The President has had three lengthy discussions recently with the Tamil parties. The first was with the EPDP then the TULF and last Wednesday with the EPDP, PLOTE and the EPRLF. These have been reported regularly in the press. The five party alliance is scheduled to meet her on June 27. The TULF is also expected to participate in this meeting. The talks with the TULF centered mainly on the question of the unit of devolution. The discussion with the EPDP, PLOTE and the EPRLF was also mainly about the same question. The Tamil parties were no more enlightened about the government's stand on the issue than they were before these discussions with the President and Prof. G.L Pieris took place. At the meeting with the three ex-militant groups, the President sought to dispel the apprehension among some of them that the SLFP is nurturing an ulterior plan to build its party apparatus in the north exclusively, by preventing or impeding them from working there.
Despite the president's assurance tension and suspicions are inevitable not only in the north but in the east too.
Two instances will suffice to illustrate the problem the government faces in attempting to keep the Tamil political parties on its side while devising strategies to directly woo the Tamils.
The Sudu Nelum was the first political organisation (as part of the SLFP) to visit the Jaffna peninsula after the conclusion of Op. Riviresa Three. Some Tamil members of the MIRGE went with the Sudu Nelum group under Mr. Mangala Samaraweera.
This gave the impression to the Tamil groups that the SLFP was trying to monopolize the peninsula politically with the assistance of the army and lackeys from the Tamil community. This impression was further corroborated by the statement of the President that she will deal directly with the Tamils of Jaffna who , according to her, had thus far been denied the right to talk to the government on the package ( Virakesari 3. 5.96) and by the statement of the Deputy Minister for Defence that the President was making arrangements to speak directly with the Tamil people on the proposal put forward by the government.
Their fear was also based on some statements emanating from government quarters that the people of Jaffna have voted against the LTTE with their feet and that the they did not want the ex-Tamil militant groups to return. The UNP was anyway the implied villain who, among many crimes perpetrated on the northern Tamils, had burnt the Jaffna library which the Sudu Nelum delegation while visiting Jaffna said would be rebuilt by the P.A leadership soon. In other words, the P.A was saying that the Tamils liberated by Riviresa Two and Three did not want to have anything to do with the LTTE, the non LTTE Tamil groups and the UNP. The TULF is not prepared to go there as long the Tamils do not have an honourable solution. If this is the case, the Tamils of Jaffna would be left only with the PA to fill the political vacuum created by their rejection (as claimed by the government) of the LTTE, of the ex-Tamil rebel groups and of the UNP, and the refusal of the TULF to be in Jaffna.
In these circumstances, the disturbing question among some Tamil leaders was whether the government was making these claims on behalf of the Jaffna Tamils in order to make itself their sole representative in the north by default.
The SLFP for its part may have some grounds to believe that the northern Tamils are generally with them. At the 1982 Presidential polls, the SLFP's candidate polled more votes in Jaffna than the UNP's candidate. In 1988, the SLFP managed to score significantly in the peninsula despite the Indian army's support for the UNP's candidate in that Presidential election. And finally there were persistent reports during the peace talks last year that the people of Jaffna were tremendously enthusiastic about Ms. Kumaratunga.
The minority vote bank being a traditional safeguard against divided and declining Sinhala support, the Tamil parties were inclined to assume that the PA would naturally be tempted to secure the northern Tamil vote for itself in the face of sagging public enthusiasm in the south for its style of government.
These private suspicions among the Tamil leaders were given vent to in the latest issue of the EPRLF's official publication, Puthiya Kannottam.
It is obvious that the President was aware of the growing gulf between her and the Tamil parties. This is why she sought to dispel the apprehensions and mistrust at Wednesday’s meeting with the PLOTE, EPRLF and EPDP.
But striking a subtle balance between the need to promote the interests of her party directly among the minorities while sustaining the loyalty of the Tamil parties will continue to cause problems, the management of which can be no easy task.
For example, on May 24 about forty people from Batticaloa were gathered at Ashram's ministry office, ostensibly to discuss issues concerning rehabilitation and reconstruction in the district. The participants, however, were recommended by the PA organiser for Batticaloa, Mr. Ganeshamoorthy. The meeting was chaired by Ashraff. The discussion which began on development issues in the district was steered with acumen towards the question of eastern Tamils carving a separate political identity for themselves, independent of northern political influence. It was argued that the eastern Tamils should form a political forum of their own. Ashraff informed the gathering that such a party was already registered with the commissioner of elections. Nimalan Soundranayagam was elected the leader of the group. He is a relative of Joseph Pararajasingham M.P and was a TULF candidate for Batticaloa at the last general election.
The Tamil parties feel that the SLFP is trying to rejuvenate its immensely shrunk support base in the district through alienating the Batticaloa Tamils from them by thus fanning anti-Jaffna sentiments which it (the SLFP) has, according to them, wrongly assumed to be still dominant in the region.
But Ashraff, one Tamil party leader said, may have merely offered his services in helping the batticaloa branch of the SLFP realise its dubious goal. The SLFP in Batticaloa, it is obvious, thinks that the number of people who flock to some its organisers is a sure indication of public political support. They go to some SLFP organisers because jobs are up for sale to the highest bidders once more. A clerical post in one of the state banks is fetching up to hundred thousand rupees. There are many who have paid the price but are yet to get their jobs. This is what I was able to discern as the main manner of public support that the SLFP seems to enjoy in Batticaloa now.Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page