Tamil Nadu politicians are welcome to visit Sri Lanka and see the plight of hill country Tamils before hastily commenting on matters pertaining to them, Sri Lankan Minister Palany Thigambaram said, The Hindu newspaper reported.
“While they [State politicians] have always spoken up for ‘Eelam Tamils’ in the north and east, they seldom acknowledged the existence or challenges of Tamils living in the hill country,” the Minister for Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development told The Hindu.
He was responding to a statement issued by DMK working president M.K. Stalin recently on the removal of leading hill country political figure Savumiamoorthy Thondaman’s name from certain government institutions in the region.
Stalin tweeted to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, seeking New Delhi’s intervention on the Sri Lankan government’s “condemnable act” against “Indian Tamils.” Other leaders, including Vaiko, have made similar statements.
“This issue has nothing to do with the Sri Lankan government. In fact, compared to its predecessors, the government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is doing more for this community,” Mr. Thigambaram said, suggesting that the recent controversy was more of an intra-party tension.
A trade unionist-turned-politician who helmed the Ceylon Workers’ Congress for decades, Savumiamoorthy Thondaman is celebrated by many as an icon of the hill country, where over a third of the community’s million-strong population toils in tea estates. The British brought indentured labourers from India almost two centuries ago to work in the plantations. After Thondaman’s death in 1999, his grandson Arumugam Thondaman leads the party. From the late 1970s to 2015 — when former president Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated — the CWC aligned itself to the government of the day.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combine rose to power in 2015 with significant support from hill country Tamils, in addition to a huge mandate from Tamils and Muslims in the north and east. It marked the emergence of a new crop of leaders representing hill country Tamils. Together, they formed the Tamil Progressive Alliance, which Mr. Thigambaram is also part of, challenging the CWC, whose politics they accused of being corrupt and self-serving.
Urging Tamil Nadu politicians “not to go by rumours,” he said it was important that they find out the facts on the ground. “Such comments made by them adversely impacts our relationship with the Sinhalese here. Let them [State leaders] come and see how the hill country Tamils live. Even today, 40,000 families do not have toilet facilities.”