Sri Lanka has a total area of 65,610 sq.km (25,330 sq. miles). Her population is 22 million (approx.). Tamil Nadu (excluding Tamil-speaking Union Territory, Puducherry) is in extent 130,058 sq.km (50,216 sq. miles) and has a population of 77 million (approx.). Sri Lanka is loaded with 28 Ministers (the President, the PM and Finance Minister Basil, included). In addition, there are 38 State Ministers. Conversely, the Council of Ministers in Tamil Nadu is made up of 34 members, in all. According to 2011 Census India, religion-wise Tamil Nadu population figures are: Hindus-87.6%, Christians – 6.12 %, Muslims – 5.86 %, Jains – 0.12%, Sikhs – 0.02 % and Buddhists – 0.02 %.
Minorities in TN State
DMK government has revived the Tamil Nadu Minorities Commission under the chairmanship of Peter Alphonse (Christian), a lawyer and Congress Party ex-M.P., Dr. Masthan (Muslim, Vice-Chairman) and seven other members comprising another Muslim member, Christians of different denominations (2), Jains (2), Sikh (1) and (1) Buddhist monk. The Commission is a statutory body mandated to “safeguard the rights and interests of both religious and linguistic minorities. It visits various parts of the State to study the problems of minorities and recommends suitable remedial measures to the departments concerned.” Also, there are Muslims (currently, 2) and Christians holding ministerial positions in the TN government.
India, though has a Hindu-majority population (80%), remains a secular State – it is constitutionally mandated. Thanks to the efforts of EVR Periyar (1879–1973), the patriarch of the Dravidian Movement, India’s secular credentials are more pronounced in Tamil Nadu. Unlike the majoritarian Sinhala-Buddhist leaders with primitive predatory passions targeting the ethno-religious minorities, TN ruling establishment has evinced courage and conviction in protecting the rights of the minorities against iniquitous Hindutva claims. Also, unlike the SB zealots in Colombo newsrooms, mainstream media-persons in India have had the moral fibre to expose and condemn attacks on minority rights and promote liberalism and secularism. In a recent interview with the “Times of India”, Chief Minister Stalin took a swipe at the ‘Hindutva’ chauvinists and asserted: “Communal forces will not get an inch in Tamil Nadu…” (Times of India, 14 Aug.2021). On this count, TN has had an exemplary track record. For instance:
During Hindu Vinayagar Chaturthi ceremony in August/September, Ganesh idols (Gana Deivo) are offered special poojas. After 10 days festivities, the idols are taken inprocession from private homes, temples and other locations to the sea and immersed in water. Occasionally, mischievous Hindu fanatics used the occasion to provoke the Muslims, by installing the idols in Muslim neighbourhoods. (Vide – a report on an incident in 2015):
“Though the Hindu outfits had obtained police permission for installing idols at 52 spots in Tirunelveli and Palayamkottai, their decision to install idols at 20 more places, including Muslim-dominant Pattapaththu near Tirunelveli Town, triggered tension. When Hindu Munnani cadres tried to take the idol installed in ……Pattapaththu on an unauthorised route last year, it led to a lathi charge. Hence, the officials denied permission for installing idols in the street this year. However, Hindu Munnani cadres installed an idol, which was confiscated by Tashildar…..and Assistant Commissioner of Police…..The police picked up 19 persons, who attempted to stop the officials from removing the idol….” (The Hindu, 18 Sept.2015 – “Idol installed sans permission at Pattapaththu seized”)
“M. Karunanidhi ……took an active interest in (Muslim’s) welfare despite the fact that the Muslim vote can make no significant difference in electoral politics………As T. Nagar (, Chennai-17) grew slowly into a township, in 1970, behind the bus terminus….where Muslims had been promised land for their prayers, a Ganesha idol had emerged overnight. People called it a suyambu, meaning a self-manifested image. Immediately a group of people started claiming right over the land with ideas of constructing a temple there. As the situation threatened to spiral out of control, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi tactfully handled it by ensuring that the ‘thideer pillaiyar’ (instant Ganesha) was removed from the spot.” (Frontline, 31 Aug. 2018 –“ Karunanidhi’s Secularism ”).
This week, DMK government has adopted a resolution in the TN Assembly urging the Modi-government at the Centre to repeal the Citizenship Amendment Act, (CAA) 2019 because certain provisions in the Act are discriminatory against the Muslims. (The Hindu, 08 Sept. 2021)
Civilized governance – a pipe dream
These scenarios, testifying to civilized governance, remain a pipe-dream in Sri Lanka. Day in and day out we have witnessed ‘instant’ Buddha statues being planted by the monks and the occupying armed forces in every nook and cranny of Tamil habitats. The modus operandi is that the illegal installation will gradually morph into a complex of Buddhist vihara with a colony of monks, their retinue and a contingent of army for their protection, followed by a pilgrims’ resort and the infrastructure. SB rulers, from Senanayakes to Rajapaksas, have never had the rectitude to resist/reject racism and adapt to civilized behaviour.
