The Northern Province, often crying out for greater autonomy, was a virtual ‘one party’ political entity for years. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a coalition of the former Federal Party and other parties, ruled the roost. Not anymore. The only challenge the TNA faced was from the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party), a one-time guerrilla [...]


The tide is turning, so must the TNA


The Northern Province, often crying out for greater autonomy, was a virtual ‘one party’ political entity for years. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a coalition of the former Federal Party and other parties, ruled the roost. Not anymore.
The only challenge the TNA faced was from the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party), a one-time guerrilla outfit that aligned with the governments in Colombo when it abandoned militancy. This cost the EPDP dearly as the TNA kept drumming the ‘communal card’ in the North.

At the forthcoming general elections, a plethora of political parties are offering the northern voter a choice, an alternative, and in the process, posing a threat to the TNA monopoly.

The mainstream parties are also contesting in the North. The United Nations Party, the United People’s Freedom Alliance and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna are in the fray, gradually returning the Northern Province to an era in the past when national parties contested and won seats in northern elections. That was until the northern parties encouraged militancy and that witnessed the elimination of mainstream politicians.

While these ‘national’ parties offer the northern voter an opportunity to work with the ‘South’, two distinct anti-TNA groups have come to the forefront, not necessarily with the agenda of working with the ‘South’, but rather, of furthering extremism and competing with the TNA in whipping up the racial divide between the North and the South.

Their agendas are the subject of discussion in the North. Some believe they have personal bitterness with the TNA leadership, while others point to more sinister motives and geo-political game plans panning out in this still volatile part of the country. The Tamil Congress (TC) for instance, once a partner of the TNA only to fall out with their leadership on what was believed to be their pro-Indian line, has currently embarked on a virulent campaign for self-determination. It is said in political circles of the North that the TC is being backed by the hardline Diaspora in a Scandinavian country.

If these theories be so, then the TNA, by far still the dominant player in the scene, appears to be caught in some difficulty — a captive of the past, yet having to take the present into account with groups trying to fill the vacuum left with the fall of the LTTE, and also look to the future. The rebuff the TNA got when the Chief Minister visited the West, basically being asked to cut the rhetoric and work with the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as their best hope must be ringing in their ears.

In the North, there is new thinking that the way forward is to work with the government. Our election coverage team spoke to a young 34-year-old doctor from the North (Please see page 8 for his interview). He says regional politics has failed to deliver the goods for the long suffering people of the North. He is, therefore, contesting as a candidate from a mainstream party for a seat in the National Parliament. Young professionals are coming to accept this approach as the best option that would serve the greater interest of the people of the North.

When we wrote recently that there is a ‘Talking Diaspora’ and a “Doing Diaspora’ insofar as the North is concerned, we got a message from one of the latter to say there is also a ‘Doing Nothing Diaspora’.

The JVP, interestingly, has mooted the idea of having a Ministry for Overseas Sri Lankans. It is part of its progressive election manifesto. The JVP cites the examples of China and India with huge numbers living and working outside their countries and continue to have an attachment to their birthplace and like to invest in their ‘home country’. The UNP’s Deputy Foreign Minister agreed that the JVP’s proposal was a “good idea” even if the next number of ministries is to be limited under the 19th Amendment.

The likely scenario now is for the UNP to forge an alliance with the TNA to have a working majority in the next Parliament. The JVP says they will support “progressive ideas” by whosoever comes into office on August 18. The JVP was not speaking of the Tamil Diaspora alone but the whole of the Sri Lankan Diaspora, inclusive of the largely sidelined Sri Lankan workers in West Asia who support the Sri Lankan economy to the tune of more than US$ 7 billion (Rs. 936 billion).

While winds of change may be blowing across the palmyrah-fringed Northern Peninsula, it may be still too early to say that the politics of the North has been brought more to the moderate and centrist position. There are elements at work to destabilise and derail life in the North to serve their own vested interests, but the re-emergence of the mainstream political parties to contest elections like in the years before the advent of the militant factor taking control of the North with their AK-47s, is a healthy sign.

On this same page our Political Editor who visited Jaffna earlier this week makes some observations following the detection of shipments of contraband from India. The Nelsonian-eye approach to poaching by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters and the authorities here opting to pussyfoot the issue for fear of ruffling Indian feathers, is giving the smugglers of sarees, gold and cannabis a free run between borders. Similarly, the seas that divide India and Sri Lanka are wide open for would-be terrorist elements. The SL Navy is doing minimum patrolling under orders. There is a danger that the security of the North could be compromised once again unless the authorities learn from past mistakes.

Despite groups abroad trying to re-ignite the fire they lit in the form of the UN Human Rights Council investigations into purported ‘war crimes’ in 2009, there is a clear signal from many of the new generation in the North, or so it would appear, that there is a need to ‘move on’. The TNA is in a dilemma on how to shake off and abandon overnight that section of the Diaspora that has financed it, but its constituency at home and on the ground in the North – and East, is in a different mood.

The TNA’s primary focus must be these folks at home and their future in a unitary Sri Lanka. Federalism is a ‘no no” for any Government in Colombo whichever party or coalition is in power and place. Is it too much to ask the TNA to refrain from playing the old communal drum to secure most seats in the upcoming election?
The tide is turning, slowly but surely, in the North.

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