MR has cordial meeting with Wigneswaran and Sampanthan, presents statue of Hindu god as token of cooperation Khurshid comes, concurs and conquers on important issues; sidelines poaching crisis President Mahinda Rajapaksa had a thoughtful gift for C.V. Wigneswaran after he swore him at three different times last Monday morning. The first was as an elected member of [...]


TNA détente with MR; but cracks erupt within


  • MR has cordial meeting with Wigneswaran and Sampanthan, presents statue of Hindu god as token of cooperation
  • Khurshid comes, concurs and conquers on important issues; sidelines poaching crisis

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had a thoughtful gift for C.V. Wigneswaran after he swore him at three different times last Monday morning. The first was as an elected member of the Northern Provincial Council, the second as its Chief Minister and the third, as a minister of the PC cabinet. All three oaths were taken in Tamil.

He then handed to the newly anointed Chief Minister a statue of Lord Sri Vinayagar. In the Hindu pantheon of gods, he is primary and is also referred to as Pillayar, Ganesha or Vigneswarar. They worship his statue before setting out on any important mission to ensure it is successfully accomplished.

The swearing-in ceremony was slotted for the auspicious hour of 9.30 a.m. But just three minutes ahead, President Rajapaksa emerged before the invitees and found that the Lord Sri Vinayagar statue he had asked officials to be kept ready was not there. Rajapaksa hurriedly urged Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga to go to his shrine room and obtain the one placed there. 

Just after he was sworn in, National Languages Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara walked up to Wigneswaran, hugged and kissed him. The Minister’s daughter is married to the former Supreme Court Judge’s son. With the official ceremony over, Rajapaksa invited his guests to tea. Whilst walking, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District parliamentarian Appadurai Vinayagamoorthy remarked that Rajapaksa had sworn-in Wigneswaran for the third time. The two previous occasions were when he was a Judge of the Supreme Court. “No, no! That is not me. He took oaths before President Chandrika Kumaratunga,” the incumbent President replied and added, “When you grow old, you forget these things.” The fare at tea had a blend of both the South and the North. From the former, it included kiribath, katta sambol, kavun and kokis. From the latter, there was Ulundu Vadai, green and red chutney.

A more important message from Rajapaksa came after the tea ceremony. “I will give you my fullest support. I expect you to reciprocate,” Rajapaksa told Wigneswaran. He made clear “I am not the President of one community. I am President for all communities.” The new Chief Minister was quick to assure that the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) would work with the Government and acknowledged that much needed to be done.

On the Government side, there were four Ministers – Maithripala Sirisena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dullas Allahapperuma and Rauff Hakeem. Also present was Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, Monitoring MP for the External Affairs Ministry. A notable absentee was Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Ahead of the elections, when it became clear the TNA would sweep the polls, he had announced that he would hand over his ambitious high-spending Uthuru Vasanthaya (Northern Spring) programme after the September 21 elections to the Northern Provincial Council. This was a multi-programme development project for the North. Hakeem sought to speak privately to Rajapaksa. Though the President said it could be done after the end of the ceremonies, time had run out. He had to rush to Janadipathi Mandiraya or President’s House. He was to sign as witness for the registration of a wedding. It was the daughter of a leading Matara garage owner who had business interests in Colombo too.

They met later that day. Hakeem wanted to know if anyone from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) would be appointed Deputy Minister. The Minister said he was checking on this since he had seen media reports and as he was leaving later that night for the United States. He was to point out that on a previous occasion; such appointments had been made in consultation with him. “I have no plans to appoint anyone from the SLMC as deputy Minister,” replied Rajapaksa bluntly. That one sentence put paid to hopes by SLMC parliamentarians for deputy ministerial positions. The SLMC contested separately from the UPFA at last month’s PC polls. This was much to the dissatisfaction of the UPFA leadership. When Hakeem returned to his Colombo residence, the MPs were waiting for him. He had to tell them that none of them would receive positions. The next day (Tuesday) Rajapaksa swore in nine deputy ministers from the UPFA MPs who were regarded as “senior” and had made a “valuable contribution” to the Government. Some of those who did not receive positions were spoken to, one after the other, by Presidential Secretary Weeratunga on Thursday. He told them that the President was aware of their contribution and would also reward them soon. He urged them not to feel disappointed since they have not been ignored by the leadership.

