The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 4

4
Sunday, March 22, 2015
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op-ed
There were two key decisions made
by the new Government with respect to
long-standing complaints r ised by elect-
ed representatives from areas populated
by a majority of Tamils. The first was to
appoint a civilian as the Governor of the
Northern Provincial Council.
The previous Governor was officially
a civilian, but he was also an ex-soldier;
highly decorated and by most accounts
highly competent in handling civilian
situations (he did a fantastic job at the
Relief Camps immediately after the war
ended) but nevertheless an ex-soldier.
More than five years after the war ended
it made sense to appoint someone who
was not directly involved. It was a good
move.
The second was to free up more ‘mili-
tary-held’ land and return the same to
original owners. Now it was not the case
that the previous regime had a policy of
continuous occupation of civilian prop-
erties. Much land had already been re-
leased. In fact, it could be argued that
it was during the tenure of the previ-
ous president that two provinces were
‘cleared’ in their entirety and released to
civilians. Nevertheless, it made sense to
continue the process of de-militarization
in this manner.
The Government did not close down the
camps. It cannot. The Army cannot be
made to live on ships or in airplanes after
all; if there can be a camp in Mattegoda,
there’s nothing wrong in another camp
being located in Palaly.
De-militarization makes sense. Drop-
ping one’s guard is nonsense. No country
does it or can do it without exposing it-
self to serious risks. We can’t afford to be
complacent and certainly not whenmany
groups, here and abroad, indulge in Ee-
lamist posturing, rabble-rousing and un-
adulterated communalism.
This however does not mean that
the Government should treat all Tamil
groups as terrorists, terrorist-sympathiz-
ers or separatists. It does not mean that
the Government sho
e with
them, even if they happened to be all of
that. There’s nothing wrong in engage-
ment. Engagement is one thing, giving a
free hand another. Therefore, while the
decision to review the list of organiza-
tions proscribed for connections with the
LTTE is not a bad idea, it has to be done
with caution and with a complete com-
mitment to comprehensive assessment.
The problem with Foreign Minister
Mangala Samaraweera’s announcement
about the above review is that it is not his
business. It is a security issue and not a
diplomatic matter. Not his subject. It is a
subject that comes under the Minister of
Defence, President Maithripala Sirisena.
Now, in practice, the President has
delegated much of his responsibilities
to the Prime Minister. He has been very
reserved, but when it comes to national
security Maithripala Sirisena cannot
operate as though he is the water boy of
this Government and certainly not of the
Foreign Minister. National Security is
not just another inconsequential policy
football he can pass to Samaraweera, es-
pecially since (and not only because of
the fact that) he, Samaraweera, is a noto-
rious own-goal scorer.
It is time that the President asserted
himself. In times of war, the guns are
kept at the ready. When wars are done,
swords are sheathed. The guard is not
dropped. What we are seeing is exactly
this. It may not cost, but more seriously
it may cost. This is why countries have
defence ministries and standing armies.
Intelligence is as important as anything
else ‘military’ during times of war. In
peace times, soldiers can be kept in bar-
racks, but intelligence does not and can-
not similarly relax.
It is time for President Sirisena to put
his foot down. He has to take the Defence
Portfolio seriously. He has to appoint
competent people to handle all defence-
related operations, especially intelli-
gence work. He has to ensure that people
with impeccable records with regard to
ability and integrity and are moreover
highly respected in milit
re
placed at the high levels of decision-mak-
ing. Most importantly he has to get to the
middle. In this business he has to open
the batting and carry his bat out. He can-
not make way for a proxy.
National Security is not a football
Every Sri Lankan government since in-
dependence has had to deal with its coun-
terpart in India. Sometimes, these relations
reached dizzy heights and at other times,
they deteriorated to the point where the two
countries were engaged in a diplomatic war
of words.
Indo-Lanka relations were at their zenith
when Sirima Bandaranaike and Indira Gan-
dhi were at the helm of their countries. The
two ladies, both daughters of two PrimeMin-
isters, had a great personal chemistry be-
tween them and this was reflected in the af-
fairs between the two countries at that time.
J.R. Jayewardene had antagonized Gandhi
in the 1977 general election campaign. When
she returned to power in 1980, relations be-
tween Colombo and New Delhi were frosty.
Gandhi sanctioned the training of Tamil
terrorists on Indian soil, a scandal that was
later exposed in the Indian media.
