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

A 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 wide publicity.
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 him.
“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 evening.
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 Batticaloa talks.
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 Batticaloa.
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 the hostilities

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 Douglas Devananda.
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 two provinces.
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 Fonseka,.
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 benefits
The opposition political parties, the UNP, JVP and the DNA look on the punishment meted out to Fonseka as an act of revenge.

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 Arsakularatne.
These political parties have decided to consider further action against the punishment, once the Supreme Court gives its order.
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 party.
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 government.
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 small measure.

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 Jayantha Weerasinghe.
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 footage.
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 Kelaniya area.

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

The 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 Tamil conferences.
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.”

Amicable solution
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.

National consensus
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.

Identity violence
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.