Referendum in Tamilnadu

Hold a Plebiscite (Referendum) in Tamilnadu on Independence

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, August 2008 (ID. 2008-08-01)
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1. Why do we need a plebiscite in Tamil Nadu?

2. If there is an yearning for independence, there would have been massive demonstrations in Tamil Nadu? We do not see any. So what is the need for a plebiscite?

3. Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Why do you say there is no freedom of speech for pro-independence voices in Tamil Nadu?

4. There are periodic elections for the Indian parliament and Tamil Nadu legislative assembly. Why do you need a special vote or referendum or plebiscite on independence?

5. If people were offended by the electoral ban on pro-independence parties, why don't they boycott the parliament and assembly elections?

6. Prohibition of pro-independence parties from contesting elections came only after the 1963 constitutional amendment. Did any pro-independent parties contest elections before 1963?

7. The demand for plebiscite in Tamil Nadu is uncalled for. Would you demand that the United States of America (USA) hold a plebiscite (referendum) in New York State or California State to prove that these states are integral parts of USA? Then why do you demand that India hold a plebiscite in Tamil Nadu?

8. Has any country ever really allowed a separatist party to contest elections?

9. Has any country ever allowed a plebiscite?

10. Concluding Remarks

ABBREVIATIONS

AIADMK - All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

BJP - Bharatiya Janata Party

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

DPI - Dalit Panthers of India

MDMK - Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

MLA -Member of Legislative Assembly

MP - Member of Parliament

PMK - Patali Makkal Katchi

UK - United Kingdom

USA - United States of America


1. Why do we need a plebiscite in Tamil Nadu?

A counterargument I have heard from those who oppose Tamilnadu independence is: "Only a small percentage of people in Tamilnadu want independence from Indian rule". My reply has always been: "How do you know? What make you think that a vast majority is not for freedom from Indian rule?"

Only way to ascertain if the people of Tamil Nadu want independence or not is to hold a plebiscite (referendum, vote) on that question. That is the most direct and straightforward way of ascertaining if there is an yearning for independence in Tamil Nadu.

Plebiscite is the best way to settle this question peacefully without violence. Years of bloodshed in East Timor ended when, under heavy international pressure, Indonesia held a plebiscite in East Timor in 1999. Majority of people voted for independence and it was granted. A new country was born. Why not do the same in Tamil Nadu?

Some Quebec nationalist groups engaged in violence (bombings, kidnappings) to attain freedom for French-speaking Quebec Province from the majority-English speaking Canada. A plebiscite was held in Quebec in 1980. Almost 60% of the people voted in favor of continuing as a province of Canada. Quebec nationalist groups accepted people's verdict and there was no more violence. If the Indian Government is so certain that there is not much support for independence in Tamil Nadu, why is it afraid to hold a plebiscite? Has Indian intelligence agencies warned Indian government that there is support for independence in Tamil Nadu beneath the surface and a plebiscite may opt for independence?

To summarize, a plebiscite in which people have the option to vote for or against independence is the best way to ascertain people's wishes. Indonesia and Canada have done that in East Timor and Quebec Province, respectively. It is time that India so too.

2. If there is an yearning for independence, there would have been massive demonstrations in Tamil Nadu? We do not see any. So what is the need for a plebiscite?

There would be no public protests and demonstrations in an oppressive environment where freedom of speech is suppressed. I will give you the example of Czechoslovakia.

There was authoritarian Communist rule in Czechoslovakia until 1989. Czechoslovakia comprised of two nationalities: Czechs and Slovaks. There was no open expression of Slovak national aspirations during the authoritarian rule because any such voice would be silenced. Authoritarian rule ended suddenly in 1989 and freedom of speech and democratic rule followed. Slovak national aspirations surfaced immediately. Slovak members in the Federal Assembly (similar to Indian parliament) demanded that the name of the country be changed from Czechoslovakia to Czecho-Slovakia, thus asserting the separate national identity of Slovaks. After heated debate in the federal assembly, the country was renamed "Czech and Slovak Federal Republic" in 1990. Notice that no such name-change demand was made prior to 1989 when freedom of speech was restricted.