Chief Minister Wigneswaran will join his colleagues heading other Provincial Councils in taking part periodically in weekly ministerial meetings, particularly when issues related to their areas are under discussion. President Rajapaksa has decided that they should take part in these events to be held every fortnight.

That Monday, the enigma before both President Rajapaksa and the TNA became clearer even before the swearing-in ceremony had ended. In presenting the idol of the most revered among Hindu gods and inviting them to work with the Government, Rajapaksa had drawn the ire of hardliners in his UPFA. They had warned against placing any trust on the NPC whose only objective, they claimed, was to promote ‘separation.’ Going that ‘extra mile’ of presenting that statue after having held elections in the North, as promised, was clearly aimed at highlighting Rajapaksa’s bona fides. He was willing to risk the displeasure of hardliners in his Government in forging a working relationship with the NPC. That too is with just five weeks to go for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo. 

The enigma for the TNA was even worse. The President, Wigneswaran, his family, TNA leaders and other guests stood on the steps leading to the lawn at ‘Temple Trees’ for a group photograph. Kicking his heels inside was M.A. Sumanthiran, TNA National List parliamentarian. “Go, go and join them,” urged Minister Dullas Allahapperuma. He moved in. That reluctance earlier told a story that was to unfold later. Those present at the oaths ceremony were all members of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) or the Federal Party, the leading partner in the four-member alliance. The only exception was a member of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC). The ITAK functions under the umbrella of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is not yet recognised and registered as a political party. Hence, the TNA contested the September 21 elections as ITAK.
The two TNA parliamentarians present at ‘Temple Trees’ were Rajavarothayam Sampanthan (Leader) and Sumanthiran. The other was Appadurai Vinayagamoorthy who is from the ACTC, a protégé of its one-time leader Kumar Ponnambalam. The remaining TNA constituent parties were protesting against Wigneswaran taking his oaths before Rajapaksa, a move which the leadership rejected on the grounds that they would otherwise be on a collision course with the Government even before the NPC began work. The notable absentees were parliamentarians Mavai Senathirajah (ITAK), Suresh Premachandran (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front or EPRLF) and Selvam Adaikalanathan (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation or TELO).

President Mahinda Rajapaksa gifts the statue of Hindu god Sri Vinayagar to Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran after he was sworn in. Looking on is Northern Province Governor retired Major General G.A. Chandrasiri. Pic courtesy Presidential Secretariat

Divisions within the TNA came to the open on Thursday after they wrote to retired Major General G.A. Chandrasiri, Governor of the Northern Province, naming four councillors as provincial ministers. The fifth to hold portfolios would be the Chief Minister. The four are P. Ayangaranesan, T. Kurukularasa, P. Sathyalingam and B. Danishwaran. They were sworn-in on Friday at a ceremony at the Veerasingham Hall by Chief Minister Wigneswaran. 

If Vinayagamoorthy of the ACTC attended the swearing-in of the Chief Minister in Colombo, he kept away at the swearing-in of ministers in Jaffna. Nine elected Provincial Councillors were also absent. Others who kept away were now NP councillor Dharmalingam Siddarthan (People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam or PLOTE), Suresh Premachandran MP (EPRLF), Sivashakthi Anandan MP (EPRLF) and Vino Noharthalingam MP (TELO). However, TELO leader Selvam Adaikalanathan took part in the swearing-in ceremony. His party members complained that this was despite a decision by their Central Committee not to do so. Though the TNA leadership said Ayangaranesan who was sworn-in as a Minister was from the EPRLF because his claim to join the board of ministers has been forwarded through it, the EPRLF sacked him on Friday. It wrote to ITAK Secretary Mavai Senathirajah informing him of the expulsion. TNA leader Sampanthan and Jaffna’s Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Savundranayagam, were among those present at the swearing-in ceremony of the ministers.
Sivashakthi Anandan (EPRLF) who represents the Wanni District told the Sunday Times, “We were promised that at least one representative from Mullaitivu District would be named Minister. This did not happen.” They also complained that the brother of EPRLF MP Suresh Premachandran, Kandiah Sarveshwaran, a university lecturer has not been considered for a ministerial appointment. The new fissures which began on Thursday among the TNA partners will continue to simmer with strong indications that some councillors may not extend support to Wigneswaran.

