By Mahesan Niranjan –
We can feel the hot air. I don’t mean the extended summer heat wave in the United Kingdom, but the political air is heating up as the elections to the Northern Provincial Council in Sri Lanka approaches. The main political party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) caused much excitement among analysts by successfully inviting former justice Wigneswaran (hereinafter referred to by the pet name Wiggles) to be their lead candidate. There was hot air during the run-up to his nomination. “Wiggles is from Colombo, he only knows the Nallur temple in Jaffna. The alternative candidate Maavai Senathirajah knows all nooks and corners in Jaffna, so Maavai should be the candidate,” argued some. A friend of mine had an amazing response to this: “My cousin is a bus driver in Jaffna and knows every corner of Jaffna better than anyone else. He should be the candidate for the Chief-Minister post, no?”
Then there was a period of a different type of hot air, with the UN Human Rights Chief Ms Navi Pillai visiting. She gave hopes to many, particularly to mothers and wives of missing men. Many are rightly sceptical that those are misplaced hopes. We may not know if she can bring enough pressure on our government to release the names of those held captive. Or if she can persuade that some currently behind bars were just butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, selling meat, bread and candlesticks to the Tigers. Will she be able to convincingly argue any charge against those currently in captivity, proven or not, is dwarfed by the crimes committed by some who were lucky to get their timings right in when they switched sides? Is she persuasive enough to inject some perspective that transporting a Tiger carder in your vehicle under threat of your life is a negligible crime in comparison to lining up and shooting six hundred policemen? Whatever the effect of her visit is, we can be certain that when naughty Sri Lankan children don’t do their homework, parents will be heard saying: “do you want me to call Ms Pillai?”
Shortly after Ms Pillai’s visit, the TNA published its election manifesto. Critics suggest that much of it is a cut ‘n paste job from previous documents. Its emphasis is on why the Tamils people are different from the Sinhala people. Verbose and high on rhetoric, it fails to offer a plausible concrete roadmap on how the shattered lives of the Tamil people may be re-built. Analysts are right to challenge the TNA manifesto and ask what lessons they (the TNA) have learnt from the past approaches they have championed in various forms before coming together as an alliance in this particular form. Where are their new ideas?
Confused with these thoughts in mind, I caught up with my drinking partner, the Sri Lankan Tamil fellow Sivapuranam Thevaram, at our usual place in Bridgetown UK. Unsurprisingly, Thevaram has been busy writing his version of the election manifesto for the Tamil National Alliance!
“It is about getting priorities right, machan (buddy/mate in Sri Lankan English – Michael Mayler, is that filed under M?)” he started, “remember the day when that war criminal, Tony Blair, came to power in the UK?”
“Oh yes, I remember that well,” I said, “he claimed to have three priorities: education, education, education and education.”
“Precisely,” agreed Thevaram. “I have centred the priorities of my manifesto around three R’s.”
“Three R’s,” that certainly was music to my ears. Education has always been the priority of the Tamils in the north. So focusing on their reading, writing and arithmetic would be a great start for the local administration. Being in the teaching profession myself, and having visited the University of Jaffna several times since the end of the war, I was naturally very excited.
But the three R’s of his alternative manifesto were different!
R for Restrooms
The Tamil National Alliance recognizes that thirty years of war has deprived our people of much needed development in all aspects of their lives. For example, we observe that travellers to our Northern Province experience severe difficulties along the A9 highway. The roadside boutiques at which luxury buses stop do not have clean toilet facilities. We take this as an example of the large number of issues faced by our people which could have been easily addressed, yet centralization of power has held us back from making progress.
A Wiggles-led Tamil National Alliance administration shall, within its first one hundred days in office, build a minimum of ten public restrooms along the A9 highway between the cities of Vavunia and Jaffna. We will maintain these to very high standards of cleanliness. There shall be running water on taps, the floors shall be kept dry and loo paper will be available for those who prefer dry cleaning. We will have clear instructions in all three languages, with suitable illustrations, on how to use these facilities properly.
