To achieve self rule TNA needs to mobilize the public through protests, strikes and civil disobedience
Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which won a handsome
majority at Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council elections on September
21, says it will use its mandate to demand greater self-governance. But with the
Sri Lanka government resisting self-governance by simplistically labeling it as
secession, it is important to know what exactly the TNA is going to do to
deliver on its promises to the Tamil people.
to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is its first, although legislation
for the establishment of provincial councils was introduced in 1988 following a
treaty between India and Sri Lanka, the Indo-Lanka Accord. The councils became
law through the 13th Amendment
to the constitution, designed to devolve power to the provinces for sharing
the rebel LTTE’s military defeat in May 2009, but hardly any letup in human
rights violations or discrimination against the Tamils, Sri Lankans and the
international community upped their call for the Sinhala ruling class to share
power with the Tamils through the provincial councils.
the TNA, and the Tamils that support it, have been unequivocal that devolution
to provincial councils is grossly inadequate for real power sharing. They say
the root of the problem lies in Sri Lanka’s unitary constitution. Unitary
constitutional structures ensure that central governments enjoy tight control on
the extent of power devolved to units such as the councils.
view was confirmed when the Sinhala-dominated Colombo government began
tightening control over devolution before the election. For one, the government
moved to block the use of land and police powers already devolved to the
councils. Second, it manipulated legislation so that it did not require the
consent of all provincial councils for Colombo to introduce legislation that
affected the councils.
was in this contentious atmosphere that C. V. Wigneswaran, TNA’s chief minister
candidate for the election, came out with a curious statement. In an interview
on July 17 with Sri Lanka’s Daily
Mirror he was asked with the government trying to curtail police and land
powers, how the TNA was planning to respond. Wigneswaran, while admitting to
shortcomings in devolution under the 13th Amendment
said, “My point is,there
has been no democratic institution for the Northern Province so far, so let
us at least establish it under the [13th Amendment].
Thereafter, like Oliver Twist we could ask for a little more.”
the question is: what Northern Province Tamils in particular, and other Tamils
in general, expect from the TNA and whether “asking for a little more,” hat in
hand, is going to yield results.
anything, government-Tamil relations between Wigneswaran’s statement on July 17
and today have become more polarized. For instance, the Supreme Court ruling on
September 27 said control over land is vested in the central government and not
in the provincial councils. This means the government’s reckless land-grabbing
in the North, which could have been restricted to a point if the NPC had power
over land distribution, will go on unchecked.
more important, the TNA’s election manifesto was an open acknowledgement that
power sharing with Colombo under a unitary constitution is inadequate. It lays
down categorically that the resolution of the Tamil question has to be based on
shared sovereignty and federal structures, which recognize the Tamils’ right to
the Tamils are fed up with the political oppression in the North, spearheaded by
the military terrorizing the population despite the end of armed combat. The
restiveness of the Tamils has reached a point of desperation. A recent example
of public outrage was in August when families of disappeared persons were
prevented from meeting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi
Pillai. YouTubevideos show the public
challenging the police, unafraid of imminent physical danger because their need
to be heard was greater.
it is a sullen, restive Tamil public with which NPC councilors have to deal. On
the one hand, the public will demand from their elected representatives answers
about the repression by military and government officials. The TNA has to
provide substantive, credible answers that might allay public outrage.
the same time, if the TNA is serious about self determination and shared
sovereignty as the basis of a political settlement, the obduracy of the
government and the Sinhala ruling class will have to be overcome to achieve it.
That will require the TNA to mobilize the public through protests, strikes and
civil disobedience. It also needs the support of the international community and
coordination with political forces in India’s Tamil Nadu and the Tamil diaspora.
in all, voters in the Northern Province have declared that the time for
substantive change has arrived by electing the TNA. The question is whether the
TNA can provide the leadership to channel these energies to productive ends. It
appears to require more than playing Oliver Twist.
S. Tissainayagam worked in English-language national newspapers in Sri Lanka for
over 25 years. He won Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism
(2009) and the CPJ Press Freedom Award (2009).