Combating Political Apathy: Taking Forward the Intellectual Legacy of Sivaram
Originally published on TamilNet
The assassination of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, political analyst and senior editor of TamilNet, ten years back by the Sri Lankan state was a blow to the intellectual world of the Eelam Tamil nation in particular, the Tamil civilization in general. While 20th century Tamil nationalist movements in both Tamil Nadu and Tamil Eelam saw the rise of orators, poets, writers, novelists and dramatists of fine standing, and who had made no mean contribution to shaping modern Tamil identity, Sivaram was a unique phenomenon.
Informed by Tamil literature as much by Tamil history, Marxism as much as Poststructuralism, Thucydides as much as contemporary COIN theorists, Sivaram worked for the Eelam Tamil cause as a leading politico-military analyst and as a true “organic intellectual.”
The organic intellectual, as Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci defined him, gives a group an awareness of its functions and strategies in political, social and economic fields. What differentiates an organic intellectual from a tradition intellectual is that the latter claims neutrality but serves the status-quo; the former is a partisan for a cause.
Sivaram, without doubt, was a partisan for a sovereign Tamil Eelam. But what differentiated him from other writers was his no-nonsense, non-sentimental approach to politics and military affairs. Engaging with latest theoretical and practical developments in the military and the geo-political field, he wrote to inform both the fighters and masses of the designs of world powers in the island. In as much as he wrote about the military maneuvers of the Sri Lankan military, he also gave adequate focus to the global dynamics that were shaping politics in and geo-politics of the island.
In fact, Sivaram was most apprehensive of the manipulation of the US led axis during the peace process and the Oslo accords.
In an article written in the North Eastern Herald in March 2003, Sivaram said that the geo-political interests of US and India would “want Thamileelam to continue in its current ‘limbo’ statehood for their respective strategic reasons or precipitate its withering through ‘containment.’”
The manner in which this containment played out during the CFA, how supposedly ‘neutral’ observers like the SLMM tilted the balance in favor of the GoSL, has also been documented by the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat.
This grand strategy of containment of the LTTE while giving political and military legitimacy to the GoSL ultimately led to the escalation that was the Mullivaaykaal genocide.
In a follow-up article in the North Eastern Herald in April 2003, titled “LTTE’s big mistake: falling again for federalism”, Sivaram notes how the big powers and their comprador intellectuals were trying to trap the Tigers into working within a unitary Sri Lankan state. Condemning such Tamil intellectuals for their laziness to challenge this manipulation, he writes “by no logic can anyone gloss over the stark fact that political apathy is quite widespread and growing among the Tamils today, much to the delight of India and the US-UK combine that is masterfully choreographing the peace process.”
The Mullivaaykaal massacre, the protracted genocide in occupied Tamil Eelam, the pathetic sham of the LLRC and the several pro-LLRC resolutions that the US sponsored in Geneva must have shaken the apathy of several Tamil intellectuals post-2009. Unfortunately, that has not happened.
The regime change in Sri Lanka and the regime change in India have changed local dynamics. If reports of the US Pacific Command are anything to go by, the ‘Look East’ policy of America is being pursued aggressively. Modi India’s tilt towards Russia and China – preferring to have stronger relationships with regional hegemons – will also have deep consequences for the whole South Asian region in the future. All of this warrants deep, unemotional, sober analysis – Sivaram style.
Sadly, the vast majority of the Tamil intelligentsia has not lived up to its historical responsibility. From the Oslo fraud to the ‘human rights’ festivals in Geneva, from Geneva to the ‘Singapore principles’ of 2013, Tamil intellectuals and political activists are being taken for a ride. Along with powerful global organizations like the ICG, mediator countries like South Africa are also heavily involved in thrusting a ‘reconciliation’ discourse on the Eelam Tamils.
While the pro-establishment Tamil intellectuals blindly toe the line set by the powers, the mainstream Tamil left, or whatever is left in it, is only mouthing empty catch-phrases and pipe-dreaming. Questions around the larger narrative of struggle and the core question of geo-politics are diluted and instead human interest, personalized sad-stories, narrow identity politics, apolitical accounts of human rights violations and defeatist conclusions are drawn.
But this should not be a cause for pessimism. It is quite natural for a people who endured an atrocity at the level of Mullivaaykaal to be shaken for a while. Other oppressed nations like the Kurds also have gone through such phases. We must learn from them that a nation’s ability to spring back to its feet politically depends on how soon it is able to organize itself intellectually.
“My interest is to create a body of knowledge to help oppressed people all over the world help themselves get out from under oppression,” Sivaram told his biographer Mark Whitaker.
Only a new generation of organic Tamil intellectuals, who have a clear understanding of changing global paradigms and who are able to create paradigm shifts in Tamil political discourse, can preserve and take forward Sivaram’s legacy.
This is the need of the hour.