22 September, 2018

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C.V. Wigneswaran: From Musician To Politician

By Namini Wijedasa

Namini Wijedasa

He might have made a career out of music, had his mother not pushed him to study Law.

Canagasabapathy Viswalingam Wigneswaran is still an accomplished sitar player. The retired Supreme Court Judge was last week named as the Tamil National Alliance’s Chief Ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial Council election.

“My mother was the one important cause for me to take up Law because that was such a passion on her part,” smiled Justice Wigneswaran, at his residence in Cambridge Terrace, Colombo 7. “But there is another interesting story.”

While he was waiting for the results of an important school examination, his mother, Athynayaki, visited a Buddhist priest in Kolonnawa who was renowned for his astrological predictions. She showed him her son’s chart and asked him whether the boy would pass his test.

The priest had asked, “Mey apey lamayekda?” (Is he one of our children?).

The Sinhala Only Act of 1956 had just been passed. Justice Wigneswaran thinks the respected prelate might have wondered whether, under the circumstances, a Tamil child could ever reach the heights he foresaw in the chart. His mother had replied that this was her son.

“He will become a Judge of the Supreme Court,” the priest said, examining the chart. “I don’t need all that,” she had shot back. “I just want to know whether he will pass his exam!”

The priest had said, “Apo pass karai, pass karai.” (Yes, he will pass).

Both predictions came true. The boy not only aced his school exams, he finished his Bachelor of Arts (London), LLB (Ceylon), Proctors and Advocates exams at Law College. But nobody had read in the tea leaves that he would one day enter politics.

Today, even after agreeing to contest the election—for which a date has still not been set—Justice Wigneswaran maintains that he isn’t really doing politics.

“A journalist from London asked me about self-determination and all the rest of it,” he related, referring to a telephone interview he had just concluded. “I said, look, these are for the politicians. I’m not a politician. I’m interested in bringing some relief for the people who are suffering.”

“For me, this (Chief Minister post) is not a political office,” he said. “It is an office by which I could serve the people. At this particular time, it is necessary for a person who is able to discuss matters with the Government, with India, with foreign countries, to be there to do this.”

That is why he was chosen, he explained: “We can’t be getting into rhetoric, clichés and various things which have no meaning. People want relief. We have to give them that relief.”

We were seated in his small sitting room which holds proof of his deep religious faith. On a low glass cabinet is a statue of Lord Ganesha with fresh, red hibiscus flowers on either shoulder. Next to it are family photographs, including a black and white image of his late wife. And above a door is a photograph of Guru Swami Premananda.

Each of the fiery speeches he has made since retiring from the Supreme Court in 2004 begins with this Sanskrit invocation: “Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Guru devo Maheshwaraha Guru sakshat Parabrahma tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha.”

This is a verse of homage to the Trinity of Hindu Gods—Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the protector; and Maheshwara, the destroyer. “You are my preceptor,” it states, “And I revere you.”

But Justice Wigneswaran asserts that he takes a rational view of religion. He recently released a book that attempts to explain Hinduism in a logical manner.  “There are no dogmatic principles involved,” he explained. “My philosophy is also, in that sense, a rational, non-dogmatic attitude towards life.”

How would Justice Wigneswaran balance this with the more inflexible—indeed, dogmatic—positions held by sections of the Tamil Diaspora?

“That is a difficult task,” he admitted. “My point is, look, you keep your views to yourself but I would like to do some service to the people who are suffering. So let me do my work. You go on talking what you want to talk. I’m not concerned.”

“They would like me also to take up their cause and all the rest of it,” he agreed.  “These don’t concern me—whether it is self-determination, separation, that or this. That is a long-term plan. I am talking about short-term plans, about what we should do for these people.”

Civilians in the North have lost loved ones, Justice Wigneswaran said. They don’t know the whereabouts of others, their properties are occupied and they have no jobs. People from the South cultivate lands forcibly held by the army and the produce is sold to the owners of these lands. There are a large number of widows.

