Sparks fly at UNP group meeting
The prognostic we made in this column last week that the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting of the UNP Parliamentary group would be decisive for the future of the party came true when it unanimously adopted a resolution proposed by Sajith Premadasa and seconded by Ranjith Madduma Bandara calling for the appointment of Karu Jayasuriya as the leader of the party.
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was taken unawares by this resolution. A highly agitated Wickremesinghe made a bid to walk out of the meeting which was immediately thwarted by the MPs. Several MPs warned that if he left the meeting; they would continue the proceedings with Karu Jayasuriya in the chair. A visibly angry, but subdued Ranil Wickremesinghe returned to the chair.

Plan to induct Karu as leader
The action plan to install Karu Jayasuriya as the party leader by ousting Ranil Wickremesinghe was beaten into shape at a meeting of the Sajith group on August 8 Monday. The reformists wanted to meet Karu Jayasuriya to finalise the plan the same day. However, Jayasuriya at the time was in Matara attending a protest organised by Mangala Samaraweera. In the meantime, Imitiaz Bakir Markar and Ranjith Madduma Bandara got busy drafting the resolution to be moved at the Parliamentary group meeting the following day. Later the reformist group called on Karu Jayasuriya who had returned from Matara at his Amarasekera Mawatha residence about 10 in the night. Their deliberations continued till predawn the following day.

Sparks fly at group meet
The UNP Parliamentary group met at the Committee Room 2 at the Parliamentary complex about 10 in the morning last Wednesday. At the inception Parliamentarian Ajith C. Perera rose to his feet to recount an incident where he suffered much embarrassment. “We went to Nuwara-eliya the other day to participate in a protest against the government. Our party members there told us in unison: ` You go back to Colombo and sort out the party leadership issue for good. Come back here to stage protests only after that.’ I promised them to raise the issue for discussion at this meeting today.”
Sajith Premadasa took the floor next to address the party leader in particular. “Our party has just suffered the most ignominious defeat in its 65 year history. Our vote at the last local government elections has dropped to 22 percent, the lowest recorded so far. Our members say that they will start going back to polls the day you leave the leadership. They say that if you remain in leadership, the vote will drop to a meagre 10 percent.” He made an impassioned plea to Ranil to step down from the leadership to make way for Karu Jayasuriya to take the party forward as a compact unit. Presently he moved the resolution calling for the appointment of Karu Jayasuriya as the party leader.
The resolution he moved said, among other things:”When a party is in the opposition, the normal trend is that its vote percentage would take an upward swing. But the UNP vote percentage is fast dropping. A large majority of party membership is seeking a new leader capable of taking the party to victory again, not a figurehead leader who is a darling of this corrupt and anti-democratic government.”

“Shut up your mouth”
When Ranjith Madduma Bandara rose to his feet to second the resolution, a disconcerted Ranil Wickremesinghe asked him to shut his mouth. “Who are you to order me to shut my mouth?” retorted Madduma Bandara. “What we are articulating is the opinion of the people.” At this stage Ranil who started making for the door asked John Amaratunga, Joseph Michael Perera, Karu Jayasuriya and Tissa Attanayake to join him. Karu Jayasuriya said that walking out of the meeting was not the answer and they should get act together to work out a solution.

John Amaratunga said: “This is not the Working Committee. This is the Parliamentary Group. Any decision relating to the party should be taken at the meeting of Working Committee.” Amaratunga’s statement stirred a hornets’ nest. Ranjith Madduma Bandara who angrily reacted to this statement said: “Present at this meeting is members of Parliament elected by the people. As the Chief Opposition Whip, you are expected to safeguard the interests of the MPs. But you are here holding a brief for the Working Committee instead.” Ranil returned to his seat when Sajith told him that they would go ahead with the proceedings with Karu Jayasuriya in the chair if he dared leave the meeting.

