|Reforms in spotlight
as UNP stalwarts continue crisis talks
- One-on-one meetings at Sirikotha
- New push for North-East merger
- SLMC shuns ‘lessons learnt panel’
- Anoma meets prelates
one-on-one discussion between UNP leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe and rebel group leader Sajith Premadasa was
held at Sirikotha, the UNP headquarters in Kotte, last
Tuesday, in a bid to resolve the ‘leadership crisis’ in the
party through the process of consultation and consensus, in
accordance with a recent decision of its Working Committee.
The media had given this pow-wow between the two UNP leaders
A section of the media had reported that the proposed
discussion would be a triangular one between Ranil, Sajith
and Ravi Karunanayake.
Reliable sources, however, said that some media reports had
brought Ravi Karunanayake into the scene at his own request.
Sajith, on his arrival at Sirikotha for the proposed
one-on-one talks, had been surprised to find deputy leader
Karu Jayasuriya, general secretary Tissa Attanayake and Ravi
Karunanayake too, associated with Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Sajith had immediately objected to the presence of the other
three party seniors, pointing out that what was agreed at
the Working Committee was for a meeting between Ranil and
“I am not prepared to go against the decision taken at the
Working Committee,” Sajith had said, putting his foot down.
At this stage, Karu Jayasuriya and Tissa Attanayake had
walked out allowing the two leaders to talk one-to-one.
Ravi Karunanayake too had been compelled to follow suit.
Ranil and Sajith discussed matters for about 45 minutes and
Ranil later asked Karu and Tissa to join the talks and the
extended discussion lasted for another half an hour.
When the four were engaged in talks, Ravi Karunanayake had
been cooling his heels at the Sirikotha office of party
chairman Gamini Jayawickrama Perera.
According to party sources, Ravi had been invited for
talks by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe himself.
Some media reports said Ranil held a separate discussion
with Ravi after his talks with Sajith.
Ranil had told Sajith at the one-on-one talks that he was
willing to appoint the latter as the party’s deputy leader.
But Sajith had told the party leader he was more interested
in the proposed changes to the party constitution than
securing a top post, adding that decisions on top party
posts could be made after the revised party constitution was
adopted at the upcoming party convention.
Sajith and Ravi to be deputy leaders
Another round of talks between Ranil and Sajith, meanwhile,
took place at Sirikotha last Wednesday.
Ranil had also held a discussion with Ravi Karunanayake
later and talks with deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya, chairman
Gamini Jayawickrama Perera and general secretary Tissa
Attanayake followed it.
Ranil was expected to take a final decision after yet
another round of talks with his party seniors on Friday
Talks so far had mostly revolved around the feasibility of
offering deputy leaderships to Sajith Premadasa and Ravi
Karunanayake, Sirikotha sources said.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, according to these sources, appears to
hold the view that offering a deputy leadership to Sajith
would tilt the scales of power in favour of the latter, and
a balance in power equation could be struck by naming Ravi
Karunanayake also as a deputy leader.
The party seniors, however, point out that the deepening
crisis in the party could be resolved only by reforms that
would pave the way for a centrifugal devolution of power,
now concentrated in the hands of the party leader.
Tamil Political Parties Forum
The Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF) is reportedly
carrying out its political activity with great success.
The TPPF is a combine of several political parties active in
the North and East, which was formed on June 24, to face the
upcoming elections to the local authorities and the PCs in
the two provinces and also to make a concerted effort to
find solutions to the pressing problems of the people there.
The constituents of the TPPF have so far met five times.
Their latest meeting took place at the Batticaloa residence
of Eastern Province Chief Minister Chandrakanthan
Sivanesathurai (Pillayan) last week.
TULF leader V Anandasangaree, EPRLF (Padmanabha wing)
leader Vartharajah Perumal, party secretary Sritharan, OfERR
(Organization for Ealam Refugee Rehabilitation) leader
C.Chandrahasan, PLOTE leader Dharmaratnam Siddharthan, Tamil
National Liberation Front (TNLF) leader M K Shivajilingam,
EPDP leader Minister Douglas Devananda and A Kaileshwararajh
and V Prasanandan of the TMVP took part in the discussions.
Following several rounds of talks, this alliance had decided
to invite the TNA too to join it.
They had invited the TNA also earlier to participate in the
TNA general secretary Mavai Senathirajah, however, said his
party did not receive such an invitation.
The majority of TNA MPs, according to informed sources, feel
that they (TNA) should go it alone as the main Tamil
political entity representing the voice of the Tamil people.
The TNA, therefore, is not likely to throw in its lot
with the TPPF, say political analysts.
