I am compelled to write this article as the Tamil Nation is poised to become a momentous force that cannot be ignored in the Indian Political arena and as there is a need for reflection regarding the steering of it along the proper direction.
As Tamil Nadu is the historic place of origin of the World Tamil population, it has the duty and the moral responsibility to ensure the rights and welfare of those Tamils. It is facing the huge challenge of finding ways and means of achieving this objective. We have to pose the question whether the political leaders of Tamil Nadu have the clout and diplomacy to take up this challenge.When the interests of the Tamils are adversely affected locally or abroad Tamil activists in Tamil Nadu tend to say that Tamil Nadu must and will go separate. A study of the websites shows that this thought process is spreading among the younger generation in Tamil Nadu. No one thinks whether it is the correct and effective path to take.
We can learn the huge differences if we compare the compelling reasons to seek separation for the Tamils in Sri Lanka and those for the demand of separation in India.
1) Sri Lanka is a country with a single majority community. The Sinhalese comprise 75% of the population of Sri Lanka. India is not a country of a single majority community. Even if we consider the Hindi speaking people as a linguistic community (no one considers them as a linguistic community) they make up only 40% of the Indian population. The other linguistic communities in India can thwart any attempts at Hindi domination by simply achieving a political unity among themselves.
2) Focusing on religion, the majority of the Sinhalese are Buddhists (70% of the total population) the majority of the Tamils are Hindus (according to census of 1981 it is 15.48% and it has declined to 12.61% according to the latest post-war census). There are no Sinhalese Hindus or Tamil Buddhists. There is no religious link between the two major communities. However, in India the Hindu religion is the majority religion in most of the states apart from Kashmir and Nagaland and it has proved to be a powerful force of linkage.
3) Focusing on economic resources, the Sinhalese areas in Sri Lanka are blessed with more natural resources when compared with the Tamil homeland. This strengthens the hands of the Sinhalese. Though in India the Hindi speaking states occupy places of political importance, they have their economic constraints. The Hindi speaking states are land-locked. They have no coastal areas. As they have to depend on other states for their economic welfare, there is a state of balance maintained among them.
4) Focusing on the common psychology, a common mental disposition is the main contributory factor to establish a firm structure in the make-up of a nation and it is equally important as the other external factors. The Sinhala community is one among those ancient communities which maintains a written history.
In the 3rd or 4th Century A.D. they had their historical record of Deepavamsa. In the 6th century Mahanama Thera wrote the Mahavamsa. In continuation, the Buddhist monks had been writing the Sinhala Buddhist history like the Choolavamsa and the Rajawaliya till the 19th century. According to the Mahavamsa, the ancestors of the Sinhala race namely Vijaya and his 700 comrades were exiled from their country of Lata in a ship and landed along the coastal belts of India. They were chased from these areas, as well, and finally they arrived in Ceylon. The paramount thing here is the period of their arrival. The Mahavamsa asserts that they arrived in Ceylon on the very day that Lord Buddha attained Nibbhana. The Mahavamsa further states Lord Buddha had visited this island on three previous occasions and declared that the people of this island will cherish and protect Buddhism.
The Mahavamsa has constructed two things in the common psyche of the Sinhalese. The first is that, as their ancestors were banished from India, they do not consider themselves as an extension of the land area of India. They don’t have any attachment to any such ancient place of origin. The second is the unshakeable faith in the conviction that Lord Buddha entrusted them the responsibility of protecting and promoting Buddhism and propagating it to the whole world.
