Jaffna: Arriving In Style!
By Faraz Shaukatally
Huge crowds gathered spontaneously and to some of the onlookers the Yaal Devi was a novelty after 24 years. The diaspora media organisations were working overtime – Rajapaksa’s visit to the North was a singular achievement for the President. He smiled, he chatted, he tried his Tamil language skills, he ate their food, he donned the customary pagri and he punched the hundreds of hands that were proffered and he made quite a stir.
None of this could be stopped by the TNA who were in effect sulking. For a group that are the elected representatives of the Tamils in the North by a majority, this was a PR disaster for them. The Chief Minister has become a near recluse. A resident of Jaffna told us, “Wigneswaran is acting more like a Supreme Court judge that he was rather than an elected politician.”
That is a damning indictment on the former Supreme Court judge. Whilst development in the north has gone up by leaps and bounds the TNA appears to have missed the woods for the trees. In the President’s first term, he obtained the mandate on the basis of fighting the war to an end. That he has accomplished. The President’s second term was on the basis of infrastructure development and today Jaffna has an enviable main road network as good as any in the South if one wanted to look at it in a pedantic way.
The transport system was completed full circle with the opening of the railway line all the way to Jaffna.The government’s commitment to providing energy has also been achieved with Jaffna now having a regular and reliable supply of electricity complete with renewed transmission lines. The government has allocated USD 300 million for a water project – via the ADB – but the Northern Provincial Councils’ intransigence on the use of the Iranamadu tank has led to a serious delay in providing water. It beggars belief that the people of the North are the ones who are most affected by a decision made by people they themselves elected to best represent themselves! Not to be outdone by the bureaucracy of provincial councils, the President has ordered that his Minister look at providing a desalination plant adequate to provide sufficient potable water in the North.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to the North comes within the ambiance of a Presidential poll likely to be announced imminently with a poll date speculated around January 3. The TNA has acted more and more by proxy on agendas promoted by the LTTE-leaning diaspora and their lop-sided meddling on development matters serves as an attempt to cast doubt on the commitment to development of the north.
The net they hope is two-fold: that the people of the North will face further hardship which in turn will sustain international attention on what they will perceive as second-class treatment of the minorities. The TNA hopes to present the predicament of their own people in the North as a sacrifice needed for the wider picture of attracting international sympathy and consequent calls from democratic nations to Sri Lanka government to practice the art of accountability equitably.
For all the best efforts of Tamil Diaspora activities with regard to the spread of negativity it espouses, there is an inalienable fact which is universally agreed: that Mahinda Rajapaksa rallied his legislators and his armed forces and soundly defeated the LTTE. In doing so he achieved what no other leader did over a period of 24 years in which time this country was traumatized beyond explanation. Other leaders also had the same problems and plus points Rajapaksa faced – like a small majority in parliament, like a large and well trained armed force. What they all lacked, which we can now see with alarming clarity, is that they had none of the focus Rajapaksa had.
For all the claims as to quite how the war ended, five years after its end apart from a lot of ‘noise’, they have been unable to gather irrefutable evidence that the government of Sri Lanka knowingly engaged in a ‘take no prisoners’ campaign against civilians. Indeed if such evidence is present and if there is no rational counter claim present, the mighty weight of international opinion would have long ago been converted into drastic action. It is this that bothers liberal minded analysts: that after five years of rhetoric, none of the claims – although grandly described as ‘credible allegations’ – can stand up in a court of law.
Instead, what we have seen is the LTTE-leaning diaspora clutching on to a poorly thought out statement which can only be best described as ‘political flourish’ made in the heat of the moment: ‘zero civilian casualties’. In actual fact the government has long and hard maintained that their policy and stated aim was to ensure collateral damage was kept to a minimum. If we are to fault the Rajapaksa administration, it is on the PR front. That alone does not warrant a subservient attitude when it comes to watering down Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
Independent observers point out that the government took 168 days to resettle most of the 365,000 refugees who came into Menik Farm. Up until the last of the LTTE insurgents were captured and or surrendered or simply integrated themselves into the refugee population, the tide of international opinion was with the Sri Lankan government. The most serious matter that the government missed out was in the choice of words: ; ‘there was zero civilian casualties’ – when in fact the message should have been confirmation that ‘the goal was minimal collateral damage’.
Economically Jaffna and the former war ravaged areas is undergoing a significant renaissance. Astute and forward thinking entrepreneurs have flocked to the Northern peninsula in search of implementing several opportunities. Hotels, guest houses, schools, private tutorials, restaurants, factories are sprouting up even though the Northern Provincial Council leadership carries forward a programme of non-co-operation with the central government, stymying development and rebuilding . A recent advertisement placed by a firm operated by Nihal Sri Amerasekera, highlights two projects in Jaffna for which investment is sought. Both are for high rise buildings which up until now has been the preserve of Colombo and its suburbs. Jaffna, it seems has arrived: In style!