By S. Sivathasan –
With impending elections and scenes changing by the day in Sri Lanka, a look at parallels is interesting.
Call to Bismarck
The caption is the text of the telegram sent to Bismarck in 1862 by Von Roon, Minister for War in the cabinet of King William of Germany. The occasion was the threatened abdication of the King frustrated at Parliament’s strong opposition to a proposal considered vital for Germany’s future. The issue at hand was increasing the period of conscription from two to three years. Bismarck then was Ambassador in France. Why he? At a critical moment in history a nation identifies but one for a historic mission. His response was immediate and positive. The operative word was Delay.
Parallel in Sri Lanka
At this point stands Sri Lanka today, not at the crossroads but closer to resolution of the monumental problems. Two issues which have seemed till recently to be intractable are now on the anvil to be beaten into shape. What are they? Regime change and an end to the ethnic quagmire. Collective effort it is wished will put strife behind us. More crucially it will work its way towards regeneration. Bits of information which have filtered through fall into place when arranged dispassionately. What are those bits? The idea of a consensual common Presidential candidate has virtually solidified. Sampanthan was honest enough to say that Ranil was not the candidate of choice. The statement was weighty because of the number of votes the particular ethnic minority commanded and its capacity to tilt the balance. Next Chandrika advised Ranil to quit the contest. She did not suggest that she was not in the race.
Reports are now rife on the evolution of a common candidate. Besides, one report has it that a friendly neighbour desires the TNA, the Indian Tamil community and the Muslim Congress to be together and strengthen the common candidate. Who that is can easily be surmised. The name is crystalizing towards the most plausible. If this hypothesis is provisionally accepted, announcement should be at first light and concerted action taken immediately thereafter. Leaders now abroad need to be with the people. All parties to the coalition moving in unison and acting together is the need of the hour. The danger foreseen is nemesis otherwise. Von Roon’s crisp telegram cannot fail to crop up in our minds.
Time is Short in a Snap Election
The time available for the opposition to forge its unity and to declare it is rather limited. The very essence of a snap election is to catch the enemy napping. The President has done it well. The opposition is yet to bring its act together and to demonstrate it. Yet it has a major advantage – a surging antipathy to the incumbent government. In multiple ways it is comparable to the situation in 1956 and in 1977. As similar was the antipathy of the people against the Congress in India in May this year. In all three instances there was a self- developing momentum. But it is unrealistic to trust to such a dynamic alone at the current juncture. The opposition has to a man give it traction. There can be no ignoring the adversary which is yet formidable. “Danger in Delay” is more than an apt warning.
Presidential Election Manifesto
Drafting the above as an individual party effort and collating it as a joint document cannot be difficult in five weeks. It should outshine all previous manifestoes. The Communist Manifesto of 1848, content apart remains yet a piece of literature. Let the PE Manifesto demonstrate to the people that the better elements in society yet remain high in their powers of intellection and in their style of presentation in all three languages.
Abolish the EP has been flogged enough. After that what, is the pertinent question flowing from a favourable verdict. The challenges are several. Resolving the National Question is foremost among them. If that be so, under the thrust and direction of the Chief Executive, mental energy, time and money have to be devoted to it. Did this ever happen in the last 30 years? Was there even an attempt on anybody’s part after 2009? After frankly declaring in the Policy Statement that the lackadaisical attitude of the past is abandoned and the approaches eschewed, a new spirit has to pervade all efforts. The best of men have to be inducted into the process. Never can communal understanding be brought about by the drafts of foreign mercenaries and the juggleries of lobby groups.
There is a Tamil saying; what is saved is greater than what is earned. Can it be said that development and production during the war years more than match the assets destroyed and the human resources lost in the war and denied to the country through the exodus? The answer is a definite no. If that be so, why on earth was the problem relegated to the back burner? Was it for want of perception or lack of commitment? If it be neither, was it policy of marginalization unswervingly executed? A strident rejection of past practice and a bold declaration of extending the highest priority to amity and a new economic status of parity among ethnic groups will signify a new beginning. God speed should be the hallmark of sincere motive.
Lalith Athulathmudali speaking to us CAS selectees in 1965, used an expression in Sinhalese ‘Kaagetha Kakuma’? He said there was no perfect English equivalent. Even now some have the pain, but others get the baby. It should be the honest endeavor of a new government to change the ethos.
The very first step for the country to move forward is to go backward and reach 1948. There should be a relapse to the high standards the country had nurtured, nourished and sported with pride. They spread
across Administration, Judiciary, Education, Financial Management and the whole corpus of the nation’s activity. About the people’s standards Kamban says in the Ramayana, property was not protected because there was no theft. Valluvar says, it is not by locking up that a woman’s chastity is secured, but by her continence. A nation’s finances are secured not by FR but by standards. Quality of justice is safeguarded by standards which make the 17th Amendment redundant.
If the Soulbury Constitution had been replaced by an Executive Presidential type in 1948, would it have failed? Would it have forfeited the confidence of the people even decades later, had standards remained the same?
Boycott Politics and JVP
“Subjective motives make no difference to the objective march of events”- Mao Tse Tung. A statement, so sharp and wise. The Jaffna Boycott of 1931 spelt disaster to the Tamils, purity of intentions notwithstanding. The Northern Boycott of Presidential election 2005, denied voting rights to Tamils and wrought destruction upon them. A decade of disintegration that visited the country, is on the verge of success in cajoling the opposition to coalesce on a single target of Regime Change.
All its efforts will go to waste and blow the opposition to smithereens if the JVP boycott comes to pass. Then the hated regime will come to stay with periodic further leases to follow. Do Hitler’s actions at irremovability remain unread? It is doubly strange that a political formation with ideas of revolutionary transformation staunchly held, should think so. After having displayed violent antecedents and having set aside such means, should the JVP recoil when democratic means are being advanced and coordinated? Non-participation by whatever name it is called, can only help in riveting fascism which is the very antithesis of socially acceptable governance.
What will be the result in not entering the fray in a manly way and changing direction for the good of the people? In the Change of Regime Elections, every minority formation, political, ethnic or religious has a game changing responsibility to shoulder. Should the JVP with a historic future ahead fail to deliver? Should the people bemoan their fate saying, the pot cracked even as butter was churning? When challenges are earth shattering, there are no choices. Only a single mandate to opt for the cause of justice. Non-participation is no different from indifference and is none other than playing into the hands of the enemy. Even motives come to be questioned.