Thondaman's dream finally comes true
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent
History was made in Parliament last week when the curtain finally fell on the decades-old problem of stateless persons of Indian origin in Sri Lanka when the Bill granting citizenship to these persons found unanimous passage in the legislature. The unanimity among the legislators ended there with the explosive nature of national security exposing the vast divisions that exist between the ruling party and Tamil political parties on one side and the PA and JVP on the other.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's controversial remarks alleged to have been made during his recent address to the UN General Assembly in New York continued to reverberate in the House with the opposition demanding a parliamentary discussion on the subject. The date for this session has been fixed for October 23.

A statement by Baddegama Samitha Thero condemning the Premier's address to the General Assembly also added fuel to the discussion particularly when the monk referred to Sri Lanka becoming a "pariah" among other third world countries as a result of the UNF government's action.

The use of this word by Samitha Thero immediately drew protests from House Leader W.J.M. Lokubandara who said it was an unsuitable word to be used in the House and the Deputy Chairman of Committees Siri Andrahennady who presided ruled the word was unparliamentary.

If the learned members of the legislature feel this word, which simply means "an outcast", is unparliamentary, how would they then describe the kind of language used by Kandy District PA parliamentarian Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Plantation Minister Lakshman Kiriella during one of their verbal duels later that evening is anybody's guess.

Let alone printable, most of us felt like plugging our ears rather than having to listen to the kind of words exchanged between the two parliamentarians. It fell on the Deputy Chairman of Committees to remind the House the following morning to refrain from using such "unparliamentary language" in the future.

Chief Government Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe too intervened to say that this kind of behaviour projected a negative image of Parliament especially at a time when many school children visited the Chamber during sittings which only prompted the Gampaha district PA parliamentarian Jeyraj Fernandopulle to say that nobody could dictate the language MPs chose to use in the august assembly even if students were amidst the spectators.

No sooner all the fuss kicked up by Samitha Thero's statement on Tuesday settled that Interior Minister John Amaratunga presented the historic Bill titled, Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin. The Bill was presented amidst applause from both sides of the House and the presence of a large group of visibly happy visitors from the estate sector seated in the public gallery of the legislature.

Mr. Amaratunga detailed the background that led to the protracted struggle by persons of Indian origin, brought to this country way back in the 19th century to work on tea and rubber plantations and culminating in becoming fully fledged citizens of Sri Lanka with the passage of this Bill. It was also an emotional moment for members of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) who are now partners in the UNF government, whose founder Saumyamoorthy Thondaman, during his lifetime championed the cause of stateless persons.

Housing Minister Arumugam Thondaman echoed the words his grandfather had used in 1988 when a large segment of stateless persons were granted citizenship, "My people have had to go through really hard times. Now at last they will be able to live with dignity and honour".

Mr. Thondaman said that one of the conditions they had insisted on when pledging their support to the UNF government in 2000 was the granting of citizenship to stateless persons of Indian origin and had since then pursued this matter to a successful conclusion.

Wednesday saw yet another debate on the security situation in the country but unfortunately it was more or less the same list of speakers who brandished their often repeated arguments on why the peace process was either good or bad for the country.
However this paved the way for Defence Minister Thilak Marapane to admit in the House that the strength of the LTTE had doubled since the ceasefire but said it was the price we have to pay if the peace process is to be pursued.

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse moved the adjournment motion and spoke of the perilous situation facing Tricomalee while the JVP's Colombo district MP Wimal Weerawansa urged ruling party MPs to leave the treacherous government and speak up against the disintegration of the country.

It was another poor showing by members on both sides of the House with a half empty chamber and the absence of many frontline government Ministers which has been a regular feature when debates on the security situation take place. The dearth of speakers appear to be one of the main problem especially with those involved in the peace negotiations or related matters rarely using such opportunities to express or clarify their views.

Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne who has been the most consistent contributor for the government on security related debates went as far back as 1956 while recalling the many similar speeches heard in the chambers as those now made by opposition members. He said that all the leaders of the past should bear the responsibility for the tragic situation this country is facing today and said the present Prime Minister was the only leader who dared to be different and had the guts to come forward in finding a permanent solution to the ethnic problem.

Ports and Shipping Minister Rauff Hakeem said the biggest threat to peace was for any community living in any part of the country to feel they were insecure and went on to say that LTTE needs to be more responsible now than at the time they started out on the peace process.

Hindu Affairs Minister said the signing of the ceasefire agreement resulted in safeguarding the sovereignty of this country. "At the time the ceasefire agreement was being signed all major government military camps had fallen to the LTTE", he said. Another strong advocate of the LTTE was the Tamil National Alliance's Trincomalee district parliamentarian R. Sampanthan who accused the opposition of trying to undermine the peace process when the LTTE was seriously studying federalism in bringing about a settlement to the ethnic issue.

People's Alliance parliamentarian A.H.M. Fowzie, one of the silent supporters of the peace process, said he had followed the peace process with much optimism but now with the growing number of ceasefire violations by the LTTE, the agreement had become stained with the blood of Muslims. He urged Minister Hakeem to insist on a separate Muslim delegation at the next round of peace talks.

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