By Kusal Perera –
Waking up to a misty, cold morning on Monday 25th July, I listened to the day’s first “Thevava” (තේවාව) of Dalada Maligawa, the pinnacle of Buddhism in this “Land of Gauthama Buddha”. Looking down at the Kandy town from the front garden space of “Satyodaya” on Pushpadana hillock, the town was seen just breaking out of its long night slumber. The morning breeze carried the drum beats of the Thevava across the silent town waking up men, women and children into this new day, that was to be etched in the “bloodiest black” possible, in post independent history of Ceylon and Sri Lanka thereafter.
The previous day, Sunday 24 July, I was attending a meeting of workers in Kandy, mostly State sector, who had struck work 03 years ago, between 17 and 22 July 1980. The Jayewardene government crushed the ’80 July strike with no mercy. Over 47,000 workers were thrown out of their jobs. July was turning black year after year since the workers’ strike, with reports of a striker or two committing suicide, while others were desperately trying to crawl back to life.
The word “Thevava” did not mean much to me then. But lately I found it is originally a Tamil word and the whole ritual had been borrowed by Hinduism, as practised in the Hindu kovils. Adopted in a Buddhist holy palace, there obviously had been a few changes to this ritual inside Dalada Maligawa, perhaps over the past few centuries. “Panikkiyas” (guess this is also a Tamil word) who perform at the Thevava with drums and flutes, are also of South Indian descent, now wholly “Sinhalised”.
Then comes another Sri Lankan of much later South Indian decent who immediately after the pogrom on Sri Lankan Tamils in July ’83, went to Madras as Chennai was called in the past. Saumyamoorthi Thondaman was the accepted and respected leader of the up country Tamils of South Indian origin and was often consulted on issues of political importance to them. In Madras, questioned by the Tamil Nadu media about the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka, he is said to have summed up the pogrom, “In Sri Lanka, it is Sunday sil and Monday kill.
Four years later, July again left the whole of Sinhala South numbed and sleepless for well over 02 years. Signing of the bi-lateral agreement between India and Sri Lanka on 27 July, 1987 saw the JVP turn into a blood thirsty Sinhala nationalist terror group. That for the first time witnessed the killing of Sinhala politicians and social activists from Hambantota to Pulasthipura and Colombo to Siyambalanduwa. Killed were celebrity figures like Vijeya Kumaratunge to trade union leaders like Panditha and Wimalasiri in Colombo, to local village activists like Athugala in Wariyapola to dissenting JVP radical turned independent cultural activist Marasinghe in Anuradhapura.
“July” is therefore about the ’80 workers’ strike, about the ’83 Tamil pogrom and the ’87 Indo-SL Accord and after. Thus July stands as the month that has seen most blood, Sinhala and Tamil. The month that saw heavy demolition of life, both by a Colombo based Sinhala government throwing out thousands of workers from employment, watching Sinhala hooligans go racially berserk looting, burning Tamil property and killing Tamil people and a Sinhala insurgency killing Sinhala citizens in dozens, across the Sinhala South. This July, 26 years after the Indo – SL Accord was signed which paved the way for the 13 Amendment and the Provincial Councils (PC), we not only talk history, but talk of the future too.
This July also makes an important presence in this bloody and racially stained post independent history, with President Rajapaksa on 05 July, signing the gazette notice for establishing the first pre or post war PC in Tamil North and the TNA adding more importance with the first retired Supreme Court Judge, C.V. Wigneswaran named as their Chief Ministerial Candidate. In fact Vigneswaran is the first Judge of the Appeal or Supreme Court, retired though, to contest any election for a legislature in Sri Lanka’s three tier governing system.
July 2013 thus kick starts a new campaign for power devolution defined and designed under the 1987 July Indo-SL Accord, led by a person who was no Tamil Tiger fighting for a separate Tamil State. This time its not an Indian nominee, preferred by the R.A.W. This time its led by an incredibly straightforward and respected legal luminary, one who sat on judgement over violations of the law and the Constitution. One who had not minced words before on what he’s called upon to comment on and would not, even now. His position has thus been made clear, no sooner he was named the TNA Chief Ministerial candidate. For those in the Sinhala South he said in the Sinhala language as well, he wants police and land powers if he is elected the Chief Minister of Northern Province and wants a civilian as the Governor of the NPC and the EPC too. That makes it clear. He is for full implementation of the 13 Amendment and an unhindered civil administration.
