Former Sri Lankan President (from November 12, 1994, to November 19, 2005) Chandrika Kumaratunga recently charged her successor and present Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, of adopting “authoritarian” policies and warned the latter against clubbing Tamil civilians with the now vanquished LTTE/Tamil Tigers. She accused the government of projecting Sinhala Buddhists as the dominant force with others being excluded and warned that this would lead the country to anarchy. Most pertinently, she said:

“Sharing political powers with Tamils will not reduce our strength…rather it will bring together diverse skills and talent to enrich us.”

Also, in what can be an important analytical piece for the readers, while she blamed all governments – including that of her own father, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike – for failing to address the root causes of Tamil militancy in the island nation, she added:

“The consistent rejection by the state of the demand of the Tamil movement, for language parity, led to increased demands for power sharing through Federalism, and finally for a separate state.”

Most pertinently for the supporters of the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka, she projected “federalism as the only viable solution for the nation”, and urged the Rajapaksa government to “work towards an inclusive society and share power with Tamils.”

As she was making the statements, a political party that was closely associated with the defeated LTTE rebels – the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – was notching up massive results for itself in the just-concluded elections held in the island’s former war zone. TNA took control of two-thirds of local councils by winning 18 out of 26 councils that voted on Saturday in the former conflict areas of the island’s north and east, in the first local elections since the end of nearly four decades of ethnic conflict.

For the uninitiated, it would be timely to state here that LTTE used the TNA as their political arm until they were defeated & decimated by Rajapaksa’s ruthless military offensive in May 2009.

Of the 65 councils for which the elections were held, the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which is dominated by Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), won 45 councils – including, significantly, two councils in the restive north, always a stronghold of the Tamil Tigers. The main opposition Sinhala parties suffered a drubbing as the United National Party (UNP) and the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) could not win any council positions. Worse still for the UNP, it in fact lost three councils that they were ruling.

The only two seats that UPFA won in the Tamil territory were won largely because of the influence of Douglas Devananda, the Tamil minister and leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), whose party lords over the Jaffna regions of Delft and Velanai. Devananda had made his intention of being the Chief Minister of the area quite clear prior to the election and was said to have left no stone unturned to realize his dream.

Probably because of his fanatical zeal, many independent observers have reported that the pro-government EPDP used a great amount of intimidation and muscle power during the elections to show for the aggressive campaigning that Rajapaksa had undertaken during the election, in which he promised more development to give wheels to post-war economic revival of the once LTTE-held area. It was a clear attempt to win the hearts and votes of the Tamils; alas, it did not have numbers to show for it.

Curiously July 23, when the polls were held this day brings instant memories of ‘Black July’ of 1983 to the people in the Tamil areas. In 1983 too, the polls were held on July 23 and all hell had broken loose after the results – and ballot had decisively given way to bullets for the next two and a half decades!

But fearing no return to the past, the government is satisfied with the present results. Claiming to have finally brought democracy to the region, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena said, “The people had used ballots instead of bullets. That’s a great victory for us.”

But what could only be termed a missed bus, there are pockets in the north which believe that they would have voted for the ruling coalition as a reward for the ongoing development work, had the government not given a free hand to EPDP, in collusion with the army, to unleash terror on the locals in the north.

Giving credence to the complaint, the Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CAFFE) reported that most violations in the current polls have taken place in the Northern Province, especially in the Jaffna and Kilinochchi regions of the Tamil stronghold.

Network for Election Monitoring of the Intellectuals for Human Rights (NEMIHR) also reported 88 complaints against the UPFA, which include 36 cases of election violence, 30 instances of election violations, 13 cases of using state property and state power, 3 cases of police favouritism and 6 examples of undue use of influence on the public.

The widespread interest in the region in the diplomatic circles in the country draws from the fact that the Rajapaksa government had concentrated more on the 19 local bodies in the North than on the 46 in the South, which it was confident of winning owing to strong ethnic Sinhala nationalistic mood. In fact, several officials from the British High Commission and the US embassy in Colombo visited Jaffna to observe the situation there, while the nation with the biggest stake, India, had kept a close watch via the Indian Consulate in Jaffna.

All that made sure that the Rajapaksa government, which is already reeling under a tremendous global blitzkrieg on its human rights record during the last days of the civil war, “could not afford to allow” any major activity in the Tamil areas. For, as if the issue was not green enough in the hearts of the Tamil population, the TNA distributed CD disks containing the Channel 4 documentary `The Killing Fields’ among the people during its campaigning. Also, unlike the government method of holding large rallies, the main Tamil political party used fliers, posters and newspaper advertisements as the main channels for reaching the voters. Needless to add, the war, the Tamil plight and the recently-ended war featured heavily in those materials.

Importantly, TNA already has the highest number of Tamil representatives in the Sri Lankan parliament and has always claimed to be the sole representative of Tamils in the country. Giving credence to its claim, not only the Tamil diaspora but also the Indian government is said to support the party. Recognizing that, the Rajapaksa government has held many rounds of talks with the party. And yet, probably not wanting to create a monster all over again, the Sri Lankan government insists that it wants to bring about a solution to the north and north-east issues in consultations with all the Tamil parties, and not TNA alone.

Unfortunately for the government, the present election results have left it with not much choice but to make TNA the principal partner in any dialogue. The TNA has proved its credentials; now it is up to the government to act.

While the elections were going on, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Prasad Kariyawasam, had called on J Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (the spiritual home state of all Tamils) in Chennai, the state’s capital. High Commissioner Kariyawasam, who was on a goodwill mission, talked with Jayalalitha about the progress made in resettling the war-displaced Tamil refugees and invited the Chief Minister to Sri Lanka for a first-hand study of the situation in the North. He even put a proposal of a delegation of legislators form the Tamil Nadu State Assembly to visit the war-affected area.

Clearly, the government of Sri Lanka too understands that the much-needed, and much-appreciated – even in Tamil sections – development work alone would not win the hearts of the affected Tamilians in the nation. It would have to reach out to be seen as being at peace with the idea of a Tamil society within the Sri Lankan idea of nationhood. Maybe it can revisit what Kumaratunga has said viz.,

“Sharing political powers with Tamils will not reduce our strength…rather it will bring together diverse skills and talent to enrich us.”

Or else it might face the following situation again:

“The consistent rejection by the state of the demand of the Tamil movement, for language parity, led to increased demands for power sharing through Federalism, and finally for a separate state.”

On the other hand, is the Tamil leadership ready to be more accommodating itself now – and agree to swap the demand for a separate nation with lasting prosperity, liberty and identity-based peace?

The world is watching.


Author. Entrepreneur. Filmmaker. Journalist.

Leave A Response