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TG View: Representing 'extremism'

The TNA MP S Sritharan's comments in Parliament the day before Maaveerar Naal have ruffled more than a few feathers within the Sri Lankan state.

Amidst the Sri Lankan state's attempt to quash any acts of remembrance, defending the right of Tamils to commemorate fallen LTTE cadre on Maaveerar Naal, Sritharan said the majority of Tamils in the North-East see the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran as the nation's leader.

The condemnation and criticism from the government has been predictably ferocious. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accused Sritharan of intentionally provoking the government and the military, the influential Buddhist monk organisation, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), called for his arrest, and the Media Center for National Security (MCNS) announced it would be taking legal action against him. Meanwhile, in its editorial and government's news site, the Daily News, called him a 'Maniac in our midst'.

Whilst such reactions of veiled threats and hysteria from the Sinhala polity are of little surprise, the response of the TNA leader R. Sampanthan, is damning.

Immediately distancing himself from Sritharan's comments, R. Sampanthan told Parliament the very next day, “that was his personal view and the TNA has nothing to do with it,” adding, "this clearly does not reflect the TNA’s position. We are clear about it.”

“We do not wish to dwell on that [Velupillai Prabhakaran]. He is dead and gone," said Sampanthan.

“Mr. Sritharan would have been moved by the fact that yesterday (November 26) was Prabhakaran’s birthday. He would have made an emotional statement. We did not campaign during the previous elections on such a line. Even, Mr. Sritharan did not campaign on that basis. We would not have allowed him to do so.”

Following the TNA leader, speaking in Parliament the TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, expressed his bewilderment - not at the Sri Lankan government's ferocious response to a legitimate, and arguably, widely held Tamil view - but that the Sri Lankan MPs' response to Sritharan was relatively subdued compared to "moderate" speech of Sampanthan.

Sumanthiran said,

"So this is the bewilderment. What you yourselves described as extremist speech you allow it to go on. In fact, you like it to be made. But you’re not happy with the voices of moderation. Now this is a dangerous trend. Why are you shutting out people who are moderate – people who are still appealing to the good sense, to the good will? We believe there is a lot of good will still left amongst all the communities in this country, and we’re appealing to that."

Calling Sampanthan (and by extension, himself) "voices of moderation", Sumanthiran's comments effectively brand Sritharan's comments as a 'voice of extremism', with all the notoriously negative connotations associated with it (including that of being a maniac).

This is deeply disturbing. Yet more concerning still, is the implied assertion that a Tamil representative's legitimacy and right to speak freely in Sri Lanka's parliament may be justly judged by the 'moderation' of their view, not on how faithfully they are fulfilling their democratic mandate.

Defending his comments and right to speak, Sritharan said,

“What I expressed in Parliament were the sentiments of the people who elected me. I represent my people and therefore, I should express their views too,”

He added,

"I do not need to ask my party before I speak in Parliament about what I should say. I was chosen by the people. If I had to ask the party before I speak, I would never in my life be able to speak."

Lest we forget how the TNA ran its election campaign in the run up to the hugely successful Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election, here is what Sampanthan said during an election campaign event in UK, here is Sumanthiran campaigning on the last day before the election, and here is a photograph of a TNA election pamphlet:

This begs the question, if Sritharan can be considered an 'extremist' for his comments, what of the Tamil people the TNA was elected to represent?