Since then, to this day, Indo-Lanka rela-
tions have been defined by one predominant
factor: the issue of Tamil separatism and
matters related to the devolution of power in
Sri Lanka. Successive governments in both
Colombo and New Delhi have grappled with
this challenge.
Indian intervention in this regard was
at its height in 1987. At a time when the Sri
Lankan armed forces were poised to defeat
theLiberationTigersof TamilEelam(LTTE),
India threatened to intervene, air dropping
food to the North. Under duress, Jayewar-
dene agreed to an accord with Delhi.
The resultant Indo-Lanka Accord gave
birth to the 13thAmendment to the Constitu-
tionwhich is still a bone of contention. Ironi-
cally, the Tamil Tiger terrorists who were
nurtured by Indira Gandhi plotted to as-
sassinate her son Rajiv in 1991. That forced
New Delhi to revise its attitude towards the
LTTE.
However, successive central governments
in India have had to take into consideration
the Tamil Nadu factor: Politicians in the
South Indian state whipping up communal
sentiments vis-à-vis Sri Lanka. Weaker cen-
tral governments had to rely on the support
of these politicians for their own survival.
When the Eelam war was fought to a fin-
ish in 2009, the Congress party and Manmo-
han Singh were in office in India. Convinced
that a resurgence of the LTTE was inimical
to Indian interests, Singh not only refused to
intervene, he also sanctioned tacit support
from the Indian Navy for the war effort.
The end of the war, however, saw India re-
verting to its original stance of insisting on
the full implementation of the 13th Amend-
ment. Crucially, this involved the granting
of land and Police powers to the provinces,
a prospect that most Sri Lankans were wary
of, after decades of civil war.
Matters were not helped when former
President Mahinda Rajapaksa both formally
and informally assured Indian leaders that
the 13thAmendment would be implemented.
This did not happen and relations between
Rajapaksa and Singh nosedived in the latter
years of Rajapaksa’s tenure.
This resulted in India voting against Sri
Lanka on an American sponsored resolution
at the UnitedNations Human Rights Council
demandingan international probeonalleged
war crimes. Singh also snubbed Rajapaksa
by boycotting the Commonwealth summit
in Colombo in November 2013.
President Sirisena’s first overseas visit to
India and last week’s visit by Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi to Colombo - the
first state visit by an Indian Prime Minis-
ter to Sri Lanka in 28 years - were attempts
to start afresh, both leaders being recently
elected to office.
Modi’s visit was marked many gestures
of goodwill - Sri Lanka released Indian fish-
ermen who had been detained and India
relaxed visa requirements for Sri Lankans
- but Modi revealed his hand when he said
that India expects Sri Lanka to implement
the 13th Amendment and “go beyond it”.
This will no doubt cause ripples in Sri
Lanka. President Sirisena has a stated agen-
da of fostering ethnic reconciliation but has
not responded so far to this statement. That
is understandable because he is in the pro-
cess of consolidating power with general
elections yet to be held.
The President said this week that regard-
less of which party emerges as winners at
the election, he would form a government
of ‘national unity’ for at least two years with
the intention of evolving a political solution
to outstanding ethnic issues. This though is
easier said than done.
With the executive powers of his office
likely to be pruned in the near future, the
President faces a daunting challenge: ap-
peasing India and coming up with a political
formula that will satisfy the Sinhala, Tamil
and Muslim political leaders while at the
same time forming a stable government.
PresidentMaithripala Sirisena has one ad-
vantage though: he has declared more than
once that he will not be seeking re-election.
He, therefore, has an opportunity to act like
a statesman: to think of the next generation
instead of thinking about the next election.
It may be post-war Sri Lanka’s best chance
yet.
The President faces a daunting challenge: Appeasing India
and coming up with a political formula that will satisfy the
Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim political leaders while at the same
time forming a stable government
President walks 13 plus tightrope
Why should a country have more
than a single version of its national an-
them? This is the question that many
are asking following President Mai-
thripalaSirisenasanctioningtheuseof
theTamil versionof ‘Sri LankaMatha’.
Those who ask this question by way of
supporting the obvious answer to the
rhetorical question (‘there’s no reason
to have more than one version’) point
to India’s case. India is made of many
states populated by people speaking
several major languages and hundreds
of dialects and yet has one national an-
them. They also point to the fact that
very few countries have more than a
single version.
