Two Nations One Country Option - way out of impasse

by I. S. Senguttuvan

(January 31, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) If President Mahinda Rajapakse and his advisors are patting themselves on the back for taking an Ostrich-like stance in the National Question where they feel they have so far managed to avoid a settlement, they do so at their on their own peril and that of the country. After half a century of negotiations of various forms between the two parties the Question remains unengaged. The Sinhala-Tamil sides find themselves far apart than ever before. The deliberate indignity to the Tamil Nation is far too pronounced and continues. An organized Sinhala attack by thugs on peaceful Tamil MPs performing Satyagraha at Galle Face Green in 1957 to the brutal incarceration of more than a third of a million in May 2009 where they were projected on live television lining up for water and food in rags. This may have pleased a Sinhala electrorate celeberating “yet another battle victory against the Demalas” going down two millennia. The fortunes of the Rajapakse regime in the inebriated stupor of the Southern electorate is certainly assured in the short term. While on the other side over 300,000 people lost their homes and livelihoods. Over a 40,000 were killed or died as a result of gunfire. Around 20,000 remain unaccounted for while the State is in record over 10,000 are in their custody Yet the government continues to refuse to show where they are held. Habeas Corpus applications filed with the Supreme Court remain virtually ignored. Appeals both by lawyers and recognized NGOs to see them is refused by the Ministry of Defence despite various sanctimonious claims GoSL has “acted by the letter and spirit of the law” and goes to make the astonishing claim “not a single civilian was killed” during the events of May 2009 in the Vanni. If things were all that good why is transparency denied under a blank of “security considerations” both to the local and foreign media remains the unanswered question.

The return of Mahinda Rajapakse twice and the promises in his Chintanaya since 2006 spelled hope that at last the country has empowered yet another leader since 1977 with more than the necessary Parliamentary power to heal the wounds of the country. But more than half a decade has gone since he seized absolute power with no resolve from his side to move towards unity. “He has squandered many chances” (The Economist, London) is the considered view of the world media. That carefully hidden and unresolvable problem of the spiralling Cost of Living had to come out to the open. The humble, ubiquitous and indispensable Coconut that was at a high Rs.15 an year ago is now hard to get even at Rs.65. It has vanished from the kitchens of even the marginalized. That cheap drama of the Minister in charge of matters connected with the development of the Coconut industry personally delivering Coconuts at Rs.30 at Narahenpita has exposed the nakedness of the State in its gross inefficiency. The man and the Coconuts are missing for weeks now. Green Chillies that was never beyond Rs.10 per kilo a few years ago has crossed the Rs.600/kg mark. Middle class homes will see fried eggs in their homes about once a week only. Tunisia, Egypt and Saanah are waiting to happen in the streets of Colombo and the rest of Sri Lanka. With the country’s landscape dotted with Coconut trees and the island surrounded by a marine-rich Indian ocean to be woefully short of both is a poor reflection on the government’s managerial capacity. What more, a member of this Cabinet and a close confidante of the President - Dallas Allaperuma, openly admits “we badly lack the good calibre of Ministers” suggesting very little can be expected from the current motley crowd of non-performers. Ironically, the development of both Coconuts and Agriculture are areas entrusted to more than one Ministry in a country where government Ministers exceed their MPs in Parliament. Reckless borrowing on massive Projects that are more likely to be non-performers than otherwise will add to the nation’s financial woes because almost all of them are financed by short and long-term borrowing. It is estimated a child when born already is in debt to around Rs.200,000 the second he is born in Sri Lanka. Cradle to the Grave, as it were. Adding to the list of serious lapses by Ministers is the current news the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation – a defaulter for the first time in the country’s history in the eyes of the Banking and Petroleum worlds – is forced to cough up Rs.10.3 billion plus interest to CITIBANK on an arbitration filed by the bank in Singapore for a default by CPC in 2008. Two other banks are expected to gain from similar awards in London by March. By the way, these payments cannot be delayed or denied – something which the Minister and the man chosen as Chairman CPC then may not have known. The Chairman was nothing more than an average fast bowler with no known previous administrative experience. He has, predictably, only succeeded not only no-balling himself but getting GoSL suffer a hit wicket in the sensitive financial markets in the world as well.

