18 May 2014

Victories grasped and un-grasped

When there’s fighting, when there are bombs exploding and there’s expectation of explosion, when there’s death and displacement, there’s an oft articulated wish: the end of fighting.  When a nation has been gripped by the clash of arms for close to three decades there are costs that people bear, individually and collectively, costs too numerous to enumerate here.  There are things that war taken which war-end does not return. 

The end of war means different things to different people.  Those who count themselves among the ‘winners’ will naturally celebrate, the joy overriding the inevitable losses.  Those who believe they lost, lament, quietly for the most part.  Whichever camp one belongs to, there’s common relief on one matter: the end of gunfire and bomb explosion. 

Time passes and those with a political bent re-assess strength and subsequent to a consideration of evolved circumstances re-invent themselves and redesign strategy.  As the years go by end-moment, when revisited, is viewed with new eyes with gaze that is invariably colored as much by event-memory as by the political ‘imperatives’ of the day.  And so we have political commentators impressing their political preferences or rather the ‘prerogatives’ defined by their ideological bent on  reading this moment, that is the fifth anniversary of what is officially called ‘Victory Day’. 

By the time things came to an end on May 18, 2009 in the environs of the Nandikadal Lagoon, a nation that had lost so much over three decades recovered an essential ingredient for re-imagining a different future. Hope.  Naturally, what was hoped for depended on perceptions of ‘moment’, extrapolations thereto and preferred outcomes, short term and long-term.  This is apparent when reading ‘readings’ of Victory Day 2014. 

Naturally, those whose preferred outcomes with respect to the conflict did not materialize back in 2009 are disappointed that ‘post-war’ developments did not deliver their fantasies.  It is almost as though these ‘analysts’ believed that the political ‘coming together’ which resulted in a particular reading of the LTTE and thereafter chose a particular course of action would disband itself, abandon political project and let the ‘losers’ design the post-war political tomorrow.  Understandably, these commentators were either ‘neutral’ about the LTTE, behind-the-scenes supporters of the LTTE or else objectors to the LTTE but not to the LTTE’s project, albeit in a this-side-of-Eelam formulation.  They were and remain a tiny minority. 

Without doubt, post-2005 politics in Sri Lanka was about defeating the LTTE militarily.  If those forces that backed the stand taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa were asked to state ideological position, the vast majority would have stated, ‘for the preservation of the unitary state’.  They would not fiddle around with vague and patently non-political terms such as ‘united’ because vagueness and ambiguity (e.g. one can theoretically have unity in either a federal or unitary set up) can only mislead.  To ask, therefore, for any ‘solution’ that subverts ‘unitary’ at this point would amount to robbing victor of victory confer political defeat on the military victor and be insulting to all the soldiers who fought and died to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation.  One can attempt this, but there will be costs and that’s certainly not something this regime would dare risk at this point.

The above, however, does not mean that all is well and good in the country.  Still, the Tamil people have not lost the right to air grievances and demand redress.  Indeed, ‘Victory Day’ created space for the articulation of grievance in a more democratic environment.  It also created the conditions for representatives of that community to remove myth and fantasy from grievance and aspiration respectively.  This has not happened and that’s unfortunate.  The space still exists, though. That’s what it most important here.

The government, for its part, has opted to think ‘development’ (as per its definition) as an all-cure.  This is wrong.  Instead of playing cat-n-mouse with the TNA with respect to parliamentary select committees, the government could take the initiative, throw gauntlet as it were.  The following could be said out loud:

“Name your grievances and tell us how devolution ‘works’ for your community considering that the majority live outside the North and East.  The geographical lines on your grievance-maps have no scientific basis and have been drawn by colonial rulers and you swear by them: what’s the logic?  Would you go for a re-demarcation?” 

But then again ‘Victory Day’ was not about the LTTE and the Eelam project alone. It was about winning space to bring back issues that the war had ‘shelved’.   Yes, the economy, but not only the economy.  We had a draconian constitution and we are still saddled with it.  If there was hope that the rule of law would be restored, then there’s little to celebrate today.  The same goes for insulating citizen from politician.  The institutional arrangement remains flawed and anti-citizen.  Five years is long enough to fix these things. They remain un-fixed; indeed the flaws are openly celebrated by way of abusing the same. 


The guns are silent and we are grateful to all who made it possible, from the President down to the most humble soldier and everyone else who in word and deed contributed in whatever way.  Many other victories are within sight or rather could come into full view, but only if the correct policy paths are chosen.  The Government has kept us waiting.  For a long, long time.  
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