Our administration shall seek the cooperation of the provincial governor in raising funds for these restrooms by a Pay2P levy. We fully appreciate the valid criticisms of the 13th Amendment, i.e. that all power is in the hands of the Governor. However, we believe that the Governor will feel sufficiently embarrassed to veto our Pay2P proposal and will yield to the voice of the elected body. That, we believe, will set a precedent for councils across the country to work imaginatively towards clawing back power that has been centralized via the Divineguma Bill. Up and down the country, we shall hear the call: “If the Northerners can do it, so can we!”
Thus we seek from our people a mandate to be innovative in power sharing.
R for Religion
We recognize that religion has been a serious issue in our politics. Though much of our historic violence does not have its roots in religion, we can identify several instances of religious intolerance showing its ugly head. The Sinhala-Muslim rioting, the chasing away of the Muslims from Jaffna and the recent attacks by the BBS and similar organizations on mosques and churches, and the incredible amount of hatred these groups are able to propagate, with clear support from powerful quarters, should worry all Sri Lankans.
We recognize that the ultimate solution to such intolerance is to tell the people the truth: that the God they believe in does not exist. But that solution is theoretical and our people are not ready for it yet. We learn from history that in Sri Lankan politics — and we have heard it time and again from clever analysts — we cannot afford to aim for theoretically optimal solutions. We need to be practical.
In line with pragmatic politics, a Wiggles-led Tamil Alliance administration shall, within its first one hundred days in office, build a minimum of ten multi-faith places of worship, as per floor-plan outlined in the attached diagram.
When this innovative step is adopted widely, schemes to smuggle Buddha statues to school playgrounds overnight and those that surprise citizens in a particular location with archaeological findings that prove or disprove historic land ownership will be eliminated.
We recognize that followers of each religion will be keen to play prayer songs over loudspeakers. We accept that such high-decibel prayers are necessary to reach out to those in the community who are slow to adapt to the Faith. We further recognize the issue that if the auspicious times of any two religions coincide, and they compete for use of the acoustic space, tensions will increase. We will use technological solutions to address this problem by distributing wireless headsets to all citizens and travellers within radio reach of these places of multi-faith worship. We will seek funding from the diaspora to pay for the cost of leasing four frequency bands from Sri Lanka Telecommunications to implement this plan.
R for Reconciliation
The three decades of war has killed many, destroyed property and left much mutual hatred and suspicion across our communities. Everybody in Sri Lanka can legitimately claim to have suffered in one way or the other as a result of the war. We may all agree that reconciliation is an important aspect of our future, but often the discourse on the subject drifts very quickly into deadlock: “who started it first” and “the other side should make the first move.”
We say: “Let peace begin with me!”
To be precise, we believe that the way forward is to re-gain the moral high-ground lost by the Tamils. We acknowledge without reservation that much evil was committed by Tamils, in the name of Tamils and without the informed consent of the vast majority of the Tamils, and we wish to distance ourselves from that evil unconditionally.
A Wiggles-led Alliance administration shall, within its first one hundred days in office, identify one hundred families from Sinhala and Muslim communities who suffered as a result of the war and help them in re-building their lives. These families will be chosen at random from Jaffna Muslims, families of Aranthalawa baby monks, relatives of Keppitigollawa villagers and children of the 600 or so policemen ordered to surrender by the Premadasa administration. We will engage the diaspora and persuade them that the gesture of re-building the lives of those on whom evil was perpetrated in our names is likely to be far more effective than running around cricket grounds waving flags.
Our administration will take the view that gaining the moral high-ground will shame the Sri Lankan government into acting. We will expect them to reciprocate by releasing the names of political prisoners held without trial for extended periods, offer amnesty to those who have been through a legal process and found guilty, repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, grant dual citizenship to our countrymen who left as a result of the war, implement the use of Tamil language for official purposes and de-militarize the governance of Sri Lanka as a whole – the Northern Province in particular.
We will give the government three months to respond in the above way. Should they fail, we will identify another one hundred families upon whom evil was unleashed (by Tamils, in the name of Tamils, without the informed consent of a vast majority of Tamils), and help them in re-building their lives.
People of the Northern Province, we urge you to join us in this struggle to innovate and to re-capture lost moral territory, by electing us to office.
Please vote for the RRRR symbol!