As to the solution of the National Question that should have been in the front Agenda of the regime, only a chronic optimist will look at the immediate future with a degree of hope. In both exercises of insufficient allocation of resources to the Tamil-dominated regions of the North East and the rubbing of the Tamil psyche in the National Anthem issues, Rajapakse has lost even the minor faith the Tamil Nation had in a workable solution. Some wonder if his flybynight visit to the USA on January 19, after the Oxford University debacle of December last, is to fill the void in Sinhala minds of the “Tamil enemy”poison that died with Prabakaran in May 2009. “An enemy” is clearly necessary to keep the visceral Sinhala voter happy. And, therefore, “Federalism” of 1956 gave way to “District Councils” in 1965. While the bogey of Federalism found a willing place in Southern minds 1976 provided a far more lethal fear in the “Separate State” project. Better still was “the LTTE bogey” that was buried in mid-2009. Now that the “Tamil curse” is over what does one do to answer the Revolution in the Sinhala kitche. The Southern wife has to have more than bogus promises and bogeys to feed the children. Johnny-come-Lately is as bad a flop as the tuition-master and so the problem multiplies. Have the spin masters in the government side, therefore, now come with the “Tamil diaspora” excuse to keep the amnesia-prone Sinhala mind at bay is the much talked of question now. If the government side only had men like Jayantha Dhanapala, Lionel Fernando or even Kalyananda Godage aboard they would have very likely converted this over-estimated diaspora threat into a veritable opportunity. Such a prospect would have assured the nearly million Tamils making Sri Lanka their first-preferred point of holiday destination. In a few years if Sri Lanka can assure their safety both in arrival, stay and return – now in considerable doubt – they could be persuaded to invest here as well – a task in which the former LTTE leader KP has clearly under-performed. Create the conditions to treat the Tamil diaspora with respect and they will respond in good measure is crystal clear. Using opportunistic and spinless men of the kept Press to revile the diaspora disparagingly as “LTTE rump” “macabre diaspora” is counter-productive to Sri Lanka’s interest is a lesson that the State should learn pronto. Even a usually responsible and moderate English Sunday Newspaper, run by respected citizens, this week unfairly faults the TNA of stating in Parliament “the Law and Order situation in Jaffna has collapsed” In contradicting itself, while implicitly denying the ground reality goes on to state serious offences complained of are carried out by Tamil ex-militants within the government in a continuing saga of going after each other. Analysts seem to be generally agreed the government’s long-term strategy is to keep the people of Jaffna in a state of flux so that the Emergency Regulations – the main instrument in which the people in the South and elsewhere can be kept on leash. An incident or two of shootings – now in the sea as well – is engineered to claim in Parliament the climate is still not right to be rid of the ER. In the process senior men in the government are caught stating both “the LTTE is finished” and the “LTTE is still alive” to suit the convenience of the occasion. This was seen a few years ago in the South as well when Police and army sources “discover” dynamite, landmines, arms caches here and there – all a few days before the ER is debated in Parliament. The game to fool the people goes on – without the mass of the people not realizing it sufficiently yet.

The caravan of VVIP arrivals from India is indication enough the big neighbour is getting pretty impatient. Mrs Nirupama Rao has been here twice in the last 3 months and is due again in the next few days. Shri S. M. Krishna was here not only to open the Jaffna Consular office but to express India’s exasperation as the tone and tenor of his Communique revealed. The powerful voice of Rahul Gandhi, General Secretary of the powerful Congress Party at a young age, “Lankan Tamils will get their justice soon” emphasizes India’s capacity to endure the deliberate procrastination on the part of GoSL is running out. The attack on the Maha Bodhi at Egmore in Chennai, though savage and unfortunate, is unlikely to be the last. Young woman lawyer Kaya alias Angayakanni and her friend Thirumalaiu were taken in by the army and was grilled at the 4th floor for days a few days ago. She knew even before setting foot in the island the security officials in Sri Lanka cannot subject her to the excesses they are well known to administer on other Tamil ladies taken in. She had to be released on representations made by Vaiko to PM Manmohan Singh. The matter did not end there. She has now spoken to the Tamil media in South India and has become a sensational heroine in her accounts. These, as expected, are quite unfavourable to the Lankan State and very sympathetic to Tamil civilians in the eyes of the 65 million in Tamilnadu.

The time has finally arrived for resolution – either way. This writer wishes to summarise the positions that have stood in the way and possible solutions.