How does the judicial arm of the government respond to such acts of racist aggression? Magistrates in the Tamil locality normally order the removal of the illegally installed statue/structure and restore status quo ante. However, Courts of Appeal in Colombo have often acted artfully and made ‘interim’ Stay Orders staying the operation of the Magistrate’s Order and thereupon the illegal structure becomes a permanent fixture!
Legitimizing an illegal act
Let’s read this BBC report on a Colombo – Court of Appeal decision:
“Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal has issued an injunction order preventing the removal of illegal religious constructions in Trincomalee.” “The Court has reversed the decision by the Trincomalee magistrate after considering an appeal by AL Keerthi, Secretary of Trincomalee 3-wheel Taxi Drivers’ Association (TDA).The TDA argues that the magistrates ruling to remove all illegal religious structures was unconstitutional. According to Sri Lanka’s constitution, it is the government’s duty to protect and develop Buddhism in the country. (BBC News, 17 June 2005 – “ Court Order against removing statues.”)
Independent judiciary in TN
In India/Tamil Nadu, Judges of the Superior Courts have been fiercely independent and have acted as bulwarks defending civil / minority rights. It is not a captive judiciary amenable to the diktats of an overbearing executive. The pandemic has given a good excuse for Sri Lankan regime to arrest protestors to prevent escalating public protests. Reportedly, at Rajapaksa’s bidding, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has ‘instructed’ judges to rule in favour of police motions to prohibit public protests. There were reports of arrests and detention of protesting Teachers/Students Union activists. While civil liberties face menacing threats in Sri Lanka, Judges in India/TN have upheld the citizens’ right to protest for public grievances:
“Observing that every citizen has a right to protest when their grievance is public in nature, the Madras high court has quashed the trial court proceedings against eight people who had staged a protest seeking to carry out repair works of a road in their village in Tuticorin.” (The Times of India, 9 July 2021 – “ People have right to protest for public grievances…..” ).
The Delhi High Court has articulated similar views on students’ right to protest: “A bench of justices….. held that the foundations of this nation stood on surer footing than those likely to be shaken by a protest, however vicious, organised by college students who operated from the confines of a university.” (Hindustan Times,16 June 2021-“Right to protest is not a terror act: Delhi High Court ”)
TN judges have been proactive in identifying potential social problems and have suo motu proposed measures to advance social justice:
“The Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu government to amend the conduct rules applicable to police personnel and provide for punishment to those who harass either the people belonging to…. LGBTQIA+ community or harass non-governmental organisations that support such community members.” (Hindu, 1 Sept. 2021 – “Amend rules to punish police personnel who harass LGBTQIA+ community…”)
For about five decades after independence in India, the Left parties of different shades, were a force to be reckoned with, inside and outside the Parliament. After the Left suffered loss of power in West Bengal in 2011, the Leftists remain only as a shadow of their former self. In contrast, by courtesy of the erstwhile TN leaders and their ideological moorings – social justice and progressivism, of the five Communist Party M.Ps elected to Lok Sabha at the last Elections (Aug. 2019), four M.P.s (2 CPI and 2 CPM) are from TN and one from Kerala.
Gota’s advisors & apparatchiks
President Gotabaya’s electoral pledge was to provide a “technocratic” “intellectual” governance, in consonance with his ‘Viyathmaga’ vision. Who are the ‘scholars’, ‘professionals’ and ‘academics’, Gotabaya has consulted on crucial issues – and have coopted to work with? :
“….Five months ago, President Rajapaksa decided to set up the Buddhist Advisory Council to seek the advice and views of Maha Sangha in the process of implementing policies of the Government.” (www.presidentsoffice.gov.lk›, 18 Sept.2020 – “Buddhist Advisory Council commends President ..”) Gotabaya has lately discussed the vital KDU, COVID-19 issues with the ‘erudite’ men from the clergy: (Daily Mirror, 17 July 2021). Also, in his pursuit “ to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society” Gotabaya has appointed men of high calibre and character to various leadership positions. For instance, “Gota’s “Viyath” Regime Appoints Killer Duminda Silva As Housing Authority Chairman” (Colombo Telegraph, 18 July 2021)
Let’s take a look at the Economic Advisory Council the TN Chief Minister Stalin has assembled for the economic revival of the State. “The council includes Nobel laureate Ms. Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, former Chief Economic Advisor to the Indian government, Aravind Subramanian, Development Economist Jean Dreze, and former Union Finance Secretary S. Narayan.’ (The Hindu, 21 June 2021 – “Nobel Laureate to join the Economic Advisory Council” )
“The five-member team was put together by (Tamil Nadu) Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan, who was an investment banker in the US and Singapore before he entered politics. “The Chief Minister was keen that we must get the best minds in the world to help us. Our priority is that growth should be inclusive,” said Rajan.”(Hindustan Times, 22 June 2021). TN Finance Minister’s profile is a far cry from the credentials of our Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Thiagarajan graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering in India. He obtained a Master’s degree in Operations Research and a Ph.D. in Human Factors Engineering / Engineering Psychology at the University at Buffalo. He then completed his MBA in Financial Management at MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts.
