By Kusal Perera –
Almost all foreign reports for now on Northern Provincial Council (NPC) adopting the resolution it did on 27 January 2014 on war crimes and international investigations, said the resolution was unanimous. That says, the 38 member Council was not divided on the resolution, demanding an international investigation into possible crimes, or crimes alleged to have been committed during the last months of the war in Vanni. A very personal query made on the unanimity of the resolution, received the answer, there were loud reservations from some opposition Councillors, when TNA Councillor M.K. Sivajilingam moved the resolution. But, and this is important, with Chief Minister (CM) Wigneswaran amending the original resolution presented and removing mention of a “genocidal war”, the resolution was accepted by all. In fact what was told is that, there was no vote taken on it. Hence accepted as unanimous. So was another resolution, to build a war memorial for victims of the war.
Later, explaining and defending the resolution calling for an international inquiry into war crimes, CM Wigneswaran was quoted as having said, if “death” (not murder) can be the answer, then the case closes there. But when there is no such answer, families and relatives keep searching for the disappeared and the government has a responsibility to investigate such disappearances. That also brings the issue of what caused such disappearances. For the last four years the government has not been sincere in doing it. Therefore the people have a right to reach the international community as a last resort.
CM Wigneswaran does command respect and seems a “father figure” now in the NPC. It seems he can get the Councillors to follow him. Even the 08 opposition Councillors including the EPDP within the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) seem to follow the CM. Therefore, it also seems the NPC has now assumed political representation of the Northern Tamil people as a political entity, beyond that of an elected governing Council. Precisely for that reason, the resolution on war crimes investigations adopted by the NPC becomes heavier to lift than any other hard hitting resolution with even sharper words, adopted by any other group or organisation in any other part of the Tamil globe. Tamil people living in Sri Lanka show they are now gradually ascending a new political life with an elected body, where political divisions and priorities are being compromised and are evolving into one single voice.
This new phenomenon in Tamil politics in post war Sri Lanka, was not what the ruling UPFA, nor the defence establishment ever thought would happen. The geographical annexing of North-East provinces through a bloody military offensive was projected and exhibited as political unification of the country. It was also explained that was only possible under this presidential Constitution with a classic centralising of executive powers in a Head of State. A historic achievement by president Rajapaksa, as projected now in a country that once stayed bifurcated by the LTTE. The Northern peninsula and Vanni that was run as a de facto separate State by the Tigers. On many forums it was argued the TNA, turned into a proxy of the LTTTE during its ruthless armed existence, would not be able to go it alone in post war Sri Lanka. The LTTE had been crushed and flattened brutally in a savagely executed war and the Tamil social fabric remained shredded to smithereens. The Rajapaksa regime and its defence hierarchy thus expected the left over TNA to fall in line with this ruling regime, like Devananda and his EPDP.
But that was not to be. There remained a spark of Tamil nationalism within all the demolition and devastation caused that could not be militarily extinguished. That required a gentle political blowing to have it permanently blown out. That needed comfortable ground for civility, negotiations and compromise. This Rajapaksa regime could not find an arable and comforting political ground for such compromise. All they found was rough ground for arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances, barbed wired camps and supposed rehabilitation. Resettlement was on parched grounds, most occupied by security forces in the two provinces where the security forces dictated terms. That was ground, the EPDP also entered into, as a loyal political ally, ready and willingly extending its para military role into post war Sri Lanka as well. The first two to three years, they did enjoy that unquestioned power, but not any more. They were very badly exposed through LLRC submissions and the Commissioners did acknowledge the EPDP was part of the illegal armed mafia in Northern Sri Lanka. Devananda’s fury over the LLRC’s statements about them and his threat he would take the LLRC to Courts, was all bluff and had to end as just rhetoric. Re defining of Tamil politics in the democratic mainstream and a regaining society, held him in check.
In such changing mood in Tamil society, it was the TNA that could step in again for serious Tamil politics. The TNA, as the name stands, is an alliance of many Tamil parties and groups that came together in October 2001. Except for Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and the former alliance that was the TULF, the other two that joined, TELO and EPRLF (Suresh Wing) were armed rebel groups and remained so, even after the Indo-SL Accord in 1987 July. Of course, they crossed a political line that put them against LTTE fire. The LTTE was the only armed group out of about 05 major groups, who fought the IPKF then. The TULF later left the TNA. The ACTC too distanced itself. Yet most who wanted to remain as TNA, resurrected the old Federal Party that is now heading the TNA as ITAK.
