Don’t divide the East!

Victory can at times be more problematic than defeat. The government, having bagged the Eastern Province, is said to be in a quandary over the appointment of the Chief Minister. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the appointing authority, sounds confident that he can settle the dispute amicably, as he has told this newspaper. Unfortunately, sinister attempts are being made to give an ethnic twist to an otherwise political issue.

Some political leaders threw caution to the wind and launched their campaigns on a platform of ethnicity to secure block votes in the East, to hell with ethnic harmony. This has been the name of the game in Sri Lankan politics since the inception of representative democracy.

All political parties are guilty of this sordid practice which has cost the country national integration. The two main parties, the SLFP and the UNP, have imposed a political glass ceiling to prevent members of minority communities from reaching the level of national leadership and the reaction of the disgruntled leaders of the affected communities has resulted in polarisation of the Sri Lankan society as well as the creation of conditions for terrorism.

Making an already bad situation worse, at the recently concluded election, some political leaders driven by lust for short term political gain gave the East a choice between a Muslim Chief Minister and a Tamil Chief Minister. An attempt was also made to play on the religious prejudices of the people. The visit of a foreign dignitary was made out to be part of a conspiracy by Shia Muslims to get rid of their Sunni counterparts in the Eastern Province and Hambantota!

Today, we see a well orchestrated campaign to pit Hisbullah against Pillaiyan over the question of chief ministership. The Save the Tigers activists who first went all out to have the elections in the EP cancelled but in vain and then expended their money and energy to ruin Pillaiyan’s chances of being returned so as to prevent the LTTE’s sole representative claim being exploded have implemented their Plan B. They are doing their damnedest to scuttle the new PC even before its inauguration by causing a rift in the winning team.

If they manage to thwart Pillaiyan’s effort to be Chief Minister, they will be able to project him as a failure and claim it is his fate that awaits anyone who breaks away from the LTTE and that the ‘racist Sinhala State’ does not give Tamils their due place. It is being speculated that if Pillaiyan becomes Chief Minister, they might even try to make Hisbullah and his councillors defect so that the UPFA will lose its majority.

The LTTE lobby and its hangers on have apparently succeeded in turning a political issue into a prestige battle between the Tamil and Muslim communities. This they have done while mouthing platitudes about ethnic harmony. What those worthies must be told is that it is a crime to ethnically charge an internal political problem of a party and cause it to spill over into a fissiparous polity.

The onus is on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to settle the dispute once and for all. Ethnicity must not be the criterion for making the appointment in question. One way of achieving that objective is to rotate the chief ministerial post letting it be shared by the deserving aspirants.

The genie of ethnic rivalry must be kept in the bottle of political wisdom.

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