Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran is under fire both from North and the South over Saturday’s mass protest held in Jaffna under the slogan “Eluga Thamil” or “Rise up Tamils” organized by the Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC) headed by Wigneswaran. Although he was pressing for the resolution of several reasonable demands along with certain unrealistic ones, he had given a highly nationalistic colour to the event leading many including Tamils to call it a racist move.
The leaders of the main Tamil coalition, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which introduced the former Supreme Court judge into politics and made him the first Chief Minister of the Northern Province did not commit themselves to his campaign. All major figures at the podium of the Eluga Thamil were anti-Sampanthan politicians within the TNA representing various constituent parties. They have many issues with TNA leader Sampanthan including the one over the registration of TNA as a political party. Hence, this was not merely a demonstration in the name of democracy and the rights of the Tamil people; but rather it was also a manifestation of the infighting within the TNA.
The main issues raised at the demonstration was the resolving of the ethnic problem. However, Wigneswaran cannot be blind to the fact that there is a clear difference between the previous regime of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the current regime headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with regard to the resolution of the ethnic problem. The current leaders have acknowledged that there is an issue to be resolved and they have already initiated a process through constitutional reforms. The Parliament has been converted into a Constitutional Assembly under which several committees have been appointed to deal with several issues including reconciliation.
A committee headed by Lal Wijenayake had travelled all over the country including Tamil areas seeking public views on the Constitutional changes. Many Tamils had expressed their views to the Reconciliation Task Force. Therefore the process is on, despite it being not as fast as Wigneswaran and many others might expect.
On the other hand, there seems to be shortcomings on the part of the Government as well in respect of prisoners taken into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and releasing of lands that had been taken over by the security forces during the war. These were the other two demands put forward by the Eluga Thamil organizers at the demonstration. In fact for the relevant families these are pressing problems which have been dragged on for the past seven years after the war ended in 2009 and still remain unsolved because of the lackadaisical attitude or approach of the authorities.
However, using these problems to emotionally whip up the masses, especially the youth and thereby attempt to obtain political mileage is dangerous not only to the country, but also to those who rouse those feelings. One should not forget the fate of the former TULF leaders Appapillai Amirthalingam, Murugesu Sivasithambaram and many other mainstream Tamil political leaders who whipped up communal feelings among the youth during the 1970s and 1980s and became the victims of the very same emotions.
All Tamils are not with Wigneswaran on this matter. The Ilangai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the main constituent party of the TNA, which is also pressing for the resolution of the same problems as the TPC has chosen a more conciliatory path to get them resolved and abstained from attending the Eluga Thamil campaign. Minister Mano Ganesan responding to Wigneswaran’s campaign said “Let him say Eluga Thamil, we will say Eluga Sri Lanka.” What he meant was clear. Ganesan also called on Wigneswaran not to whip up communal feelings. Even the international community which is supportive of the Tamil demands would not appreciate drastic measures for the resolution of those demands.