Can Sri Lanka empower itself?
Can Sri Lanka empower itself to proliferate a consensus approach that paves the way for an enduring solution to ethnicity?
(Madan Menon Thottasseri)
President Rajapaksa’s quoting of the slow security response on the backdrop of the latest Mumbai serial Bomb attacks to compare and justify his government’s reluctance to empower the provincial councils in Sri Lanka with control on Police and land went really on bad taste, while replying on breakfast-meet with a high-profile Chennai journalist at Colombo in July,2011.
Even earlier Rajapakse regime had reiterated that the LRCC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) panel will investigate into all areas especially during the final phase of the war that annihilated the Tamil Tigers and also on the issue of LTTE cadre surrendering. Still LRCC could not focus into the alleged missing of majority of surrendered people! LRCC cannot be unaware that if any surrendered militia are not missing, then they have to be found out in detention camps.
It will be ideal for Sri Lanka and its citizens to sustain true democratic rights and freedom to one and all irrespective of race, religion or language they speak. The only challenge will be very clear, that there will be a multi-racial, multi-lingual society while the majority Sinhala-speaking people have to accept Tamils and Muslims also as fellow citizens with equal rights. Correspondingly the ethnic groups should get along with the majority Sinhala speaking communities and facilitate national integration. Of course, the ethnic community that may be majority in certain provinces should not get misguided to further disintegrate the nation and its common interests.
President Rajapaksa has to ensure that all citizens are to be assured of their safety and security and guarantee protection from any sources which instigate human rights violations. This will be possible only if an exclusive council with nominated members from the ethnic, minority and immigrant communities is formed in bottom level of Local Administration and Police Departments who can be contacted for any immediate assistance. This responsible council can be given the right to vouch the reliability of detainees who are still not released while suspected as threats to the nation. The high profile members can guarantee for their return to the mainstream society. Let all young people who had associated with militia and waged war be given the chance to return to their family and lead a normal life here afterwards.
TNP will have apprehension to associate with Tamil parties to enable in arriving at solutions to the problems faced by the community as a whole, as it is holding a band of 14 M.Ps from the Tamil speaking regions of North and East together and thus no chance to out-smart their dominance is to be given to others. There is no meaning in clamoring for a unified Tamil territory by reuniting northern and eastern states. Again Tamil enclave will become a neglected area by easily attracting the linguistic nationalism breeding in the island. Instead all parties can unite to stop attempts by government to deliberate colonization by bring new settlers to the ethnic enclave.
In any country, migration of people of any religion or language should happen spontaneously, while citizens are in search of green pastures due to economic reasons like prospects for higher education, trade, employment opportunities etc. If otherwise, it will be disastrous for the country. The state of affairs in Sri Lanka should be that there is no deliberate attempt for ‘ethnic cleansing’, to disintegrate the racial culture in the traditional ‘Tamil regions’ and the unbiased rehabilitation should prompt local communities to get rationally motivated for accepting people of distant race or religion for upgrading their economic status. There must be a stubborn government to curb any nationalist movements that may crop up in disguise which instigate people to nurse feelings of repugnance targeting people of a particular creed or culture, whether in majority or minority societies.
No gainful employment options may be available to the people moved to villages. It will be fine if they are deployed in the developmental work under the rehabilitation programmes and they have to be given free ration from civil supplies. Even if there are paid wages, there must be government–run supplies’ stores for people to get essential commodities.
Rajapaksa regime must abandon militarization in the North and should not attempt to disintegrate the ethnic presence and its majority in regions where Tamil population was traditionally in predominance, by carving out fresh colonies with the Sinhala speaking citizens. Tamil minority’s politicians too have a role to play for themselves. They must stop instigating people against the broader perception of a nation with Tamil as one of the languages along with the main language Sinhalese spoken by the majority and give up their undue interest and demand for a linguistic enclave of Tamil entity within the small island nation. From this anyone can realize that the so-called political settlement and ethnic reconciliation will not be just complementary to each other but will even become equivalence.
