By Izeth Hussain –
As I have written two articles on darkness at noon on the ethnic front, it might seem to the reader that I am taking joy in being contrary by immediately afterwards writing an article on dawn on the ethnic front. I am not being contrary because I have placed a question mark at the end of my title. It is meant to signify that the dawn may take fifty years, or five years, or five months, or it may never come at all. What is important is that we should bear in mind the difference between the physical and the human realm: in the former the dawn comes automatically as the result of cosmic processes beyond human control, while in the latter the dawn will never come unless we prepare for it.
In an earlier article I quoted Hegel’s observation that it is only when the shades of night are falling that the bird of Minerva – meaning the owl symbolizing wisdom – spreads its wings and takes flight. It is precisely now, when it is darkness at noon, that we must rethink the ethnic imbroglio and try to attain at least some measure of wisdom to put an end to our decades-long criminal murderous ethnolunacy. The basic reasons why it is darkness now are these. The TNA wants far more than 13A while the Government wants to give far less. In fact it is doubtful that the Government wants any political solution on the basis of devolution. Furthermore its implicit ideology is quasi neo-Fascist and racist, which means that it is to an appreciable extent inimical to the idea of giving fair and equal treatment to the minorities. As for the outside world, it is more threatening than ever before since 1948. International investigations into war crimes are threatened and sanctions are in the offing. It is precisely this darkness that can push us into an earnest rethinking of the fundamentals of the ethnic imbroglio.
There is another reason why we should prepare for the dawn. I have in mind an essay that I read some weeks ago by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, which much impressed the former Labour leader Gordon Brown. In a Nigerian figure of speech – which I take from a novel by Chinua Achebe – Dr. Williams’ words have entered my ear and built a house. He argued that all the military victories of the English over the other constituent peoples of Britain were never complete because Britain consisted of islands and the defeated could not make their getaway, which meant that they had somehow to learn to live with each other in peaceful accommodation. At the time that Britain was being formed, frontiers on the Continent were ill-defined and porous, and they remained porous for a long while even after the nation states and firm frontiers were established. The conquered could therefore move elsewhere. That option was not open to the inhabitants of islands where the conqueror and the conquered had to live with each other in peaceful accommodation. That evidently was the basis for the long tradition of tolerance in Britain which came to be envied on the Continent. It was an example of geography determining history.
In the case of Sri Lanka, also an island, we can argue that over long periods of history our ethnic groups have lived together in peace, amity, and co-operation, and that despite all the invasions from South India that has been true also of the relations between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Indeed the relations between them have been in important ways symbiotic. All that might be explained in terms of the geographical determinant of Sri Lanka being an island. But history has also counted, and it has counted in ways that have been terribly destructive to our ethnic relations in recent decades. However, I would emphasize two inescapable facts. One is that our ethnic minorities cannot all be killed off, and they cannot all go abroad. The other is that there are contradictory propensities in human beings: to belong to groups and also to transcend them. These facts dictate that there is no alternative to our living together, and also that we can make a success of it. Much depends on our attitude. We can say that we are doomed to live together. Or we can say – and make it true- that we are privileged to live together.
There are therefore two factors that can make us work towards dawn on the ethnic front. One is that the challenge of darkness could provoke the response of our working towards the dawn. The other is that we, the ethnic groups of Sri Lanka, have no alternative to living together on this island, and we can do so either miserably, as at present, or reasonably happily after attaining dawn. What in concrete terms should we do to work towards that dawn? We have to look at what can be done externally and internally.
Sri Lankan preoccupations are now focused on the forthcoming UNHRC meeting in Geneva. Some powerful Western countries seem decided on international investigations into alleged war crimes and also on sanctions against Sri Lanka. We have no clout at all with the powerful Western countries, while we have some clout with the Afro-Asian and Latin American countries. The present expectation is that the UNHRC vote will go against us. I believe that the best way of countering that possibility would be to try to get India to act on our behalf, not necessarily openly but effectively. There are several reasons why India could have very special clout with the Western bloc. It is a regional power and an emerging great power, for which reasons the Western bloc would very probably be prepared to recognize Sri Lanka as India’s turf.
I have in mind two other reasons as well. As I have been arguing in earlier articles the Sri Lankan Tamil ethnic problem is really an Indo-Sri Lankan ethnic problem because Delhi can never ignore the fall-out in Tamil Nadu of what happens to the SL Tamils. India is therefore an integral part of the SL Tamil ethnic problem, not just an ancillary factor. The Western bloc would therefore probably recognize that India should have a legitimate say in any action to be taken against Sri Lanka in connection with the SL Tamils. My other reason why India could have very special clout with the Western bloc is my theory propounded in 2011 that the US and India were engaged in a benign conspiracy to make Sri Lanka move towards a political solution and ethnic reonciliation by using the threat of war crimes investigations as an instrument of pressure. My guess, for all these reasons, is that the US – which will be the prime mover behind any anti-Sri Lanka Resolution – will go along with India if the latter adopts firm positions against war crimes investigations and sanctions.
But will India act on our behalf? We can assume that India would genuinely want a political solution to our ethnic problem and ethnic reconciliation, so that it will be rid for good of what has been a major nuisance for decades. It follows logically from that assumption that India would be against international investigations into war crimes. To use that as a threat is one thing; to proceed to actual investigations would be quite another thing. That would polarize and envenom our ethnic relations, destroying – for very considerable period – the spirit of accommodation that is a sine qua non for moving meaningfully towards a political solution and ethnic reconciliation. There are many imponderables in this situation on which I don’t want to speculate. What is certain – for the reasons that I have given above – is that the outcome in Geneva depends not on the US, not on the EU, not on the international community, but on India.
I come now to what w can do internally to bring about dawn on the ethnic front. I have pointed out earlier that we should think of a political solution not as something that ensues automatically on making certain Constitutional changes and setting up certain institutions, but as a process of organic growth. I will illustrate what I have in mind. At present the TNA wants more than 13A and the Government is willing to give much less. Suppose that both sides put that aside and co-operate in making 13A, even in its truncated form, a success. Much can be done through limited devolution to meet the needs of the people at the grass roots level. The success of the NPC could come to be emulated by the other Provincial Councils, and that could be enormously beneficial to the country as a whole. Suppose, in addition, that the 18th Amendment is repealed and a fully functioning democracy is put into effect. The needs and legitimate aspirations of the Tamils, as well as all the others, can be met and there will result through an organic process a solution to the ethnic problem.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is fanciful about the processes that I have outlined above. They are quite commonplace processes, and yet we know that they are not going to come into effect, leading to a political solution. Why not? I will not try to provide the answers. I have presented a case to show that we need to do much rethinking about the fundamentals of our ethnic imbroglio.