Last Updated on December 7, 2022 by Lankae Cast
“….the onus of developing confidence in the Sinhala and Tamil societies and keeping the LTTE at the negotiating table fell on Wickramasinghe’s government. The Wickramasinghe government was far short of that responsibility in handling the 25-year conflict and was politically irresponsible. Neither did their cabinet of ministers ever have serious discussions among themselves on how the government should work towards confidence building to strengthen discussions and campaign politically in the South. Nor did the UNP as a political party ever developed a discourse within the party and in society. Wickramasinghe as PM did not accept, he had a serious responsibility towards the society in bringing the Executive Presidency into a consensus in strengthening the CFA (Cease-fire Agreement) and negotiating peace.”
(Waiting for Godot that Prabhakaran promised – A resumé on SL Tamil politics by Kusal Perera /14 April 2009 – https://srilankandiasporablog.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/godot/)
The TNA abstained from voting at the second reading of the Budget-2023 along with Opposition Sinhala parties while 10 MPs voted against its defense allocations. Reason for the TNA’s decision to absent itself from parliament was spelt out by MP Sumanthiran who told parliament, “TNA took a decision not to cast our votes against the budget at the 2nd reading because the President has on numerous occasions in the last few days, the last 10 days, repeatedly said that he wants to resolve the Tamil National Question. And has invited the Tamil Parties to have discussions with him”. And to have absented from parliament instead of abstaining from voting, was “a signal of our bona fides in this matter”.
TNA’s reading of the UNP under Wickramasinghe has always been completely off the mark and opportunistic too. Wickramasinghe included, in all its 74-year history the UNP leadership has never been sincere in its offers to solve the Tamil National Question”. Real politics of the UNP was always racially Sinhala-Buddhist. For easy reference, here is their racist history in brief from 1948.
01. Disfranchised and de-citizenised plantation sector Tamils in 1948 paving for Sinhala representation from electorates that returned Tamil and politically “Left” MPs at the 1947 parliamentary elections.
02. Colonising Gal-oya since 1950 and Kanthalai areas changing the demographic pattern in favour of Sinhala representation at elections. Eastern province demography in 1946 was 48.8 percent Tamil, 39.1 percent Muslim and 08.4 percent Sinhala. Thereafter with State patronised Sinhala colonising it became 39.8 percent Tamil and 36.7 Muslim while the Sinhala population increased from 08.4 to 23.2 percent by 2012.
03. In 1957, Jayawardne led UNP opposed the B-C Pact and organised a protest march from Colombo to Kandy that was broken up by S.D.Bandaranayake led goons at Belummahara, Gampaha on the Kandy Road.
04. In 1968 PM Dudley Senanayake’s government trashed the D-C Pact ex parte, over protests by the Opposition SLFP with the LSSP and the CP in alliance.
05. UNP backed the University admissions Standardisation Policy of Madam B’s coalition government resulting in a sharp drop in university admission of Tamil medium students. Historian Prof. C.R. de Silva notes “…. ethnically there is little doubt that the major blow fell on Ceylon Tamils.” (The Impact of Nationalism on Education; The schools Takeover 1961 and University Admissions Crisis 1970-75 – p/486)
06. Since coming to power with an enormous parliamentary majority in 1977, Jayawardne’s UNP government organised the 1977 August communal riots against upcountry Tamil people
07. Communal riots unleashed again in 1979 against upcountry Tamil people
08. In 1979 Jayawardne govt. passed the draconian PTA (Temporary) Act that still remain
09. Devastated the entire Jaffna town on 1981 June 01 and burnt the renowned Jaffna Library in the night, with wagon loads of goons transported to Jaffna by leading Ministers in Jayawardne’s cabinet concluding their election campaign for DDC’s
10. Infamous ’83 Black July was organised and brutally let loose on Tamil people by Jayawardne’s cabinet minister, the notoriously racist Cyril Mathew. Two weeks in advance, President Jayawardne told the UK Daily Telegraph on 11 July ’83, “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now. Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us. The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… really, if I starve the Tamils, Sinhala people will be happy…”.
That long and miserable list proves the UNP was the most ruthless racist political party in post independent Ceylon and Sri Lanka. That it was the UNP leadership which turned Sinhala-Buddhist racism into a violent extremist campaign in ’83 July. The other most important factor is, the UNP under Jayawardne, Premadasa and subsequently under Wickramasinghe has never publicly accepted and stood for a genuine power sharing system outside a “Unitary State”. They would not, in a free-market economy that caters to the left-over rural majority with Sinhala-Buddhist “patriotism”. The racist political project of Cyril Mathew with President Jayawardne providing State patronage explained it in its most inhuman manner.
