Opposition Leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, despite his vast experience in politics, seems to have blundered big time, by forcing his way into an Army camp in Kilinochchi.
Sampanthan may be Leader of the Opposition and therefore high on the nation’s protocol list. Nevertheless, there are procedures to be followed and he – or for that matter anyone else – cannot barge into any military institution as and when he likes.
Now that he has tried to do so, he has generated a storm over nothing. Of course, there will be those eager to cry wolf and shout from the rooftops claiming that the country’s sovereignty has been violated and the first step has been taken in the declaration of Eelam.
None of that happened but nevertheless, what Sampanthan did was wrong. It was even more surprising because Sampanthan has always been a moderate leader who has been careful not to inflame communal passions. If C.V. Wigneswaran attempted to force his way into an Army camp no one would be surprised but when Sampanthan does so, everyone is.
After all, these are uncertain times. The political balance in the South is tenuous and nationalist forces are eager to pounce on anything and everything with even a hint of trouble to say that the security of the country is compromised and that the Tamil Tigers are rising from the dead.
Recent events have not helped. A cache of explosives were discovered in Chavakachcheri. A person with questionable movements was taken into custody by the security detail of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. A rehabilitated Tiger cadre has been taken into custody by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). The Northern Provincial council has passed a resolution calling for the merger of the North and East.
None of these events portend doom and gloom by themselves. Even considered together, they may not mean much. Even so, they are a sign of our times: the war may have ended almost seven years ago but the Sri Lankan psyche is still on edge, viewing each event with more than a modicum of suspicion.
Nationalists from the majority community know that. They are waiting for the next such event to give it a twist and try and inflame the South. They know that their shortest cut to power is to raise the bogey of terrorism and tell the masses that they will save the nation from terrorism, once again.
That is why what Sampanthan did was not only procedurally wrong, it was also very foolish. He has given ammunition to those elements in the South who are waiting to spot a Tiger under every bed, though that may not have been his intention.
Spare a thought for the man, though. This is the same man who was courageous enough to wave the national Flag at a public rally in Jaffna when it was not fashionable to do so. This is the same man who watched with tears in his eyes when the National Anthem was sung in Tamil at the last Independence Day celebrations a few months ago. This is the same man who supported the government’s efforts to enact decent and democratic constitutional reforms despite being the Leader of the Opposition.
If one is asked to pick a moderate politician from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sampanthan would still be Number One on the list. He represents not only a different generation – he is eighty-three years old – but also the best chance of resolving Sri Lanka’s ethnic question vis-à-vis the TNA. Sadly, he missed a trick this time.
Maybe he should apologise and own up to his error in judgment. That would help to put the matter to rest. The government is keen not to make a mountain out of a molehill but they can be certain that the Opposition will go to town with this.
To err is human, they say. Despite his age and his accumulated wisdom over the years, Rajavarothiam Sampanthan is, after all, only human.