By Rasika Jayakody –
Many claim that the reason behind the TNA’s resounding victory in the North is nationalistic inclination of Jaffna Tamils that was aroused to a large extent by pro-LTTE propaganda. Among the Sinhala community, a perception has already been created that Tamils, as a collective, have voted for the “nation”, while the Sinhalese are burying themselves in the mud pool of preferential votes.
The TNA’s victory in the North was not something unexpected. Everyone knew that the TNA would secure the power with a huge margin, probably with a two thirds majority. But many expected a keen contest between the TNA and the UPFA in some parts of Jaffna that were previously considered as EPDP strongholds. However, there was no competition whatsoever in the end and the election appeared to be a one horse race.
The TNA election campaign was cashed in on prevailing divisions and the election manifesto was clearly gravitated towards separatism. The need of an armed struggle was stressed at election rallies from time to time and incendiary speeches were made by top rung TNA leaders, including Wigneswaran, its Chief Ministerial candidate, from the outset of the campaign. Some candidates openly stated that they were seeking a mandate for ‘liberation’ and it was crystal clear that they were referring to the creation of a separate state. The TNA, throughout its election campaign, did not consider the 13th amendment even as the starting point of a political solution. Above all, territorial integrity of Sri Lanka was challenged, overtly and covertly, and that seemed to be the core message of almost all their speeches and slogans.
It would not take an Einstein to realize that the TNA is not ready for unity and reconciliation, and only interested in cashing in on existing ruptures between Sinhalese and Tamil communities as a result of the 30 year long terrorist war. By voting for the TNA, the Tamils in the North, endorsed the hardline policy of the party in a post war equation. It is naïve to believe that they are not aware of the fact that endorsing hardline and secessionist policies of the TNA will further displace them socially, economically and ideologically. But it is interesting to find out why the Tamil voters in the North travelled that dangerous path, oblivious to its far reaching repercussions.
The TNA, from the very beginning, did not have a clear policy when it comes to solving the socio-economic problems faced by the people in the North. One classic example was its stolid silence over the poaching by Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lankan waters, depriving fishermen in Jaffna of their livelihood. Similarly, the TNA had no solid plan on poverty alleviation, infrastructure development or creating employment under the existing framework. All its focus was on “shared sovereignty” and “self-rule for Tamils” which the provincial administration will never get in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, 75 percent of Tamil voters in the North who voted for the TNA did not notice its blindness to several key matters concerning them.
There was no active Tamil intelligentsia in the North that was capable of guiding the Tamils to make inroads into the mainstream politics, coming out of the communal shell created by chauvinistic Tamil politicians for more than seven decades. There was no one to point out the long terms repercussions of seeking refuge in the secessionist camp which is only capable of creating more and more troubles. There was no one to stress the importance of resolving ground level problems under the present framework, instead of spending time and energy over hypothetical political reforms such as self-rule and shared sovereignty for the North that will never take off the ground in the present context. At the end of the day, the TNA’s approach will delay the restoration of normalcy in the North and hinder the socio-economic growth of the province. This intellectual lacuna was the main reason behind the ideological poverty and parochialism of Tamil politics, making it vulnerable to pro-LTTE and secessionist rhetoric spawned by the TNA and its top rung leaders.
On the other hand, the government failed to create a strong and realistic message vis-à-vis the propaganda campaign by the TNA. The EPDP, which was the main constituent party of the UPFA in the North, did not have the intellectual capacity to present a strong viewpoint on bridging the North and the South by assimilating everyone into a much broader Sri Lankan identity. Although they spoke highly of infrastructure development and economic progress in the North, it was not backed by a broad political perspective that could strengthen the anti-secessionist message. A candidate who contested for the Northern Provincial Council under the UPFA ticket told this writer on a personal note that the government too needs a Sampanthan, perhaps a slightly younger one, who could do exactly the opposite of what Sampanthan is doing. And he appeared disappointed at the fact that there was no potential ‘Sampanthan’ in the picture as far as the ruling party was conderned. All in All, it is this inability that played into the hands of the TNA and Wigneswaran, paving the way for them to achieve a thumping victory that was marked by skullduggery.
*Rasika Jayakody is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org