Sri Lanka: Pondering the Future of the Tamil People's Council

The recently created Tamil People's Council could be shaking things up in Sri Lanka. It's not an official political body, although the group includes several politicians, including the Tamil National Alliance's (TNA) C.V. Wigneswaran, the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council. The TNA is the principal Tamil political grouping in Sri Lanka and they did quite well during the August 2015 parliamentary elections, picking up 16 seats.

The fact that the Tamil People's Council includes several Tamil politicos invariably means that some will look at the group as a direct affront to the TNA in general and ITAK (‎Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachch) in particular. (ITAK is the dominant political party within TNA). After all, it's no secret that Wigneswaran and R. Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA, do not always agree with one another.

Mario Arulthas, editor-in-chief of Tamil Guardian, a London-based news outlet, holds a more optimistic view. He believes the group could help unite Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces with those in the diaspora. Arulthas says that the group's "stated aim of being above party politics is welcome and much needed at present. Whilst of course it will be difficult to maintain, given the inclusion of party political figures, the chief minister has, since his appointment, proved himself capable of uniting various shades of Tamil politics in the general population."

In recent remarks, Wigneswaran has struck a more conciliatory tone and noted that the Tamil People's Council shouldn't be viewed as a rival to the TNA. The Tamil People's Council did not respond to a request for comment.

The group's homepage provides the following information:

The Tamil People's Council was incepted in the presence of religious dignitaries and the Honourable Chief Minister for the Northern Province, to look into the Tamil people's wellbeing, safety and integrity. The Tamil People's Council (TPC) will be Co-chaired by Honourable C V Wigneswaran, Dr P Lakshman, Consultant Cardiologist at the Teaching Hospital, Jaffna and Mr. T Vasantharajah, the secretary of the Batticaloa Civil Society.

A thirty five member council is formed with representations from experts from all areas including religious leaders, professionals, civil societies and political parties. There will be several subcommittees which will look into all the problems faced by the Tamil People.

The subcommittees will work in a particular time frame towards a common goal and depending on the issues raised, the number of experts and advisers representing the committees can expand. The subcommittees will meet regularly for discussions and the Office of Convening Committee(OCC) will call the council meeting as and when the need arises to make major decisions. The number of the council will not be limited to thirty five people. This will expand further as there are discussions in progress regarding the membership between the OCC and some political parties as well as with civil societies.

With the inception on 19.12.2015, the Tamil People's Council pledges to function with truthfulness, righteousness and with no ulterior motive so that a conducive situation is established for the Tamil people.

Irrespective of what one thinks about the recent performance of TNA and the future of Tamil politics, the next moves of the Tamil People's Council will be watched closely -- in Colombo, the historically Tamil Northern and Eastern Provinces and abroad. It's already been reported that members of Colombo's diplomatic community are viewing the group in a negative light. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.