President’s Indian visit creates stir in Tamil Nadu

• Tamil Nadu political parties instigated anti- IIFA protests
• Minister Basil Rajapaksa said 50,000 push cycles for resettled school children
• South Indian politicians called on President Rajapaksa in New Delhi
• Ranil Wickremesinghe likely to be re-elected party leader

Certain developments that took place in Tamil Nadu in the recent past were a pointer to the excitement caused in that State by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official visit to New Delhi.
Tamil Nadu, home to about 50 million ethnic Tamils, has been for a long time a hotbed of LTTE activity and a haven for Tiger sympathisers. Given this environment, pro-LTTE politicians have always found it quite easy to whip up anti-Sri Lankan sentiments in this southernmost state.

It was due to the instigation of political parties in Tamil Nadu that the South Indian film stars and artistes staged protests against the IIFA held in Colombo last week. These artistes and film stars charge that the Sri Lankan government should be held responsible for the killing of innocent Tamil civilians and displacement of several thousands of them. Most people in Tamil Nadu are cinema fans. Therefore, there is a ready market for Hindi and Tamil films in this State.

Pro-LTTE cinema artistes and politicians in Tamil Nadu staged demonstrations in front of the residences of popular Hindi film stars such as Amitha Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan demanding that they boycott the IIFA in Colombo. These film stars, who feared a possible adverse impact on the markets of their films in Tamil Nadu, stayed away from the IIFA held in Colombo. The film, ‘Kites’ in which Hrithik Roshan played a lead role had to be removed from cinema halls in Chennai due to protests mounted by Tiger sympathisers.

Turn guns on MR
The IIFA awards festival over, the Tamil Nadu politicians began turning their guns on President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official visit to India. Even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi too could not help but succumb to the pressures exerted on him by the pro-LTTE politicians in the state. Therefore, he had to hold a one hour discussion with Union Minister of Home Affairs P.Chidambaram at his Chennai residence. Karunanidhi’s daughter K. Kanimozhi too figured in this discussion. Their main moot point was the official visit of President Rajapaksa to New Delhi. The chief minister had at this discussion handed to Minister Chidambaram a document carrying a list of issues concerning the Sri Lankan Tamils which he wanted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to underpin the talks to be held with the Sri Lankan President. Chidambaram had promised Karunanidhi to pass the document on to the Indian Prime Minister.

Chief Minister Karunanidhi did not stop at that. He also dispatched a delegation from the State Assembly to New Delhi for talks with both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sri Lankan President Rajapksa regarding the problems faced by the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

This delegation led by DMK Parliamentary group leader T.R. Balu included T.K.S Illangovan, K. Kanimozhi, Helen Davidson from the DMK, Sudarshan Nachiappan, J.M. Haroon, K.S. Azhagiri from the Congress party and Viduthalai Chiruttigal Kachchi leader Thol Thirumavalan. This delegation also included several members of the Tamil Nadu State Assembly who visited Sri Lanka last year to look into the situation in the North on an invitation by President Rajapaksa.

The delegation from the South called on President Rajapaksa in New Delhi last Wednesday. The talks held in a very cordial atmosphere had lasted for over one hour, according to informed sources. The State Assembly member Ilangovan had later told media that President Rajapaksa gave a very patient hearing to their representations. P.R. Balu, who led the delegation, however, had said that he could not describe the talks as a success as the Sri Lankan President made no direct commitment in regard to their representations.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi had asked Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his letter conveyed through the delegation to bring to the notice of Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa that there are over 80,000 IDPs still languishing in rehabilitation camps in Vavuniya despite the promise given by him to complete the process of resettling the people displaced by the war before the end of the year 2009.
It is no wonder that Karunanidhi is making a show of his solicitude for the war-affected Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka because it is very much on the cards that the ‘plight’ of Sri Lankan Tamils would become a main issue at the forthcoming general election to the State Assembly in Tamil Nadu next year.

A protest campaign led by LTTE lobbyists including MDMK leader Vaiko, Tamil National Movement leader P. Nedumaran, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal party leader Thol Thirumavalan, CP(I) secretary D. Pandian, and film director T. Rajendra was held in Chennai last Tuesday to coincide with the arrival of President Rajapaksa in New Delhi on his four-day visit to India. They shouted slogans saying that President Rajapaksa should be held responsible for ‘the massacre’ of thousands of Tamil civilians in the North during the war. An attempt made by about one thousand protestors to march on to Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commission in Chennai was prevented by Police who arrested most of the protestors.

