25 October, 2020

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Confrontation Of Two Nationalisms: Another Peace Process May Needed

By Laksir Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

If political realism is any indication, Sri Lanka again is in trouble waters after the three PC elections and the polarization between the two nationalisms, Sinhala and Tamil, is higher than what it was before the commencement of the war. If the NPC election was held in 2009, soon after the end of the war, the situation could have been averted. It is not for convenience that the two other PC elections in the Central and the North Western were held along with the Northern PC, but as a signal or a ‘mirror’ to the North. The results show the polarization of the country between the TNA and the UPFA, in the North and in the South, and any subsequent PC elections would show the same trend perhaps by enhanced majorities for the UPFA, given the nationalist polarization.

The slogan of ‘regime change’ is the first casualty whether we like it or not, unless something miraculously happens in the coming future. ‘Tamil self-determination’ instead would cover the political bill board of the country. At the elections, the TNA received 78.48 per cent of the votes for the NPC, winning 30 seats out of 38 in the Council. The UPFA, received 59.53 per cent and 66.43 per cent respectively, in the Central and the North Western Provinces, while the UNP managed only 38.65 per cent and 24.21 per cent in the same two provinces. The Democratic Party of Sarath Fonseka emerged as the ‘third party’ in the two provinces, relegating the JVP to a much lower position.

If the Rajapaksa regime was sensible, it could have behaved differently on the question of ‘reconciliation’ after the war. It didn’t. The holding of the NPC election was determined not as a mark of magnanimity or accommodation but mainly as a result of the international pressure or concern. The UPFA did not have to go for much nationalist rhetoric during the elections but it was there and understood by the people as the hegemonic political force of the Sinhala Buddhists at present. Nevertheless, the UPFA rhetoric included the victory over the LTTE, of which Sarath Fonseka also shared the credit, and attacks on the TNA manifesto.

The role of the TNA however was significantly different. It had to be overtly nationalist perhaps as the ‘underdog.’ The invocation of Thimphu principles and the ITAK’s founding aspirations (1952) in the recent TNA manifesto was not mere election propaganda or accidents. There is a considerable resurrection of Tamil nationalism in the North today. Tiger symbolism during the campaign, and in fact in the manifesto, were only icing on the cake. The drafting of the manifesto does not appear to be a ‘cut and paste’ job as some commentators attributed. The leaving out of any reference to the Vaddukoddai resolution also was deliberate.

In my reading of the TNA Manifesto, it does not call for separation, but asks for more than federalism and perhaps Confederation as its main objective while a form of federalism as a possible fall-back position. Confederation should be understood as a ‘loose union’ between two or more entities but never has worked in any country for a long period given its natural uncertainties or contradictions. This would be the anathema of the Rajapaksa regime, prone to centralized thinking and action both in political and economic matters. At the Jaffna press conference after the election victory, the Chief Minister elect, CV Wigneswaran, has said “We urge the Government to grant the council the powers that are legitimately ours in line with international covenants and agreements.”

He was not referring to the powers of the Council on the basis of the 13th Amendment, but in ‘line with the international covenants and agreements’ whatever they might be.

It is unlikely that Sinhala nationalism which is quite strong and embedded within the state system with equally strong military would allow Federalism let alone a Confederation at least in the near future. On the other hand, Tamil nationalist aspirations, even if we discount the Diaspora factor or the Tamil Nadu influence, would not be satisfied within the limitations of the present provincial council system however we sermonise them. This is why Sri Lanka is in troubled waters.

Having assessed the impending realities in terms of confronting nationalisms what are the possibilities of averting a major disaster? I would say quite weak in the short to the medium term unless there is some rethinking on the part of both parties and/or purposeful interventions and assistance from outside. It is unlikely that the parties would rethink their nationalisms. That is not the way things usually proceed in respect of aroused nationalism. Intellectual or academic discourses might be useful as supporting elements but those are not decisive in the real world. Academic discourses also would emerge, and already have, not only to appease the situation, but also to exacerbate the conflict. The confrontations most likely would drag on for a foreseeable future.

It is unlikely that the TNA leaders didn’t mean what they said in the manifesto or during the election campaign. The nature of nationalism is such when emotions or aspirations are unleashed there is no easy way of turning back. The conditions in the North would not allow them to do so, largely created by the Rajapaksa regime itself. Anyone who appreciates reconciliation would have liked the TNA to stick to the 13th Amendment at least for the time being. But that does not appear to be the case. The TNA rhetoric is quite abstract and ideological. They may say it is concrete.

