Sri Lanka’s Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran on Tuesday slammed the Colombo government and his own Tamil leadership, holding them responsible for the perceived failure of the Northern Provincial Council to deliver on its promises to the war-affected Tamils.
Speaking at the last sitting of the Council — which was elected to power in September 2013 in a historic, post-war election — Mr. Wigneswaran cited continuing militarisation, recent military-backed Sinhalese settlements in the Tamil-majority province, the emergence of Buddhist shrines, and the inadequacy of funds as signs of the Centre’s reluctance to devolve any power to the Tamil minority. Economic development, he said, can never be a substitute of the people’s rights, urging the Tamils to be wary of such promises.
Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his second term as President, called the island’s first ever northern provincial election. The announcement was significant, given that the last election in the erstwhile North-Eastern Province was in 1988. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main formation representing northern Tamils, nominated former Supreme Court Judge Wigneswaran as its candidate, and won a massive mandate in the polls with nearly 80% of the vote.
However, in the Council’s five-year term since, the CM and the TNA leadership have had open disagreements over a range of matters, including political positions, and the extent of dialogue needed with the Centre, with the Chief Minister often opting for boycott over engagement that he saw as a compromise. So much so that Mr. Wigneswaran openly endorsed the TNA’s political rivals in the 2015 parliamentary elections.
The discord escalated in June last year, with a majority of Council members deciding to withdraw their support to the CM in the Council. Following discussions with TNA leader R. Sampanthan, also the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, a no-confidence motion at the Council was averted.
In his address to the Council on Tuesday, Mr. Wigneswaran said the TNA leadership had not asked him even once in the last five years what his vision was, what were the challenges he faced, how can they be taken up in Parliament and outside. “I had no prior experience in politics. They dragged me into it, virtually pushing me into the waters and saying: ‘you get used to swimming’, he said. The CM is scheduled to give a public talk on the future of Tamil politics on Wednesday, where he is likely to spell out his own political plans.
In a strong counter to the CM’s speech, Leader of Opposition at the Council Sinnadurai Thavarajah — elected from the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) — said the Council, which had passed 444 resolutions, had passed merely 15 statues necessary to push projects administratively.
“Most resolutions are meaningless and were simply aimed at media publicity,” he told The Hindu.
Accusing the CM of opting for “arm chair politics”, he asked if the Council under his leadership could take credit for implementing any initiative that inspires confidence in the minds of the people.
Challenging Mr. Wigneswaran’s claim about insufficient funds, Mr. Thavarajah said that even with the available funding, the Council failed to meaningfully implement projects that could benefit the people.