India responds negatively to North-East self-rule

A seminar on the North-East problem organised by Sudarshan Nachchiappan, a senior MP of the Indian Congress Party was held in New Delhi on August 23 and 24. Representatives of eight Sri Lanka Tamil political parties including TNA, ACTC, EPRLF and PLOTE participated in this seminar. The main objective of this seminar was to work out a set of proposals aimed at a solution to Sri Lanka’s problem to be handed over to the New Delhi government.

No self-rule for N-E
At this seminar, Tamil political parties presented a series of demands. Granting of right to self-determination to the people of North-East, dismantling of army camps in North-East and resettlement of displaced people in their original homes are among the demands presented. Reacting immediately to the demands of the Tamil parties Nachchiappan pointed out that India’s Centre would not buy the demand for right to autonomy for the North-East and would never press Sri Lankan government to grant this demand.
However, All Ceylon Tamil Congress leader former MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam put his foot down that they would not settle for anything short of self-government for the North-East. The TNA MPs had kept mum on the issue at the seminar. The move to submit a set of proposals to the Indian government had to be put on the back burner as a result of Nachchiappan not seeing eye to eye with the ACTC leader. A meeting scheduled to take place between Indian External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna and the Sri Lankan Tamil delegates too had to be called off.

TNA’s memorandum to Indian PM
However, TNA MP M.A.Sumanthiran told Tamil media later that the main purpose of their visit to India was to hand over a memorandum spelling out five pressing problems people in the North-East are facing, to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through a group of MPs from the Indian Congress Party. Sumanthiran had also told the media that their memorandum addressed to the Indian Prime Minister contained a list of proposals which included the removal of high security zones in the North, expediting the release of political detainees and LTTE suspects now under rehabilitation and the process of resettling the displaced people and taking necessary measures to restore civil administration in the North-East. The proposal relating to self-government for people in North-East had not figured in the memorandum, according to Tamil sources.

Demos by TN politicians
Pro-LTTE politicians in Tamil Nadu are staging demonstrations these days calling on Indian authorities to commute to life imprisonment the death sentence passed on the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The three convicts Murugan, Shantan and Periyavalan were due to die on the gallows following the death sentence handed by a High court. However, Chennai High court had ordered that the carrying out of the death sentence be deferred by eight months in the wake of protests by LTTE sympathisers. Pro-LTTE political leaders in Tamil Nadu have been pressing Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa to intervene to save the three LTTE convicts from the scaffold. But she had said that she has no power to change an order given by a court of law.

Undeterred by the Chief Minister’s refusal to intervene in the matter, the pro-LTTE politicians had succeeded in getting a resolution passed in the State Assembly calling on Indian President Pratibha Patel to grant a pardon to the three convicts.
Strident calls for intervention to save the three convicts in the death row have placed Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa between the devil and the blue sea. She cannot easily shrug off the demand by her political allies like Vaiko and Nedumaran. Nor could she make any move that could antagonise the New Delhi government.

TNA noncommittal
Meanwhile, mum is the TNA’s response to the death sentence passed on the LTTE cadres. They have not made any official statement on the issue so far. The TNA too must be having second thoughts about going against the Indian government. However, media reports said that TNA MP P. Ariyanethiran had sent a letter to the Indian President appealing that the death sentence on the three LTTE convicts be revoked.
In 2006, the LTTE expressed their regret over carrying out the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It is obvious that the Tamil Nadu political leaders are calling for the release of the three convicts on a Presidential pardon under various pretexts because of their sympathy with the LTTE.

Countdown to LG polls begins
Now that the countdown to the October 8 local government polls has begun, all indications are that the ruling UPFA and the main opposition UNP are set to enter the fray with all guns blazing. The UNP is due to start its election campaign with a propaganda rally in its traditional stronghold Colombo Central today. The main target of both main rivals is Colombo MC for taking it, is considered the icing on the cake.
The UNP has considered it a challenge to win the Colombo Central in particular as its long standing party organiser M. Maharoof has defected to the ruling UPFA. Sajith Premadasa has told the UNP’s Election Operations Committee that he was prepared to rise above differences to win for the UNP, the electorate which returned his father Ranasinghe Premadasa to Parliament at successive elections. However, he had been evasive with a wry `I’ll consider’, when party’s Chairman Gamini Jayawickrama Perera had suggested he appear on the stage with Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya in Colombo Central as a show of unity in the party.

