|Reconciliation will ensure a
Last Thursday, after a
lapse of perhaps nearly three decades, Sri Lanka
celebrated Independence as one, free nation. It was
also fitting that the celebrations returned to the
hill capital, Kandy, the country’s last capital
before ceding power to the British.
The solemn occasion was all the more significant
because it came only a few days after a keenly-and
often bitterly-contested presidential election,
where incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa staved
off a challenge from his one-time Army Commander,
General Sarath Fonseka.
The aftermath of the election was not entirely
pleasant, with the collective Opposition making
allegations of a flawed poll and tampered results,
and counter allegations from the ruling party of an
attempted coup to overthrow the Government.
But, above all this rhetoric of parochial
politics, there was one consideration that would
have weighed on the minds of all Sri Lankans on
Thursday: This was the first Independence Day that
was being commemorated after the defeat of terrorism
spawned by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
If ever a reminder was needed, the venue for the
celebration would have provided it: It was,
literally, a stone’s throw away from the site where
the LTTE staged their most sacrilegious attack, that
on the historic Dalada Maligawa, housing the sacred
If we care to reflect on our 62-years of
Independence, we realise that, half of that time was
spent under a Westminster-style of government, while
the other half has seen presidential rule, a bone of
contention at the recently concluded election.
Almost coincidentally, the first half of our
post-Independent history has been peaceful, while
the latter has been bloodied by the blows of
terrorism, that has cost the country many lives,
limbs and resources. It also saw Sri Lanka, once
hailed as a surging economy in the late ’70s,
stagnate in its development.
We have now seen off the threat of terrorism and, at
least for the moment, agreed that the presidential
system of government, with all its seemingly
absolute powers, is best. This then is the moment in
history to embark on a new beginning.
These were the sentiments echoed by President
Rajapaksa in his address to the nation. The
President called for national unity and
reconciliation-and also pledged to make the effort
to propel Sri Lanka towards the developed world.
There were other events that followed, some of them
disconcerting; others encouraging. On the one hand,
the European Union decided to suspend Sri Lanka’s
preferential trade status. This would mean it would
lose the Generalised System of Preferences Plus
(GSP+) concession in six months’ time.
On the political front though, the Government
invited the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to work
together for the upcoming general election.
Considering the fact that the TNA helped rout
President Rajapaksa at least in the North and East,
it is a welcome reconciliatory move.
These two developments, in a sense, embody the
challenges that the Government and the country at
large face in the coming years: The political need
to forge a broad consensus, and the need to face
adversities in an economically hostile world, which
is anyway facing the brunt of a recession.
Clearly, a political consensus, especially on the
question of resolving ethnic grievances of all
communities, is of paramount importance. It will be
the single factor that will bring about lasting
peace and stability to a country that has seen the
ravages of civil war for three decades.
Such an agreement will, of course, have to await the
conclusion of the general election. But that is due
in a few weeks, and it is important that definitive
political measures to reconcile all communities are
taken soon afterwards.
Any delays, the kind of which we experienced with
the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), which
was formed after the last presidential election over
four years ago, will only lead to an erosion of
confidence in the political process, and fresh
allegations that the Government is dragging its
In the process, it will be the unenviable task of
the President to rally all communities around him to
forge a consensus of opinion, and that will not be
easy. But then, as long as the process is democratic
and the aspirations of those participating in it are
noble, we have reason to be optimistic.
If this can be achieved, economic dividends will
surely come. But it would be prudent for the
Government to engage with the international
community in a conciliatory manner, although it must
be said that the world at large too should realise
that Sri Lanka bashing will only lead to nowhere
Just as much the nation heaves a heavy sigh of
relief on this Independence Day, we must be equally
hopeful that there would be more cause for
celebration when the country observes independence
next. A peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka is no
longer a distant dream, if we, as a nation, dare to
work towards it.