Putting the ‘Tamil House’ in order

By N Sathiya Moorthy

 

Waking up like the proverbial Rip van Winkle so to say, Northern Province’s TNA (?) Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran has sought a ‘through probe’ into the ‘bonds scam’, when everyone else in the country thought that at least the probe part of it all was behind them. However, there is no denying the rightfulness of his demand for politicians who had received illegal gratification in the scam as a quid pro quo for ministerial and legislative favours, to quit public life.

More to the ethno-politics of the North and of the larger Tamil politics of the nation, Wigneswaran also joined issue with the Centre’s Cabinet spokesperson and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne on the ‘ethnic issue’. “Is demanding the restoration of the rights that were taken away from our people, ‘racist’?” he has asked in response to Senaratne’s accusation that the Chief Minister was talking ‘racism’.

Taking a stand stronger than the Chief Minister is Dharmalingam Sitharthan, parliamentarian belonging to PLOTE, another of what was originally the four-party TNA, since reduced to three. Sitharthan’s current views are at variance with the TNA leadership of ITAK’s Rajavarothayam Sampanthan. It is too early to say which way the PLOTE wind is blowing for the TNA, considering the combine’s vote-share reversals in the local government (LG) polls of February.

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Responding to queries if he hoped that a political solution to the ‘ethnic issue’ would become a reality under the present Government at the Centre, Sitharthan reportedly said that all “southern Sinhala leaders are against the very idea of power-sharing”. However, Sampanthan, after a meeting with President Maithiripala Sirisena, has said that he has been promised that it would all happen before the year is out. That is a full year before the presidential polls.

‘Glass house’ syndrome

There is some truth in what Sitharthan has said, but then those living in glass houses should not throw stones. If there were the proverbial old lady who told three of the four robbers who had together deposited their loot with her, after one of them had taken it all from her through misrepresentation, she would have told Sitharthan, Sampanthan and Wigneswaran, et al: “Please put your own house in order before blaming the ‘Sinhala South’.”

That is the reality, and already the UK unit of the TNA has appealed to Sampanthan and Wigneswaran, to sort out their differences. Coming as it does ahead of the scheduled three-day TNA political conference at Jaffna, beginning on 31 August, such appeals acknowledge the deep-divide in the party, and at the top – one more time, that is.

There is no denying that the hard-line Wigneswaran camp now controls the Northern Provincial Council, where the TNA technically has 30 members in the 38-seat House. Among them is Minister Ananthi Sasitharan, who was suspended by the party leadership but inducted into the Board of Ministers by CM Wigneswaran.

Against this, the parliamentary group is supposed to be under the control of Sampanthan-led ITAK partner, but then there is no knowing if they would stick together on all issues. Yet, there is no denying that at least in the parliamentary group the ITAK numbers prevail, but then neither side has the courage to take on the other in an all-out fight for supremacy, which is what it is otherwise.

TNA parliamentarian M A Sumanthiran has more than acknowledged, and with figures, that the Alliance has lost a substantial part of their traditional vote-share, in the North especially, to other Tamil parties in the LG polls. The results showed that not only non-TNA, anti-TNA Tamil parties but even those of the ‘southern Sinhalas’ have made fresh inroads in the post-war decade.

With the Centre undecided as yet, or so it would seem, about conducting segregated Provincial Council polls that are due, including that for the North, later this year, Wigneswaran has put forth a unique conditionality, if that is it. He has said that if the Government decided to postpone the NPC elections at the end of the constitutionally-mandated five-year term in end-October, then he should be allowed to continue as Chief Minister.

Such a course would require a constitutional amendment, the former Supreme Court Judge has readily conceded. But the politician in him refuses to acknowledge that this Government may be in no mood to do it, precisely for reasons that it is unsure of what would happen next to the Centre’s political stability and the perceived popularity of the rival SLPP-JO otherwise.

‘Conscience vote’

Even while supposed to be continuing in the TNA, Wigneswaran has thrown in the hat onto the chief ministerial ring ahead of the next PC polls, whenever held. He is not unlikely to get the unflinching backing of the ACTC-TNPF of Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. The LG polls showed that combine has been expanding its ‘critical mass’ from within the Tamil community. The ACTC-TNPF can also hope to derive blessings from hard-line sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, which still has a say in the socio-political affairs of the community that had stayed back home through the war and afterwards, too.

The ACTC-TNPF combine fared very badly in the parliamentary polls of 2015 even after Wigneswaran had openly sided with them, and called for ‘conscience vote’ from within the TNA and the traditional vote-bank of the Alliance. But in the LG polls, the grouping has fared better, even if Wigneswaran did not open his mouth. But then, they could not hope for a better chief ministerial candidate than Wigneswaran, unless it is Gajan Ponnambalam, whose ‘acceptance-level’ among the Tamil voters may still be suspect.

More recently, EPDP’s Douglas Devananda too has declared that he would contest the PC polls as chief ministerial candidate, under his party symbol, ‘Veena’.  For reasons best known to him, Devananda struck deals with the TNA post-poll in various LG bodies in the North, giving away deputy mayor positions even where the EPDP could have staked its legit claims.

