By Kumar David –
The pentathlon consists of five tasks and though the challenges facing the prospective TNA Administration and Chief Minister (CM) designate C. V. Wigneswaran (CV) resemble a decathlon, I will limit this study to the first five in priority.
(a) Shielding the NP Administration from wilful and/or contingent obstruction by the Centre, the Governor, and a military which has been aggressively interfering in civilian life.
(b) Demilitarising the North, ensuring safety and security on the streets, especially for Tamil women; ending the de facto status of these areas as if occupied by an alien force.
(c) Ensuring that swathes of land seized by the military are returned and resettlement is smooth; dealing with the tragedy of war widows and orphans.
(d) Building an energetic, able and efficient administration for economic activities and day to day management. Recruiting talented people for this endeavour.
(e) Working within the discipline of a party – notwithstanding the TNA is an alliance. CV has no experience of party dynamics and discipline; he needs to learn fast.
English educated Tamils are euphoric about the TNA’s choice of candidate. They are enamoured of CV’s credentials in respect of (d); that is if he is allowed to get on with the job. This is a big IF and I will return to it, but he is a cut above the pygmies strutting as Chief Ministers in other provinces. He is decent, intelligent, educated and capable of running a showpiece administration in contrast to the pigsties that pass for provincial administrations elsewhere. But my concern, my IF caveat, remains.
Will the NP-PC elections be held? It was an international dagger at his jugular, not wisdom nor statesmanship that forced Rajapakse’s hand. Will he manufacture a pretext, perhaps engineer a vicarious legal challenge that an obedient court will uphold, to call off elections? The threat, though never absent, is receding as Indian and international opprobrium will be unbearable. On the other hand, if Sinhala extremism challenges Rajapakse on the streets, does he have the balls to resist? That too I doubt, so the matter is not closed, but I will resist temptation to digress from the pentathlon.
The great challenge
I am not hallucinating; any seasoned observer should see the big obstacles Wigneswaran will encounter in President, Governor and occupying military establishment. It is not just that none of them want the Northern Administration to succeed where all else is disaster. (How many UPFA local and provincial politicos are, allegedly, murderers, rapists and drug lords?) No, ill-will is the lesser reason for the state to spoke the NPC wheel; the greater reason is preserving the balance of political power. You think me paranoid; I hope you’re right, but dictators cannot permit a single challenge, or countenance one free and independent voice. One lose brick in the wall brings down the edifice. The Rajapakse state will contrive to bring the NP-PC to heel, even using fiscal deprivation, for otherwise it risks erosion of its authoritarian project. In the unlikely event the UPFA loses the Central Province PC elections as well, the bell will start to toll the death knell of autocracy for sure. That however is just me, running ahead of time.
There is nothing the NP-PC can achieve if its actions are curbed and it has to kowtow to the Rajapakse state. This is why I place this at the head of my task list; item (a) is the sine qua non, sans which, the PC is as good as dead. Euphoric ladies and aging English speaking Tamil gentlemen, please gird up your loins for glorious battles ahead! The deadlock between elected council and Rajapakse appointed Governor in the Eastern Province is a timely reminder. Forget about achieving anything on (d) till the ramparts have been secured and obstacle (a) overcome.
But the middle classes are only a side-show; the battalions that matter are the political street fighters. CV is not politically battle hardened; the tussle to protect the autonomy of the provincial administration will devolve on the people whenever there is infringement by the central state. If the public thinks it can sub-contract the job to a CM and his crew and go back to sleep, it will lose everything. How youth measures the actions of a new administration against its own expectations will be crucial to the enthusiasm with which young people come forward. The TNA is judged to be short on testosterone since it has done zero grass roots mobilisation; now it has a chance to make amends. The quality (integrity and fighting spirit) of the others candidates on the TNA list is crucial. The energy of leaders with grassroots support (Premachandran, Senathirajah) is crucial in the initial years. The TNA has to identify the NP-PC exercise as its own commitment, not just a Wigneswaran project.
