By Malinda Seneviratne –
Things are not easy for the newly sworn in Chief Minister for the North, C.V. Wigneswaran. During the campaign itself, the ex-judge had to compromise on principles to the point of raising serious questions on his judgment.
The man had to play the communalist card, sounding more like an R Sampanthan during the heyday of the LTTE. Post-election, he had to drop rhetoric for pragmatism with respect to acknowledging the reality of the Governor. He had to come to Colombo to be sworn in by the President. He then had to deal with the vexed issue of distributing portfolios. Now, with appointments having been made he faces the disgruntled, some of whom opted to boycott the swearing in ceremony of the councillors.
The man has to manage all the divisions in Tamil political society hitherto smoothened out by the overbearing power of terrorists wearing ‘sole-representative’ status. The Colombo-based, Colombo-raised ex-judge of the Supreme Court is in unfamiliar territory here. That inexperience can only add further burden to his stated tasks of extracting ‘justice’ for his community. These are early days to be sure but his statements; a heady mix of pragmatism, inclusive intent and unveiled separatist sentiment; reflect the unease of the man.
Wigneswaran has stated what no other Tamil leader has so far. Indeed even Sinhala nationalists could not articulate better one element of the legitimate antipathy to Tamil communalism, that of insecurity.
‘Sinhalese people have this as their only country. They feel insecure that there might be some joining together of Tamil Nadu and north-eastern Sri Lanka. That insecurity has sometimes resulted in anti-Tamil brutality but I aim to change minds on both sides.’
Perhaps it was ‘all too apparent’ to warrant statement, but Sinhala leaders seem to have failed in articulating the above point made by Wigneswaran. If you take those Sinhalese who see Buddhism an integral part of ‘Sinhalaness’ or at least the overriding element of the cultural ethos of the Sinhalese as a whole, and add the strange complicity of the Catholic Church and non-Buddhist actors in the LTTE project, then the above is not suspicion but fact. It can be argued that the LTTE is only part of an overall project to systematically eliminate the Sinhala race, both in numbers and through effacement of culture, one way or the other.
Wigneswaran may not see it all or might not take all of it as ‘real’, but he has at least acknowledged a key part of the Sinhala psyche vis-à-vis the politics of Tamil nationalism. It can be called ‘apprehension’ if one prefers the mild, but the words suspicion and fear are not inappropriate. The fixations on land, relevant boundaries and abysmal support for the exclusive homeland thesis so apparent in Tamil political rhetoric need to be taken as acquisitive, thieving, belligerent and inherently separatist.
But is Wigneswaran serious? Never known as a fan of terrorism, the LTTE or Prabhakaran, he has found reason to praised and defend the ruthless terrorist who can be called ‘The Scourge of the Tamil Community’ for reasons Wigneswaran would find hard to refute. It is as though the ex-judge has just woken up from a drunken stupor. Listen to him: ‘This is the perception with regard to Prabhakaran as far as the Tamil people here are concerned. He may have been brutal but so is the government, those who are now in for a war crime inquiry internationally. If the Sinhalese saw their war-time leaders as heroes, Tamils might conversely do the same.’ Talk about over-simplification and puerile efforts at whitewashing terrorism!
Taken together, then, we have a man who seems rational, accommodating and sincere as well as a third-rate populist who is a happy caricaturist pandering to the lowest forms of chauvinism both living inside C.V. Wigneswaran.
Sure, a section of Tamils may still see him as a hero, but then he fought for a separate state, which did nothing to alleviate the fears that Wigneswaran believes the Sinhalese have. Prabhakaran exterminated opposing Tamil groups, killed Tamil politicians, academics, priests and civil society leaders. He said he was the sole representative of the Tamils. Wigneswaran could compare and contrast the man with Hitler; he knows there are still Germans who see Hitler as a hero. When he calls the killers of Pathmanabha, Sabarathnam, Amirthalingam and Tiruchelvam a hero, Wigneswaran cannot except to get the ear of the Sinhalese whose ‘mindset’ he aims to change.
It is not easy for him. The ‘fear’ he seeks to sort out was birthed by a Tamil chauvinism that came long before Prabhakaran. G.G. Ponnambalam’s ’50-50’, the Malaysian Chelvanayakam’s ‘little now, more later’ mixed with separatism and Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s chauvinism pre-dates the LTTE by many decades. Wigneswaran’s problem is that his expressed sensitivity to Sinhala concerns is clouded by decades of sabre-rattling by Tamil nationalists and bomb-throwing by terrorists who claimed to speak for Tamils. He is not only silent on the fear-instilling rhetoric of Tamil nationalism he appears to be a willing articulator of the same rhetoric. If Wigneswaran believes that the Sinhalese can be purchased by ‘I understand you people, but don’t worry’, then he’s dead wrong. His words therefore should be taken with an appropriate dose of caution.
As important, however, is the fact that Tamils too have perceptions that make for question, concern and fear. Even if Wigneswaran sheds the chauvinists and other extremists snapping at his heals and discards the communalist grey matter either dormant in his mind or gathered in the first days of his forays into politics, a clean hand held out has to be held only by a clean hand from the other side of the divide.
For now, he deserves congratulations. For now, he won’t hear it, because it is muffled by the chauvinistic voices that reside in his head. He might, by and by, let us hope. And even then, it won’t be enough, for sanity must meet sanity, and insanity is cheap.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com