Am I a terrorist or a peacemaker?

For more than year, I have been accused of supporting, sometimes being a member of the now defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

If I’m not mistaken, more than 60 police reports were lodged against me last year by both individuals and organisations upset with me for questioning the presence of fugitive Islamic preacher Zaik Naik in the country.

On the basis of the police reports, police interviewed me twice to take my statements pertaining to the allegations that I am a supporter of the LTTE.

Recently, a video was circulated on social media showing my presence at a Tamil gathering where pro-LTTE placards and banners were displayed, including of the former leader of the LTTE, V Prabhakaran.

This video is an old one of a gathering that took place in Kuala Lumpur more than 10 years ago.

It was a gathering of Tamils to welcome Seeman, the leader of a political movement called Naam Tamilaar in Tamil Nadu, India.

Some enthusiastic participants carried these banners and portraits to show their support for the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka.

I was invited to the event to give a talk.

It was a welcoming event for Seeman, and not about the LTTE. It was about the sad plight of Tamils outside India.

The video was subsequently downloaded and distributed on social media to establish “my association” with the LTTE.

It is a mischievous attempt by those who are upset with me for being a vociferous critic of Naik.

I have consistently maintained my stand that Naik should be deported to India to face charges of money laundering and over allegations of supporting terrorism by the government of India.

Before these individuals or organisations make even more allegations about my links with LTTE, let me give a brief background of how I came to relate to LTTE, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) and some rebel movements in Colombia, Latin America and the Philippines, especially in Mindanao.

As a political science academic, I was interested in the transformation of conflicts in various countries, particularly class and ethnic conflicts.

I wanted to adopt a methodology that examined the interests and concerns of all parties to conflicts, not necessarily the state actors.

Such an orientation meant that I had to examine the reasons and motives of the non-state actors in different geographical locations.

This is the reason why I chose places such Sri Lanka, Aceh in Indonesia, Mindanao in the Philippines and Colombia in South America.

My point was how to engage the non-state actors, understand their grievances and how they could engage the state in a conflict transformation that placed a premium on negotiated settlement rather than armed struggle.

It was this underlying principle that enabled me to develop contacts with the state actors and the rebel organisations such as the LTTE in Sri Lanka, GAM in Aceh and some amorphous groups in Colombia and Mindanao.

My involvement in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (CAC) in Sri Lanka in 2003 was basically to expedite the peace process initiated by Norway.

Our role was basically to bring the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to the negotiating table with Norwegians as the mediators.

It was during my involvement with CAC that I made contacts with some LTTE and Sri Lankan government leaders, including the present prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

In the case of Aceh, I was requested by GAM leaders to assist them in the peace negotiations with Indonesia in Helsinki in 2005.

I was not directly involved in the negotiations, but acted as an adviser to the Acehnese delegation.

However, I had limited success in making in-roads in Colombia and Mindanao.

Lack of communication with parties in the conflict, the absence of credible mediators and, above all, the high degree of mistrust and suspicions were not conducive to my involvement in these places.

During the course of my involvement in the peace process in both Sri Lanka and Aceh, I had the opportunity to travel to a number of European cities to engage in preliminary talks and negotiations.

I was not an emotionally unattached participant in the process in both the countries.

I had a great degree of sympathy for the Tamil cause and their discrimination by the majority Sinhalese, but I felt that armed struggle was not the best way out.

I had the same feeling towards the Acehnese and how they suffered historically under the colonial governments and later under Indonesia.

But then I did not agree that armed struggle was the best way to go about it.

The Helsinki peace agreement between GAM and Indonesia in August 2005 vindicated my stand on the need for a negotiated solution.

However, the return of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka dashed all hopes of a peaceful negotiated settlement.

In May 2009, the LTTE was decimated in the final war with devastating consequences for Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

It is up to people to assess my links with the now defunct LTTE or GAM, but my engagement in the peace process should not be disparaged.

I am happy that peace has finally returned to Aceh, but I am sad to realise that normalcy has yet to be restored in Tamil areas in Sri Lanka.

It is strange why my detractors do not link me with GAM in Aceh, but only with the LTTE.

Before the peace deal became a success, GAM was regarded as a terrorist organisation by Indonesia.

Is it because my detractors find it difficult to accept the fact that I worked closely with Acehnese, who are Muslims?

Is it because they find it difficult to accept that a non-Muslim like me can also assist Muslims?

Why didn’t they link me to Muslim groups in Mindanao fighting for a decent deal from the government of the Philippines?

Or, for that matter, my peace initiatives in Colombia?

If I am labelled as a “terrorist” for supporting the struggle of ordinary people in places like Sri Lanka, Aceh, Colombia and Mindanao, I have no further comments but to let others decide.

Every time I bring up national issues to the public, there are individuals and groups who will be politically motivated to label me as a “terrorist” or give me any other extreme obnoxious label.

I am not worried. As an elected representative, I will not allow these deliberate hindrances to prevent me from discharging my duties without fear or favour.

P Ramasamy is deputy chief minister II of Penang

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.