“It is not once nor twice but times without number that the same ideas make their appearance in the world.”
The Government in general and the ruling family in particular, do not show any signs of learning any lesson from history. The local government elections concluded more than two and half years ago on July 23, 2011 and exactly twenty four years after the infamous ambush of thirteen armed soldiers at Thirunelveli, Jaffna and the riots that it ensued in the South of Sri Lanka, the Tamils of Jaffna once again passed a crushing verdict on the absurdity of naked chauvinism openly practiced by the first family and their cohorts in the Government of Sri Lanka.
After suffering one defeat after another at the international fora, after failing to prove their bona-fides regarding their commitment to the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to our Constitution, after making pledge after pledge to international leaders that a fair and just system of government would be put in place, after ensuring the sustenance of a ‘free and fair’ Press, the Government now seems to be desperate.
And in their mad rush to find a suitable strategist and a winning candidate for the forthcoming elections in the Northern Province, they turned to a well-known one-time ‘friend’ of the Tamil people, Daya Master now turned ‘traitor’, to spearhead their election campaign in the peninsula. Daya Master whose real name is Velayutham Dayanidhi was the master propagandist of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam. His prowess at the mechanics and methodologies of how a media outlet could be run for and by a terrorist organization is now going to be used for the benefit of the Sri Lankan Government. His methods and motives could only be absolved by the results of the forthcoming elections of the Northern Province.
In the 2009 local elections, Mahinda Rajapaksa entered the peninsula, all clad in national dress and wrapped in the bright red shawl (satakaya), to show the world and Tamil Nadu in particular, that the majority of Sri Lankan Tamils were with his government; started the campaign by unleashing the brute power of his Yuva Raja (deputy-at-arms) Defense Secretary’s soldiers; attended many rituals at many Hindu Kovils invoking the gods for election victory, took babies into his arms to show his boundless compassion for kids, promised no less than a sports stadium of international class for Kilinochchi; traveled from Kayts to Jaffna to Kilinochchi to Mulativu in a frenzied program of electioneering, installed his heir apparent Namal Rajapaksa in Kilinochchi; provided staff of his campaign program at state expense and boasted that holding elections alone should be good enough for the Northern voters.
A people battered for more than a quarter century by unspeakable sufferings, left in the lurch by their own Colombo elites and derided by the Southern brethren of the Mahawansa mindset, held fast; this time they decided to be the deceivers and dealt the leader and his son a devastating blow. The sale that the Rajapaksas tried to consummate did not materialize, not because of buyer’s remorse but as what the regime considered to be the buyer in fact turned out to be the seller, a seller of a different kind of merchandise to the international community.
They showed the value of the age old cliché-“buyer beware”; Northern voter is different. The feelings and utter scorn pent up for three decades were given vent to and out of 23 local bodies, 20 in the North turned towards the leading Tamil party as their overwhelming choice. Only 3 were secured by the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and ironically all three local bodies – islands of Kayts, Delft and Velanai (in Kayts)- are not part of mainland Jaffna, adding fuel to the rumor that the votes were manipulated while in transit via helicopters. So much for free and fair elections!
In Vavunia UPFA lost 35% -55%, in Mannar, 39% – 59%, in Kilinochchi where Namal Rajapaksa was resident for weeks, the UPFA lost 30% – 68% while in Jaffna the government lost 26% – 71% and in Mulativu they were clobbered 17% – 82%. The great “humanitarian operation with zero civilian casualties” myth broke asunder.
This is the theatre where the Channel 4 drama was enacted during the last stages of the war. Amidst many hardships, harassments, murder and unspeakably vicious government propaganda, the Northern voter stood fast, unafraid and unbowed. The carrot would have been too tempting if it was offered in the South. With power well entrenched in the center, in the hands of a virtual King and his l(r)oyal family, with no hope or clear vision in the horizon they defied all odds.
A betting man would have placed his life earnings at least on a close fight, considering the baits that were thrown which were in fact too good to throw away. From agricultural equipment to tractors to free rides to funfair activities to international playgrounds including the kitchen sinks were rejected on a wholesale basis. They extracted their Shakespearian revenge from an all-powerful President and his family. The return by the President for this cruel yet honest expression of anger and rejection by the Northern Tamils might have been too gruesome and unkind had the President so decided at the time.
They might have come in the form of white vans, dogs’ heads, sudden disappearances or plain murder, for they are obsessed with their own self-righteousness. The defeat of the LTTE gave them that sense of self-righteousness. That went into their blood and marrow. Every high-handed act was justified in the name of that self-righteousness, reminding one of the repugnant demeanors of Goebbels, Sukarno, Suharto, Marcos, Kaddafi and Saddam Hussein.
The Tamil population of the North might suffer the repercussions of their conscience in the short term. But such daring and clear display of courage (or stupidity as one pundit has already said) might reap benefits in the mid to long term. As Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, Tamils too have been more sinned against than sinning. How long they can defy odds is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, the campaign carried out at that local election by the TNA and its leaders had reaped the harvest.
This would have certainly strengthened their position amongst Tamils further; it would have also galvanized the Diaspora to a very great extent who will no doubt use the Channel 4 presentation as a great recruiting tool for their own cause, but would it soften the hearts and minds of the ruling family? In the midst of a clean sweep in the South by the UFPA against a pathetic non-campaign by the UNP where it suffered another loss, securing barely 31% of the vote, a clear polarization along ethnic lines has taken root.
Unfortunately for all Sri Lankans, whether they come from the North or the South, the fate that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party suffered in 1977 has befallen the United National Party. The leader has proven to be a perennial loser, undertaking a foreign jaunt after each losing election. A rudderless boat is drifting in the murky and foggy waters of unpredictable Sri Lankan politics.
The campaign undertaken by the ‘Reformists Group’, one-time led by Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa, has fallen flat and Ranil Wickremesinghe has been entrenched in power of the UNP for at least another six years.
And it is in this background that the Government sought the assistance of the former LTTE media master to win the elections in the North. It is not only the Government that is politically bankrupt, the Opposition in the form of the United National Party too finds itself in a deep hole from which they seem utterly incapable of extricating itself. In the meantime the people of the North might be in a ready position to launch themselves into another showdown with the Government, this time on a much peaceful front-Provincial Council elections.
They cannot look to the South, for the South is too preoccupied with their own triumphalism and gullibility. They cannot look to the Government which they still consider to be their arch enemy. They may well rest with their own kind, ITAK. Sampanthan and Company will have their work cut out.