- The first 100 day “Yahapalana” programme with extended life could only amend the Constitution for the 19th time
- Post war, they were left with far more serious and sensitive issues than before the war. They were left with issues they never knew before; war crimes, crimes against humanity, transitional justice, reconciliation and accountability among many
Thanks to two ITAK leaders in Jaffna the people say, the North is being fast turned into a Tamil “South”. Commonalities are many. It begins with playing around with the Colombo “Yahapalana” government. Then come serious allegations on growing corruption. Next the split within TNA that was being whispered for some time. Now it comes to the streets, as with the SLFP. A sort of “joint opposition”. One part within the TNA and another outside it. Within a few months, it’s becomes a typical SLFP. That part which is outside the TNA is acting like the Joint Opposition (JO) in Colombo. They are also now looking for a Tamil “Rajapaksa”. A popular charismatic leader.
How did this come about?
Removing Wigneswaran is difficult now, as removing Rajapaksa from the SLFP. Sampanthan as leader of the TNA is in the same shoes as President Sirisena in the SLFP. Yet the political reality now is, Wigneswaran has emerged as the de facto leader of the Northern Tamil people, no different to Rajapaksa playing the same leadership role in Sinhala South
First is the deep seated frustration within Tamil society. They lived under every government since independence that promised but never delivered on their grievances. They believed in the Federal Party and “Thanthai” Chelvanayakam for over two decades to bring them answers.Thereafter, they left their loyalty at the doorstep of the TULF led by Amirthalingam for answers to issues grown bigger and complex. But none was able to help them solve their issues. In fact problems aggravated under every government. Then came Prabhakaran with his LTTE promising a “separate” Thamil Eelam State in North-East. That “Godot” never came. Their three decade wait for Prabhakaran’s promised “Thamil Eelam” left them once again, as devastated “refugees” under security forces of the Colombo government.
Post war, they were left with far more serious and sensitive issues than before the war. They were left with issues they never knew before; war crimes, crimes against humanity, transitional justice, reconciliation and accountability among many. These war survivors needed urgent answers to what the war left for them, before taking up long grieved political issues. They needed their own land back for resettlement. They needed answers for the “missing” in their families. They needed freedom for their youth still lying in detention without any charges. They needed unhindered social and economic space to begin life as respected, dignified citizens. They were also left without a credible political leadership. They needed one to represent them.
It is to this void and with this heavy baggage of a mutilated and frustrated Tamil society the TNA, dominated by ITAK, stepped into. ITAK leadership did not work with the people in repairing the dismantled social structures, for which they would have had to champion issues on the ground. Issues even the LLRC recognised and concluded urgent remedial action is necessary. The ITAK leadership knew, in the absence of any other political alternative, the Tamil people will have to vote them as representatives to all elected bodies, including parliament. They believed representative presence would make them the Tamil bargaining power. But not Rajapaksa. His project, buoyed by “war victory” against the LTTE,was a Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic project. He thus decided what Tamil people should be given, within his Sinhala Buddhist “development” politics.
With that the ITAK leadership in TNA was driven to the opposition and worked out a “political deal” with the UNP leadership. They believed that to be their only way out. The 2015 January presidential elections saw the TNA in the anti-Rajapaksa campaign. Tamil people and the Muslim community too, voted anti-Rajapaksa, en bloc. While the Muslim community expected the new Yahapalana rule to provide a secure life with rabid Sinhala Buddhist campaigns booked for good, the Tamil society expected the ITAK leadership in TNA to settle their most pressing issues, after Rajapaksa was voted out.
The first 100 day “Yahapalana” programme with extended life could only amend the Constitution for the 19th time. That too, in a very crude manner. TNA leadership with Sampanthan, a respected veteran parliamentarian, promised a total solution to Tamil issues before the end of December 2016, and appealed to the North-East Tamil voters to return the maximum number of TNA candidates to parliament at the August 2015 elections. Sampanthan wanted a very strong representative hand to bring home answers for Tamil grievances. At this election, he was given that extra strength he asked for. Tamil voters in Jaffna district in fact went to the extent of honouring his appeal to have Colombo bred, Royal College educated, Colombo resident Sumanthiran in parliament, that cost EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran, his three times held seat in parliament.