“There is a lot to be done for them,” he stressed. “And I would be calling upon the Government to help us in this matter because it is actually their duty to do these things. If they are not doing them and if they want the Provincial Council to look into it, the Government must help us. Revenue from the Provincial Councils also goes to the Government. They must give us our dues.”

Justice Wigneswaran has his roots in the North he now hopes to represent. His parents were born in Manipay.  As for him, he was born in Hulftsdorp—“right opposite the Supreme Court”—on 23 October 1939.  He has two sisters, one of whom is deceased. His grandfather is a cousin of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Sir Ponnamabalam Arunachalam.

“The two brothers were extraordinary men and I certainly have great regard for them,” he said, when asked which Tamil leaders he admires.

Justice Wigneswaran’s father, Mr. Canagasabapathy, was a public official who served in several districts. This meant his son spent the first nine years of his life in Kurunegala, where he attended Christchurch College, and Anuradhapura, where he was a student of Holy Family Convent.

At the age of 11, Justice Wigneswaran joined Royal College, Colombo to complete his school education. He was a senior prefect and cadet. He was a boxer and an athlete, a leader of English and Tamil debating teams as well as editor of the school magazine.

He led Law Students’ Union in 1962 at Law College. Its president the previous year had been Vasudeva Nanayakkara, whose daughter would go on to marry one of Justice Wigneswaran’s sons. His other son is married to senior politician Keseralal Gunasekera’s niece. The fact that his children are wed to Sinhalese has been used by opponents to question his ability to win the Tamil vote in Jaffna.

But it is not something Justice Wigneswaran makes excuses for.  “When my parents were living and when we were young,” he recounted, “we never had any of these ideas except of a unified Sri Lanka. Ceylon was a unified country. We had no problems at all.”

“We were very annoyed when the Sinhala only Act came in 1956,” he said. “That is true. I started learning Sinhalese in 1955 from a very learned man, Hema Ellawala, who became Vice Chancellor of Sri Jayawardenepura University. When I heard about this Act, I revolted. I said I won’t study Sinhala hereafter. That is why my Sinhala is imperfect. I didn’t have the mind to study the language.”

“But all the same, we have never felt alien to this country nor have the Sinhalese felt alien to us,” he added. “That is why my two sons are married to Sinhalese. We don’t feel anything alien with regard to any aspect of life here. I feel completely at ease in the whole of Sri Lanka, with friends in all nine provinces.”

It is no wonder, then, that Justice Wigneswaran thinks Professor Savitri Goonesekere—a Sinhalese—would suit the position of Northern Province Governor very well. He is vehemently opposed to the presence of military in the area and does not believe an ex-army officer should remain as Governor.

“There are around 60,000 widows there for whom we are trying to do something,” he explained. “It would be ideal to have a person who is sympathetic towards them.” On the contrary, the incumbent Governor, Maj Gen (Retd) G.A. Chandrasiri, “acts like an army fellow even now”.

As we speak, the phone rings off the hook. An aide takes most of the calls but Justice Wigneswaran interrupts the interview to answer one, in particular. It was a Sinhalese counsel who said Magistrates Courts lawyers in Colombo wanted to work for his election campaign in Jaffna.

These are early days yet. But race already looks wildly interesting.

Courtesy Sunday Times

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Latest comments

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    I fervently hope that Justice Wignesvaran will be permiited by his benighted associates to follow through on the agenda he has set foth here.For the first time in recent years there seems to be some hope that the Tamil leadership will be able to follow a practical and realistic program.

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    TNa done the correct job & good example to all political parties.Major two political parties must invite him to Colombo as chief minister.Suffering north nation having some sort of mental relief of his appointment of chief minister.The best thing is government not to contest in north & support to democratic election to north.