Being a person with keen sense of news and had the opportunity to interact with many Sri Lankans belonging to all origins and communities in India and overseas, I strongly feel that island nation’s majority people are silently weeping for all carnages which really seeded the feeling of abhorrence at the bottom of their minds. Of course, they can relinquish malevolence ideas over a period of time provided there are sincere efforts to put forth CBMs from all quarters.
Unfortunately the rehabilitation measures to be delivered in Sri Lanka to the victims of war had entwined into the midst of complex discriminatory high-handedness from different quarters that are prone to adulterate the deliberations of regime. The government failed to take concerted efforts aiming a peaceful restoration of democracy and to offer an economic package to refugees returning to native places for commencement of farming, trade, business and industrial activities for generation of employment opportunities in the regions where they are being resettled. It ignored to offer the basic rule of human rights that entails the war displaced communities to live with pride preserving their own esteemed culture.
Any nation may have to undergo certain compliances with U.N especially after internal disturbances or war and the restoration of normalcy there afterwards. The nation which was at the verge of crumbling could impede an ethnic war has to go through many internationally accepted modus operandi while moving ahead while moving ahead into a political democracy, though a Presidential election was over. It is the obligation of the government to facilitate for observance of these measures and to get the global recognition. If certain elements even if they are part of the government stands in way, the very integrity of the nation will be at stake. They should not be given any consideration as they deface the image of the nation wherein the world will suspect the integrity on rehabilitation of IDPs and offering the economic package to victims of war.
Rajapaksa regime had been silent on its acceptance on the U.N panel even after the episode of fasting by his Minister Wimal Weerawansa. Though it had pushed new initiatives, again through NAM to prevail on U.N to accept for a National Commission to co-exist with the U.N panel, NAM wanted to be unbiased on matters connected with rehabilitation and human rights issues rightly rejecting Sri Lankan requests, as done earlier.
As NAM had let down Sri Lanka proving that it will have to avoid poking into complex issues that exists in the island nation, India must break silence on this issue. Just because China, which empowers Pakistan in its clandestine nuclear ambitions, had supported Sri Lanka on the issue of U.N panel, India should not keep mum to put forth the right advice and caution the island nation.
We had appreciated President’s magnanimous approach to the ethnicity issue when he positively deviated for accepting an ‘Indian Concern’ in his after-war endeavors. Of course he was in the limelight of internationalism, when he paved the way for the visit of a delegation comprising Indian Parliamentarians from the state of Tamil Nadu, to refugee camps in the island nation. The People of India, particularly from the state of Tamil Nadu having empathy to the displaced war victims languishing in the refugee camps appreciated President Rajapaksa when he prevailed on Karunanidhi, then Chief Minister Of Tamil Nadu for steering a fresh relationship with the regime at Colombo and give all moral support for the rehabilitation of war-displaced people of Tamil origin. The Chief Minister very precisely reciprocated the sentiments and refined his vision for peace in Sri Lanka so as to ensure existence of Tamil culture and traditions in the island nation for generations.
President Rajapaksa was not sarcastic then, but realistic when he asserted to the visiting Indian delegation that for the political solution to be arrived at towards the ethnic issues of Sri Lanka, he would expect the fulfillment of two conditions viz. the solution is to be acceptable to all communities and it should also be acceptable to the neighbor (India) as well!
Sri Lanka has entered into the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India and the island nation is a beneficiary for the same. Let me recall Finance Minister’s Lankan trip in the last year wherein he had solicited Sri Lankan regime to ensure that every stakeholder gains from the settlement irrespective of religion and ethnicity. He had reminded the duty of the nation which passes through a tough political weather and contemplating for seeking a political solution to the Tamil issue as a sequel to the victory over the militants. He was quite affirming that CEPA will be in a win-win situation for both nations. He had rightly acknowledged that Sri Lanka’s corporate investment will bring added capital to Indian industries and the Free Trade Agreement between the nations will work out more advantageously for Sri Lanka.
