| by Victor Cherubim
( January 25, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) A cross party delegation of young, first time elected Sri Lankan Members of Parliament, on their fourth annual visit to London, were perhaps fortunate to meet with a select cross-section of Tamil Diaspora politicians and Borough Councillors of all parties, including two among the five Tamils elected as Mayors of their respective Boroughs in London.
For the first time a face to face, exclusive meeting among Sri Lankan and diaspora politicians of both communities, was held, within earshot of Westminster Abbey, London. This event at Garrett Anderson Room, Abbey Centre, London SW1 on 24 January 2014, was a long overdue move in reconciliation, without fanfare.
On their previous three consecutive visits, sponsored by International Alert, UK, these same MP’s met many varied gatherings of Tamil Diaspora. These meetings were more confrontational. Observers felt, those who settled in the West, as refugees and expatriates had their own reasons for raising vexing questions, of these visitors to UK, without allowing for dialogue.
Quite naturally on this occasion, it was the group of politicians of Sri Lanka fielding questions from local government politicians of the diaspora, in a common language, of politics by politicians. Strange as it seems, Chatham House rules were observed. But there were no holds barred in mutual communication, avoiding vituperation.
The aim is for a more permanent solution
Many issues were raised with the main concern that at the end of the day, the aim was for a more permanent solution of the national question, for the betterment of all peoples of Sri Lanka. The diaspora Councillors argued that the diaspora was perceived as anti Sri Lanka. It was felt that their common bonds to their motherland were not adequately acknowledged. However, grievances were ironed out without ambiguity.
The Opposition Sri Lankan MP’s, Messrs Harin Fernando, M.P for Badulla District and Niroshan Perera, M.P for Puttalam District, were keen to push forward and address not only issues of freedom of speech, good governance but stated their recommendations embodied in their report after their last visit to UK, was submitted to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and circulated among Government and Opposition alike. Issues of demilitarisation, the nomination of a “universal” day of mourning, were some of their suggestions in the report. The Puttlam MP emphasised solving specific issues, including the fishing issue in the North and the dispute resolution with Indian fishermen was paramount.
Both of them were trying to canvass support without antagonising senior MP’s of both sides, for an understanding and appreciation of diaspora concerns, without “demonising” the diaspora - a difficult task.
Government Party and Diaspora opinion
The Government Party SLFP MP’s, Messrs Vasantha Senanayake ,M.P. for Gampaha District and Eric Weerawardhana, M.P for Kandy District, highlighted the small but meaningful achievements of the Group of young MP’s in areas of their recommendations to Government, which was being considered. Admittedly, the notion of victor and loser is not conducive to reconciliation. The Gampaha M.P. mooted that not only the set up of a Remembrance Day, but the erstwhile work done by Minister Vasu Nanayakkara, of National Languages and Social Integration, in enabling the work of government offices in all three languages in all Provinces, the recent Police recruits of 240 officers, able to work in all languages, was a move, in the right direction.
The Gampaha District MP further stated that though much of what is being done could be considered as small progress, (“too little, too late”), issues like the completion of mine clearance in the North, the repatriation of Tamil and Muslim IDP’s and particularly “his suggestion” to the Parliamentary Select Committee, for constitutional reform, is notable and receiving attention.
New Constitution for Sri Lanka
“A new Constitution for Sri Lanka, though accepted (in principle) by the PSC, is yet to be achieved. My campaign for Women’s Rights, both for Tamils and Sinhalese and a fairer representation of women in Parliament, as recommended among both senior and younger MP’s is embodied in my recommendations of a New Constitution, stated M.P. Vasantha Senanayake, .
M.P. Weerawardhana, added, he was sceptical accompanying the Group during his first visit, but now recognises (appreciates) that reasonable concerns of the diaspora need addressing. TNA representative in the Group, Ragu, though not an M.P, admitted he was carrying a bigger burden among his colleagues in the group, but felt that taking the pain of anger and hurt, out of the mind of youth today, could contribute to the healing process, of the generation to follow. Hunais Farook. UPFA M.P. for Vanni District and National Coordinator ACMC, welcomed the contribution of the diaspora for progress and hoped that the Cross Party support of the Group, was a good forum for dialogue.
Other meetings with diaspora in London
The spotlight on Sri Lanka in the HR Assembly in Geneva in March, hangs like a sword of Damocles. The Badulla MP acknowledged that the more there was criticism by the West of Sri Lanka, the more the President and his Government, was able to garner support among the masses in Sri Lanka. This was an undeniable fact, even for the Opposition UNP.
Cllr. Paul Sathianesan of London Borough of Newham chaired the meeting of Diaspora Councillors and politicians exhorted the Sri Lankan MP’s to listen to mandate of the people.
Other Diaspora meetings also scheduled at different venues, with the same Sri Lankan MP’s, including a wider group session at Park Plaza County Hall, London SE1 on 25 Jan.2014.