Thursday, 10 October 2013 00:00
ON the long hard road to reconciliation and power devolution, the visit by new Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid was just another pit stop, as the meeting with President Rajapaksa showed.
During the breakfast meeting, according to President’s Media, Rajapaksa had made it clear that the Government was not backing down from re-looking at the power devolution mechanism through the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) even though the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has consistently refused to join it, along with other Opposition parties.
The President was quoted as saying that Parliament is the ideal platform for devolution discussions, placing tough questions before the TNA. When the PSC was initially put together, the TNA had not won the Northern Provincial Council in a landslide victory and had not ensconced itself with a fresh voice to speak louder for devolution. Post-elections, it may have to revisit that decision.
Yet it still faces uphill challenges in winning over moderate Sinhalese while keeping its internal membership from splintering. The symbol of agreeing to take oaths before President Rajapaksa was clearly a gesture of attempting to move towards a moderate path. But it comes at a cost.
Notable absentees were TNA General Secretary Marvai Senathirajah, EPRLF Leader Suresh Premachandran and TELO Chief Selvam Adaikalanathan, who were reported to have boycotted the swearing-in. Whether the TNA can maintain a united front, even when the TELO leader has decided to leave its ranks, will be interesting to see.
These, however, pale in comparison to the internal disputes of the United National Party (UNP), with clashes landing people in hospital, with at least a dozen others arrested. Differences of opinion within the TNA do not seem that serious when compared with the plight of the UNP, which also has to lend its voice to the PSC for it to become an acceptable process.
Freshly-minted Chief Minister Wigneswaran lost no time in appealing to the Sinhalese majority to respect, empathise and understand the love their Tamil counterparts have for their language – an overture that will take some repeating before it will bring tangible returns. The Government could do massive service to the country by promoting a more level playing field for the TNA and preventing its various mouthpieces from insidiously feeding the insecurities of the Sinhala majority’s fear of a “separate state”.
As the TNA Leader has acknowledged, it now must do the best it can with what is within its reach. Even though previous ventures such as the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) came to a dead end after the report was presented to President Rajapaksa, it has to make a choice based on the increased mandate given by the Tamil community. But what is questionable is whether the PSC or Parliament will give a fair hearing to the concerns and viewpoints of the TNA.
India, despite being well-aware of these pitfalls, has agreed to accept the outcome of an inclusive PSC decision in line with the democratic process. President Rajapaksa has taken this one step further and said that a PSC decision must also gain the approval of the people. The danger of public opinion is that it can be easily swayed and Rajapaksa knows how to whip it into a nationalistic frenzy. With the deck stacked against it, the TNA will have a tough time deciding how to prove itself to both communities. Perhaps the best place to start is in ably managing the north.