He is no Vartharajah Perumal. He is not asking for an armed police force like the ragtag group rounded up by Perumal, named the Tamil National Army. The confusion on this is due to the cunning interpretations given by government propagandists given equally large space by the media. That scenario, where Perumal thought he could meet the threat of the LTTE, after the IPKF leaves with an armed police, is history and no more. Today, Wigneswaran is talking about space the NPC could have constitutionally in administering the Sri Lankan police stationed in Northern Province. He is talking of a police under a provincial DIG who would be appointed by the IGP in consultation with him, if elected CM of North. with a National Police Commission that would have to be constitutionally established.
Land powers, because there is certainly an open threat, often argued by the Sinhala leaders in changing the demography of Tamil North and East. Land is therefore a serious issue for the Tamil people, beyond how they would utilise them for their own livelihood development. He has gone on record already, that outside Sinhala farmers have come to cultivate the land of the Tamil people, with military patronage. That should not happen and would happen, if the Colombo government is allowed to keep land powers with them.
Wigneswaran is quite open about his disapproval of ex – security officers being kept as Governors of provinces. He has already been proved right in the East. Even the Rajapaksa controlled PC has run into power blocs due to a Rtd. Rear Admiral being the Governor. An appointee of the President, the Governor represents the most powerful centralised power. President Rajapaksa, has therefore told his Eastern Provincial Councillors, their protests amounts to protests against his presidential decisions. Wigneswaran would not have it easy in de-miltarising the Tamil life, but his and the TNA’s proposition to have a person in the calibre of Prof. Savitri G00nesekere, could make it difficult for Rajapaksas to avoid the issue. Women have more issues than men in all war devastated areas, with over 80,000 young widows, most with little children and no proper livelihood. The rail tracks, roads, bridges and buildings the Rajapaksas talk of as “huge” development in the North, are no answers to these women and children. That makes the case for a woman Governor much stronger with a Sinhala academic like Prof Goonesekere talked of as Governor, gives Wigneswaran and the TNA a strong platform for lobbying and campaigning.
All that said, let’s agree the actuals will not roll in now. President Rajapaksa, accepted as a pragmatic leader even by slain LTTE leader Prabhakaran, seems to be bidding time till the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November, to come and go. He knows well enough, the CHOGM would give him the largest spanner, in thwarting the full implementation of the 13 Amendment. The April decision that finalised the CHOGM to be held in Colombo was not taken by political amateurs. Those decision makers helped by cooler than Dixit Indian diplomat, Kamalesh Sharma as SG knew, the meeting in Colombo makes President Rajapaksa the Chairperson-in-office of the Commonwealth of Nations, for the next two years. They knew quite well, once in that chair, it gives this Rajapaksa regime a very prestigious standing among 54 nations of the Commonwealth and also among the UN member States. An international positioning that provides Rajapaksa to better manipulate international pressure. Locally, post CHOGM would see a huge carnival with grandiose felicitation ceremonies and applause. Already the MEA has begun organising the frenzy through school programmes. More would follow with songs and dance that would create an aura around him, no political leader or head of State ever enjoyed before.
What if President Rajapaksa thereafter decides to go for a presidential election, early 2014 ? Technically he could, after completing 04 years from January, 2010. Staying on till the end of the term in 2016 may be too stressful for a President who has failed in every aspect of governance. Cost of living, rule of law, post war dividends, he lacks credibility to promise any more on any of them. President for a third term, he can afford to wave off 02 years from the second term if he has to and capitalise he would on “national pride” as Head of the Commonwealth, before the aura dies off. What with all such profiling and pride, if he then campaigns for a mandate to Amend the existing 13 Amendment ?
There isn’t any strong opposition candidate right now, who could challenge Rajapaksa firm and square, if he throws a Sinhala slogan with nationalistic pride. The UNP has always vacillated on the Sinhala issue, reluctant to be seen as standing for Tamil and minority rights as well. Except for Wickramasinghe, his remaining loyalists are mostly Sinhala chauvinists of different hues and degrees. A weak kneed opposition with no holistic development alternative and with no will power to present a pluralistic image, will be Rajapaksa’s best bet for an early presidential election.
This July thus brings about a new equation, that may not have positive answers, even after next July, if President Rajapaksa sticks to his promise of saving the Sinhala nation by refusing Tamil people, their due political share of post war dividends. If the main opposition remains hesitant in taking Rajapaksa head on, standing up for Tamil and minority rights and a wholly democratic, development option in cutting a totally opposite image to that of this Rajapaksa regime.