The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) faced a few discordant moments in the past few days over its selection of the chief ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), elections for which are scheduled to take place in September this year.
Pitted against each other in the selection race was a former judge of the Supreme Court, C.V. Vigneswaran, a prominent figure in the judicial circles and Mavai Senathirajah, a TNA Member of Parliament from the Jaffna District. Tamil political observers watching the selection scenario, dubbed it a 'tussle between the judiciary and the legislature.' Indeed, the discordance of the selection of the chief ministerial candidate continued for a significant number of days, before sanity returned and status quo was restored within the TNA and the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the political party of
R. Sampanthan and Mavai Senathirajah, with all agreeing to the nomination of Vigneswaran as the chief ministerial candidate of the TNA. This agreement was reached at a special meeting held at the TNA office in Colombo yesterday (15).
Senathirajah, finally gave into to his leader, R. Sampanthan's wisdom, and proving his loyalty to the TNA, not only withdrew his name as contender for the NPC Chief Minister post, but also extended his support towards the candidature of Justice Vigneswaran. Senathirajah's magnanimity in making way for Vigneswaran to be nominated the TNA's prime candidate for the NPC polls has made him a better man and 'King Maker' of the party.
His gesture is all the more significant, because, although the Colombo based intellectuals and members of the legal fraternity supported the candidature of Justice Vigneswaran, Senathirajah was very much accepted by the people at the grassroots level in the North and East.
A good orator in Tamil, Senathirajah was a member of the youth wing of the ITAK when S.J.V. Chelvanayagam led the party. 'Mavai' is the shortened name of the village Maviddapuram in Kankesanthurai (KKS), Senathirajah's birth place. Officially his full name is Somasundaram Senathirajah.
Mavai Senathirajah, along with late Kovai Mahesan (Editor of Suthanthiran – the news bulletin published by the ITAK), late Vannai Anandan and poet Kasi Anandan from Batticaloa, was a prominent youth activist of the ITAK in the 60s and 70s. Along with the Anandans, Vannai and Kasi, he was one of the pioneer Tamil political prisoners to be put behind bars in 1972 and in 1973 for his aggressive political activities.
When the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) embarked on its campaign trail in the 1977 parliamentary polls, Senathirajah, and the two Anandans were the energetic young speakers dominating the political platforms of the Front in the North and East.
Senathirajah has taken part in every agitation spearheaded by the ITAK under the leadership of the late leaders
S. J. V.Chelvanayagam and
A. Amirthalingam. The very recent protests headed by Senathirajah were against the land acquisition of the Security Forces in Valikamam North in the Jaffna Peninsula.
It is significant that even the houses of Senathirajah and his wife remain within the area demarcated by the Security Forces for land acquisition in Valikamam North.
When the issue of selecting the NPC chief ministerial candidate surfaced, the ITAK's Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee branches extended their support to Senathirajah, with one of his ardent supporter even threatening that he would self immolate himself if the TNA Parliamentarian was not selected as the NPC's chief ministerial candidate. Almost all constituent parties in the TNA also extended their support to Senathirajah and insisted until the last moment that he should be the prime candidate for the TNA at the Northern polls.
However, yesterday's do or die meeting at the TNA office in Colombo, to finalize the matter took an unexpected right turn, with Senathirajah abiding by the decision of his leader Sampanthan, withdrawing himself from the fray and extending his support to Justice Vigneswaran.
It is extremely significant that the veteran politician put the party, and maintaining party unity above personal interests in making the decision. He said as much when he told his fellow TNA members at yesterday's meeting, that in the best interest of the TNA, taking into consideration its integrity, he had decided to step down from contesting for the NPC chief ministerial candidacy.
Justice Vigneswaran also created history of sorts when his nomination for Chief Minister was confirmed as the unanimous choice of the TNA. He became the first judge of the Supreme Court in the country to enter politics.
A career judge, Justice Vigneswaran entered the Judiciary in 1979 and continued to serve in various parts in the North and East as District Judge and was elevated as High Court judge in 1986, before he adorned the benches of the superior courts.
Vigneswaran's tenure as a judicial servant in the North had witnessed the early stages of Tamil militancy and it was a challenging period for him as the Tamil militants even remained a threat to prominent Tamil government servants in the North and East.
Two of Vigneswaran's sons have married into Sinhalese families and one of his daughters-in-law is the daughter of prominent leftist politician and current Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, Vasudeva Nanyakkara.
Since his retirement, Justice Vigneswaran has made immense contribution towards spiritual and Tamil cultural activities. He is the Patron of the foremost Tamil literary organization in the island 'Kambar Kalagam.'
Unlike the Eastern Provincial Council, the Northern Provincial Council will have to address several thorny issues such as the crisis situation over the alleged land acquisition by the Security Forces and issues with regard to the Tamil political prisoners.
The learned judge, who had been a dominant figure from the benches of the lower Courts to the superior courts of the country, will now stand on a different platform, appearing before an entirely different audience.
The war in the North and East that haunted the regions for nearly three decades, have to a great extent deprived the Tamil political scene of intellectuals with the brutal assassinations of a large number of Tamil politicians who were also intellectuals.
In such a context, where there is a huge vacuum in the Tamil political scene for intellectually sound figures in the calibre of Justice Vigneswaran, the TNA Chief, Sampanthan, was precise in opting for Vigneswaran as his choice for the NPC chief ministerial candidacy and Senathirajah with his vast experience in Tamil politics becomes the 'King Maker' by magnanimously paving the way for Justice Vigneswaran to strengthen the Tamil political scene with more muscle to face the challenges that lay ahead.