By N. Lohathayalan
Eluha Thamil demonstrations were called by the Tamil People’s Council of which former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran is the Co-Chairman and essential catalyst.
The parades and demonstrations were held over several issues: Sinhalese colonisation of Tamil homelands, the prosecution of war criminals, the release of Tamil political prisoners, an international inquiry into the disappeared, the militarisation of Tamil areas and the resettlement of those displaced during the war.
Wigneswaran badly needed a political blood transfusion – an infusion of new life. There were few takers for his party. It was just a week ago that his contempt of court case for defying the court order to reappoint NPC ministers whom he had discontinued unlawfully was to be taken up. Lady luck smiled on him as the case was put off. If he had been convicted, he would have lost his political rights and that would have put to rest his plans for his political party. He has been given time before the final reckoning, 18, 20 and 21 November, when the matter will be heard and finished; that is all.
Jaffna University academic Mahendran Thiruvarangan was harshly critical of the slogan ‘This land is our land’ by Eluha Thamil demonstrators. He said it sounded horrifically like the Sinhalese nationalists who shout, “Sri Lanka is ours”. “It is a pity,” said another academic “that a once fine jurist is leading this communal fanaticism and misdirecting our youth; and our priests of all religions come forth to give respectability to all this nonsense.”
To the TNA too Eluha Thamil presented tough choices. All the demands being made under Eluha Thamil were the aspirations of nearly all Tamils. But Wigneswaran had called for it first and it was his show. He had hijacked a project common to most Tamils. A large crowd would show support for him. If the TNA refused to participate and a good crowd showed up, it would be interpreted as the TNA being against the aspirations of the Tamil people and signify its failure to lead.
TNA leader R. Sampanthan told his followers not to participate because they were not invited, but not to disrupt either.
“That is how a leader must lead,” said an admirer who had for long been put off and annoyed by Sampanthan for saying, “I have left Jaffna matters to my Jaffna MPs.” Said the admirer with renewed hope in Sampanthan as elections near, “He has become his old self. We now have a leader.”
In the event, Sampanthan’s instincts proved right. The most notable presence among the demonstrators was that of TNA Kilinochchi District MP Shreetharan. The others were Aunthavapalan (former TNA stalwart from Chavakacheri and now a regular speaker at Wigneswaran’s events), Iyngaranesan (an NPC Minster dismissed by Wigneswaran but still friends with him) and former EPRLF MP Suresh Premachandran and his brother Dr. Kandiah Sarveswaran (NPC’s former Minister for Education).
The crowds were bussed in. Judging from the buses, the main participation was from the Vanni. The demonstrators gathered at the Nallur Temple and Jaffna University. Marching from these two starting points, they joined at Kantharmadam, took the route along Navalar Road and Kasthuriar Road, and ended up at the open-air field (Muththaveli) where a stage was erected for the speakers.
It was about noon when the speeches began. Some religious leaders were present – about 10 priests in cassock whom I did not recognise, the Chinmayananda Mission Head and the Nallai Adheenam priest. In Mannar it was practically a no-show with all shops open. Considering the heaps of money spent by the Tamil Diaspora, the event was a failure. That failure has to be hidden from the bankrollers though to keep the cash coming.
I would estimate the crowd that turned up in Jaffna at 1,500, although a French reporter asked me for verification of the 10,000 number that had been fed to her. She seemed not to believe what I told her. I found her later at the field and she expressed shock at the discrepancy. Another reporter commented, “Maybe to save Tamil honour we can exaggerate a little and say 3,000, but not more.”
Meals had been ordered at many shops for the demonstrators. Eight thousand food parcels had to be thrown away for lack of takers. Organisers and boutique keepers are presently arguing over a discount for the unused packets.