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Winning the Battle and Winning the War





by N Sathiyamoorthy

(August 19, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Sri Lankan Government leaders need to be congratulated for taking the 'advice' of M K Narayanan, the National Security Advisor (NSA) of neighbouring India, in the sense in which it was meant. In the past, the Government and polity in Colombo had not always looked up at such observations in a positive and pragmatic light, often imputing motives when none possibly existed.

What Narayanan said was also the truth – and hence, was also the writing on the wall. "That winning the terrorism battle is one thing, but for the Sri Lankan State to win over the war (for the hearts) of the Tamil people is another matter altogether," was the kind of sane suggestion that would have come from any observer of the evolving scenario in the present-day Sri Lanka. India cared for Sri Lanka, and Narayanan mouthed it.


"I think they haven't got the Tamil people on their side," Narayanan told 'The Strait Times', Singapore, in an interview. "What the Sri Lankans are not factoring in is the great deal of sullenness in the Tamil man." India, he said, was telling the Sri Lankan Government to make the Tamils feel part of the Sri Lankan State by offering them, "greater devolution of power".

It is also the kind of feeling that TNA leader R Sampanthan later displayed while referring to the separate talks that individual Tamil political parties had with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit at Colombo, recently. "Across the board, they told him (Singh) that the Tamils did not count in Sri Lanka," Sampanthan said about the meetings with the Indian Prime Minister.

There is truth in what Narayanan said, and both Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, brothers of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, have acknowledged as much. "Both Narayanan and President Rajapakse wanted terrorism defeated militarily, and a political settlement found," he said.

The fine dividing line however pertains to perceptions of what would make the Tamils feel part of the Sri Lankan State, and how to reach there. In this, the Sri Lankan Government has been stymied by the unwillingness of the LTTE to lay down arms, and retrn to the negotiations table, and argue the Tamils' case collectively.

That way, the statement of the 'Sinhala nationalist' Jathika Hela Uramaya (JHU), welcoming the ongoing implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment, in turn based on the India-Sri Lanka Agreement, is a positive development that needs to be acknowledged, too. The conflicting signals emanating from even such parties such as the JHU, whose 'Sinhala nationalist' agenda is well known, cannot be overlooked, either. The party took the bold step of walking out of the APRC process, aimed at evolving a consensus package on power-devolution, demanding an invitation for the democratically-elected, ruling Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP). Once the demand was met, the JHU has now walked out again, saying that the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) may be veering round to changing the 'unitary' character of the Sri Lankan State.

It is in this context that JHU leaders have said that the Thirteenth Amendment is all that was possible in terms of power-devolution. It is of course for the APRC, and more so the Sri Lankan Parliament and the Sri Lankan people (through a referendum) to decide on the 'character' of the Sri Lankan State. But for the likes of JHU, and at times the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), to have concluded that the 'unitary State' was the panacea to all the ills of Sri Lanka is as dogmatic as the concept. It also reflects an ignorance of contemporary Sri Lankan history, and the context in which the 'unitary' character was written into the Second Republican Constitution in 1978.

It was true that Tamil militancy had begun rearing its head when then UNP President, the late J R Jayewardene, piloted the 'unitary' Constitution. But it was equally true that Tamil militancy of the times had its roots in the unwillingness of the evolving Sri Lankan State in the post-Independence context to address their genuine concerns.

If anything, it was the Sri Lankan State and the 'Sinhala polity' that had contributed, by not heeding the sane voice of Tamil moderates and by treating them with the kind of contempt that neither the community, nor their leadership deserved.

For the ordinary man on the streets of Sri Lanka, the 'unitary State' exemplifies only one thing. That of the 'Executive Presidency', under which scheme the powers of the State, and of its arms and institutions all rest in, and flow from a single individual. .

At the end of the day, there is only war and destruction, no fast-tracking of development. If anything, it was the man who spearheaded that move towards fast-track development who ushered in the war and violence. The 'unitary Constitution', at least in the eyes of the suffering Tamils, symbolised the negative aspects of change, and continues to symbolise the same. Hence the appeal is now for reviewing the 'unitary' character.

It is another matter that the 'unitary State' and 'Executive Presidency' are not co-terminus to each other and that one can remain even in the absence of the other. It is thus for the APRC and the parent All-Party Conference (APC) on the one hand, and the Sri Lankan Parliament and the people on the other, to decide , which of them to choose and which of them to lose.

The Constitution is a Charter of National Commitment over the long term, and revising it wholesale every now and again would deviate not only from the sanctity of the process but also destroy the credibility of the scheme. While developing societies demand a dynamic Constitution that could address the emerging aspirations of evolving communities, independent Sri Lanka has had three Constitutions in three decades – between 1948 and 1978.

The 'identity crisis' is complete if one considered the need and justification for renaming the island-nation, from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, under the First Republican Constitution, piloted in this case by the then SLFP Government of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. What thus was considered a good guide to nation-building became a national past-time, and a product of 'competitive Sinhala politics' aimed at perpetuating personal egos and denying others theirs, when just seven years later, JRJ came up with his version of a Republican Constitution. The crisis continues, and the ethnic strife is only a standing testimony to the same. It is thus that the review of the 'unitary character' became contextualised and relevant.

Otherwise too, the JHU and other protagonists need to recall that the 'unitary State' has failed to keep the nation united all by itself. It required external stimulant and guarantee for doing the same. Time was not very long ago when the LTTE used to control territory, run a parallel administration with all paraphernalia of a 'modern State' in constitutional terms.

If a 'Tamil Eelam' was not born yet, it was only because the international community would not offer the mandatory recognition – and not because the 'unitary State' came in the way.

It did not require the Indian NSA to tell the Sri Lankans on what needs to be done. Sri Lanka knows what is best for it, and how to do it. But even in this, the Tamils needs to feel that they are as much a part of the decision-making processes as the Sinhalese, Muslims and the Burghers, as the Rajapaksa brothers have mentioned since. The battle is with the methods, the war is over the motives and for the minds. It is not the battle that created the war, but is the other way round. True, battles may have strengthened the resolve of the fighting forces – and not just military forces – on either side of the ethnic divide, but to dismiss that the war would have been won if the battles are won is, to say the least, a fallacy. Sri Lanka would have to look only at West Asia, where long after the Camp David Accord, and long after the death of Yasser Arafat and Anwer Sadat, the war rages on – under a new leadership, under a new scheme. The post-9/11 'Global War on Terror' has only derived from it, and added to it, not subtracted from the same. It is no different elsewhere too, and it cannot be so in Sri Lanka, either.

( The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), the Indian policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. )
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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