The TPPF took several important decisions at the meeting in
They have also decided to submit a memorandum to President
Rajapaksa based on conclusions they reached over a number of
issues including the alleged plans to set up cantonments for
army personnel in the midst of Tamil villages, restoration
of civil administration in the North and a scheme for
payment of compensation to civilians, seriously affected by
Pillayan against North-East re-merger
The TPPF has also decided to press for the full
implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
They have in this connection issued a Press communiqué
signed by TULF leader V. Anandasangaree, OfERR leader
C.Chandrahasan, Thurairasa of the EPRLF, Udayarasa of TELO,
TNLF leader M K Shivajilingam and EPDP leader Minister
However, differences of opinion over the long-standing Tamil
demand for the remerger of the North and East have emerged
among the constituent parties of the TPPF.
The North and the East were initially merged as a single
administrative unit under the 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord.
The J R Jayewardene government disregarded the legal
requirement for a referendum.
Instead, the merger continued, circumventing the requirement
to hold a referendum, through regular gazette notifications
issued under the emergency regulations.
However, a Supreme Court bench, presided over by former
Chief Justice Sarath N Silva, after hearing a fundamental
rights petition against the North-East merger, gave an order
quashing the executive action of merging the two provinces.
The two provinces became two separate administrative
units for all purposes after the Supreme Court ruling.
An election was held to the Eastern Provincial Council and
Chandrakanthan Sivenesathurai alias Pillayan is functioning
as the provincial chief minister now.
Now, a number of Tamil political parties including TULF,
EPDP, PLOTE and EPRLF, which are constituents of the
newly-formed TPPF, are clamouring for the remerger of the
The Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal or TMVP, led by Chief
Minister Pillayan has, however, expressed its opposition to
this move as remerger would mean the scrapping of the
Eastern Provincial Council.
If the TPPF, which is a combine of several minor parties, is
to forge ahead as a strong political entity, the TNA should
be an integral part of it, say political analysts. However,
only time can say whether this would be a reality or not.
UNP, JVP and DNA to oppose together
The UNP, JVP and the DNA have agreed to oppose the
government with one voice in Parliament and outside in the
wake of the verdict given by the Court Martial No 1 against
former Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff Sarath
The Court Martial, which found Fonseka guilty of engaging in
active politics while in military service, cashiered him and
stripped him of his rank, all decorations and retirement
The opposition political parties, the UNP, JVP and the DNA
look on the punishment meted out to Fonseka as an act of
They argue that the continued hearing of the case even
during the court vacation thus preventing the appearance of
Sarath Fonseka’s counsel, denial of the right to cross-
examine witnesses for the prosecution, the precipitated
delivery of order and the President’s approval of the order
on the same day, clearly hold out this Court Martial
exercise as a vindictive act against Sarath Fonseka.
Addressing a media briefing the day after the pronouncement
of the verdict against Fonseka by the Court Martial, UNP
spokesman Gayantha Karunatillake said the time had come for
all opposition political parties to forge a broad united
opposition front to challenge ‘the undemocratic act against
Sarath Fonseka’ and ‘other anti-people measures’ being taken
by the government.
JVP general secretary Tilvin Silva also told a media
briefing last Sunday that the need had arisen for the
opposition parties to protest against the government as a
united force. Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Tiran Alles had,
meanwhile, held talks with Mangala Samaraweera, now in the
UNP, with a view to forging a broad opposition alliance to
create an upsurge of public opinion against ‘undemocratic
actions’ of the government. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe,
general secretary Tissa Attanayake and deputy leader Karu
Jayasuriya have endorsed this move.
First step - a petition to Supreme Court
The joint opposition, as its first step towards opposing the
verdict given against Fonseka, would file a petition
challenging the Court Martial ruling.
The legal preliminaries, in this connection, are being
handled by President Counsel Romesh de Silva and Rienzie
These political parties have decided to consider further
action against the punishment, once the Supreme Court gives
In a related development, a DNA delegation including Anoma
Fonseka, Arjuna Ranatunga, Tiran Alles and Anura Kumara
Dissanyake called on the Mahanayake Theras of Asgiriya and
Malwatte chapters and apprised them of the latest situation.
Media was not alowed to cover the event. But Anoma Fonseka
told media personnel after the meeting that the Maha Nayake
Theras had expressed their shock and dismay at the
punishment given to her husband.
The Mahanayake Theras of Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters have
so far not made any statement to media on the verdict.
According to informed sources, the two prelates had told the
DNA delegates that they would make a public statement once
the Supreme Court gives its order on the petition.