The dissident group in the TNA held a news conference at the Green Grass Hotel in Jaffna yesterday. Among those present were Suresh Premachandran MP, NPC members Dharmalingam Siddharthan and M.K. Sivajilingam.

Premachandran said that the nine councillors boycotted the swearing-in ceremonies only because the ITAK has reneged on its promises. However, he said that they would fully support Chief Minister Vigneswaran and will remain within the alliance.
Yet the TNA’s celebrated victory at the polls, that signalled unity on an unprecedented scale by Tamil voters, has fractured. That would also be a huge disappointment to the Tamil diaspora which funded and supported the TNA’s polls campaign.
Thus, both for the UPFA and the TNA the exercise in cohabitation is threatened not only by one another’s compulsions. There are also the internal divisions on both sides. The major cog wheels and the minor ones would have to turn harmoniously for the new détente between the Government and the TNA to continue. Otherwise, it would only become a recipe for disaster. That cracks have begun to appear in less than a month after polls also shows another important divide, one between hardliners in the TNA and the moderates led by Sampanthan. It is the hardliners who first disliked the choice of Wigneswaran as the Chief Minister candidate and now the idea of him taking his oaths before Rajapaksa. Added to that are those groups disappointed that they did not get any place in the board of ministers (according to the Provincial Councils Act, each council can have only four ministers plus the Chief Minister). Sampanthan defended Wigneswaran’s choice saying it was made after the bio data of all councillors were obtained. He told the Sunday Times, “Nine councillors kept away. Cabinet formation was based entirely on the judgement of the Chief Minister. Competence, cleanliness in public life and adequate representation to districts were among factors considered. We could not surrender administrative discipline for political expediency by complying with the wishes of certain individuals. We have to think of the best interest of the public. The nine councillors who kept away will realise their mistake.”

Ananthi Shashitharan who came second on the preference vote count signing her letter of appointment as councilor after she took oaths before Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran. The Consul-General of India in Jaffna looks on. Pic by Priyantha Hewage

It is in this backdrop that India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid arrived in Colombo last Monday on a two-day visit. As revealed in these columns last week, two aspects of his visit were significant. One was his talks with President Rajapaksa last Tuesday. The other was the signing of the agreement for the “Coal Fired Power Facility at Trincomalee.” A third came in later in the form of talks Khurshid held with the TNA whilst in Colombo at the visiting Minister’s hotel and with Chief Minister Wigneswaran in Jaffna at the Trico hotel in the main Jaffna town area. 

Khurshid told a news conference on Monday after his talks with External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris: “The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us and to the international community, its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, and building on it. We look forward to an early resumption of the dialogue process, in order to address this issue in a timely manner. We will continue to work with the Government of Sri Lanka, and help in whatever way we can, to take this process forward, in a spirit of partnership and cooperation…….”

Khurshid also referred to the fishermen issue, the poaching in Sri Lankan waters by Tamil Nadu fishermen. New details of how this is a multi-billion rupee industry in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu were reported in INSIGHT Reports of the Sunday Times (Sept. 22, 29 and Oct.6 issues). Khurshid said, “We also discussed the fishermen’s issue and agreed on the need to deal with it in a humane manner without resorting to violence under any circumstances. In this regard, we agreed to encourage fishermen’s associations on both sides, which had met in the past and reached some understandings, to meet again to work on developing this further.” His Sri Lankan counterpart Peiris maintained a deafening silence on the issue of the thousands of Indian fishing boats breaching Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity thrice a week at the cost of the Sri Lankan fishermen’s livelihood and the marine resources of the North. 

