Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is trying to make the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which rules the Northern Province (NP), to commit itself publicly to the cause of local Tamil fishermen who have been suffering greatly due to poaching by fishermen from Tamil Nadu.
The President has asked NP Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran to take part in a meeting on the issue to be held in Jaffna very soon, sources close to the President confirmed on Sunday. The local stakeholders’ meeting is to be chaired by the Lankan Fisheries Minister, Dr.Rajitha Senarartne.
Sources told Express that Rajapaksa had two objectives in mind when he did this: (a) forcing Wigneswaran and the TNA to commit themselves to the Lankan position on poaching, and not keep silent to please Tamil Nadu politicians on whose support they depend a great deal; (b) getting Wigneswaran and the TNA to use their “influence” in Tamil Nadu to get the state and its Chief Minister to discuss the issue and arrive at a settlement instead of inflaming passions to serve a political end.
Indeed, TNA leaders have been reluctant to publicly commit themselves to the cause of their own fishermen because they fear that it will alienate them from TN, whose support is considered vital in their fight for political rights in Lanka.Chief Minister Wigneswaran recently said that the only way out of the impasse was for the Indian and Lankan governments to help the fishermen of the two countries to take to deep sea fishing instead for competing for the slender resources of the narrow Palk Strait.
But this does not satisfy the Lankan government, which wants India to explicitly respect its sovereign right over the Lankan side of the IMBL. As for the Northern fishermen, they find the deep-sea fishing proposal far-fetched.
Rajapaksa knows that New Delhi is not an impediment, as Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s recent visit clearly showed. Since TN is the problem, Rajapaksa wants the negotiations to be held in TN and wants Wigneswaran to facilitate. There is a political dimension to this: If Wigneswaran fails on this front, the North Lankan fishermen will get alienated from the TNA and swing to Rajapaksa’s party.