DNA moving towards UNP
Meanwhile, indications are that the DNA, led Sarath Fonseka,
is gradually moving into the arms of the UNP.
DNA front-liners such as Arjuna Ranatunga, Tiran Alles and
Jayantha Ketagoda as well other constituents of the
alliance, Nava Sihala Urumaya, Democratic United National
Front and the Tamil People’s Front, have begun raising the
cry that they should merge with the UNP.
However, Sarath Fonseka, beholden to the JVP for his
dedicated support extended to him at the Presidential
election and during other critical situations, finds it a
matter of conscience to virtually turn his back on the
Both Sarath Fonseka and Anoma had said on several occasions
that parting ways with the JVP would smack of rank
ingratitude on their part.
However, Sarath Fonseka had told a media briefing held at
the parliamentary complex on Thursday that he could consider
joining the UNP if the latter changed its policies to be in
accord with his own policies.
He also appealed to the UNP to join forces with the DNA to
counter the anti-democratic measures being taken by the
All in all, certain measures taken by the government like
approving the Court Martial order against Sarath Fonseka
have contributed towards strengthening the opposition in no
Inquiry against Mervyn begins
The SLFP’s disciplinary inquiry against former Minister
Mervyn Silva, who triggered a public outcry when he tied a
Samurdhi Niyamaka to a tree in Kelaniya, commenced sittings
last Friday at the party headquarters.
The panel of inquiry is headed by President’s Counsel
The other members of the panel are attorney-at-law
N.M.Saheed and Mahinda Samarasekera (secretary).
In the absence of a written complaint from any interested
party or Police, the panel will have to depend on evidence
to be gathered from newspaper reports and relevant TV
According to SLFP sources, the charge sheet against Mervyn
Silva also would be based on material to be collected from
print and electronic media.
The visuals covering the incident, televised by TV
channels, also showed Police security guards of the Minister
and another Policemen passively looking on when the Samurdhi
Niyamaka was being tied to the tree.
The Human Rights Commission is also reportedly taking
action. It is to hold an inquiry into the dereliction of
duty on the part of these Police officers as signified by
their failure to prevent the commission of the offence.
In the recent past, a series of picketing campaigns in the
Kelaniya area were held by well-wishers of Mervyn Silva.
They called for his reinstatement. Posters, carrying slogans
justifying Mervyn Silva’s act, were also on display in the
However, neither pro-Mervyn demonstrations nor these
posters did not receive the usual media publicity.
A meeting of Bhikkhus (a Sangha Sammelanaya) too was held at
the BMICH on Friday to request that Mervyn Silva be restored
to his ministerial position ‘in recognition of his great
services to Buddha Sasana’.
The Presidential Commission
Sri Lankans are evincing a keen interest in the Presidential
Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation, which is
now holding sittings at the Lashman Kadirgamar Institute of
International Relations and Strategic Studies in Colombo.
Very vital information came to light when Defence Secretary
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and former defence secretary Austin
Fernando gave evidence before the commission last week.
Among others who gave evidence were prominent lawyer
S L Gunasekera, Unicef director Hiranthi Wijemanne and TULF
leader V Anandasangaree.
A number of political parties are due to appear before the
commission. But the SLMC has decided not to give evidence.
It is disappointed that only the events that happened
after 2002 were being covered by the commission. The SLMC
says the commission, under its terms of reference, is not
required to inquire into incidents such as driving out of
Muslims from Jaffna by the LTTE in 1990 and the massacre of
over 100 Muslims during the attack on the Kathankudy mosque.
Hence, the party reportedly feels that there is no need for
it to give evidence on behalf of the Muslim people.
Reliable sources, meanwhile, say the TNA too is yet to
seek an appointment to give evidence before the Commission.
Commenting on this, a Tamil political leader quipped: “They
acted as LTTE proxies during the war. Perhaps they may have
nothing to tell the commission.”
|Need for an inclusive
Sri Lankan identity
role of a political columnist is to sensitise his readers by
highlighting the significance of events and by indicating
the trends that may affect the society and the country in
the future. In the past eight weeks, I tried to play that
role. In the first week, I highlighted the World Tamil
Classical Conference which had generated a fresh
nationalistic fervour. Tamils in the North and East of Sri
Lanka who had been affected by it are holding Classical
I also highlighted the Kachativu feast which Tamil Nadu’s
fisher folk attended in large numbers ignoring the Indo-Sri
Lankan treaties. In their interviews with the Tamil Nadu
media the pilgrims spoke about getting back their right and
about the “getting together of blood brothers.”
A 25-member team from the fishing community from the North,
which is now in Tamil Nadu, is speaking in the same vein.
