By VEERAGATHY THANABALASINGHAM
Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who visited Sri Lanka last week, met TNA leader R Sampanthan, at the India House for about half an hour prior to returning to New Delhi.
It is learned that they talked about the future of the Provincial Councils, which would give some devolution to the Tamils and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which led to it, and agreed to keep what they discussed in secrecy owing to the sensitivity of the issue.
During the meeting with Sampanthan, Doval expressed interest in the economic development of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and advised Sampanthan that the TNA should focus more on economic development.
The fact is, in the current context, India does not want or is unable to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government as regards domestic political issues, such as the constitution and devolution. Though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his official meetings with the Rajapaksa brothers, made it a point to insist that Sri Lankan Tamils’ aspirations must be addressed through the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, but to no avail. They (Rajapaksa brothers) always maintained a studied silence in front of PM Modi, and later gave lengthy interviews to prominent Indian English newspapers in Delhi itself, proclaiming they were unable to grant anything against the will of the Sinhala majority. That was their response to Modi’s request regarding the Tamil problem. But, no doubt, India would certainly continue to raise the issue.
But the fact is, in the current context, India doesn’t want to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government regarding the domestic political issues. India is not prepared to alienate or contradict Colombo, at a time when India is engaged in strategic moves with the United States to curb China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. Therefore, India does not wish to alienate or get into conflict with the government, and India will not take any action that could embarrass the Rajapaksa government. That is the Geo political reality today.
Therefore, it is more prudent for India to be concerned with economic development than to be at odds with the government over the political issues of the Tamils in the North and East. If the TNA is willing to cooperate with the government in this regard, India is ready to provide assistance for development projects in the Tamil areas. This is India’s current approach to the Tamil issue. If the TNA does not co-operate, it cannot expect anything else from India.
The need, therefore, is for the leaders of the TNA to change their political strategies and action in line with this approach, which India considers convenient at present. Another important question is how they are going to fulfil it.
As far as the TNA is concerned, it cannot be said that they are not at all focused on the economic development of their areas. The MPs of the TNA implement economic projects with the funds allocated to them annually. But aside from the fact that the funds are not adequate, their main focus continues to be a political solution to the ethnic problem. Most of the MPs in TNA speak emotionally and live in the past. In the changed geo-political arena, they are unable to devise new approaches to guide the Tamil people in the post-war period.
Tamils are not accustomed to a political culture that collaborates with the Government in Colombo. As all governments in power since independence have discriminated against Tamils, Tamil political parties have always engaged in oppositional politics. Therefore, it has become customary for Tamils to call politicians who work with the government ‘traitors’. Although it is difficult for Tamils and their political representatives to change from such a political culture, the situation has changed since the end of the war and therefore, it requires a change in their political culture.
When the Maithri-Ranil led government embarked on the process of drafting a new constitution, the TNA collaborated with the government in an attempt to find a political solution to the ethnic problem through that process. Although TNA did not join the government, it fully supported it. As the new constitution drafting process failed, the TNA’s influence among Tamils began to wane. Even co-operating with Colombo was to no avail.
In such a scenario, it is an embarrassment to TNA when India asks it to cooperate with the current Rajapaksa government in economic development activities. This government is pursuing development projects in the north and east without consulting the Tamil MPs in those areas. TNA and other Tamil parties believe that the government should consult with them prior to undertaking any development activities in the Tamil regions. If the government proceeds to adopt a strategy that includes Tamil MPs in its development activities in the North and East, it will be easier for them to co-operate in economic development activities as per India’s insistence. India should use its goodwill to persuade the Rajapaksa government in this matter.
Meanwhile, Tamil parties must not give up the basic aspirations and ideology of the Tamis’ struggle for their legitimate rights; but at the same time they must prepare themselves to adopt a short-term pragmatic political approach or strategies to address the post-war economic and humanitarian needs of the Tamil people, especially given the current context.
The necessity to give up the traditional confrontational politics to facilitate to a new approach in the interests of their people, doesn’t have to necessarily mean surrendering to Colombo dispensation,
The writer is a senior journalist
Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library
Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.
It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.
With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.
As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.
The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.
At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.
When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.
The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!
H M Nissanka Warakaulle
Ali Sabry bashing
Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.
M. A. Kaleel
What do Northern political parties seek?
Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?
Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.
India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.
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