President Rajapaksa holds the reins of a $40 billion economy that has enjoyed a partial peace dividend, and is on the path to recovery with big Chinese and Indian investments into infrastructure and plans to put $4 billion into development. He is under an obligation not to deviate from its commitments after winning a war against Tamil militia. He should push the nation to embark on a fresh nation building process by launching the requisite democratic processes plausibly appreciated by the global community. Despite retaining his Presidential position in the poll held two years ahead of the scheduled time and also by winning more seats in the general elections too, Rajapaksa government is yet to land in the right track so as to seriously put forward a road map for the rehabilitation of the displaced people. He could not interact and brief the neighboring India on any constructive package offered to protect the innocent people who became refugees, majority in their own nation and few in the India across the strait. What prevented from him to propose for a Parliamentary Select committee (PSC) to chalk out a political solution let it is to be consented by the parliament, all these months? Can he gracefully request India for two or three nominations as external advisors to the PSC respecting the prominence of the ‘Indian concern’ for the restoration of peace and democracy in the island nation which is close to the Indian peninsular tip?
President Rajapaksa had elegantly defended on the continuation of army camps in war ravaged areas and concurrently disregarded the Killing Fields telecasted in Channel4. It is incongruous for him to welcome a fresh Parliamentary team from Tamil Nadu to visit Sri Lanka to stir a hornet-nest in Tamil Nadu due to rivalries between the two regional political fronts which will rather help the Sri Lankan regime to further deviate from its commitments. He cannot expect the Jayalalithaa’s government which has just come to power get enticed to his baits. At the most the Chief Minister can put pressure on New Delhi to demand for a political settlement and ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s get-together with Jayalalithaa at Chennai wherein the visiting U.S dignitary took note of the plight of IDPs who are yet to reach back at their villages though the war was over two years ago had generated an off - beat news value in the American media. Hillary Clinton had observed that U.S was looking at “innovative and creative ideas” in breaking the impasse and this U.S response must have inspired the voting of Congressional committee on foreign affairs to ban aid to the island nation for it to accept guilt on war crimes petrifying power corridors in Colombo. There shouldn’t be any other compelling reason for prompting President Rajapaksa to invite Jayalalithaa to have a guided tour in the island nation, through his High Commissioner- Prasad Kariyawasam. He was already concerned when the newly elected government in Tamil Nadu had very valiantly passed the resolution seeking economic sanctions against Sri Lanka and U.N action against the regime and military for its culpability in war crimes.
It is quite possible that as usual, the ruling and opposition fronts in Tamil Nadu will continue to take political advantage while taking a stand on Sri Lankan issues so as to target the sensitive linguistic-vote bank during the ensuing local bodies’ elections as well. Unfortunately Political parties and its leaders in Tamil Nadu never get united to put the Sri Lankan issues into a cohesive-whole to form a consensus viewpoint. This really disappoints the conventional population in Tamil Nadu which actually looks forward an unified political stand with unbiased opinions that should win the Sri Lankan regime to be more proactive and moderate in designing the road map for a political solution to the ethnicity in the homeland of both Sinhalese and Tamil origins of all religions.
Rajapaksa’s UPFA (United People’s freedom Alliance) Front had swayed over majority of seats in councils in all Sinhalese-majority area in the just held local council elections, but could register victory only in two councils in North. The Tamil dominated region’s 18 seats have gone to The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), still considered to be the proxy of the erstwhile Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the party of pro-Tamil speaking people. It is to be noted that the party which had appealed to voters to give it a mandate to demand for self-rule in predominantly Tamil dominant areas, could exactly signal for devolution of power to the ethnic community in the region.
Let TNP consolidate strength and inter activate with all friendly parties (of the UNP lead Opposition Alliance – UNF to which TNP was roped in a coalition in the last presidential election) and participate with the regime in the rehabilitation work. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the traditional political movement in the enclave which could capture two seats had condemned the abuse of state resources for enticing voters showing the victory of the Elam People's Democratic Party (EPDP). led by the only Tamil Cabinet Minister in the Rajapaksa government -Douglas Devananda, at Delft and Velanai islands.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Marxist-Sinhalese nationalist movement which had condemned in giving rights to minority Tamils was in the UNP lead coalition in the last presidential election despite it had locked horns with TNP. Now both UNP and JVP which had lost across the island in the local council elections have no other go than to find solace in criticizing the UPFA for not permitting them to campaign freely apart from the miss-use of power by the ruling front.