Also, pro-independence parties emerged in Slovakia and spoke up for independence. Leader of Slovak Christian Democratic Movement (CDM), Jan Carnogursky, openly protested against Czechoslovakian President "intervening in Slovak internal affairs". Something that could never have happen before 1989. Another pro-independence party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) won the 1992 election and lead the way to Slovakian independence in 1993, less than three years after freedom of speech was restored in Czechoslovakia. More information on how Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries peacefully without any bloodshed is discussed in Section 8. This could be an example for India.

History of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1993 is a good example of how pro-independence groups lie dormant when freedom of speech was restricted and how they emerge and act when freedom of speech is restored. If one were to go by the number of demonstrations in Slovakia before 1989, one could conclude that there was no yearning for independence amongst Slovak people. But when free speech was allowed, we saw the immediate emergence of independence aspirations. This is the situation in Tamil Nadu also. Allow freedom of speech to talk about independence for Tamil Nadu. Allow pro-independence groups to contest elections. Then let us see if there are demonstrations demanding Tamil Nadu independence.

3. Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Why do you say there is no freedom of speech for pro-independence voices in Tamil Nadu?

It is true that Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and, in fact, there is freedom of speech in many spheres of politics. People can speak against the ruling party or Prime Minister with impunity. No one is going to stop them. People can speak against MOST Indian government policies and no one is going to stop them. However, any speech in support of independence for a state is suppressed in spite of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

In 1963, Indian parliament passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting pro-independence parties and individuals from contesting elections. The pro-independence political party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chose to give up the independence demand so that they may continue to contest elections. The many processions and meetings it used to organize in support of independence stopped. The last pro-independence procession and meeting held just before the 1963 amendment was the pro-independence rally held on September 22, 1962 in Chennai (Madras City). Some 200,000 people marched through the streets of Chennai and 300,000 people attended the meeting at the beach. Large number of participants came from other cities just to attend this procession and meeting.

Even after the 1963, some groups attempted to hold pro-independence meetings. Government stopped any such meetings by hook or crook irrespective of the constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech. The usual modus operandi is for the police to ban such meetings saying that the meeting creates a law and order problem although there was NEVER any violence at pro-independence meetings, conferences, rallies and processions.

One man who attempted to hold pro-independence conferences was the late Poet Perunjchiththiranar (also known as Durai Manickam and Pavalareru) [Reference 1]. We can cite at least half a dozen meetings that police prevented. Often police would remove any posters announcing the meeting so that it does not get publicity. Then Pavalareru Perunjchiththiranar and others coming to address the meeting are often arrested in their hotel room or, if they evaded such arrests, arrested on their way to the meeting or at the meeting site as they arrive (before the meeting). Those who come to attend the meeting were told to go home. Those arrested were often released within a day or sometimes within hours. This "high handed" activity of the police, obviously on instruction from the state government, prevented pro-independence demonstrations. But for this crackdown, it is reasonable to believe that there would have been many meetings as was the case before 1963.

4. There are periodic elections for the Indian parliament and Tamil Nadu legislative assembly. Why do you need a special vote or referendum or plebiscite on independence?

As mentioned in Section 3, Indian parliament passed a constitutional amendment in 1963, prohibiting pro-independence parties and individuals from contesting elections. So parliament and state legislative assembly election results do not give any indication on whether voters are for independence or not.

We ask the Indian parliament to remove the 1963 constitutional amendment and allow pro-independence parties to contest elections. Then pro-independence groups would have the opportunity to demonstrate their support among voters. Why is Indian Government afraid to do so? This contradicts the government argument that there is very little support for independence in Tamil Nadu.

5. If people were offended by the electoral ban on pro-independence parties, why don't they boycott the parliament and assembly elections?

