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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
Alliance plays politics with Tamil parties
26th May 1996
Everything appears to be going smooth for the government in the peninsula militarily - except for some minor isolated attacks.
The LTTE has vanished into the Vanni without offering even token resistance to the final phase of the army's operations to recapture the peninsula. Civil administration might be back to normal in a few months.
Even the President , according to some reports, is scheduled to visit Jaffna soon to be welcomed most probably by enthusiastic crowds - the motives of which might be traced to the dictates of prudence than to suppressed political devotion.
The peninsula can be a very attractive prize to the PA leadership politically - a prize which the pragmatic side of a politician's psyche, despite the moral high ground which he or she may profess to occupy, will find hard to resist.
There are, on paper, at least 500,000 votes in Jaffna. The district returns ten members to Parliament. As things stand today, Jaffna is , among other things, a strategically large captive vote bank.
When things start to look a bit bleak in the south for a politician such vote banks among the minorities become indispensable. This has been the case at every election since the1988 Presidential polls. In that election a captive Tamil vote bank in the north and east which was ensured by the Indian army and its allies to Premadasa helped him immensely to counterbalance an adverse political tide in the south.
In dealing with a potential captive vote bank in the peninsula, the government faces a dilemma. If it allows the Tamil parties to operate there, they can, in due course, assuming that the LTTE continues to be quiet, dilute the captive vote bank and make it a complex affair instead Ñ by increasing their bargaining power by carving out their own minor captive vote blocks and worse, dangle them before the UNP as well at a politically critical conjuncture.
The PA leadership and the ex-Tamil militant groups are very well aware that it will only be a matter of time before they (the Tamil groups) can establish their own captive vote niches in the peninsula.
On the other hand denying them access to Jaffna can lead to tensions which may have a bearing on the government's precarious position in Parliament.
The PA could find itself in an awkward situation if the PLOTE and the EPDP, which between them have twelve MPs , are away in Madras seeking a parley with Karunanidhi on the day the next vote on the extension of the islandwide emergency is taken in Parliament.
The government, wittingly or unwittingly, found a way out of the quandary last week by offering to take the five Tamil party alliance to Jaffna on a limited visit. The offer has exacerbated the problem rather acting as the palliative it was patently intended to be. There is too much at stake for the Tamil parties to go along with the government's line on this issue.
Nevertheless the five Tamil parties are hoping to send some members to Jaffna either on Tuesday or Wednesday. They finally got the permission at a meeting with the Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva on Thursday.
Although the green light was given, all the problems and doubts which have strained relations between the government and the five Tamil party alliance over the Jaffna visit since Operation Riviresa Two, remain undiminished.
The Defence Secretary told Douglas Devananda, Dharmalingam Siddharthan, Suresh Premachandran, Vinothalingam (leader of TELO), Srikantha and Sutha master (EROS) that they could not take any weapons, including those for personal security, and could stay there for three days. The Tamil groups were told they had to make their own arrangements for food and lodging. The Tamil parties were quite dismayed by this and most leaders decided not to go and instead send second level leaders. (Sidharthan, however, has not been so enthusiastic about going to Jaffna all along. )
They are also quite suspicious of the reports and claims that the people in Jaffna were generally opposed to their return. They strongly feel that this is orchestrated by interested parties which are close to the government.
One of them said that he could detect, underneath all this, a desire on the part of the government to gain a political foothold in the peninsula.
Another said that the government's suggestion that they should make their own arrangements for food and lodging may have been made with a view to expose them to public protest. The reports in the press quoting returnees in Valigamam, and the government's insistence that the people of Jaffna have expressed their opposition to the return of the non-LTTE groups, are according to some of them, a possible build up to an orchestrated mass protest against their visit to Jaffna.
This, even if it were to be on a small scale and much localised, could be blown out of proportion by the media in the south which has been harping on this issue since the objectives of Riviresa Three were realised in the Thenmaradchi sector, they say.
Mr. Devananda is, among the ex Tamil militant leaders , the one most annoyed by the government's response to the request made by him personally and by the five party alliance for permission to visit Jaffna.
We did not ask to go on a sightseeing trip like tourists. We told the government that we have to go to Jaffna and be with our people. I am thouroughly disappointed with the government's attitude on this matter he said.
He also pointed out that it was customary to inform the M.P of an electorate in advance, if a minister intends making an official visit to that area. He had come to know that the leader and members of the of the Sudu Nelum movement had been to Jaffna from the media.
The leaders of the five Tamil party alliance say that the manner in which the government rushed the Sudhu Nelum movement to Jaffna makes its intentions very suspect. The Sudu Nelum is an arm of the SLFP, they say.
WE have to think that the government is aiming at a politico-military monopoly of the peninsula, especially in the context of its inability to find a political solution, by sending in the Sudu Nelum after bringing the peninsula under the army's control Ò said Mr. Devananda who on Thursday and Friday met many government ministers and MPs in Parliament and took up the matter with them. He had told them, among other things, that when the government says that the EPDP and others are disliked by the people of Jaffna, it should remember that the unpopularity of the ex-militant groups was due to the support they extend to the PA in Parliament.
The five parties met on Saturday afternoon to discuss these developements. A suggestion was made by Sutha master that the Tamil parties should request the government to permit them to carry some food and clothing to distribute among the people there who are yet to resettle in their villages. If the government were to deny this the Tamil groups are bound to question its bona fides in Jaffna.
Despite all this the government may still feel that ultimately the non-LTTE Tamil groups will have to toe the line on account of their dependence on it for material support.
If this is the case then the PA leadership will eventually find that it has been naive in this aspect of the ethnic question as well.
It may be too late by then.