By Victor Ivan –
I am often compelled to devote a considerable portion of my writings in responding to criticisms. This I know is not a pleasant task. Yet, a person who represents a specific view cannot restrain from doing so when the view that he upholds is challenged necessitating him to defend it.
Last week, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya who is in self exile had published a long report in his website quoting a discussion that took place between Minister DEW Gunesekara and me at the residence of Willa Wickramasinghe whom both of us knew well. It is true that I had a long discussion with the Minister DEW Gunesekara in which we had an exchange of views on current political issues. Despite our discussion at the residence of Willa, the issues that Uvindu has reported in his article seem to have been based on imaginary ideas which do not have any relevance whatsoever to the matters that we discussed.
Paucity of reportage
According to what Uvindu has reported he had received the information about our discussion from a friend of Willa. There is nothing wrong in reporting news items based on information received from a third party sources. Yet, if the reporter’s concern was to present the factual political issues that were discussed there, then he should have contacted the all three persons involved in the discussion and got the information verified first, before publishing the news. If he as he claims, had got the news from a friend of Willa Wickramasinghe, it would not have been difficult for him to obtain the telephone contact of the latter and verify the authenticity of what he was going to report. He did speak neither to me nor to DEW Gunesekara. Ultimately, he made big news based on hearsay which he alleged to have heard from a third party who was not a party to the said discussion. Also he has not got the contents verified from anyone of those who were involved in the discussion.
I was travelling from Bopaththalawa to Galle along the Southern highway through heavy rain and lightening when I received an overseas telephone call. Despite the rain and lightening, I opted to answer the call because it happened to be a call from overseas. It was from Uvindu. He asked me whether I had a dinner meeting with the Minister DEW Gunesekara. I said “yes” and told him that it would not be possible to discuss any details at the moment due to incessant lightning. With that I cut off the line. Presumably, he would have felt that this was enough for his reporting.
According to his report, he had described that the object of this meeting had been to find out measures to safeguard the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in view of a likely cross over of a group of government MPs to the opposition. It was from the report of Uvindu that I came to know for the first time that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government had face with a crisis as such.
He had also reported that I had criticized the role of G.L.Pieris, the Minister of External Affairs and that of Gotabaya Rajapakse, the Defence Secretary during the course of the discussion. He has also alleged that I had stated that Gotabhaya was the cause of every problem. He had used that as the headline of his article (“Journalists in Politics – Gotabhaya is the cause of every problem- Victor Ivan)
Uvindu undoubtedly has created a dreadful picture of Gotabhaya in his articles which he has written from time to time. According to him Gotabhaya is the most dangerous man in Sri Lanka today and whoever falls on his wrath has no escape. If what he says is true, what is his motive in using the above caption for his article? Was he trying to make me also a victim of his wrath? Or did he expect me to tremble being unable to stand on my legs and flee the country as he himself had done into a safer heaven.
Obviously, there is always something mysterious and disgusting in what Uvindu does. I feel it is important to leave this matter aside and deal with two vital issues which has direct relevance to the crisis the country has faced today, namely the objective of the discussion I had with the Minister DEW Gunesekara and the Gotabhaya factor which had become a subject of implicit debate.
I have a view of my own about the crisis the country is faced with. This I have expressed adequately and made public. I reckon that it is a view that has been well tested and supported with objective facts. I am of the view that it has not been disproved yet by anyone though it had become a topic of criticisms and debates. The 25th Anniversary of the Ravaya newspaper too was used as a veritable platform to make a symbolic and profound expression of this view. I had a basic program to make it a reality. Both the Board of Directors and the Editorial board of Ravaya had a fair knowledge of it. One important facet of this program is to convince the politicians of the gravity of the crisis and the other was to create a public opinion about it.
I desired to find the approbation of the politicians to this idea. Similarly, I wanted to find out the possibility of convincing them to accept it. As an experiment, I ventured to discuss this idea separately and individually with several politicians whom I selected on my choice. Each meeting that I held with them lasted for a period approximately of two and a half hours or more. The majority of those whom I discussed this issue with belonged to the ruling party while a small number belonged to the opposition. DEW Gunesekara was one of them.
The other parties may have had their criticisms on DEW Gunesekara about his being a leader of the Communist Party and a member of the government. He is one of the experienced and reputed statesmen among the present legislators. The discussion we had was not intended to defend or criticize anybody. It was solely confined to discuss the nature of the crisis and suggest probable measures that could be adopted in solving it in a manner beneficial and respectful to the country.
The substance of all the discussions held with different people at different times on this subject can be summed up as follows. The present crisis should be made an opportunity to create a new Sri Lanka. The solution sought should not be restricted to the intra – racial issue only; instead, it should venture to address the both issues namely the intra racial issue and the corrupt political system concurrently. The process adopted should not be confined only to the ruling party. All opposition parties should be involved in it. No one should be excluded and all are made stakeholders in this endeavor including the general public. By this, an attempt must be made to create a new state, a new system of governanance and a Sri Lankan nation with a common national identity.