The only possibilities of averting a disastrous confrontation are primarily, if at all, in two spheres. First is the international and the other is economic.

There is no question that the international community that we talk about is not a cohesive entity. Unless there is a major security reason, the Security Council cannot intervene and given the divided nature of the present SC on the Sri Lankan issue, an intervention is most unlikely. There is no reason for that either. The Human Rights Council could of course pass resolutions but it would not have enough teeth to implement anything tangible other than persuade and pressure the parties involved. This is also largely limited to the state parties and not entities like the TNA or the NPC.

International ‘intervention’ or rather assistance also could mean India or Japan participating as a mediator with the backing of concerned international players including the US and possibly China. The US should try to involve China in the process. This means Sri Lanka may need to go again for a peace process. Norway is virtually out of the equation, unless as a concerned party. Sri Lanka cannot go for a war again and therefore it should go for a second round of the peace process and this time it might succeed. My best candidate for the task would be Japan with the blessings of India. One may argue that it is too early to talk about mediation or a peace process but it is unlikely that the government and the TNA might resolve the issues on their own under the present circumstances.

The other possibilities are in the economic sphere. Sri Lanka at present is a middle income country with the prospects of advancing from the lower level to a higher level. In an expanding economy, there should be more possibilities of accommodating different interests of different sections, if the emerging realities are rationally thought through. If rationalism and not narrow nationalism is any guide, Sri Lanka should be in a position to accommodate the aspirations of not only the majority ethnic community but also the minority ethnic communities if not for the obstructions of extremist sections. Sri Lanka is capitalist, whether we like it or not. Capitalism does not or should not give priority to ethnicity but to merit and entrepreneurship whatever quarter it comes. Unless the ruling party moves away from its narrow ethnic mindset, it might not be able to develop the economy to the next level.

The initiatives, if at all, for a breakthrough including involving a mediator, should come from Colombo and Jaffna should positively respond. As a gesture of change, the President could change the Governor and preferably the Jaffna commander of the military. It is likely that the TNA might indicate its willingness for negotiations from the point of strength as it has symbolically obtained more than two thirds of seats in the Provincial Council. Just demanding powers from Colombo might not work.

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Latest comments

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    Is it not a shame that our political leaders have to go for negotiation either under international pressure or through international mediations? Are our political leaders not mature enough to do these things of their own will and thus safeguard self-dignity and pride?

    Sengodan. M

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    Mr. Lakshir Fernando,
    You think MR can change the CM? MR is scared, may be you dont know it since you are not in politics, we know as we are in that with World Power. Why i said you dont know, becase u speak only 2 languages, but i speak 7 languages, so Muslims are far more advance than you understand the world stand since they are able to communicate in many languages and that is one of the reason we are good in business, likewise, you do not know what is India is playing. MR is counting the days and he cannot do anything at all, if he removed the CM VIG this is the end of story of Sinhala ( Slaves of Middle East) All the best,

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    Brilliant piece and probably prophetic.

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      Scratch each other’s back?

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      I am pretty sure it is not “briliant” … But it surely exhibits the Seville mentalilty of the author and the commentator towards outsiders … It also shows their pathetic dependability on outsiders as solvers of our problems … I am shocked to see this level of bankrupt, pathetic and servile attitude from these ‘brilliant’ persons especially when one is admirer of Fidel … What a shame!

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      Lasksiri and you are who are compelled from government. You can do politics now.

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      I dont understand why many people understand the vote for UPFA as a part of being nationalistic.

      1. The number of UPFA votes include votes from Muslims and Tamils as well, because there were many muslims and Tamils who competed under UPFA ticket.

      2. Many of the sinhala people didnt vote in the election.

      3. In a provincial council election people in SL rarely look at what the leaders do or the policies, but they vote for a person whom they think they can get their tasks done.

      4. In south provincial election doesnt mean the same as in North.

      why I say sinhala nationalism is over estimated is, we didnt see NO objection to holding elections in north or implementing 13A. In 88, after the 13 A, south became a war zone. That didnt happen. It seems many in South has understood the importance of having a power devolution to North.

