President Mahinda Rajapaksa did it with finesse when he responded to the invitation to Jaffna to swear in the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council. He said he would gladly come to Jaffna, but the swearing-in would be before the Governor of the North.
This move compelled Justice C. V. Wigneswaran to come to Colombo and have a ceremonial swearing-in before the President at Temple Trees. It was important for the first ever chief minister of the new Northern Provincial Council to be sworn in before the President of the country, because it carried with it not only grandeur but also much wider recognition of his office, both by the people of the North, and those in other parts of the island too. It also gave more relevance to the TNA's offer to cooperate with the Government as stated by the new Chief Minister.
President Rajapaksa also used a similar deft move in his meeting with the Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid, in stating that the means for settling the ethnic and other national issues in the country, including devolution, was with the Parliamentary Select Committee that is now sitting. It is difficult for a representative from a democratic country to be opposed or to criticize such a move, due to the importance of Parliament for the functioning of democracy. It was left to Minister Kurshid to assure the President that India is willing to work with the government of Sri Lanka, to enable a lasting political solution through meaningful devolution of power. The Minister also commended the Government for conducting the elections for the first ever Northern Provincial Council.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran has already assumed duties in Jaffna, in what is a pioneering and very demanding task. He does not work anymore within the structure of the courts and judicial system of the country, in which he performed with great skill, earning well deserved respect. He now has to work within the vague structure of democratic politics – especially within the TNA that has very little experience of actual electoral and representative politics, and leadership in it. It must be recalled that although most of its leading members were in Parliament representing different political parties and groups, until the TNA was formed, and contested elections under the name and the symbol of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party), the bulk of that time was spent as admitted proxies of the LTTE, and not as representatives of the Tamil people, who were the most oppressed by it.
The task before Chief Minister Wigneswaran is therefore daunting. He has to ensure that the day to day needs of the Tamil people of the North are addressed in cooperation with the Government in Colombo. This is not an easy task given the nature of the campaign of the TNA during the elections of the NPC, and the pressure being brought on him by Tamil Nadu, those in the TNA who think differently about cooperating with Colombo, and the pro-LTTE Tamils abroad who also brought considerable pressure on the campaign for the NPC.
Justice Wigneswaran's decision to be sworn in at Colombo before the President was opposed by the Tamil Lawyers' Association, and certainly by several forces within the TNA. The fact that he could stand up to such opposition at the initial stage is a healthy sign. But the issue is for how long he could withstand the various pressures that will be brought to bear on him.
The fact that he could be swayed by the populist demand of politics and foreign based pressure groups that play an important role in laying out the Tamil political agenda today was seen in his being compelled to praise the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, as a hero and liberator of the Tamils at a meeting held in Prabhakaran's place of birth, Velvettithurai during the NPC poll campaign. In fact his comparison of the Prabhakaran to the Kandyan chief and freedom fighter Veera Keppetipola, raised many questions about his knowledge of Sri Lankan history, despite his excellent record in studies, the legal system and the judiciary; unless he had decided to forget what he knew for the immediate gains of populist politics.
Wigneswaran said that Veera Keppetipola was also once known as a terrorist but now had a statue erected in his memory as a freedom fighter. Similarly, he said Prabhakaran was also branded as a terrorist, although he fought to liberate the Tamil people. It is regrettable that the example is wholly wrong, and does no good for Chief Minister Wigneswaran. Keppetipola fought foreign invaders in Sri Lanka, none other than the British. Accepting that Sri Lanka is a single country and home to Sinhalese, Tamils and others, Justice Wigneswaran cannot compare the Sri Lankan armed forces to the foreign invaders from Britain, at the height of its colonial and imperial expansion. It is hardly likely that anyone would have branded Keppetipola as a terrorist, a word not common in the politics and governance of that time. He may have been named a traitor to the British crown or a brigand by the British. He never ordered the killing of the clergy of another faith, nor attacks on the sacred shrines of such faiths. If his freedom fighters killed any Ceylonese of that time, they must have been the sepoys of the British colonial army or the Ceylonese who may have been working for it in other capacities. On the other hand Prabhakaran, who carried out all such atrocities of terror, was named as a terrorist not only by Sri Lanka, but by most of the world, including the countries from where the pro-LTTE groups keep raising funds for their separatist agenda. It is also good to remember that India too named Prabhakaran as a terrorist and still has the LTTE named and condemned as a terrorist organization.
It will be difficult for Chief Minister Wigneswaran to have discussions with India over the issue of devolution that will also call for the acceptance of Prabhakaran who was responsible for the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as a freedom fighter, in a country that has known many freedom fighters and give them due honour and respect.
Dealing at length on this statement by Mr. Wigneswaran was mainly to show the pressures the new Chief Minister of the North will have to face in the coming months. The efforts he may initiate to resolve the pressing economic and social problems of the Tamil people, admitting they have many such problems in the post-conflict situation, may get well derailed by the racist agenda that the TNA has been more used to for the past three decades and more. Since the armed conflict ended with the defeat of Prabhakaran and the LTTE, the TNA has clearly gone back on its pledges to abandon any support for terrorism and cooperate with the Centre for national development, which will include those in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The new Chief Minister will have to be on the watchout for the moves within the TNA to deviate from the statements of cooperating with the Centre that have recently been made by its leading members and be on the alert for the manipulations and calculating politics of those with more experience in such tactics than him, in this organization that is still seems struggling to be different from being the proxy of the terrorist LTTE.
This will also require Chief Minister Wigneswaran to begin distancing himself and the TNA from the foreign forces that claim to be the Tamil Diaspora, a claim to which they are in no way justified being only the fund raisers and promoters of the separatist agenda of the now defeated LTTE. The necessity for funds for political campaigning is not in question, but the success of northern politics in resolving the issues affecting the people cannot be achieved by depending on funds from those who are keen to obstruct progress for the Tamil people.
There is no doubt that the post-conflict situation brings more problems to the platter of the Chief Minister Wigneswaran at the beginning of his work that to his peers in other provincial councils. It will therefore be necessary for CM Wigneswaran to immediately initiate dialogue and work with the state institutions that are already engaged in the important work of resettlement, rehabilitation and reconciliation. The NPC will have to work out methods of working together with the development programs that have been initiated in the North, especially in the field of infrastructure development. It would be necessary to see how these projects, such as major roads and power generation schemes, could be linked to development of the livelihoods of people and direct rural development, especially in agriculture and small industry. There will be need for understanding between the North and the Centre on the role of tourism in the area.
This will no doubt require much careful thinking on the part of the Government, too. The initiative taken by President Rajapaksa in deftly moving to ensure the swearing-in of the Chief Minister of the North before him at Temple Trees, must be taken as an example of the need to cooperation with the NPC in the social, economic and development work that it will be compelled to initiate to meet the needs of the Tamil people. The politics and slogans of the past should not be in the way of this cooperation, and the conditions of peace should be strengthened to ensure such cooperation.
The challenge that is emerging is not only for the NPC and its Chief Minister Wigneswaran. It is a challenge for all of Sri Lanka. In facing up to it, it is necessary to take into consideration both local situations and emerging situations abroad. The best spirit of cooperation when shown by all parties can achieve the best results that the vast majority of Sri Lankans of all communities seeks.