There is no doubt that much of the talk in urban centres and among the chattering classes, on the one hand is about the so far scheduled visit of Pope Francis to Sri Lanka in January next year, and how a snap Presidential Election may affect this visit; on the other, it is about the legal points being made by former justices, eminent lawyers, politicians of diverse hues and editorialists about the possibility in law of holding a snap Presidential Poll. What is evident is that the unraveling of these apparent puzzles, will be through a combination of both politics and the law.
This is certainly linked to the different analyses being made of the result of the Uva Provincial Election, where the ruling UPFA did obtain a majority, albeit with a reduced number of votes and seats, when compared to the previous election; and the claims by those in the opposition that the victory was theirs, although not proven by the tally of votes or seats, and the fact that Uva still has a UPFA Chief Minister. Debates of this type are very much the stuff of politics, and it is interesting to see the various twists being given to the Uva encounter, both from within the UPFA and those outside it.
There is also another issue that is gathering interest, again arising from Uva, which is the situation of the divisions within the UNP. There are some who seek to show that divisions have ended and the ranks have come together with the appointment of a Deputy Leader, to the ever losing leader of the Greens; while events clearly show that the divisions within the Green camp continue to cause much worry to its supporters. This also looks like throwing more spanners into the works of those who have been calling for a “Common Candidate” from the opposition at the next Presidential Poll, whenever that takes place – snap or not.
Task of Governance
It is interesting to see that in the midst of what seems to be much political excitement on both sides of the divide, the Executive President, who is certainly at the centre of this rival political thinking, and the target of the machinations of rivals who remain divided about their next political moves, is pressing ahead with the task of governance.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is just now busy with a task that is of special significance in the cause of national unity and reconciliation, sending a message to the country of the need for new thinking on North-South relations, and how this should be managed for future progress.
The President’s visit to the North this week, gives the impression of a pre-Deepavali journey of good hope, on the eve of the traditional Hindu New Year according to the Lunar Calendar. His work in the North extends from education to land, health and transport, and financial compensation to those in need. It is a massive exercise in both support and assistance to the people of the North, who have suffered tremendously during the nearly five years of terrorism, and a display to the world that this country does care about those people. It is a deserved answer to those abroad, whether the so-called Tamil Diaspora that continues the separatist cause with hardly any love for the “Homeland” that a true Diaspora would be interested in, and foreign leaders, governments, politicians and others who are keen to play politics with the necessary defeat of terrorism in this land.
North – South Link
The big event will be the arrival of the Yal Devi to Jaffna on October 13, with the presence of President Rajapaksa, giving the best show of the new track of unity that the country is moving on. It is proof of the immense work done by the Indian company that undertook the work of rebuilding the Northern Line of the Sri Lanka Railway, which was wholly destroyed by separatist terrorists, and a commendable demonstration of the friendly ties between Sri Lanka and India, with this work being done through Indian assistance.
The arrival of the Yal Devi in Jaffna, is certainly a historic occasion, and will bring back memories to many of the past, when this link been South and North, was an integral part of the day-to-day life of the people, keeping alive the bonds of families, helping build, strengthen and sustain friendships, and contribute so much to the exchange of goods and services between the North and South. There are many friends of mine who still cherish the tickets they bought for the first journey of the Yal Devi from Colombo to Jaffna, many decades ago.
With the Northern Line being rapidly restored, in addition to opening the fully restored Jaffna Railway Station, the President will also visit the railway stations at Palai, Kodikaman and Nawankuli.
If the focus is on the restored rail track to Jaffna and beyond, there are other important events that President Rajapaksa will participate in, that will show the importance the North continues to hold in the current policies of governance.
Title to Land
Of much significance is the distribution of title deeds to land to 1,000 Internally Displaced Persons of the North, which is symbolic of the importance the government attaches to resolving the complex issue of landlessness in the North, caused mainly by the deadly and ruthless work of the LTTE terrorists, who forcibly took away people from their homes and lands, and also destroyed the government offices that held records of land ownership. This moves towards a larger solution to the problem of the landless, also helping those who lost deeds of ownership when their homes were destroyed in the conflict. It is generally agreed that resolving the problem of the landless is one of the most difficult and prolonged matters, in view of the administrative processes involved, and has been prioritized in the recommendations of the LLRC.
In addition to the distribution of land deeds, the President will also bring joy to many with the distribution of gold that had been seized by the LTTE, to the identified owners of such gold and jewellery. Apart from the value of this gold, it is also recognition of the attachment of these people to their gold and jewellery from a cultural aspect, and should help rebuild trust in the efforts of the State to restore the traditions of the people of the North.
Among the most important aspects of the lives of Tamil people in the North of Sri Lanka, has been their commitment to hard work and toil in agriculture under the most trying and land and weather conditions, and also their deep interest in education. The presence of a large number of good Christian schools, during colonial times, as well as the establishing of good Hindu schools, were supportive of their commitment to learning and education, just as it was to agriculture, and saw Tamil youth reap the fruits of learning, producing many a scholars, academics, doctors, lawyers and good administrators in this country. If the political issues since immediately after Independence, and in later years led to major dislocations in the educational structures in the North, there is now evidence that the opportunity to learn is fast expanding there.
Thrust on Education
It is, therefore significant that another important part of President Rajapaksa’s current visit to the North will be to give the Northern youth good opportunities for better education. The Mahindodaya Technological Laboratories is a concept of the President, to improve the quality of education in our schools. He is working towards a target of 1,000 Mahindodaya School Laboratories in the first phase of the project, a large number of which have already been established in many parts of the island. He will arrive in the North, having opened some of these laboratories in the NCP, too.
The schools that the President will visit to open the Mahindodaya facilities in the North will be the Kilinochchi Hindu Vidyalayam, Vaddakachchi Maha Vidyalayam, Jaffna Hindu College, Delft Maha Vidyalayam, St. Anthony’s Maha Vidyalayam, Dr. Thiagaraja Central College, and the Vaddu Hindu College.
There are plans for many more Mahindodaya facilities at schools in the North to be established very soon. These laboratories will provide good facilities for studies in basic science, as well as aspects of technology and computer literacy, too. These will help the schools in the North, benefit to have the same facilities for better education that are being provided in all parts of the country, under President Rajapaksa’s vision of empowering youth through good education, and giving them the opportunities for greater innovation and creativity, which will enable them to compete with youth in more advanced countries, too.
With free education making a major contribution to the progress of education throughout the country, even before Independence, the President will participate in the ceremonies to honour the Father of Free Education, Dr. CWW Kannangara, at the special Kannagara Day Celebrations at Nelliady Maha Vidyalayam.
The provision of good health facilities and ready access to administration also being aspects of the President’s policies for progress in the North, this visit will also see the opening of the new Akkarayankulam District Hospital, and the new District Secretariats at Kilinochchi and Delft.
In all it will be a remarkable and truly historic visit by a President of Sri Lanka to the North, not only in the cause of unity and reconciliation, but it will also stand out as the most eventful visit to the North of this country made by any Head of State of Government of Sri Lanka.