Its members told the media that they would find ways and
means which permit the fishermen of both countries to
jointly exploit the fishing resources of the Palk Straits.
“We will find an amicable solution and inform our
governments about it,” a member of the Sri Lankan team said.
Kolathur Mani, a pro-LTTE activist and leader of Periyar
Dravida Kazhagam, who enjoys considerable influence among
the Tamil Nadu fishermen, said fishing communities of both
countries have lost confidence in their governments.
Last week I indicated a trend set by the student
agitation in Kashmir. A single incident – the police killing
of a 17-year-old student- ignited a revolt which is
continuing despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s
declaration that his government is ready to consider
autonomy for Kashmir. The lesson India learnt was that pent
up frustration wait for an occasion to explode. I also
indicated that Kashmiri struggle and Manmohan Singh’s offer
would have wider implications.
A demonstration was held near Chennai on Wednesday
supporting the Kashmiri demand for full autonomy.
Land and language
I have also indicated the areas in which Tamil people feel
frustrated. They include resettlement and rehabilitation of
the displaced and the questions of land and language.
It is in this context I look at the timely warning respected
political analyst, diplomat and columnist Dayan Jayatilleke
forcefully administered in his column in the Daily Mirror on
Wednesday: the need for “the successful integration of the
Tamil minority”. He made this assertion on the basis of the
finding of a symposium “South Asia in 2060” held in
Singapore a fortnight ago. The panelists, experts in long
range studies concluded that Sri Lanka could “catch up with
the economic renaissance of the rest of Asia on condition
that the Tamil minority was successfully integrated and a
broadly inclusive identity was finally forged.”
Please note the phrase “broadly inclusive identity”. As
far as the Tamils and Muslims are concerned that is
important. Dr N. Kumaraguruparan, General Secretary,
Democratic Peoples Front, titled an article he wrote last
December, “A Sri Lankan identity with equality and dignity
irrespective of race, caste and creed”. He said, “Any
sincere Sri Lankan must understand that this is a country of
pluralistic ethnicity and to cultivate the Sri Lankan
identity beyond races and religion.” That broadly defines
the Tamil expectation.
Dayan Jayatilleke has also said that the panelists had
identified that the successful integration of the Tamil
minority into a Sri Lankan identity as the most decisive
single task facing post-war Sri Lanka and the one that would
ultimately determine whether or not there would be
sustainable economic prosperity and social development.
Godfrey Gunatilleke, a leading social scientist, also
stressed the need to develop a Sri Lankan identity when he
made his submissions to the Lessons Learnt and
Reconciliation Commission on the second day of its public
hearing. He said, “Unless we forge that national consensus
and develop a Sri Lankan identity to which all communities
can belong, to which all communities can owe allegiance we
will still be managing a conflict situation and dealing with
problems as they arise.”
The need for forging a Sri Lankan identity had been talked
on and off. Lalith Athulathmudali had talked about that.
Gamini Dissanayake too had delivered a lengthy lecture on it
at a meeting with GCE Advanced Level students in Jaffna. I
have also reported Prof. GL Peiris’s speech on the need to
forge a Sri Lankan identity. President Mahinda Rajapaksa
spoke about it last month. He told the special general
assembly of the Royal College, Colombo, held to mark its
175th anniversary that the student population should be
encouraged to protect and promote the Sri Lankan identity.
No responsible Sinhala leader had so far explained what they
mean by Sri Lankan identity. Some statements and
announcements made by Sinhala extremists have created the
feeling that Sinhalese are trying to force their identity as
the Sri Lankan identity.
Announcements like the one made by the Royal Asiatic Society
on July 5 make the Tamils uneasy. It said: “In the formation
of Sri Lankan identity are the two narratives of the coming
of the Buddha and the coming of Vijaya to this country.
There are no archaeologically datable remains for these
narratives. Yet the same, Sinhalese speak a North Indian
dialect, and Buddhism, at least from the 3rd century BC, has
been the defining cultural influence on the country.”
The British paper The Guardian in an article written in
February 2009 called the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka’s
Identity war. The writer Randeep Ramesh said: “What we have
here is south Asia’s curse of identity violence. Once a
group – be it defined by ethnicity or caste or creed –
acquires the status of a nation it becomes intolerant of all
others. There’s no doubt the failure of the Sinhalese in the
1960s to include Tamils in a national political project
sowed the seeds of today’s conflict.”
The Singapore symposium took a long-term look at this curse
and concluded that it should be handled. Else, as Godrefy
Gunatillehe warned we would be managing a conflict situation
50 years hence.