With the nomination saga ending mid-day July13, both the UPFA and UNP are widely covered by the media and political discourses, drawing from the drama that unfolded during the last few weeks. These ascendancies, however, have diminished the visibility of minor parties elsewhere in the country. There is attention paid to the JVP as a third force, covering much of its positions and speeches, but seemingly less focus on plantations where there is sizable voters and once termed as a turning point in electoral politics. The late Thondaman was often referred to as a ‘king maker’ in the national political front. All such importance diminished with electoral politics being somewhat polarized after 2005 with entry in to active politics by forces playing Sinhala Buddhist pronouncements. During the times of the late S Thondaman, the politics of plantation people took a significant place if not a central role to support the ruling coalition be it blue or green. As a leader of a population of 1.5 million (within and outside plantations), the late Soumiyamoorthy Thondaman positioned himself and acted with resilience and great responsibility. Through his political foresightedness and with a defined process taking into confidence of many intellectuals he was able to reap the benefits for his people.
Losing that importance in the national governance by the plantation community is due to not only polarization of electoral politics but also more importantly due to their own demonstrated weaknesses in political acumen and lack of coherent governance of the political system that they are part or in control of. In the absence of a clear vision or a strategic approach by the leaderships for their community, the politics surround often a wish list based support to either one of the national parties. These wish lists forwarded to the national parties as a bargain to support either coalitions to form the government. The wish lists are often easily acceptable to the national parties since they can get away with them unfulfilled. There were no serious interests to follow up on those wish lists since post-election scenario pushes them to settle only with some ministerial positions and other benefits. Therefore, even the list that contains; developing schools, ownership of housing and land, youth employment, training opportunities etc come up again and again indicating that they have not been fulfilled on previous occasions. However, the support drama continues for merely providing a platform for getting elected and securing some positions. Unfortunately, the voters are unable to follow up and check the performance of their representatives due to weak institutional structures and backward nature. The vicious cycle has been in continuance for the past several elections both at provincial and national level. Like many other small political parties, there is no scope and place for professional role in the plantation-based parties since they are individual centric with a considerable financial capacity and or legacy.
On the other hand, the national level major political parties have reduced the role for minorities be it from the North and East or Upcountry. Both the UNP and SLFP have given less space for individuals from these geographical areas to be part in their central policy and decision-making and or in their Cabinet. Empowering the weaker section of the Tamils of Indian origin living in the plantation regions becomes challenging when the voices are least heard at the central level. The challenge seems to continue until and otherwise there is a change in the political landscape of the community and leaderships.
The culture of political participation in the plantation needs an overhauling. The community will need a greater political movement above the mandate of trade unionism that is currently observed in the plantation areas.
A retired civil servant and a senior writer Neville Jayaweera in one of his memoirs analyzed the two main types of political leaderships. Most commonly seen are those who ride on the popular mood of the masses to attain his or her goals of power and then keep it going without making changes. There is no vision for the masses they seek to dominate and rule upon or there is no any effort to transcend to bring about positive changes in the life of the people. On the other hand, the masses, too, are weak and only seek to fulfill their immediate needs. This is very relevant situation to the plantations. Taking advantage of this feeble nature the political offices in the plantations intervenes to address basic needs and keeps intact the community. Trade unionism helps to achieve the objectivity of ‘captivity’. The second type of leadership Neville Jayaweera enunciates is the one who is caught with a vision for a civilized society and attempt objectify it. Such leadership will have a long vision for a transformed society embracing rights and values. In the case of plantation, it will be democracy, growth, development, and many more dealing with human needs (hierarchy of needs). There is always a gap between the vision and popular mood and that the leadership has to fight to thin the gap. For this lot of mobilization and sacrifices will be needed to achieve the vision. Absence of such a long vision and development goals demonstrated by political parties makes the Plantation Community still weak and isolated.
The change in the culture of conducting politics along the lines outlined above becomes a decisive need rather than a sophisticated tool for transformation of the community to a status on par with others in the country.