The Political Column

19th May 1996

Tamil Nadu again in big way

By Our Political Correspondent

With the Bharathiya Janatha Party taking over the reins it is possible that Indian politics may change course.

The BJP, pro-Hindu political party and backed by the Hindu hardliners like the Shiva Sena, is likely to take a different look at the North-East conflict in Sri Lanka.

It was reported the LTTE had met the BJP ally, Shiva Sena to present its case against the government of Sri Lanka.

Now with the on-going offensive, the LTTE in its desperation is likely to play all its cards to win BJP support.

Analysts believe it is likely LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran may play the Hindu card as a weapon to turn around the Indian attitude towards Sri Lanka.

The attempt by the Congress I and other secularist parties to prevent the BJP from forming a government has so far failed. But everything depends on the BJP's ability to prove its majority in Parliament before May 31, with National Front - Left Front, the Congress and other parties vowing to vote against the Vajpayee government.

Some political analysts believe though the BJP has emerged victor in the elections on the platform of Hindutva, it would adopt a pragmatic approach to domestic and international issues.

They point out that the new Prime Minister Atal Bahari Vajpayee, though branded as a Hindu Nationalist, is a very sober person with whom India's neighbours could maintain cordial relations.

In 1977-79, as the Foreign Minister Mr. Vajpayee played a prominent role in helping Pakistan to join the Non-Alligned Movement, with assistance from Sri Lanka's then Foreign Minister, A.C.S. Hameed.

In the circumstances, most analysts believe the BJP would not be able to take a hard Hindu line even if wanted to, since it would have to depend on smaller parties in Parliament to prove their majority and then run a stable government.

Amidst these political developments, Sri Lankan Tamil political parties have decided to meet Tamilnadu Chief Minister and DMK leader, M. Karunanidhi to discuss political and other issues concerning Sri Lanka.

Though the five Tamil-party alliance is expecting an early appointment, it was not immediately clear as to when they would get a date for this crucial meeting.

EPDP leader, Douglas Devananda who met Mr. Karunanidhi earlier, is already in India for further talks while EROS leader, Shankar Raji left for Madras on Saturday to prepare for the talks with Mr. Karunanidhi.

In Madras last week Mr. Karunanidhi said he would discuss the Sri Lankan issue with the new government at the centre and urge it to help find a political solution.

He said his party felt that the Sri Lankan Tamils should have the right to determine their own future.

"We are unable to reconcile ourselves to killing of innocent Tamils," he said.

It is likely Mr. Karunanidhi will take a tough Tamil line on Sri Lankan matters and urge the centre to pressurise Colombo to find a political solution to the conflict. This is likely to cause problems for the Sri Lankan government which seem determined now to fight the battle to a finish.

Not only Mr. Karunanidhi but several Tamil organisations overseas also have condemned the on- going military offensive in the Jaffna peninsula and called upon the Tamil MPs to resign.

In an appeal to the Sri Lankan Tamil MPs, Eelam groups in the US, including the Ilankai Tamil Sangam of the USA say ,


The signatories to the statement are:

N. Jeyalingam - Ilankai Tamil Sangam, K. Arulananthan USA

and Shan. K Indra - Tamil Sangam of South ern California

T. Sri Thilliampalam - Eelam Tamil Associa tion of America

K. Balasubramaniam - Ilankai Tamil Sangam, Florida

Dr. Philip M. Saundararaj - Ilankai Tamil Sangam, Texas

M. Sreetharan - Tamil Welfare and Human Rights Committee

R.K. Sri Skandarajah - Action Group of Tamils in US

Shan Nandakumar - Tamils of North Califor nia

Dr. John Balachandran

It is quite natural for Tamil groups abroad to indulge in this type of exercise since they are the major donors to the LTTE to keep the war going in the North and East.

One sixth of the Sri Lankan Tamil population are living abroad and are responsible for a 40 percent component of the LTTE funds.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Tamil parties were apparently having a tough time with President Chandrika Kumaratunga last week.

EPDP leader, Douglas Devananda who met President Kumaratunga on May 9 prior to her state visit to Japan was refused permission to enter the Jaffna peninsula to work with the military.

Mr. Devananda sought permission from the President to go to the cleared areas in the peninsula since he felt he had a responsibility towards the people there. But the President refused saying the people in Jaffna did not want to see the EPDP or the PLOTE.

However, Mr. Devananda said if he was given three months he would prove that he was popular in Jaffna.

"If I do not vote with the government for the next three months like the TULF on issues including the extension of emergency, I can very well prove that I am popular", he said.

Purturbed by the reply the President tried to pacify the ex-militant but did not grant permission for Mr. Devananda or any other Tamil leader to visit the Northern peninsula.

But the Tamil parties are hoping to meet the President again soon to sort out the issue.

The President undertook the tour of Japan soon after her trip to China to woo Ministers. On both these trips she was accompanied by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who seems to be emerging as her most trusted lieutenant.

There is speculation that the President is considering Mr. Kadirgamar for more responsibilities.

Though such a move will be welcomed by the international community and most pragmatic people here, there might also be opposition to such a move from at least some in the President's own party.

Minister Mangala Samaraweera on one occasion came out with such a proposal and even conveyed this to his good friend S.B. Disanayake who is considered as an outspoken member of the Cabinet.