Devananda’s message for the PC polls was not as unclear as may have looked. If the TNA did not back his chief ministerial candidacy, the EPDP could then withdraw support to the Alliance in those LG bodies, just on the poll-eve. The psychological impact would then be greater than otherwise. It is also not unlikely that Douglas might consider striking a PC poll deal with the Wigneswaran camp, and so could other smaller Tamil parties in the North – though official TNA might be their first choice, and the threat of contesting alone may be a bargaining-chip just now.

Between them, at present, the non-ITAK partners in the TNA, including the untitled Wigneswaran faction, along with the EPDP, ACTC-TNPF and lesser parties may be equals to the TNA in any electoral arithmetic for the North. In the February LG polls, for instance, the Chandrakumar-led EPDP breakaway faction polled a high 30 per cent vote-share in Killinochi district.

As may be recalled, until military pressure pushed the LTTE out of the district-town, up to Mullivaikkal in the Vanni, Killinochi was the ‘official headquarters’ of the militant outfit. As the LG poll results showed, even in Killinochi, the public mood seems to be changing from a pan-Tamil electoral identity to greater specifics, styles and symbolisms. It was never ever all-out pro-TNA in Vavuniya and Vanni, and that is showing up even more. Not that the all-important Jaffna electoral district is unflinchingly loyal to the TNA as it used to be.

Delivering the Tamil vote?

There is a message in all this for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo, too, as and when they hope to come up with the new Constitution and thus a new ‘political package’ for the Tamils (read:TNA). They may continue to count on a two-thirds parliamentary majority (including those from the TNA) to pass a favourable legislation.

In this, the duo may not count on the support of the SLPP-JO or the JVP, or even hard-line Sinhala sections within the Government, like the JHU, for instance. Citing all these and more, they may also seek to convince the TNA that the latter should not press them on new constitutional provisions that would require a public referendum under the existing statute.

If nothing else, they would jointly and severally – more of the latter, just now – for the TNA to deliver the Tamil votes for them in the presidential polls, wholesale, one more time. That is however a far cry, if one were to judge the TNA’s relative acceptance levels in the North and the East, compared to the post-war presidential polls of 2010 and 2015.

In the final analysis, neither the SLFP, nor the UNP would want to lose a part of their committed Sinhala votes, rural or urban, by offering too much to the TNA unless they are guaranteed of an offsetting Tamil vote-share. It was the problem that haunted the Rajapaksa regime when they opened political negotiations with the TNA, post-war, post Elections-2010.

Today, the TNA wants a favourable ‘political package’ from the Government side to go back to their traditional constituencies, as much as the latter continue to need the Tamil votes more than in 2015. There is then the question of both sides doing business with the same comfort levels as in 2015 with the multiple parties of the Tamil-speaking Muslims, in the East and the North, in that order.

The TNA’s Jaffna conference thus acquires multiple-significance for the party and the nation. The leadership has to convince itself and its allies, at the national and international level, that the Tamil voters are still with them and the LG poll results were only an aberration, not a rule for the future. The Government, by then, should have to deliver on the ‘political promise’ – not necessarily by having a new Constitution in place, but at least by presenting the Draft.

Such a Draft, or even a fast-tracked Constitution if at all it happened that way, could then come up for discussion at the TNA conference, and discourse and debate outside, both in the larger Tamil community and the majority Sinhala community and polity – not leaving out the feeble voice of Muslims and Upcountry Tamils. It can bring back at least a section of the traditional constituency that has begun deserting the TNA. It can also create further dissent and divisions within the combine, if the ‘inadequacies’ of the Draft’s offering fails to meet the ‘legitimate aspirations’ of the Tamil community, which have always remained nebulous and extendable.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email:sathiyam54@nsathiyamoorthy.com)

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3 Comments for “Putting the ‘Tamil House’ in order”

  1. Tamil

    Wigneswaran is a LTTE agent. He should not be given CM post again. He is a thankless person who passed various resolutions without working with the Government to get benefits for his people. He does not want non Tamils to settle down in Jaffna but his children are married to Sinhalese and they have settled down out side Jaffna. He is the most dishonest Tamil Politician in the country today.

    • raj

      if that so, can you name any agent of war criminals in which hands thousands of Tamils died? Or, are you a part of that so called war criminal agent? Would you forget someone hurt your family if they give you a nice party?

  2. tomsam

    Mr Vigneswaran’s ascent to the CM of North has been the best that happened to Eelam Tamils.He has no hold back nor nothing to hide but calls a spade a spade.
    Eelam tamils were taken for a ride by sinhala elites and also cinnamon garden based Tamil politicians.
    Mr.Vigneswaran is and will be remembered as the Mandela of Eelam Tamils.
    He has no no stripes nor spots to terrorize the Tamil population of Eelam state of Srilanka.
    Whom his children are married is immaterial to any discussion.Establishing a confederate state of Eelam ,akin to Quebec should be aim of all Eelam Tamils.

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