28 August 2011

Let’s not be lazy on grievance or resolution

There was a time when ‘talks’ with the LTTE were touted, vociferously too, as the one and only way of combatting terrorism.  There was a time when the champions of the 13th  Amendment (principally the Old Left, various self-styled Left ‘Intellectuals’ and civil society activists – so-called- who were almost all anti-Buddhist) argued that power devolution will result in alternatives to the LTTE emerging from the Tamil community, thereby isolating the terrorists. 

Now that all this has been proven to be just bunkum, the question that remains is whether or not power devolution resolves grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and here we are talking of grievances that can be proven and not those based on myths (e.g. traditional homelands) or aspirations dressed up as grievances.   

If all or the vast majority of Tamils lived in the North and East, if all or most of the North and East were geographically made of predominantly Tamil residents, if being in the North and East (as opposed to say Uva or Wayamba) meant special deprivations to the inhabitants, then even if traditional homeland claims had some substance (for example in historical account or archaeological tract), then of course ‘devolution’ makes perfect sense.  Indeed, if all this were true, then Rajpal Abeynayake’s reference to Aceh (even though the entire exercise was about resource extraction and not self-determination by the inhabitants) makes sense (see his piece in the Sunday Lakbima News of August 21, 2011: ‘New seeds of conflict, Yale variety’), even though he is way off the mark regarding the Chittagong Hill Tracts, what happened there and what is still happening there.   The problem is that it just doesn’t add up on any of these counts. 

What remains then is a debunked theory that serves only third rate Tamil politicians whose only remaining card is communalism.  None of them are ready to come out and say that the ‘traditional homeland’ claim has no base in history.  None of them will say that Prabhakaran and the LTTE caused more harm to Tamil people and their aspirations than Sinhalese ever did, except of course Douglas Devananda who has quickly moved into Prabhakaran’s thug shoes. 

What remains is a threat.  Earlier Tamil chauvinism could say ‘we have guns, so empty your pockets!’   Tamil chauvinism, since it finds itself in reduced circumstances, now says, ‘we can take up guns again, so empty your pockets!’  Only those who want to pass on communalist headaches to the next generation or a few generations down the line would say ‘let’s devolve,’ believing erroneously that that would be that.  Forgotten is that Tamil chauvinism readied itself for a the long haul of a land-grabbing exercise, a ‘vision’ that is clearly captured by the S.J.V Chelvanayakam Thesis ‘Little now, more later’.  Getting Eelam boundaries ‘fixed’ by way of the 13th (this time by agreement whereas in 1987 it was the outcome of arm-twisting) would be no small victory after the grand designs of Prabhakaran were sunk (at great cost, mind you). 

As I have pointed out in numerous commentaries (in particular ‘Power-sharing yes; devolution, no’, in the Daily News of June 8, 2011 -- http://www.dailynews.lk/2011/06/08/fea02.asp), ‘power sharing’ and ‘power devolution’ are not the same thing.  One can have the former without the latter and whereas the former is necessary given the preponderance of power with the politician vis-à-vis the citizen, the latter does not necessarily offer the citizen a better deal. 

Most importantly, the current demarcations (pertaining to provinces) are utterly arbitrary and damningly make for wide disparities in resources.  You can’t have the cake and eat it.  If you want devolution, then you’ll have to manage as best you can and cannot demand resource rich provinces to toss out surpluses to develop the resource poor.  That would have to be done by the centre and no centre in a devolved structure can take from one province to develop another.  

What we are seeing is the argument of the weary, the give-them-something-and-be-done-with-it kind of logic which is clearly irresponsible and blind to the outcomes, which have to be calculated in terms of the relevant histories, whipping up communal sentiment included. 

If devolution results in averting conflict, bloodshed, grief and human suffering, yes it needs to be considered.  In Sri Lanka’s case, however, the whines were based on indefensible claims and the grievances were common to many but could be dressed in the convenient colours of communalism for greater effect.  Averting conflict, bloodshed, grief and human suffering is good. 

‘The Way’ to that lovely place cannot contain a pandering to fictions.  What is necessary is to obtain the full dimensions of grievance and match these against proposed ‘solution’.  As things stand (and this includes demographic realities as well as the gross dishonesty in claims made regarding histories and of course the arbitrary nature of lines drawn to demarcate provinces) devolution of power fails the test, even if one were to put aside the history of Tamil chauvinism a la the Chelvanayakam Thesis. 

As things stand we are just seeing a lot of grandstanding by the TNA and other affiliated and non-affiliated separatists, and by a Government that is refusing to cut to the political chase by calling out the lie on grievances.  That’s what politicians do.  We don’t have to follow suit.  We have suffered too much to continue to dodge issues or be lazy about grievance and resolution. 



fayaz said...

this is the only reason why i would like to see the rajapakse family running things..

not until the west sees that there is no viable alternative to the rajapakse's will they drop support of the tamils in order to create trouble once again in this island..

and those tamils also had better know that its wise to integrate into society and regard themselves as sri lankans. else leave these shores..