In one other occasion the two Ministers got together to defend the Sri Lanka Telecom Chairman, Hemasiri Fernando who had apparently fallen from grace.

After having heard that the President was not happy with him, Mr. Fernando met these two Ministers and they agreed to talk to the President about it. But at the last moment Mr. Samaraweera was not available.

When Mr. Disanayake found that Mr. Samaraweera had not arrived on time to the former's bungalow he telephoned to find out what had happened.

The reply from the other end was that Mr. Samarweera was still sleeping after a late night assignment.

Then Mr. Disanayake decided to take Mr. Fernando to the President by himself.

At the meeting the President reportedly referred to charges against Mr. Fernando regarding his alleged involvement in certain tenders. But Mr. Fernando apparently defended himself well and things were settled there.

Though the President has decided to keep him in the same capacity, analysts say she might again decide otherwise.

The other incident that has rocked the government establishment is the mystery surrounding the correct age of Media Ministry Secretary Edmond Jayasinghe.

The allegation is that the information he gave the high post committee of Parliament about his age was incorrect. But this has yet to be probed. The Committee cannot act unless there is a specific complaint.

Thus the UNP has decided to take this matter up in Parliament's Privileges Committee.

UNP leaders point out that Mr. Jayasinghe also appears before the Public Accounts Committee as the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry. In view of the latest disclosures they would now find it difficult to accept his submissions, the UNPers say.

UNPers also say though Mr. Jayasinghe has passed his age of retirement he has not obtained an extension as required by the law.

When the matter regarding his Birth Certificate was publicised, Mr. Jayasinghe reportedly contacted Presidential Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi to ask him what he should do. He was told to wait until the President returned from Japan.

In different documents Mr. Jayasinghe has allegedly given his year of birth as 1940, 1944 and 1946.

Media Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake was in Turkey when he heard this news. He called an officer in the Ministry and asked what was happening.

After being briefed on it, the Minister said Mr. Jayasinghe was not his choice. He was apparently referring to reports that Mr. Jayasinghe who was appointed by the President was not entirely acceptable to the Minister.

At the weekly meeting of the Ministers, Chief Government Whip Richard Pathirana raised the matter and inquired as to who has recommended Mr. Jayasinghe to hold an important position such as the Media Secretary.

Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike called President's Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi to ask for more details on the controversy. But nothing much was revealed.

Mr. Jayasinghe obviously shaken by the disclosure has told friends he had legally obtained the extension from the government.

He has told them he was unable to reply to the newspapers because both his Minister and the President were out of the country and that he did not want to make any statement until he briefed them.

Mr. Jayasinghe has reportedly observed that he had obtained an extension when he reached 55 as the Director General of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He also believed to have said that his second extension this year had been obtained by his Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake. So there was no need to alter the Birth Certificate.

But now it is learnt that all the papers in the Immigration and Emigration Department have been taken over by the Controller to prevent any leaks.

Meanwhile, the situation in the plantations is also causing more concern.

The CWC which has withdrawn the no-confidence motion and the Trade Union agitation after President Kumaratunga promised to meet its leaders in a week, is threatening to go on strike again unless the plantation crisis is solved.

The go-between is Minister S.B. Disanayake, with whom the President met CWC Chief Thondaman to defuse the plantation crisis.

It is likely the CWC will bring pressure on the government in the coming weeks, seeking a favourable response to its demands.

With all these rumblings the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs also met a week ago to consider the proposals of political parties and other organisations.

Sinhalaye Maha Sammatha Bhoomiputhra Party leader Harishchandra Wijetunge who appeared before the Committee questioned the very mandate of the Committee.

He said that the Chairman of the Committee, Minister G.L. Peiris had not been elected by the people. There were other such members also.

Mr. Wijetunge said there was only one person in the Committee with a Sinhala name. He asked Douglas Devananda how many votes he polled at the General Election which prompted D. Siddharthan of the PLOTE to ask as to how many votes Mr. Wijetunge polled at the last Presidential Elections.

When Mr. Wijetunge replied that it was somewhere around 30,000, Mr. Siddharthan said that it was less than one percent.

At this state, Deputy Minister Vishva Warnapala moved into say that it was not necessary to record all what Mr. Wijetunge said since there were a number of allegations against the members of the Committee.

But UNP's A.C.S. Hameed opposed such a move saying that those were the views of an individual.

After Mr. Wijetunge's submissions, Committee Chairman G.L. Peiris asked the members whether they had any queries.

Mr. Hameed said they should not ask any questions from Mr. Wijetunge since he maintained the position that the Committee did not have a mandate.

In contrast, the JVP delegation came out with what were described as meaningful proposals. The delegation said it was opposing the government's proposals and advocated the concept of equality to all the citizens irrespective of race, caste or creed.

It argued that the people never asked the Sinhala be made the Official Language. If somebody wrote to a state department in one of the three languages, Sinhala, English or Tamil, he should be entitled to get a reply in the same language.

Likewise, the JVP argued that anybody should be free to worship any faith and that the government should not interfere with this right of the people.

As things stand the government proposals to devolve power among the regions are facing a storm of protests. But the government would be under pressure to push these proposals to give regional autonomy to the Tamils, especially with the successful completion of the military offensive in which the troops have now re-captured the whole of the Jaffna peninsula.

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