Indian PM to avoid Sri Lanka’s only Tamil chief minister

July 30th, 2008 - 1:33 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, July 30 (IANS) An expected meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sri Lanka’s only Tamil chief minister may not take place - amid grumbling that the former Tamil Tiger is being denied powers to succeed as a guerrilla-turned-administrator. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, who is chief minister of the eastern province, was to have called on the Indian leader when the latter visits Colombo Aug 1-3 to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, informed sources told IANS.

It would have been the first time in two decades that any former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) member would have an audience with an Indian prime minister. It would have also shown India’s continuing interest in Sri Lankan affairs, in the northern and eastern provinces in particular.

According to the sources, Sri Lankan authorities did not favour a meeting between the prime minister and Pillayan in particular when Manmohan Singh was coming primarily for a South Asian summit. The Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), a radical Sinhalese nationalist group, is already branding Pillayan “an Indian agent”.

Pillayan was among a large number of LTTE fighters who revolted in March 2004 and eventually formed the Tamil Makkal Vidhuthalai Puligal (TMVP). He became chief minister of the multi-ethnic eastern province in May this year after the TMVP fought the provincial elections in alliance with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition.

According to informed sources, Pillayan has since been complaining that he is being denied powers due to him as the top elected man in the eastern province, made up of the districts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai.

For almost all his ills, Pillayan is blaming Mohan Wijewickrama, a confidant of the president who has been the undisputed eastern province governor for some time and who, according to Tamil sources, is reluctant to give up his powers. The governor could not be reached for this report.

An informed source told IANS: “The government has accepted the (India-backed) 13th amendment (to the constitution of 1987) to devolve more powers to provinces. But they are not giving even those powers to the chief minister. The governor makes appointments the chief minister should make. He seems to look at the chief minister as his advisor.

“The whole thing is very frustrating. The chief minister does not have powers over the police. Can you think of a chief minister in India minus police powers? And the governor is exploiting genuine Tamil-Muslim differences in the region to his advantage. In simple words, the governor is proving by his actions that no Tamil chief minister can ever think of genuine autonomy in the north or east. This is exactly what the LTTE says.”

The LTTE has repeatedly said that its fight for an independent Tamil state is necessitated by Colombo’s refusal to genuinely share powers with the Tamil minority.

India is opposed to a break up Sri Lanka but believes that Colombo has to do a lot more for genuine power sharing. India conducts friendly interactions with almost all political forces in Sri Lanka. In recent times Western representatives have also called on Pillayan in Trincomalee despite levelling charges of human rights violations against his TMVP.

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