Many Tamils who have suffered at the hands of the LTTE have tended to see others on LTTE hit-list with some sympathy. For those on the list, with a dedicated sense of service to the Tamil people and unquenchable thirst for justice, the choice was simple when faced with assassination by the LTTE – run abroad into oblivion or seek protection from the army and do the best they could under the circumstances.
Thus the much respected Mr. R. Sampathan and my uncle Neelan Tiruchelvam of the TULF, T. Sritharan (a.k.a. Sugu) and Robert Subathiran of the EPRLF, and TELO’s Sivajilingam are people who, while staying on in Sri Lanka, sought the protection of the army and lived at Summit Flats in Bambalapitiya or in their well-guarded homes without turning their back on their policies. Despite the protection Tiruchelvam and Robert were to get assassinated. But all of them retained the love and respect of the Tamil community because they never joined the army in its perverse attacks on the Tamil people and they kept underscoring the sufferings of the Tamil people under the Sri Lankan state and seeking solutions within the system.
Then there are others who carried arms and sought the protection of the army and joined in its military operations or intelligence work, often against the Tamil public. Prominent among these is Douglas Devananda. Because he consistently spoke up for devolution, many of us believed that he possessed at least the remnants of the sense of justice that drove all Tamil militants to take up arms and was therefore redeemable.
It was widely reported in the press (19 May, for example, The Sunday Leader) that Minister Douglas Devananda is heading the group of 31 government parliamentarians against removing land and police powers from provinces and that they were prepared vote against such a move in parliament. That leadership role seemed to prove his pro-Tamil rights credentials.
We rejoiced that these 31 parliamentarians would halt the government’s efforts to undermine Tamil desires to have even a slight say in our affairs by denying government the 2/3 vote for a constitutional change – only to be jolted back into reality just now. Douglas has pronounced like a wise Solomon Rajah “If there is no delegation of such powers when forming the Northern Provincial Council, the Tamil people will be concerned. Likewise, Sinhala people will be concerned if these powers are delegated. Therefore, it is advisable to hold it back for the moment until there is understanding.” (Daily Mirror, 20 May).
The trick is this – because a province already has these powers, to hold back those powers the constitution needs amendment and the 30 parliamentarians Douglas leads would be persuaded to vote for it. A big favor indeed to his masters. To give these powers back later would need another amendment!
Machiavelli and Chanakya with their combined chicanery would be put to shame. By taking over the leadership of the 31 parliamentarians opposing the withdrawal of powers from the provinces, Douglas has undermined those noble Sinhalese men and women who were prepared to speak up for Tamils and block a constitutional change. He has shown his true colors as a person prepared to serve rabid Sinhalese nationalists against fellow Tamils.
If provincial council elections are ever held, the Tamil people should vote against this Rajapaksa-Devananda combine. Who is the Tamil who wants a provincial council without land and police powers? Only Devananda, it would seem. He is reportedly wanting to be the chief minister candidate. For what? To hand out a few street sweepers’ jobs?
Tamils want a provincial council so that a) we Tamils have at least a local government to which we can speak of our needs and be understood by, b) land settlement cannot be used for ethnic cleansing and c) the police will not be used to beat up protesters – certainly not to show India and the West that President Rajapaksa has given us self-rule in his great generosity flowing from his love for the Tamil people when in fact we would have no real powers at all.
Douglas Devananda and his government know that the TNA will be resoundingly elected and all the government’s ongoing underhanded efforts to change the demography of the North and control political protest will come to a halt unless these powers are withdrawn. With a Chief Minister around, Devananda cannot act like a colonial governor and summon high ranking government servants to be suddenly present at his Srithar Theatre to answer to him.
The 30 other well-meaning parliamentarians have been tricked by Devananda unless they too are in league with him in this game. If they mean well, let them prove it by electing another leader for their group and stand firm against any constitutional change.
Whatever happens, the TNA must not withdraw from the elections. If they do, it would give the powers of the province, however hollow, to the government and let the government claim the moral high ground. Even if it is a province without powers, the TNA must contest and rout the government to show how the Tamil people feel about this government. The rest of the world has to wake up at long last when after all these struggles Tamils’ representatives are elected to a Provincial Council without any meaningful powers. It is time for India and the world to see how empty the 13th amendment is and offer us some other redress.
Douglas Devananda by his devious behavior has shown that any sympathy for abject collaborators like him, was and continues to be misplaced.