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        *we did see

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    Another war is needed.

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    There is no need to be polarised. Be open, accomodative, moderate, just, truthful. Then the differences do not really matter. It is these universal values that matter not the lables we carry. It is the song not the singer. It is the message not the messenger.

    It takes two to tango, two hands to clap, two to embrace and two to make a marraige and create a new life. The hand extended in friendship is better than the hand hidden behind the back or the hand raised in anger. When the hand extended is clasped by the other, there is a bond of trust and friendship.

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    WAR is needed to win back what we lost in the election

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    Well thought out article and all nice and dandy. So much so that in NY MR has enjoyed a good nights sleep and is privately congratulating himself on executing his plan made during the heavy rains of mid-july last year. Call the elections in time to dovetail in with his UN visit. Now he can give his address in capital letters showing how the Tamils have been given a voice, ‘peaceful’ elections and the Yaal Devi is running nicely and even kartha kolumboo is tasing better than ever these days. The reconciliation is slow but sure. MR maybe many things but he is no fool. He knew what the north will say (didn’t we all?) and now his confidence has been raised more than a few compensating notches by the other two results. Dealing with our brothers in the north is not the worry, it is how to deal with underhand merchants outside the north and east that will worry him. But not for now; all is hunky dory, brother Gota is looking after the shop, so he can take a well earned break and enjoy the autumn colours of the big apple and our fragrant first lady might even be able to take a nice shopping trip up fifth avenue. Méwagé sapuk upita…………..

    ps: He looked at the very nice fruit platter at breakfast this morning and commented that gus labu is not the only fruit. What could he mean?

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    Vadakundi Resolution betrayed by TNA within just 4 years after Thalaivar went to hell!!

    Biggest threat to TNA comes from LTTE which is still active in TN. TNA compromised on the Tamil cause. How can TNA agree to northern province only? Tamil Elam includes eastern province too.

    By betraying the Tamil Elam Vadakundi Resolution cause, TNA has come in the firing line of the LTTE. Remember Amirthalingam, Thiruchelvam?
    Sambanthan, Vigneswaran?

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      take you trash to Lankaweb Lorenso (fathima fukushima)
      from what we gather your domiciled abroad with ample time on your hands with a nice broadband connection with an iherent hatred for others

      and you most probably are living on dole/welfare handouts as well

      most of all you seem very insecure in life to dish out such trash!

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    Spring Koha- did you actually see the great Mahinda?Is gus labu naval pallam? Leaves a red stain on clothes.

    The international world will not buy anything MR will say in his speech.He has arranged private meetings.They will tell him that the victory in the north is definetely not of his MAKING.deal with the Tamil issue if you want a stable country. Period.
    He is in for a rude shock.

    ‘Diaspora has not gone to sleep.They are up burning the midnight oil.Buisness at hand is not over.
    Aney ‘match not over yet’ and we can’t do anything,MR has to.

    The ‘shop’ has the blinds down.Gota is either scheming or sleeping as the brother has told him to ‘shut up or get out’.MR knows if he unleashes the army on the northern Tamils now he will be in big trouble not only in the north but in the country and the International world.

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      hannah,

      whatever said and done MR has held elections in north and he has implemented 13A. The world sees it, no body will be able to say MR has done nothing. It is a plus point for MR how much ppl like you say otherwise. It is the first time in SL history and he has that honour. Just because u hate the man you cant take that from him and he will continue to use it .(rightly so)

      whatever said and done, Tamils in SL have a future ONLY because of MR. Actually he is your TRUE sun god!:D

      And for what reason MR unleash army on northern ppl? MR is no LTTE where he will be targeting civilians for no reason.