Seated back in the chair, Ranil Wickremesinghe invited the party office-holders to the head table. Sajith, who spurned this invitation, said that he was not prepared to sit at the head table under Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership. Dayasiri Jayasekera who presently took the floor addressing the party leader said: “A leader should treat all alike without discrimination. But you, as the party leader have formed factions within the party and favour a chosen few while discriminating against others. Sajith Premadasa took a step backwards and accepted the Deputy leadership in the interest of the party. But you have not delegated any powers to him nor have you entrusted any responsibility to him. He should have been allowed at least to have a National Organiser of his choice. When a proposal to appoint Ranjith Madduma Bandara as the National Organiser was unanimously adopted, you in your typical dictatorial manner disregarded that decision and appointed a person of your choice to that position in violation of the party Constitution. I am the District Organiser for the Kurunegala district. But I am informed of what is happening in the party through another MP. Why can’t the party communicate with me direct?”

Hashim explodes bombshell
It was Kabir Hashim who took the floor next. Incidentally it was Hashim who replaced Imitiaz Bakir Markar as a member of the Working Committee. He was considered a member of the Ranil group from the inception. He took the entire Parliamentary group by surprise by the emotive speech he made. He said: “After this speech I may lose the Deputy Chairmanship of the party I hold. I don’t want that position. The best person for that position is Imitiaz Bakir Markar. I don’t want the post of District organiser either. Offer that position to Champika Premadasa. What we want are not party positions. Let come what may. Let there be a party to call our own at the end of the day.”
Ranil Wickremesinghe sent round chits to his loyalists asking them to hold a brief for him at the meeting. However, none came forward to speak on his behalf.
Ranjan Ramanayake, Wijayakala Maheswaran and Ranjith Aluvihare had not attended this meeting. Ravi Karunanayake and Dunesh Gankanda had gone abroad. P. Harrison could not attend the meeting as he was hospitalised Chandrani Bandara was seen in Parliament, but she did not attend the meeting.
Karu Jayasuriya told the meeting that he was being pressed by the general public, civil organisations and numerous party members to accept the party leadership. And he has to bow down to the wish of the majority.
Later the resolution calling for the induction of Karu Jayasuriya as the UNP leader was unanimously adopted.
In the night the same day, the Sajith group met again at the residence of Karu Jayasuriya. Rukman Senanayake, Sajith Premadasa, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Talatha Atukorale, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Rosy Senanayake, Shiral Laktillake, Asoka Abeysinghe, Imitiaz Bakir Markar, Ervin Weerakkody, and Maitri Gunaratne participated in the discussion.

Reformists issue ultimatum to Ranil
At this meeting Dayasiri Jayasekera proposed that a letter be addressed to Ranil Wickremesinghe asking him to hand over the leadership of the party to Karu Jayasuriya while he (Wickrmesinghe) may continue to function as the Leader of the Opposition. The group also decided to give the party leader the grace of time till August 18 to make his response.

Ranil tries to buy time
Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe had summoned a meeting of party seniors at the Opposition Leader’s office in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon. The objective of the meeting was to nip in the bud the campaign launched at the Parliamentary group meeting to call for the induction of Karu Jayasuriya as the party leader. Karu Jayasuriya, Malik Samarawickrama, John Amaratunga, Joseph Michael Perera, Sajith Premadasa and Tissa Attanayake participated in this discussion.
Addressing the party seniors Ranil Wickremesinghe pointed out that according to the Party Constitution he can function as the party leader until December this year. “Therefore, let us defer this leadership issue till December this year and make a concerted effort to win the coming local government elections.” Several party seniors agreed to postpone the leadership issue until December, but Sajith Premadasa put his foot down saying that Karu Jayasuriya who has won the confidence of all factions in the party should take over the leadership immediately and the coming elections should be fought under his leadership. The meeting ended with no decision taken.
The UNP Working Committee meeting due on August 17 is expected to be decisive for the future of the party given the ultimatum issued to Ranil Wickremesinghe by the reformist group to respond to their letter by August 18. The UNP’s showing at the local government elections due in mid-October by all indications will depend the on Ranil Wickremesinghe’s response to the Sajith group’s ultimatum.

