Body po­lit­ic awaits vot­ers’ cru­cial mes­sage from Jaff­na

5 September 2013 06:47 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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For Pe­ter Yo­hes­wari (55), a wom­an from Ki­li­noch­chi, the post-war ben­e­fits are visi­ble in the form of low com­mod­i­ty pri­ces, in­creased mo­bi­li­ty of peo­ple, bet­ter roads, and elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of her vil­lage.   But, she, as a Tam­il, is more con­cerned about the sole iden­ti­ty of her com­mun­i­ty when de­cid­ing who is to be vo­ted in at the North­ern Pro­vin­cial Coun­cil Elec­tion on Sep­tem­ber 21.  

She has mixed views on the post-war ground sit­ua­tion in the North.

“We ac­knowl­edge the fact that in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment has tak­en place af­ter the war was over.  Com­pared to the war time, there are more trade ac­tiv­i­ties in the area.

The pri­ces of es­sen­tial food items have drop­ped since war time, re­stric­tions are no lon­ger there. How­ev­er, there’s a marked in­crease in the crime rate, and nat­u­ral­ly enough we’re con­cerned about it. The law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties have clear­ly failed to con­tain this trend. There has been a lot of rob­ber­ies and a ser­ies of vi­o­lent rapes. We are scared of leav­ing young girls alone,” she told the Dai­ly Mir­ror.

As Yo­hes­wari, most res­i­dents of the north have such mixed views when com­par­ing and con­trast­ing the past war time with the cur­rent peace time. Be­ing be­set with such mixed emo­tions, they are un­able to ex­press a clear stand on their views in to­day’s con­text.

Even in the South, me­dia re­ports re­flect how crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties such as child abuse, rape, mur­ders and bur­glar­ies are on the rise on a dai­ly ba­sis.

No stat­is­ti­cal da­ta is yet avail­a­ble on the crime rates in the North and the South to make a prop­er com­par­i­son of in­ci­dents in or­der to come to a log­i­cal con­clu­sion.

The Pro­vin­cial Coun­cil Elec­tions have been de­clared at a time when the North is wit­ness­ing an im­prove­ment in phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture as a pos­i­tive sign. But, con­cerns re­main in the rel­e­vant quar­ters in­clud­ing cer­tain sec­tions of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­mun­i­ty, wheth­er ef­forts have been made ad­e­quate­ly for the po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment of the peo­ple and to re­store means of live­li­hood for the peo­ple af­fec­ted by the three dec­a­des long war.

In this back­drop, the up­com­ing elec­tion in the North will clear­ly be a test for all stake­hold­ers within the province. This is so be­cause the elec­tion re­sult will re­flect wheth­er the peo­ple in the North yearn for their right to gov­ern them­selves, or are pleased with the de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes car­ried out by the gov­ern­ment.

Right to gov­er­nance is a de­mand put for­ward by Tam­il po­lit­i­cal lead­ers since the days of gain­ing In­de­pend­ence from the Brit­ish col­o­nial rule.  And the sen­ti­ment of Tam­il na­tion­al­ist iden­ti­ty seems to have emerged in the run-up to the Pro­vin­cial Coun­cil Elec­tions this time.

Most of the Tam­il peo­ple, whom the Dai­ly Mir­ror in­ter­viewed, were re­luc­tant to speak out their mind, ap­pa­rent­ly due to the fear psy­cho­sis caused dur­ing the war time. How­ev­er, there were some oth­ers who spoke out quite fear­less­ly.

“We are Tam­ils. There­fore, we will vote for a Tam­il par­ty. We want to live to­geth­er with the peo­ple of the South. Yet, we need to re­tain our cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty as Tam­ils,”Yo­hes­wari said.

Prop­a­gan­da cam­paigns are be­ing held for the North­ern Pro­vin­cial Coun­cil Elec­tion these days, but nev­er­the­less, no­tice­a­bly on a low-key un­like in the South.

