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13 September 2013 10:20 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



The nomination of Retired Supreme Court Judge Canagasabapathy Viswalingam Wigneswaran as  Chief Ministerial candidate  for the Northern Provincial Council Polls by the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) was widely hailed  when announced in July.This writer while  outlining the process by which the “unanimous” selection was made had this to say in his weekly column  published by “Daily Mirror”on July 27th 2013. ‘’A veritable  Pandora’s box of the “Eelam” variety seems to have been opened and one does feel that the Sitar strumming  Wigneswaran may not be able to play the melody of his choice in the days to come. He may even find the strings on his instrument snapping if the current trend continues. All these developments and more will be scrutinised in greater detail in a forthcoming article’’.

Against that backdrop  the  time  does seem opportune to focus on the  politial progress made by CV Wigneswaran in  his new avatar as a politician.If the success of a politician prior to polls is judged by the  media glare he receives then the former Judge has certainly arrived. The past few weeks have seen the media spotlight being turned on him extensively and excessively.  Like fish needing water to survive ,Politicians  need publicity whether positive or negative .If denied publicity their fate would be akin to fish deprived of water.

"What is happening in the on going  process is that  Wigneswaran who at one time  heard and ruled on cases where alleged members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE)were charged under the Prevention of Terrorism  Act(PTA) is now giving a clean bill of health to the tigers"

Wigneswaran  is also being singled out for verbal attacks  by  leading luminaries of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance(UPFA) whose primary  if not the solitary target seems to be the TNA chief ministerial aspirant.Given the fact that the choice   of Wigneswaran  by TNA Parliamentary group leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan was praised as a masterstroke then,it is quite understandable  that the big guns are booming at the ex-judge now.The proverbial Tamil saying  ‘‘Kaaitha maram thaan kalladi padum’’(Only trees bearing fruits are stoned)illustrates vividly the reasons for Wigneswaran being targeted disproportionately.

When Wigneswaran was nominated by the TNA the decision was viewed positively by progressive sections of society on either side of the Elephant pass isthmus  and even beyond the borders of the Pearl of the Indian ocean. The induction of a respected retired Supreme Court Judge  was expected to bring about a qualitative change and elevate the nature  of politics in the country.The  stature of provincial chief ministers  now treated as  captains of second elevens would immensely increase it was felt.Much was expected of a future provincial administration headed by Wigneswaran.


He was also perceived as a powerful magnet attracting the bulk of votes in Jaffna which values scholarship, educational qualifications and professional  eminence at a high premium.Wigneswaran was also regarded as possessing the calibre to be on par with the Provincial governor and military authorities in the North during inevitable interactions. He was also seen as someone who could negotiate with the President and Government on issues affecting the council. Moreover the ex-judge was expected to impress foreign diplomats and  international media personnel during meetings thereby creating a positive image for the Northern province.

More importantly  the selection of Wigneswaran was welcomed to a very great extent by those desiring a just and fair resolution of the long festering Tamil national question.Wigneswaran though of Jaffna origin was born and bred in multi-ethnic Colombo and was educated at Royal College. He had served as a magistrate and judge in many different parts of multi-ethnic Sri Lanka and earned the respect of litigants and lawyers. After retirement he made  courageous pronouncements on issues affecting the country in general and Tamils in particular.

"Wigneswaran  is also being singled out for verbal attacks  by  leading luminaries of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance(UPFA) whose primary  if not the solitary target seems to be the TNA chief ministerial aspirant"

Besides his two children  were  married to Sinhalese. This  was also viewed as a complimentary feature transcending the ethnic divide.One son is married to the daughter of Vasudeva Nanayakkara ,minister of National languages and Social Integration.The other son is married to former Parliamentarian and current Dehiwela-Mt.Lavinia deputy –mayor Kesaralal Gunasekara’s brother’s daughter. The cosmopolitan Wigneswaran himself continues to live in  Colombo feeling more at home here  in ‘Kozhumbu’ perhaps than in  Palmyra land .

