Sri Lankan politicians seem to be more obsessed with ethnic, religious and caste related issues rather than the issues that would primarily contribute to the development of the country such as technology, creativity and sharing experience with others including the international community. Election campaigns of almost all political parties are normally based on ethnicity and religion related issues, in the guise of patriotism. And it is a well known fact that the caste plays a major role in elections in the north as well as the south.
Even before the new Parliament began its business on August 20, the ethnicity crept the House in a big way with former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran who was also a Supreme Court Judge making a provocative statement while congratulating the new Speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. In a passing reference he said that the Tamils are the “first indigenous inhabitants of this country” and the Tamil language is the “oldest living language of this world.”
This provoked a chain of reactions. One of the nationalists in the south, the leader of the National Freedom Front, Wimal Weerawansa said Wigneswaran was trying to show the Tamil people that he is more Tamil nationalistic than TNA leader R. Sampanthan. Some MPs wanted to expunge Wigneswaran’s statement on the Tamil language and Tamils in Sri Lanka. However, the Speaker turned it down saying that MPs have the right to express their views in the House.
Later Govinthan Karunakaram, another Tamil MP representing the Tamil National alliance, and Batticaloa District during a speech in Parliament said that the relation between Buddhism and Tamil language is older than that between Buddhism and Tamil, citing the famous five ancient Tamil epics Seevaka Sinthamani, Silappthikaram, Manimekhalai, Valiapathi and Kundalakesi. However, he was, in a way, cleverer than Wigneswaran in citing the relevance of his speech to the today’s context. He said that those who boast about Buddhist legacy must look at the problems faced by the Tamils through the Buddhist teachings of Meththa, Mudhitha and Upekha.
In a televised interview on Sunday, Wigneswaran opened more cans of worms with several other statements. He refused to accept the veracity of Mahawamsa, one of the world’s longest unbroken historical accounts and said that over a hundred thousand people were killed in Mullivaikkal during the last days of the war between the armed forces and the LTTE. Before these speeches the politicians in the South had started to shout against provincial council system. They demanded the abolition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution under which the provincial councils were established in 1987, while the Tamil politicians have been agitating for more devolved powers to provinces. In fact the demand for the scrapping of the provincial council system gained ground with the possibility of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) gaining a sound victory at the recently held Parliamentary election being obvious and the continuous rejection of the SLPP by the minority Tamils and the Muslims at elections.
Whatever the veracity of the statements by the Tamil leaders and the justifiability of the demand to do away with the devolution of power to provincial councils, the motive of irritation of “other community” in them is also obvious. Indeed the motive to outdoing their own colleagues in community, as pointed out by Wimal Weerawansa, is the main driving force behind these statements and demands which is applicable to him as well. These are the investments by these politicians for the future election victories, irrespective of them not only standing in the country’s way towards development and prosperity, but also dragging it backwards.
If a politician forgets the damage and destruction caused by the 30 year-long bloody war and still becomes instrumental to frictions among communities, he is unbecoming to politics. The need of the hour is to work towards the unity among various groups of people, despite the innate differences among them and not to find ways to divide them further on ethnic, religious or caste lines. It is paramount especially on the part of the political and religious leaders to find ways to heal the old wounds rather than reopening them.