Though 20 po­lit­i­cal par­ties and in­de­pend­ent groups have fiel­ded can­di­dates for the elec­tions un­der dif­fer­ent sym­bols such as scis­sors, pad­lock, post­box, and squir­rel, on­ly the rul­ing Uni­ted Peo­ple’s Free­dom Al­li­ance (UP­FA)  and the Ilan­kai Tam­il Arachu Kach­chi (ITAK) are in­volved in ac­tive cam­paign­ing. Can­di­dates rep­re­sent­ing these two ma­jor par­ties are most­ly en­gag­ed in house-to-house can­vass­ing for pref­er­en­tial votes in­stead of   con­duct­ing ral­lies.

The ITAK or the Tam­il Na­tion­al Al­li­ance (TNA) has thrown its full weight be­hind  the cam­paign to win this elec­tion for the con­sti­tu­tion of Sri Lan­ka’s ninth pro­vin­cial coun­cil in terms of the 13th Amend­ment to   the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Since the gain­ing of In­de­pend­ence in 1948, Tam­il par­ties have claim­ed for ex­ten­sive pow­er shar­ing with the cen­tre. It ap­pears that this per­cep­tion has been in­cul­ca­ted deep in the mind­set of the Tam­il peo­ple as even or­di­na­ry Tam­ils are more con­cerned about their na­tion­al, cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic iden­ti­ty rath­er than ‘bread and but­ter’ is­sues.

The TNA cam­paign­ing with re­newed vig­our and strength has ef­fec­tive­ly ap­pealed to such sen­ti­ments of the peo­ple at­tempt­ing to se­cure sub­stan­tial po­lit­i­cal gains at the elec­tion.

TNA can­di­date M. K. Si­va­ji­lin­gam said his par­ty was seek­ing a man­date from peo­ple to work for the re-merg­er of the north­ern and east­ern prov­in­ces for an au­ton­o­mous re­gion sub­ject to the sov­er­eign­ty and   ter­ri­to­ri­al in­teg­ri­ty of Sri Lan­ka.

“The pow­ers of the pro­vin­cial coun­cil are in­suf­fi­cient for us. Yet, it is the start­ing point for great­er dev­o­lu­tion lat­er on. We have cen­tred our cam­paign theme on that,” he said as he dis­trib­uted his leaf­lets among some peo­ple near the Point Pe­dro bus de­pot.

In ad­di­tion to this cen­tral theme, some TNA can­di­dates have based cam­paign slo­gans on the prom­ises to ad­dress the griev­an­ces of fam­i­lies of dis­ap­peared per­sons and those im­pris­oned due to their in­volve­ment in the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Lib­er­a­tion Ti­gers of Tam­il Ee­lam (LTTE).  Anan­thi Sa­si­kar­an, the wife of LTTE po­lit­i­cal lead­er for Trin­co­ma­lee El­i­lan, is one such can­di­date.

Al­so aroused are emo­tions of the gen­er­al pub­lic on what the TNA called ‘high mili­ta­ry pres­ence, land grab­bing and for­ci­ble col­o­ni­sa­tion.

On and off, there are in­stan­ces where in­di­rect at­tempts are made to glo­ri­fy and re­vere the acts of the LTTE. Par­tic­i­pants in TNA meet­ings seem to be elat­ed when such re­marks are made, ap­pa­rent­ly not be­ing aware that ali­en­a­tion from the main­stream so­ci­ety is not prac­ti­cal­ly ben­e­fi­cial for them in the long run.

As the TNA fo­cu­ses more on their de­mand for a pow­er shar­ing ar­range­ment, the UP­FA is bank­ing its elec­tor­al for­tunes on the vol­ume of de­vel­op­ment work car­ried out in the North af­ter the war was over on May 19, 2009.  On the cam­paign trail, the TNA has the edge over oth­er par­ties due to its iden­ti­ty as a Tam­il par­ty.  Out of the 11 po­lit­i­cal par­ties ap­pear­ing on the bal­lot pa­per, the TNA is the on­ly par­ty with a Tam­il lead­er­ship where­as all the oth­ers are led by south­ern­ers.  

This has made it easy for the TNA to can­vass votes from a com­mun­i­ty more con­cerned about their na­tion­al iden­ti­ty, rath­er than join­ing main­stream pol­i­tics at any cost.
UP­FA can­di­date for the Jaff­na dis­trict An­ga­jan Ram­a­na­than said the gov­ern­ment had been able to bring the div­i­dends of peace to the door­steps of Tam­il peo­ple.