This personal and professional  background of Wigneswaran was seen as being ideal to build bridges  between the estranged communities.In an unhealthy environment where devolution was depicted as a dirty word and the Provincial council portrayed as a potential stepping stone to separation , Wigneswaran seemed to be an effective counterpoint.It was felt that antipathy to greater devolution could be reduced or contained greatly by Wigneswaran becoming chief minister.It appeared that the  spectre  of Tamil Eelam via the Northern PC  even if raised by some would fail to make an impact in a situation where Wigneswaran was chief minister. Also it was thought that  the  respected ex-judge would be able to enhance powers of the province through adroit  negotiations with the President and Govt.


These  salutary perceptions and  positive expectations seemed perfectly valid at the time of Wigneswaran’s nomination and it’s  early aftermath. Alas! As time progressed and the election campaign got underway,  a process of disillusionment began setting in gradually.The  political conduct  of Wigneswaran after entering the hurly burly of electioneering  has been  disappointing  to say the least. Instead of raising the standards of political campaigning  by exemplary conduct he is now lowering himself  into the cesspit of cheap politicking .The politicization of Wigneswaran seems to have transformed the eminent jurist into a third –grade politico  who is simply playing to the gallery to garner more votes.

Tamil nationalist politics in Sri Lanka,Tamil Nadu and within  the global Tamil Diaspora continues to be under the shadow of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) notwithstanding the fact  that the tigers are no more in Sri Lanka. Despite the  LTTE being a non-entity in the Island,many Sri Lankan Tamil politicians  of the Tamil National Alliance  refuse to be liberated from the residual hold of the liberation tigers.

This reminds one of an oft related tale in Jaffna about the carter and the old woman. The carter saw an old woman walking on the road carrying a heavy basket on her head. Feeling sorry he asked her to sit behind in the cart. After a while he  looked behind and found the old woman stting at the back with her heavy basket yet on her head.Likewise many Tamil politicians still refuse to let go of the LTTE baggage.
This tendency has come to the fore after provincial polls were announced. The election campaign has opened up new vistas for freedom of expression and freedom of speech in the hitherto constricted political atmosphere.The newly created political space is being used,misused and abused by vested interests to revive  secessionist notions in different forms and restore the lost image and reputation of the LTTE. As predicted by this writer in July and reiterated in the  preliminary paragraph of this article ‘‘A veritable  Pandora’s box of the ‘Eelam’variety seems to have been opened’’.


Open advocacy of separatism is disallowed by the sixth Constitutional amendment and all candidates contesting the provincial poll have submitted letters along with their nomination papers swearing allegiance to the Constitution.Thus there is no open articulation of ‘‘Tamil Eelam’’by frontline contestants. Substitute codewords  for  a separate state however  are in use. Terms such as  ‘Thamizh Thesiyam’ (Tamil Nationalism) ‘Thaayagam’(homeland) ‘Suyanirnayam’(self-determination) ‘Thannaatchi’(self –rule) and phrases like  ‘‘Emakkendru oru Thaayagam’’(a homeland for us) ‘‘Nammai Naame Aaluvoam’’(we will rule ourselves) proliferate on platforms. All these terms and phrases are outwardly innocuous and can be explained away as being within the ambit of  elections to a provincial unit. Yet the context of such usages on electoral platforms evoke a secessionist mood and fervour  very much alike the 1977 campaign of the Tamil United Libertion front(TULF) that sought a mandate for Tamil Eelam.

After reading news reports ,listening to audio interviews and viewing video clips of the TNA electoral campaign  from Toronto, I began getting the feel of that historic 1977 election  campaign by the TULF  where youths of my generation  got caught up in the emotional frenzy of  achieving a country of our own. In order to test whether this was simply my long distance impression or not, I contacted  more than one friend of my age group now living in the North of Sri Lanka. All of them confirmed that my impression was correct.

The words in Tamil  of one friend who was 22 years old in 1977 and is  now working in a Northern NGO summed up the situation  thus.‘‘Thani Naadu, Thamizh Eezham,Pirivinai poale sotkal illai. Aanal matrumpadi Pechukkal ellam 1977 madhiri Unarchi koppulikkuthu.Paattukkalum appadithaan.Marupadiyum oru Azhivo endru payaai irukkuthu’’(No words like separate state, Tamil Eelam, secession are  being used but  otherwise the speeches are all  bubbling with emotion like 1977. Even the songs are like that.I am fearful that we are heading for another  destruction again).