`Go Ranil’ campaign gathers momentum
Meanwhile, the Reformist group which has decided not to allow grass to grow under their feet, has launched a programme to create an awareness of the urgent need to change party leadership among the party’s leadership at the grassroots level. As part of this programme, a meeting of the UNP PC members was held at the auditorium of the National Library and Documentation Services Board in Colombo at 2.30 pm last Friday. The group has also made arrangements to convene a meeting of UNP Pradeshiya Sabha members as well this week.
Meanwhile, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake has issued a media statement disowning the meeting of the UNP PC members which was to be held in Colombo on Friday. The statement said that the party has not called a meeting of the PC members and there was no need for any member to come to Colombo to attend any meeting.

Chennai out of bounds for SL pilgrims
It appears that anti-Sri Lankan activity in Tamil Nadu has taken a turn for the worse following US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit there for talks with Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa Jeyaram. The incident that caused much widespread concern here was the attack on a group of Sri Lankan pilgrims at a place close to Chennai allegedly by a gang belonging to an extremist organisation in Tamil Nadu. The goons had pulled off T-shirts some pilgrims had on and set them on fire. Later they had threatened the manager of the hotel where the pilgrims had checked in saying that they would torch the hotel if he failed to evict the pilgrims before 8 the following morning.
A group of Sinhala Roman Catholics including several priests from the Ja-Ela area who had arrived in Velakanni in Tamil Nadu to worship at the famous shrine dedicated to `Our lady of Good Health’ had come under threat from another extremist organisation. The scared Catholic pilgrims who had their religious observances rudely disrupted had returned to the island the same day.
The following these incidents some Tamil Nadu Policemen in civvies who had called at tourist hotels in Chennai and its outskirts had warned the hotel owners not to provide accommodation to visiting Sri Lankan pilgrims. Reacting to new reports on this, the Tamil Nadu Police authorities have denied having issued such instructions to hotel owners. However, hoteliers say that Policemen in civvies had warned them that they could not help it if gangs attacked their hotels for taking in Sri Lankan visitors.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai had told media that Sri Lankan pilgrims no longer face any threat in Tamil Nadu. However, the ground reality is that hotel accommodation is no more available for Sri Lankan pilgrims to Chennai. The Mahabodhi Centre at Egmore, a long-standing haven for Sri Lankan visitors, however, cannot accommodate more than 300 people. This situation has set a poser to the Indian tour operators here.
Meanwhile, some protesters from another extremist political organisation in Tamil Nadu who had staged an anti-Sri Lankan protest opposite the branch office of the Sri Lankan Airlines in Chennai had also attempted to attack the office.

Tour operators in a quandary
A group of highly concerned Indian pilgrimage operators who recently met to discuss the new developments had decided to drop Chennai from their travel itineraries. There are no Buddhist shrines in Chennai, but tour operators taking Buddhist pilgrims to Buddhist shrines in Lumbini, Buddha Gaya, and Varanasi, etc. Invariably include Chennai as an important travel destination to provide an opportunity to pilgrims to buy saris and other textiles cheap at popular shopping centres in the outskirts of Chennai. Hoteliers and shop keepers in Chennai and its suburbs are to lose a sizable custom if Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims to Dambadiva are forced to skip their customary shopping spree in Chennai.

Sri Lanka bashing by TN politicians
Several Tamil political parties in Tamil Nadu including the CP (Marxist), MDMK, VCK, and PMK have launched a massive anti-Sri Lankan campaign. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has decided to stage a demonstration opposite the Indian parliament on September 7 to demand the Centre to bring pressure to bear on the Sri Lankan government to work out a solution to the festering ethnic problem and to safeguards the interests of the Tamil people in the country. Meanwhile, the VCK and PMK led by the extremist Tamil Nadu political leaders Thol Thirumavalan and V. Ramdas respectively are said to be planning a similar massive protest, Indian media reports say.

Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader V. Gopalswamy better known as Vaiko who advocates the founding of a separate state of Eelam in the North has proposed holding of a referendum among the Tamil Diaspora on this issue under the direct supervision of the United Nations. He also says that time has come for the New Delhi government to give up its `soft attitude’ towards Sri Lanka.
A well attended demonstration led by Vaiko to espouse the cause of a separate state in Sri Lanka called Tamil Eelam was staged at Janatha Mandhir close to New Delhi on Friday. Several thousands of MDMK supporters had reportedly attended this campaign. Vaiko has told media this was only the first in a series of agitation campaigns to be held in the days to come.

