COLOMBO: The Tamil Peoples’ Council’s call for an “Ezhuga Tamizh” (Tamils Arise) rally and a general strike in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces on Saturday, will test the support base of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the dominant party in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
The Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC), which is led by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran, is joined by the all the other parties in the TNA, such as the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) led by Suresh Premachandarn; Peoples’ Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) led by D.Siddharthan; and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO) led by Srikantha. Also on the bandwagon are non-TNA parties like Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Douglas Devananda; Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TULF) led by V.Anandasangaree; and Tamil National Peoples‘ Front (TNPF) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam.
The ITAK has opposed the rally on the grounds that such a rally (which smacks of the “Pongu Thamizh” rallies of the LTTE era), will alienate moderate Sinhalese both in the government and outside, and will stall the all-important constitution-drafting process which is now on.
Therefore, on Saturday, it is going to be ITAK vs the Rest.
The “Ezugha Tamizh” rally is, in a way, a paler version of the “Pongu Thamizh” organized by the LTTE to whip up mass support for its cause. But unlike Pongu Thamizh, the Ezhuga Thamizh will not ask for an independent Tamil Eelam but a federal Sri Lankan constitution with the Northern and Eastern Provinces merged to form a single Tamil province.
“The idea is to create an awareness among the Tamils about the unsettled issues vis-à-vis the Central government in Colombo, and to put pressure on the government to expedite the implementation of the promises it made to the Tamils at the time of the January 2015 Presidential, and the July 2015 parliamentary elections. Till now there has been a lot of talk about the government’s doing one thing or the other in this regard, but there has been very little progress on the ground,” said D.Siddharthan leader of PLOTE.
“Ezhuga Tamizh is not anti-government. It is only a way of highlighting the unresolved issues and sensitizing the people to the need for political action to secure their goals,” added S.Thavarajah, of the EPDP, who is also Leader of Opposition in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).
The other key message that Ezhuga Tamil will drive home is directed at the ITAK and its leaders R.Sampanthan and M.A. Sumanthian, who, according to parties other than the ITAK, are sacrificing the interest of the Tamils at the alter of a national need to protect the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime against threats from the ultra-Sinhalese nationalists led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“But we only want the ITAK’s leaders to implement their election manifestos, which is their bounden duty. From 2013 to 2015, their manifestos had consistently said certain things. But till date the ITAK has done little to press the government to implement them,” Thavarajah pointed out.
“By voting overwhelmingly for Sirisena and Wickeremesinghe, the Tamils put them in power in the hope that their long standing demand for autonomy and justice will be met. But government has done precious little. The government is answerable to its Tamil voters,” added Siddharthan.
“Seeing the international community being extremely accommodative towards the regime in Colombo to serve its own interest, the rally will show them that the Tamils are not a defeated people who can be ignored. The Ezhugu Tamizh is a plea to be heard,“ Siddharthan added.
Saturday’s rally will highlight the lack of progress in establishment of a Transitional Justice Mechanism for war victims; in setting up an Office of Missing Persons; in ending intrusive surveillance and the overwhelming presence of the military in the Tamil areas; the lack of urgency in pursuing cases against former Tamil Tiger cadres and the willful imposition of Buddha’s statues in the Tamil areas; and in checking state-sponsored colonization of Tamil lands by Sinhalese. Besides the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act is yet to be replaced.
Giving a recent case of discrimination, Thavarajah said that the Special High Court set up in 2013 to expedite grave offices like terrorism and child abuse has disposed off 346 cases of child abuse, but only 6 of the 18 cases against ex-LTTE cadres have been sent for trial in the same period. The former cadres have already spent 7 to 10 years in jail.
“The cadres who have been on fast for the past three days are not asking for release, but only speedy justice. But even this has not been granted in the past three years,” Thavarajah pointed out.