No Suicide Bombers, but Resolutions: Change in Political Language of the North and Confusion in the South
To say that the brutality of the LTTE’s violence does no more exist in Sri Lanka does not explain the entire political reality we are facing today. Otherwise, one can say, new forms of brutalities have emerged in the state under different agencies. However, the violent end of the war has created space for imagining new forms politics aimed at socio-political ‘change’ in the repressive state structure. Yet, none of the core leaders of the separatist movement, who fought till the end, has remained to reflect on the war’s violent lessons. Those LTTE soldiers, who have been detained and given a kind of rehabilitation, and those few remaining core leaders who deserted the LTTE at various points and have joined hands with the Government could still reflect on them at a time when the political leadership in the newly elected Northern Provincial Council have begun to re-write the language of politics sans violence.
The spectacular electoral victory of the TNA in the Northern Provincial Council proved that the indigenous Tamil brethren of Sri Lanka immensely love their people’s autonomy within the Northern region and are still ready to defend it. They have a very justifiable case to defend their regional autonomy within united Sri Lanka, despite whatever the attempts of some nationalist historians to prove flawed narratives of linear histories of an island inhabited by diverse ethnic groups.
Currently, our problem is not the history, but the interpretations and reinterpretations of it and using it in the game of political power. And similarly, the problem that has led to some confusion in democratic politics is not because of some inherent treachery of the idea of devolution or defects in the model of a united state, but again the interpretations of them and use of them in power politics. Mostly, it seems that the existing political language has confined the public imagination of the form of the state within a world of mystified ethno-centrism and culture of ethno-religious intolerance and disharmony.
Locally, anti-Indian protesters and nationalist thinkers attacked the 13th Amendment and such attacks still continue with threats of removing some elements in it or the complete abolition of it. The 13th Amendment was not purely a design of the elite politicians of the Sinhalese or the Tamils. But, as an externally influenced model for restructuring the state, it came to prevent future violence and possible threats of a separate state run by the LTTE. The LTTE’s struggle for power, somehow, denied such models of power sharing. Regionally, India’s geo-strategic vision of South Asia had no place for a separate state in the North of Sri Lanka, but the LTTE had believed otherwise, or they had been misled toward such a utopian agenda.
Sri Lankan territory had historically accommodated the Tamils of Sri Lanka with their due regional autonomy. Yet, the post-independent modern nation-state has largely failed in that project. Again some prejudiced interpretations of ‘the history’ and Sinhalese place in it led to the thinking of unitary model and such thinking has deprived the Tamils of regional autonomy. As a culturally and linguistically different community in a territorially distinct place, they can still wage their effort for such political rights.
The idea of regional autonomy was interpreted by the nationalist ideologues and politicians as a threat to the country’s survival. But in reality, the historical existence of the state for over 2000 years, or much of the time during that period, had allowed the regional identities and autonomy within a state called Lanka. New historians and anthropologists who have explored much of the evidence in hitherto to hidden in histories, while questioning the mainstream narrative, have made us to reflect on the possibility of the political unity within different regions.
Unfortunately, scientific thinking has been anathema for nationalist ideologues of both Sinhalese and Tamils who want to establish supremacy of one ethnic group over the others. Instead of unity within diversity, such thinking has led to segregation and endless identity conflicts. Danger in such ideas of one dimensional and a linear history is that both the Sinhalese and Tamil political opportunists can use such flawed and narrow thinking to continue their politics of violence, revenge and exploitation. The LTTE did that and they failed bringing a huge destruction to their people, and the South is now following the similar thinking and will be facing an international intervention that can lead to further segregation and political hooliganism.
Today, what India forced on us in 1987 has begun to show its results, if we are genuine enough to accept them. The NPC under the mature leadership of C.V.Wigneswaran has started to exercise its political autonomy within the democratic framework. The resolution that they recently passed seeking a probe on the alleged war crimes is an instance for how the democratic model can be used to fight for people’s rights without turning people into suicide bombers. Nevertheless, some politicians in the South have now begun to show their displeasure and confusion over the democracy in the North and openly wished that they would have preferred Prabhakaran to Wigneswaran.