TNA briefing
President Rajapaksa met a delegation from the TNA which is the main political party in the North on the eve of his departure for India. This was his first meeting with the TNA since ending the war. The TNA delegation that called on the President at Temple Trees about 5 p.m. on Monday was led by TNA parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan. The delegation included 13 other MPs including Mavai Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran, A. Vinayagamoorthy, C. Saravanapavan, S. Addekalainathan, and Sivashakti Anandan.

At the outset of the talks, Sampanthan handed a memorandum seeking solutions to the problems that the Tamil people are facing. “Please trust me. We together can find solutions to the problems our people are facing today,” said President Rajapaksa as he accepted the memorandum. Sampanthan said in reply, “We are not seeking the type of solutions Prabhakaran sought for the problems of the Tamil people.”
At these talks the President told the delegates that it had become necessary for them to discuss the issues that the Tamil people are facing because the attempts made by his predecessors to find solutions had failed. No political solution would succeed, he pointed out, if the people directly concerned did not feel that they had participated in working out that solution.

Lasting solution
The President, who emphasised the need to find a lasting solution said, “I am keen on finding a permanent solution. But I will not bow down to terrorism nor will I concede to what terrorists wanted.”
The TNA delegation said that the immediate needs that should be attended to, to normalise the lives of the war-affected people in the North are an efficient system of food distribution, provision of housing, means of livelihood, schooling for children and lands and assistance for agricultural pursuits.
However, the President had asked the delegation to consider the limitations that the government had to face. “You can’t expect the government to open floodgates,” he told the delegates.
Sampanthan said that they appreciated the government’s constraints and were keen on assisting the government by whatever means possible. They were also prepared to sponsor assistance from other sources as well.
The President said that their participation in this task was quite welcome.

Basil on progress
At this stage, Minister Basil Rajapaksa explained to the TNA delegates the progress so far made in regard to the resettlement of IDPs, the provision of housing, allocation of lands, and granting of agricultural assistance. He also explained to them the difficulties encountered in resolving issues relating to the displaced people.

LTTE detainees released
In response to a question raised by the delegates relating to detainees, President Rajapaksa said he had already authorised the release of 4,000 detainees, mostly those under 18 years, thus, reducing the number in detention to less than 8,000. “We don’t want to keep them longer than necessary and we want them to return to society as early as possible,” the President added.
Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Prof. G.L.Peiris, Basil Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena, and Dulles Alahapperuma, government MPs Sajin de Vas Gunawardene, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, and the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Secretariat Gamini Senarath were associated with the President at these talks.
The discussion President Rajapaksa held with the TNA delegation on the eve of his departure for New Delhi had reportedly stood him in good stead during his talks with the Indian leaders.
The TNA had taken more than one hour to read out their memorandum and clarify matters where necessary to the President and the ministers associated with him at the discussion, informed sources said.

50,000 push cycles
Minister Basil Rajapaksa informed the TNA delegates the government provided 50,000 push cycles for the school going children of those resettled. “We are awaiting the arrival of another 15,000 bicycles to be distributed to the school children there,” Basil Rajapksa said.
The President also announced the government plans to resettle another 40,000 displaced persons once demining in Nanthikadal and Mullaitivu areas is completed.
In response to a request by the TNA delegation to furnish them with a list of LTTE detainees already released, the government delegates had explained that a large majority of them had asked that their identities be kept a secret lest the rump of the LTTE leadership active under cover in the West would try to lure them back to the outfit to use them as combatants.

Diplomatic move
Political observers have hailed President Rajapaksa’s meeting with the TNA delegation which included almost all TNA MPs on the eve of his departure for New Delhi as a clever diplomatic move.
However, some of them said the President could have been on a much stronger wicket if he had had some Tamil and Muslim cabinet ministers as well associated with him at the talks.

Charges again
Although one year has passed after decimating the LTTE marking an end to the war, the INGOs like the Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and the Amnesty International as well as certain UN officials like UNHRC Chief Navi Pilley and UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Phillip Alston are engaged in a bid to revive the war crime charges against Sri Lanka.
Adding clout to war crime charges against Sri Lanka, the British TV Channel 4 once again aired a video footage against Sri Lanka. The latest to join this anti-Sri Lanka propaganda campaign is the BBC. The ‘Hard talk’ programme it broadcast last week featured both Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka. Certain comments made by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has created an uproar locally and internationally. A visibly emotive Defence Secretary had said, “General Fonseka is a traitor. If he has committed war crimes, he should be hanged.”

