Chandrakanthan in Tokyo

One way of dealing with a problem child is to give him or her some responsibility. Such children may be considered a nuisance but they have the potential to become useful citizens and succeed in later in life, if handled properly. If you want to reform the worst child in a class, it is said, make him the monitor.

Some political leaders have also experimented with this method. President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Mervyn Silva a minister, maybe in the hope that the latter would act responsibly. The results have been disastrous! Old habits, they say, die hard. The President also adopted the same method in tackling Bandula Gunawardena, who was the most vociferous UNP critic of the present government's handling of the economy. He was made to defect and appointed Minister of Trade, Marketing Development and Consumer Affairs. That appointment has served only the President's purpose. He has managed to silence one of his bitterest critics at the expense of taxpayers but consumers' lot has not improved in anyway. In fact, they have been plunged, as it is popularly said in this country, from the frying pan into the fire.

However, President Rajapaksa successfully applied that method in handling former LTTE combatant S. Chandrakanthan by helping him become Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. Chandrakanthan has proved that he has on his battled-hardened shoulders a fare more matured head than most other government politicians. He has disappointed his critics by demonstrating his ability to make compromises and accommodate political dissent in spite of his violent track record. Nay, it is not being argued that he deserves full marks for his performance and conduct. But, he has obtained pass marks and proved he is capable of reform. He has become a poacher turned gamekeeper in the real sense of the term.

Minister of Tourism Milinda Moragoda deserves praise for having given Chandrakanthan an opportunity to visit Japan so that he could familiarise himself with the functioning of an advanced democracy. That travel broadens mind is a truism. (We don't want to be told that our Foreign Minister, who is more airborne than 'chair-borne', possesses the broadest mind in the country, if not in the world!)

CM Chandrakanthan has flown to Japan to attend the Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA) travel fair in Tokyo as part of Sri Lanka's delegation headed by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. The significance of his tour of Japan is manifold.

One of the reasons why Karuna broke away from the LTTE is said to be his overseas travel, which helped him realise that there was more to life than pursuing an unattainable goal and undergoing attendant suffering. Chandrakanthan, having graduated from guerrilla warfare to democratic politics, is now responsible for developing tourism in the Eastern Province, whose potential to attract tourists and investment has yet to be fully tapped.

Generation of income as well as employment is a sine qua non for keeping democracy alive and the new Eastern Province administration needs more funds to keep itself going. For this purpose, the East has to regain its former self as a world famous tourist destination. A calm, shallow and cerulean sea hugging a palm fringed picturesque beach under an azure canopy, singing fish, frisky whales and a myriad of archaeological sites are some of the alluring assets that the reviving eastern democracy could offer the world to attract travellers.

The politico-military TMVP is metamorphosing into a democratic party and that process needs to be facilitated and encouraged for the wellbeing of the Sri Lankan democracy. Legitimacy that accrues from invitations extended by foreign governments and the exposure to politicians of other countries as well as the international media are sure to give an impetus to that the TMVP's transition. International exposure usually has a sobering impact on radical outfits, as could be seen from the JVP's experience. Wimal Weerawansa's book neththa venuvata aththa tells us how JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe, in one of his presentations to the JVP politburo on the pros and cons of the JVP's decision to contest the 2004 General Election on the UPFA ticket and accept ministerial posts, has stressed that a positive change in the attitude of foreign embassies towards the JVP after it became a coalition partner of the government was an achievement-(pp 124). As a result the JVP has become less xenophobic and more vocal on the need to protect democracy etc.

CM Chandrakanthan's visit to Japan at a time the Co-Chairs are said to be making preparations to meet in New York shortly is of crucial importance. Some prominent members of the international community have betrayed their bias towards the LTTE and seem to subscribe to its claim that it is the sole representative of Tamils. Hence, they always insist that the government speak to the LTTE and remain silent on the rights of other stakeholders. Now that the LTTE has been banished from the East and the TMVP has established itself in that part of the country, the Co-Chairs will have to factor in the Chandrasekeran and his party in formulating their future strategies vis-à-vis their much publicized yet futile attempt to resolve Sri Lanka's conflict. If they still try to prop up the LTTE without giving due recognition to other stakeholders, they will forfeit their credentials as campaigners for global democracy.

It is a supreme irony that while Prabhakaran is in hiding underground presumably without even a breath of fresh air, his erstwhile friends are going places. He arrogantly refused to accept the Northern Province for ten years without election, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga offered it to him on a platter in early 1990s, and continued to tread the path of terrorism. He is today trapped in an area encompassing less than two districts and is struggling to defend Kilinochchi. No country wants to touch him with a barge pole. But, his bête noire Chandrakanthan has, politically speaking, bagged the Eastern Province and is gaining international legitimacy.

That is the price Prabhakaran is paying for having put all his Eelam eggs in the military basket. The absence of a robust political wing may have initially helped the LTTE concentrate on its military strategy and command the blind faith of its cadres in an outfit with a single-minded will to achieve its military goal. But, unfortunately for him, that strategy has backfired.

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