - they are there. And they generally wield it well.

In my view economy is a great tool - probably the most effective tool available currently. The Tamil population is a minority in the Srilankan State, but a large number - particularly in the diaspora have established themselves economically . If the Tamils need their rightful rights , they need to deploy this economic might well. And that need not be by confrontation. It can be done by working with the Srilankan Government and by making the Srilankan Government work for the Tamils. I dont see why this cant be done in the Tear drop island. In the process, the Tamil diaspora should enmesh significant Indian and international economic interests in the Island. That will ensure that the international community will not do just lip service in future.

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