It is a matter of profound symbolic importance to them that Vijaya and his comrades landed in Ceylon on the historic day of the passing away of Lord Buddha. When we consider the facts that the period of Mahanama Thera is the 06th century, it is the threshold of the Hindu renaissance era and it is the beginning of the decline of Buddhist and Samana influences in India, it is not difficult to divine the objects of his writings. In the minds of the Sinhala Buddhists of Ceylon the conviction that the decline of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent was brought about by the conspiracy of Brahmins is deeply embedded. When we observe the views of the Sinhala Buddhist monks regarding the decline of Buddhist influence in India, things become very clear. The principle that is emphasized as their quintessence is this conspiracy of the Brahmins. The hostility towards India and the hatred for the Tamils have their origin in these interpretations. It is not an easy task to remove Mahavamsa thoughts from the common psyche of the Sinhalese which have been indoctrinated from tender ages. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand the Sinhalese or their politics without coming to terms with the collective Mahavamsa mentality. On the other hand it has to be pointed out that the common psyche of the Ceylon Tamils acknowledges itself as an extension of India. In the pre 1987 era the pictures of Vivekananda, Ghandi, Subash Chandrabose, Nehru and Rajaji were a common sight in Tamil homes. In most of their homes they would have at least the picture of one of these leaders. This is only an example of their emotional leanings. For the understanding of Sri Lankan politics this is an essential precondition.
In contrast to this phenomenon the Indian psyche perceives the various territories of India as cultural expanses. In direct contrast to the Mahavamsa the ancient epics like Ramayana and Maha Bharadha have contributed to a very great extent in linking up the various people and the territories Ramayana deals with are the Southern regions and people. On the other hand, Maha Bharadha brings together the kings of the different regions of India in the confluence of the Gurushethra. The Pandiya king from the far south was also killed in the war. Thus, the Indian common psyche was derived from cultural linkages even in diversity. We have to understand that its psychology doesn’t follow that of the people of Sri Lanka.
5) The historical trend and ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences alone do not create the need or legitimacy for separation. The historical trend of Sri Lanka has been one where the Tamil people have been deprived of their rights, their survival has been challenged in their traditional homeland by the introduction of planned Sinhalese colonization schemes and they have been subjected to various acts sof genocide. On the other hand the Tamils of Tamil Nadu have been enjoying a self-rule in their historical land ever from the time of Indian independence. There is also an opportunity for the Indian states to enrich the situation of shared rule by obtaining more power for themselves. Furthermore, the political clout of the Tamils in the central government has become strong in the past sixty years and Tamil Nadu has been in the forefront of economic development. Their historical trend has been in an entirely different direction.
There is a world of difference between the realities of the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. Pro-separation speeches in Tamil Nadu send the wrong signals to their own people and become a stumbling block in the liberation struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils. For the sake of an argument let’s consider that Tamil Nadu achieves separation. Will it lead to a scenario where the interests of the Tamils are safeguarded or further destroyed?
Apart from Kashmir and a few North-Eastern states, there is no demand for separation in the other states of India. Even if it is there, it is but an unpopular demand on the part of a few individuals. In the circumstances, even if Tamil Nadu secedes, the rest of India will continue as one single country. The Kaviri and Mullai Periyaru issues are an example of the extent of the struggle that they have to wage to ensure the protection of their interests while remaining as a state of the Indian Union. A separation can only pave the way to a situation where Tamil Nadu Stands to lose even the few existing advantages. And several new issues will be created.
India is co-operating with Sri Lanka when Tamil Nadu is one of its own States. It is not hard to guess how it would act when Tamil Nadu becomes separate. It will lead to a situation where Tamil Nadu will become sandwiched between a strong and powerful India and a Sri Lanka steeped in communalism.
India is a country with linguistic national ethnic groups. Voices are raised that these national ethnic groups should go separate. Let’s analyse this scenario as well. What would happen if all the linguistic nationalities became separate? Countries like Pakistan which are steeped in fanatical religious ideologies in the North-West, continuously belligerent China in the North, and Bangladesh in the North-East bulging with its own population that is highly disproportionate to its land area will hardly allow them to enjoy freedom. It would be just like exposing the sheep-shed to the wolves. It is not that such fate will overtake the North Indian territories alone. Within one hundred years of the capitulation of Delhi to the marauders from the North-West, Madurai was conquered by Malik Gaffoor. Therefore, the contention that the linguistic nationalities in India should go separate is basically flawed and will lead to inconceivable disaster.