“Now we are try­ing to re­store the pre-war glo­ry of Jaff­na. Ours was a so­ci­ety high­ly fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion.  We want to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion. We want to have a breed of youths with vig­our and strength. It is al­ways im­por­tant for na­tion­al pol­i­tics rath­er than be­ing con­fined to par­ties with a re­gion­al iden­ti­ty,” Ram­a­na­than said.

He said, “In­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment has tak­en place by leaps and bounds.   It is not ad­vis­a­ble to ali­en­ate Tam­il peo­ple from the main­stream so­ci­ety. I rep­re­sent Sri Lan­ka Free­dom Par­ty (SLFP), the larg­est par­ty of the UP­FA. It is a par­ty with adapt­a­ble pol­i­cies. The gov­ern­ment has giv­en a lot of jobs to the young peo­ple here.”  

Or­di­na­ry peo­ple in the North rec­og­nise in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment work. But, they say much re­mains to be done to en­sure means of live­li­hood.

S.J. Ku­mar, a Hin­du priest from the North, said peo­ple could bare­ly make ends meet.

“I suf­fered mul­ti­ple dis­place­ments dur­ing the war, and fi­nal­ly ended up in the nar­row strip of land in Mul­li­vaik­kal. The war is over now. There are prob­lems to be ad­dressed. Live­li­hood is­sues are fore­most among them. We need to pre­serve our cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty too,” Ku­mar said.  

It is un­der­stand­a­ble that ad­di­tion­al ef­forts need to be made to cre­ate means of in­come gen­er­a­tion in the North which re­mained cut-off from the main land due to ter­ro­rist ac­tiv­i­ties.

But then, this is match­ed by a sim­i­lar sit­ua­tion in the South where peo­ple are not able to earn enough for a de­cent stand­ard of  liv­ing de­spite the much-hy­ped in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment.

In­ter­est­ing­ly, al­though this is­sue is more or less the same in the North and the South, it ap­pears the peo­ple of these two re­gions will have a dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tion to it when it comes to cast­ing their vote.  

How­ev­er, de­spite in­creased elec­tion cam­paigns on po­lit­i­cal rights, there are north­ern­ers whose po­lit­i­cal be­liefs have been sha­ped by the post-war eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits.
S. Dhar­mar­a­jah (55), from Chun­na­kam, Jaff­na, is one such veg­e­ta­ble farm­er, who has found a new mar­ket in the South for his pro­duce.

“Now the war is over. There­fore, we can sell our pro­duce in the South for a bet­ter price. Ear­li­er, we had on­ly a limi­ted mar­ket in the North,” he said. Dhar­mar­a­jah had cul­ti­va­ted cab­bage, beet­root and cap­si­cum this time us­ing wa­ter from his agro-well.

Sa­thya­mur­thy Rad­hi­ka, a dai­ly wage earn­er, who worked on the veg­e­ta­ble farm be­long­ing to Dhar­mar­a­jah, al­so ech­oed the same sen­ti­ments.

“Now we have enough work as dai­ly la­bour­ers in the ag­ri­cul­tur­al sec­tor. Ear­li­er, we did not have such work,” she said.    

Pit­ted against con­cerns, sen­ti­ments, be­liefs, pow­er-shar­ing, mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment and eth­nic iden­ti­ty, the elec­tion re­sult of the North­ern Pro­vin­cial Coun­cil will car­ry a pow­er­ful mes­sage to the Body Po­lit­ic.
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  • sach Friday, 06 September 2013 04:56 AM

    One thing that shaped seperatist tendenciesin North is the lack of proper economic policies and gov's insensivity of degrading democracy and degrading law and order. That is northern psychich was changed into believing that staying with sinhala politicians is a bad idea and they cannot gain prosperity with them. I do not reject it 100%. However the inability of the politicians in south to create economic development, a society with law and order did contribute to seperatist ideas among general northern public.

    It is high time southern politicians and people understand this


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