By not boycotting the elections but voting in them, we could at least elect parties like DMK, AIADMK, PMK, MDMK, DPI, etc. which are born in Tamil Nadu. They may at least do some good for Tamil and Tamil Nadu although they cannot do much within the Indian constitutional framework. Pro-independence boycotting the elections would only help elect all-India parties like Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that receive orders from Hindi politicians in the north. Boycotting the elections is like cutting our own nose because we do not like the foul odor from outside.

During British rule, there were elections in 1920, 1923, 1926 and 1936 for provincial governments that worked under the British Government (similar to present day state governments that work under the Indian central government). People did not boycott these elections. Could the British have argued that the participation of voters in those elections justify continued British rule over the Indian subcontinent? No. The same is true today. Voter participation in the elections is no indication that people are against Tamilnadu independence. A plebiscite is the best way to ascertain people's wishes.

6. Prohibition of pro-independence parties from contesting elections came only after the 1963 constitutional amendment. Did any pro-independent parties contest elections before 1963?

Yes. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) contested elections in 1957 and 1962. DMK was open about its demand for independence. DMK leaders spoke of the need for independence during the election campaigns. Once elected, DMK members of parliament (MP) and members of the legislative assembly (MLA) spoke in support of Tamil Nadu independence at the Indian parliament and Madras State legislative assembly (Tamil Nadu was called Madras State at that time.) DMK founder and General-Secretary C. N. Annadurai spoke about independence in the upper house of parliament in 1962 and 1963 until the 1963 constitutional amendment. He even clashed with the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and President Radhakrishnan over the "unity of India" and the need for independence.

The last general election for parliament and state legislative assembly before the 1963 constitutional amendment was in February 1962. DMK increased its representation in the state legislative assembly from 15 (in 1957) to 50. DMK, which was pro-independence, polled 3435633 votes (27.10% of total Madras State votes; 39.05% of votes in constituencies it contested). Congress which opposed Tamil Nadu independence polled 5848974 votes (46.14% of total Madras State votes; 46.14% of votes in constituencies it contested). It clearly shows that there was support for the pro-independence DMK. We do not claim that everyone who voted for DMK were for independence. Neither was everyone who voted for Congress was opposed to independence. When voting for legislative assembly or parliament, people consider more than one factor. However the very fact that DMK obtained 27.10% of the total votes in the state establishes a prima facie case for a plebiscite in Tamilnadu about independence. That is the only certain way to ascertain if the majority of people in Tamil Nadu are for independence or not.

DMK's performance in the 1962 general election scared the Indian Government dominated by Hindi politicians. They were afraid that DMK could win a majority in the state legislative assembly in 5 or 10 years and could pass a resolution in the state legislative assembly demanding independence. This prompted them to pass the constitutional amendment the next year (1963) prohibiting pro-independence parties from contesting elections. This amendment has nothing to do with the China-India war of 1962. Why should the voices of freedom be suppressed and peoples' democratic right to vote for their choice of parties be denied for perpetuity because there was war? We could understand a law to that effect for the duration of the war, but not forever. People should be part of India willingly and not forcibly chained to India. Real reason for the constitutional amendment is not the war but DMK's success in the 1962 election.

7. The demand for plebiscite in Tamil Nadu is uncalled for. Would you demand that the United States of America (USA) hold a plebiscite (referendum) in New York State or California State to prove that these states are integral parts of USA? Then why do you demand that India hold a plebiscite in Tamil Nadu?

Unlike in India, in USA any group seeking independence for a state could contest elections and demonstrate its strength amongst the populace of the state. Once they have a majority in the state, they could demand independence or hold a plebiscite. (Incidentally, this was exactly what happened in Czechoslovakia and Canada as we mentioned in Section 2 and would discuss further in Section 8.)

That opportunity, that option, for a show of strength through electoral means is not available in India. That is why we demand a plebiscite in Tamilnadu on the question of independence.

8. Has any country ever really allowed a separatist party to contest elections?

Yes. There are at least three examples in recent years. United Kingdom (UK), Canada and Czechoslovakia allowed pro-independence parties ("separatist parties") to contest elections.