More troubling  than the subtle and not so subtle endeavours to create a secessionist mood is the brazen attempt to boost the  tiger image. The idea at present is not to return to arms or resurrect the LTTE  but  is aimed at bringing about an emotional renaissance in favour of the tigers through platform rhetoric.Utilising the  political space of the election campaign the LTTE is being praised and the current situation deplored . Prabhakaran’reign is being projected as the ‘golden phase of the Eelam Tamils’.

An important method of such mobilisation is the use of songs. Propaganda efforts for the  Tamil armed struggle has led to the  usage  of a number of  popular songs . These range from the borrowing of appropriate  songs from mainstream  Tamil films to songs specifically  written, composed,sung and recorded by  the LTTE or its front organizations.Most of these songs were not heard of publicly after the LTTE military defeat of May 2009.But now these songs were being heard again and heard loudly,  under the auspices of the TNA election campaign.Even a new audio CD of  former pro-tiger singer ‘Thenisai’ Chellappah has been specially commissioned for the elections.

The concerted efforts to  revive the LTTE image is done consciously by an extremist  segment of the TNA that is at heart hawkish and fiercely loyal to the LTTE. Another large and largely opportunistic segment goes along with this in a bid to  garner votes and consolidate their position within the TNA. There is a third moderate element that is unhappy at this trend but is either unwilling or unable to challenge  or  prevent this  blatant pro-LTTE  shift. The pro –LTTE moves and activities are being fuelled by funds from the tigerish elements in the Diaspora.This material support from LTTE and pro-LTTE sections of  the Diaspora is an added incentive to those promoting  the tiger image through the election campaign.

Canagasabapathy Viswalingam Wigneswaran is caught up in this explosive situation and is struggling to cope with it. Although he was the unanimous choice of the TNA and was endorsed as a common candidate by all five constituent  parties the reality is that  of the potential chief minister being  treated as an outsider and as a loner.Each constituent party of the TNA is  canvassing actively for candidates belonging to the party concerned. Wigneswaran the common candidate in theory  has no party working for him in practice. He derives his support from Sampanthan who has very little clout in matters concerning the North.


Jaffna district MP Somasuntharam Senathirajah alias ‘‘Maavai’’Senathirajah  who also aspired to be the TNA chief ministerial candidate later stepped down ‘magnanimously’in favour of Wigneswaran. His magnanimity however was for cosmetic purposes. Senathirajah though deprived of candidacy has struck back decisively by controlling the candidate nomination process. A gang of four comprising Senathirajah,ex-Jaffna university Professor Sittambalam, former  Jaffna municipal commissioner Sivagnanam and TNA youth front leader Sivakaran have  been the decision makers in finalising candidates. The man projected as future chief minister was left out in the cold in this exercise.

Furthermore there  are underhand attempts to  undermine Wigneswaran further by reducing the number of preferential votes he could get. The design  is to bolster the campaign of a few preferred candidates on the TNA list and make them get more preferential votes than Wigneswaran himself. If that happens and Wigneswaran fails to gain the most number of preferential votes  another move to replace him as chief minister could  be initiated by vested interests hostile to him.
It may also be recalled that  Wigneswaran  was targeted viciously by sections of the Tamil media in Sri Lanka and abroad at the time of nomination.

TNA Jaffna district MP E.Saravanabavan who owns the Tamil dailies ‘Uthayan’and ‘Sudar Oli’was opposed to Wigneswaran and orchestrated a media campaign against him.Media organs abroad also condemned Wigneswaran  for being   Colombo based,for having  Sinhala politicians as relatives(Vasudeva and Kesaralal) and also for being critical of the LTTE and Tamil armed struggle.
All these matters placed Wigneswaran in a precarious position. If he was to continue  along the political course he had chartered for himself and succeed it was obvious that  the prevailing situation had to be rectified. For this certain compromises and adjustments  had to be made.Wigeswaran cannot  alter his Colomno background;Wigneswaran cannot change his Sinhala relatives. But  the one thing he could change was the perception of him being anti –LTTE. This he did by re-inventing himself in a pro-LTTE mould acceptable to the  Tamil hardliners in Sri Lanka and abroad.Of course there is a price to pay in these matters but Wigneswaran  is not the first and certainly wont be the last to make such Faustian bargains.


