By Rathindra Kuruwita
So Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran and the gang just held the second instalment of Ezhuga Tamil (Arise Tamils) festival (?) in Batticaloa. Then again why shouldn’t they? The first one was, in my estimate, a success. They managed to bring a few thousand people onto the roads; a lot of diaspora people and activists managed to do a lot in group virtue signalling and most importantly got some good press from the English media that, for the most part, ignored the sectarian nature of the event.
The purpose of the Ezhuga Tamil version 1.0, according to Wigneswaran, was to speedily address the needs of the Tamils in the North and the East. Among these needs of the people, according to Wigneswaran (a man who has lived in Colombo 95% of his life and whose child is married to MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s child), is to maintain the ethnic purity of the two provinces.
Just in case anyone missed his point, Wigneswaran said that they wanted an end to ‘unauthorized Sinhala and Muslim settlements’. No one bothered to ask how these settlements, if any, are ‘unauthorized’? The Constitution of Sri Lanka ensures ‘the freedom of movement (of a Sri Lankan) and of choosing his residence within Sri Lanka (Article 14. 1. h). So, why can’t a Muslim or a Sinhalese settle in the North? And that because the power over land is held by the Central Government, it is up to the government to determine if a settlement is ‘unlawful or unauthorized;’ Wigneswaran has no say in that matter.
Version 2.0 hits a snag
The second instalment of Ezhuga Tamil last week was not different but as the event was held in the East, where a significant amount of Muslims live, there was an attempt to get the eastern Muslims on the bandwagon as well.
Wigneswaran addressing the rally in Batticaloa, where 143 Muslims were killed when they were praying in Kattankudy mosque on 3 August 1990, said there were “some unfortunate incidents” of the past that had inflicted wounds on the Muslims which are yet to heal.
This half-hearted attempt to get Muslims on board was not the only difference this time. During the first instalment of Ezhuga Tamil, I was almost alone in pointing out the sectarian nature of this endeavour and that Muslims in the East are not going to dig TNA’s attempt of making the province their protectorate. But this time around a lot of people had picked up this line of thought and Wiggy ended up getting a lot of bad publicity. A lot of journalists, who usually gloss over the issues between Muslims and Tamils, had pointed that the Eastern Province Muslims were regarding this manifestation of Tamil nationalism with concern and even fear.
Did the press have an epiphany?
Why? Had finally people got around to realizing that the TNA is a sectarian party and that their attempts to ‘protect’ the racial purity of the North is not cool? Have they finally realized that Muslims might not be very happy about being ruled over by the Tamils? That they might be a bit squeamish about being under the Tamil big brother after a few dozen pogroms in the North and the East?
If that actually was the case, no one would have been happy as I but alas that is not the case. Wiggy had just made the cardinal error of attacking everyone’s favourite Tamil politician, M.A. Sumanthiran, especially after the poor thing had gone through a traumatic experience.
Where Wiggy went wrong
Commenting on the death threats received by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M.A. Sumanthiran, last week I wrote about the importance of moulding perceptions and winning over journalists in media institutions in shaping that perception.
I also added that once that perception is created, it’s almost impossible to convince those who have bought into change their minds. You can of course try to challenge it, but you have to do it at your own risk.
And let’s be honest, Wigneswaran is not the brightest thing under the sun. Instead of making this an opportunity to patch up things with the party and use the threats faced by Sumanthiran to pull more crowds in, Wigneswaran lashed out at Sumanthiran, I am guessing out of jealousy. And he has no one but himself to blame.
While Sumanthiran was making a name for himself as a ‘moderate’, Wigneswaran was doing his best to screw up his reputation by making a series of silly mistakes. By now a lot of people have forgotten that once upon a time Wigneswaran was also everyone’s favourite moderate. The man had a lot going for himself. He was born and bred in Colombo, went to Royal, was a former Supreme Court judge, spoke good English, and his son had married a Sinhala woman, and so on, and for a while he could do nothing wrong.
For a while, until Mahinda Rajapaksa stayed in power, everyone ignored all the weaknesses of Wigneswaran and his TNA councillors in administrating the Northern Province.Once the Rajapaksas were gone, everyone saw that Wigneswaran and his TNA councillors were really, really bad administrators and their incompetence was undeniable even for English language journalists. So Wigneswaran did what a lot of incompetent politicians do, turning to bigotry and stoking sectarian feelings to appease a certain vocal demographic.