Sampanthan deserves a bow

Northern Province Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran is a man in a hurry. He has to be, because he will be 77 years of age next month and if he is to carve a niche for himself as a hero in the Sri Lankan Tamil political arena, he has to do something noteworthy and do it soon.

Therefore, he organises Eluga Thamil (‘Rise, Tamils’), a protest campaign in Jaffna last Saturday. The protest saw all shops closed and public transport came to a near standstill as private bus operators joined in. A protest march culminated in a public rally at Muttraveli which was addressed by Wigneswaran and a few other like-minded politicians although the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) kept away.

In his speech at the rally, Wigneswaran articulated three main demands. He wanted a ‘political solution’ to the ethnic question, a merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and a halt to what he alleged was ‘Sinhala colonisation’ of the North.

The first demand is reasonable but surely, Wigneswaran cannot be unaware that the government is in earnest discussions with the TNA to try and promulgate a new Constitution that addresses the grievances of all communities. His actions can only be viewed as an obstacle to this exercise, as pointed out by  the TNA parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran.

The demand for a merger of the North and East, recent history has shown us, is not viable. The two provinces were merged for nearly two decades under the Indo-Lanka Accord until a Supreme Court decision declared that the merger was ‘null and void’. The entire period of time, the two provinces were ‘temporarily’ merged, they were in the throes of war, with the government fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
As for ‘colonisation’, Wigneswaran is also calling for a halt to the construction of Buddhist places of worship in the North, a demand that is ridiculous. Many places of Buddhist worship in the region were desecrated and destroyed during the war with the LTTE and need to be restored and there is no organised ‘colonisation’ of the North by the majority community.

This is exactly the type of remark that causes xenophobia in the South because Sinhala chauvinists will be quick to pounce on it and call for a halt to Tamils settling down in the South of the country.

Wigneswaran would defend his actions because the protest was peaceful. He would say that he was only engaging in his democratic right to protest. Indeed, the very fact that the protest was allowed and held without incident demonstrates that democracy and the freedom of expression have been established and is flourishing in the North.

The danger though is that these types of protests often provide the impetus to the more extreme elements in both communities. Already the Eelamist lobby which is still active overseas has rejoiced at Wigneswaran’s antics. Similarly, the chauvinist fringe in the South, the likes of UdayaGammanpila have been quick to raise the prospect of a resurgence of the LTTE.

What this does is to endanger the delicate process of reconciliation which the government is engaging in, with extreme caution. It has to tread warily because it has to appease both the majority and minority ethnic groups, the international community and at the same time come up with a solution that is acceptable to all.

After thirty years of war when communal passions and mistrust between the communities have been at its highest, this is no easy task and the government can do without the shenanigans of Wigneswaran who is trying to exploit a delicate political situation to his advantage and emerge as a hero to the Tamil community.

He is not the first person to try to do so. Others tried before him and led the country to thirty years of war. Wigneswaran is the Chief Minister of the Northern Province.  He is also a retired Supreme Court judge. Surely he has the wherewithal to convey his demands to the government without indulging in political theatre?

The true heroes in this exercise are not Wigneswaran. They are the TNA and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan. They have resisted the temptation to join Wigneswaran in playing to the gallery. So, Chief Minister, it would be best if you take your leave. Sampanthan, you deserve to take a bow!

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