Even after the defeat in North, the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa certainly sees a silver lining, in the otherwise dark cloud, as reported in an English daily. Rajapaksa regime had enabled the ethnic communities an opportunity for exercising their franchise to elect representatives which was denied for decades is itself a credit to be boasted off by UPFA despite its defeat in the region. Let me quote the comments by Namal Rajapaksa, UPFA MP and son of President Rajapaksa- “ The good voter turnout showed that the Tamil people had regained their democratic right to choose their representatives, a right they did not have for decades when they were under the LTTE.”
I would like to mention about President Rajapakse’s four day trip to Beijing and Shenzhen, where he was the guest of honour for the opening of the 2011 Universiade or university games. His meeting withwas not just for strengthening the bilateral relationship but for seeking the seeking crucial Chinese support against international pressure, in the wake of a United Nations report accusing the government of war crimes. Rajapaksa could have carried the honorary doctorate awarded by Beijing Foreign Studies University, in recognition for revitalizing his political diplomacy in inventing fresh Sino-Lankan connections.
The question remains to what extent China can offer to Sri Lanka in respect of human rights while the Chinese regime itself is notorious for violation of human rights. China is still entrenched in its vision on freedom and human-rights even after the award of Nobel Peace prize to Dalai Lama in 1989 or the Nobel prize for literature given to dissident writer Gao Xingjian in 2000! Of course, Dalai Lama is in exile, as refugee in India and Gao may be stamped as a French citizen. In last year Liu Xiaobo who is a an unruly, chain-smoking Chinese dissident in the eyes of Chinese regime was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to spearhead the on-going campaign for more freedom for the people of China. Liu had been serving his 11-year sentence at Jinzhou prison in Liaoning. Prior to the announcement of Nobel, while Liu was considered a top contender China had cautioned Norway not to award Liu its most coveted prize, stating that that the ‘essayist’ did not deserve the honor.
It was ironical that Liu's latest sentence for the subversion of the regime was declared on a X- Mas day in 2009 on the hope that the international community is less likely to take note of the news in a holiday!
We all know that China will never change much by this Nobel Prize. At least let us hope that by this the world could pay more attention to China while true freedom is somewhere much nearer to the people of China and this will be the only reason for us to expect the popular award to resonate more profoundly within the educated civil society in China.
Global Analysts had no qualm that the tyrannical China will react to the honor as it has been taking tough stand against dissidents, religious protesters and NGO activists. In the economic front China must have poised to leap forward with a world-beating growth rate, but its approach towards people’s freedom and human-rights is still heartless. Prosecutions for the so called "state security" offenses are ever increasing since the bloody onslaught on student-led protests around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
We now that the commissioning of a new international harbor built with Chinese assistance in the southeast is one of the major projects among thousands of projects that were announced throughout the island nation to mark the 10 day event solely to celebrate the second term commencement of President Rajapaksa in November,2010. Let Sri Lanka build up good dragon connection but not use it to pester India and compromise the still ongoing rehabilitation of war displaced Tamil population. The Sri Lankan Government should stop celebrating the war and even election victories by the political front of president Rajapaksa solely to enable the nation to have a transition from the very devastation.
Let me recall the lecture made by our Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee well experienced in handling Indo-Lankan issues, when he visited primarily to deliver the 4th Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture on Saturday 14th November, 2009 prior to his darshan at the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Sri Dalada Malingawa Temple in Kandy, as programmed.
