Can Sri Lankan Tamils expect India to intervene to help them claim their rights? 

File photo of Tamil Province CM CV Wigneswaran

CM of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province CV Wigneswaran has said the interventions made by India in Sri Lanka and India’s importance make it vital for Tamils to continue their friendship with India

Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province CV Wigneswaran was hesitant as a political entrant. Yet he has asserted himself as a stubbornly principled Tamil Nationalist leader. His opinions after the end of Sri Lankan civil war have largely influenced the course of Sri Lankan Tamil political discussions. We could differ with some of the views of Wigneswaran, but he has managed to establish himself as a leader.

In September 2013, Wigneswaran, a former apex court judge, contested the election as the CM candidate of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). He won handsomely and became the first Chief Minister of Northern Province. It did not take long to alienate himself from the stances of the Tamil National Alliance. It was also easier for forces seeking an alternative to TNA to identify themselves as close to the Chief Minister. In Sri Lankan Tamil media, Wigneswaran has become a very important personality (he is also at present consultant editor of Express Newspapers (Ceylon) Ltd). Thus, the views expressed by Wigneswaran on India’s role in Sri Lankan ethnic national issue demands attention.

In a speech he had recently delivered at a meeting of the Tamil People Forum in Jaffna, Wigneswaran indicated that there could be a conflict of opinions with some of his comrades on approaching India on finding a political solution for the national question. “Certain political parties are against our maintaining ties with India. They probably hold India also responsible for what happened on the final days of civil war. Situation was different then. It is different now. There are also people among us who believe that without India’s support, it will be difficult for the Tamils of North and East to achieve their legitimate political aspirations. It is imperative to remove the differences between us. It is impossible to arrive at a consensus on every issue. But it is possible to understand each other without agreeing and march forward,” Wigneswaran said.

The remarks came under the scanner in both mainstream and social media. Pointing to his statement on India’s support, some critics wondered if the people he referred to included him too. Days later, Wigneswaran expressed concern about how his views on the importance of India’s role and its moral obligation to find a political solution, is being misconstrued as his appeasement to India. It is notable that he said that in a farewell event organised for A Natarajan, the Indian deputy counsel who was returning to India.

“The interventions made by India at various levels for the last four decades in the Sri Lankan national question and India’s importance in the present geopolitics make it vital for Tamils to continue their friendship with India with much more honesty and political diplomacy. This will tremendously aid the Tamils’ efforts to claim their right to self-determination. It doesn’t warrant criticisms like appeasement of India. India is important for us. We are concerned about its security and development. But at the same time, my opinions on India is based on the fact that self-determination and social, economic and political development of Tamils is also important and beneficial for India,” elaborated Wigneswaran in the presence of Natarajan. The Indian media has still not reflected on Wigneswaran’s observations.

“The interventions made by India at various levels for the last four decades in the Sri Lankan national question and India’s importance in the present geopolitics make it vital for Tamils to continue their friendship with India with much more honesty and political diplomacy. This will tremendously aid the Tamils’ efforts to claim their right to self-determination,” says CV Wigneswaran

Wigneswaran thinks that it is his ‘duty’ to trust that India could help find a solution for the national question, especially when it is widely believed India cannot exercise any pressure on the Sri Lankan government over the Tamils issue.

It is pertinent to note that the then Indian external secretary Subramaniam Jayashankar had told a team headed by TNA’s leader R Sammandhan early last year that India is not ready to go back to the past even if it is about the 1987 peace treaty between both countries.

Jaishankar said that every party concerned should now focus on claiming the rights of Tamils by using the various opportunities created by a change of government in Colombo. It is evident that he had said so keeping the Sri Lankan government’s functioning in mind.

But the constitutional reform process and the new political situations that have arisen in the aftermath of local body elections last month has made it impossible. In the context, the Tamils’ hope of finding a political solution through a new constitution has been shattered. What would Lankan Tamils now expect from India?

Translated by Kavitha Muralidharan

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