Muzammil visits Buddhist temples
Meanwhile, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had visited several Buddhist temples in the city with UNP mayoral candidate A.J.M. Muzammil and appealed to bhikkhus to support the latter.
Sajith Premadasa is reportedly carrying a chip on his shoulder these days for not accommodating a single nominee of his on the list of candidates for the Colombo MC. Given his disenchantment over this issue, some UNP seniors feel that Sajith may boycott the electioneering in Colombo.
Meanwhile, a group of former UNP councilors of the Sajith group who failed to receive nomination have entered the fray in Colombo on the list of a political party called Democratic United Alliance. The names of some UPFA `rejects’ are also included in this list. Some disappointed hopefuls from the UNP are contesting as an independent group for the Kotte MC as well. They blame former UNP organiser for Kotte Ravi Karunanayake for their being overlooked by the Nomination Board. They held a propaganda meeting opposite Sirikotha last Thursday, obviously to spite the UNP hierarchy.

President plans propaganda
Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a discussion with UPFA’s mayoral candidate Milinda Moragoda had finalised a propaganda plan for Colombo MC. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Namal Rajapaksa had been associated with the President at this discussion. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had at this discussion undertaken to meet the shanty dwellers personally to deny the charge being made by the Opposition that there is a move to resettle them in areas outside Colombo after demolishing their shanties.

Anniversary celebrations
The UNP and the SLFP, the two main political parties have organised a series of commemorative events this month to mark their anniversaries.
The UNP founded at Palm Court at Albert Crescent, Colombo on September 6, 1946 marks its 65 years in politics. The SLFP which came into being as a political party at a meeting held at the Town Hall, Colombo on September 2, 1951 by a breakaway group from the UNP led by former Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike completes its 60 years of existence as a political entity.
The UNP’s main celebration to mark its 65th anniversary will be held at Sirikotha party headquarters, presided over by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Arrangements have been made to honour the stalwarts who have rendered yeoman service to the party in various ways at this ceremony.
The SLFP celebrated its 60th anniversary at a meeting chaired by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees on Friday. Meanwhile, the party has planned to hold a ceremony to felicitate the artistes who have made outstanding contributions towards the advancement of the party.

Chequered history of SLFP, UNP
A group of leaders representing all communities, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher who met under the leadership of the late Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake at Palm Court to found a new political party decided to name it the United National Party as they wanted it to be the political party of all communities in the country. A number of political entities at the time like the Sinhala Maha Sabha led by the late S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike and the Lanka Jatika Sangamaya (Ceylon National Congress) led by J.R.Jayewardene merged with the newly formed UNP. At the Parliamentary general elections held in 1947, the UNP led by D.S.Senanayake secured 42 out of the 96 Parliamentary seats and formed a government with the support of several independents and minor political parties.

SWRD quits UNP
The UNP soon came to be described as an anti-Marxist capitalist party representing the interests of the local and foreign capitalist class. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who saw the UNP as a pro-West party distanced from the ethos and aspirations of the ordinary masses soon became disillusioned with its political agenda. Bandaranaike who was the Minister of Health and Local Government in the D.S.Senanayake government on July 12, 1951 crossed over to the Opposition after announcing his resignation from the party and the Ministerial portfolio in a special statement made on the floor of the House.
Several other UNP members including Maitripala Senanayake, D.A. Rajapaksa, A.P.Jayasuriya, and Jayaweera Kuruppu followed Bandaranaike to the Opposition. Later at a meeting held at Town hall, Colombo Bandaranaike founded the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. It was the late H.Sri Nissanka who was the President of Samajavadi Peramuna based in Kandy who moved the resolution calling for the founding of the new party. Thus the SLFP came into being with 47 founder-members on its role.

DS falls to death
Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake died on March 22, 1952 following an accidental fall from a horse he was riding on the Galle Face Green. Dudley Senanayake succeeded him as the Prime Minister. Sir John Kotelawala, J.R.Jayewardene, R.Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe functioned as Prime Ministers in successive UNP governments.
At the 1956 Parliamentary general elections, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), a combine of several political parties including the SLFP, Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party (VLSSP) led Philip Gunawardena, Basha Peramuna led by Wijayananda Dahanayake led by the late S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike registered a landslide victory reducing the ruling UNP led by Sir John Kotelawala to paltry eight seats in Parliament.

SWRD assassinated
The assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on September 26, 1959 led to the fall of the MEP government he led.
At the general elections held in March 1960, the UNP led by the late Dudley Senanayake won a plurality of seats, but could not muster a majority in Parliament to run a stable government. Meanwhile, Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over the leadership of the SLFP to lead a political alliance with the LSSP and the CP at the general elections held in July 1960. The united front she led swept the boards at these elections to become the first woman Prime Minister in the world. The Sirimavo Bandaranaike government fell in December 1964 when a number of SLFP front-liners led by C.P de Silva defected over the Lake House nationalisation issue. The UNP led by Dudley Senanayake returned to power at the general elections held in March 1965.
Ms. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister again when the United Front coalition led by her won the general elections in July 1970.