(1) For the right or wrong reasons the Sinhalese, starting with school texts, have been fed with the image the invader from the North is the cause of all our problems. The negative events in history is invoked to suggest Tamils in the island are no more than “fifth columnists” Little has been told in the South that Tamils in the North East lived in their own kingdom for long until the arrival of the Portugese at the beginning of the 1600s. The arrival of the North East Tamils in the South in sizeable numbers is around 100 years only. It has now reached the stage Tamils do not wish to be fooled any longer by this regular proliferation of various elections. They are of the unanimous view instead of improving their lot, they have only made it absolutely unbearable for them.

The presence of the Buddhist clergy since the 1950s in matters clearly outside ecclesiastical boundaries and essentially within the realms of the political has

distorted the Parliamentary system of government. While political power is believed to be vested with Parliament the Buddhist clergy has often frustrated all efforts at a coming together of the Sinhala and Tamil forces in the country.

The growing influence of Sinhala supremacism characterized by the clergy, the Mudalali clique, the politicized army-police has reduced the space for any form of rapprochement. The recent rise of the JHU, PNM and similar extremists with clear anti-Tamil inclinations makes National Unity virtually impossible.

(2) The instrument of Provincial Councils in 1987– that proved a form of acceptable political arrangement to the Tamil moderates – and which was more in the centre of thought of the authors of both the 13th amendment and the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord were blatantly denied to the Tamil North-East. It was allowed to every other Province in the country. Every Sinhala government since then failed to provide the necessary arrangements for the Tamils to run their affairs in an undivided country – although the Tamil side came down substantially from the demands of a Separate State which secured popular mandate in the General Elections in 1977.

(3) Even the minor concessions under the leadership of Ranil Wickremasinghe were sabotaged although he enjoyed a popular mandate. These arrangements gained the encouragement of stake-holders India, the EU, Japan and the USA needs to be borne in mind.

4) The arrival of President Rajapakse at the centre of the political scene and the enormous mandates he received from the Southern Electorate was expected to usher in a period of National Unity as enunciated under the letter and spirit of the Mahinda Chintanaya. In spite of the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, he has failed to win the confidence of the Tamils who live in greater fear and insecurity than ever before. That they are relatively freer today than during the days of the LTTE fascistic rule is conceded. But the fact is, as suggestive in the National Anthem issue and the climate of fear in the North East Tamils have no reason to trust President Rajapakse will bring them the peace, order and happiness that is their long denied but rightful due. The National Anthem controversy is no more than vendetta for the Oxford University debacle is widely known. In the circumstances, it is feared his hasty departure from Houston and the legal action filed by the Tamils against Genocide can generate further punitive and group punishment onLankan Tamiles by his regime.

The “War” and the aftermath, wide-scale corruption and nepotism continues to suck at the roots of the country’s resources and the country becomes poorer everyday. This is now illustrated by the punishing high prices in daily essentials – which the government is unable to control.

(5) Our conflict is essentially race-based. From ancient times two nations have lived in the Island. In the circumstances, a way out on a Two -Nation One-Country formulae (Sinhala and Tamil Nations) should be looked into. The Israeli-Palestinian question is being negotiated currently under the same formulae is relevant to be borne in mind. Hardline Tamils also should note a Separate State altogether is harmful both to them as well. However, deep their wounds of the present and the past a certain degree of give-and-take is necessary for the sake of the future. The region and the world too will not accept any effort at bifurcation. Last week Norway herself came out against dividing the country. The arrangement now suggested, it should be noted, will not in any way jeopordise the territorial integrity of the country. On the other hand, as it has been convincingly shown, this arrangement will only go out to free the country from most of our serious pressures. Control in Finance, Foreign Policy, Security of the State will remain in the hands of the Centre. The Principle of supremacy by majority rule is in no way compromised. This is no different to the “13th Amendment plus” the President has been suggesting now and then.

Going by the past, admittedly, there is likely to be initial opposition to the proposal. Presumably this will be mainly spear-headed by the radical and politicised Buddhist clergy. But, as in the case of Language Parity (1957) and the Citizenship (1948) issues. Although these were portrayed to set the entire country aflame acolypsically – both were eventually conceded with hardly any serious political turbulence. It is left to the political and intellectual leadership of the country to get the people educated to the far-reaching benefits of the captioned formulae.

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