Sri Lanka; JVP’s concerns about Tamil livelihood

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan on 5 November 2018. Image credit: Daily FT

N. Sathiya Moorthy Ceylon Today 19 March 2019

Sad but true, and the disconnect is showing. Even as the JVP’s Bimal Rathnayake was talking about Tamil ‘war widows’ and arguing their case in Parliament, TNA Leader R. Sampanthan was still on the political track. 

Rathnayake was reportedly talking about the plight of ‘women-headed’ war victim families in the North and East, while Sampanthan was urging the three Sinhalese leaders, namely President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, to join hands to address power-devolution, taking the forgotten 13th Amendment  route.

Rathnayake was telling the Nation that Tamil war widows might be 30,000 more than the estimated 90,000. He also highlighted what he dubbed the crude and cruel ‘rape film industry’ in the Tamil areas, though could not substantiate it beyond citing a solitary episode from the previous year. If he has more information on the subject, he should be telling it all to the Police and the political administration, and help find a lasting solution.

Be it as it may, the TNA’s Selvam Adaikkalanathan took off possibly from where Rathnayake left off. He wanted the Government to consider woman-headed families in the allocation of new houses for war victims. The same should be said of other government benefits for war victims. The Tamil socio-political leaderships are better placed to identify the schemes and possible beneficiaries, but they seem to be least interested.

If anything, the TNA Northern Provincial Council administration of former Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran did worse. Not only would his elected dispensation not spend the Centre’s allocations for development in the Province and return the same as unspent, he also declared that for the Tamils, rights came first before development. The likes of him could afford to claim as much, but not those war widows and other victims, whose bread and butter issues remain to be settled even a decade after the war’s end.

It used to be said of the Upcountry/estate Tamils that for them livelihood needs came before the rights, which used to be central to the Sri Lankan Tamil population and polity. Post-war, barring a certain section of the Sri Lankan Tamil population, especially those settled in Colombo, or living off earning members overseas, the plight of many Sri Lankan Tamil community members is no different.

Like the Upcountry Tamil polity since Independence, the Sri Lankan Tamil socio-political leadership too has been mulching the innocence of their population. The latter only knew education and employment for making a decent living and leading a respectable life. Thanks to the war, they have not got all the education, and all those jobs that could have been theirs, are not theirs, not necessarily because of ‘Sinhala only,’ but also because of the Tamil reaction/action to the same.

Decade of delays

It is anybody’s guess why Sampanthan is now talking suddenly about ‘Sinhala political unanimity’ in giving the Tamils their political dues. To be fair to the TNA, and more so to the Sampanthan-Sumanthiran duo, they have been increasingly coming out, time and again, in favour of a ‘united Sri Lanka,’ and risking their political future at the very least.

In times gone by, especially under the LTTE’s cloud, the TNA was less than ambiguous in denying and declining what was on offer. They were thus delaying a process. In the natural flow of schemes, it would have all led to what the Tamils had wanted in the first place, but at one go, all-or-none. 

 Post-war, Mahinda Rajapaksa was known to insist that he could not repeat JR’s mistake of pushing a negotiated settlement through Parliament without a ‘national consensus.’ Read it as ‘Sinhala consensus’ if you wish, but that is what Sampanthan has now sought. He and the TNA were hell-bent against Rajapaksa’s insistence that without a ‘consensus’ any scheme that the two of them agreed would fall flat, on day two, like JR’s 13th Amendment.

What Sampanthan and the TNA wanted was a bilateral negotiation between the Rajapaksa Government and their party, for the former to push through in Parliament. Their argument that the Government then had a two-thirds majority in Parliament was hollow, as JR had four-fifths majority when he had the 13th Amendment passed. The fate of the 13th Amendment should have opened the Tamils’ eyes for a ‘Sinhala consensus’ of some kind before they could proceed with serious negotiations on a political solution.

Breaking silence

In seeking the three Sinhalese leaders to put their heads together for the common national good, Sampanthan has also sort of broken the TNA’s more recent deafening silence on the India-inspired 13th Amendment. He has now indicated/conceded that “the 13th Amendment may hold the key to a more comprehensive and contemporary solution to the national question.”

The TNA now seems to have the JVP on its side in this endeavour, though they may not as yet have a common agenda or worksheet. As may be recalled, at the height of the 13th Amendment negotiations and passage, a more virulent and militant JVP with its broad cadre-reach and appeal, sought to stall the process by launching a ‘Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist war’ on the Sri Lankan State as the LTTE was waging one on the ‘Tamil rights’ elsewhere.

 Today, the LTTE is gone, the JVP is a ghost of its forgettable self from the ‘second insurgency’ years (1987-89). It is another matter that throughout their antipathy and antagonism to the Sri Lankan State, its symbols and representatives, the JVP and the LTTE never ever targeted each other in any militant way.

First things first

In his Parliament speech since, Sampanthan has mentioned the Mangala Moonesinghe Committee, and others, and wants a solution, derived from the 13th Amendment. The TNA should then begin with a demand for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment for starters. With the JVP, which has spoken even more openly on a political solution, the TNA could consider forming a core group of political parties to work on the rest, to this end.

Yes, the 13th Amendment may need to be made contemporary, but neither Rajapaksa’s negotiations with the TNA, nor the current Government’s Constitutional Assembly seem to be capable of producing any tangible, workable results. The TNA, hence, should consider if it’s on-again, off-again ‘honeymoon’ with one or the other of the Sinhala majority parties is also the cause and effect, and work to address the same.

This does not mean a solution could pour out of it, straight away. It can be a starting point, as all Sinhala stakeholders to a constitutional scheme that would work on the ground, as otherwise, one or the other of the Sinhala majors. Under the Sirisena presidency now, instead of the two traditional power points in the Sinhala polity, there are at least three. This may have made things more complicated than already.

There are lesser issues which may prove more crucial to the Tamils and the TNA, in the months and years to come. One, if a presidential candidate that the TNA backs fails to make it, then their bargaining power could go that much less, not that it has helped the community in any substantial and meaningful way over the past four-plus years.

Then, will there be the parliamentary polls, due now in mid-August 2020. The TNA has to retain the current 14 MPs, if not gain more. Any loss for the TNA could mean other Tamil or Muslim or Sinhalese parties could have an edge. More importantly, a new Government would need to be dependent on the TNA and/or other Tamil parties for them to be able to influence policy decisions. It is another matter, the TNA has been able to achieve next to nothing under the incumbent Government, before the twin constitutional crises’ of end last year or since.

Then, there is the inherent and increasing bickering between Tamil parties in the North. Sampanthan has opened a new front (and possibly inadvertently) when he wrote to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe about the possible creation of two administrative units covering the ‘Muslim majority’ Muttur area in the East. As Sampanthan points out, the region had a substantial Tamil population, pre-war. But then, by naming the SLMC as the possible culprit for the emerging situation, he may have created an avoidable situation. If nothing else, the Tamils require the Muslims by their side if they have to go beyond verbiage on their demand for reunification of the North and East.

It is sad still that Sampanthan and the TNA, even at this late hour have not talked about the LTTE forcing Muslims out of their traditional homesteads and villages in the North as far back as 1990. Precious little has been done to rehabilitate the Muslim refugees, but even then the ‘Muslim polity’ is silent on the subject.

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