Winter of discontent sets in
for Up Country Tamil Leaders
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
A raging winter of discontent has begun setting in for many leaders of
political parties representing the Up - Country Tamils of Indian origin in the
aftermath of the Presidential elections.What is ironic about this situation is that
despite the plantation Tamil politicians being very successful in delivering the
bulk of their vote banks to the candidate of their choice they are facing a
gloomy situation. Backing the wrong horse in the Presidential stakes has
made them extremely vulnerable to the vicissitudes of political change in a
The Tamils of Indian origin were stripped of their citizenship and
disenfranchised in Independent Ceylon in 1948 and 1949 respectively. The
uncertainty of statelessness was removed over the years through the Sirima -
Shastri pact of 1964 and the Indira - Sirima agreement of 1975. Further laws
were enacted in 1986 and 1988 during the JR Jayewardene -
Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman regime to grant citizenship to those not covered
under these accords.
The cumulative effect of this citizenship cum enfranchisement process has
been the gradual empowerment of the plantation proletariat. The up - country
Tamil voting bloc has in recent times been playing a very effective role in
making and unmaking Presidents and Governments.Veteran Politician
Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman pioneered a new concept of aligning and re-
aligning with the chief political parties to maximise representation for his party
in Parliament, Provincial Councils and local authorities. This enhanced
representation was used to obtain ministerial portfolios and other positions
from different governments.
This strategy in later years served as a model for MHM Ashraff and the Sri
Lanka Muslim Congress. Rauf Hakeem dutifully followed in the same path. In
recent times other political formations representing the Up Country Tamils and
Muslims have also emulated this practice.If Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman
developed his "fluid" political approach into a "fine art" his successors and
other emulators have not been so clever or smart.
The hasty and greedy manner of cobbling together alliances in exchange for
positions and perks of power made it obvious that these moves were not in
the interests of the people as professed. The unethical mode of shifting
support in favour of the victor smacked of sheer opportunism.The pithy
Sinhala observation "Vaasi Pethata Hoiya!" summed up the political conduct
of many Up Country Tamil politicians.
The premier political organization of Up Country Tamils is the Ceylon Workers
Congress. The CWC has often claimed that no President has been elected
without their support. Likewise the SLMC has boasted that no President has
been elected without their support since 1988. Both of these statements were
true until 2005.
Due to a variety of reasons the CWC and SLMC backed Ranil
Wickremasinghe this time. So too did other Up Country Tamil parties . The
bulk of Up Country Tamil voters in Nuwara - eliya, Badulla, Matale, Kandy,
Kegalle, Ratnapura, Kalutara, Colombo and Gampaha voted for
Wickremasinghe. But it was Rajapakse who won due to Sinhala - Buddhist
support, elimination of voters through procedural flaws and the LTTE
enforced boycott of the North - East.
This situation has placed many Up Country Tamil politicians in a difficult
situation. For several years these "leaders" have been used to the plums of
office and perks of power. While the wretched of the up - country earth
remained pathetically poor these so called "thalaivers" improved their situation
through this access to power. Corruption was rampant. Still they remained the
shepherds of the up - country flock. It has come to a state where many
leaders without positions of power feel like fish out of water.
Many of these politicians are skilled atheletes in political jumping." Long
Jump, High Jump, Hop Step and Jump" - they are masters of all. So once
again the leaders were ready to change allegiances "in the interests of their
people". Feelers were sent to the new President and middlemen began
liaising. But unfortunately for the would be jumpers Mahinda Rajapakse was
not willing to take the " sunken ship fleeing rats " on board. Adding to their
woes is Rajapakse's determination to charter a new course in Up Country
The first to make overtures to Mahinda was Up Country Peoples Front leader
Periyasamy Chandrasekeran. The UPF leader had for long hitched his wagon
to the LTTE lone star.It was he who undertook a mission to Kilinochchi
seeking a lifting of the tiger enforced boycott. Suppia Paramu Thamilselvan
gave him glib assurances but in typical LTTE fashion went back on his word.
Chandrasekeran felt betrayed after it became clear that the tiger enforced
boycott led to Ranil's defeat.
A disgruntled Chandrasekeran issued a statement calling upon the LTTE to
do some "self - criticism" and began cosying up to Rajapakse. Alas! Mahinda
was not ready to embrace this tiger fellow traveller. He was told that he was
simply not welcome to join government ranks. Of course he was most welcome
to extend support from opposition ranks if he so wished. But no positions or
The CWC also sent out feelers but was rebuffed. Then Arumugan
Thondaman met his "amba yaluwa" Mangala Samarawera in India and
extended his hand of friendship. Arumugan was ready to sign a letter of
unconditional support to Rajapakse. But when Mangala conveyed this
message to Mahinda the answer once again was a firm negative with an
attached proviso. Unlike the UPF the CWC was welcome to cross over to the
treasury benches if it so desired to "serve their people". But none of them
would get a portfolio or ant other position. Not even a coroporation director
The position of Western Province Peoples Front leader Mano Ganesan is
unclear. He came out with a harsh statement condemning Chandrasekeran
and Malik Samarawickrema for the tiger boycott fiasco. Mano accused both of
having mishandled the matter and tried to absolve the LTTE of any blame. He
also criticised Milinda Moragoda and Navin Dissanayake. Ganesan is now
beginning to distance himself from the UNP. It is not difficult to gauge what his
future moves are going to be.
