TNA Chief Minister Tussle
The TNA having decided on the candidature of C.V. Wigneswaran, barring anything untoward – God forbid – he will be the Chief Minister of the Northern Province. Congratulations to him.Reports suggest that all constituent parties wanted Mavai Senathirajah. For anyone can walk into Senathirajah’s house expecting to be spoken to. I gratefully remember my own crisis with the LTTE when Senathirajah, joined by M.K. Sivajilingam, stood up for me and questioned the LTTE’s decision to oppose my appointment as VC and demanded a reason of LTTE Political Commissar Thamilchelvan. Senathirajah was no LTTE stooge. He personally came home to discuss my situation with me.
In the CM nomination Senathirajah was half hearted. He feared what would happen if he resigned his parliamentary seat to contest and then found the courts striking down the PC system which is expected to be challenged soon.
The argument that Wigneswaran is educated was dismissed saying that in the old days all educated people were in Colombo but now Jaffna has several who sprang roots on “Yal Munn” (Jaffna soil) like Valvettiturai Chairman Anandarajan, Dr. Kandiah Sarveswaran, and retired Deans S.K. Sittrampalam and A.V.S.R. Sivachandran, besides articulate lawyers and young graduates like Manipay’s Aanaimuhan.
C.V. Wigneswaran: Strengths with Baggage
Wigneswaran’s strength was his “karai padaa karam” (unsullied hands) – his non-contact with the LTTE. There were hints that India had rooted for him. These are perhaps the very reasons why LTTE holdovers in the TNA did not want him.
But Wigneswaran comes with the baggage of being backed by Hindu nationalists like Neelakandan who reportedly voted for the BASL resolution condemning the UN Secretary General’s Darusman study. A Federalist confessed, “Wigneswaran is OK but some people behind him worry me because they are big crooks.” Indeed Neelakandan’s support for Wigneswaran as well as that of Jaffna’s R. Thirumurugan, hardened the opposition of both liberals and the LTTE holdovers.
Wigneswaran sporting red pottus at public functions makes Tamil minorities wonder about him. Traditionally till the 1970s the saffron-colored (yellow) pottu was the norm in Jaffna for Saivite men. Looking to India since, the red kunguma pottu has become fashionable; sometimes a smaller red atop a larger yellow. These recent imports heighten fears of BJP sympathies in men wearing red. Wigneswaran’s insensitivity in opening his speeches with Sanskrit mantras without caring whether we understand, puts him in the company of Buddhist monks at government functions imposing their religion on the public. For a Supreme Court Justice Wigneswaran has much to learn about rights.
With his brahmanical (North Indian) appurtenances, can Wigneswaran empathize with the majority of us who are below him in caste? As the Council assumes powers would he agree with Arumuka Navalar in Chaiva Virotham about putting the “unclean” “polluted” lower castes in their “proper place”? With Navalar protégé Sir P. Ramanathan that they should sit on the floor in classrooms? Would social services be only for the upper castes like Navalar’s food distribution during the 1876 famine?
But Mr. R. Sambanthan insisted it should be Wigneswaran – the word used by his colleagues is “adamant.” Perhaps he had prematurely given his word to Wigneswaran without the party’s consensual authority and then stuck to his guns to uphold his word. This is likely what prompted Federal Party Senior Vice President S.K. Sittrampalam to accuse the party of lack of democracy.
It was really a choice before the party for Sambanthan and against him. Wigneswaran himself did not help his cause by first saying he was not interested in the position and then showing a clear interest, and subsequently telling us he would agree only if his selection is unanimous and then sticking on through three days of hand-wringing arguments between Sambanthan and the rest. Wigneswaran, already the politician, it would seem, issued a press statement on Monday 10.07.2013 that he accepted the nomination because of the unanimous request from all parties!
Thanks to Senathirajah’s gallantry on the eve of the decision asking the public to back whoever is selected, the party was spared a crisis. Most have now come behind Wigneswaran. Only Uthayan is up to its old tricks, cooking up intellectuals supposedly against Wigneswaran – whereas most supporters of Wigneswaran’s were always non-Jaffna intellectuals. The under-the-belt blow by Uthayan that Wigneswaran’s legal acumen and English fluency will not make him any more helpful to the Tamil cause than they did Neelan Tiruchelvam, won over many to Wigneswaran’s cause. Unnamed persons from Mullaitivu, Mannar and Jaffna, probably existing only in Uthayan’s head, advanced additional arguments such as that legal expertise can be hired and is unnecessary in a candidate who should have clear roots in Tamil Nationalism. These convinced some that the attacks on Wigneswaran were utterly unfair.
Sambanthan’s Right to Lead
As Tamils fell behind Wigneswaran, the position that the party needs to recognize those with long-proven commitment and service became doubly important. Steadfast loyalists like Senathirajah do need to be recognized. But the party still lacks new thinking through new faces. The silence of the party during the LTTE’s atrocious reign was a mistake, as many of those in leadership admit in private but are reluctant to voice openly because they mistakenly think it would hurt the party. Further they fear the LTTE collaborators still lurking within.
Sambanthan’s judgement has also been questioned in the matter of his endorsement of General Fonseka who is on record that Tamils do not belong in Sri Lanka and – if the headline in his colleague’s TamilWin was correct – his statement on Friday 12th after meeting President Rajapaksa that Rajapaksa is keen to solve all our problems. The point is that Sambanthan should have said this is what Rajapaksa claims rather than giving a certificate of good intentions to a man who no one believes after stringing along the whole world with lies for 4 years.
Sambanthan suffered much under the LTTE. He reportedly cried at the Indian High Commission (when queried over his joining the TNA) citing his life on the run from the LTTE. He knows the need for new faces to put distance from that period. His job now as leader is to cultivate a new generation of leaders. It is good to recall the year 2010 when the TNA had to nominate one MP and the choice was between S.K. Sittrampalam and M.A. Sumanthiran. The situation was similar to the Chief Minister’s choice this past week. Many wanted to see Sittramplam on grounds of service, seniority and Jaffna roots. But Sambanthan took a bold step – exercising leadership – and picked Sumanthiran. Today many who were disappointed with that decision are very happy. Indeed Sumanthiran is an invaluable asset to the party and as far as I know is the only official of the TNA to declare what we did to Muslims was ethnic cleansing. Sambanthan was right then and has earned his right to be followed on Wigneswaran now.
But Sambanthan still faces the hurdle of equal representations for all 5 TNA parties. Federalists argue that their partners never did any groundwork building the party and now are after seats. At the 17th’s meeting after long argument Federalists demanded 50% and left.
TNA victory is certain. Douglas Devananda is self-destructing. Saying it has been his dream of 20 years to be Chief Minister, he is lambasting his likely co-candidates who jumped from the LTTE to the government as “nobodies” who “ruined the lives of the Tamil people for so long, … and are trying to dupe the people”. Recent evidence of his party’s involvement in rapes and robberies is a death-blow and convinces people of his reputation. These augur ill for the government.
This is therefore an opportunity to take risks, boldly bringing lower castes into leadership. It is also the occasion to bring in loyal long-service members like Sivachandran and embrace critical supporters like mavericks Sittrampalam and Sivajilingam. That is leadership. There will be four new ministers, one each for Education, Agriculture, Finance and Health. In giving nominations an even greater opportunity exists than in the choice of chief minister.
Sambanthan must bring his tested vision to these challenges.