He advocated the people of Sri Lanka to make use of the defeat of terrorism and secessionism to permanently change the complexion of inter-ethnic relations for the betterment of the island nation. It will be important for everybody in the island nation to realize that a Political settlement is not a ‘zero-sum game’. As a down-to-earth advice, he rightly cited India’s experience in managing multi-religious and multi-cultural societies. His speech gave thrust on democratic principles of devolution of power, equality for accessing opportunities and equal status before constitution that facilitated India to address divisive tendencies of all sorts. He had reiterated that “clear separation of powers, rule of law, social justice, secularism, free press, vigilant citizens and civil groups have ensured that threats to your sovereignty from within or without are tackled with an inner strength that can come only through the ballot”.
If the advice of Pranab Mukherjee was taken note of by Sri Lankan politicians, it will be certain that the Rajapaksa regime will not enhance militarization in the North and attempt to disintegrate the ethnic presence and its majority in regions where Tamil population was traditionally in predominance, by carving out fresh colonies with the Sinhala speaking citizens. Besides the Tamil minority’s politicians will not instigate people not to think of a nation in a broader prospective with Tamil as one of language of the nation along with the main language Sinhalese spoken by the majority, but prompt to evince undue interest for a linguistic enclave of Tamil entity. From this anyone can realize that the so-called political settlement and ethnic reconciliation will not be just complementary to each other but will even become equivalence.
Any Sri Lankan regime, here afterwards has to understand that there should be thrust on democratic principles of equality and devolution of power for people to avail equal opportunities and gain equal status under the constitution. It will be ideal for Sri Lanka and its citizens to sustain true democratic rights and freedom to one and all irrespective of race, religion or language they speak. The only challenge will be very clear, that there will be a multi-racial, multi-lingual society while the majority Sinhala-speaking people have to accept Tamils and Muslims also as fellow citizens with equal rights. Correspondingly the ethnic groups should get along with the majority Sinhala speaking communities and facilitate national integration. The ethnic community may be a majority in certain provinces and this should not be misused to disintegrate the nation and its common interests.
I just read an ENS report on the visit of Seshadri Chari, the all-India convener of the foreign affairs cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the war battered districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya. It seems that the Tamils want economic development and not devolution of power! The Tamils he interacted with had said that they wanted normalcy, peace and opportunities for economic progress. They wanted schools, hospitals and access to markets. Nobody ever mentioned devolution, Chari told on his return to Colombo. He had confirmed that he was ‘impressed’ with the Lankan government’s efforts to ‘build bridges’ between Colombo and people of the North. On a question whether 60-year-old demand for devolution of power could be ignored, Chari had commented “The demand for a political arrangement cannot be wished away, but the arrangement has to evolve, and not dictated.” On India putting pressure on Lanka for devolving power, Chari had opinioned that neutrality will be the best option.
Sri Lankan government and the island nation’s whole political band must recognize their arduous need for national reconciliation while the ball is in their court. India, particularly Tamil Nadu can hardly interfere or prevail on whichever establishment by getting into their shoes and initiate political maneuvering aiming providence for their nation. Any primary moves from India will be construed only as interference and will adversely make things worse in Sri Lanka! The fact remains that there is no alternative for Sri Lanka than to empower itself to perpetuate moderate views on all ethnic and racial issues without any chauvinism so as to proliferate a consensus approach that paves the way for an enduring solution to ethnicity.
Probably the Sri Lankan government has to rebuild the very basic infrastructure viz. power connections, roads, bridges, telephones etc. in the majority affected areas and international donors may be willing to contribute for the same. India can help Sri Lanka by giving assistance in our know-how on installation of telecommunication lines, construction of roads and bridges etc. Sri Lanka can seek help from Indian Railways not only for reopening of bunged railway lines in Sri Lanka but also for creation of a railway network linking small towns especially in north and east with the capital Colombo.
India and Sri Lanka together will form a big Trade-Power in the region and can jointly formulate policies for safe-guarding the interests of both countries. Both countries are having almost a uniform export basket and thus can even jointly formulate export strategies for value addition through mutual import of high-quality of tea and plantation produce for further export to Europe and U.S market under the global trade regime and ensure that highest value in foreign-exchange are earned.