In all likelihood, the Indian Prime Minister is now unlikely to attend next month’s CHOGM in Sri Lanka. It is clear that he has had to yield to domestic political compulsions, but it might not be a case of performing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, really. So much then for Sri Lanka’s India policy [...]


The celluloid politics of Tamil Nadu


In all likelihood, the Indian Prime Minister is now unlikely to attend next month’s CHOGM in Sri Lanka. It is clear that he has had to yield to domestic political compulsions, but it might not be a case of performing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, really. So much then for Sri Lanka’s India policy and vice versa.

That the Tamil Nadu State Assembly every once in a way passes resolutions loaded with hyperbole is a known fact. This week the Tamil Nadu Assembly asked Premier Manmohan Singh not only to stay away from CHOGM but to call for a total absence from representation in Colombo. It asked for the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth, but a total abstention means India, in a sense, suspends itself from the Commonwealth.

The TN Assembly’s mad-hatter resolutions of yesteryear included demanding the commuting of the death sentences imposed on LTTEers who even murdered India’s own one-time Prime Minister. The Tamil Nadu politicians are often out-of-sync with the rest of India — the epitome of the headache devolution can cause a central Government.
They don’t seem able to take the beam out of their own eyes. It may have something to do with the dark (and probably tinted) glasses their leaders wear. All these crocodile tears are on behalf of the long-suffering Sri Lankan Tamils. Doesn’t someone tell them? Had they turned the search light inward they would have added to their latest resolution; “Whereas, to maintain the dignity of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, this Assembly resolves to stop sending armadas of Tamil Nadu fishing boats thrice a week to steal Sri Lanka’s fish for the state’s multi-billion rupee export industry and thereby deprive the Sri Lankan Tamils of their livelihood”.

They ask that their fishing boats and fishermen be released, but are blind to the fact that what got them into trouble in the first place is that they are engaged in illegal fishing in other people’s ponds. That there are two sides to this story and that there are two sides to the Palk Bay area. As the Tamilian Janata Party leader of India said on Indian national TV on Friday night of Tamil Nadu politicians; “They only watch cinema”; they live in a celluloid world of their own.

A certain amount of hypocrisy and double standards is acceptable in politics, or is it? But the Tamil Nadu politicians are in a league of their own. They bandy words like “genocide” without knowing the meaning making fools of themselves in the process. With elections at their doorsteps they are now in a crazed frenzy for votes and one might even need to forgive them, for they know not what they do.

They refer to an Assembly resolution in 2011 where they asked New Delhi to take up the UN charges of ‘war crimes’ against Sri Lankan leaders, not realising the crimes against humanity they themselves had perpetrated by arming, financing and providing succour to a terrorist organisation like the LTTE caused death and destruction of a magnitude that the International Criminal Court must surely take cognizance of.

Come and see, but where’s the transparency?

The Colombo-Katunayake Expressway is completed and will be declared open today. It is a small stretch of 26 km. but it sure took a hellishly long time for Sri Lanka, whose one major source of foreign exchange earnings is tourism, to have this road constructed.

The original plan for an expressway for this small stretch, which took almost an hour to traverse in the past, through congested traffic and sometimes even broken bridges, began way back in the 1960-65 period under the Dudley Senanayake Government when Maj. Montague Jayawickrama was the Minister of Public Work and Highways.
All that could be done on this expressway was to begin work at the Kelaniya-Kandy road junction. That structure remained for 40 years as a monument to Sri Lanka’s economic development lethargy and the only purpose it served was as a shelter for the homeless.

In 1976, the Colombo-Katunayake road was widened for the Non-Aligned Summit and that remained the veritable expressway ever since. Not even the vast development work engaged by the post 1977 Government included this project in its accelerated development plans which were cut short by the insurgencies that were to follow.
Unlike some scatterbrained projects that have been the hallmark of this Government, the airport expressway that will link to other expressways, current and proposed, to other major cities in the south, central and north of the country is the correct way to set about economic development under a National Plan.

The Government has asked the public to come and see these projects that it has completed. It is as if to say ‘here’s where the money we take as loans is going”. When most countries have an expressway linking their international airport to the city centre, or even high-speed trains, Sri Lanka has lagged behind. At least today it catches up with the modern world, to some extent.

In neighbouring India, where they have suddenly accelerated into modernity, at least in the big cities, expressways link them together and flyovers mushroom regularly to ease city traffic as the mobility of its people increases and internal trade thrives. It was a standard joke that passengers would reach Chennai or Male before those who dropped them at the airport got back home. In advanced countries, this generation has grown up with expressways and asking our people to come and see the Government’s development projects looks so innocent in context.

While credit must go to this Government for dusting old plans such as the airport expressway and implementing them, it cannot run away from the fact that the public, in whose name these loans are taken for development, are not shown the budget and the final accounts.

This Government has been very coy when it comes to letting the public see its public accounts. Opposition parliamentarians howl for figures, as Parliament, the custodian of the public purse, is also kept in the dark. A Right to Information Law that is available in all countries in South Asia and more than 100 other democracies is not available here. The Government knows well that this is a requirement in modern democracies. The citizens must have access to Government spending. It is their right. The vote and elections are not the be-all and end-all of a democracy. But ‘No’; not so fast, seems the official view. The people can see the final product, but it is none of their business how much was spent –by whom — and to whom.

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