Election season Tamil politics and class politics on cue | Sunday Observer

Election season Tamil politics and class politics on cue

19 July, 2020

Mr. Abraham Sumanthiran, in a recent TV interview said that there are no job prospects for young people in the Northern province, and economic activity is zero. He concedes that they — meaning his party the TNA— could not address this issue of unemployment properly when they were in power in the five years of Yahapalana rule.

He said he is launching a drive to address the issue now.

Sumanthiran seems nonchalant about launching a jobs drive for the northern youth after five years in power. It seems a light bulb went off in his head quite suddenly about the problem of joblessness.

For five years the issue of youth unemployment in Jaffna and the northern province, did not cross his mind. He was flitting about trying to change Constitutions and attempting his best to say that Sri Lankan forces should be prosecuted for war crimes. He was too busy making speeches in Parliament about radical change that would end the ‘oppression of the Tamil people,’ etc, etc.

He probably recorded those speeches, listened to them in his spare time, and admired himself talking in that heroic vein. How could he — how could he even think of trifling matters such as youth unemployment in Jaffna, when he is engaged in all these other self-ennobling pursuits?

Even in the interview, he said the number one priority for him and the party is to address longstanding Tamil political issues and arrive at a solution. The jobs issue even today is a secondary matter, in his lowly estimation of it. He might as well have said jobs are for sissies.

Jobs are a chore to him. Pesky Tamil youth wanting jobs! Why can’t they just follow the lead of the image-conscious Colombo based glib talking lawyer and fall in line with his ennobling political pursuits? Those ambitions are there to make him famous. The pesky Tamil youth don’t even understand that this is what is important in their lives – to make Sumanthiran feel important.


That’s Sri Lankan minority politics for you in a nutshell. The politician calls the tune, and thanks to a tribal voting pattern, the people who follow the herd ensure that no politician ever seriously wants to address their economic predicament. Having twiddled his thumbs for five years in a government of his own for all intents and purposes, without so much as sparing a passing thought for the Tamil jobs issue, Sumanthiran is conjuring up a jobs program now. But what incentive does he have to follow through on those goals even when he is elected to office once more?

None whatsoever. As long as most of the northern Tamils in his constituency vote for him based on narrow tribal considerations, Sumanthiran does not have to lift a finger about real Tamil issues such as unemployment, housing or education, or even health.

This trend is not down to Sumanthiran of course. The demagogues took over Tamil politics long years back, and that led to the ultimate demagogue’s demagogue Vellupillai Prabhakaran. The Sinhalese voter does not want to enable the Tamil demagogues, so he now casts his vote based on considerations of nationhood, and the preservation of Sinhala culture, etc. and Sumanthiran and his ilk never fail to call the Sinhala voter a racist on that account. What’s sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander, because in his estimation, Sumanthiran’s own political motivation has to subsume everything, and this includes the general well-being of the Tamils, and the Sinhalese.


The Tamil voter has dug his own grave by and large by voting on parochial lines, but he or she has not known any other option because none has been given. No Tamil politician has emerged, that sincerely wants to create jobs and address the lot of the Tamil people who are long-suffering, hapless and living at the mercy of the Sumanthirans who make rare visitations from Colombo.

The politics of demagoguery has not appealed by and large to the Sinhala voter — at least not in the same manner it has viscerally appealed to the Tamil voting bloc. The JVP for instance has been appealing for class-based votes for generations, but with little or no success.

Talking of class, a vlog broadcaster so called, let’s call him DH for short, recently interviewed the leader of the UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe. The interviewer usually spits venom at his subjects, and takes the moral high ground to the point of intimidating his guests. This bile-spilling firebrand however was so meek before Ranil Wickremesighe that you could hear a cat’s meow. The only thing this vlog artist didn’t do was to grovel and lick the feet of Wickremesinghe, who sensing the situation went on high-dudgeon and had a field day cutting off the supplicant interviewer’s questions.

The vlog interlocutor let Wickremesinghe get away with everything including his apparent claim that he would get Arjuna Mahendran arrested wherever he is in the world. Wickremesinghe said that he never said anything of this sort, and the interviewer abjectly pipes down. Let’s accept that Wickremesinghe never said that, but didn’t he appoint Mahendran — and wasn’t that revolting, appointing this foreigner to head the Central Bank, which is why Mahendran then broke the Bank and was able to abscond with the money in a foreign country in which he is moonlighting to this day — out of the reach of Sri Lankan law enforcement?

Not a word about any of this from our vlog host who usually breathes fire from his nostrils trying to burn ordinary parliamentarians with the outright intimidating manner of a gloating know-it-all, swooping in on an assumed ignoramus. The lion was wearing sheep’s clothing that day however, and looked like he was blown away by the antique art décor of the Colombo 7 Wickremesinghe household. All he could manage after Wickremesinghe evaded the Mahendran question, was to elicit an answer from the UNP leader about how he now enjoys the newfound pastime of watching flicks on Netflix.

Sri Lankan politics educates you every day. The politicians and their interlocutors are both the same.

Their role-playing is of such a basic quality, that the election is an event to be got-by as any other — it’s a matter of society going through the motions until the event passes into the history books as one more interlude in which light entertainment is cast about by media men and politicians — and to paraphrase Shakespeare, it is all played out in a manner of a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.


The opposition parties this election season have succeeded in showing that even a lockdown or post-lockdown economy today, is better than the sputtering car crash of an economy that prevailed during their five years. People coming out of the recent lockdown have in some ways had a breather to get their domestic or small business finances in order after the relentless battering during the Yahapalana period, at the hands of the Mangala Samaraweera and Karunanayake led onslaught.

Ordinary folk have some debt-relief for a small interval at the very least, under the current leadership, even though it came out as a matter of necessity from the dire circumstances of the pandemic. People who outright lost their employment may be suffering, but even for these, there are facilities that are available from banks for those that are bold enough to relaunch their self-employment career paths. It takes a lot of incompetence for a normal peacetime economy that preceded the lockdowns to look worse than the locked-down and post locked-down economies, but Mangala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake accomplished that. They and their ‘policy based’ economies served some controlling deity that was dictating terms from abroad. Either that or they were so utterly clueless, which is also likely.

Time was when the political opposition even when it was heading towards a predictable loss, mounted a dramatic challenge that enlivened community-debate and discussion at least to some extent. This time all that the opposition has to offer seems to be a sputtering split within its ranks, which is showing up like some gigantic canyon formed by the elements, against a rather barren and forbidding opposition political landscape.