President Rajapaksa met Khurshid on Tuesday morning. Later, the Presidential Secretariat said Rajapaksa told Khurshid the Parliamentary Select Committee should come up with a solution in keeping “with what the people want.”

In other words, Khurshid’s talks have made clear both Sri Lanka and India have agreed to disagree on issues related to the 13th Amendment. It is not without significance. Indian concerns appear to have eased with no hurried moves to make changes to the 13th Amendment. Sri Lanka has won more time with the Parliamentary Select Committee moving very slowly to complete its task. 

Khurshid’s discussions with a four member TNA delegation at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel also related to the 13th Amendment. The TNA delegation comprised leader Sampanthan, Sumanthiran, Suresh Premachandran and Selvam Adaikalanathan. Sampanthan told the Sunday Times in a Q & A (See box story) the talks were “cordial and constructive.” Khurshid had congratulated the TNA for its victory at the NPC polls. Sampanthan said, “We discussed activities of the NPC, particularly the situation related to land issues. We explained that the need for an acceptable political resolution is one that is a pre-requisite to genuine reconciliation. Several matters related to the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) were discussed. The resolutions adopted in 2012 and 2013 have been fundamental to reconciliation.”

He said the TNA was in agreement that there was a need to be engaged with the Government. “Minister Khurshid said India has been engaged with the Sri Lanka Government and such engagement would continue. He wanted the constructive cooperation of the TNA. We assured that such constructive cooperation would be available.”

India and Sri Lanka have been engaged on the thorny issues relating to police and land powers in the 13th Amendment for many months now. It is becoming increasingly clear that the two issues have gone to the backburner. As is now well known, the Government’s hurried moves to rush through Parliament constitutional amendments to remove police powers were abandoned. Thereafter, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was tasked to formulate a political package, with or without provisions of the 13th Amendment. Only Government MPs serve in the PSC. With the UPFA’s pre-occupation with the CHOGM and the budget debate thereafter, going on until December 20, the PSC report, Government sources say, would not be ready until mid-next year or even later. Thereafter, the PSC recommendations would have to be formulated for discussion by Parliament, a process which would be time consuming. This would be in the backdrop of provincial elections and a possible presidential poll. This is supplemented by another factor in India.

The Indian Parliamentary elections would have to be held before April next year. In this scenario, the Government in New Delhi would have other major preoccupations too. This is whilst watching how the NPC, the very instrument of devolution meant largely for the North (and to a lesser degree to the East) would work. In this regard, Khurshid has expressed his Government’s appreciation at the conduct of a relatively trouble free and fair election in the North in keeping with the promise given by President Rajapaksa to do so. This has prompted Government officials at the highest levels to say Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would take part in the CHOGM. “He will be present for at least a day’s sessions if not more,” a senior Government official who wished to remain unidentified said yesterday.

Khurshid on Monday signed the Coal Fired Facility project agreement together with supplementary ones with Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Minister of Power and Energy. The project was approved at the weekly Cabinet meeting on October 3, as exclusively revealed in these columns last week. The agreement for the power project was among eight Khurshid concluded. It also included a Memorandum of Understanding for Technical Assistance in support of the 10-year National Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka. The power project was not among the 35 items listed on the formal agenda for ministers the previous week. However, Minister Wanniarachchi placed it in the supplementary agenda later with the approval of the President, as is the normal practice. Among the documents on the facility is the Power Purchase Agreement which runs into more than 212 pages. It is between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Trincomalee Power Company Limited, a company incorporated in 2007 on the one hand and the Indian Government owned National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) on the other.

