C V Wignesvaran, the Chief Minister of Northern Province, is a retired Supreme Court Judge. As much as his judiciary judgements would one day be called for ultimate arbitration by history, one would also expect his political judgements shall stand the test of time and history. A man who was catapulted into politics on the backs of a defeated people, a scholar of no mean criteria, this Northern pundit seems to have unfortunately bartered his scholarship with the squalor of Tamil Nadu politics.
Firstly, Jayalalitha, the Chief Minister (CM) of Tamil Nadu was no ‘political prisoner’. Jayalalitha became the first Chief Minister in India to lose the post due to a conviction while in office. She became the first Member of Legislative Assembly from the state of Tamil Nadu, third Member of all Assemblies in India and the seventh politician who lost his or her post after the July 2013 Supreme Court judgement on Representation of the People Act, which prevents members of the State Legislative Assemblies and Members of Parliament from holding the post after conviction. She was convicted for the third time overall and was forced to step down from the Chief Minister’s office for the second time. Jayalalitha is among six former Chief Ministers of different States in India to have been charged and jailed in various corruption cases. Indian State politics is riddled with corruption. Its deep entrenchment in the sordid affairs of Indian Mafioso-schemes is chronicled in the media, both in India and abroad. Widespread Poverty and an engrained propensity for personality cult built around celluloid heroes have dominated Indian politics and their avaricious path towards power and glory has paid an awful price. With all that corruption and gangster-dominated politics, especially in South India, with her gullibility to short-term election pledges and natural susceptibility towards caste-ridden violence, the fact that India has sustained a modern, robust democracy has dumbfounded many a western mind. But none of those stupendously positive feats could justify the rampant corruption and violence that has enwrapped the life of statepolitics of India.
That India still remains as a leader in the modern world and in particular, her assured place in the close conclaves of the world’s ‘nuclear club’ alone speaks volumes for her advancement as a global economic and political leader. Yet she has produced such political dregs like Jayalalitha, a proven chauvinistic Tamil leader whose singular qualification is her one-time affiliation to the late M G Ramachandran (MGR), a Dravidian superstar of yesteryear. Courting Indian leaders of the calibre of Gandhi, Nehru, Shasthri and Desai is different. Some of our own leaders in the past have not been all that reluctant to do so either. But what would perplex most is when one of our democratically elected Chief Ministers makes it more than palpable to depend on a discredited politico in Tamil Nadu for the buttressing of his position at home.
One has to grant the popularity of Jayalalitha as onetime silver screen heroine. Yet to court her friendship and support for a cause that has been seen as a losing agenda in Sri Lanka would further extend the gulf that yawns between the two communities in Sri Lanka. Complete and comprehensive implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment, (13th) is desired by many enlightened Sri Lankan politicians. Since the defeat of the Rajapaksas, triumphalism and its dangerously destructive properties seem to have regressed to a corner. Although the groups that reside on the fringes of the political spectrum in Sri Lanka, led by some Buddhist monks who in fact are political mobsters clad in yellow robes, might every now and then attempt to rekindle the racial flames among a people whose memories are utterly short-lived, a reasonable number of majority of reasonable men and women would outright reject a return to vengeance-ridden politics. If Chief Minister Wignesvaran, the savant he is, is as keen to keep his hopes and aspirations to lead a vigorous and open-minded community to the wonders of the Twenty First Century as he is to maintain a harmonious balance among his provincial colleagues, then he must be reminded that keeping his own image and reputation would do him good by rejecting the dregs of South Indian politics.
Embracing the ‘puritan’ kind might be tough but it has its unsurprisingly longlasting benefits, both to the Chief Minister and his community. Representing a community that once was the pride of education, learnedness, hard work and the cream of public service, Wignesvaran should realize that when one calls for Federalism, it would not only be in relation to the North and East, it shall also apply to the rest of the provinces. The Provincial Council system that was introduced via the 13th did not restrict the Constitution from extending the Provincial decentralization to the rest of the country. Within the context of proposed Federalism, these provincial governments would constitute themselves as provinces which are quasiindependent of the Centre. It will be unbelievable that any Sinhalese-dominated government, at present or in the future, would consent to decentralize administrative and political power to the provinces beyond what has already been granted by the 13th. Such a system would spell acute fragility at the centre and vast inefficiencies and confusion in the provinces. Political instability which such an arrangement would engender would eventually defeat the very purpose of decentralization of political, administrative and economic power. Presiding over a diverse group of Chief Ministers and other provincial administrations run by the same political party has already proven to be too cumbersome for our ‘centre-oriented’ politicians who have shown amazing naiveté and incapacity in multi-tasking. They have not learnt to walk and chew gum at the same time! This woeful lack of understanding of the macro picture and failure to relate to it has been the constant flaw in Sri Lanka’s Tamil political leadership.
Time after time this facet of their thought cum action process has failed the country, not to forget their own community. While not failing to acknowledge the serious setbacks and discriminatory treatment the Tamil community in Sri Lanka has endured at the hands of the Sinhalese-led leadership, the writer feels strongly that the approach that is being seemingly adopted by the present leadership of our brethren in the North is not likely to be successful. As much as it plays a pivotal role in the rest of the country, economic development in the North and East is the critical factor that would determine future politics in these two provinces. There is no acceptable substitute for economic enhancement of a people. Cultural, ethnic and other nuanced aspects of life recede in the presence of empty stomachs. Dwelling in cultural and ethnic politics would only increase the tensions and stress between the two ethnic groups and contribute more to the destruction of a harmonious equilibrium that the leaderships of the two communities attempt to sustain. Instead of broadcasting seeds of tension, the leadership of both communities must get busy opening up information and communications technology (ICT) centres, training centres for vocations that the emerging markets need and demand. Wealth and material prosperity might not be the be–all and end–all, but its validity in a fast-growing global economy cannot be underestimated or denied. The great Stupas and tremendous works of art consummated by our ancestors were obviously not built on empty stomachs. Granaries must have been overflowing as much as those life-enriching waters from the massive reservoirs they constructed in the olden days that have quenched the thirst of the dry zone soil.
Transformation from a conflicttorn environment and time may not be smooth, but in order to make any advance in a thriving society, to be an economic force that the global marketplace recognizes, one has to let go of the past and hug the present so that the future might mean something more than a Palmyrah tree. The sweet memories of hiding behind a Palmyra tree may remain just that- a memory in the past. That proverbial Palmyrah curtain is not only broken, it’s scorched and seared. Weapons of war have ravaged the ground but have not extinguished the spirit of a determined people.
The typically arid planes in the North are gradually turning its red rich soil many times over and reinvigorating the region’s past as one inhabited by a hard-working people, enriched by their labours. As the saying goes, “Surround yourself with people who are only going to lift you higher”. The Chief Minister of the Northern Province is a learned man; his prowess as a legal luminary is undisputed. But his political skills are being tested today. In an unwise haste to score political points among his not-so-erudite voter bloc, Wignesvaran may have decided to cuddle with a yesteryear’s screen heroine-turned-politician in Tamil Nadu. But to the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, modern day politics could be much more exacting than reading a lengthy legal brief. Exchanging scholarship for squalor is not only bad politics, it’s a gross betrayal of common sense. The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org