By N Sathiya Moorthy
Chennai, 25 October 2018
One step for a Tamil, a giant leap for Tamil people – or, is it so? This is one occasion in which the outgoing Northern Province Tamil Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran has not failed his supporters and critics allies. He has had the cake and eaten it too. He has quit the parent TNA at long last, not keeping the guessing game on, any more!
Having waited out until his last day in office as Chief Minister, Wigneswaran has since quit the parent Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to float his ‘Tamil Political Alliance’ (TPA). In doing so, he has seemingly converted the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) of which he was the patron, since inception a couple of years ago.
Does this means that Wigneswaran is now going to stop being a Tamil ‘nationalist’ and will begin working for the ‘Tamil people’, instead, as the nomenclatures of the two parties suggest? Pun apart, that is how he had acted as Chief Minister, putting ideology before the people, who had elected him with a massive vote.
As is known, the Wigneswaran-led Government seldom worked for the ‘Tamil people’, who were in dire need for post-war succour, which only a Tamil Chief Minister and Tamil political administration alone could have given – the touch, the feel, the sentiment. Not only did his Government not do any of these things, but it even ended up returning Central funds allocated for various departments and programmes, unspent. Yet, CM Wigneswaran would clamour for more funds, more powers.
Throughout his five years in office, Wigneswaran would talk only about ‘Tamil nationalism’, which was close to his heart even before he took a ‘very reluctant’ (?) political plunge. The TNA leadership, according to reports, had to bend backwards and forwards to beg him to take on the political role, become their chief ministerial candidate in the first post-War NPC polls — and to what avail now?
Wigneswaran, a former Judge of the Supreme Court, would not want a political role, though his ‘nationalist’ bend-of-mind was known through his various public talks since retirement from the Bench. Yet, almost from the day he convinced himself to become Chief Minister, he made it clear that he was here to stay – not quit office and make way for a party nominee, possibly of his choice, to take over.
The formation of the TPC first and the TPA now has shown which all sides of Wigneswaran’s bread have butter, jam and marmalade on them. Whether they will sweet better or bitter for him and his people will be for the Tamil voter to decide on the appointed day, whenever and however it comes.
No, this does not mean that Wigneswaran is doing it all for personal gain. Instead, it is that he wants to be in the driver’s seat and dictate and direct Tamil politics as, for instance, TNA boss, R Sampanthan, had been doing for long. So long has been Sampanthan’s innings that post-war especially, Tamil politics has come to be identified with him, and his ‘moderate’ image.
The fact remains, even when the all-powerful LTTE sought to float a political alliance, to create a ‘moderate’ front, as far back as 2001, Sampanthan was their choice for leadership. This did/does not mean that Sampanthan became the masked voice of the LTTE. It only meant that he was the all-acceptable leader of the Tamil polity and people even for the strong-willed LTTE, but only after the LTTE, its policies and methodologies.
Truth again be acknowledged, Sampanthan did not seek to exploit the LTTE’s ‘blessings’ to establish himself as a ‘moderate autocrat’ of the future just as the LTTE was the multi-faceted dictator of the Tamil people, by the people and for the people, in its time. Yes, there were issues of leadership between Sampanthan and V Anandasangaree as for as the now-forgotten TULF leadership were concerned, but with the parting of ways, the former became the face of Tamil moderate politics.
The LTTE’s creation of the TNA, leaving Sangaree to do his bidding without ‘interfering’ (!) with him in the usual LTTE way, meant that Sampanthan could get a near-free run of the TNA and Tamil politics, post-LTTE. Maybe because of his age or organisational demands, Sampanthan deemed it proper not to try and become NPC Chief Minister, though at the time the choice of the TNA would have been the choice of the Tamil people in the North.
As the irony of the present Constitution, a voter in any Province of the country can seek to become a member of the Provincial Council of any other Province – something that the present Constitution Assembly does not seem to be concerned about. However, if one cites the previous experience of SLMC boss, Rauff Hakkeem, based out of Kandy in Central Province, contested for the chief minister’s job in the Eastern Province in the past, there will be some clarity.
There will be greater clarity bordering on apprehension and fear if one pointed out that a Rajapaksa or a Wickremesinghe or a Wimal Weerawansa could contest in PC polls in Tamil-majority North – and why, even try and become Chief Minister. After all, Wigneswaran, though a Tamil, was supplanted from capital Colombo in the Western Province, where he was ordinarily residing when the TNA chose him for NPC Chief Minister’s job.
It is another matter that long ago, pre-war, the Tamil people of the North had defeated Sampanthan, an ‘easterner’, who had contested for parliamentary elections from the North, and on the say-so of the united TULF leadership. Otherwise too, the choice of Wigneswaran may have also meant that the TNA was looking for a Northern leader of wisdom and knowledge, credibility and integrity, and a tall man at that, who could promote the ‘moderate ideology’ of the TNA, to the Tamil people and the Sinhala polity, the Sri Lankan State and the international community.
Prize-catch, but for whom?
For the TNA, Wigneswaran was a prize-catch. Now, it turns out, the TNA was the prize-catch for Wigneswaran, instead. Today, at least for the TNA, it has proved to be an unmitigated disaster, from a purely political point of view. For Wigneswaran, his rebellious sympathy for the TPC-backed radical Tamil party candidates against official TNA nominees in the parliamentary polls of 2015 was an even more unmitigated disaster, in terms of the final outcome, but he still seems wanting to take the plunge.
