Northern PC: Spoiling for another fight

The Northern Province Chief Minister has written to the Prime Minister saying, inter-alia, that “the Sinhalese polity is a decent community. Only the politicians mislead them in the wrong path”. Might we echo the Biblical quote; ‘first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye’.

The Chief Minister was responding to the Prime Minister’s earlier missive that the recent NPC resolution he had moved calling for an investigation into “genocide against the Tamils since 1948″ was rabble-rousing. The timing of that resolution came as a surprise even to those accustomed to the theatrics of the northern politicians. Various reasons were attributed thereto.

One was that it was the result of an internal squabble in the ruling party of the NPC with the moderate elements seeking rapprochement with the ‘south’, to the displeasure of the hardliners, peaking with the participation of some of those moderates at the recent Independence Day celebrations.

Others think this might have been to hit back at a statement by the new Government saying it will not shut down the Army camps in the north. Others believe it was provoked by the recent announcement by the UN Human Rights Council that the report on Sri Lanka’s ‘war crimes’ probe would be deferred from March to September this year.

Whatever the reason, that such a resolution was once laid by during the Rajapaksa administration on the grounds that the word “genocide” was over the top and inappropriate but was passed under the new Sirisena-Wickremesinghe dispensation which is eager to make amends with the people of the north raises questions. The hand of friendship has been met with a slap. If it was the intention of the NPC to play ‘hard ball’, then it only increased the resolve of the hardliners in the south not to yield an inch; the status quo to remain, and so too, the problems. The aggressive nature of the resolution and the fresh intransigence of the north, spoiling for another round of conflict offers little hope for reconciliation.

No doubt, communal frenzy is the mainstay of the northern politicians. Spurred on by the Diaspora, their grip on the north, their authoritarian rule in the province is wholly based on whipping up the communal card. The north is run, not by the people who live there wanting their lands back to cultivate, requiring clean water, good education, health, sanitation and housing, but the Diaspora driven politicians who thrive on conflict. Recent moves by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to make inroads into these areas by advocating racial amity have been resisted by these politicians, for obvious reasons. It is time other national parties went into these uncharted areas, like they had done in the past, and break the ‘one-party’ monopoly that exists in the north.

Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was (dis)credited with the (in)famous quote ” if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it people will eventually come to believe it”. The Diaspora has succeeded in executing this philosophy. A case in point is the recent statement by no less a person on the world stage than the US Secretary of State who referred to Sri Lanka coming out of its “30 year war against the Tamils”. This was said in the presence of his Sri Lankan counterpart and went unchallenged.

The UN Under-Secretary for Political Affairs is in Sri Lanka now. All he has to do is to go to Wellawatte, not even Jaffna, to find out for himself if there has been genocide in Sri Lanka. Or probably if there has been, if it was by the Government of the day – or by the LTTE. Having served as a Judge of the Supreme Court, and an upright judge at that, the Chief Minister knows the repercussions of words, their nuances and interpretations. He ought to, by now, know the socio-political fallout from these hysterical utterances. And, to thine own self be true; can he, a learned man, who was given his due place in the country’s highest judicial court, to determine the fate of all citizens irrespective of race, justify his recent deed?

Surrender: Hook, line and sinker
The Government’s Cabinet spokesman made a startling announcement last week when he said that the Sri Lanka Navy would no longer apprehend Indian fishermen poaching in the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar.

No arrests have indeed taken place after the January 8 presidential election as the illegal fishing by the Indians gathered momentum knowing the new Government in Colombo was bending backwards to give Indo-Lanka relations a new beginning. It was a ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ policy. But on Thursday night, 83 Indian fishermen were arrested along with their 10 trawlers by the Navy and a clash between the fishermen of the two sides ensued off the coast of Vadamarachchi.

There is disconnect, and not for the first time in what the Cabinet spokesman says, and what the Government is doing. The Vadamarachchi incident involving petrol bombs, shows that a volatile situation is brewing between the fishermen. That is only to be expected when the two governments are pussy-footing in finding a solution to the crisis. This issue has been allowed to drag on essentially due to the unprincipled stubbornness on the Indian side and the weak-kneed approach from the Sri Lankan side. Indian leaders, past and present, are taking the cue from their bureaucracy that this is a “humanitarian” issue (for their fishermen) while shedding crocodile tears for their Sri Lankan counterparts living in the north. Their argument that it is also a matter of “livelihood” for the Indian fishermen has been debunked with evidence to show that most of these fishermen are on the payroll of the Tamil Nadu state’s multi-million dollar fish products export industry in which their politicians have a share.

c-v-wigneswaranThe Sri Lankan fishermen have been thoroughly let down. They have no powerful patronage from their local politicians who are beholden to India and their Government in Colombo that is too afraid to rock the boat. Neither the provincial administration in the north nor the central Government wants to challenge India. And mind you, fisheries are a devolved subject under the 13th Amendment these northern politicians howl about. The political will and the diplomatic skill on the Sri Lankan side are terribly wanting. In years gone by, Sri Lanka’s political will and diplomatic skill vis-a-vis India were on full display during the negotiations on the repatriation pact and the Kachchativu issue; even during the Bangladesh war in 1971. Where is that will, and where is that skill today?

The bona-fides of Government leaders come up for scrutiny in such circumstances. It is a real shame that the NPC and the Government have so meekly capitulated on this vexed problem that effect the livelihood of thousands of northern families quite apart from the colossal, irreparable damage to the marine environment. The Government last week introduced fresh amendments to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act to prevent unregulated, illegal fishing methods adopted by Sri Lankan fishermen so that it can resume exports to the European Union; but it does not have the stomach to implement the Foreign Fishing Vessel Act to the stop the Indian fishing armadas that come thrice every week into Sri Lankan waters.