Tamil National Alliance win in SL poll: India must seize the opportunity

If New Delhi is serious about the Tamils in Sri Lanka, it has to find ways to work directly with the NPC and rebuild the battered lives of the people of the North.

G Pramod Kumar September 24, 2013 16:23:28 IST
Tamil National Alliance win in SL poll: India must seize the opportunity

The Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) landslide victory in Sri Lanka’s first elections to the North Provincial Council (NPC) is both an overwhelmingly emotion-laden message to the people of the island nation and the rest of the world, and a harbinger of a new clash of nationalisms.

The voter turnout and the unequivocal results - 80 percent of the seats in the province and about 90 percent in Jaffna district - demonstrated that despite deeply painful wounds of violence and internationally decried instruments of state-sponsored oppression during and after the final phase of the 2009-war, the will of the Tamils is indomitable and their right to their centuries old cultural identity, and equal rights within a unified Sri Lanka is undeniable.

Tamil National Alliance win in SL poll India must seize the opportunity

Chief Minister elect C Wigneswaran (Centre) sitting with TNA leader R Sampanthan (L): AP

The Tamil voters of the North have done what the UN or the international community couldn’t do despite mounting evidence of human rights excesses and alleged war crimes - bring the Rajapaksas to their knees without actually shaming them. This is what democracy and human will are all about.

But, the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists are unable to stomach this victory, who see it as the revival of the LTTE’s philosophy of a separate country.

During and after the elections, irrespective of the foregone conclusion that TNA alone would win, the main target of attack of the ruling UPFA as well as other nationalist groups was the party’s manifesto which spoke about the Tamils’ right to self-determination among many other issues. The Rajapaksas and their proxies just picked on this single key-phrase and slammed the TNA. Economic Development minister and President’s Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother Basil Rajapaksa said that the TNA was trying to spread racism and separatism and their idea of federalism was secession.

According to the TNA manifesto, it is a historical fact that the “Tamils are a distinct People and from time immemorial have inhabited this island together with the Sinhalese People and others; and that the contiguous preponderantly Tamil Speaking Northern and Eastern provinces is the historical habitation of the Tamil Speaking Peoples.” It’s therefore simple statesmanship to agree that a functional autonomy is the minimum that such a socio-culturally distinctive demography needs.

Refuting the government propaganda, the captivatingly articulate TNA MP Sumanthiran said, “when our manifesto refers to ‘our right to exercise our option to determine what is best for us to ensure self government in the Tamil speaking North-East of the country within a united Sri Lanka’, that is precisely what we mean. But in the definition of this regime and its apologists - united is separate.”

If the TNA was aggressive before the elections, which it certainly had to be, in order to match the unseemly propaganda of the ruling party and its hardline-allies - both political and religious - its leaders showed tremendous character after the victory.

“The democratic verdict of the people is clear. Within the framework of a united, undivided country, they want to live in security, safeguarding their self respect and dignity with adequate self-rule, to be able to fulfill their legitimate political, economic, social and cultural aspirations,” said much-maligned veteran Tamil leader R Sampanthan.

The Chief Minister elect and a highly respected former Supreme Court judge CV Wigneswaran who the Rajapaksa regime and its proxies had targeted in a vicious campaign was also very clear that he stood for a united Sri Lanka. “It was time for the Sinhalese and the Tamils to live together in peace. We are citizens of the same country,” he said.

But this line of thinking meant that he was probably not acceptable to the pro-LTTE diaspora as well, which perhaps is one of the reasons why there isn’t much jubilation among the pro-Tiger groups in Tamil Nadu.

Although the acerbic Basil Rajapaksa was among the first to raise the bogey of separatism if TNA won, it was encouraging to see the same man offering his hand of cooperation after the results were announced.

However, given the single-minded pursuit of the Rajapaksas’ in polarising the country’s population into a ruling Sinhala-Budhist majority versus the other minorities (Tamils, Muslims and Christians) coupled with double-speak so as to perpetually stay in power, the future of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is not going to be easy.

Besides genuine autonomy, the NPC needs generous central funds and acceptance by Colombo that Tamils can indeed decide for themselves on most of the things that concern them, other than strategic issues that affect the country as a whole such as finance and defence - exactly the way it works in India.

Colombo has to reconcile to the fact that federalism in such socio-cultural settings is unavoidable.

Although the TNA can ask for the removal of the governor with its massive majority (more than two-thirds), he can still create nagging problems as the agent of the central government. Mahinda and company can create roadblocks at every stage, right from election commission notifications to clandestinely supporting TNA rival EPDP, the ruling party’s proxy, that bit the dust against the TNA.

The EPDP has armed paramilitary men who exercise extraconstitutional authority to intimidate Tamils. If the government continues to keep them as a “strategic asset” against the Tamils, it will spell disaster. They have to be summarily disarmed and EPDP’s violent leaders have to be brought to book if they continue with their ways of the past. The results should compel the government to forget its devious past and reconcile with the will of the Tamils.

With the Commonwealth summit round the corner and international scrutiny more active than before, Mahinda’s scope for diabolic deeds and fostering trouble will be certainly limited.

If he has some sense of realism and honesty, this is the time to start the much-delayed reconciliation and reparation. Unlike the Sinhala-nationalists and the Rajapaksas, the TNA and the Tamils haven’t betrayed any triumphalism after their historic win; instead their behaviour indicated signs of optimism and rapprochement.

Bizarrely enough, the TNA’s victory hasn’t evoked an enthusiastic response from the government of India, which has been claiming to support the democratic autonomy for Tamils in Sri Lanka. In fact, it does justify the charges by Tamil groups and political parties in Tamil Nadu that the union government has been hand in glove with the Sri Lankan regime.

If New Delhi is serious about the Tamils in Sri Lanka, it has to find ways to work directly with the NPC and rebuild the battered lives of the people of the North. The TNA has already indicated that it wants to work closely with Tamil Nadu.

For India, it will also be an opportunity to compensate for its failure in stopping the alleged killing of thousands of innocent Tamils during the 2009-war.

Updated Date:

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