Wigneswaran’s maiden speech has been paying off in some other ways as well, in terms of Tamil politics
He must be indebted to some extent to the Sinhala nationalists for the praise he is being showered with these days
When in Parliament the solitary Thamil Makkal Thesiya Koottani (Tamil People’s National Front) MP C.V. Wigneswaran opened a can of worms by glorifying Tamils and the Tamil language over other communities and languages, Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa said the former Chief Minister of the Northern Province was attempting to outshine Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan, as a Tamil nationalist.
Wigneswaran started off his maiden speech in Tamil during the inaugural session of the new Parliament on August 20 and said in English, “I start my felicitations, honourable Speaker by hailing you in my mother tongue, the oldest living language of the world, and the language of the first indigenous inhabitants of this country and proceed in the link language”.
Weerawansa seems to be correct, going by some of the after-effects of Wigneswaran’s controversial statement that have unfolded in the NP. The former Supreme Court Judge is being showered with praise for what they described as, “his fearless statement on and the commitment towards Tamils and their language”
In a communal controversy one would always be benefited and/or be glorified within his community, if he was being attacked by the “others” or if he attacked the “others” especially over issues pertaining to his community. The late Soumiyamoorthi Thondaman, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, M.H.M. Ashraff, A. Amirthalingam and All Ceylon Makkal Congress’ leader Rishard Bathiutheen belong to the first category and many Sinhalese leaders including the Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila to the second.
In fact, Wigneswaran must be indebted to some extent to the Sinhala nationalists for the praise he is being showered with these days, since it was mainly the outcry by his southern counterparts over his statement that made it to be noticed. Apart from the shower of praises, the former SC Judge has been saved from possible imprisonment in a contempt of court case filed by a former minister of the Northern Provincial Council, thanks to his comments in Parliament.
Former Transport Minister P. Deniswaran who had been sacked by the then NP Chief Minister Wigeswaran in 2017 had filed the case against the latter over his failure to reinstate him in the ministerial post, in keeping with a Court of Appeal verdict. However, citing Wigneswaran’s Parliamentary speech Deniswaran withdrew the case on September 16.
In 2016, Wigneswaran, as the Chief Minister had appointed a high powered committee headed by retired Judge S. Thiyakenthiran to investigate the allegations levelled against all four members of the board of ministers of his provincial council, excepting him. The committee found two ministers -- Education, Cultural Affair Minister T. Kurukularajah and Agriculture, Food Supply and Distribution Minister P. Ayngaranesan -- guilty of the charges. They resigned from their portfolios.
However, Wigneswaran wanted those two ministers who were cleared of charges, Deniswaran and Health Minister Dr. P. Sathyalingam also to resign along with the other two ministers. They did not budge. Irritated by this lopsided decision by the Chief Minister, the members of the Ilankai Tamil ArasuKatchi (ITAK), the main party in the ruling coalition of the council, submitted a no-faith motion against the Chief Minister on July 14, 2017 to the then provincial Governor Reginald Cooray. Desniswaran also signed the motion. With the Chief Minister backtracking with his decision he saved his neck and for the time being, that of Deniswaran and Sathyalingam.
Deniswaran came to the lime light again in August 2017 when his party, TELO sent him a show-cause notice for signing the no-confidence motion against the Chief Minister in July. Later, on August 20, TELO decided at a high level meeting of the party in Vavuniya to suspend Deniswaran from the membership for six months, since he had refused to reply the show-cause notice. He argued that TELO could not suspend him from the party as he had never been a member of that party, despite the party having nominated him to the Northern Provincial Council
However, the party decision stood and Wigneswaran who was already at odds with Deniswaran over the latter’s refusal to resign at his request entertained the TELO’s missive at once and sacked him from the ministerial post. Deniswaran successfully challenged the Chief Minister’s decision in the Court of Appeal and the verdict given on June 26, 2018. But Wigneswarn did not reinstate him according to the ruling. It was against this backdrop that Deniswaran filed the contempt of court case. Wigneswaran’s primary objection against the contempt of court case was also turned down by the court on February 13 last year.
While another appeal by Wigneswaran in the Supreme Court is still pending, the Appeal Court was to take up the contempt case on September 15. On September 13, a group of Tamil lawyers requested Deniswaran to withdraw the case claiming that Sinhala extremists were furious over Wigneswaran’s maiden speech and were eagerly looking forward to Wigneswaran’s imprisonment. They further argued that it would be pathetic to see Wigneswaran in the dock in a court he had served as a judge.
On the same day Densiwaran replied in a Facebook post saying, “Let bygones be bygones. Our Chief Minister has told loudly something that had not been told by any parliamentarian before. First of all I salute him for it. I view this as a matter concerning our community. I will be with him forever in this respect”
Accordingly, Deniswaran offered to withdraw the contempt of court case on September 15, but on three conditions to be fulfilled by Wigneswaran -- an apology, cost of the case and the withdrawal of the appeal in the Supreme Court – the first two of which were rejected by the counsel for Wigneswaran. A compromise was later made between the two parties to withdraw the contempt case without conditions on the next day.
Wigneswaran’s maiden speech has been paying off in some other ways as well, in terms of Tamil politics. There are calls for Tamil politicians to unite. Accordingly, the Leader of the Ilankai Thmil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), Mavai Senadhirajah had convened a meeting to “discuss the actions by the government against the Tamil people.” One might also view this as an attempt by the ITAK to prevent the leadership of Tamils vested thus far in his party from drifting towards Wigneswaran. However, Wigneswaran had welcomed the move.
There seems to be several rallying points for Tamil leaders these days. Main among them is the ascension to the helm by the Rajapaksas whom they consider as a group against minorities. The government’s ban on commemorating Rasiah Partheepan alias Thileapan, the one-time Jaffna leader of the LTTE who died after a 11-day hunger strike between September 15 and September 26, 1987, over five demands. The draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution seems to be another rallying point for the Tamil leaders.
One cannot blame Wigneswaran’s love for Tamils or Tamil language, but what he or the Tamil community has gained, apart from the political mileage he gained by provoking the Sinhalese on the very first day in Parliament is not clear. It would be pertinent at this juncture to recall one of his speeches delivered at a function in Kokuvil Hindu Primary in 2016, where he gave some remarkable advice to Tamil students.
He said, “It is the misunderstanding among communities that has created suspicion, ill feeling, distrust and hatred among them. We must learn each others languages if we want to see understanding among communities. Our people go to Norway and France and learn the languages of those countries, but disregard the Sinhala language”.
Whatever the veracity of his comment on the antiquity of the Tamil race and language, it is a fact that he himself unnecessarily used it in a manner that goes against his advice to the students of the Kokuvil Hindu Primary on “suspicion, ill-feeling, distrust and hatred” among communities.