The political opportunism that thrives on sowing communal violence in the South have now feared the rise of a democratic leadership in the North. Democracy in the hands of some mature and visionary leaders can do well for nations, because democracy is not for political enslavement of nations but for their political emancipation and empowerment. Therefore, as we always suggest, the existing language of democracy or so-called version of it itself remains violent until new meanings are added to the concept through its rightful and responsible practice. The NPC has shown some maturity in this regard within its short period of existence, while the South has miserably failed for long.
Centrally, Sri Lanka’s problem is a problem of the existing political language and rightful place for new interpretations of democracy in the hands of men and women who love the idea democratic and just life. The language of politics developed after 1983 in the North and the South has extremely caused for the destruction and destabilization of the State and the Republic within it. One flawed and narrowed interpretation of politics that power can be equated to violence had led the LTTE and the JVP to fight the regimes of the UNP and the SLFP who believed, and still continue to believe, that political power is equal to power of money and deceptive practices. Both of these interpretations of power and politics brought us to destructive wars which were hardly affordable for a small state with limited material and human capabilities. At the end of all these horrors for the last thirty years, still the same political language keeps haunting the nation today.
The arrival Wigneswaran in the place of Prabhakaran has quite been able to change the political language in the North; at least his leadership accepts the basic norms of democracy and the idea of justice. In the South the raging ‘tribalism’ in politics has overshadowed liberal ethos in political practice. Therefore the language of vengeance and segregation has continued uninterruptedly, and soon the country will be facing tragedies as recently the President’s Secretary has told that ‘international intervention could lead to chaos’. While this prediction which is based on the current developments in the national and the international arena regarding post-war Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict has its own validity, what one needs to propose is an immediate change in the political discourse that can encompass several discourses over the language of reconciliation, harmony and idea of the nation state, place of religion and citizenship etc. And only such an enlightened path may take us beyond the current impasse created by the tragedies of war. No country, small or big, should willingly become submissive to international interventions and power politics of the great powers, but they can attempt to avoid such attempts through the creation of local unity and democratic order of the polity.
As we understand, the political reality, local or international, around us is a construct of the discourse – through media, intellectuals, politicians, international community and civil society. The existence of multiple narratives and discourses on issues in a democracy may give us space to compare each other of them for positive and negative effects. When the state, with its enormously violent power machinery, singles out a paradigm and starts to work within it, it hardly notices that such paradigms can be killing others. Therefore, an inter-paradigmatic discourse is always preferred within a democracy and by civil society. The hegemonic reading of histories, violence, Tamil politics, Sinhala-Buddhist narrow mindedness, development models etc., etc., could lead us nowhere, but toward the breaking point at which no longer the hypocrisy of external sovereignty can prevent us from external interventions.
Democracy is not a well defined, pre-existing or formulated and ready made concept or theory, like some ready made ideologies in politics that people or politicians can use as they like it. The positive attributes of democracy are met only within the application and not in the Constitutional language or elsewhere in text books etc. In a democracy the language of the Constitutions is limited only up to the ability of the rulers or the people’s understanding to interpret the ideas of democracy and justice. For instance, if human rights are a constitutional law, then it means that the category called humans including men, women, heterosexual, homosexual or Tamil, Muslim etc should be able to claim for human rights. And the state has no right to bar the rights of any human being depending on its sexual orientation or linguistic identity etc. However, in practice our democracy has failed to explore the meanings of constitutional laws enabling to guarantee the rights of everyone within the State boundaries. It remains then a problem of political language, interpretation of democracy and democratic politics.