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    The Tamil Nation must live in the present and the future. Some of the baggage of the past, much of it deep and very painful, must be sacrificed to regain the future. But the past two is necessary to create the present and the future in that philosophical thought today is yesterday’s tomorrow. The Tamil people must rise above whatever prejudice some of them have accumulated and consider the fact of Mr Vigneswaren’s children being married to Sinhalese is something to be welcome. This is one of the happiest features that bonded our communities in the past that we lost.

    If and when the NP election is eventually held Vigneswaran may prove that uniting element all of us have been hoping for generations.

    Prof Savitri Gunasekera is an eminently splendid choice for Governor NP – gender and race. There may be people like Lionel Fernando and other wonderful Sinhalese around to take the cause of reconciliation forward.

    Senguttuvan

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      Here, Here Sir.

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    The Bar to electoral office has been raised, higher, way higher by the nomination of Justice Wigneswaran to the CM’s post.

    As Dayan J; opined, a master stroke by Sampanthan. As Canada found out, the protector of Canada from the Quebecois separatists were Quebecois themselves. Both Trudeau and Chretien led the fight for Canada. We can see Justice Vigneswaran do the same for the Motherland.

    Perhaps, the Sinhala community will ask, what ? Where is our Wigneswaran?

    The signs look good for Srilanka.

  • 0
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    Another piece of good writing by a skilled columnist.
    The real question is whether this country, mired as it is in corruption that those of my generation (and Judge Wigneswaran’s)could never have imagined in our youth, can even tolerate what a man of his decency stands for leave alone permit him to lead.
    It is the Wigneswaran’s of this country that could do one of two things: bring out all that is decent in Sri Lanka or provoke a backlash of unbelievable viciousness by those so determined to continue to take us down the road of violence and dictatorship.
    Let’s hope for the right reaction!

    • 0
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      Any one pushing the anti-government cart seems to be getting such kudos from you V.Poorten?

      How much are they worth? Two coconuts?

    • 0
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      Rulers – the Rajapakse clan is riding a Tiger they can’t dismount from. War crimes tribunal can be seen in the horizon. Many other atrocities, in which they are complicit are awaiting delayed justice. Please tell me if they they can ever give up power safely.

      The only salvation is through Responsibility to Protect by the International Community for all communities including the Tamils.

  • 0
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    Common sense approach……..

    Mahinda and Wigneswaran can take Mother Lanka forward……… as long as GoRa and BBS, JHU are kept to a side.

    :-)

  • 0
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    Ramakrishna Paramahamsa said that to the starving man God appears in the form of bread. To the people of the North, C V W will appear as a Holy Trinity – Bread, House and Land.

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    “Canagasabapathy Viswalingam Wigneswaran is still an accomplished sitar player.”

    Now the cat is out of the bag as to why he was selected by Sampanthan.

    When he starts to play the sitar mahinda will go to sleep.

    As for gota,he is a different kettle of fish and will continue to be a pain in the arse as he loves sharks and not the sitar.The melodious notes that Wicks plays will be like water off a ducks back.

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    “Prof Savitri Gunasekera is an eminently splendid choice for Governor NP – gender and race”.

    Prof. Savitri Gunasekara is not a good choice for anything. She does not know what is women’s rights even. She discriminated lot of law students while at the law faculty and if they are soworking on gender mainstreaming / or balance, why even gov. Sector female employees are so being harassed and marginalized. Well even Mahinda R does not respect for women.

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    We could never have thus speculated had the LTTE been around. I hope that the rest have also learned the price that fascism demands though I fear they have not and that another round of mayhem lies not too far down the road.

  • 0
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    Namini Wijedasa,

    The article projects a pollyannaish dream world for the people of the Colombo high society. The reality on the ground is very different and is far away from the imagined paradise. Don’t forget the white vans, disappearances, murders, rape and disposal of vulnerable Tamil women, and torture of Tamils with hot iron bars reported in the Internet regularly, and shown at asylum points. We can happily ignore all these actual gory happenings, write nothing about these but create some fancy stories.