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      Hannah,
      MR is going off gus labu these days, bad stains too!!!. It was indeed a lovely day in the big apple today and my post-lunch stroll in Central Park, helped by a nice fresh breeze, was most invigorating and recommended for clearing the cobwebs of jet lag.
      MR is busy busy busy in the small private meetings that he does best. Unlike his rumbustious sibling, MR in one-on-one meetings is calm and collected and sounding like the benevolent favourite family uncle, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Guess what! He’s in the driving seat right now.
      In my humble opinion, the Tamils in the Diaspora must hold their fire until they see how dealings between the parties unfold. The international world may not buy everything he says but they do not have the stomach for some of the options that the Diaspora would like to see exercised. I would hate to see the Tamils fluff this golden opportunity. By a cruel stroke of fate, the fortunes of the SL Tamils rested with a courageous but dim VP; brave but he couldn’t do the simple sums that a smart school bully would have i.e. knowing when to fold your hand. His failure to see what was coming has led the Tamils of SL into their current depressive morass. Internationally, the Tamil Diaspora is getting a reputation as being vexatious and vengeful. Host countries are uneasy. (The Sinhalese too, and especially the ruling party, are being seen as capricious, deceiving and untrustworthy amongst many similar epithets.) That is our sad Sri Lankan lot these days.
      But another thing about last week; notwithstanding everything in the last three years (yes, Weliveriya too) the Sinhalese voters that were tested overwhelmingly endorsed MR.
      So, MR is the man to deal with. He now has the carrot and the stick….don’t get me wrong…I say that in the nicest way. He doesn’t have to worry about fighting a war and don’t fear he will not unleash his army on the Tamils again; there are too many watching. It just maybe that an efficiently functioning NPC will be his encore to follow 2009. But you know Hannah, MR like every other Sinhalese leader has to constantly remind himself of the elephant in the room; the men in yellow who derive their strength from Chapter 2 of our constitution. One false step and your guess is as good as mine.
      Patience has its virtues.

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    Amidst both Dayan Jayathilake and Laksiri Fernando having their prophetic and hair splitting arguments, I am thinking about how 1964 TamilNADU creation changed the lives of TN Tamils. That also was quite a fight.

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    What issues? What peace process? nothing will work until sinhalese people realise that this is not a sinhalese country and that there are non sinhalese living here who are also citizens of the sri lankan state and that the sri lankan state has to be a state of all its citizens and not of the sinhalese buddhists alone.It looks as though this is going to be the status quo that will be imposed on this island what ever the tillerman says.

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      sinhala ppl very well know that non sinhalese live here, actually they share the land with them. Tell me a single area in South of SL where sinhalese maintained a policy of mono ethnic?

      where do you see successful businessmen of all ethnicity? only in south.

      There are schools, opportunity to have higher education, opportunity to do business, to do any profession in SL for anyone whatever the ethnicity is.

      Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic country and any rational person accept that.

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      that is what Tamils and Christians want to do.

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      CRAZY OLD MAN:

      America is a country made up of Immigrants.

      but, the american culture is WHITE EUROPEAN CULTURE.

      England has lot of Immigrants. but the religion and the culture is ENGLISH CULTURE.

      Grow up.

      IF our politicians do the right thing we will be OK. Only thing is Mahinda rajapakse is not doing it.

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    “Another Peace Process May Needed”
    What an absurdity. A Peace Process is needed only if we are at War.

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      Don’t expose your ignorance.

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    Pray enlighten the ignorant on the war that is going on. What we need is a reconciliation process.
    You may be at war with yourself, but peace has been restored in the rest of the country.

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      A peace process is necessary even without an open war to resolve a conflict. Proper reconciliation is also a peace process. Refer to “An Agenda for Peace” by the UN (1992) to understand preventive diplomacy. However, there are all sings of a hidden war going on in the North again. Why so much of military placed there? Reconciliation does not need the military. War does not necessarily mean two sides. What happened in Weliweriya? Haven’t you seen the body-armour, T-56 and armed vehicles? Sri Lanka needs to resolve the main sources of war before they erupt again in the North. Don’t worry about me, worry about yourself if you are in Sri Lanka. That may be the reason why you hide behind a pseudonym!

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        Dr Laksiri Fernando – September 26,

        I am aware of the UN Document which is a globally relevant paper on the general subject of Peace with a focus on “preventive diplomacy” to prevent a war. A peace process is there to achieve peace in a situation of where a war has occurred.
        From where did you learn that “war does not mean two sides”.? May I quote the definition from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary re.
        http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/war‎
        “a state or period of fighting between countries or groups. : a situation in which people or groups compete with or fight against each other.”

        You are showing a serious inconsistency when you say that there are all signs of a hidden war going on in the North again and at the same time questioning why so much military placed in the North.
        I agree with you when you say that Sri Lanka needs to resolve the main sources of war before they erupt again. But my point is that is not a peace process.
        Why I use pseudonym is to keep dialogues at a rational level and avoid ad hominem.

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