Power imbalances make for two things: voice and echo. The degree and nature of the imbalance determines the volume of voice and the throw back compulsion of wall and the distance the echo travels and of course its clarity. Complete servility or a monumental slant in favour of one entity over another gives us a ventriloquist and a dummy.
For a long time, for all rhetorical claims of them representing the future and reference in fond terms such as ‘boys’, Tamil youth were seen by the Brahmins of Tamil politics, i.e. the Anglicised, mostly Christian, Vellala politicians who either lived in or hailed from Jaffna, as means to an end. They were add-ons, the energy-givers, the ‘necessary numbers’. As often happens, though, things did not unfold according to plan. The baby that was fed with communal poison and whose nails were allowed to grow, clawed and stung the parent. The creator, by and by, was overpowered by the created. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the nutshell version of the rise and fall of the TULF and its later avatars, including the ITAK/TNA.
From Amirthalingam to Sambandan and perhaps, in time, to Sumanthiran, not a whimper of condemnation did the world hear about the atrocities perpetrated by the LTTE. Not even when key leaders of that party were killed in cold blood. The perpetrators were referred to (at best) as unidentified gunmen. There was of course condemnation, followed by a long wail about problems not being addressed and emphatic chest-beating about not being ready to give up the struggle. It was a script they had to pull out regularly for decades. Until 2004, that is.
The year 2004 saw the formalization of reality; the power imbalance was recognized and acknowledged. It was put in black and white. There was, thereafter, no need to indulge in shy making or take refuge in tortuous word-twist and punctuation rearrangement. The Tamil National Alliance, in its election manifesto of 2004, made it abundantly clear that it was Prabhakaran’s mouthpiece. ‘Shame’ was duly abandoned. Those were the shining days of ignominy.
Dignity that is squandered takes time to be regained. Two years after the slave driver was taken out of the equation, not enough time seems to have passed for slave to convince himself that the relations of production have been transformed. Having been echo for so long, it is perhaps difficult to think of ‘voice’ as option. For tongue to bend to speak of duress, disagreement and articulate condemnation, echo needs to find tongue. The LTTE-echo is getting there and even though the confused sounds that comes out is a throwback to the Square One of the Chelvanayakam Doctrine, ‘A little now, more later’, and continues to treat myth as fact and regurgitates old lies.
Most importantly, Tamil politicians can now speak the truth and lie of their choice without worrying about being shot dead the next moment. The LTTE assassinated thousands of Tamils who opposed them. These included politicians and academics. Some had known names. Many were names known only to family and friends. They were unarmed. They weren’t militants. They were not combatants. They were just peaceful objectors who held different views.
The TULF/TNA knew what the LTTE could do to the unarmed. They knew what they had done to those who were armed, those who had the guns and had undergone relevant training. The LTTE annihilated the TELO, and rendered ineffective the EPDP, the EPRLF and PLOTE. It is in this context that the likes of Sambandan and Sumanthiran regularly touched Prabhakaran’s feet in veneration.
That’s all gone now. The ITAK/TNA is yet to admit that Prabhakaran was master and it was slave. On the other hand, they are not interjecting ‘LTTE’ after every other word in the sentences they utter and write. There is no need now to pay obeisance, no need to acknowledge and salaam, as they were wont to do not too long ago.
Those who have voice can articulate grievance. Those who have voice can confess to error. The TNA is yet to get there of course, but that which had robbed them of humanity and dignity, the LTTE, is no longer around. Their servility to anti-intellectualism and penchant for articulating myth belongs to them; they are not Prabhakaran’s proxies any more.
When the monster spawned by the TULF found voice, the leadership of that party gradually lost their vocal chords. The TULF’s political offspring and heir, the ITAK/TNA was offered the echo-option when the LTTE was vanquished, and they took it. Today that can legitimately dream of becoming ‘voice’ once again. I am yet to hear them express appreciation to voice-giver or, let’s say, those who make it possible for echo to be replaced by voice. Perhaps they lost integrity along with voice. Perhaps they were born without it, who knows?
All we know is that voice is better than echo, and that those who are able to voice without being asked to voice are truly blessed.