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Time for reconciliation

2013 Sep 24

India is known to be ardent supporter of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which was born out of the Indo-Lanka Pact India is known to be ardent supporter of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which was born out of the Indo-Lanka Pact


The shadow of neighboring India looms large as local and international attention focuses on the outcome of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections held yesterday, suggesting that our neighbor will play a pivotal role in shaping the role and fate of the newly elected Council.In sentiments that raised a  few eyebrows, The Tamil National Alliance (TNA)’s chief ministerial aspirant, C.V. Wigneswaran was critical of India’s involvement saying that when there was a domestic dispute, it was not proper for the ‘next door neighbor’ to suggest a divorce.

Ironically, while Wigneswaran was criticizing India, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was doing just the opposite. In an interview with the Hindustan Times he indicated that he was not upset by the rhetoric engaged in by Tamil Nadu politicians. “Politicians understand politicians”, he said.These exchanges are a reflection of Wigneswaran’s political naiveté and how savvy President Rajapaksa is. Indeed the former, wittingly or otherwise, has committed some blunders in his campaign which have provided his critics in the South with ammunition to vilify him.

How India deals with the newly elected NPC administration will be interesting. Minister G. L. Peiris is already on record dismissing speculation that New Delhi had imposed “three conditions” to ensure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s participation in the Commonwealth summit. Singh’s participation at the summit may be a useful barometer of Indo-Lanka relations, but of more importance is how the NPC will handle the task of running its administration. There are a few key issues that it needs to address - and the manner in which it does that holds the key to the NPC’s future.

There were suggestions that the TNA’s utterances in the past few weeks where Wigneswaran called Velupillai Prabhakaran a ‘great hero’ and his party’s manifesto demanded federalism were election rhetoric. After all in his role as a judge, Wigneswaran was tough on terrorists!This rhetoric did nothing to allay the anxieties in the South. In fact, military officers are reported to have requested for more troops on the ground fearing that Prabhakaran, being hailed as a hero, could trigger a wave of support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The question now is whether the elected representatives in the NPC will abandon the rhetoric of the campaign and buckle down to the task of developing the province. Or, will they continue to engage in divisive politics, agitating for more devolution and doing little else?In the past, the TNA has been guilty of running to New Delhi whenever it encountered an issue with Colombo. It has been known to use India’s ‘good offices’ to try and arm-twist Colombo into various concessions. This political disconnect between the North and South was apparent in recent months.

The TNA’s over-reliance on India to achieve its aims hasn’t led to improved relations with the government. It has also created a sense of mistrust about the TNA in the South which is why the Opposition United National Party, because it aligned with the TNA, was tagged with the Tiger label. For the NPC to succeed and become a viable entity attempting to bring about development and reconciliation in the North, the Council will have to work with Colombo. They must adopt the strategy of taking what has already been given to them, even if they wish to ask for more.

India is known to be ardent supporter of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which was borne out of the Indo-Lanka Pact engineered by Rajiv Gandhi and foisted on J. R. Jayewardene. It has indicated it will be satisfied nothing less than its full implementation and a bit more, if possible.The Rajapaksa government - though it has talked of ‘thirteen plus’ - has shown no great enthusiasm for this, believing that it will not be a panacea for all ills in the North. New Delhi and the TNA have frowned on the decision to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee, believing it is a delaying tactic.

It would be extremely naïve for the TNA to interpret the votes it received as being a mandate for either the 13th Amendment or for federalism. To take this stance would be to squander a historic opportunity provided by the creation of the first ever provincial council in the North of the country.The ball is very much in the TNA’s court. How it wishes to play will determine the next phase of Northern politics. The government could help by being accommodating rather than dogmatic and also by reining in some of its harsher critics who see a potential Prabhakaran in every TNA supporter.

Yesterday’s results, therefore, could mark the beginning of true reconciliation with the North and an acceptance of the unified nature of the country or signal yet another milestone in a never ending struggler for separation that could hamper the progress the region has achieved in the past four years.
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