With only a month remaining for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) to end its term, the long-drawn tussle between Chief Minister of the Province, C.V.Wigneswaran and the leadership of the Tamil
Bringing back a long forgotten theoretical argument, the Chief Minister had requested the 16 Parliamentarians of the TNA not to participate in the second meeting of the Task Force scheduled to be held on August 27, contending that it would help Government to undermine the Tamil people’s demand for a political solution to the ethnic problem.
In a letter addressed to TNA leader R. Sampanthan on August 22, Wigneswaran had argued that the political solution to the ethnic problem was more important than the economic development in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces.
Prabhakaran responded in his letter dated December 22 that the economic issues created by the war and faced by the people must be addressed before going into political matters.
He had suggested the TNA leader to convey this point to President Maithripala Sirisena by the absence of the TNA MPs in the meeting.
However, the Parliamentary group of the TNA that met on August 23 rejected Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s suggestion and decided to participate at the meeting.
The MPs, who supported the decision, are of the opinion that there is progress in the process to find a political solution to the ethnic problem and the Task Force was a good forum to air the grievances of the Tamil people.
They had also contended that it was only by attending the meeting that the TNA would be able to bring to the notice of the Task Force some of the burning issues such as the ‘invasion’ of northern land by the security forces.
Wigneswaran’s line of thinking seems to be that he is no longer a member of the TNA, despite him still being the Chief Minister nominated by the party at the 2013 Provincial Council Election.
He openly criticizes the TNA and its leadership while receiving a reciprocal response from the party as well. Going by the public utterances by some of the senior TNA leaders, he would not be included in the party’s candidates list for the next Northern Provincial Council election.
TNA is of the opinion that there is progress in the process to find a political solution to the ethnic problem and the Task Force was a good forum to air the grievances of the Tamil people.
And rumours have it that he was preparing to contest under a new coalition, sometimes under the Tamil National Council (TNC) which he formed three years ago and in which he is one of the co-Presidents.
It is against this backdrop that the new controversy over the Presidential Task Force is making headlines in Tamil newspapers.
The notion that the political issues must take precedence over economic issues seems to have been the policy the Chief Minister has been following during his tenure.
The Sunday Times carried a story on its July 29 issue which said that the NPC had passed a record 415 resolutions during its tenure and they are related mostly issues that do not come within the purview of the council.
In fact, we have heard about the NPC adopting resolutions requesting the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to conduct an international investigation on war crimes allegedly committed during the war and to declare that genocide against Tamils had taken place in Sri Lanka.
In a recent interview with the Daily Mirror the Governor of the Northern Province Reginald Cooray had said how the NPC had been over-politicized in a manner that it is more interested in political issues rather than the problems of the people, who are struggling to come out from destructions caused to their families and society as a whole, by the war.
However, the position taken by Wigneswaran is not something new, rather it had been the stance taken by many Tamil leaders including those of the LTTE and the TNA itself, in the past.
Apart from the Tamil leaders some of the Leftist leaders including those of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in far back as the 1960s and 1970s had contended that economic measures taken by the ‘bourgeois’ Governments would not solve the problems of the people but hamper their struggle for Socialism.
Hence, the extreme extension of this contention resulted in some Leftists arguing that people must be affected by the activities of the Government so that they would be attracted towards Socialism.
Wigneswaran seems to have borrowed this old theory.
Yet, most of those who argued that the political issues must take precedence, including the LTTE and the TNA had changed their mind later.
During the first negotiation between a Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil groups that was held in Bhutanese capital Thimpu in July and August 1985, the position taken by all stakeholders had been that ethnic problem should be addressed politically and forthwith. Interim measures were not even considered.
It was during these talks that the famous Thimpu principles were presented by the Tamil leaders.
However, as a result of both parties to the talks attempting to hoodwink each other, the talks collapsed.
Four years later, when the LTTE came forward for talks with the Government of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, the organization had changed.
They wanted the ‘day-to-day problems of the people in the North and the East’ to be solved first, despite President Premadasa attempted to address the political issues through an All Party Conference, in which Yogaratnam Yogi and a few others attended as the LTTE representatives.
Yet, after several rounds of talks at the highest level, the LTTE seized on the arrest of a Muslim tailor, who worked for them and started what is then called Eelam War II, in June 1990.
The LTTE had not changed this stance during the talks with the Chandrika Kumaratunga Government either. In a letter sent to the organisation’s leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on December 20, 1994, the then Deputy Defence Minister Anurudda Ratwatte had suggested to take up political issues at the next round of talks and Prabhakaran responded in his letter dated December 22 that the economic issues created by the war and faced by the people must be addressed before going into political matters.
Again this had been the position taken by the LTTE during the talks with the Ranil Wickremesinghe government as well, in 2002 and 2003. Their main demand at the negotiating table was to form an interim administration for the North and the East, which in a proposal they submitted later had been named “Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA).
A joint subcommittee named Sub-Committee On Immediate Humanitarian And Rehabilitation Needs In The North And East (SIHRN), comprising of representatives of both the Government and the LTTE was formed, while a separate fund called North East Rehabilitation Fund (NERF) was to be formed with the supervision of the World Bank.
Two international conferences were convened in Washington and Tokyo in order to support the Sri Lankan peace process and the international community pledged to assist Sri Lanka with a massive amount of $ 4.5 billion, at the Tokyo Conference.
Despite this history vindicating the TNA stance in the present controversy, some six years ago, during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, the party was following a different line.
During the 14th convention of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) held in Batticaloa in May 2012,
TNA leader Sampanthan said “It is true that a duty lies with us all to rescue ourselves, our community and our people from this agony, to uplift them to an acceptable standard of living. But, my dear friends, we must not, for this reason, fall into the trap of the so-called development being brought about by the Sri Lankan Government. It is a devious trap to undermine the very existence of the Tamil people as a community. It is a death trap.”
The Tamil leaders have been demanding a political solution for decades and it is not clear how many more decades they would have to wait for a solution that would satisfy them.
Does Wigneswaran want the northern people to live without land, water, roads, irrigation facilities and housing until then?