Meritocracy Vs. Ethnocracy
TN Chief Minister has appointed men/women of integrity with expertise and the gravitas to senior administrative positions. Academic qualifications may not be the quintessential element for enhancing efficiency. However, they ensure knowledge, analytical skill and in-depth understanding to acquit oneself well as an executive. TN government’s Principal Secretary, IAS Officer Mr.V. Irai Anbu has a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture, M.A. (English), M.A. (Labour Mgmt.), M.Sc (Psychology), MBA, Ph.D (Business Admin.) and Ph.D. (Comparative Literature). Likewise, State’s Police Chief C. Sylendra Babu, Director-General of Police (DGP) is an academically accomplished individual and sportsman. He holds a Ph.D. in Criminology and had earlier obtained B.Sc, BGL and MA and MBA Degrees.
In the absence of an elected Council (due to postponed elections), Chennai City Corporation encompassing an area of 426 sq.km. with an estimated population of 11.2 million, is currently administered by an IAS officer, Mr. Gagandeep Singh Bedi, a Sikh gentleman (and not a Tamilian) handpicked by CM Stalin on merits. Women’s Empowerment is EVR Periyar’s dream. Senior female IAS officer Ms. Seethalakshmi has been promoted as the District Collector (similar to former GA in Sri Lanka) for Chennai district, which is the administrative/financial hub of Tamil Nadu.
Tamil is the official language of Tamil Nadu. Any visitor to TN can notice name-boards of government offices/business houses appearing mostly in English and Tamil languages. And, in most cases the names in English are on the top, in larger characters and the Tamil names below in smaller letters. No one in TN ever raised any hue and cry about these trivialities.
In a bizarre scenario in Sri Lanka, Minister Wimal Weerawansa shouted blue murder and screamed, “Don’t think we, the Sinhalese, are fools”. “Weerawansa has forced a signboard in Mannar to be removed and changed to display the Sinhala description above the Tamil description. He was invited to inaugurate the Palm Development Board’s ‘Panandumbu Production Center’ located at Selvari village, Mannar.
Constitutional articles 18 and 19 declare both Sinhala and Tamil as official and national languages. Article 22 says that public records in the country shall be in Sinhala except North & East where Tamil shall also be used.” (Tamil Guardian, 22 Jan.2020)
“Wimal Weerawansa, the main person who speaks to instigate racism and religionism, had recently made statements that would provoke racism by pointing out that the name board of the Jaffna International Airport (JIA) was written in Tamil first, instead of in Sinhala.- Chameera Perera, Convener of the National People’s Council (Adaderana.lk, 21 Oct.2019 – “Wimal and Gammanpila incite racism”)
Is everything hunky-dory about Tamil Nadu? The answer is an emphatic “No”. TN has a long way to go before creating an egalitarian society and achieving social justice. Crimes are rampant and there is high-level corruption across all segments of society. In the rural villages there are evil practices such as casteism. However, TN leaders remain seized of these issues and have exhibited political will to clamp down on evil / illegal enterprises. Upon assuming office, CM Stalin has promised to cleanse the Augean stables and has evidently started on a promising note. Critics must wait for a while before drawing a parallel between Stalin’s promise and Gotabaya’s 2019 pledge to create a “disciplined, virtuous and lawful Society”.
‘No poverty’ goal
NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India – Policy Commission) is a public policy think tank of the Indian government. NITI’s SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) India Index report has said that TN is at the top of the rung in achieving the ‘no poverty’ goal. The achievement is perceived by many as the state emerging out of poverty with the basic need of all its citizens being fulfilled – which is to eat three meals a day. (The Federal, 06 June 2021 – “How TN topped ‘no poverty’ SDG goal after a year’s lockdown?”)
TN – the positives
There are no state-sponsored ‘killer squads’ or ‘white van’ abductions in TN targeting journalists, dissidents or civil rights activists. There is a vibrant civil society with vigilant advocacy groups, activists and PILs (Public Interest Litigants) ready to pounce on errant officialdom. As such, rulers in TN do not politically embrace convicted criminals or reward them with positions of power. Judges of the Superior Courts of TN/India have convicted and jailed even powerful leaders like the mighty Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaa, Lalu Prasad Yadav (ex-CM, Bihar). Criminals with blood on their hands may rule the roost in Sri Lanka, with total impunity. And, the law cannot touch them. The Judiciary, media and civil society in India would have raised their collective voice against sabotaging the judicial process and releasing the criminals involved in many emblematic cases (Lasantha, Thajudeen, Ekneligoda, Keith Noyahr, Navy-11, Trinco-5, French Charity ACF-17 etc.).
While monks in Sri Lanka run riot beyond the reach of the law and, at times, even thumb their nose at the judiciary, many Hindu Godmen and gurus in TN/India are either in jail or on the run. To my knowledge, in TN two powerful godmen are currently in hot water, accused of child-sexual abuse, Siva Sankar Baba is in jail while ‘Swami’ Nithiyananda is on the run. Many kids of tender age from poor Buddhist families in Sri Lanka have lost their pristine innocence and sweet childhood at the hands of priestly predators. It is blasphemy even to discuss about it. Wake up, Sri Lanka!