Champika’s overture to TNA | Daily News

Champika’s overture to TNA

In what could be considered as a groundbreaking move, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka has invited the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to become Cabinet Ministers in the UNF Government so that they could coordinate the Government’s development activities in the North in a more effective way.

Speaking at a meeting that followed his inspection of the long distance and main bus stand terminals in Jaffna over the weekend, the minister recalled that since M. Thiruchelvam, no politician from the North belonging to a mainstream political party has been a minister in a Government adding that only those who were outside the mainstream political parties and appendages of the ruling party were made ministers.

This, he said, prevented governments from carrying out development in a scientific way in the North since these appendages only worked towards increasing their political stock and not concerned about the long term development goals in the region. The minister, of course, was referring to many Tamil politicians who allied themselves with the party in power, more for personal gain than any interest in the people's welfare. Thiruchelvam was the Minister of Local Government and Housing in Dudley's Hath Havula (Coalition) Government but quit his post in 1968 paving the way for his deputy Ranasinghe Premadasa to step into his shoes.

Another reason behind the minister's offer, as he himself claimed, was the need for revival of the industries and the fame acquired in the education sector in the North which could only be achieved with the active participation of the TNA in a more pro-active capacity and it is only by becoming ministers that such success would be forthcoming. Hence, the minister earnestly requested the likes of M.S. Sumanthiran to accept portfolios in the Government to make this a reality, adding that in the same way the TNA acted recently to protect democracy it was his hope that the party would take a decision for the well-being of the Northern population.

Many feel that the TNA should consider the minister's invitation favourably if for no other reason than who he is. Minister Ranawaka, it should be noted, is known to be a dyed in the wool nationalist and one of the pioneers of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) of which he is still a front-line member. His overture to the TNA, therefore, bears more than a symbolic significance. Had the invitation been made by the UNP leaders there was bound to be allegations of pandering to the separatists or working to the agenda of the Tamil Diaspora and what have you, from the nationalist lobby.

However coming as it does from an individual such as Ranawaka with his strong nationalist background, the protests are bound to be muted. In fact Ranawaka may even be able to carry with him a sizable segment of the Bhikku community, being a leading member of a political party with a Buddhist identity, including the Mahanayakes.

Needless to say, such an eventuality would offer much scope for the success of the ongoing reconciliation efforts and even have some resonance at the Geneva sessions that is due to take up Sri Lanka's case next month.

Minister Ranawaka, no doubt, has risked his popularity in the South in making this overture to a Tamil party which openly consorted with the LTTE during the war years, albeit for compelling reasons. However, the move could also be viewed as an act of statesmanship on the part of a politician who is readily identified with the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist stream.

There has not been any response as yet from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the minister's invitation or from his acolytes such as Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila who are sure to brand the move as outright heresy. Perhaps, with the Presidential Elections round the corner, Rajapaksa may not want to overly antagonize the Northern voter, lest this affect the fortunes of a candidate of his choice, being well aware of his own debacle brought about by the voters of the North.

It is also not clear how the invite is going to be viewed by the Northern voter vis-a-vis the UNP. We say this because there is still a sizable section of the Tamil population in the North who are wedded to the separatist ideology and would have no truck with “Sinhala Governments”. For these segments, development matters not so much as the opportunity to live with dignity and self-respect which they accuse governments of denying them by refusing to grant them any degree of autonomy.

The TNA which is well attuned to these sentiments, too, may not want to lose out, what with the likes of Vigneswaran taking up the cause of these elements and gaining popularity in the Northern political landscape. This could well be the reason why the TNA has yet to respond to the call. Enjoying the perks and privileges of Ministerial office while Vigneswaran plays the role of the Messiah to the Tamils in the North may not be a sobering thought to the TNA. 


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