The common question from people in northeast of Sri Lanka today is why the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) representing them in the legislature should not be denounced as they have failed to serve the people who elected them to parliament; that TNA should be replaced by another alliance made up of national minded parties to represent them in parliament to prevent Tamil Nationalism getting lost into history. Though this assessment appears to be correct, there is more to it than what gets filtered through the media on this subject. Perhaps it is true that years have passed and TNA’s only achievement was propping up the unity government in good faith without any thought for the suffering people who had sent them to parliament. All the while these people were roughing it out to the elements in the war torn rural villages in North and East provinces, but excludes a few who were fortunate to get financial assistance direct from their relatives overseas or and many others from diaspora organizations and local well-wishers; then there were few assistance received from the state distributed to few people by their elected representatives in government. All that helped them to be alive, but in total it failed to uplift the lives of the affected people.
Earlier, as politicians TNA helped the government and it was on that basis opted to occupy opposition benches in parliament the past four years. TNA did play an active role when the parliament was turned into a constitution assembly to prepare a new constitution and then with members of other minority political parties did democratically foil the attempts to form an unlawful government towards the latter half of last year. Unfortunately, all this only gave negative signals to the people as southern political parties’ aired views that the prominence given to their Buddhist faith would be lost and that North and East Provinces would be merged back to give a Federal form of government. While opponents in the country and elsewhere openly criticized TNA for working with the government that was not paying much attention to resolve urgent needs of their people, certainly these denunciations were not favourable to TNA to say the least.
Whereas in the past four years, if the TNA legislators had worked hand in hand with the political leadership in their two provinces along with academics, professionals and other officials, then the damage caused by the conflict could have been repaired considerably and progressed towards lasting reconciliation., TNA using the two provincial council governments should have in the past four years played a more aggressive role to develop the war ravaged north and east provinces. True at first then government did not have a proper national plan for development, instead worked on many white elephant projects for example it built an international airport down south that is today perhaps the most underutilized airport in the world, while the airports in north and east provinces ravaged by war were not renovated for public use. TNA were blind to all this and the excuse given by its leadership was that as the need to get the lost rights of their people restored before taking ministerial posts in government they did not concentrate on development efforts of the government. But this does not hold water any more, as elections are around the corner they are now making an all-out efforts in that direction.
Now that the central government has a master plan for future long-term growth and development of the Northern Province, based on an economic development framework drafted by an independent committee of academics and professionals from the North. It reflects the current socio-economic challenges in the province and possible remedies and recommendations which help identify priorities for a master plan for economic development over the next decade. Few examples of this initiative includes rebuilding the Myliddy Harbour for the long displaced small scale fishing families who are now able to return to their land; an Economic Centre is being built in Jaffna for small farmers to find better prices for their produce; a grain storage centre in Kilinochchi for farmers to store their harvest all of which would support the revival of the war-affected people.
TNA needs to study check these long-term recommendations for the two provinces, as the government has a similar plan for the Eastern Province too, to satisfy that these and other similar projects would help to improve the environment that facilitates production development at provincial level to alleviate vulnerabilities of the communities it aims to serve. At the same time it would be beneficial to their people, giving importance to rebuilding the two provinces by addressing a range of post-conflict issues including reconciliation, empowering communities, providing relief for marginalised women and to address the concerns of the war-affected. Any shortfalls should be reviewed with the central and provincial governments by TNA and thereafter work with the authorities to implement them; to enable these people to come out of their miseries and engage in economic activities to propel growth to help in growth of the national economy to benefit all.
Perhaps the former Chief Minister of Northern Province should be invited to serve the Tamil community once more to give leadership to keep Tamil Nationalism alive within a “United Sri Lanka” that was operational under the first constitution with all the checks and balance. Under this new leadership perhaps TNA would bring back in to its fold those political parties that left and accommodate other Tamil parties not in the alliance that would make a good proposition for TNA to face the 2020 general elections.
Thereafter TNA could work with the new government in power to reinstate those elements from the first constitution into a new constitution; while commencing on a programme to take care of those disadvantaged people dispersed all over north and east provinces. The merger of North and East provinces is feasible only if the people in the two provinces through love, cool the hot political environment that TNA helped to keep with hate for over a decade. Already to avoid people denunciating them the TNA leadership has begun working with the government to get through as many assistance as possible to the people before the 2020 General Elections.
Sri Lankan Tamils, in particular those living in north and east provinces who are mostly represented in parliament by TNA must understand there is no easy way out of this mess and breaking away to form new political party is an outdated ploy. For it would only further disintegrate the Tamils as there are more than enough divisions to cope at present with each pulling in different direction. But it is enough reason for TNA to clean up its leadership, even it means making changes at the top democratically for nobody own it but people, then start on a balanced strategy to get the government in power to meet the necessities of the people. Thereafter TNA with other minority political parties of Tamil speaking people agree on a share of rule with the alliance of the large political party forming the government under one man one vote democracy in a united country.
Rebuking TNA is a sterile thought, remembering “Unity is Strength”,
Sri Lankan Tamils must decide on the fate of TNA sooner than later!