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Daya, Malin and Demala

By Rajpal Abeynayake

(April 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The young prince Dutugemunu —— with apologies to all concerned — is said, as the lore has it —- to have complained in his childhood that he cannot sleep (recline as they wrote in the historical tome (!)...) in reasonable comfort, with the sprawling ocean on one side, and the invading Tamils on the otherThis hemmed-in feeling is unavoidable these days - - with apologies to both - - when Dayan Jayatillaka says that we are drinking in the last chance saloon, and Malinda Seneviratne tells us that there is no mandate whatsoever for the government to address the Tamil issue and effect devolution of power.

Jayatillaka, former Sri Lankan ambassador in Geneva, has been virtually down on his knees recently imploring the Sri Lankan government to address the Tamil issue, and devolve power - - and he has quoted S W R D Bandaranaike who apparently said that there would be a bloodbath if a power sharing deal with the Tamils was not implemented —- this, after he had made Sinhala the official language.

Make love not war

Says Senenviratne that a government is not elected to implement the manifesto of the opposition, reminding all that development — not devolution - - was the underscored item in this government’s election manifesto, with devolution not having merited any mention at all.

Malinda has fired some missiles at Dayan, but Dayan eschewing direct engagement, fires-on in his own trajectory instead. It is a scintillating display of fireworks, and I would have at any other time said ‘make love not war’’, except that the subject is of such crucial import that it has to be considered seriously, as we are told war and peace may depend on it...

At the outset, I see Malinda and Dayan arguing at the antipodes, both adamantly defending their effectively zero-sum positions. It’s not a signal of parochialism I daresay, if in this predominantly Buddhist country, we begin looking for the middle ground —- wasn’t it someone very enlightened who said, eschew the extremes, traverse the middle-path?

First up, Malinda’s exhortation is evocative of Mahahtma Gandhi’s. Said the Mahathma, “I want to go where my people take me.”

Noble, I’m certain, in the Gandhian context, except when one considers that the German people for instance took themselves to the altar of Hitler, voting with their feet for the future Fuehrer.

People would take their leaders to the correct place, if the people have the choice of reasonable alternatives, and if there is an enlightened leadership that inspires people to make the choices that are correct at a given time.

It took leadership for Gandhi to show the Indian people that there is a more effective and powerful way — non-violent protest —- of getting rid of the colonial power than terrorizing it. If, therefore, there was one person who was being self-depreciating, it was Gandhi, in his inimitable way, when he said “I go where my people take me,’’ when in fact perhaps the exact opposite of that was the truth.
So, I think that much could be agreed on - - real leaders are expected to lead the way, at least sometimes, and not be led by the nose by the electors.

Having said that, it is difficult not to be surprised by Dayan’s grave warning, which feels as if it is a finger being wagged smack in front of the collective national profile.

His supporting arguments sometimes beg the question - - are you serious? Maybe, perhaps just maybe, he was being generous when quoting the “respected Tamil commentator’’ Jeyaraj, for instance, who wrote a full page ode to arch terrorist Velupillai Prabhakaran last year, after May 18th, memorializing — nay canonizing — him in the Daily Mirror for the dead man’s signal contribution to the Tamil struggle?
The Sinhala people are wary and weary, after an armed insurgency waged against the Sinhala people for the most part, considering the history of terrorist bombings that targeted civilians from Colombo to Kebbithigollewa?

Their anxieties about pandering to another Tamil project a la Chelvanayagam of yore, cannot necessarily be seen as triumphalism — it could be seen as pure angst, a feeling of being hemmed-in, (ah Dutugemunu?) after decades of solicitous terrorist violence.

The national mood is definitely not that of the post independence interval, soon after the Chelvanayagams began espousing their federalist project. The choice of the people of Colombo, for instance, by no means generally considered a parochial lot, to go with Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka as the district list leaders at the recent poll, shows the extent to which the people feel that the Sinhalalse are endangered and therefore need the protection of any kind of guardian where they can find him.

Trust he won

It seems hardly the time to let loose the manthra of devolution among the people, even though it has been argued that it is Mahinda Rajapaksa alone who can deliver devolution, and sell it to the Sinahalese people, precisely because of the trust he won in vanquishing the Tamil Tigers.

In the first place, my wager is that the constituency conscious Mahinda Rajapaksa is in no mood to deliver devolution at this particular national conjuncture, just as his nationalist cohorts Wimal and Champika had never been in a mood to do so.

But even if it is a matter of what Mahinda Rajapaksa should do and not what he is likely to do, there could be alternatives to rushing the devolution project — for example, ascertaining in a national Referendum, the public mood, with a basic question constituting the plebiscite —- what are your views on devolution of power to the North and the East?

A Referendum would take into cognizance Tamil and Sinhala views — and would probably yield a persuasive argument to convince one or the other community that devolution is necessary or not, in the immediate term, as the case may be.

After years of bloodletting, reams of paper and thereby hectares of forests being wasted on debating this issue, I would still think there are several ways to skin a cat. If I was Dutugemunu, I would try to push some sea water out, and stave off “invading’’ Tamils. I would try to urge Dayan and Malinda, and all the Dayanas and Malindas out there, to reconsider and realign their zero- sum positions on immediate national imperatives concerning the Tamil community of this country.

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