Come September!
N Sathiya Moorthy, The Sunday Leader,

It takes two to tango, and come September, Sri Lanka will see which way they will go. To be precise, which way one will lead the other – or, who between the two will lead the other, where and how!

In September, the promised elections to the Northern Provincial Council are due. So is one more round of UNHRC session in Geneva. If elections are conducted, and are free and fair (read: TNA wins?), then Geneva will lose its charm to many. The global reservations to the Commonwealth Summit in November could also lose some more of its steam.

A ‘Tamil government’ in the North, independent of the political colour, could lead to the current international discourse to Sri Lanka’s ‘national problem’ re-focussing on political issues and a political solution, where it should still belong. ‘Accountability issues’ could get pushed to the background.

Should TNA win the elections – which it is likely to win, despite the existing internal contradictions that keep threatening to explode at every turn — they will be called upon to run a civilian administration, to which they have had no exposure. It may be tempting for them to blame their failures and those of the rest on the Thirteenth Amendment, or lack of its implementation, or whoever and whatever. It is a temptation they should eschew beforehand, and bite at a time only what they can chew!
It could well become incumbent on veteran civilian administrators in their midst to put together a plan of action for the political bosses who without exception would be untrained and possibly un-equipped, too, in the art of governance.

More importantly, the new class of Tamil political administrators should be willing to listen to the ‘old guard’, be they of their own breed or of bureaucrats. It is easier said than done. To whichever Tamil party the new government leadership in the North would belong, their dominant and domineering leaders at the national-level would loathe to share powers with their next generation of ‘elected representatives’ – the same way, they say the Sri Lankan State would not share power with the Provinces.

After a point, they too may need conciliation processes in place if things were not to go out of everyone’s control. Civil society leaders with substantial exposure to both politics and the art of governance in the Tamils’ midst could serve some purpose but not any hard-liner given to finding fault with everyone else and everything else, as a force of habit, but would not take up any responsibility, himself.

Chicken-and-egg situation

With ‘accountability issues’ in Geneva getting a second and third hearing with no perceived movement in any substantial way for ordinary Tamils to understand and acknowledge, the long run-up to the Northern polls could witness fresh demands at ‘de-militarisation’. The demand for replacing the present ex-General with a ‘civilian’ Governor may gather fresh momentum.

Both the demand, and the replacement, which inevitably will have to happen, if there is any credibility to the ‘normalisation’ claims of the Government, are themselves part of the process. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. The post-war Governments in the East – it has already had two of them in a row – have worked with a Governor with a military past and background.

The complaint that ‘military Governors’ interfere with the powers of the elected administration in the Eastern Province, and hence could do so in the North, need not be wholly untrue. Governors as a rule in Sri Lanka, despite the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment, have continued doing so. ‘Military Governors’, if they could be called so, are no exception but are not exclusive in this regard.

This change is not going to occur without a change in approaches on the part of the Tamil polity, and the attitude of the Sri Lankan State. It is again a chicken-and-egg situation. Either, each learns to trust the other and effect calibrated changes to the systems, schemes and personnel – or, learn to live with each other in an uneasy cohabitation of sorts.

The ‘marriage of inconvenience’ could be broken at will, but then both the causes and possible consequences could add to the mistrust in the meantime. The Geneva processes and the Diaspora talk in the process have not helped matters, either. They may have only contributed to increasing the mutual suspicions on the ground, which is Sri Lanka, and a consequent hardening of positions that were beginning to ease, even in small and selective ways.

If the Government and the Governor could ensure that the polls are free and fair, then that would be half the political battle won for them both, nearer home and afar. Winning the elections for the Government or the Government parties of the present would have to wait a much longer time to come – and should wait, as well.

It is not as if the Tamils in the country have not had periodically changing choices in national politics, dominated by Sinhala leaders, where they play only a limited yet decisive role as voters and (divided) groups and factions. No time is a good time to force an election out of them, or any other section of any democratic society. That’s not politics. That’s not democracy, either!

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: 
[email protected])