In that case, the question may arise whether Tamil Nationalism is irrelevant to India. It is relevant. However, it has to be understood correctly and defined. Tamil nationalism means the Tamil political interests. ‘Federal’, ‘autonomous’ and ‘separate’ are concepts that are invariably derived from that point of reference. It is nothing but ignorance to emphasize that Tamil nationalism is creating a separate country. In the case of India the Tamil interests will not be served by the demand for separation. What is more, the reality is that it will affect Tamil interests adversely.
There should be a significant change in the present thought process which may become pervasive. The consideration that Tamil nationalism is antagonistic to Indian nationalism or Indian nationalism is hostile to Tamil nationalism is not going to serve any purpose. The apparent and deliberately created antagonism between them has brought about the myriad issues that we face now. Basically there is a symbolic relationship between Indian nationalism and Tamil nationalism. They are mutually dependent on each other. However, factionalist policy formulators and foolhardy individuals driven by emotional upheavals implement projects that underpin the thought they are contradictory and bring about all conflicts of interests. Indian nationalism is nothing but cultural in content. The Tamils cannot be divided and separated from this culture. Similarly Indian culture can have no meaning without the complementary aspects of the Tamil culture.
Since India comprises societies with diverse identities of ethnicity, language, religion and race, it is hardly feasible to create a dominant politics that focuses only on a single identity. Under such favourable conditions it is possible for any community to achieve its interests with diplomacy and intelligent planning and using its political clout. The Tamils in Tamil Nadu should think along these lines.
The Jews constitute only 2 per cent of the American population, but they can manipulate the American foreign policy to accommodate the interests of Israel. The fact that the Jews are different from the white people of America ethnically and religiously doesn’t prevent them from successfully linking their interests to American interests. They are only 0.02 percent of the world population. Still for all, they have more than 20 percent of the Nobel laureates among them. This is one of the lessons among many that we have to learn from them.
If the Jews that cannot exert any direct political pressure on America can influence its policy formulation, why can’t the Tamil community which constitutes 6 percent of the Indian population numbering 70 million, a powerful state and a union territory influence India’s policy formulation? Undoubtedly leaders like Nedumaran, Vaikko and Seemaan enjoy the respect and love of the Sri Lankan Tamils. There is no doubt that they will go down in the history of India as the voice of the indestructible clamour of righteousness. Nevertheless, their continuous blunder, political folly and tactical derailment has to be pointed out. When Tamil interests are at stake, they tend to speak against Indian sovereignty prompted by emotional overreactions or under the impression that they are applying pressure on the Indian government. They never think in terms of the patriotism of those rulers and beaurocrats who take such adverse decisions. Isn’t it well-known that they have corruption and abuse of power as their life-style and the majority of them sell the interests of the country for pay-offs? The naive thought that such people would consider their demands once they speak against the sovereignty of India is deplorable. We have to distinguish India and its people from such rulers, beaurocrats, political brokers and media men. Small organizations with Tamil feelings in Tamil Nadu have disintegrated congress votes and have defeated DMK which was an ally of the Congress in the recent elections. This has enormously altered the political equations in Tamil Nadu. This has served as an eye-opener to all and has reiterated the fact that if the Tamil Nationalists can strengthen their political power they can achieve their goals by democratic means.
India is an elephant and nondescripts are ruling over it as the mahout. Dismembering it as trunk, head and legs serves no useful purpose. The aim of the Tamil nationalists should be to become the mahout or to use the political clout to influence the decisions of the mahout to accommodate Tamil interests. The objective must be that of making Tamil Nadu a prominent state of a prosperous and strong India.
“Strong bindings for the prosperity of Tamil Nadu fenced by the sea…”
Sivendran is a science graduate from University of Colombo. He has worked as a journalist for Thinakkural Newspapers Sri Lanka.