Indian Parliament to discuss SL Tamil issues
Meanwhile, India’s mass circulation English Daily The Hindu said in a New Delhi- datelined story on Friday that the Indian Parliament will have a short duration discussion on August 16 on the steps taken by the Indian government for relief and settlement of Tamils in Sri Lanka and other measures to promote their welfare.
The Hindu story also said: “Given the anxiety of various members, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna made a suo moto statement in the Lok Sabha on August 4 on the situation in Sri Lanka spelling out the Indian stand.”

A prop to Channel 4 video
Meanwhile, Headlines Today website of India’s mass circulation magazine `India Today’ carries a report written by a journalist of the website containing information he is said to have gathered at firsthand during his travels far and wide incognito in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu soon after the ending of the war.
A woman named `Rosy’ whom this journalist claims to have interviewed has said that she saw with her own eyes thousands of civilians being killed in bombardments carried out by the Sri Lanka Air Force in the final days of the war. According to her estimate over 3,000 people were in killed in these air attacks. She has also said that the security force used chemical weapons in the battles causing many deaths. She has said that the security forces had bombarded even areas identified as security zones.
The `Headlines Today’ web report also says that the Tamil civilians who were taken into military custody were subjected to cruel torture in secret camps. Women detainees held in these camps were raped and were subjected to various types of sexual abuse.
The reports also quotes the woman described as Rosy as saying that a woman and her child committed suicide as they could not bear the pangs of hunger. The `Headlines Today’ report appears to have been written in a bid to lend credence to the `Sri Lanka Killing Fields.’ This report which is due to be carried in the next issue of `India Today’, no doubt, will fan the flames of anti-Sri Lankan sentiment in Tamil Nadu.
It is obvious that the aim of the anti-Sri Lanka activists is to compel India’s Centre which is maintaining a `non-partisan’ attitude towards Sri Lanka over the war crimes charges, to take an anti-Sri Lankan stand.
Soon after being appointed Chief Minister, Jeyalalithaa Jeyaram said that the Indian Central government should impose economic sanctions on Sri Lanka and abrogate the trade pact signed with this country. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a surprising move called on Chief Minister Jeyalalitha a few days after the latter’s controversial anti-Sri Lanka statement. The US Senate adopted a resolution to stop aid to Sri Lanka a few days after Clinton’s return to the US. Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa’s ADMK had run big adverts in Indian national newspapers hailing the decision taken by the US Senate.

General parliamentary elections in India
General parliamentary elections in India are due soon. The support of Tamil Nadu is decisive for the ruling Congress Party. The DMK led by former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi contested in alliance with the Congress Party at the previous general elections. However, the last State Assembly elections saw the DMK suffer an ignominious defeat and Jeyalalithaa’s ADMK return to office with a landslide. Given this scenario, the Congress Party will have to contest the upcoming general elections with some understanding with Jeyalalithaa’s ADMK which will obviously use its leverage at least in some measure over the ruling Congress Party led-alliance.

US power game in Asia
The main reason why US Secretary of State picked Tamil Nadu for her visit over and above the other indian states is not far to seek . It is obvious that that the US wants to fortify India against China which has emerged as the major power in Asia and to pressurise Sri Lanka through India. There was a time the US was closer to Pakistan than to India. The US has now abandoned her erstwhile friend Pakistan. The US has also cut off aid to Pakistan. The US State Department appears to be bent on strengthening the America’s sphere of power in Asia by cultivating India as a close ally.
However, New Delhi is wise to the moves by the US in this power game. MDMK leader Vaiko who called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi recently had pressed that India impose sanctions on Sri Lanka. However, the Indian Prime Minister who apprised the Tamil Nadu politician of the ground realities had pointed out that any anti-Sri Lankan move by India would only push Sri Lanka further into the welcome arms of China.
Nevertheless, given the importance of Tamil Nadu electorate in India’s political power equation, Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa will, certainly, be in a position to dictate terms to the ruling Congress Party-led alliance.