04 September 2011

There’s more to cat-skinning that meets the eye

 A couple of weeks ago, I addressed a gathering at a book launch. Rajpal Abeynayake, who was present, wrote in his column last week, that I should be ‘a little bit more circumspect’ in saying that ‘post-war power-sharing projects in countries such as Sri Lanka are driven at least partially by the purpose of foreign interests seeking to commandeer, or at least pilfer, our resources’.  I didn’t use those words.  I make a distinction between power-sharing and devolution.  More on that presently.  As for ‘circumspection’, it is embedded in the qualifiers interjected, even in his representation of what I said.  Yes, there are many ways to skin the cat, and as he puts it, polarization of people to the point of conflict and armed confrontation is but one of these.  The choice of strategy is of course informed by ground realities.  If conflict can be fuelled and if fuelling conflict works, then why not try it?  If it can be done in smoother ways (I recall the US-friendly J.R.Jayewardene shamelessly say ‘Let the robber barons come!’ when he opened the economy and the nation to untrammeled value extraction), all the better.  For those who are in this to make bucks, that is. 

Conflicts cost, Rajpal is right.  Countries have to pocket out bucks for weapons and other hardware.  That’s one way of making bucks.  It doesn’t involve ‘digging, exploration, denuding of forests etc.’ as Rajpal points out.  Avoiding conflict therefore, he argues, makes sense.  And as Rajpal says ‘It’s a good reason to want to think about such things, when rejecting internal power-sharing arrangements out of hand’.  Rejecting out-of-hand anything is not intelligent.  Things should be embraced or rejected after considering the pluses and minuses.  Power sharing, as far as I am concerned (and as I have argued) is a good thing. On the other hand, there are many ways to skin the power cat too, so to speak.  In a political arrangement where power is overwhelmingly concentrated in the office of the President, clipping wings makes sense.  It can only add value to citizenship.  I am all for it.  In Sri Lanka, however, ‘power sharing’ has been erroneously made coterminous with devolution.  Now the argument can be made that devolutionary power-sharing should not be rejected out of hand, taking into consideration the kinds of theft Rajpal has elaborated on.  True, as I said, out-of-hand rejection is bad; rejection or acceptance must be backed by logic, backed by facts. 
There is nothing to say that refusal to devolve would re-invent conflict in ways that facilitated value-extraction.  Secondly, there is nothing to say that devolution will not create conditions for renewal of conflict via upping of demand.  We can’t dismiss the Chelvanayakam thesis (which I’ve referred to often enough) of ‘little now, more later’.  Devolution to the current provincial boundaries will most certainly fix the Eelam map and knowing well that Eelamists are great liars and are damn good at turning myth and fantasy into fact via propaganda, it would be silly to assume that they’ll close shop with devolution, 13 or 13 plus.  More importantly, devolutionary power-sharing should correspond to grievance, i.e. in their true dimensions and not those inspired by chauvinism-inflated fairy tales.   Not only does the demographic data rebel against devolutionary ‘resolutions’, there is nothing to say that other ‘grievances’ can only be resolved through devolution.  Also, the I-can’t-decide-my-future type of complaints are not the preserve of any single community, but cut across ethnicities.  Devolution of power fails the economic test too.  Most of the wealth in the country is created in the Western Province. Even if there was no one engaged in land-digging and sweat-robbing, wealth creators cannot be expected to dole out bucks after being told ‘you look after your province, we’ll look after ours’. 
Not too long ago, we were told that if we devolved, then terrorism would disappear.  That was tried.  Failed.  We were told, ‘you didn’t devolve enough’.  Rubbish.  Those who want to mess things up, take up arms, explode bombs etc., are not persuaded to desist by reason.  The best we can do is to be honest about realities and take it from there.  And this includes calling the Eelamist bluff, which, given reduced circumstances, has been watered down to the articulation of the Chelvanayakam Thesis referred to above.  
If self-determination and democracy is what it’s all about, then the focus should be on changing the structures that perpetuate the devaluation of the citizen.  There’s a lot of ‘polarization’ around and it’s not being talked about because the exaggerations of the Eelam Lobby have made it easy for their neglect.  Devolution is nothing more than a pandering to Eelam myth-making, unless we go for a wholesale re-demarcating of provincial boundaries to correct regional resource anomalies and complement such an exercise with significant constitutional amendments that win back self-determination for the ordinary citizen.  Repeating somberly ‘conflict will come, conflict will come’ amounts to surrendering to falsehood and buttressing the land-theft designs of Eelamists. 
In the end it is the wellbeing of the entire population that should matter.  In this, whether it is Dole or KVC that’s ripping off people does not matter.   It’s the ripping off that is relevant, not the ripper-off.  There is no point in bragging about securing the territorial integrity of the nation if things associated with the term ‘nation’, especially resources, get pilfered left and right within the ‘saved’ boundaries.  And it matters little if the thief is a foreigner or a local. A nation is no one’s private property.   I think there’s a lot of work to be done.  I think we can do without distractions. 

Courtesy: Sunday Lakbima News - 4 September, 2011