While a general global trend can indi-
cate ‘better way’ it does not mean that
all countries should necessarily fall in
line. Just because federalism works
for India (according to some people)
and makes sense in the USA it does
not follow that Sri Lanka should also
adopt a federal model. Just because the
capitalist mode of production and a de-
velopment model that takes growth (at
the cost of almost everything else in-
cluding the health of the planet) as the
driver and objective of the paradigm it
does not mean that it is either good or
should forbid exploration of alterna-
tives.
What needs to be assessed is whether
or not any proposal on anything suits
Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans taking into
account social, political, economic, en-
vironmental and historical factors. It
is in this context that the two-language
national anthem idea needs to be com-
mented on.
First of all, this is not about a ‘Tamil’
national anthem that is at odds or even
different from ‘Sri Lanka Matha’ in
substance or melody. The Tamil ver-
sion is not something thatwas dreamed
up yesterday. It was written by the
famous Tamil poet Pandithar M Nal-
lathamby in 1950. There was no ban on
singing it until 2010. The Tamil version
in no way ‘unseats’ or subtracts from
the Sinhala version’s official status in
the Constitution. It must be pointed out
that Sinhala is spoken by close to 80%
of the population and in effect is the
predominant ‘Link Language’ and as
such few if any would say it is not logi-
cal for the official version to be in that
language. It must also be remembered
that the Indian anthem is in aminority
language (Bengali), as is the Singapor-
ean one (Malay).
The angst that has surfaced perhaps
can be attributed to perceptions of the
majority community being harangued
at every turn by other groups, for ex-
ample the separatist putsch by certain
sections of the Tamil community and
in-your-face identity assertion by cer-
tain Muslim groups. Be that as it may,
it must be remembered that the Sinha-
lese, historically, were and in a way
still are a community that privileges
embrace over antagonism. The major-
ity of Sinhalese were not opposed to
green and orange strips being stitched
to the national flag. It was probably
seen less as giving into communalists
like Ponnambalam Ramanathan, GG
Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam
than an acknowledgment of the rights
of all Sri Lankans for a place in Sri
Lanka on all counts.
Inclusion and embrace has been the
signature of the helas or the yakshas
as evidenced in legend, chronicle and
archeological remains. Some might
call it betrayal but if Buddhism is the
predominant philosophical idea that
marks our overall cultural ethos, in
terms of doctrine and practice our
ancient decision-makers have shown
great wisdom. Well, the best of them,
at least.
This is a country that has seen Sin-
hala kings offering land and refuge to
Muslim traders hounded by European
invaders. It is a land where kings from
South India and the royal line they en-
gendered were accepted as ‘Sinhala’
as any ‘Sinhala’ king. Hindu deities
or rather their images were accom-
modated in Buddhist temples. South
Indian kings were invited to rule this
country; they were given the equiva-
lent of citizenship and they in turn saw
themselves as Sinhalese and Buddhists
rather than Vadigas or Hindus.
So yes, just as the history of this is-
land can be written in terms of inva-
sions, it could alternatively be written
in terms of embrace. There was and is
conflict. There was and is post-conflict.
There was and there should be em-
brace in the ‘after’ of bitterness and an-
ger, suspicion and counter-suspicion,
the clash of arms and sorrow, regret
and shoulder-shrug.
It takes a lot to move away from all
the negatives, to move past that which
happened and which was so regretta-
ble. There are commonalities that can
help heal all thewounds that difference
differently read in such regrettable
ways inflicted on all our peoples.
This is a country where people have
fought each other over faith and iden-
tity and yet have stood together in
times of tragedy. This is a country that
divided itself and fell again and again.
It is a country that can stand up and
be proud. Today after thirty years of
fighting each other Sinhalese and Tam-
ils have won the right to live without
fear of explosions and the bull rush of
armies. We destroyed much, together.
Our commonality has been reduced,
for better or worse, to two things: hope
and grief. We can hope together and we
can grieve together.
The Tamil version is an affirmation
(in a language other than Sinhala) of a
single nation, a unitary state and a ter-
ritory undivided. It affirmswhat is best
amongourbetterandmoreenlightened
citizens. It restores in some small mea-
sure a sense of pride among Tamils, I
believe, about being a Sri Lankan and
being as Sri Lankan as a Sinhalese or
any other citizen. It is not and should
not be read as an ‘anthem-version’ of
the erroneous and much quoted (by
communalists) assertion of Colvin R
De Silva (‘one language, two nations;
two languages, one nation’). Life and
politics is not as simple as that.
Affirming Sri Lankan
identity in anthem(s)
1,2,3 5,6,7,8-9,10,11,12,13,14,15,...76
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