By Kusal Perera –
There was plenty written about the NPC elections and the sweeping victory the Northern Tamil people registered at the only election that challenges the authority of centralised power in Colombo. There was hope, joy and caution noted by some on the declared results. Others advised and warned the TNA, as to how they should now behave. In fact across the Palk Straits, “The Hindu” called the TNA “inexperienced” in a caption for a story on NPC elections. Some told the TNA they should now learn to work with the Governor appointed by the President, as the elected council have no constitutional right to talk about who the Governor should be. The TNA should not, they said, provoke “unnecessary” (???) suspicion among the Sinhala South.
There had never been such advice, caution or warnings expressed and given free, when Chandrika Kumaranatunge was elected Chief Minister of the Western Province in 1994. She in fact was solid and straight on power sharing and complained during election campaigning that UNP governments have not been devolving power as they should. But not after she was elected President. After her election, she could have easily devolved all powers under the 13 Amendment, but did not. No different was she, to the UNP.
The two provincial council elections held along with the NPC on 21 September, for North-Western and Central Provinces, even if won by the opposition UNP (only hypothetical), would never demand all due and legitimate powers under the 13th Amendment. They have no political understanding to set up a second tier governing system for the province they represent. UNP is devoid of a political culture that calls for democratic rule. For the UNP, the 13th Amendment is what gives them a chance to look after provincial party “catchers” who in turn think, they could jump from there to parliamentary politics. So is it with all political parties now. So is it with the JVP too that went on a bloody rampage against PCs in 1987 to 90 period.
That’s what made this election to the NPC a wholly different political exercise, 25 years and 05 months after the first provincial council elections were held in this country. Here in Sri Lanka, with heavy responsibility of meeting socio-economic and political needs of the Tamil people who survived a brutal 03 decade war, the TNA is clear in what they would want. They will not in any way stand for “separation” they have said.
They were involved in post war North-East politics, contested LG elections two years ago and they read the “pulse of their people” better than all other Tamil theoreticians across the sea. The Vadukkodai Resolution in 1974 and the electoral mandate for a separate Thamil State at the 1977 general elections are therefore not to be carried on shoulder, after the river had been crossed to tread a different political landscape. In fact the Vadukkodai resolution and the electoral mandate for a “Separate Tamil State” in 1977 was dropped by the TULF leadership under Amirthalingam in 1981, when they compromised with Jayawardne for District Development Councils (DDC). The present Tamil leadership as the TNA proves, would look for the future and not for a past that was too bloody and savage for the ordinary Tamil people to sustain. A past therefore, the Tamil people in Sri Lanka would wish to forget as soon as possible for peace and personal security. Economic growth ? Accountability ? War crimes ? Yes, but the first two issues remain top priorities and THE most important requirements to continue life.
The TNA manifesto therefore had been carefully crafted to detail how far the TNA would go in their quest for power sharing, to find answers for the most pressing problems of their own people on ground, with an assurance given for a single country under a single Constitution. They nevertheless retained the right for self determination to rule themselves in an autonomous merged North-East, they say, as spelled out in the 2002 December Oslo Declaration. They need land and police powers under the 13th Amendment, to begin with and a guarantee, civil administration in the area would be established without hindrance.
A closer association of the TNA manifesto would reveal, they have not deviated from “Thimpu Principles”, agreed among all Tamil political parties and armed youth groups in 1985. Written as “four cardinal principles”, the last one no more applicable with all the Indian origin Tamils given citizenship by now, the TNA has crafted into their manifesto that Tamils are a nation, that they have an identified birthplace as North-East provinces and therefore, they would enjoy the right of self determination as a Tamil nation. It is therefore the political manifesto of the TNA and no shopping list for elections.
