By Rasika Jayakody –
Wigneswaran Coin is Missing the Point – Whither Tamil Politics in a Changing North?
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who signed a disastrous ceasefire agreement with the LTTE in 2002, made an important remark this week at an election rally on claims over the re-merger of the North and East. The Opposition Leader in no uncertain terms said Tamils in the North had bigger problems than the re-merger of the two provinces, which were separated by a Supreme Court order, a few years back. While there are suspicions about the bona fides of Wickremesinghe’s remarks, this public statement clearly indicates that the United National Party is willing to re-position its policies on crucial matters with regard to the “Tamil Problem” in Sri Lanka. In other words, Wickremesinghe is saying that the UNP, the country’s main opposition party which earlier had a fateful tryst with the LTTE, is now in the process of acknowledging post-war realities.
It is in this context that the dialogue over the TNA’s controversial election manifesto needs to be assessed. The main characteristic of the election manifesto of the TNA is its inability to acknowledge post-war realities in a changing North that was freed from the clutches of the LTTE brutality. It is crystal clear that the TNA’s is not willing to give up its separatist inclinations even in the absence of the LTTE. The TNA, apparently, wants ‘separatism’ to be at the core of its political strategy and this line of thinking poses a serious threat to the future of ordinary Tamils in the North who are in dire need of immediate solutions to their socio-economic problems. Fairy tales of “shared sovereignty” and “self-rule” will not mean much to the Tamils on the ground who grapple with endless socio-economic issues in the aftermath of a three decade long conflict. What they need from their provincial administration is not fairy tales or rhetoric, but an effective mechanism that can address their key problems.
When former Supreme Court Justice Wigneswaran was fielded as the CM candidate of the TNA for the Northern Provincial Council, many believed it would give a sense of realism to Tamil politics given his multilingual background and the proven track record as a highly respected Supreme Court judge. There was a strong speculation that Wigneswaran would be the Lakshman Kadirgarmar of the TNA who could act as a bridge connecting the North and the South. Wigneswaran received his secondary education at Royal College Colombo and his son is married to the daughter of Vasudewa Nanayakkara, Minister of Social Integration and the vociferous leftist politician. As a Magistrate and a District Judge, he has served in Northern, Eastern, North Central, Uva and Western Provinces. This illustrious track record actually relieved him from the cage of petty communal politics and portrayed him as a political leader of national scale over the likes of Sampanthan, Sumanthiran or Suresh Premachandran Some assumed that Wigneswaran, with the grandeur of his character, would steer the TNA towards national politics, taking the party away from communal politics.
However, considering the present state of affairs with regard to the Northern PC election and the election manifesto on which Wigneswaran seeks a mandate, it is clear that the former Supreme Court Judge has failed to live up to the expectations and has entangled himself with unrealistic policies and principles of the TNA. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that the TNA is trying to sell old wine in the new Wigneswaran bottle, thinking the bottle will hoodwink the world!
Last week, Sundaram Divakalala, another Tamil politician, who contests the Northern PC election under the UPFA ticket, drew media’s attention by making some important remarks on the 13th amendment and development of the Northern Province. Product of Jaffna Hindu College and the University of Peradeniya, Divakalala is a former civil servant who headed the Education and Sports Ministry as its Secretary in the former North East Provincial Council.
“If we talk about the 13 th amendment or the 13 plus that people are talking now which is in the highlight in the media I can say I worked as a Secretary of a Ministry of a Province covering North and East under the same powers given. I felt and I feel and I think that the 13th amendment is a starting point for us to develop our province.
The Provincial Councils have adequate powers. There are about 13 subjects are devolved completely to the Provincial Council and 13 powers are concurrent powers which the central government and the provincial council share. With the powers exclusively with the provincial Council and then powers given in the concurrent list, if we can implement those powers correctly and effectively, I think we can develop the province socially and economically,” Divakalala said, in an interview with Sunday Observer.
Compared to the TNA’s unreal election manifesto, Divakalala offers a realistic approach towards resolving problems of the people and “developing the province socially and economically.” He says that the 13th Amendment is s starting point for them to develop the province and that, in return, gives a sense of confidence to the voter. At the same time, this approach elevates Divakalala to the height of a national political leader rather than locking him up in communal politics or self-rule rhetoric. This is the slot to which Wigneswaran failed to fit in, in his run up to the Chief Minister’s position. Although he is not the ‘favourite’ at the moment to become the Chief Minister of the Northern provincial Council, he has created some value in the system and shown a moderate path to others. That is an important outcome of the Northern Provincial Council election as far as the shifting dynamics are concerned.
What Sri Lanka needs at the moment is not politicians who strangle themselves with communalism, but a new caliber of leaders who engage in politics with a broader approach with the aim of creating a ‘Sri Lankan Identity’. And that is the importance of being ‘Divakalala’ at this juncture where ‘Tamil politics’ in Sri Lanka is struggling hard to re-invent itself in post-war realities.
*Rasika Jayakody is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org