TNA recedes political leadership

• Change in the political landscape of the North and East

By Sarah Hannan

The changing political landscape of the Tamil people seems to have paved way to the rise of a more radical nationalist agenda as the majority voted in two members to Parliament from the two Tamil parties that are known for its radical views, and five from the SLPP partisan groups at the recent general election.

Even during our visit to the North and East, many residents expressed their displeasure with how the Tamil people’s long-standing issues had been used by their political representatives to make deals with India, and a fraction of the diaspora that is still looking to fuel separatist ideologies.

Arulanadam Arun, who contested under the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) banner, during a recent interview with The Sunday Morning revealed how some entities were contacting him to rally the youth in the region to form a possible gang.

“If you all remember, there was speculation that the North had a militant group by the name of ‘Aava’. There is no record of that group anymore because there was no such group established in the first place. We are taking all measures to stop the youth in this region from becoming radicalised and turning into tools for outside entities,” Arun added.

He also noted that for decades, the politicians in the region had spoken about the federal system, but so far, there has been no active political push to establish it. Instead, they are all turning inwards and trying to push race-centric politics, which in the long run can be cumbersome towards the wellbeing of the communities in the North and East.

Echoing what Arun said, it seems that the Tamil community has placed its faith in the pro-Government group and radical political groups, ousting the more diplomatic anti-government alliance under the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

TNA Spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran shared his thoughts with a regional media channel following their unseating as the lead Tamil political alliance just last week, admitting that the alliance had not delivered on its promises and suffered serious damage.

He had noted that it was time to set aside the differences, find a common platform, and pursue Tamil political and economic goals.

TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, commenting on the present political status of the alliance, noted that a meeting will be called with the participation of all political parties that form the TNA to discuss the alliance’s way forward ahead of the first sitting of the Ninth Parliament on 20 August.

“For the only seat that was appointed through the National List, we appointed Thavaraja Kalai Arasan from the Ilankai Tamil Arusu Kadchi (ITAK). We need to relook at how we will continue as an alliance to be the voice for the issues that are faced by the Tamils and how these issues can be addressed on a national level as per the present Government’s mandate,” Sampanthan opined.

The safest among the three Tamil political groups that entered Parliament is the moderate pro-Government group.

It has the greatest chance of delivering on its promises as the present regime looks to centralised administration, with developmental benefits distributed throughout the country irrespective of ethnic, religious, and regional differences.

Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, sharing his views on the decline of the TNA, stated that the TNPF was critical of the TNA as they wanted to hold them to account.

“The TNA, more than anyone else, had to (be unseated) because 10 years ago, we were the party that came out soon after the war and said: ‘Look, the TNA is not what it claims to be’. Ten years down the road, I think we have been completely vindicated, and today, the public’s response towards us has clearly shifted attitudes.”

Ponnambalam noted that the TNA is today in the position the TNPF was in 10 years ago, explaining that this couldn’t have happened if they had not exposed the duplicity of the TNA and all their failings.

“Since 2010, we said that our goals are to have constitutional change to recognise the Tamil community in this island in a merged North-East Tamil homeland; the recognition of the Tamil nation’s distinct sovereignty, as it is on this basis that the Tamils can enjoy their distinct sovereignty, and the establishment of the federal arrangement, which is yet to be achieved.”

In the run-up to the election this time, former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran noted that self-reliance and self-sufficiency is what his party envisions and will seek the help of the State and the diaspora.

As a first-time elected parliamentarian, Wigneswaran will have to prove his mettle to the people who elected him.

In his manifesto, Wigneswaran had promised to establish an “Economical Research Centre” that will be operated by economic experts locally and globally to undertake research, provide expert advice, and identify opportunities to develop the economy in the North and East. It seems that his vision sits very well with the work that the Prime Minister plans to recommence.

“This centre will look at long, medium, and short-term development programmes in the North and East, and an “Economical Affairs Group” including MPs elected from the region, TMTK stalwarts, and intellectuals will pursue economic development activities on behalf of the party,” Wigneswaran noted.

He added that India should play a significant role not only to ensure the protection and recognition of the right of self-determination of Tamil people in Sri Lanka, but also of the social and economic reformation of the North and East.

Among the activities which Wigneswaran referred to is the extension of the Palaly Airport, the inauguration of ship transport between India and places such as Kankesanturai, Trincomalee, and Talaimannar; tipped to attract economical investments in the North and East that would in return boost the region’s economy.

“I am keen on undertaking negotiations with the Indian Central Government and the Sri Lankan Government. Further, we will engage in activities to take the economic relationship with the people in Tamil Nadu to a new dimension,” Wigneswaran added.

Wigneswaran is to also look at strengthening relationships with universities, the Chamber of Commerce, and investors to create sector-wise development in the North and East, thereby strengthening the co-operative sector, and undertake projects to build the microeconomy.