It is a double layered political document, a political “prospectus”. One, it spells out what the Tamil people represented by the TNA in the new NPC would want for them. A civil administration, a civilian as the Governor, police and land powers and everything else the 13 Amendment incorporates as constitutionally available for provincial rule. Two, it provides the basis, the framework on which TNA would sit for discussions in finding a permanent answer to the political aspirations of the Tamil people as a nation, with a birthplace, enjoying the right for self determination.
Where does this Rajapaksa regime fit in ? Can President Rajapaksa sit for discussions on any of those the TNA has in its manifesto ? Rajapaksas and their henchmen had it very clear. “No land and police powers and no more improving on power sharing. The 13 Amendment can not be given in full. What is there for all other PCs will be there for the North as well.” What ties President Rajapaksa down, to this hard line Sinhala position ?
This needs to be openly said about Sinhala politics, first. All those 1.4 million votes, the UPFA polled in the North-Western and Central PC elections, should not be read as Sinhala votes for a leader who won the war against the LTTE. Beyond Western Province, the rural voter reacts not as Sinhala nationalists, but reacts to local political power. They submit themselves most humiliatingly to the visually larger of the local politician, they see as closest to State power. This regime has pushed out old SLFP supporters and families out of party influence and from active politics. Instead the regime has created a new political network in the electorates laid out with young, uncultured rogue elements brought to Local Government bodies and has affiliated them to State power and to numerous State funded projects. With all crimes and corruption rampant in local politics, the regime has changed the local culture and made the poor to live within power politics.
This now has very little to do with “Sinhala nationalism” in rural society, the academics theorise about. So is massive numbers of preference votes raked in with millions of rupees by those who jump over to the UPFA. Their romping home victorious and high on the list too, is clearly on their projection of power close to the President and the ruling family. This has little to do with Sinhala politics, except that the regime is a Sinhala regime.
Confirmed Sinhala nationalists who fielded candidates on the UPFA lists have been badly weeded out even in this election. Weerawansa, a champion of anti PCs and anti 13th Amendment was badly let down by the rural Southern voter, with all his nominees loosing. If the rural voter who voted UPFA to power in PCs were Sinhala chauvinists, these confirmed Sinhala chauvinists can not be left out defeated, en bloc. None who opposed the regime as confirmed Sinhala chauvinists and racists were considered politically valid by the rural voter. The JVP and the other war hero Fonseka proves their Sinhala nationalist politics are no serious attractions for rural voter, entrenched in corrupt, local power politics.
Sinhala chauvinism is a Sinhala business and trader community phenomenon. It was proved so, in both the 1915 anti Muslim riots and the 1983 July Tamil pogrom. This is evident with the JHU vote base in the Western Province and that too in and around Colombo. The JHU after its hectic protests in Colombo against negotiations with the LTTE and the Norwegian brokered cease fire, fielded Buddhists monks at the 2004 elections. They managed 03 MPs from Colombo, 02 from Gampaha and 01 from Kalutara districts, out of the 08 elected. The other 02 were from Kandy and Nuwara Eliya districts. In predominantly Sinhala Buddhist districts like Moneragala (JHU – 01.4%), Hambantota (JHU – 0.5%), Anuradhapura (JHU – 02.2%) and Polonnaruwa (JHU – 01.3%) they were simply wiped out, despite being Buddhist monks on an exclusively Sinhala racist platform.
This urban Sinhala business and trader presence in politics is evident in how the BBS gets on the streets often in and around Maharagama. They in fact held their much hyped convention in Maharagama. Their mass rally in Galle town was a failure. The Sinhala business and trader community is what provides these very lean and sectarian racist groups an exceptionally amplified voice in the media. One glaring example in how the media creates larger than life Sinhala chauvinists was in Alles’s English daily “Ceylon Today” on Tuesday, after PC elections. A small racist clan “Ravana Balaya” (RB), led by a Buddhist monk was given almost half the front page with a thick, bold headline that said, “Ravana Balaya On The War Path”. The news report said the RB head monk threatened mass-scale countrywide agitation, if the government fully implemented the 13th Amendment and vested full powers with the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). This monk and his RB could only gather a few dozen child Bikkhus in a crowd of not more than a hundred, to protest in front of the Colombo UN office against Navi Pillai‘s visit. Yet, gets half the front page and its main headline.
