COLOMBO: Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar has urged the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to unite to fight for the Tamils’ rights, including their rights under the proposed constitution, and cooperate with India in the economic development of the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Meeting the TNA top brass ahead of his meetings with the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe here on Monday, Jaishankar asked the Tamil leadership about their concerns so that he could take them up with the Sri Lankan government leaders.
The TNA delegation, comprising R.Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah, M.A.Sumanthiran, D.Siddharthan and Selvam Adaikalanathan, pointed out that the government is dragging its feet on drafting the new constitution though all the committees have submitted their reports and even the apex Steering Committee headed by the Prime Minister has circulated a draft report.
The TNA charged that at this penultimate stage, the ruling Sirisena faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP-S) suddenly said that it wanted the Steering Committee’ draft report to be revised. And President Sirisena had gone along with them bringing the whole process to a grinding halt.
The TNA also pointed out that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has not fulfilled any of the promises which it said it would fulfill in the first 100 days of office. Very little of the lands seized by the military has been handed back to its original civilian owners; no concrete steps have been taken to trace the disappeared; political prisoners are still languishing in jails; and the Northern and Eastern Provinces are yet to be merged to form a single Tamil-speaking province as per the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987.
The Tamil leaders also complained that the Tamils of the North are going jobless because companies from South Sri Lanka bring labor from the South.
Responding to this, Jaishankar promised to take up these issues with the Sri Lankan leaders later in the day, but urged the TNA leaders to be united, as unity is necessary to achieve the collective aims of the Tamil people. He urged unity because factionalism has crept into the Tamil camp, both within and outside the TNA.
The TNA is divided between the C.V.Wigneswaran faction and the Sampanthan faction, with Wigneswaran floating a separate outfit – the Tamil Peoples’ Council. The Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) led by Suresh Premachandran is against the Ilankai Tamil Arausu Katchi (ITAK) led by R.Sampanthan and M.A.Sumnthiran. Within the ITAK itself there are radicals and moderates.
When agitations or demonstrations are organized, factionalism comes to the fore, damaging Tamil unity. Even the attitude to India varies depending on the faction a person belongs to. While the Sampanthan-Sumanthiran group is seen as pro-India and the Wigneswaran group is seen as being wary about the giant neighbor and depending more on the West and the West-based Diaspora.
When Suresh Premachandran raised the issue of the re-merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and declared that the Tamils will not accept any constitutional set-up without a merged North and East, Jaishankar said that while it is true that the merger is part of the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, much water has flowed under the bridge since then, making the merger difficult at this stage. He urged the TNA to search for points of agreement with the Sri Lankan government rather than hold an overall settlement hostage to the merger issue. From time to time history provides windows of opportunity, which, if not utilized, could result in the Tamils not getting anything at the end.
When Premachandran asked if India could not compel the Sri Lankan government to implement the 1987 Accord, Jaishankar said that the Accord cannot be implemented unilaterally. He recalled that the LTTE had killed Rajiv Gandhi to derail the Accord. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), had also lambasted the Accord. The LTTE saw to it that Mahinda Rajapaksa, an opponent of the Accord, was elected President in 2005 with results for the Tamils, too well known to be repeated.
On the issue of joblessness in the Tamil-speaking North and East, Jaishankar said that India is keen on taking up development projects there and promoting those areas as destinations for Indian investment. He appealed to the TNA to cooperate with India in this endeavor.
When he made this request, the Indian Foreign Secretary, had, at the back of his mind, a top TNA leader’s opposition to the Indian coal fired power plant at Sampur in the Eastern Province. The Sri Lankan government had cited this leader’s objection as one of the reasons for asking New Delhi to cancel the project when it was about to be launched.