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Who will India support in a Mahinda-Wigneswaran clash?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( September 11, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) When former Supreme Court Judge, C.V. Wigneswaran, was first chosen by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as its chief ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial Council, which is soon to be established, the Tamil Tiger Diaspora levelled serious criticisms against him. The Tamilnet website, the mouthpiece of the Tamil Tigers, expressed its displeasure over the nomination of Wigneswaran in the following scathing attack.

"Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, TNA's Chief Minister candidate in the Northern Provincial Council election under the unitary Constitution of genocidal Sri Lanka, told Hindustan Times at the end of his interview: 'It is natural for friends in Tamil Nadu to show emotions, but the Sri Lankan issue is being used there for political gains. To them, I will only say this: You are welcome to give us any other kind of support, but please allow us to work out our own solutions to our own problems within a united Sri Lanka.'

"Justice Wigneswaran is not justified in making such a statement only against Tamil Nadu polity, that too by taking an extra-mandate liberty in being partial to a 'united Sri Lanka.' Tomorrow, if he is elected as the CM, he would say the people have 'mandated' for a 'united Sri Lanka'. He continues with the treacherous blunder the TNA was forced to commit in the previous elections by the powers behind, the activists in the island observed, adding that keeping Tamil Nadu and the Diaspora quiet is now the task of the forces that had ganged up for the genocide and are now engineering for the structural completion of it."

Wigneswaran's pacifist attitude

It is patently clear from Wigneswaran's interview given to Hindustan Times, especially from its concluding part that he has foreseen the possibility and also his willingness, to deal with the government in a friendly and non-confrontational level to obtain the legitimate powers of the Provincial Council in the North. Wigneswaran's pacifist attitude created some misgivings even among his followers; with some of them fearing he might lose his popularity and thereby lose the number one candidate position in the preferential list. Intra-party conflicts also contributed to this opinion.

Though it is a foregone conclusion that the TNA would easily win the Northern Provincial Council elections, the TNA's unremitting desire is to claim a two-thirds majority in the Council. Wigneswaran's latest utterances, that he wished to re-create the pre-1983 situation in the North, the TNA's policy statement and its insinuations when considered together point to a hardening of attitude towards achieving devolution for the Northern Provincial Council by the Alliance. The rhetoric no longer sounds pacifist as it was in the beginning. Wigneswaran's stated desire to establish pre-1983 situation in the North, in other words, indicates he will strongly push for not only for police powers, but also for land powers and that he is even prepared to fight for it.

In the probable situation that the Northern Provincial Council challenges the government for land power devolution, India's stance in the matter cannot be underestimated. It is quite relevant to consider here the fact that J.R. Jayewardene, while returning from SAARC Heads of States Meeting in Nepal, after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Agreement in 1987, met Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi. At this meeting, it has now come to be known that JR co-signed some vital documents with Rajiv, specifically focusing on land power devolution to the Provincial Councils under the peace agreement. Given below is a copy of the document signed by JR and Rajiv on land power devolution.

New Delhi 7 November 1987

The visit of President J.R. Jayewardene to Delhi provided an opportunity to the sides to review the progress of the implementation of the Indo-Lanka Agreement.

The Indian side pointed out to the Sri Lanka Government the imperative need to incorporate some additional provisions into the proposed legislation in order to make the functioning of the Provincial Councils, and the devolution more meaningful, adequate and self-contained. The Sri Lankan side pointed out that if the draft legislation, now before Parliament, is not passed into law as approved by the Supreme Court, and the Provincial Councils are not immediately set up in their present proposed form, the process of implementation will be avoidably delayed. On the establishment of the Provincial Councils, the legislation creating them and their functioning as referred to at the discussions will be given the most serious and urgent consideration and steps will be taken to include such changes as are mutually deemed necessary for more effective devolution, better functioning of the proposed Provincial Councils and for the complete implementation of the Indo-Lanka Agreement.

On 7 November, President Jayewardene and Prime Minister Gandhi signed another agreement in New Delhi. However, this document has been kept secret up to now, and pertain mostly to matters concerning North-Eastern Sri Lanka.

1. Size of the Provincial Councils
2. Size of the Board of Ministers
3. Governor's discretionary powers
4. Parliament's powers to amend the devolution package
5. Parliament's powers to legislate on subjects in the Provincial List
6. Matters relating to the Interim Provision (Section 37)
7. Emergency Provisions
8. Imposition of the President's rule on the ground of failure of the Governor to comply with directives
9. Provincial Council List
10. Problems with regard to land and land settlement
11. Any other matters by mutual agreement
Signed: Rajiv Gandhi Signed: J.R. Jayewardene Dated: 7 November 1987 Dated: 7 November 1987

Presidential term limit

By this time Rajiv strongly believed that for the successful implementation of the peace agreement and devolution necessities JR should continue to be President for a third successive term. When JR was in India, Rajiv had reportedly requested him to contest the 1988 Presidential Election, to which JR was also agreeable.

After coming back from India, he appointed a committee comprising members from the United National Party's Working Committee to look into the possibility of amending constitutional restraint of limiting Presidential term of office to two terms. However, he had to discard his ambition for a third term of office as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was engaged in a destructive rebellion at that time.

Ranasinghe Premadasa, who emerged victorious in the 1988 Presidential Election, was not much impressed with Varatharajah Perumal, the then Chief Minister of the North-Eastern Province; actually Premadasa saw him as an Indian agent. The book Tigers of Lanka has this to say about their inter-relations at that time.

"Initially, Premadasa was not interested in meeting Varatharajah Perumal, the Chief Minister of North-East Provincial Government. It was after some measure of persuasion by the Indian High Commission that he agreed to receive the Chief Minister. After the meeting, Premadasa told his Cabinet on 18 January 1989, that he directed the ministry concerned to devolve all powers and functions to the Provincial Councils within a week.

"The relationship Varatharajah Perumal and Premadasa was at its best in the first two months. Perumal would address the President 'Sir' while Premadasa called the Chief Minister 'Varthan'. Both apparently saw in each other a common background – humble beginnings, perseverance and eventually the pinnacle of power. They would spend hours without aides at the President's office, despite the differences over the NEPG. During those heady days it was popularly believed – and correctly to some extent – that Annamalai Vartharajah Perumal was the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka, after the President. He was very close to the President. And there was almost nothing that could not be got done through Perumal."

Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas by M.R. Narayan Swamy, page 296.

However, when President Premadasa started negotiations with LTTE Leader V. Prabhakaran, his attempt to dissolve North-Eastern Provincial Council created a conflict of interest between the two, resulting in a face off. In this instance, India stood on the side of Perumal, yet it could not do much to help him as the LTTE would not allow it.

India's resolute stance at a time when the TNA-led Northern Provincial Council goes into conflict mode with the government over devolution will, in all probability, write the destiny of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's regime.

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