Personal safety and the chance to live in freedom from fear is not a function that belongs to the duty list of a provincial council; if military or police run amok in another part of the country the matter hardly falls within the purview of the PC. But due to long years of repression an arms length approach is not realistic in Tamil areas. When things happen people will come to CM and PC, at long last a CM and PC of their own. These worthies cannot tell them to go away and make a police entry. Tamils have been denied their administration by all governments of the Sinhala state for so long that expectation runs high. If CM and the PC have not the gumption to take on the personal security, alias demilitarisation challenge they might as well fold up.
From its inception, the NP-PC will be a living arena in which 13A will be tested beyond its limits and towards 13A+.India and the international community are vital in protecting the PC and extending its powers towards real devolution, not the make-believe faked by UPFA slave-councils. When repression is highlighted, internationally, by elected representatives of a people it has more impact than individual or political exposure. When regimes coerce minorities they only undermine their own sovereignty and invite intervention. Repression by Rajapakse’s forces will be a flash point once the NP-PC starts work, and hopefully, proves a worthy exemplar for the East.
The land grab
State land grabs for various and nefarious purposes – military expansion, state sponsored demographic reengineering – have been documented in and outside parliament. It is not possible to touch on it even in summary – the material is too voluminous. The NP-PC and the CM will have to tackle the land issue; without sorting this out neither development nor resettlement can make headway. We come up against the same obstacle again, even before a new Administration can start work. It has to get into a position where it can work, before it can work; the IF problem in another form.
The work of the NP-PC will make clear that land powers, much more than devolved under 13A, must be transferred to provincial authorities in the North and East where deep land problems have surfaced from the war. Another complication is land grabbed from the Muslims in the ethnic cleansing of 1991. The issue must be addressed boldly; the Devanesan Commission has proposed reasonable solutions. It is tricky, but only a Council elected by the Tamil and Muslim people has moral standing to negotiate the ethnic rapids of Muslim lands sized by the LTTE and distributed to Tamils. Muslims who desire to return to the Northern Province must be accommodated.
This is Wigneswaran’s trump card, here he will be playing from his strongest suit; he must brook no crooks and aim credibly high. There are many able-bodied and moderately able-minded Tamils who will throw themselves forward so selecting a dedicated but realistic minded team should be the easy part. But experience, especially experience of how things were done long ago, is not enough. Young people in touch with ground realities are important; the best may still be the most able and altruistic-for-the-community former LTTE cadres, if they will set aside the past and dedicate themselves to a new venture.
I intend to say no more about governance; there will be reams of superfluous advice from every newspaper pore and website in the next month. But oh, that reminds me, beware of opportunists and place-seekers; they are crawling all over UPFA government Ministries like cockroaches.
Will the diaspora invest? Of course it will, and education will be the magnet. But let’s not count chickens before they have hatched; nurturing the Administration’s credibility comes first, cheque books come out next. Don’t expect a return of the sea turtles. (Hai gui, ‘returning across the seas’, sounds like sea turtle in Putonghua and denotes the educated elite who returned to China carrying coveted expertise).
Joining the political process
The captain has to be a member of the team. Presumably CV is a card carrying member of the ITAK, but only in a formal sense with little experience of the cut and thrust of day to day politics or interaction with cadres and colleagues. I am not in the business of giving unsolicited advice to parties I am not a member of; the job of this column is to consider options and weigh outcomes. So I am reminded of Peter May, a fine batsman but aloof captain, whose dressing room at Lords was as big as the space set aside for the rest of the team. He retired in his prime to join his upper-class family stock brokering business. His long-term impact on English cricket has been minimal, unlike Hutton or Botham, who were in the thick of it with the boys.
In politics as in cricket, the dynamic both on and off the field counts. The conference hall, the committee room, the rough and tumble of political debate, and political involvement with the rank and file, that’s what will furnish the verve to make a man out of a mere judge; metaphorically, a switch from the plumage of traditional Hindu sartorial elegance to brisk modernity.