The UNP led by J.R.Jayewardene took power following a landslide victory in 1977. Jayewardene in 1978 taking advantage of the five sixths majority in Parliament adopted a new Constitution providing for a new system of government headed by an all powerful elected Executive President. He became the first Executive president under the new Constitution. Ranasinghe Premadasa of the UNP succeeded him in 1988 and D.B. Wijetunga became the President when the latter was assassinated in 1992. At the 1994 Presidential elections Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected President. She was re-elected at the Presidential elections held in 2000. Mahinda Rajapaksa contesting on the UPFA ticket won the Presidential election in 2005. Re-elected in 2010, he will continue in office till 2016.

Open economy
The UNP when in power for the last 65 years has done a lot for the development of the country. However, the benefits of the development work they had carried out do not appear to have sufficiently percolated to the grassroots level for the people to feel a change for the better.
Apart from the Mahaweli Development Programme implemented under the direction of Minister Gamini Dissanayake and the One Million Houses programme launched by former president Ranasinghe Premadasa when he was the Prime Minister, it was the system of open economy introduced by J.R.Jayewardene government that brought about a great change in the way of life of the people during the UNP’s 31 year rule.
According to some analysts, the open economy that led to the inflow of vehicles of the latest models, electronic communications systems and a wide gamut of sophisticated gadgetry also opened the floodgates for a rush of lifestyle changes which made an adverse impact on the cultural and moral values of the people.
The SLFP has so far ruled the country for 29 years. But it has never won an election as a single party. They were returned to power only when they contested either in alliance with the leftist parties like the LSSP and the CP or under no-contest pacts with the latter. The ruling UPFA headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa too is a coalition of a number of political parties. The UNP has always been contesting under the `Elephant’ symbol. However, SLFP has not contested under the `Hand’ symbol after 1977. The SLFP successfully contested under the `Chair’ symbol of the UPFA from 1994 to 2000. From 2004 onwards it has been contesting under the `Betel’ symbol.

The successive SLFP-led governments during their 29 year administration have carried out a number of populist measures, among which are nationalisation of bus services, granting of official language status to Sinhala, take over of denominational schools, abolition of village headmen system, establishment of a number of state undertakings like People’s Bank, Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, Petroleum Corporation, and CWE. The SLFP suffered a debacle at the 1977 general elections with their Parliamentary representation reduced to meagre eight seats for the `sin’ of extending their five year tenure by two years.
The J.R.Jayewardene government which took power having won a five sixths majority in parliament postponed the general election by five years. The UNP could win the 1988 general elections thanks to the JVP insurrection that gripped the country at the time. The UNP lost the 1994 general elections as the people by that time had got fed up with the 17-year UNP rule.

During the last 60 year existence, the SLFP-led governments too had to face crises from time to time. Among the incidents that plunged their governments into crises is defection of a group of MPs including Phillip Gunawardena and William de Silva from the MEP government in 1958, cross over of a group of MPs led by C.P.de Silva to the opposition in 1964 leading to the fall of the government, Deprival of civic rights of SLFP leader Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1978, arrest of a number of SLFP front-liners and activists as `Naxalites’ and a number of MPs including Anura Bandaranaike and Maitripala Senanayake quitting the party.

Bid to impeach Premadasa
The major incident that sent a UNP government into a tailspin occurred when a group of UNP stalwarts made an abortive bid to bring in an impeachment motion against President Ranasinghe Premadasa which led to expulsion of its authors Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake from the UNP. ( The dissident group later formed a separate political party.)
Since 2005, the UNP has suffered a series of setbacks that has greatly weakened the party. The crossing over of UNP MPs in droves to the government and the party suffering electoral defeats one after another have demoralised the party activists and eroded the party base at the grassroots level. At the recent local government elections the total vote polled by the UNP has dropped to 23 percent, an all time low. A group within the party led Sajith Premadasa has launched a struggle to oust Ranil Wickremesinghe from the leadership. This has further weakened the party.
The UPFA which could win only 104 Parliamentary seats, nine seats of a simple majority commands a two-thirds majority today. That is why; they could pass the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

Left parties on the decline
During the last 60 years, the Leftist political parties which were once looked on as a formidable political force in the country have been reduced to insignificant minor parties today. The JVP which commanded 39 seats in Parliament has only four seats today. That too thanks to contesting on the DNA ticket. The so called Pancha Maha Balavegaya (Five Fold- Force of the Sangha, Ayurvedic physicians, teachers, farmers and workers) which was instrumental in bringing S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike into power in 1956 is no longer the mainstay of the SLFP. The local capitalist class has today taken over the place the Pancha Maha Balavegaya once occupied in the party. This change in the complexion is not visible thanks to the political sagacity of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.