It is in this context that I wrote in July that ‘‘ the Sitar strumming  Wigneswaran may not be able to play the melody of his choice in the days to come’’and that ‘‘He may even find the strings on his instrument snapping if the current trend continues’’.What has happened is that Wigneswaran has willingly opted to play the tiger melody now. He plays the tune so lustily now that the danger to his sitar  strings has diminished.
Thus the past weeks  have seen Wigneswaran mounting the steed of ultra-Tamil nationalism. He began with a trot then broke into a canter and is now galloping away.The goal is attaining the coveted chief minister position along with a record preference vote majority. As a result of this changed approach by Wigneswaran the Tamil media organs hostile to him are now  on the same wavelength with him. His provocatively controversial  utterances are given wide publicity.

What is happening in the on going  process is that  Wigneswaran who at one time  heard and ruled on cases where alleged members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE)were charged under the Prevention of Terrorism  Act(PTA) is now giving a clean bill of health to the tigers. ‘‘The  Liberation Tigers are not terrorists but freedom fighters’’ he tells gatherings in Jaffna. One does not know whether Wigneswaran is sincere in asserting this but if he genuinely believes that the LTTE is not a terrorist outfit then one  cannot but help wonder  as to why he sat on the bench hearing cases listed under the PTA.The honourable thing for an honourable judge to do would have been to refuse to hear cases charging persons  as terrorists under the PTA when  he  personally did not  regard them as terrorists.If  Wigneswaran  was drastically honourable he should have discharged those charged under the PTA and faced  consequences with the courage of his convictions.
He did not do so then and none can blame him for it. But what is irksome now is this belated  acknowledgement that  the tigers were no  terrorists.Of course it could be argued that Wigneswaran was of a different view then and that it had changed now.If so the relevant issue is the date of this enlightenment and the reasons for it.


All  of us are somewhat inconsistent in our  thoughts, words and deeds at times. The difference is in the degree and in the underlying causes of such inconsistency. In politics however consistency is not necessarily a virtue.If Wigneswaran’s inconsistency is due to lofty motives then it is indeed praiseworthy.If not, one can only lament.
The Tamil media particularly those controlled or influenced by tiger and pro-tiger elements are replete with reports of radical speeches made by Wigneswaran.These speeches are rousing in nature and appeal to people’s emotions.It must be said that Wigneswaran is not the only Tamil politician playing to the gallery. There are many which  is hardly surprising or unexpected.But it is Wigneswaran as the premier TNA candidate who has the most profound impact.Naturally the Tamil media relishes this transfiguration and provides much publicity to the words of Wigneswaran.
What saddens this writer is the sight of an eminent ex-judge demeaning himself by pandering to the whims and fancies of hawkish Tamil  elements in the Island and the Diaspora.Last week saw Wigneswaran in Valvettithurai (VVT) the native village of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and the cradle of armed Tamil militancy.Wigneswaran  delivered a thundering speech  to an audience consisting mainly of people from VVT and neighbouring areas.
Wigneswaran stated there that Prabhakaran the son of VVT soil was a great hero and not a terrorist. ‘‘Pirapakaran oru payangaravathiyalla. Avar Thamil Inathin Viduthalikkaaha  Poaradiya oru Maha Veeran’’(Prabhakaran is not a terrorist. He is a great hero who fought for the freedom of the Tamil people)re-iterated Wigneswaran on Valvettithurai soil.


This assertion by Wigneswaran will certainly be disputed by many in the south and even by a few in the north.The perennial debate about freedom fighters and terrorists is one that shows no signs of ceasing. But what is important here is  to note  that Wigneswaran’s claim amounted to a slap in the face for UN High Commissioner  for Human Rights ,Ms. Navaneetham ‘Navi’Pillay.Addressing a press conference in Colombo at the end of her visit to Sri Lanka Ms. Navi Pillay made the following  observation -
‘‘The LTTE was a murderous organization that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives. In fact, my only previous visit to Sri Lanka was to attend a commemoration of the celebrated legislator, peacemaker and scholar, NeelanTiruchelvam, who was killed by an LTTE suicide bomb in July 1999. Those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organization’’.

