23 August 2011

The counter-democratic and communalist thrust of re-inventing ‘ethnic’ conflict

I am amused by the way that individuals, interest groups and certain political parties have reacted to the results of the recently held Parliamentary Elections. Having bet their all on secession, federalism or quasi-federal arrangements that can be essentially described as ‘Eelam at a later date’ propositions, they are either livid that the forces they once vilified as being Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists or being fixated with the ‘unitary’ concept have won. Comprehensively.  This is not surprising, given the transformations we have seen in terms of ideological control over the past decade.

The honeymoon days of the Chandrika Kumaratunga regime when Eelamism made respectable reached its orgasmic peak with the Ceasefire Arrangement when the key articulators of that ‘ism’, the LTTE was elevated to ‘partner’ in an historic ‘accommodation’ of ruthless terrorism which can only be described, politically, as ‘surrender’.  The dream-disc was changed by a disc jockey called Political Reality in 2004.  The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) ousted the UNP.  Forty members of the UPFA belonged to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), whom the federalists liked to call ‘Sinhala Nationalists’ when they felt generous and ‘Sinhala extremists’ or ‘Sinhala chauvinists’ when they were drunk with frustration.  The strong showing of the newcomers, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) was also ‘disconcerting’, naturally, given that party’s strong opposition to accommodations with terrorism and/or Tamil chauvinism in whatever form. 

It went from bad to worse.  In 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidential Election.  The Rajapaksa regime prevailed over all efforts to derail things, both by local and international forces, and did the unthinkable by defeating the LTTE militarily (actually this eventuality was ‘scienticised’ to be ‘impossible’ by political analysts and (un)think-tanks such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives).  Then there was a ‘ray of hope’ in the form of former Army Commander, General (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka going against Mahinda Rajapaksa for the Presidency.  The ‘black cloud’ of a Rajapaksa re-election caused a lot of understandable anguish among the federalists.  Few would have bet against the UPFA winning the General Election, but fewer still would have believed they would win this handsomely.  The bad dream was not officially a nightmare.  What to do? Well, there is the last resort: begging.

Today we see all these federalists of various hues begging Mahinda Rajapaksa to be ‘magnanimous’ in victory.  They are referring to what has been their ‘bread and butter’ for decades: ‘resolution of the ethnic conflict (so-called)’.  They want Mahinda to be charitable, to do something for the poor minorities.  That’s insulting in the first place.  Secondly, Presidents and Governments are not required or equipped to be philanthropists or charities, respectively.  They go before the people with manifestos and are given mandates to implement the same.  That’s it.  They are not required to deliver promises that other people made in their manifestos.  Translated into the present context, neither President Mahinda Rajapaksa nor the UPFA Government, recently elected, are required to deliver the pledges contained in the manifesto of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), the Tamil acronym of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). 

But this is exactly what some people want to President to do.  The thrust of the manifesto that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his party went before the people with, Mahinda Chinthana – Idiri Dekma is DEVELOPMENT.  There’s nothing about ‘devolution’ in the document. 

With respect to the concerns, grievances and aspirations articulated by different minorities, their representatives and advocates of ‘solutions’ for these issues, the wording is essentially about broadbased reconciliation.  That’s a post-conflict catch-all term which is in a sense politically pragmatic and in a sense mischievous.  Whatever one chooses to call it, it is what we have in terms of pledge and consequent to election result, mandate.  What Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UPFA Government choose to do with it is another matter altogether.  Whatever they do, one thing is certain, we passed a corner in our historical journey as a nation.  The various forces played their hands and a conclusion was reached, whether one likes it or not: we will put myth-modelling and fantasizing behind us. 

Does this mean that grievances of those who did not vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa or the UPFA should go unheeded? No.  Mahinda Rajapaksa is President of Sri Lanka and all Sri Lankans.  The UPFA is not a party that forms a Government for only those who voted for it.  It is a Government of and for all Sri Lankans. Every grievance articulated through legitimate channels should be taken up and if there aren’t mechanisms for such articulation or such consideration, those need to be set up, not because minorities have to be placated but citizens have a right to a voice and to redress in the event of being wronged. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa paved the way for a national embrace by defeating the biggest impediment to reconciliation, the LTTE.  The next step is winning the trust of those who perhaps feel they ‘lost’.  Talk is not what is important now. It is work. It is rehabilitation, resettlement and development. 

