- The boycott is ostensibly over the military presence in the North.
- Sri Lanka needs to come out squarely with what happened during the ‘last stages’ of its war against the LTTE.
- National security an excuse to deny the Tamil people their basic rights and uplift the lives of people from poverty to prosperity.
Yesterday this newspaper reported that the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) led by its Chief Minister (CM) C.V. Wigneswaran had boycotted meeting Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe during the latter’s current visit to the North.
The boycott is ostensibly over the military presence in the North and the Premier’s comment to a foreign media institution that the CM is not supportive of the Central Government (CG).
At face value, CM not being supportive of the CG cannot be construed as surprising, because the CG and the CM belong to separate parties which are not in a coalition partnership.
The underlining factor in politics as espoused by the 18th century French philosopher Voltaire is, “That I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Sri Lanka being a democratic country also follows those principles.
Wigneswaran’s party the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) represents Sri Lanka’s largest minority community, the Tamils. TNA, by and large, is the single largest minority party representing the Tamils living in the Northern and Eastern parts of the island.
Wickremesinghe heads the United National Party (UNP), the party with the single largest vote base in Sri Lanka, and which is mainly supported by the island’s majority community the Sinhalese.
Therefore, Wigneswaran’s boycott of Wickremesinghe is not something unusual as they belong to two different parties which are also not in a coalition partnership, either in Parliament or elsewhere, unlike some of the other minority parties in the House.
Nevertheless, according to that article, though the NPC has boycotted Wickremesinghe, the Premier is however, due to meet TNA MPs during his visit. This shows that the NPC boycott doesn’t translate to a boycott by the TNA per se, the party which ultimately calls the shots in the NPC, or so what the voter is supposed to believe.
Politics is a strange animal. When one section of a party opposes the government, not necessarily in vociferous terms, but sometimes by their actions, passive or otherwise, another section of that same party shows that the door to dialogue is still open.
On a long shot, parallels between the then Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and the Tamil terrorists?
However, not so long ago, when Wickremesinghe together with President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga visited Jaffna, Wigneswaran, as CM, was there to greet the trio. The TNA lent their support to Sirisena on his successful election bid at the 8 January, 2015 poll against former strongman, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It’s the minority Tamil problem, particularly in the North and to a lesser extent the East, that ultimately sent Sri Lanka on a downward spiral economically.
There is the saying that it’s the economy that calls the shots and not politics. There is also that school of thought which believes that what brought down the seemingly unstoppable Rajapaksa was not politics, but poverty.
Further, what created the Tamil problem which almost destroyed the country was also, ultimately, poverty. Once poverty is eliminated, Sri Lanka may not have to face the threat of internal terrorism anymore.
But there may be a catch here. Poverty may also be used as a political tool. At a time of an election, it may be easy to sway the poverty stricken masses by the promise of ‘bread and circuses.’ So, there may be that element of politicos or political parties still remaining, who may be happy when there is widespread poverty in the island as those victims may be used to their advantage.
Communalism, ipso facto, is also a potent political tool to be used by unscrupulous politicos when the masses are poor. ‘Bread and circuses’ and ‘communalism’ have been used as non-violent ‘weapons’ as a first step by various political parties in the island since independence, to meet their own ends.
Therefore, to have the masses in poverty, especially in the context of communal politics, may be a good political tool. It’s not only parties representing the Sinhala majority, but also those of the Tamil minority, especially those minority parties representing the Tamils in the North and the East, which have played the communal card, sometimes to good effect, to further their own political ends.
To avoid the recurrence of such situations, as an initial move, laws may have to be promulgated, making communalism an offence. There is also a belief, from within and without, that Sri Lanka needs to come out squarely with what happened during the ‘last stages’ of its war against the LTTE, where civilians are also believed to have been killed, as a means to find a lasting solution to the Tamil problem.
While one may debate till the ‘cows come home’ as to why the NPC and its CM boycotted the Premier’s visit to the North, whether it was due to politics, as is purportedly the reason for the boycott, while another reason attributed, that the ‘invitation was not properly delivered,’ such boycotts however, may be considered as mild, as opposed to violent boycotts.
Nevertheless, the Premier was due to meet TNA MPs in the North to which party the NPC and the CM also belong. So it may be construed that the latters’ boycott may be local and not necessarily the TNA’s views in the broader context, though certain political differences too have had been attributed as being the causes for this ‘keeping away.’
The need of the hour is, however, to protect the sanctity of non violent ‘protests’ where the ordinary course of business and public affairs are allowed to continue uninterrupted despite such passive protests and boycotts, disallowing communalism from getting the upper hand and being used as a route to get votes, especially as a general election is in the offing in the not too distant future, find solutions to the grievances of all communities, not to compromise national security nor make that an excuse to deny the people their basic rights and uplift the lives of people from poverty to prosperity.
It’s all in the hands of the masses.