During talks in Jaffna with Chief Minister Wigneswaran, the Indian External Affairs Minister invited him to New Delhi. The Chief Minister said he would accept it if there was an official invitation from the Government of India. He was assured that one would be delivered. There was also an exchange on possible areas where Indian assistance in the North would be most required. Chief Minister Wigneswaran had also raised the issue of difficulties caused to local fishermen as a result of poaching by their counterparts in Tamil Nadu. It was the first time the TNA had raised this issue concerning a fair section of the Northern population. Khurshid had assured that the matter would be resolved through dialogue between Indian and Sri Lankan sides. 

For the TNA, the PC elections in the North could not have come at a better time. It is ahead of CHOGM and has brought about a visit from Indian External Affairs Minister Khurshid who conveyed his Government’s best wishes and offer of help. The PSC deliberations are moving slowly. That gives them time to demonstrate that the NPC could function within the present confines, like other Provincial Councils, and produce results. Internecine tussles, a malady for most political parties today, no doubt are a cause for worry. For the TNA, it is more so. Now that it has won the votes, it would have to govern, and govern effectively. Otherwise, it is not only the south that is watching the TNA but the whole international community.

Sampanthan: TNA will cooperate with the Govt.

Rajavarothayam Sampanthan

With a Chief Minister and a Board of Ministers taking office for the Northern Province, Tamil National Alliance leader, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan answered questions posed to him. Here are excerpts of the answers he gave:

PRIORITIES FOR THE NORTHERN PROVINCIAL COUNCIL (NPC): The Chief Minister and the Board of Ministers will have to determine the priorities. The people in the North have been very badly affected by the war. The urgent need is assistance in many sectors. Though housing needs are met to some extent, more needs to be done. People should be allowed to begin work in the fields of agriculture, animal husbandry, cultivation of crops, etc. 

There are a large number of widows and orphans. Many households are without breadwinners. A large number has been traumatised by the war. They have to be assisted to return to normal life. Education and health sectors need careful attention. Cumulatively the self-respect and dignity of the people will have to be restored to enable them to forget the past and build a new future. The Provincial Council and the Board of Ministers have confidence they will address these issues.

RELATIONS WITH THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: We will work in a spirit of cooperation. We have demonstrated this. The Government has also said it would cooperate and enable the NPC to function. We have reason to expect the Council to function efficiently and effectively. Views in this regard were exchanged in our interaction with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

ON THE TNA DEMAND FOR THE REPLACEMENT OF THE GOVERNOR OF THE NORTHERN PROVINCE: I am not going to comment on any controversial matter that will impede the functioning of the NPC. It will deal with all issues when they arise.

ON POACHING BY TAMIL NADU FISHERMEN IN SRI LANKAN WATERS AFFECTING LIVELIHOOD OF LOCAL COUNTERPARTS: It is a matter that needs to be resolved by the two Governments, Sri Lanka and India. They should do so with the cooperation of fishermen from both sides. The issue was raised by NPC Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran with visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid when they met in Jaffna on Tuesday. 

TNA’S POSITION ON THE 13TH AMENDMENT IN THE WAKE OF THE NEW NPC : We want the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The Government should build on that to bring about meaningful devolution to the maximum extent in keeping with the commitment it gave. Implementation of the 13th Amendment and building on it was a commitment the Government has made. We are prepared to discuss that with the Government. However, after the September 21 Provincial Council elections, we have not received any specific proposal to begin a dialogue.

ON FEARS AMONG SECTIONS IN THE SOUTH THAT THE NPC WOULD WORK TOWARDS SEPARATION: The vast majority of the Sinhala people have rejected outright the extreme elements. This is revealed by the results of the North Western and Central Provincial Council elections. Moderate elements have been elected. The views of these extremist elements should not be given undue prominence. 

ON A DIRECT TNA DIALOGUE WITH THE GOVERNMENT: We have been prepared to cooperate meaningfully to take the process forward.


THE ROLE OF INDIA: India’s role came about when Sri Lanka accepted India’s good offices. India has continued to play that role.

ON INDIAN ASSISTANCE TO THE NPC: The NPC would certainly look at all development assistance from wherever it is possible to obtain. A vastly devastated territory would need all such possible assistance to be able to provide the legitimate requirements of this territory and the people.


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