Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias “Pillaiyan” who served as Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council from 2008 to 2012 is now obstructing the appointment of a Tamil provincial minister in the envisaged administration of new Eastern Chief minister Najeeb Abdul Majeed.
Although Pillaiyan expected to be chief minister again and was disappointed, the ex-chief minister has reconciled himself to the prevailing state of affairs and smilingly accepted the situation.But the former child soldier of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) is firmly opposed to the idea of a Tamil being appointed as a Provincial minister it is learnt.
This is causing a problem to the Rajapaksa Government which wants to reappoint the erstwhile eastern provincial council minister Dr. Thuraiappa Navaratnarajah as minister.
Pillaiyan is leader of the LTTE breakaway faction Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal(TMVP) which contested as a constituent of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) under the betel symbol in the 2012 eastern provincial polls.
Pillaiyan contesting in Batticaloa district won with 22,338 preferences but all other Tamil candidates on the UPFA ticket failed to get elected. Subsequently one of the two bonus seats that were entitled to the UPFA was given to a Tamil – former provincial council minister Prof. Thuraiappah Navaratnarajah.
When discussions began after the 2012 eastern polls Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan was strongly tipped to be re-appointed again as chief minister on account of an assurance given by the President to him prior to the Eastern council being dissolved one year ahead of its scheduled term of office.
The Govt was thinking of retaining Pillaiyan as chief minister until another Tamil became chief minister in the Northern province.The Govt intended replacing Pillaiyan with a Muslim Eastern chief minister after elections were held to the Northern Provincial council in September 2013.
These plans however underwent a drastic change after Muslim leaders of all political hues insisted that a Muslim should be made eastern chief minister due to two reasons.
Firstly they pointed out that a Tamil had been appointed chief minister previously and so it was nothing but fair that a Muslim should be made chief minister this time.
Secondly they stated that only one Tamil had been elected from the UPFA this time whereas seven Muslims had won on the betel symbol. The ministerial panel was reminded that although there were more Muslims elected on the betel symbol in 2008 they had consented to the Govt decision of appointing a Tamil then.Now it was the turn of the Muslims.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) also pressed for a Muslim chief minister. The SLMC emphasized that in a situation where the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was offering the chief ministership to a Muslim if the Muslim Congress joined forces with the Tamil party it would be impossible to convince its eastern supporters to accept a situation where the SLMC agrees to a Tamil chief minister.
The ministerial panel agreed with this position and informed “Pillaiyan” of the change of plan. He was told that he could not be chief minister again but could be a provincial minister or provincial council chairman to which he agreed.
Consequently Najeeb Abdul Majeed who contested in Trincomalee district on the UPFA ticket was made chief minister. Najeeb who created history as the first Muslim chief minister in Sri Lanka was the only Muslim member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to win under the betel symbol.
Pillaiyan however was in for a further disappointment when he was told that he could not be made provincial minister or council chairman as pledged earlier. Pillaiyan was told that there were problems in allocating posts as promised earlier because of the SLMC demands and therefore he could not be given a ministerial post or chairmanship. He was also told that it would be” infra dig “for a former chief minister to be “demoted” as provincial minister or chairman.
Pillaiyan had no choice but to comply. He was however compensated for this by being appointed adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Earlier Anton Stanislaus Balasingham who was adviser to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was described as “mathiyuranjer”(adviser) in the Tamil media.
Pillaiyan was also promised the position of Eastern province coordinator in the Ministry of Economic Development under Basil Rajapaksa. Pillaiyan was told he would be given funds that he could utilize for development projects in regions where Tamils are largely concentrated in the Eastern province.
Pillaiyan seemed quite happy about this arrangement until the Govt made its next move. Having sidelined Pillaiyan from a ministerial post the Govt now wanted to appoint Dr. Thuraiappa Navaratnaraja as a Provincial minister.
With over 90% of Tamils who voted supporting the Tamil National Alliance and eleven of twelve Tamils elected to the council being from the TNA a situation had been created where the new administration was perceived as being without Tamil backing. Therefore the Govt had to show that Tamils too were a part of the new administration by appointing a Tamil provincial minister.
Also the new chief Minister Najeeb A Majeed hailing from a political family with strong ties and friendship towards Tamils was extremely keen that his board of ministers should be ethnically inclusive and have a Tamil minister.
Under these circumstances the Govt wanted to appoint a Tamil minister. It preferred Dr. Thuraiappa Navaratnarajah to the already sidelined Pillaiyan for two reasons.
Firstly Navaratnarajah like Najeeb was a member of the SLFP. He was elected in 2008 in the Amparai district as a member of the TMVP contesting on the UPFA ticket. He had later quit the TMVP along with Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna and formally joined the SLFP. Navaratnarajah contested the 2012 polls in Trincomalee district as a SLFP candidate on the UPFA list and lost.
Secondly the Govt particularly Basil Rajapaksa was taken up by the highly qualified Navaratnarajah’s efficiency. His track record as eastern provincial minister of Agriculture,Animal Production & Development,Rural Industries Development and Fisheries was rather impressive.
But when the Govt went ahead with its plans to appoint Navaratnarajah, its child soldier showpiece, Pillaiyan started protesting. Pillaiyan did not want any Tamil to be a Provincial minister and become politically influential. Besides Navaratnarajah though of the UPFA was not with his TMVP. Also Pillaiyan was smarting with disappointment in being asked to remain as a simple council member while others were getting ministerial office.
It appears that Pillaiyan would prefer the Eastern council to be without a Tamil minister rather than a Tamil other than himself to be appointed as one. His protests have caused some delay as the Govt is trying to soothe Pillaiyan’s ruffled feelings and obtain his willing compliance.
If Pillaiyan unlike the Dickensian Barkis remains unwilling then the Govt can either go ahead without a Tamil provincial minister or override Pillaiyan and appoint Navaratnarajah.
Since it is important for the Govt to demonstrate that the Eastern administration represents the Tamils also, the chances are that it would go ahead and appoint Navaratnarajah notwithstanding Pillaiyan’s puerile protests.
If that happens Pillaiyan would have no choice other than to clam up and accept the situations. If he protests too much Pillaiyan may be deprived of the opportunity to “advise” the President and also be denied the funds to”coordinate” economic development for the East.
Pillaiyan must surely know the Tamil saying “Nakkundaan Naavilanthaan” (He who licks and eats will lose his tongue to speak).
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org