Present TNA leadership with Sumanthiran therefore needs to learn to read the present UNP leader Wickramasinghe’s politics on the Tamil National Question. From his early political life, appointed as a cabinet minister he was groomed under his uncle President Jayawardne. He is the most senior member of the neoliberal Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) in Sri Lanka. MPS declared in its statement issued on 08 April 1947 at its founding, it would aim to “discover ways in which the private sector can replace many functions currently provided by government entities” in a global order “in which freedom may be effectively preserved.”
Neoliberal economies nevertheless aren’t liberal. Not in the Southern hemisphere, where free market economies thrive on political power of the dominant racial majority as in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and here in Sri Lanka. Free market economies in these countries that are still semi-feudal and leave out the rural majority need racist politics to elect governments with majority power.
In semi-feudal Sri Lanka Wickramasinghe’s approach to peace negotiations was never inclusive. Even before the CFA was signed in February 2002, Wickramasinghe was clearly leaving out President Kumaranatunge, the executive head of the State from the Norwegian facilitated peace process, leading to a political conflict in Colombo. Irony is, Wickramasinghe was using Norwegian facilitation for negotiations that President Kumaratunge initiated in January 2001. This led to a mass campaign against the CFA and against peace discussions itself, led by President Kumaratunge’s People’s Alliance (PA) and its very vociferous Sinhala-Buddhist extremist groups.
Perhaps Wickramasinghe thought the North including the Vanni and the East once entrenched in his further liberalised “free market” economy, would dilute the influence of the LTTE. And with international pressure he could then handle the LTTE. He may have thought that would provide him support in the Sinhala South. Wickramasinghe also knew, the UNP cannot be mobilised for a peace campaign to counter anti-peace protests of Sinhala-Buddhists. For the UNP had no discussions on peace negotiations at any level while Ministers and provincial leaders were never briefed about the progress of the peace discussions.
There was no change in his commitment in addressing Tamil issues even after 2015 electoral victories. His promise to the TNA about a new Constitution with power sharing was only a ploy to have TNA votes to ensure a majority vote in parliament. The TNA leadership, to be precise ITAK leadership in control of the TNA believed Wickramasinghe so blindly, Sampanthan appealed to N-E voters at the 2015 August elections to give them maximum representation in parliament, promising a federal constitution before end of year 2016.
There were no such deadlines for Wickramasinghe. He was buying time through a long process of drafting a new constitution with 06 sub-committees and a parliamentary Steering Committee headed by Wickramasinghe’s constitutional expert MP Jayampathy Wickramaratne. It was August 2018 when the sub-committees handed their reports to the Steering Committee. But MP Sumanthiran believed his participation in the Steering Committee would help create a new constitution with entrenched provisions for a federal system.
To sum up their political folly, let me quote from an article of mine written on 07 December 2021 titled “TNA should turn to ‘People’ to come out of political wilderness”.
“ITAK thinking came out clear in early 2016 in a discussion I had with a visiting European delegation in early 2016. My reading was, there will be no new Constitution anytime during the “Yahapalanaya” government. Stunned as they were, they asked me ‘What? No new Constitution?’ and told me, “Yesterday we met with TNA leadership, and they told us it is being written with their contributions and would be ready before end of the year.”
“I therefore told the European delegation quite casually, ‘Okay, let’s talk about it next year if you would come again’ and bid them adieu.” (http://kusalperera.blogspot.com/2021/12/tna-should-turn-to-people-to-come-out.html)
When presidential elections were fixed for 2019 November, the exit for TNA leadership in Wickramasinghe’s merry-go-round was exactly where they got into it 04 plus 09 months before but wouldn’t know it. TNA was reduced to 10 seats at the 2020 August elections, from the 16 seats they won in 2015 August. Votes received were reduced from 516,000 previously, to 327,000 in August 2020.
What the TNA does not even consider now in getting on to Wickramasinghe’s merry-go-round this time is that it does not even belong to him. He is only handling one that belongs to the Rajapaksas.
Let me therefore conclude this with a short quote from the same article of mine.
“Sadly, ITAK learns nothing from their political beating, coming out after 05 years without even a draft copy of a Constitution in hand and electoral presence badly reduced…….. In politics leaders need people on the streets demanding what they would negotiate for. Strength of a political party is not its mere presence in parliament, but it’s strength out on the streets.”
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