That being plain Sinhala politics on the ground, if the defence establishment is kept out of political decision making, Rajapaksa will not be that hard pressed to turn the wheels around. That being how strong Sinhala nationalists are, it should not be difficult now, for the TNA leadership to push Rajapaksa to negotiate and compromise, if Rajapaksa leaves his defence authorities out of politics. But the war delivered a bloody battle hardened military establishment that is now being used for politics by this regime and is into the economy as well. This was inevitable in how the savage war was rolled out. The political academics and Sinhala pundits did not want to accept the war would establish such a monster regime backed by a battle hardened military, as the sole product of a savage and brutal war.
All doctoral studies on political science, all professionalism in different disciplines argued for the Rajapaksas as pious Sinhala Buddhists who would not rob the people of “democracy”. They guaranteed democracy and development, post war. When extra judicial killings, abductions, arbitrary arrests, para military operations, crackdown on media and journalists were raised, they said, “Look, these can not be avoided.” There is a price to pay when fighting the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world, they growled. “Once the LTTE is eliminated, you will have freedom and democracy” they kept telling us. Following up on such cranky logic, there are proud arguments now to say, Vigneswaran would not have even contested, had the LTTE stayed in that part of the land. Had there been a serious political will and a vision in the South to negotiate a decent and an honourable answer for Tamil political aspirations long suppressed, there still would have been no LTTE, plus a rich bonus. There would have been no bloody, savage war either, to talk about.
But now, that war and its post war politics is what plays deterrent to any possible resolving of this continuing conflict. The TNA is left with that politics to flex muscles in committee rooms and negotiating tables. Its no hide and seek and there is no difficulty in identifying who the “naughty boy” is. See how the Secretary to the MoD pops up on anything that has to be answered by the political regime on 13th Amendment or devolution. See how the media, both local and foreign, run to him for comments and views on anything that is “Tamil” or “Muslim”. See how he contradicts even ministers on issues, totally political. And now see, if he had ever been warned or contradicted by President Rajapaksa as the all powerful Executive or as the Defence Minister, under whom the Secretary to the ministry is only a public servant as any other ministry secretary is.
The hard line projection of this defence authority that has been working overtime to have the military leadership entrenched in powerful and influential positions with a threatening presence, has created a social withdrawal from making public decisions, now capitalised by the Rajapaksa regime. This leaves the regime that can not deliver on anything for the larger Sinhala society, wholly dependent on the defence establishment. This dependency was played out, each time more sinister than the previous time, in Katunayake on 30 May, 2011 and on 01st August this year in Rathupaswela. For a regime that is inefficient and into mega frauds and corruption, dependency on the military establishment is more a rule than a norm. We are therefore now, halfway towards the “Mil-bus” power in Pakistan. Halfway into Saddam Hussein’s repressive Bhathist regime. And halfway into Iranian religious autocracy. In the absence of an Opposition in the South that would stand for demilitarisation, democracy, devolution and development as completely different to the Rajapaksas, we are yet to evolve into a new “home grown” authoritarian model as Rajapaksa would wish to have.
The issue therefore is, how the TNA would meet this challenge of driving a political wedge between President Rajapaksa and the defence authority led by his own brother. How Rajapaksa could be turned into the pragmatic politician that Prabhakaran said he saw in Rajapaksa (Read VP’s 2005 Maavir Day speech). One advantage the TNA still has, is the CHOGM that’s only one month and two weeks away. Can they drive Rajapaksa desperate to sit with them, before the early November CHOGM ? Can they get Rajapaksa to sit and talk practical politics ? CHOGM is now a factor for both Rajapaksa and TNA.