While the political debate on the need for a snap Presidential Election, once the President Rajapaksa completes the fourth year of his second term next month, or the legality of such an election keeps getting more intense with more voices being heard in favour of the move and against it, President Rajapaksa himself shows an interesting capability to address his mind to other issues of governance of interest to society, while not evading the hot topic of political discussion.
There is no doubt that the arrival of the Yal Devi at Jaffna, after 24 years, had a political aspect to it, given the timing of the event, but one cannot ignore the fact that this historic event had much more to do to strengthen links within the country, and was another major step in the development of the transport sector, serving both the passenger and goods transportation, and contributing to increase economic activity between the North and South of the country.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was playing its own politics with the Yal Devi and related events by deciding not to participate in the discussions with the President on issues of development and administration of the Northern Province, which made the President raise the issue of the continuing links that the TNA (or some sections of it) has with the LTTE or its remnants, and thus made their own contribution to worsening the situation regarding the search for a political solution to the ethnic question and the issue of the 13th Amendment.
While politics will certainly come to the fore in most activities of the government and the divided Opposition just now, and in the weeks ahead, especially with the presentation of the Budget for 2015 being advanced, and whatever economic concessions the government gives to the public being labeled as election related, there is the underlying fact that President Rajapaksa is certainly making an interesting and very good blend of what appears to be election politics with necessary service to the people.
One example of this is the handing over of land to the Internally Displaced Persons of the North. There were 20,000 families that befitted from this initiative that gave relief to those who had lost their land during the long period of terrorism of the LTTE. Most of the land they lost was forcibly taken by the LTTE for their own purposes, while others property were damaged or destroyed due to the prolonged conflict, and the destruction of administrative offices that held copies and registers of the title deeds that people lost when being displaced due to terrorism. There is criticism heard, from the TNA, that what was given were not really title deeds but permits to occupy land; the fact is that those who benefitted from this are not likely take such a politically tinged view of being able to once again the possess and occupy land that was once theirs and was lost to them, through no fault of their own.
There was also the giving of gold that had been seized by the LTTE to identified owners, which apart from adding to their personal wealth would also give them much joy and sentiment getting back jewellery they had an attachment to, which is part of the culture of our people, both in the North and South.
In addition, there was also Rs. 115 million of compensation given to 1218 IDPs for the losses they had incurred due to the terrorism of the LTTE.
Proxies of the LTTE
Not unexpectedly, the TNA has criticized the relief that is being given to the Tamil people as part of implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. It certainly has a right to raise such tainted criticism, even though politically tainted, which in turn deserves a political answer that is not difficult to enunciate. However, it is also necessary to recall that those who make such criticisms today, did not utter a single word of criticism or protest when the Tamil people of the North were compelled to lose their land and gold due to the terrorist activities of the LTTE, and the battles that had to be fought to defeat those forces of terror.
The silence at that time on the part of the critics of today was because they had clearly accepted the LTTE as the sole leader of the Tamil people, and even in the seats of Parliament and other places that some of them sat at the time, they did not hide the fact they were proxies of the LTTE. The silence of some of them can be understood as being due to the fear they had of what the LTTE did to Tamils who criticized it. But those who succumbed to such fear remain persons who lacked the courage of other Tamils who raised their voices against the LTTE, and even faced the ultimate punishment of losing their lives.
Another important aspect of the President's visit to the North, the longest by any head of government in this country, was the establishing of Mahindodaya Technological Laboratories in several schools in the province.
This was in pursuit of an important policy of President Rajapaksa - that of improving the quality of education provided to students in the schools of this country, with such benefits to be equally shared by all sections of students, irrespective of region, religion or ethnicity faith.
The Mahindodaya concept has an initial target of enriching 1,000 schools in all provinces with such facilities, a large part of which has already been completed. The opening of these laboratories in the North was the beginning of more such facilities being provided to students in the North, who have already shown their progress through good education.
Fighting brain drain
If the work done by the President on his visits to the districts of the North was an interesting and rewarding mix of politics and service to the people, he has continued to show his interest in progress of youth in the country, in the important speech he made earlier this week at the inauguration of the 5th Symposium of Plantation Crop Research in Colombo.
This was his announcement that the government would formulate a national policy and strategies to stop the brain drain from the country, and obtain the services of research workers for the economic development of the country. It was clear that the President was aware of the problems that economic and social progress face due to brain drain, and the need to take steps to keep out talent and skills within the country, not in an insular manner, but by providing the necessary education and training that will give them the skills and the ability to be satisfactorily employed in this country.
The symposium was organized by the four key research institutes associated with agro-industry in Sri Lanka. These are the Tea, Rubber, Coconut and Sugar Research Institutes. The President observed that persons employed in the plantation sector were dwindling today, posing a challenge to the country to increase the work force in these sectors from the current 2.5 million to 3 million.
It was the President's view that workers in these four sectors of agro-industry can make more contributions to boost economic growth, through well focused research that can take these sectors to new heights of development, through the use of new technology, as well as seeing how these agro-industrial sectors could contribute to new areas of production, creating new markets for the produce of this country.
He observed that these major research institutes of Sri Lanka had won international acclaim for their work, and their expertise has been sought by foreign countries, and saw in this the opportunity to further advance of their work, while not losing the expertise available in them to similar institutions or industries abroad.
The politics of progress
The President said the government saw the need to promote more research in the plantation crop sector, and that it could continue to make an important contribution to economic growth. Recalling that Sri Lanka had a civilization rich in technology covering irrigation, agriculture and architecture, before the arrival of colonialism and imperialism, he said that now, in the peace of the post-conflict era, was in a position to further enhance development through research.
He saw new opportunities in the successful economic growth taking place that has helped the country to post economic growth that is near 8 per cent, referred to a report which said that Sri Lanka has secured second place in terms of economic growth rate in the word, and saw the possibility for a much bigger contribution by the plantation sector to strengthen growth.
It is now evident that while the debate on the holding of an early presidential poll to give a third term to Mahinda Rajapaksa will continue to gather both heat and momentum, with conflicting legal opinion and emerging line-ups and divisions in the political opposition, the President himself is ready to carry on the with the politics of the day, while implementing policies of the government that are beneficial to the people, and necessary for continued economic growth taking place. He is matching his clear dominance in the public relations of politics with his good understanding of political calculations on both sides of the divide.