28 September 2011

The perils of partial concessions for regime and nation


What transpired in Geneva at the Human Rights Council sessions clearly indicates where the anti-Sri Lankan forces are going.  Ban Ki-moon tabled the report authored by a panel appointed by him (illegally), against all norms of protocol.  Legitimacy was obtained by tabling the said report (flawed, malicious and clearly designed to hurt Sri Lanka with very little support of claims through substantiation) along with those documents submitted by the Sri Lankan delegation (one put together by the Defence Ministry regarding military operations and the other detailing the humanitarian efforts by the Government). 
By appointing a person to inquire into how the UN conducted itself during the last stages of Sri Lanka’s struggle to be rid of the terrorist menace, the door has been opened to pick and choose this and that, privilege malice over integrity, dismiss fact as propaganda and paint conjecture as truth, and do all the hanky-panky that agents of empire have done from time immemorial as and when such exercises are deemed useful.  Whether or not the Government could have responded to these moves in ways that would not have got us to where we are is a moot point.  We are, after all, living in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t kind of world.  What we can do is to do our best and keep in mind that ‘doing best’ is in the end about obtaining unity of purpose from the entire citizenry.  That is the arena where work has to be done and where work is being neglected. 
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has stated in NY (at the UNGA) that Sri Lanka should be allowed to find its own home-grow solutions to its problems.  ‘Home-grown’ is good.  It makes little sense, however, if there is no honesty and integrity.  While the TNA and other articulators of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam’s crass communalism have neither, this ‘lack’ does not give the Government license to engage in foot-dragging when it comes to calling their bluff.  If there are grievances they need to be articulated (there is enough of that) and the articulation must be supported with evidence (there is a little of that, but nothing that links substantiated grievance to proposed resolution).  
The TNA and it support cast (including those who toss around ‘devolution’ as ‘solution’ and as mechanism that mitigates conflict-threat) are not ready for an audit of history (so that the ‘traditional homeland’ issue can be sorted out), are not willing to discuss boundaries (arbitrarily drawn by the British), are not ready to talk about demographic realities (more than half the Tamils living outside the North and East) or population concentrations (most of the Eastern Province being ‘non-Tamil’ so to speak).  The Government can talk about all this, but does not. 
Then there are the issues pertaining to governance.  Where systems lack the safeguards that ensure transparency and accountability and where the public is not insulated from the politician, unity will be a hard buy.   The unifying cause is not helped when a lot is being made of securing the borders but the doors to resource extraction and labour exploitation by multinationals and other foreign interests are kept open. 
Being ‘nationalist’ doesn’t make sense when paradigms of development that are not only unsustainable but are ruinous and make for impoverishment of ordinary people are privileged over time-tested, environment-friendly and sustainable modes of engagement with nature and one another.  It makes for a political polarization that can only feed other kinds of polarizations (for example, those that are identity-based). 
There is palpable pressure being exerted on the regime by external forces and naturally there are local operators who are trying to make fast political bucks (in terms of outcome-preferences) from the situation, for example the Dayan Jayatillekas, Rajitha Senaratnes and others in the devolution cartel who argue that power-devolution will get these forces off the regime’s back.  They won’t say it that way of course; Dayan even posited himself as an exemplary nationalist for arguing for conceding devolution (his words, not mine; and they imply that there is no legitimate case for power-devolution apart from obtaining relief from external pressure – nothing to do with minority grievances, that is). 
Country-siege often manifests itself as regimes being besieged.  That’s one way of lulling a polity into thinking that the worst that could happen is for the leadership they prefer going down.  The regime obviously doesn’t calculate in the same manner.  It might sell threat-to-regime as threat-to-nation in order to mobilize support (for itself).  Politics is about multiple players playing multiple games.  This is why people like Jayatilleka will argue and try to persuade the regime to think that making concession (effectively to the Eelamists) would get the vile sections of the international community off its back and give the breathing space necessary to engage effectively in the domestic political arena.  Poppycock, if you ask me!
The regime would do well to see through the political sleight-of-hand.  Most importantly, even if it was about political survival, then the regime must understand that not only could such concessions as proposed by the likes of Jayatilleka spur separatists to ask for more and more as advocated by Chelvanayakam (A little now, more later), it would effectively amount to the regime having the political rug pulled from under its feet.  
Simply, Mahinda Rajapaksa would lose the core of his constituency, the vast majority who are not ready to make any concessions on the unitary character of the state.  The fight then would shift location. From being besieged from beyond the shores by way of threats issued (by the worst liars and criminals history has ever known), the regime would be besieged by within, this time not by enemy, but by friend. 
Devolution is not ‘partial concession’ or something that would buy unlimited time and space, but a full-slip and one that could very well land the regime on its proverbial back.  Possibly for good. 
Mahinda Rajapaksa needs the people more than the people need him at this point.  He is admired for certain things but would be erring if he read admiration as blind loyalty of the ‘forever’ kind.  Those who would besiege would love nothing less than besiege being complemented by internal chaos.  Partial concession by way of devolution will not win for the regime the full lung-freedom that the devolutionists within the Government envisage. 
That pressure will not go away.  There is a trap.  It is called the 13th Amendment.  The devolutionists are inviting President Mahinda Rajapaksa to walk into this trap.  If he’s naïve and if only he will suffer, that’s quite ok by me.  My fear is that he will drag the entire country into it.  Now, that’s not something that thousands of soldiers had to sacrifice their lives to have happen. 
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has a lot of work to do in terms of obtaining unity.  He can very well do without compromising the unifying project further by swallowing the sugar-coated but poisoned seeni-bola called devolution (Eelamist Devolution, that is).  

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