17 January 2015

‘Resolution’ is never obtained by myth-modelling, misnaming and mischief

Today, post-election, post-Mahinda and a marked absence of devolution and resolution talk, the focus is on good governance, constitutional reform and correction of flawed institutional arrangement. Other issues will surface, sooner or later.  Good to be alert to the non-said or less-said about 'resolution'.  This was first published in the Daily Mirror four years ago, on January 4, 2011. 

Harim Peiris, spokesperson for Chandrika Kumaratunga from 2001-2005, in an article titled ‘Rahul Gandhi, the UN and US express concern about Sri Lanka’ (Daily Mirror of December 30, 2010), has argued that when friends raise issues they need to be taken seriously.  He is correct.  We need to listen to friends. 

In this case however the friendship credentials of Gandhi (as or not as proxy for India – he’s just an MP), the USA and UN are pretty thin, all things considered and are of the contractual kind or worse, the mas raaththala (pound of flesh) type, not forgetting of course a manifest hypocrisy when it comes to these ‘concerns’.  These are not hands-without-blood folks we are talking about and indeed the crimes against humanity they are guilty of by omission and commission make the concerns expressed regarding Sri Lanka (much of it unsubstantiated allegation and not fact) sound rather silly.  In short, Peiris is not making much of a point. 

What is really intriguing about his article is the slipping in of two very serious caveats that are so unrelated to the title of his article that one must conclude that this and not the expressed and commented on ‘concerns’ are what really concerns him. 

Here’s the first: ‘A political solution to the ethnic problem should be found within a united Sri Lanka enabling the Tamil people to participate in their own governance in the North and East. Implementing the 13th amendment is an important first step.’

What is this fascination about the 13th Amendment?  Is he saying that it needs to be implemented because it is part of the constitution?  That’s legitimate but pray tell us which part of the 13th is yet to be implemented and what is to be gained by implementing such sections in terms of the stated intent, ‘solution to ethnic problem’.  Police powers?  De-merger?  To resolve what part of this so-called problems? 

First of all, if it is about implementing articles of the constitution, it implies an unholy conclusion that the constitution is somehow error free.  That would involve a cheering of the 18th Amendment.  To the extent that these are not entities cast in stone and are not error-free it is beholden on the discerning commentator to point error and offer recommendation.  The 13th, now, was a solution that was thrust down the throats of the citizenry in the most undemocratic manner possible (by Rahul’s father, no less, with the happy consent of the UNP regime of the time).  It sought to resolve articulated grievances which included unsubstantiated claims on territory based on concerted myth-mongering. 

The 13th ignored demographic realities (53% of Tamils live outside the North and East).  If Police Powers can resolve identity-based citizenship anomalies then Peiris must dreat the fate of all Tamils living outside the North and East.  It is a white elephant (66% of monies go to cover administrative costs) and goes against the grain of current thinking on regional development.  Developing regional economic hubs is discarded old-hat.  If the spirit is implemented to the letter then the Western Province can say ‘to hell with Uva’ and keep for itself its over 70% of the national income. 

‘United Sri Lanka’ did he say?  Not ‘unitary’?  Does ‘unitary’ necessarily rebel against ‘unity’?  ‘First step’ did he say?  What’s the ‘second step,’ pray?  And the ‘third’?  When he says ‘Tamils should govern themselves’ he is a) demanding regional ethnic ‘enclaving’, b) seeking to legitimize the ‘exclusive traditional homeland’ myth and c) seeking to resurrect the LTTE’s ISGA (Internal Self-Governing Authority) proposal (yes, as ‘first step (to Eelam)’!).   The 13th was a travesty on all counts and it has ‘legitimacy’ only in terms of its utility value for self-seeking politicians.  Peiris cannot say the 18th is ‘great’ and if ‘un-greatness’ requires revisiting legislation and seeking amendment, then the 13th too needs to be similarly investigated.     

Here’s the second slip-in: ‘The real issue is why the government of Sri Lanka is stonewalling on addressing these issues. The influence of a handful of majoritarian ethno religious nationalists should not be allowed to prevent the essential reconciliation measures that are needed in the post war period.’

He forgets that he was spokesperson to the most rabidly anti Sinhala, anti Buddhist leader in post independence Sri Lanka.  At that time, a handful of racist, chauvinistic, minoritarian separatists were embraced by his boss and they convinced her that not only could the LTTE be militarily defeated but that they held the moral high ground in the matter of inter-ethnic antagonisms. The kind of reconciliation she tried to push through would have legitimized a myth, heightened such antagonisms and put a terrorist in control of two-thirds the coast and one third the land mass of the nation.  She had her day. So did Peiris.  Lost out.  This is nothing but the while of kids who have lost their toys. 

The demise of the LTTE and the reduced circumstances of Eelamsits in all garb are not celebrated by just these so-called ‘handful of majoritarian ethno religious nationalists’ (whoever they happen to be and whether or not they deserve such tags). The majority of the people voted against the ideologies that dominated the political discourse when Peiris was in and out of the then President’s office.  Sure, they were convinced by the ideas propagated by a handful of people, but that is always the case in the matter of turning idea into ideology and mobilizing people on such basis.  Reconciliation is good and of paramount import.  Had we gone the way Peiris’ heroes wanted us to go we would not be terrorism-free today.  There would not have been resolution. 

We are not ‘resolved’ yet, sure, but we have the territory cleared for engagement in meaningful ways.  ‘Development’ won’t do it. Necessary but not sufficient, as they say.  It has to begin with examination of grievance (real, not imagined and not fluffed and frilled on account of political expediency).  A good place to start is history.  We could throw in demographic realities.  These are not things that the Harim Peirises of the federalist lobby were ever interested in discussing or debating. Instead they slip-in preferred outcome in de-contextualised and mischievous ways.  Does not help.

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com