It could not have been otherwise. Given his personality, Wigneswaran having crossed the Rubicon long ago, could not have allowed imself to be seen as running away from the battle when the war was still, on. Nor could he have visualised himself fading into insignificance. Possibly, his backers nearer home and strategists in the hard-line sections of the Tamil Diaspora seems to be reading too much into the TNA’s poor showing the February local government (LG) polls, especially in the North.
Overall, according to some calculations, the TNA’s vote-share came down to 35 per cent from double that figure and more in previous, post-war polls. Does it mean that Wigneswaran’s TPA can cut into TNA’s vote-share even more, or consolidate the non-TNA votes as ‘anti-TNA’ vote-share, or both? It is too old to predict, but the TPA strategists’ calculations seems to be hovering somewhere there around.
Sit up, take notice
As is known in democracies across the world, in local government elections of the February 2018 kind, voters look for variants, including the personality and affability of individual candidates. In larger, legislative elections, they look for leaderships and ideologies. Should Wigneswaran now make a dent on the TNA’s unambiguous authority over the Tamil voters across the country, starting with the ‘Tamil exclusive’ Northern Province then not only the TNA but the Sri Lankan nation as a whole also may have to sit up and take notice.
There is no denying that the Sri Lankan State let things come on to such a pause as far as the ever-divided and eternally radicalised sections of the nation’s Tamil polity, if not population, was/is concerned. Post-war, the incumbent Rajapaksa Government did initiate some political talks, and the TNA too participated, but Tamil hard-liners in Jaffna and Mannar, acting for themselves and hard-line sections in the Diaspora, would have none of it. So, the talks would have to go, so was President Mahinda Rajapaksa, only a couple of years later.
Came the successor Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo through the historic twin polls of 2015, and the international community (alone) felt encouraged, owing to their utter ignorance of instilled and inherent ground realities of the nation. If the duo offered a new Constitution as a ruse, they, unlike their international backers, also knew from the start that it would not work.
If the Rajapaksas offered stand-alone political package within a consensual framework from within the southern Sinhala polity, that might have had a chance – if at all. Today, by floating a new party, Wigneswaran has challenged the legitimacy of the TNA leadership to represent all Tamils in further negotiations for a new Constitution, if at all there is seriously any (more). Until that issue is settled through another round of elections, a new Constitution aimed at assuaging the Tamil hurt is as good as lost. It remains better, that way.
No attempt now
The nation is already on election mode, and the presidential polls could be expected any time in the last quarter of 2019, say one year from now. So, nothing serious on the ethnic front in terms of a political settlement can be expected. Nor should it be attempted with only the participation of the TNA as the sole ‘Tamil representative’ – as the LTTE had claimed for itself in its time.
The question is what if the Tamil people vote on (and not necessarily ‘for’) a new political package, either in the form of a new Constitution (?) or the electoral promise of any Sinhala presidential candidate(s), and vote against the TNA’s position in the matter? That the TNA is going to be confused even more, and would confuse the Tamil voter more and more, is given.
If the TNA had sought out brought in Wigneswaran and also the likes of party’s international spokesperson and leading parliamentarian, M A Sumanthiran, it was only to convince itself and also the nation that they are passing on the mantle to a post-war leadership with no blemish or even remote links with Tamil militant groups from the past, the non-LTTE groups included. If that had upset ex-militant groups and Tamil political parties like the EPRFL and PLOTE partners in the TNA, they stopped with registering murmurs of protest, but mostly from outside, but possibly not in any of the inner chambers of what was then a four-party combine.
Today, the EPRLF is out of the TNA, and is a possible candidate to join Wigneswaran’s TPA. There is then Gajan Ponnambalam-led ACTC-TNPF, which could be expected to join hands, too. It is to the Gajan Ponnambalam-led alliance and candidates that TNA Chief Minister Wigneswaran had lent his ‘moral support’ in the parliamentary polls of 2015, and devised the concept of ‘conscience vote’ for the Tamils. It is another matter that the ‘Tamil conscience’, as the results proved, was with and in the TNA.
Only days ago, Wigneswaran’s then Cabinet colleague, the acerbic Ananthi Sasitharan, with chief ministerial ambitions of her own, had floated a separate political party, named, ‘Eezha Tamizhar Suyatchchi Kazhagam’ (ETSK), or, the ‘Eelam Tamils Self-Rule Forum’. It remains to be seen, if her ideology of Tamil self-rule, or personal ambitions of becoming chief minister would dictate her immediate decisions — whether to join Wigneswaran’s TPA or go it alone and prove her electoral mettle.
After all, Wigneswaran’s TPA has been appropriately named as an ‘Alliance’, so as to be able to accommodate more political parties, groups and individuals, for the likes of Ponnambalam and Sasitharan to take their call(s) at their own hour of political need. For, the TNA has also been a similar conglomerate like the TULF before it, for all shades of Tamil political opinion and all individualistic egos, arrogance and ignorance could be accommodated!
The question now is if the TNA would now have space for Douglas Devananda’s EPDP, which had sought to join in post-war, post-LTTE, ready to quit the Rajapaksa Government. The presence of parent EPRLF would not allow it at the time. But after the LG polls this year, the EPDP has lent critical support for the TNA to win mayoralty in some local government bodies. Will it, and need it, have to evolve into a larger alliance is also the challenge that Wigneswaran’s exit and the formation of the TPA has thrown at the TNA leadership!
(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email:firstname.lastname@example.org)