    The country is run by the despotic Rajapakse clan with an iron fist, not different from the Nazis, and they are very clear in their goals: Annaihiliate the Tamil Nation which has been in place for more than three Millenniums, and destroy other minorities too. These are facts and not distorted versions peddled by the vested interests.

    You might attach me a label as a dogmatist, Eelamist or whatever you fancy: I’m not; I think freely. You dismiss the Diaspora as dogmatic, while they know the history of Sri Lanka since 1948, what atrocities Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhist regimes have heaped on the Tamil community, and what is still continuing with vengeance. Why is there a large Diaspora? – Because of the periodic atrocities of the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist regimes. With such a lot of atrocities heaped on Tamils since 1948, it’s only fair and reasonable that the Tamils want to be left alone to govern themselves.

    You say: “How would Justice Wigneswaran balance this with the more inflexible—indeed, dogmatic—positions held by sections of the Tamil Diaspora?”

    What is a dogma? It’s nothing mysterious: A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true: How did the Tamils, let alone the Diaspora, come to the belief in self determination or a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka? Not by some mysterious authority, but through their experiences with the inflexible obstinate Sri Lankan state for 65 years with their dogma, now freely touted by the ruling clan, that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists, where others are tolerated at their whims and fancies. It’s the Sinhala Buddhist rulers who are dogmatic, not the Tamils.

    Your venerable Mahanayakes tout the same views. These don’t occur in your thoughts. Only a Bhikku’s astrological predictions matters to you.

    Wigneswarn is the latest of a series of peaceful Tamil leaders since independence asking for democratic rights of the Tamil nation since independence. I hope he is successful in his pursuits, but I doubt it, unless the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist establishment gets hit on its head, it will not change its ways.

    How many Tamil leaders have tried various flexible solutions beginning with B-C pact ending in nought before the armed struggle? The Sinhala Buddhist establishment is firm on their goal: Total Sinhala Buddhist hegemony of the island. Why are Mosques, Churches, and Hindu temples destroyed, and Buddhist temples built in places where there are no Buddhists? If we ask these questions, we are dogmatist, separatists, LTTE rump, or even terrorist supporters. Do these writers have guts to challenge the Sinhala Buddhist terrorists destroying, Mosques, Churches and Hindu temples all over the island? Shame on these biased writers writing for a living.

    Namini Wijedasa, please tell me now who are the dogmatists and who are the rationalists? Be honest! Of course, reason is on Tamils side.

    Until the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist mindset of the ruling classes is changed, voluntarily or involuntarily, nothing positive will happen in Sri Lanka. Take my word for it.

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    “These don’t concern me—whether it is self-determination, separation, that or this. That is a long-term plan”

    So its a LONG TERM PLAN??

  • 0
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    Till the time I lived in Sri Lanka, I felt that retired justices shouldn’t indulge in politics because supreme court justices should be above politics, and some might question their past judicial decisions. So I was very critical of Justice Sharvananda becoming the governor of the Western Province under the UNP ( JRJ or was it Premadasa?). But having seen how this works in the US for more than two decades–supreme court justices in the US are essentially political appointees, chosen not merely for the depth of their judicial writings and scholarship, but also for their affinity to the President’s ideology– I have come to accept that justices can become politicians.

    I support Justice CVW as CM but he should listen to some of his critics in the party and in the Diaspora, and see if he can do something about the valid ones. Given that speeches like the ones he has given at the Bar Association and elsewhere are carefully planned, not spontaneous, the complaint that his invocation of Sanskrit mantras before the speeches, which not even the Hindus (at least 99.9% of them) of Sri Lanka understand, is insensitive, has some validity.

    As a politician, Justice W will face criticism from all quarters, and will not be given the automatic respect that judges are given; he will need to develop a thick skin.

