New party is old wine in a new bottle

The Tamizh Makkal Kootani (TMK) or Tamil Peoples’ Alliance (TPA) which C.V.Wigneswaran, the former Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, is to form, appears to be old wine in a new bottle.

The aims and objectives of the TMK and the tactics it proposes to adopt to achieve its objectives, are no different from those of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) from which Wigneswaran has broken away.

Like the TNA, the TMK is also going to fight for self-determination of the Tamils within Sri Lanka; the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to form a single Tamil-majority North Eastern Province; justice for the Tamils who had allegedly been subjected to “genocide” at the close of Eelam War IV in 2009; the institution of a judicial mechanism to bring those Lankan military personnel who had allegedly committed “war crimes”; the tracing of missing Tamils; the release of suspected cadres of the Tamil Tigers fron jails; and the stoppage of “Sinhalese colonization” in the Tamil majority areas.

The only difference is that unlike the TNA, the TMK says it will economically develop the North and East with money from the Tamil Diaspora, NGOs and international investment, rather than with funds from the government of Sri Lanka.

And unlike the TNA, the TMK will not keep quiet when the government ignores Tamil interests and denies justice to them. It will not be inveigled by public office, perks and privileges extended by the Establishment.

The TMK’s complaint is that all these objectives were stated in the TNA’s manifesto for the 2013 Northern Provincial Council elections, but were ignored by the “privileges hungry” leadership of the TNA.

In contrast,the TMK, Wigneswaran said, will not allow itself to be bought by the government in Colombo.

The TMK would co-opt progressives and friendly sections of the majority Sinhalese community in its fight for the Tamils’ rights.

But as S.Thavarajah of the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) and M.A.Sumanthiran TNA MP point out, Wigneswaran has only stated the well known and commonly accepted Tamil objectives and has pointed an accusing finger at the TNA for not achieving those objectives.

“He has not stated an alternative plan to achieve the goals, which all Tamil parties are in any case committed to achieving. He has not stated how he is going to do what others prior to him had not done,” Thavarajah pointed out.

The Tamils started off with peaceful agitations and political engagement in the 1950s and 60s.When this method failed, they took to armed struggle. When that too failed, they returned to peaceful struggle and political engagement. Wigneswaran has not spelt out in what way he is going to make a difference in the political struggle he is promising,” Thavarajah said.

“Wigneswaran says he will develop the North with funds from the Tamil Diaspora and complains that the government did not enable him to set up a Chief Minister’s Fund to which the Diaspora could contribute. But he does not need a CM’s fund to get Diaspora investment. Recently, the Governor of the Northern Province went to the UK and urged the well-heeled Tamils there to invest in the North. The Governor does not have a Governor’s Fund to get investments!”  Thavarajah added.

It is also asked as to what Wigneswaran did as Chief Minister to get funds from the Sri Lankan government during his five years’ tenure. How many times did he or his ministers interact with the powers-that-be in Colombo to pursue development projects?

In fact, Wigneswaran had made it clear again and again, that he does not want economic development before a political settlement of the Tamil question is reached. And if ever he talked of development, he would say that local natural resources should not be used up as that would amount to “exploitation”. He objected to outside investment if it meant recruitment of non-Tamils.

However, as Karunakaran Sivarasa, a writer based in Kilinochchi said, Wigneswaran’s simplistic program has an audience and support among the Tamils.

“Except for a minority of thinking people, most Tamils will support persons who cater to the anti-government and anti-Sinhalese sentiment deeply ingrained in the Tamil mind. They don’t care to examine whether their objectives are realistic and attainable. It is enough if a party shares their Arasu Edhirppu and Sinhala Veruppu (opposition to the government and hatred for the Sinhalese) line,” Sivarasa said.

But  every Tamil political party touts the established “Tamil nationalist” line of “opposition to the government and hatred for the Sinhalese”. The difference between them lies in their ability to convert the ideological support into votes.

“This can be done only by parties with a widespread organization with deep roots going down to the village level; a regular set of workers; and an established chain of command. The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) which is the largest constituent of the TNA has such an organization.That gives it an edge,” Sivarasa said.

“Wigneswaran is yet to build an organization. It remains to be seen if he can build one in the year or so available to him,” Sivarasa added.

According to EPDP’s Thavarasa, the TMK cannot fight as TMK in the coming elections as it is not yet a registered party yet.

“In case it does not fight under the symbol of an established party, it has to fight as an Independent Group in each district,” he explained.

It is not clear as to which parties will support or join the TMK. As on date, only the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) led by Suresh Premachandran and Anandhi Sasitharan’s new party appear to be committed to the TMK apart from the non-partisan Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC), a group of academics.

There appears to be a rift even within the TPC with  Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s Tamil National Peoples’ Front (TNPF) not quite happy to be with Wigneswaran.

According to a senior Jaffna-based journalist, a power struggle is likely to ensue in the TMK because Wigneswaran’s aim to be all in all may not be accepted by other more experienced leaders.

“ Wigneswaran left the TNA complaining that the TNA leadership was not giving him due importance. He expects to be number one in the TMK. But this may not be accepted by other leaders in the TMK,” the journalist pointed out.

Unlike Wigneswaran, who is only five years old in politics, the other leaders in the TMK are experienced politicians. Some of them had even participated in the armed struggle.

Wigneswaran will be depending on the organizational experience and skills of these leaders. He will run roughshod over them only at his peril.

Wigneswaran said that the TMK will seek the support of the Tamils in the Eastern Province. But sources in the East said that the chances of getting support there are slim as Wigneswaran has never taken interest in the main problem of the Eastern Tamils – Muslim domination.

“No Northern Province leader or North-based leader including those from the TNA, has taken interest in that core issue in the East. There is now a move there to float an East-based political organization headed by an East-based leader,” an informed sources in Batticaloa said. (

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