Sri Lanka’s Tamil leaders are pulling in different directions on crucial issues of common concern to the Tamils of the island.
The Chief Minister of the Tamil majority Northern Province, C.V.Wigneswaran, is stubbornly adhering to his position that a political solution of the Tamil question should precede economic development.
Giving priority to economic development schemes while going slow on the search for a political solution is like putting the cart before the horse, he says.
Wigneswaran recently wrote to President Maithripala Sirisena saying that he does not want to be part of the Task Force on Economic Development of the North and East, because the Committee is packed with Central government officials and ministers. Local elected representatives, barring himself, have been kept out.
Wigneswaran slammed the Cental government for drawing up economic development schemes without prior consultations with the provincial administration and elected representatives.
But the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by R.Sampanthan has been silent on the actions and utterances of the Northern Chief Minister though he is part of the TNA.
However, of late, Sampanthan has been publicly taking a line contradictory to Wigneswaran’s in this matter. He feels that the search for a political solution should go on simultaneously with programs for economic development which will give employment to the common Tamil man in the North and East.
The Tamil people need a political solution which allows them to chalk out their destiny within a united and undivided Sri Lanka. But they also have existential economic problems which threaten their survival, he says. Political and economic advancement should go hand in hand.
Sampanthan strongly and publicly endorsed the government’s plan to develop Trincomalee as an economic zone with Japanese and Indian aid. In parliament, he has strongly endorsed the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade and Agreement (SLSFTA) ,an FTA which is being bitterly opposed by the Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
When Sampanthan met the Indian Foreign Secretary, Vijay Gokhale, recently, he asked Gokhale to encourage Indian entrepreneurs to invest in Sri Lanka, especially in the North and East.
Wigneswaran and Sampanthan do not see eye to eye
He pointed out that foreign investments could boost the economic status of the people and increase more job opportunities in the North and East, especially for the youth.
The TNA appears to be divided on the issue of further postponing Provincial elections. The official TNA view is that priority should be given to enacting a new constitution rather than holding Provincial Council elections.
A final draft of the constitution, done by the Experts Committee, is to be presented to the Steering Committee soon and there is a likelihood that a new constitution will be passed by December 2018.
According to the TNA, the current composition of parliament is ideal for getting the new constitution passed because the government can get the required two thirds majority. This is a rare and golden opportunity which the TNA and the Tamil people cannot afford to miss ,Sampanthan has said.
However, a Sampanthan loyalist and fellow MP, M.A. Sumanthiran, has said that Provincial elections should not be postponed. And Wigneswaran has demanded that the Northern Provincial Council which should not get dissolved in September this year, and that he should be allowed to continue as Chief Minister for some more time, given the special conditions in the Northern Province which had been the scene of a brutal war only nine years ago.
The TNA’s leadership is yet to react to Wigneswaran’s demand.
Meanwhile, Mano Ganeshan, Cabinet Minister for Official Languages and leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance, a party of Indian Origin Tamils, suggested that the TNA should give up its long standing policy of not joining governments at the Center and sharing executive power with other parties in the country,
The TNA is yet to respond to Ganeshan’s suggestion. But it will not be easy for it to decide on this matter because non-participation in the Central government/Council of Ministers has been a long standing principle in Tamil politics and is therefore very difficult to shake off.
Moreover, the vocal sections of Tamils, especially university students and teachers, are for a politics of confrontation with the Center rather than cooperation to achieve their political ends.