The 2015 January presidential elections saw the TNA in the anti-Rajapaksa campaign. Tamil people and the Muslim community too, voted anti-Rajapaksa, en bloc
Yet to date, the ITAK leadership which is in very close collaboration with this Yahapalana government for over two and a half years, has failed miserably in providing answers to any of the issues. TNA leadership held by ITAK has thus turned out in their alienation from people, to be more a “Colombo presence”. They, like their Sinhala counterparts in the South, now mark their presence in mainstream media, and are not seen on the ground where voters agitate for answers to their problems now almost 09 years old. These agitations and protests demanding answers needed political patronage and leadership. In the absence of ITAK leadership, it was gradually taken over by others in the TNA and in the Northern Provincial Council led by CM Wigneswaran. This trend grew into what is now known as Thamil People’s Council (TPC). Among others from Tamil civil society, academics and professionals, TPC includes all 03 alliance members in the TNA, other than ITAK. In present day Tamil politics, it basically reads like the SLFP without the JO in the Sinhala South.
His position that the two ministers against whom proper investigations were not held, should be further investigated had many ‘spins’. They were used to justify attempts at removing him through a No Confidence motion, organised by 15 of the 30 ITAK councillors
In such context, Eluga Thamil rallies held in Jaffna last September and later in Batticoloa projected Northern Province CM Wigneswaran as a new Tamil leader. This new face in North and East galvanised mass support around TPC. With massive people’s participation in Jaffna, media hurried to assume a new Tamil political alliance was in the making. That sent shivers down ITAK leadership. It was no different in the South after the JO May Day rally in Galle Face.With Rajapaksa cheered as the people’s leader, SLFP and Yahapalana leaders were also uncomfortable and jittery, post Galle Face rally. All of it, as with the SLFP leadership trying to counter the “Rajapaksa factor”, led to a widening gap between ITAK leadership and an apparent TNA faction in the Northern PC led by Wigneswaran. With differences polarising into two political camps, as with SLFP politics, Wigneswaran’s administration in the NPC was accused of corruption. A man who lived with great respect as a Supreme Court judge, Wigneswaran thus decided to investigate allegations of corruption. Sadly the three member Committee he constituted for investigation though with two retired judges, had its own hiccups. There was mention that one of the members in the committee had been earlier retained as defence lawyer against the NPC. Also that, while two ministers were found guilty and recommended to be removed with their ministry Secretaries, other two ministers were not seriously investigated into.
CM Wigneswaran was also far too late in taking up complaints on corruption charges against his administration. He was into conflict with the ITAK leadership already and perhaps did not want to precipitate a crisis by investigating allegations against NPC ministers who are TNA elects. Even when a Committee was belatedly constituted to investigate corruption, there was a serious lapse on the part of CM Wigneswaranin appointing a competent, independent committee of inquiry. That left him vulnerable to attacks by his rival ITAK group. His position that the two ministers against whom proper investigations were not held, should be further investigated had many ‘spins’ through numerous comments and statementsthat appeared in media. They were used to justifyattempts at removing him through a No Confidence motion, organised by 15 of the 30 ITAK councillors.
People’s politics outside NPC and ITAK was different. None of these allegations against CM Wigneswaran bothered the Northern voter. What bothered Northern voters were ITAK manipulations to remove Justice Wigneswaran from the office of CM.They did not want their main political plank removed from political power. Protests against attempts to oust Wigneswaran were therefore spontaneous and massive. So massive, Wigneswaran himself wouldn’t believe he had been a catalyst of alternate political power in Northern Tamil politics.
Removing Wigneswaran is as difficult now, as removing Rajapaksa from the SLFP. Sampanthan as leader of the TNA is in the same shoes as President Sirisena in the SLFP. He had to save face and immediately worked on a compromise. Fortunately for him, Wigneswaran was also prepared to compromise. Yet the political reality now is, Wigneswaran has emerged as the de facto leader of the Northern Tamil people, no different to Rajapaksa playing the same leadership role in Sinhala South. Yet on two different and opposing political platforms. Wigneswaran emerged on a platform for far more devolved power and Rajapaksa stubbornly on a “Unitary” State. How these scenarios would evolve would have to be seen in months not years to come.