Damaging statements
Asked to comment on the statement made by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, General Fonseka had denied having given orders to troops to execute the LTTE leaders coming forward to surrender or the army had carried out such executions, adding that however, he was not aware what orders Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had given the army. He had further said told BBC that he was not opposed to holding an inquiry at an international level into alleged war crimes and he was prepared to testify at such an inquiry.
The statement that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa made to the BBC as well as the response made to it by General Fonseka have come as a godsend to those honing war crime charges against Sri Lanka.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, being a ministry secretary, a public servant, has no right to express political views in public. If he had any experience in politics he would have thought twice before making any such utterance. International media including London Guardian and New York Times had given wide publicity to the comments made by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa during his ‘Hard Talk’ with the BBC. The image of Sri Lanka has suffered much damage internationally as a result. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s emotional outbursts have caused much damage to the government and the country at a time when President Rajapaksa is leaving no stone unturned in his bid to secure for Sri Lanka a place of pride and honour among the international community.
Besides, comments made by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and General Fonseka betray their personal hatred towards each other. It is obvious that both of them have fallen prey to a ruse designed by the BBC.
Senior politicians say that it is the President’s responsibility to ensure that irresponsible statements of this nature are not made in the future.

Ranil likely to be re-elected
The UNP’s reforms committee headed by Joseph Michael Perera is receiving representations from the party branches and balamandalas (electoral and district organisations) these days. The committee had initially proposed that aspirants for all top posts in the party except that of the General Secretary and the Treasurer, be picked by an election. However, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had asked the committee to seek the views of the women’s leagues, youth leagues and Balamandalas at the periphery as well as of the trade unions and the lawyers’ association affiliated to the party. And now the committee is receiving representations from these organisations. Meanwhile, given the strong requests made by groupings loyal to Ranil Wickremesinghe, the committee is expected to recommend that the party leader be picked with a consensus decision rather than by an election.

Clandestine rendezvous
Sajith Premadasa, who kept mum on the party reforms for about three weeks, has now swung into action. He has reportedly attended a series of meetings held by the pro-reforms group held at the Colombo residence of the party’s Colombo East organiser Bodhi Ranasinghe last week. Dayasiri Jayasekera, Kabir Hashim, Ranjith Maddumabandara Lakshman Seneviratne, Manusha Nanayakkara and Thalatha Atukorale had attended these meetings which had been convened to plan out their next step towards ousting the party leader. At these meetings Sajith Premadasa had said that his silence for the past three weeks did not mean that he had given up his struggle for democratic reforms.

Meanwhile, Sajith has decided to use Colombo as the base for directing his political operations. As part of this plan he will shortly set up an office in Colombo, informed sources said.
A highly perturbed Ravi Karunanayake has complained to party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that a certain grouping of the party had held clandestine meetings at the residence of Bodhi Ranasinghe, Sirikotha sources said. Holding secret meetings by a grouping of the party when a reforms committee appointed by the party was in the process of receiving representations, signified an act carrying conspiratorial undertones, Karunanayake had told the party leader.

All political parties represented in Parliament have nominated one member each to serve on the committees for the Inter-parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union and the SAARC Parliamentary Union. The usual practice is that a political party would nominate one member to serve as a committee representative of the particular union and would not nominate the same member to serve on the committee for another union. However, Ranil Wickremesinghe has stirred up a hornet’s nest within the UNP Parliamentary group by nominating Akila Viraj Kariyawasam to serve as a committee representative of all the three unions. During a discussion among the UNP members over this matter, Sajith, a committee representative of the SAARC Union, had offered his slot to Buddhika Pathirana, Parliament sources said.

Upeksha Swarnamali
Meanwhile, UNP Katana Balamandalaya has asked the party leadership to appoint popular actress Upeksha Swarnamali (of Pabha fame) as the Katana organiser. Upeksha, who contested on the UNP Gampaha district list, garnered the highest number of preference votes from the Katana electoral division. The Balamandalaya says that Upeksha is the only candidate in the district who could offer a keen fight to SLFP organiser Sudarshani Fernandopulle.

EPC opposition leader
The UNP leadership has nominated UNP PC member Daya Gamage for appointment as the opposition leader of the Eastern provincial council.