Dayan Jayatilleka attribute the inroads that the UPFA has made in the North and the East to the work of his friend Douglas Devananda. That’s the silliest explanation I have heard so far.   The Jaffna District is not Kayts, this ‘analyst’ forgets.  The man likens Douglas to G.G. Ponnambalam and S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and warns that if he is not listened to (meaning, if Douglas’ whine for a 13th Amendment or 13th Amendment Plus ‘resolution’ is not implemented), the Government will lose him and with him find Tamil people rushing to grab guns and grenades and an extremist banner (by implication). That’s like Dan Quayle debating Lloyd Benson (in the run up to the US election of 1988) comparing himself to John F. Kennedy; Benson silenced him thus: ‘I’ve known the man you compare yourself to, but Senator Quayle, you are no Jack Kennedy!’  Douglas is small fry and of little relevance to a Tamil population that is currently struggling to define its political identity in a post-LTTE Sri Lanka.

The confusion of this analyst is clear when in the same article (‘MR’s hat-trick: New start, last chance or old cycle?’) he says the ITAK is a ‘moderate Tamil party’ and later acknowledges that the ITAK ran on the old-federalist platform of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) which, at whose udder Tamil chauvinism and LTTE terrorism fattened itself.  Dayan is not a Rajapaksa-hater, but he most certainly loves India more than he loves Sri Lanka and prefers federalism and devolution to any other form of ‘resolution’ of the so-called ‘National Question’ never mind the fact that history, archaeology, demography and geography rebel against such arrangements, not to mention that it is not tenable economically speaking given resource distribution and the prerogatives of regional units under devolution.  

He wants Rajapaksa and the UPFA Government to come to a ‘historic compromise’ with the ITAK/TNA.  How democratic is that?  We are talking about a party that is in decline; down to about 12 MPs from 22 in 2004.  We are talking also about a politics that has generated much violence; meaning, the entire discourse about traditional homelands.  We are at a point where we have to take the questions pertaining to grievances seriously, remove the political frills (made mostly of academic jargon) and obtain their true dimensions. These and not myths are what we should resolve for.  In this, the ITAK/TNA or anyone else has the right to bring its set of grievances to the table and have the Government take note and act.  The ITAK/TNA or whoever else that chooses to do so will have to come with adequate substantiation of course and be prepared to have ‘history’ and related claim contested.  If not, we would be just skirting the issue as we have for the past century. 

I believe the federalist lobby senses that they don’t have a case; hence the appeal to magnanimity. 

Dayan poses an important set of questions:

Will he (Rajapaksa) use the moment and the momentum to press the re-set button on Sri Lanka’s Northern Question within the first hundred days of the new cabinet and parliament? Will he press the re-set button to move forward to psychological unification and reconciliation through a ‘grand bargain’ with the ITAK (TNA) on constitutional reform, or to move backwards to non-consensual centralisation and the abolition or dilution of existing provincial autonomy through its substitution by sub–unit devolution? Will we move backward (not least constitutionally and legislatively) to 1977-83, 1972 and 1956, or forward to the 21st century?

Now, he’s jumping the gun, asking leading questions.  By inserting the word ‘backward’, he is implying that being ‘progressive’ at this point is to compromise the mandate given by the people who voted for Rajapaksa and the UPFA by way of cutting a deal with the Eelamists.  That would be, in my opinion, the ‘going backward’, i.e. the strategy of pandering to Eelamists.  That would be the ‘old cycle’. 

There are no ‘last chances’ unless you have a very short time-frame in mind and have restricted vision.  What we need is a ‘new start’ and that would be abandoning the baggage that Eelamists and their Marxist allies have saddled our polity with for far too long. 

No resolution of grievance should include mandate received being kicked in the gut.  The people have spoken. They shall not be short-changed by the losers and their ideological fellow-travellers.  I doubt if Mahinda Rajapaksa is ready to purchase the rubbish dished out by federalists even when they put him on the pedastal and genuflect to the point of embarrassment.   

[Courtesy, Daily Mirror, April 18, 2010]


Anonymous said...

Thought provoking and of value at this stage but there will be the criticism by the usual suspects of racist etc. I find it amazing that anyone who speaks up for Sri Lanka's long term interests regardless of ethnicity is labeleed a racist but the blatantly racist minority spokesmens statements and demands which are extremely detrimental to Sri Lanka are justified and get sanitised worldwide. These demands are not what the people really want but what egotistic, chauvinistic leaders want. It coincides with the agenda of various enemies of the state. All good Sri lankans have to get together regardless of ethinicity, religion, party politics etc. The waste and corruption of the goverment regardless of party will have to be dealt with at the same time and if the government does not listen and get its act together there will be less and less people other than the allready corrupt, willing to actively support it unless the country is in danger. The biggest problem in mobilising the well educated,influential and articulate people in SL and overseas is most have had some experience with political corruption and thuggery. This is a big problem for investment and the future well being of the country.