( February 11, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Various successive Sri Lankan governments since independence have been taking the Tamil speaking peoples for granted but never more than what the Rajapaksa regime has been doing in recent times.
Not more than a month ago President Rajapaksa at the opening of the cancer hospital in the north of Sri Lanka, announced to the Tamil people that the number of the army personnel therein had been reduced to less than 12,000 persons. This number is even far less than the number prior to what obtained in the early 1960s when the Sri Lankan government, after the passage of the Sinhala only Act, fearing reprisals from the Tamils, were progressively building up their forces in the north especially in Thallady, Mullilkulam and Silavaturai in the Mannar district and in Palaly and other northern coastal areas in the guise of apprehending illegal immigrants said to have been coming towards Mannar and for the prevention of smuggling while the army and navy personnel prospered in helping the smugglers to carry on with their trade with State patronage as it were.
We are not however lamenting on Rajapaksa's lie about the number of the army personnel stationed in the north. This is not the first time that he has taken the Tamil people for granted by deception.
We are more concerned, however about the disappointment of the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Wigneswaran who has in the recent past articulated his frustration in a few public forums. Wigneswaran, it must be remembered, was a highly respected Supreme Court judge who rarely or never minced his words nor did he play or pander to the gallery. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as the principal political party of the Tamils nominated Wigneswaran to lead the TNA at the NPC elections which it won with a resounding victory while the person who led the opposition from the EPDP is in jail awaiting trial for murder. What an ironical contrast? The leader of the EPDP which is a constituent party in the alliance of Rajapaksa's ruling UPFA is in no way a lesser criminal.
Wigneswaran while being frustrated about the manner in which the army applying the same strong arm tactics that they did prior to his being elected has been a hindrance to his approach to his own governance especially in having forcibly taken over agricultural lands from the displaced peasants denying not only their livelihood but they are also being forced to purchase agricultural produce for their sustenance from the army.
Wigneswaran's grouse is also that his civilian staff having been used to the provincial governor's approach to administration have problems in adjusting to the methods of civilian administration with the civilian staff having been used to the ways of the military administration.
It appears that the civilian administrative staff coming within the supervision of the chief Secretary Mrs. Wijyaludchumi of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service who is not an officer of the military have either still not adjusted themselves to the new civil administration or in being inflexible, refuse to do so, which appears to be quite strange and unfair to the people of the north and their new civilian administration. Obviously the administrative leadership fails in evincing flexibility perhaps due to their previous allegiances to other political persuasions whatever they may be. Being in a transferable service the obvious alternative for the centre is for such officers to be changed so that officers amenable to the new administration could be brought in fairness to the people who elected the new administration.
In a dual form of administration now prevailing in the north, we agree that having been used to a military administration for the past six years there are bound to be systemic problems in the smooth transformation to a political and administrative devolution hamstrung by bureaucratic and dogmatic differences with the aspirations and the needs of the people falling between two stools. This does not mean that the Tamil people, especially the agrarian people should be held to ransom.
In hindsight from Rajapaksa's attitude towards the delivery of services to the people it is now becoming increasingly clear that he consented to the devolution of power in the north through elections to the provincial Councils purely for expediency in order to tide over perceived problems at the CHOGM.
Despite boasts by the Rajapaksa regime of massive infrastructure development made possible with loans from China it is reported that there are still in the north thousands of widows and seriously disabled/injured people, who are living in this region without any assistance and are facing immense suffering and hardship financially, mentally and physically. In Mullaithivu district alone, there are 5265 widows, 1248 widowers, 4524 women headed families and 3351 disabled persons including 1786 persons who became disabled as a result of the war. Data available for Mullaithivu district indicates that there are nearly 84% of the total families earn less than Rs 5000 per month and around 18% earn less than Rs 1500 per month. There is only 26% of the total employable that are in some kind of employment.
Besides Wigneswaran and his council being given a raw deal it obvious that the Tamil people are being continued to be taken for granted by all the players concerned.
(The writer is the editor of the Eelam Nation, an online journal)