| by Upul Joseph Fernando

'Justice Vigneswaran has consented to a media interview regarding growing threats against the judiciary.'

( July 24, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Editor of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga, who was brutally gunned down in 2009, spoke of C.V. Vigneswaran's decision to talk to the media with some surprise. It happened close on the heels of a Supreme Court order to imprison S.B. Dissanayake for contempt of Court. None had the nerve, nor dared, to challenge the then Chief Justice, Sarath N. Silva.

It was at such a time that Vigneswaran came forward to talk about the breakdown in the system of justice in the country under Chief Justice, Sarath N. Silva, during the government of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

In that interview, Vignenswaran did not talk about either Norway or the Norway-sponsored peace process. Instead, he harshly criticized the erosion of law and order and the rule of law in the country affecting all communities, be they Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims.

Vigneswaran, who has much unpretentious credentials, has now thrown down the gauntlet, entering the fray for the coveted Chief Minister post. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which succeeded in getting a unanimous vote over his nomination, has earned kudos from one and all for its choice of a crusader for rule of law as the Chief Ministerial candidate.

Political minnows

One could ask why the United National Party (UNP) could not or would not adopt such an innovative political strategy. This is a good question by all means. Before the all encompassing might of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, the UNP too, like the TNA has contracted to the size of political minnows.

The TNA and the Tamil anti-government elements inherited this ignominious fate as a direct consequence of Rajapaksa's war victory. The Tamils were able to stand on their own when the Tamil Tiger Supremo, V. Prabhakaran, was ruling the roost in the North. However, when Rajapaksa broke the back of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and destroyed Prabhakaran, the Tamils were left without a lifeline to hang onto. The TNA and the Tamils were left without leaders of any consequence. The LTTE had made certain that no claimant to leadership was left behind to lead the Tamil people.

Any leader who could be a threat to the LTTE leadership was mercilessly destroyed. Appapillai Amirthalingam, Siva Sittampalam, Neelan Tiruchelvam et al were summarily dispatched and Veerasingham Anandasangaree was rendered an impotent politician. Prabhakaran allowed only a puppet troupe of innocuous and inconsequential politicians to operate under the TNA label.

And with Prabhakaran's downfall, they turned out to be a rudderless ship floating aimlessly in a sea full of hopelessness. Analysts were predicting a break-up and a requiem for the TNA, which had only India's help and nothing else to depend on.

Then in a brilliant display of political maturity, the TNA selected Vigneswaran to contest the Northern Provincial Council election as its Chief Ministerial candidate. At a very crucial moment, the TNA found a leader for the Tamil people, who could challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa in the political chess games ahead.

The UNP is in the same predicament as the TNA. The Party is in shambles after repeated election debacles. Mahinda Rajapaksa's war victory caused havoc for the UNP, similar to what it did to the TNA. After many desertions from its ranks, it has now become a lame duck political entity. Rajapaksa's sleight of hand political manoeuvre now keeps the ineffectual remnants of the Opposition on constant tenterhooks. In fact, they are reduced to dancing to Rajapaksa's tune. He knows very well the Opposition's election fortunes are constantly in the wane.

Challenging Mahinda Rajapaksa

In this backdrop, those who oppose the government are looking for a leader who could give leadership to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa on the political turf; just like the Tamils discovered Vigneswaran. It is reminiscent of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) discovering Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994, to challenge the then government at the Western Provincial Council election. She became its Chief Minister and later led the Party to a remarkable election victory in the General Election to become Prime Minister. Vigneswaran, in like manner is hitching his wagon to the soaring popularity among Tamil people to become their leader by winning the North and becoming its Chief Minister.

With the arrest and incarceration of Sarath Fonseka just after the Presidential Election in 2010, the biggest challenge to Mahinda Rajapaksa was posed by the Judiciary, when he removed Chief Justice,
Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, through an impeachment motion brought against her in Parliament. In quick succession to the unfolding politico legal drama, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka also elected a maverick lawyer, Upul Jayasuriya, as its president adding more muscle to a probable legal putsch from opposition ranks. Vigneswaran from North too carries the legal mantle by the very fact that he is a former Justice of the Supreme Court. He was also an active participant in Shirani's camp during the time of the impeachment.

Does this mean Shirani Bandaranayake should come forward to challenge the powers that be?

It is in the hands of opposition parties. If the Opposition in the South possesses the same maturity and wisdom displayed by the TNA in the North, the above conjecture will not be too far off the mark.