Although, all politicians are compelled to work under a system which is corrupt, still there is a substantial section of them who desires to see a fundamental change in the system. There is also a large number among them who maintains that a reasonable solution should be found for the intra racial issue. In the circumstance, I am of the view that it would not be difficult to reach a consensus at political level for a program of national reconstruction and also to generate the support of the people at large as they constitute the group that is bound to reap the benefits of such a program. It is important, at this stage to make a brief review of the conditions that had led to this crisis before we take up the issue of who should take the lead in initiating such a programme.
Background of the crisis
It is during the British period that the feudal socio economic and political structure of Sri Lanka that prevailed over thousands of years began to change thereby converting it into a modern country. The capitalistic base of the socio economic system, the system of national state and democratic system of governanance can be considered as progressive and beneficial inheritances from the British colonial rule.
Ushering a united nation and a democratic society remained inalienable and essential prerequisites in ensuring the progressive march of the national state and the democratic system of governance. But, we as a country have failed in fulfilling any one of these requirements. Consequently, disgruntled militant social groups that refused to accept the authority of the government emerged. They attempted to capture the political power by force or to create a separate state. This eventually resulted in a large scale blood bath in the country weakening the foundation of the state and distorting the system of governance and the relations between the community groups, different castes and religions.
The country was lucky enough to have gained independence without having to shed a single drop of blood. Yet, 30 years or nearly one half of the period after independence, we have lived through appalling violence and bloodshed. This has deprived us of the opportunity for adopting measures to correct the distortions in the social and political system. Even the public at large failed to apprehend the national crisis as they were preoccupied with terrorist atrocities that engulfed the country for a long period.
Consequent to the defeat of the second JVP insurrection and the total defeat of the LTTE, the opportunity has now dawned to go for an overall reorganization of the system itself. Further, the peaceful atmosphere that prevails has resulted in exposing the drawbacks in the system. People can see clearly the distortion and the higgledy piggledy state of the system. At the time of defeating the LTTE , the degeneration and the distortions that had been developing in the social and political system had reached their climax making it impossible to steer the country forward even by one step without effecting far reaching fundamental changes. This situation can be described as being a special phenomenon created by both internal and external factors.
Who should take the lead?
Now we can deal with the question of who should take the lead in such a reorganization programme. I am of the view that the legislators should take the lead in this initiative. It requires the approval of the head of the state and the governing party. It also requires the approval and the direct participation of the opposition political parties and also the active participation of the people as well. Perhaps, one may raise a pertinent question as to how we could expect a corrupt and dishonest government which lacks a correct vision and a sound policy to play the leading role of a reorganization programme of this nature.
Is there a reasonable answer for this problem? Almost all the leaders and the governments that emerged under this corrupt political system can be described as corrupt. The only difference is the degree of corruption. There were serious doubts about their honesty and integrity. Obviously, even in the event of a change of the government in the future, how can we expect to have ideal leaders or governments to come to power under this system? This being the reality that prevails in the country, will there be any benefit in waiting for the emergence of clean leaders to initiate changes that the country needs badly.
Of course, it is important to have honest and ideal leaders in initiating a process of socio political transformation. But it does not always happen that way. South Africa is the best and the immediate example that can be cited in this regard. It is true that one section of the community had a leader of the caliber of Mandela to direct them. But among the others who gave leadership in the reconciliation process in South Africa, there were whites whom the blacks perceived as murderers as well as blacks whom the whites perceived as murderers. Also, there was a faction in the South African congress that was skeptical about the approach adopted by Mandela. Their understanding of the transformation was based on the belief of superimposing the black supremacy over the whites rule. But the approach of Mandela was based not on a process of defeating rival parties but creating a win – win situation for all parties involved in the reconciliation process. Even when they were reaching towards a conciliatory solution there were incidents of abductions and assassinations perpetrated by both parties.
The powerful leaders that we come across in the world history who emerged through a revolutionary atmosphere like Cromwell of the English revolution, (1599-1658) Robespierre (1758-1794) and Napoleon (1769-1821) of French revolution were endowed with extraordinary talents and prowess. But they lacked the vision and honesty. It was not their vision or honesty but the ability to face challenges, take right decisions at critical moments and their indomitable courage and self confidence that made them great leaders. Both Lenin and Mao Tsetung were two great leaders, talented and astute that emerged from a revolutionary background. Lenin displayed an honest commitment for Political objectives. But in other aspects both Lenin and Mao Tsetung cannot be deemed as ideal leaders. If we are to delay this process till the emergence of exemplary leaders, then nothing could prevent the country from falling into an irretrievable abyss. In the circumstance, we must resolve to make the best use of this opportunity for a transformation irrespective of the weaknesses of the political leaders.
During the second JVP insurrection, Gotabhaya retired from the military service and settled down in the USA. It was President Mahinda Rajapakse who got him down to coordinate the war against the LTTE. The President found his services essential for the victory of the war. Gotabhaya obliged the request of his brother and returned to Sri Lanka to fulfill his expectations. He sold all the properties that he owned in the USA before returning to Sri Lanka.
