Can TNA sustain its ‘Big Brother’ role in North East to 2020?

With more than half the country’s Sri Lankan Tamil speaking communities living outside North and East Provinces of the country, to call the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) elected only by the people of North and East provinces as the ‘sole representatives of the Tamil speaking communities’ would be a contradiction, but are considered by many as the ‘Big Brother’. Therefore to sustain this role and to meet its obligations to the Tamil speaking people the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) holding on to the leadership of TNA, must first put their ‘TNA house’ in order to get all members of the alliance behind them and together work with all other political parties representing the Tamil speaking minority communities in the country to come up with a realistic course of action on the interim report of the steering committee on constitution matters, before it is taken up for review in the constitution assembly this month. Such a common course of action by TNA would help to produce a constitution acceptable to all the Sri Lankan Tamil speaking communities. Then all the Tamil speaking legislators should work hard together to win over the support of the Sinhala legislators to get the New Constitution passed with two third majorities in parliament and thereafter people will give a ‘yes’ vote automatically in a referendum. Only then TNA can sustain its ‘Big Brother’ role to 2020 the election year.

After 2015 for the past two years, the northerners in particular have seen many episodes of the “Big Brother” or “Big Boss” show of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which displays from a demographic perspective, how these politicians representing the Sri Lankan Tamil minorities react when forced into situations with people outside of their comfort zone having different opinions or ideals, or from a different socioeconomic group. It has demonstrated to the people how TNA opponents’ reacts to them as a political force from the outside and to the control of Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) in particular over the other alliance partners inside. These reactions range from angry confrontations to genuine and tender opinions on the problems of the people left unresolved after eight years of ending the civil war in 2009.

The current political manifesto and polices of the TNA request a power sharing arrangements established in a unit of a merged Northern and Eastern Provinces based on a Federal structure, in a manner acceptable to the Tamil Speaking Muslim people. Devolution of power on the basis of shared sovereignty shall necessarily be over land, law and order, socio-economic development including health and education, resources and fiscal powers. TNA stands for a meaningful de-militarization resulting in the return to the pre-war situation as it existed in 1983 before the commencement of hostilities by the removal of armed forces, military apparatuses and High Security or Restricted Zones from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. TNA wants the Tamil People who have been displaced in the North and the East due to the conflict resettled in their original places; housing provided, their livelihoods restored and their dignity respected. TNA insists that an independent International Investigation must be conducted into the allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws made against both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE during the last stages of the war, the truth ascertained and justice to victims and reparation including compensation ensured. Further demand that persons who are detained without charges must be released promptly and a general amnesty granted to all other political prisoners; finality reached with regard to thousands of missing persons and compensation must be paid to the next of kin; Tamils who fled the country must be permitted to return to their homes and a conducive atmosphere created for their return. Finally a comprehensive plan for the development of the North and East including the creation of employment opportunities for the youth will be undertaken with the active support of the Sri Lankan State, the Tamil Diaspora and the International Community. But it is true that many have been critical in particular on the recommendations made by TNA for inclusion in the New Constitution, with a view to resolve the basic causes of the said unresolved problems.

With all the political parties coming together after the 2015 General Elections and converting the Parliament into the Constitution Assembly there were hopes of getting a new constitution for the country. Surprisingly, it was the first time the Sri Lankan Tamils represented in parliament by TNA has got involved in the actual constitution making process. For their representatives in 1972 Tamil United Front (TUF) and in 1978 Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) kept away from constitution making process. This time round TNA are fully involved and with ITAK leadership has no course to fear about the final outcome, taking into consideration there will have be some compromises made on what they want and what they get. For that it is very important that ITAK holding on to TNA leadership, first put the ‘TNA House’ in order and get the views of all the parties in the alliance and review with them the interim report proposals to the new constitution on matters like retaining Buddhism in its present position with protective clauses to enable other faiths to be practiced anywhere in the island; that the country will remain undivided and for the power to repeal the constitution remains with the parliament, etc. Therefore TNA must first come to terms with this reality, be united as act in a single voice both in the constitution assembly and outside.

Earlier TNA was formed as a political alliance out of necessity between moderate Tamil nationalist parties and few former militant groups in 2001 to contest on a common platform the parliamentary election. It is also a fact that TNA originally supported self-determination for an autonomous state and supported negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to resolve the civil war; was considered a political proxy of the LTTE which selected some of its candidates. It must be said TNA had failed to support the present Prime Minister, who’s only real hope of victory was through the support of the island’s ethnic minorities, given his generally more conciliatory stance on the ethnic issue. It is now history as to who won the 2010 presidential election and how the new president was able to bring the civil war to an end and not surprisingly following the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, TNA were looked upon by all as the sole representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Ironically, at the 2010 presidential election the TNA supported the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, who had played a key role in the LTTE’s defeat as the common opposition candidates. But TNA has consistently campaigned for an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes; for there were widespread allegations that both sides committed atrocities and human rights violations including war crimes. The TNA and its supporters have been subject to numerous attacks during its existence, that includes three of its sitting Members of Parliament been assassinated, allegedly by previous regime backed rival groups. In March 2010 the TNA dropped its demand for a separate Tamil state, advocating instead a federal solution with significant devolution and merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces was ready to accept regional self-rule. At the 2015 presidential election the TNA supported the common opposition candidate and on elected the President formed the national unity government; while TNA saying that a political solution must first be found to address Tamil grievances and though invited opted not to join the new government. Thereafter, the unregistered TNA contested under the banner ITAK at the 2015 General Elections; currently has 16 members in parliament and controls the provincial government in the Northern Province and is part of the provincial government in the Eastern Province and also controls 33 local authorities in the north and east. The TNA was however represented by its leader on the National Executive Council and is also the Leader of the Opposition in parliament.

The TNA must accept the reality that merger of North and East provinces was feasible thirty-years earlier in 1987 not today in 2017; therefore need to come up with all other Tamil speaking minority parties in the country first to make a common stance on the matter; without wasting time on a fruitless exercise of sticking to the 1948 declaration for federation by ITAK. For the Federal System is feasible only if there is a reverse colonization undertaken to get the demography back to the 1948 status. Bitter Truth is that the current leadership of TNA is with ITAK, does not make them as the sole representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamils, first there are others in the alliance and last but not least there will be nothing more than the devolution already granted under the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. But there will be only changes accommodated for the full implementation of the Accord, such as removal of concurrent list and perhaps the second chamber to ensure smooth majority rule safeguarding the interests of the minorities in a union of provinces.