President in the North, Governor in the East

by A. Nillanthan, January 13, 2024

[Translated from the original Tamil by Google Translate with improvements by the Sangam editor.]

Ranil in Jaffna Jan.14, 2024

At the same time as the President visited the North to celebrate the New Year, his Governor in the East staged a huge cultural festival.

The President met various people in the North: entrepreneurs, university dignitaries, civil society representatives, representatives of non-governmental organizations, people with achievements in weight lifting competitions, those in the music industry, people who did well in their education in the North, high government officials and party representatives. Whom he should and should not meet is decided by politicians in the North who are sympathetic to him.

Especially when speaking at the US Hotel and among the university community, the gist of what he said was that provincial councils have sufficient powers; build regional economies as they are being built in the western province; the financial power of provincial councils is sufficient for that; ‘Don’t look to my hand for investment;’ ‘Receive financial assistance and sectoral assistance from diaspora Tamils’ and  ‘We will cooperate with that.’ In particular, he has pointed out unitary countries like Japan, Korea, and Britain as examples of economic development. He gave these examples at the US Hotel, meaning that there is no federalism in these countries, but those countries are economically prosperous.

In a context where provincial councils are not functioning, a president who has no intention of holding provincial council elections for now says to use the financial powers of provincial councils to achieve economic development. During Wigneswaran’s tenure as Chief Minister, the Northern Provincial Council tried to create a Chief Minister’s Fund. There is already a similar fund in the Western Province. The central government, however, did not give permission for such a fund for the North. But the president says that all the powers are within the 13th Amendment.

So what is the meaning of the “united kingdom” solution that he tried to create with the coalition during his tenure as Prime Minister from 2015? If the powers of the provincial council are enough, why should they have thought about the new arrangement of a ‘united kingdom?’ I don’t know if anyone asked Ranil about this, matter, but it is reported that he told those close to him that the North, which usually asks what is the solution to the ethnic problem, did not ask such questions this time.

Ranil in Jaffna, Jan.14, 2024

At the same time that the President in the North was showing pictures, taking pictures, drinking ice cream at the Rio Cream House and saying he can achieve everything required through the 13th Amendment, his Governor in the East was organizing a cultural festival in Perumuppu. Almost two decades ago, during the Norwegian-sponsored negotiations, the “Reunion of Mankind” at Trincomalee took place. At that time, it can be said that it was the biggest gathering that had ever taken place there. The governor has planned and conducted this year’s celebration as a mega event. He has also got the help of India for it. Efforts to strengthen the cultural ties between the Tamil people and India are a challenge from the north to the east and beyond. Does the fact that India is supporting such a cultural festival anger the Sinhalese hardliners? Let’s wait and see.

Special guests and announcers have been brought from Tamil Nadu, especially for the Jallikattu and the climbing event, from coaches to special guests and announcers. During the Pongal festival, he has gathered thousands of people on the grounds, organized hundreds of women to dance, and he has caused a stir among the Tamil people. Speaking on the occasion, MP Chanakyan pronounced Trincomalee as the capital of Tamils.

Trincomalee is a Tamil district that has been heavily Sinhalesed through planned [government-sponsored] Sinhalese settlements. Even now temples are being built in hilly areas. A Tamil member of Parliament was attacked recently when he was carrying a photograph of Thileepan in a truck. There is an unsafe situation for the Tamil people there. In such a district Governor Senthil Thondaman has organized a Tamil cultural festival in Perumuppu.

Thondaman is a government servant appointed by the President. But the importance given to him in the event; the manner in which he was received by those assembled there; he was given a hero’s status there. When he came to the stage to speak, the Rajini film song “Alapparai Kalapurom” was played. He came towards the stage like a hero. On the way, dancing girls stopped him to shake hands and take selfies. That is, an executive is framed as the protagonist.

But in Batticaloa, the same province where the cultural festival was taking place, the struggle to recover grazing land in Mylathamadu has passed its 125th day. Not only that, due to the recent heavy rains in the east, people have been affected in many areas. The Tamil People’s National Alliance is providing relief to those affected. The photos are being shared on Facebook. In a province that has been hit by a flood disaster, there are questions as to whether such mega cultural events are necessary. Farmers fighting for pasture land are flooded; their cattle are slaughtered or rounded up. Criticisms also arose that a governor, who could not find a solution to all this problems, was judging bull taming competitions.

Senthil Thondaman has been trying to do something to appeal to the Tamil people since he was appointed as the governor. However, he could not stop the Sinhalese Buddhistization and land grabbing. The Buddhist priests are proving that his authority is limited. Thus, a governor, who cannot solve the basic problems of the Tamil people or spend a lot of money during the flood disaster, uses his authority to organize a cultural festival in which he is cast as the protagonist.

So if we summarize what happened in the North and East last week, we get a very clear message. In the North, the President says that he has financial authority within the Thirteenth Amendment, i.e. within the Provincial Council system. In the East, his Governor emerges as the protagonist. A Governor of the Provincial sytem of administration created under the 13th Amendment has organized rousing ceremonies for the Tamil people in the East. Therefore, his reception and appeal have increased. A Governor who is seen as the representative of [and is appointed by] the Central Government under the 13th Amendment is the protagonist. It is trying to convince the people that the Very Powerful Governor will take steps to protect the Tamil culture.

Through these, there is an intention to showthat the Provincial Council as a strong power structure. There is an intention to satisfy India. During a meeting in the North, the President has talked about the land bridge between India and Mannar. It is clear to any intelligent person that he will not build such a bridge. But he says so. By presenting the 13th Amendment as a solution, by making promises to appease India, by getting India’s help in the cultural festival in the East, he is merely trying to make India happy.

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