8.1 United Kingdom (Great Britain)

Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for 300 years. Scottish National Party (SNP) seeks independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom (UK). There is no prohibition for it to contest elections. In the 2007 election for Scottish Parliament it won 47 of the 129 seats. (Scottish Parliament is somewhat similar to Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly.)

8.2 Canada

Canada is a predominantly English speaking country. There is an independence movement in the mostly French speaking Quebec Province.  The pro-independence political party, Parti Québécois, had won the provincial election more than once. What it did to achieve independence for Quebec would be discussed in Section 9. Notice that there is no restriction against pro-independence parties in Canada.

8.3 Czechoslovakia

After the end of authoritarian Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989, democratic form of government took hold. Czechoslovakia consisted of two nationalities: Czechs and Slovaks. Slovak National Party was founded in 1990 and it demanded independence for the Slovak region. A few other pro-Slovak-independence groups also emerged. Pro-independence parties were allowed to contest elections. The dominant pro-independence party, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) won the 1992 election for Slovakian parliament. Its leader Vladmir Meciar became Prime Minister of Slovakia (similar to Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu). He declared Slovakia a sovereign state in July 1992. Sovereign status means that Slovakian laws take precedence over Czechoslovakian federal laws. Slovakia became a separate and independent country on January 1, 1993. No war, no armed rebellion, no blood shed; everything was done peacefully in a truly democratic fashion. 

India can either choose the way Czechoslovakia handled the situation or hold a plebiscite on independence. Why is India, which boasts to be the most populous democracy, refuses to do either?

9. Has any country ever allowed a plebiscite?

There are at least two examples in recent years. Canada and Indonesia.

9.1 Canada

Pro-independence (or "separatist" as some called it) Parti Québécois was elected to form the government of Quebec Province in the 1976 election. The provincial government announced that a plebiscite in the province on the question of independence would be held on May 20, 1980. Both the "Yes" side (for independence) and the "No" side (against independence) campaigned vigorously. There was complete freedom of speech; no restrictions on the "Yes" side or the "No" side. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (himself a French speaker) asked the people of Quebec to vote "No"; he promised to reform the Canadian Constitution if the "No" side won. Plebiscite was held on May 20, 1980, and 59.56% voted "No" and 40.44% voted "Yes". The pro-independence side lost in the plebiscite. This is the right way to ascertain people's opinion on independence demands. Will the Indian Government hold a plebiscite in Tamil Nadu?

9.2 Indonesia

East Timor has been demanding independence from Indonesia since the 1970s. Much blood was spilled. In view of the lost lives and continuing human rights violations, the international community and the United Nations pressured Indonesia to hold a plebiscite (referendum) in East Timor. A plebiscite was held in August 1999 and 78.5% of the people voted for independence. The country of East Timor was born.

Had Indonesia held the plebiscite in the 1970s, so much bloodshed and suffering could have been avoided. Would India hold a plebiscite in Tamil Nadu so that the question of independence could be settled amicably?

10. Concluding Remarks

All we ask the Indian Government is either to hold a plebiscite in Tamilnadu or allow pro-independence parties to contest elections with the understanding that if pro-independence parties form government in the State of Tamil Nadu, they may hold a plebiscite. In either case all parties should abide by the results of the plebiscite. This is the only way to fairly and correctly assess the views of the people of Tamil Nadu. This is the democratic way.

[Summary: Arguments against holding a plebiscite on Tamil Nadu independence, effective responses to those arguments & examples of plebiscites in other countries.]

Thanjai Nalangkilli

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REFERENCE

1. Who is this Perunchiththiranar? (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, October 1999 (45 KB)

RELATED ARTICLES

1. Why Independence (Freedom) for Tamil Nadu from Indian Rule? (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 1999 (20 KB)

2. Hindi Imposition and Independence for Tamil Nadu (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 1999 (17 KB)

3. More Articles on Tamil Nadu Independence (Alternately, search the internet for Thanjai Nalankilli Tamil Nadu independence)

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