The results of Sri Lanka’s local body elections rolling in over the weekend give Jaffna peninsula an uncanny resemblance to India’s Kashmir valley. A profoundly alienated people are testing the frontiers of political pluralism in a genuinely democratic enviornment. There is a limit beyond which the national leadership in Colombo (and Delhi) cannot countenance provincial autonomy lest there is backlash from nationalist-chauvinist elements in the political hinterland. There in Colombo and here in Delhi, the task is clear-cut and is crystal-clear as far as the world community is concerned, but going about the task is easier said than done. Neither Delhi nor Colombo will ever allow foreigners to be prescriptive, either.
The good part is that somewhat like Omar Abdullah’s National Front which consorts with Congress Party at the centre, the Tamil National Alliance of Jaffna which won a massive victory in the weekend election (20 out 25 local councils) is also a constitutent of the ruling alliance headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo. It goes to Rajapaksa’s credit that he paid personal attention to creating a highly competitive enviornment for the election campaign. A robust 60 percent voter turnout signifies that people were convinced enough to move on and that party politics is gaining traction.
Both Jaffna and J&K are pulling out of the trough of bloody insurgencies that were indigenous but often got sustenance from abroad. In both situations, life shows signs of regeneration. Tourism has returned to J&K, while BBC reports on a ‘property boom’ in Jaffna. The Jaffna Tamil is famously hard-working and thrifty by nature and if good conditions are available, he could harvest gold. Rajapaksa’s best reply to Jayalalithaa’s rhetoric will be to give the Tamil National Alliance government a helping hand to set free the native genius of the Jaffna Tamil. When the lights begin to shine across the Palk Straits in the night, the people of Tamil Nadu will hopefully ask Jayalalithaa – and Karunanidhi — some unpleasant questions as to why life should be so hard in Nagapattinam or Mayiladuthurai.
Rajapaksa’s hundred percent win in the 39 Sinhala-dominated provincial councils immensely strengthens his political stature. He is well-placed to pick up the threads of Sri Lanka’s exciting economic programme of the early 1970s which were languishing through the 3 decades of civil war. The Sri Lankan collective consciousness could be still remembering the times when their nation was the role model for social formation and development for the whole of South Asia — especially for South Indians. The Jaffna elections, held after over 2 decades, could prove to be a defining moment for Sri Lanka.