By Rasika Jayakody –
Following the TNA’s decision to field C.V. Wigneswaran as the Chief Minister Candidate for the forthcoming Northern Provincial Council election, ‘Thinakkural’, a Tamil daily, carried a front page cartoon depicting the “unanimity” with which Wigneshwaran was selected. In the cartoon, Mavai Senathirajah, who was the other contender for the CM candidacy, was seen ushering Wigneshwaran to the centre stage, holding his hand, while other TNA MPs were singing, dancing and playing drums in praise of the decision. The cartoon strongly indicated that Wigneswaran’s entry into the election was a landmark development as far as the Tamil community was concerned.
In reality however, the situation is different. Although Wigneswaran is the ideal choice for CM candidacy, there is a section of the TNA who are dissatisfied with the decision. Although there is unanimity of some sort on the surface, it is not so hard to fathom that a crisis is simmering at the bottom.
As Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka precisely pointed out, Wigneshwaran is the TNA’s Lakshman Kadirgamar. He has an illustrious track record as a former Supreme Court Judge. Educated at Royal College, Colombo, Wigneswaran’s son is married to the daughter of Vasudewa Nanayakkara, Minister of Social Integration. As a Magistrate and a District Judge, he has served in Northern, Eastern, North Central, Uva and Western Provinces. Three years after his appointment to the Supreme Court, Wigneswaran bade adieu to the legal service in 2004. He is multilingual and has earned respect, not only from the legal fraternity, but also from the every community of the country, as a brilliant judge and a legal practitioner. One should not forget the fact that though Wigneswaran is fielded by the TNA’s as its candidate, he comes in the garments of a common candidate for Tamils in the North, whether that is an eyewash or not. It is widely known in political circles that TNA Leader R. Sampanthan and his ally, M.A. Sumanthiran played a key role in promoting Wigneswaran’s candidacy. One should also be mindful of the fact that Sampanthan too faces a leadership crisis in his party, although it is not as intense as the internecine battle in the UNP.
Mavai Senathiirajah, as opposed to Wigneswaran, represents the darkest era of Tamil politics. He was first appointed to Parliament as the replacement of former TULF Leader A. Amirthalingam who was killed by an LTTE gunman in 1989. Ten years later, he was again appointed to Parliament in the very same manner following the death of Neelan Thirichelvan, who was killed by the LTTE in a meticulous suicide bomb attack. The better part of Senathirajah’s parliamentary career, like those of his colleagues, was spent under the jackboot of the LTTE. Even after the demise of the LTTE, Senathirajah and his TNA parliamentary colleagues failed to reinvent themselves in politics.
Bringing the Wigneswaran factor into the equation will help the TNA to readjust and re-position its policies, in the absence of Prabhakaran and the LTTE. At the same time, it will give some impetus to the moderate elements of Tamil politics, who were actually the very first victims of the LTTE violence. In the absence of the LTTE, it is important to resurrect the voice of moderates who are capable of bridging the gap between the North and South and who have a genuine intention of addressing core issues faced by the Tamils in the North. Wigneswaran, under the present circumstances, is the ideal choice for the task.
The main characteristic of the ‘Tamil politics’ before Tamil militancy came into existence was the polarization of moderates and radicals at different ends of the spectrum. This was actually the genesis of the LTTE. Even when S.J.V. Chelvanayagam broke away from the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and formed the ITAK, the bifurcation happened along the same lines. In the mid n1950s, radicals started rallying around the ITAK while moderates supported the Tamil Congress led by G.G. Ponnambalam. In the early 1970s, the emerging Eelamist student unions attracted the support of radicals while the moderates still supported Ponnambalam. This equation changed in a systematic manner with the formation of the TULF and the subsequent rise of the Tamil militancy with Velupillai Prabhakaran at the helm.
With the demise of Prabhakaran and the LTTE, Tamil politicians (and politics) received a new lease of life. It created some room for moderates and intellectuals of the Tamil community, who were brutally suppressed by Prabhakaran, to make a comeback. But the TNA, until last week, acted blind to this new equation. With the nomination of Wigneswaran as the CM candidate, the TNA, wittingly or otherwise, has deviated from the early stance and made its way into the post-2009 equation.
Doubts have arisen as to whether Wigneswaran’s candidacy will create a split in the TNA. The potential flashpoint, in my view, would not be Wigneswaran’s standpoint on the full implementation of the 13th amendment or acceptance of federalism or anything of that sort. Before any other thing, his milieu, approach towards problems and way of governance will create fresh ripples among certain groups of the party. This would eventually create a clear bifurcation in the TNA, and radicals, in all likelihood, will polarize at the opposite end. This will take everyone back to square one!
If the TNA really understand what it’s doing, one could think that the party has embarked upon the process of re-invention. To complete this process, a lot of homework needs to be done. At the same time, the ruling party should understand the value and the importance of a contender of Wigneswaran’s caliber and give him the due respect, without playing into the hands of the pro-LTTE Diaspora by reviewing or revoking his judgments. Wigneswaran in that sense is a litmus test not only for the TNA, but also for the government.
*The writer is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org