Arumugan Thondaman and Periyasamy Chandrasekeran are like cats on a
hot tin roof. What makes their predicament worse is the problems they are
likely to face in the future due to Rajapakse's approach.Mahinda tried hard to
form alliances with the CWC and SLMC prior to the elections. The minority
parties refused. But now the tables are turned and Mahinda does not want the
minority parties.Hell hath no fury as a Mahinda scorned! While ignoring the
CWC and UPF the new President is promoting those up country Tamil leaders
who supported him in the hustings.
Two Central Province councillors from the UPF broke ranks and canvassed
for Mahinda in the elections. They formed the Workers Liberation front in
association with another CWC rebel Central Province Councillor Govindaraj.
Arulsamy the UPF "renegade" has been made Provincial minister.
Likewise former CWC parliamentarians like Sathasivam along with ex - MP
from the UPF Kanakaraj also supported Mahinda. They formed the Ceylon
Workers Democratic Front. It was expected that Sathasivam would l be made
a national list MP but that did not happen. Speculation is rife that he and some
others will be given prominent posts in the new Plantation development
authority that Rajapakse proposes to create.
Already people needing help and favours are flocking to the Up Country
leaders who supported Rajapakse. Their stock rises while the CWC and UPF
stock diminishes. This is the law of opportunist politics. So the CWC and UPF
are desperate to gain proximity to power so that they can check and counter
the growing influence of their erstwhile comrades. These former colleagues
are seen as" traitors" by the hierarchies.. The so called traitors are seen as
more dangerous than enemies. So desperation increases to gain power.
Apart from the denial of carrots the stick too is being used. An investigation
has been launched into an incident where equipment worth multi - millions
were allegedly stored in the Nuwara - Elita Youth Centre. The centre was run
by the Pradeshita Sabha. The building belongs to CWC MP Puthirasigamany.
The equipment was allocated out of estate infrastructure ministry funds when
Thondaman was in charge.
Arumugan's house at Kotagala too has been searched. Puthirasigamani has
been quizzed. Arumugans troubles are compounded further by the
downsizing of his security to five personnel only.There are other instances of
alleged corruption too that could be delved into. In the case of
Chandrasekeran there are allegations of income earned through "improper"
channels that could be investigated.
Defections and splits too are being encouraged. MP's are being asked to shift
allegiance regardless of their leaders. In the case of the CWC national list
MP's MS Sellasamy, . Puthirasigamani, Badulla dist MP Vadivel Suresh and
Nuwara - Eliya dist MP Jegatheeswaran are apparently ready to jump. At least
two deputy minsterships are being dangled. Suresh fuelled further speculation
by meeting Mahinda in private and congratulating him. The "Thinakkural" of
Dec 12th reported that Suresh has been suspended from the CWC pending
inner - party disciplinary inquiry. There are reports about overtures being
made to UPF national list MP Radhakrishnan also.
Mahinda Rajapakse has also allocated 2 billion rupees for estate
infrastructure development. He plans to set up a specific authority and
channnel funds for the purpose. Mahinda also wants to keep it under his
direct supervision. It is a moot point as to whether Rajapakse will obtain the
funds for this or whether they will be given adequately to Tamil plantation
worker needs. But if it is really implemented it could certainly make a
difference in the life of the humble worker. This in turn could have far reaching
Moves are also being initiated to set up a new Plantation workers union under
the auspices of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle
is supposedly the livewire of this move. Also Mervyn Silva the deputy minister
for employee relations has a scheme of forming worker welfare committees in
each estate. It may be recalled that all plantation worker unions demonstrated
against Mervyn Silvas outburst against Indian Tamils. Rajapakse in his
capacity then as Prime Minister accepted the petition, promised immediate
action and provided milk to the demonstrators. Now Mervyn still remains
deputy minister while the demonstrators are out in the cold.
It can be seen therefore that Rajapakse seems determined for now to handle
the Up Country Tamils in his own way instead of tying himself up with the usual
"brokers".How far he will succeed remains to be seen. For one thing the
chauvinist elements within his camp will put a spanner in the worls. Also new
alignments with Plantation Tamil parties may become necessary in
The present situation however is one where Mahinda seems firm in puting
plantation politicos in their place. This also strikes a positive chord in voters of
whom many are disgusted with the opportunistic politics of these minority
politicos. The denial of carrots and wielding of stick increases the desperation
of these plantation politicians. Some are threatening to align themselves with
the LTTE and TNA if they are not taken in by the government. This seems
highly unlikely and only a hollow threat.
The current reality is increasing resentment within party folds.The winter of
discontent is setting in. If possible these parties would like to join the
government en masse. If that is not possible then individuals will start
crossing. "Jumping" could become the favourite pastime of plantation Tamil