A love-hate relationship

Since the beginning of recorded Sri Lankan history, this country has been in quite a dilemma to define her relationship with her giant neighbour to the north. At times we are reminded that India is the surrogate of our very existence, with every iota of our proud civilization finding its roots in that vast subcontinent; it is the land that gave birth to Buddhism and Hinduism, two main religions of this country. While centuries old cultural, religious and communal ties stimulate an affinity in Sri Lankans towards India like no other country is remotely capable of, India also has a remarkable capacity to arouse equally passionate wrath in the masses of her southern neighbour.

This monumental dilemma as to how define our relationship with India, and more importantly, how to deal with the reality of an emerging superpower that has the potential to change the destiny of our tiny island, is once again taunting us 25 centuries after we had to choose between an Indian prince who we claim to pay deference to, and a local princess who we chose to alienate.

No other political party seems more embroiled in this cyclic dilemma than the JVP. Having once denounced India during the 80’s, especially in the wake of the Indo-Lanka accord, the party had a more favourable attitude towards it in the 90’s. From recent rhetoric of JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, calling on the masses to boycott Indian products, it’s clear that the party and maybe a majority of Sri Lankans have once again been posed the million dollar question of whether India is a friend or foe.

Making matters worse, there has been some confusing signals coming from across the Palk Straits. To everyone’s surprise the Indian government did not come down hard on the Rajapaksa regime, which after promising the panacea to Sri Lanka’s long protracted ethnic issue through the All Party Representatives Committee, finally delivered a 20 year old, tried and failed solution in the form of the 13th Amendment. Indians might have had their own problems denouncing a document drafted by them, but it would not have surprised any analyst if India applied some pressure on its southern counterpart to draft a more acceptable solution with a greater degree of devolution.

Some saw this endorsement of the 13th Amendment as a green light from India to carry on the current strategy to annihilate the LTTE, and think of a permanent solution to the ethnic problem as an after thought. However from the statements that are resonating from New Delhi these days, it is clear that no one there is willing to give the current regime in Colombo a free hand in dealing with the LTTE. It is clear that they are eager to see a negotiated settlement for the issue. This may be contrary to the well known fact that India has been increasingly providing intelligence and military hardware to counter the LTTE’s strength, especially its naval capabilities.

We in Sri Lanka need to realise that our national interest lies in recognising the concerns of our neighbour, especially in relation to its southern domestic compulsions. As recent and ancient history has proven, time and again, no good has come to Sri Lanka whenever India was antagonised. It is time to re-engage our oldest ally in the world, in an honest and transparent fashion giving ear to its concerns and needs. We need to recognise that certain problems are solely not our own, and can have regional implications as well.

It is best we remember that however independent a child maybe, and however much it may resent the interference of its parents, it is impossible to break those invincible bonds that transcends other factors.

It is equally impossible to think of a solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka without giving credence to the concerns of India, however difficult a reality that might be to swallow.


Harry the Warrior Prince

International news media has been all agog over a particular story about the British Royal Family. Only this time, it’s not the Queen, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William or even Diana. Prince Harry, third in line to the throne of Britain was ‘exposed’ two days ago as being on mission with the British military in Afghanistan, fighting Taliban insurgents that threaten security in the region.

Prince Harry, who was bitterly disappointed when he was not allowed to serve in Iraq with the Coalition Forces after militants threatened to kidnap or kill him, has been in Afghanistan for 10 weeks, eating military food rations, bathing once every three days and unable to launder his clothes for more than a week at a time. In many ways, the Afghanistan situation is almost as volatile as Iraq, and the Prince, from all accounts, has done the Queen and country proud, fitting in well with the other soldiers, his Commanding Officers claim.

The story has captured world attention, more so because of Harry’s charmed life. Born to the Royal Family of England, he has been in the spotlight since birth. Until now, he had also to a great extent, been living in the shadow of his father, Prince Charles, his mother Princess Diana ,and his elder brother, Prince William. He sparked off a media frenzy during his rough and tumble years, when he earned himself a notorious reputation for bar-hopping, dabbling in narcotics and his clashes with the paparazzi outside nightclubs. Yet the boy has finally come of age. Twenty three year old Harry’s sincerity and commitment to serving in the British Military has made him one of the British monarchy’s greatest assets.

Harry has already left Afghanistan for Britain and he is expected to get a rousing welcome when he returns home to Buckingham Palace. For parents, siblings and other loved ones of the British troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,( fighting someone else’s war as the disgruntled Brits keep saying), the fact that a member of the Royal family and one so young at that, served on the same dangerous fronts will be both heartening and encouraging. While the British public might not be governed by the monarchy any longer, they nevertheless continue to look on the monarchy as state symbols of leadership. In that sense, by allowing Prince Harry to serve in Afghanistan, despite having all the resources to ensure he was given a far less dangerous posting, the Royals have set an example worthy of emulation.

In 20 years of civil war, Sri Lanka has been unable to produce a single such example.
Yet we have leaders screaming nationalistic slogans and vowing to crush the terrorists militarily, making these promises with the sound knowledge that their sons will not be the ones serving on the front lines of battle. Instead, these political brats are shipped off overseas to fancy schools or universities, to keep them as far from the firing line as possible. This war, often touted as the ‘only’ option by fat cat politicians, is one fought almost entirely by the poor man’s sons. Modern day Dutugemunus, reborn to reunite the nation, would never dream of sending their princely offspring to become true warriors. Like most things political in Sri Lanka, most of the rhetoric is just a lot of hot air.

As for Prince Harry, we salute his courage, but even more his humility, to live a soldier’s life on the frontlines, despite being born to one of the most privileged families in the world.