    Though Nanayakkara was a leftist with his own party, he became a sycophant of the Rajapaksas, and lost all respect of the people he had earned during earlier decades of principled politics. Gunasekara is with the SLFP, but might have been a UNP crossover. And the Cambridge Terrace address reminded me that opposition leader Ranil W. must be a neighbor of Justice W. So he has got the connections, which can be very useful, but can also be embarrassing.

    • 0
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      “Till the time I lived in Sri Lanka…” should read as “Till the time I left Sri Lanka….”

  • 0
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    Suddenly the MR clan finds that it can’t ride the Tiger back anymore and whip up hesteria as the wind has taken off the sails by appointing a non tiger, clean and inteligent man with links to all communities of the country.

    Delima!!! What can they find to ride back on if TNA keep doing unpredictable and unusual things like that!

    At the same time the tiger rump is also lost as Justice Wignaswaran refuse to beat the bush and talk shit, they need someone who is anti Rajapaksa, anti Sinhal to exist and earn a living.

    Good and interesting times ahead!

    • 0
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      The Rajapaksas put the ex Tigers up as candidates because they thought (and still think) that the Tamil people’s support is with the LTTE. The TNA did not. And now they do not know what to say!

  • 0
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    in my opinion any tamil with a sinhala connection is not suitable to represent tamils. i can even see the sinhalisation of his surname. is he vignesvaran as in tamil or wigneswaran as in primitive sinhala dialect. it’s like sinhala hindu new year. primitive sinhala tribe after started following the tamil new year which has been celebrated for many centuries by tamil people gave a twist and started calling it sinhala hindu new year. it’s a new year for tamil people all over the world. it has nothing to do with religion.

    • 0
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      I do not share Rama’s views but I will stand up for him to have his voice heard. The Sinhala people, their religious beliefs, their
      culture and customs needs to be respected. The bottom-line is both Sinhalese and Tamils are fated to live in this island together as they have lived for over 3,000 years. How they do it peacefully and effectively is the challenge of leadership on both sides.

      Senguttuvan

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    In recent times social media sites such as facebook and twitter has been used increasingly as tools in election campaigns. Such social media activity was credited with enabling the unprecedented election victory of Barack Obama in the 2008 US presidential polls. Similarly the Arab spring was also largely influenced and organised by social media activity. In a first for Sri Lankan Tamil politics, a group of well wishers have started a facebook page supporting the candidacy of C. V. Wigneswaran. This page promises to be a forum for open discussion and welcomes decent and alternative views. From looking at the names of people who are “liking” the page, it appears the page has managed to break the racial divides that normally blights most initiatives in Sri Lankan politics. A healthy mix of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are seemingly taking part in this page. This page can be accessed at http://www.facebook.com/cvw4cm

  • 0
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    A man who appreciates music and in fact has Music within him, understands harmony. I think this attribute qualifies Justice Wigneswaran most to be the CM of The north at this juncture of our history. His measured words and clearly stated sentiments point to the harmony within him. I hope the other candidates nominated by the TNA for the NPC elections, can play their parts well in the orchestra.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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      “A man who appreciates music and in fact has Music within him, understands harmony”

      What about a man who likes to watch sharks at his home?

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        Looks for sharks everywhere else, except near them!

        Dr.RN

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        Shankar,

        I read someone high up in the regime who sharks – at great expense to the State including changing of sea water brought in by
        several bowsers periodically. I read this from the writings of a visiting journalist. When I mentioned this I was attacked and called names by regime favourites. Can you enlighten a little more – if both of us are speaking of the same?

        Senguttuvan

        • 0
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          Bayagullah Senguttavan.
          The big wig is no one other than GOTHA RAJAPAKSE.

          It is time you revealed your true identity despite being ashamed
          of your past!!!! Or shall I?

          Donald Gnanakone.

  • 0
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    A superb piece by a fine journalist! Congratulations!

  • 0
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    This person is old blood in new bottles!

    Nothing more.

  • 0
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    What a wonderful piece. Congratulations.

    S. Geetha, USA

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