For 2001 elections, the LTTE prevailed over TNA and is said to have had few of their ardent supporters included as candidates, especially in the Vanni. This heavily coerced compromise left two distinct political traditions over the years, within TNA. That of armed rebellion and of open democratic politics. Those who had known only armed insurgency, obviously could not immediately shed their regimented thinking to suit, open politics. The veterans were eager to get back to their style of deciding politics for electoral gains and democratic lobbying. What is often talked of now as divisions and rifts within TNA are obviously these contradictions. The incompatibility of these two political traditions. With the LTTE demolished, ITAK is certainly taking over politics within the TNA. Obviously too, it was democratic traditions and the old guard that won the day for Tamil politics with its significant victory at the NPC elections. This democratic resurgence is not easy to be condemned. Democratic politics, whether Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim has to be accepted and appreciated, even by this Rajapaksa regime. Within Tamil society, that is what this Rajapaksa regime is uncomfortable with. They find this resurgence of democratic politics difficult to contain with personalities like Wigneswaran and Ananthi, two from two completely different intellectual and social traditions taking to democratic politics with much pragmatism.
The regime and its defence establishment see the Tamil society waking up fast, led by this newly refurbished TNA leadership. There are now protests against disappearances, against arbitrary arrests and organised resistance to human rights violations. Local government bodies in the North, controlled by the TNA have resolutions adopted that contradict military presence in the peninsula in numerous ways. Defence authorities resent this popular political culture in the North. They are, as often quoted in the front pages of “The Island” news paper, is now trying their best to re define Tamil politics to their liking, in terms of LTTE separatism. Statements that say Ananthi Sasitharan has to be rehabilitated for her pro LTTE stance [The Island – 14 January, 2014/front page headlines] is not just to silence her as an individual, but to suppress a credible new leadership that could motivate the Tamil society into public action. Defence establishment as reported by “The Island” [14 January, 2014/front] is contemplating investigations on TNA connections in the past to the now wiped out LTTE. Again exhibiting how frightened the regime is, with the TNA led NPC now raking in popular support, dissolving divisions there was.
This now tend to leave the EPDP outside Northern Tamil politics. Devananda can not play “Karuna Amman” with the SLFP and Jaffna peninsula is not in the East. Jaffna and the North has always been the focal point in Tamil politics, the major lobby, whether democratic or armed insurgency. With his suspect political presence in the Jaffna peninsula that still ties him to the regime, Devananda can not afford to go South and look too pro Rajapaksa, when the Tamil society is re defining its political life in the open, challenging this regime. Its now a cross-road for Douglas and EPDP in the political North and South is not their terrain.
In the South too, although there is no credible and popular opposition party to effectively challenge the Rajapaksa regime at elections, the regime itself is in no good shape in its daily life. The economic life of the poor and the wage earner, is never compatible with numbers and data in spreadsheets of the Central Bank and the Census Department. There is a gnawing and ever growing abyss between the urban rich and the poor all over. The absence of rule of law, selective justice in an awfully politicised judiciary, ever increasing suspicions of Colombo turning into a drug and narcotic trafficking hub in South Asia and a regime trying to justify its rule with increasing anti minority mob politics, is proof enough the ruling regime can not any more control the tide. Even without a credible and effective opposition party, the very conduct of this regime has started biting at the conscience of the once supportive middle class. The very conduct of the regime and its stooges flying high, has given way to a decline in social acceptance of its existence. This makes it difficult for Tamil and Muslim entities to live within this regime purely on rupee gains.
For Douglas and EPDP to now live in ruthless comfort with the Rajapaksa regime that seem to crumble on all other fronts, does not sound very pragmatic. For a political entity like the EPDP that’s severely shamed by the LLRC in its final report as an illegal armed group responsible for extortions, abductions and possible murder, the options are limited. One, they could leave electoral politics and live as mercenary politicians, purely on the strength of the State security forces. Or two, they can slip out of rear guard armed politics and gradually rehabilitate themselves as a democratic political entity. But that requires hard decisions. The leadership has to take firm control of its organisation and purge all previously groomed underworld armed cadres, including the types like Kamalendran, the NPC Opposition Leader, under arrest for alleged murder.
Now it looks, the EPDP is buying time, instead of taking hard decisions. To go against Northern Tamil sentiments, is definitely risky for any outside the TNA, in terms of future survival. Northern Tamil sentiments now seem to gain more international credibility than voices outside North and also outside Sri Lanka. The EPDP may not want to get sandwiched between that growing support for TNA and its NPC and a failing regime that seems to harden its stand against everything minority and every democratic upsurge. Its time for the South also to take stock of this new shift in democratic politics in the North, that will impact on the East as well. It is worth watching, where Devananda would put his foot, next.