"Tamil nationalist politics in Sri Lanka,Tamil Nadu and within  the global Tamil Diaspora continues to be under the shadow of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) notwithstanding the fact  that the tigers are no more in Sri Lanka. Despite the  LTTE being a non-entity in the Island,many Sri Lankan Tamil politicians  of the Tamil National Alliance  refuse to be liberated from the residual hold of the liberation tigers."

Navi Pillay did not mince her words in referring to the LTTE.She did not call it explicitly as terrorist but implicit in her statement was the message  to those revering the memory of  tigers that a ruthless organization such as the  LTTE must not be  glorified.But what the  former Supreme court judge of Sri Lanka has done is to convey an indirect reply to the former International Criminal court Judge by paying tribute to Prabhakaran and by  extension glorifying and revering the  memory of the LTTE.
Wigneswaran’s  conduct as a candidate eying the chief minister post can be rationalised and justified by some as a  necessary evil brought about by political considerations. In a sitution where powerful sections  in the TNA configurtion and within the Diaspora were undermining him. the retired Judge had no option other than to be more hawkish than the hawks and overcome opposition is an argument  that is not entirely without merit.Moreover it could also be said that Wigneswaran after victory would discard this hardliner posture and  toe a more moderate line.


The flaw in these arguments  is that attempts in the past by many to adopt extreme positions to win elections and then revert to a course of moderation have often  boomeranged and  failed miserably. In 1956 the great liberal Oxonian SWRD Bandaranake who ate stringhoppers with fork and k nife promised ‘‘Sinhala Only’’ and swept the polls. But when he tried later to address legitimate Tamil grievances the chauvinist forces unleashed by him would not allow him to do so. Likewise the TULF leadership adopted the extremist goal of secession to win elections. But when the TULF leaders tried to moderate the separate state demand and accept some form of devolution the  militant elements galvanised by the dream of Tamil eelam would not accept it.
In similiar vein the retired Judge is treading on dangerous ground  in  singing paeans of praise to Prabhakaran and  indirectly glorifying the LTTE. After resorting to such rhetoric and winning, Wigneswaran would be  regarded by  hardliners in the TNA and Diaspora as a LTTE fellow traveller. The avowed purpose of Tamil hardliners is  not to gain power in the Provincial council and use it constructively to better the lives and economy of the  Tamil people in the North.Their objective is to capture power and then ruin the council  thereby demonstrating that  no scheme of devolution could satisfy the political thirst of the Tamils.

So  the assumption   that CV Wigneswaran can indulge in pro-tiger rhetoric,whip up emotions, win elections with a thumping majority and then transform into a moderate seeking reasonable accomodation with Colombo  is a calculation that can go terribly awry.The genie let out of the bottle simply wont go back in. Wigneswaran would then  find himself being targeted vehemently by forces claiming that they brought him into power(not entirely without justification) and therefore should adhere to their wishes. In such a situation Wigneswaran can either obey their diktat or be thrown out of office.


The greater danger of Wigneswaran’s perceived  volte face is the potential damage it could do Sri Lanka’s fragile state of ethnic relations.It has been the practice of Sinhala hardliners to label any Tamil  articulating demands  for justice and equality as tiger or pro-tiger. When Wigneswaran was nominated ,there were many who thought that such branding would  not be possible in his case because of his eminent stature and background. Indeed at the start when such accusations were made those making the charges were laughed at reduced to silence. But now with Wigneswaran speaking out stridently in praise of Prabhakaran, the charges of ‘kotiya’ gather  fresh momentum.The defenders of Wigneswaran are silenced.Trust and Confidence the essentials for inter-ethnic reconciliation and amity have been seriously eroded and de-valued.

CV Wigneswaran may win with a huge majority and become chief minister of the Northern Province after September 21st. It is however  doubtful whether he could function  effectively against the backdrop of  the  election campign. Given the  covert expression of secessionist  sentiments  and overt  expressions of pro-LTTE rhetoric  during the campaign, the  sword  of Damocles hangs above the  future Northern provincial administration.The  Commonwealth summit of  November 2013  and UNHRC sessions of  March 2014  may provide respites  but the fate of the Northern Provincial administration  to be formed by the TNA under chief minister CV Wigneswaran  seems firmly  sealed. (ENDS)

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at

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