Reports that the number of parliamentary seats in the Jaffna District would expectedly go down from nine to five should be a cause for concern for the Tamil population, their polity in particular. The TNA has said it would take up the issue with the Government at their on-going talks. It is a responsible way to do it. The Government should consider the current situation with equal responsibility and should be open to suggestions.
It is a unique situation in the country, calling for a unique solution. In a way, it is not unique, either. In neighbouring India, where population growth-rates have been specific to regions, the progressive South obtained a freeze on the number of parliamentary seats from each State, if only to maintain the existing equilibrium. What was attempted last decade was a re-distribution of voters among the constituencies/electorates in each State, to make them manageable, if not uniform.
For historic reasons, India also has parliamentary constituencies where the number of voters is possibly less than that in a municipal corporation ward in a mega-polis. Such constituencies are mainly in the Union Territories or the North-Eastern State. But they are there.
Sri Lanka could consider a freeze on the number of seats per Province for another decade, with a review after Census-2021. The inconsistencies caused by the ethnic war would have hopefully ended by then. The Jaffna Tamils would have by then made known their preference for a place of settlement – whether nearer home, or afar in foreign lands.
Unacknowledged by many, the recent phase of local government polls has proved the Government right, at least on one count. During the earlier phase, as also during the parliamentary polls and presidential elections, the Government had attributed the poor turnout in the Northern Province to the fewer number of voters as against the registered figures. No one wanted to listen.
Today, when the Elections Commission had re-adjusted the voters’ list to the post-war situation, the numbers have nearly-halved, from the pre-war figure of 816,005 to 484,791. Thankfully for the Government, the Tamils have not contested the Elections Commission figures, drastically reduced by war-induced migration to destinations both inside and outside the country, deaths due to war and natural causes.
The situation might not have been different in the South after the ‘Second JVP insurgency’ in particular. It was a short-lived military operation, compared to the ethnic war in the North and the East. The number of lives lost was large, but not comparable to those lost to the ethnic war over three long decades. The number of parliamentary seats per revenue district/electoral District did not change afterward. A closer study may be in order.
A higher poll percentage in the North now has meant a higher vote-share for the TNA, whatever the reason. Translated, it is a vote for the TNA’s devolution demand, and on the lines now understood by the residual Tamil community who have made Sri Lanka their home, post-war, too. It may still be necessary for the TNA to study the mood of their population before making commitments on their behalf. In the past, the inability/unwillingness of the moderate Tamil leadership of the time to read the minds of their people correctly lead to the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of ending up as a disaster, at the instance of the LTTE, when the latter chose to act so. The fate of the Chandrika promises was no different. The TNA has to be consistent in its dealings with the Government, and has to be cautious about those wanting to torpedo their efforts from within the Tamil community.
Across the world, pan-Tamil groups have hailed the recent TNA poll victories as a vote for a separate State. There could be elements within the Alliance that too may have concluded as such. The leadership has to take courage and consistency in both hands and declare their goals and intentions in clearer terms than already.
Those on the other side of the negotiations table, and those they claim to represent should have the clearest of notions. The temptation to depict the TNA victory as a vote for separatism is too simplistic a way to interpret the results. The more serious and genuine way is to accept that the Tamils back in Sri Lanka want an honourable way out of their present travails – and power-devolution that meets their legitimate concerns and aspirations from the pre-war past alone would suffice, and that the TNA represents them all.