Therefore, flawed electoral politics, flawed attempts of devolution etc hardly become democratic. Democracy’s major power is found within its ability to accommodate a diverse spectrum of ideas and synthesize them into enlightened ideas useful for consensual decision making processes and political practice. The attacks on democracy or its remnants, even on the slightest existence of its elements, leads, therefore, to totalitarian ideologies and continuation of violent forms of politics. That is why we fear about the tomorrow’s existence of the NPC in the context of rowdy interpretations that it is attracting on its practice of democracy right now.
The international community has finally begun to talk about Sri Lanka using the language of power today. The USA and the UK, the two of the most powerful states in West, contribute for the propagation of liberal hegemony and democratic practice on a world scale. There, agendas are defined by the ideology of neo-liberalism mostly. These states tend to view the problem of Sri Lanka from a highly positivist angle and interpret the issues using conceptual paradigms that justify hierarchical politics of the great powers. We cannot blame them for that, because whatever the language they may use to interpret our cases, we have to humbly accept that it is us who have failed to interpret our problems for them and find answers in own contexts. When Wigneswaran vehemently opposed the term ‘genocide’ to feature in the NPC resolution he has far-sightedly seen this danger of using a given terminology to define the violence done to a section of Sri Lanka’s own citizens.
However, highly westernised thinking of the political ideologues in the South who claim they have developed indigenous genres of politics, has interpreted Wigneswaran as a man coming to divide Sri Lanka. But, they should realise that the very language of their politics have already contributed hugely to divide this country. Their vicious political language used in racist politics has poisoned the peoples’ ideas of justice, peace and co-existence and has allowed Sri Lanka to be labelled as a country of endless ethnic conflicts in the world. And, therefore, we need to break those language barriers and use an enlightened model to reconcile with the Tamil brethren as such an understanding can only cause for the unity of the two divided nations.
As can be well understood of it, the power politics in the South has lost its direction completely in the absence of an enemy in the North. Today, the Southern politics sees very little difference between the political enemies and friends. In other words, political ideologies have lost their place in post-war politics of Sri Lanka. In politics the only aim has been to taste power and wealth, and ethical practice is no more a matter of concern. That is where we see the difference with the North. The North of Sri Lanka has proved that neo-liberal development can do very little to change their core values of culture and society, still some feudal values in them, like caste, also in the South, should be changed though. The political unity of the Northern region lies basically in its understanding of the value of human dignity and dignified life over might of money, corruption and muscle power. They have historically proved that life under subjugation is far worse than receiving the death in the battle for justice. The South on the other hand preaches about a unitary state without a proper idea of what it means and without including the regional communities it. And the South has got more confusion over its strategic plan to unite the divided nation as it has so far created more division than unity.
The opposition, the UNP and the JVP, have mostly failed in the game of power politics due to the incapability of them to find appropriate and right political language and practice as opposed to the hegemonic practice of the rulers who are aligned with racist media, nationalist intellectuals and use political violence sabotage the political dissent. The public in the South has been given partial interpretations of devolution as equal to separatism. Religious wars are also on the cards that further will cost the public their liberty and secular rights.
The think tank intellectual culture also unfortunately has failed to define democracy and ethnic harmony for the benefit of the state and its public. On the other hand, the writings and immense research work done by world class intellectuals like Gananath Obeysekere who has researched about the local idea of cosmopolitanism as against western readings of such thinking have never been talked about in this country, and they have not become topics for media or in the university syllabuses. The universities have not carried out enough research that can contribute for a united Sri Lanka; instead of creating a broadened discourse of scientific thinking, traditionally the universities have depended on western positivist models. The so-called intelligentsia who have preferred a world of aloofness to that of engagement with the battle of ideas, as it is the most comfortable manner to live a passive consumerist life, rather than becoming a responsible citizen of the Republic.
Tomorrow, if the West is going to impose sanctions over this country for its inability provide justice for its own people, the people in both the North and South, we cannot single out the politicians and make them the scapegoat for such tragedies to come. Largely, we all have failed to reflect on the value of peace over war and life over death. We should aspire for ‘change’ in the political language and speak a new language of peace, democracy, harmony and citizenship while putting them into real practice of the daily life.