He accomplished a unique role at the war against the LTTE. The war plan and the programme of implementation can be presumed to have been conceived by him. It was Gotabhaya who brought General Fonseka, the man who made a critical impact on the defeat of the LTTE, to the forefront. President Mahinda Rajapakse like the previous presidents was not in favor of Fonseka being appointed the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS. It was Gotabhaya who persuaded the President to change his mind and appoint Fonseka to the post of the Chief of Defence Staff. Even at that time, Gotabhaya had realized that Fonseka was an essential factor for winning the war. He was able to resolve the disputes and reach a consensus with all the three armed forces and promote mutual understanding among them. In view of the unique role played by Gotabhaya, the President too allowed him to proceed with the war plan free of undue political interferences. Also, a generous policy of providing all resources for the armed forces too was adopted. Due to unfailing performance of duties and responsibilities of all those who gave leadership to the war, it became possible for the armed forces to defeat the LTTE which was initially believed to be incapable of being defeated militarily.
Peace may not dawn by mere victory of a war. It was a war waged not against an external enemy but against an internal adversary. As such the defeated party constitutes an important part of the population of the country. While a section of the population of the country was over joyed over the victory of the war, there was a section which had an oppressive impact of it. A large number of people were displaced. Their lives were to be rehabilitated. The infrastructure facilities had been destroyed in the areas afflicted with war. They too, were to be restored. The psychological wounds of the Tamil should have been cured long before they have got worse. The lands belonged to Tamil people taken over for high security zones could have been transferred back to the owners. The military atmosphere that prevailed prior to war could have been changed restoring normalcy and civil administration.
Whatever may be the criticisms made in relation to the war, I am sure that it was conducted within the framework of acceptable civilized norms of warfare. This does not imply that there had been no excesses at all. But the volume of such errors was certainly negligible compared to the magnitude and the enormity of the war. There is no evidence pointing to the incidences of taking revenge from the ordinary people.
It is a different matter that optimum conditions had been maintained during the war. Yet, failure to prevent certain unpleasant incidents that took place during the post war period cannot be condoned. Abductions remained the most prominent offence among these incidents. Earlier, two supporters of the frontline political party were abducted in the North. Sometime later, two leading members of the same party, namely, Kumar and Dimuthu Attygala too, were abducted. In addition to these there were several other incidents of abductions reported. Any political party should have the right to engage in political activities in the North and the East. Not only the ordinary Tamil people in the North and the East, even the old sympathizers of the LTTE who had gone through the rehabilitation process should have the right to choose a political party of their choice and work for it. Restrictions should be imposed only against the attempts of illegal practices that may lead to armed struggles.
Certain operations made against drug dealers and outrageous criminals are not in keeping with the law of the country. It is true that the drug dealers and outrageous criminals have posed a big threat to the social life. It is equally true that the law is not enforced against them effectively. If the law is not enforced against drug dealers and outrageous criminals it is nothing but a reflection of the level of degeneration of the institutions which are responsible for enforcement of law and meting out justice.
In this backdrop what ought to be done is not to act above the law but to rehabilitate and reorganize the institutional system. Until then the responsibility of dealing with such anti social elements namely conducting investigations and prosecuting them could be assigned to a special police unit and the responsibility of meting out justice to a special judiciary unit. There is no need here to reiterate the decline of the institutional structure of the country. The Defence Secretary is presumed to be aware of the degree of degeneration of the system. Perhaps, that may be the reason why he seeks to resolve certain problems in the spheres of his jurisdiction through alternate means even if they do not fall in line with the normal procedure .Yet, the right course of action should be to put right the institutional system which is corrupt and not to ignore the law
Undoubtedly, the Defence Secretary has performed a commendable role in resettlement of displaced people and rehabilitation of LTTE suspects and integrating them into the civil society. However, certain unpleasant incidents occurred in some areas of his jurisdiction have led not only to damage the respect and the good image that he earned by managing the war against the LTTE into a successful end ,but has caused to create an unpleasant image of the government headed by his brother and the country as well.
After the conclusion of the war, the President removed General Sarath Fonseka who made an enormous contribution to the success of war, from his position. Though, it is not justifiable that he is kept in custody, the decision to remove him from the position that he held at that moment can be considered a good decision. If it was not for that decision, the situation of the country could have been worse. If the Defence Secretary was not happened to be the brother of the President, similar fate would have fallen on him as well. But, it was the President who got down his brother from the USA. He accomplished the task assigned to him at optimum level even risking his life at times.
It appears that the President is compelled to remain silent in the face of whatever he does whether good or bad because of this family bond. The Defense Secretary should be prudent enough to understand this situation. He is intelligent and endowed with special talents. He should either change the tough policy that he adopted at the war and transfer to a mild policy which is appropriate for peace. Or else, he should withdraw from the old role and adopt a new role. Otherwise, nothing may prevent him loosing the love of the people and the glory that he deserves.