24 January, 2020

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Finding The Areas Of Mutual Agreement

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Along with the change of government that took place after the November 16 presidential election there is a sense of strong government and an uncertainty about what the parameters of free space will be. So far the new government’s approach has been to continue to give space to political and civil society actors as it existed prior to the change of government. A test case was whether the government would permit the commemoration of LTTE Heroes Day on November 26. Defence Secretary, Retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne explained the government’s position by saying “This is a democratic country, a country where people have freedom to do anything that does not affect the national security. Ours is not an oppressive government”. He also said that the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would not allow hate speech against any community or racist comments to spread.

Recent pronouncements by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are also providing an indication of what some of the parameters will be. Sri Lankans who are looking for political leadership that would bring change would be pleased with many of the decisions that President Rajapaksa has made in the first two weeks of assuming power. He has made executive directions by himself that show him as a leader who is different. The reduction in presidential staff and the small entourage of less than ten who accompanied him on his state visit to India could be seen as cost cutting measures that correspond to the absence of an ostentatious lifestyle and simple manner of dress. His direction that all appointments to be made to state corporations and statutory bodies should be vetted by an independent high level committee appointed by him have also obtained widespread public approval. It is a sign that appointments will be made on merit rather than on political patronage alone.

President Rajapaksa’s initial foray into international relations has also proved to be a success. He obtained USD 450 million from the Indian government as a soft loan to be used for economic development and national security activities. This amount is equal to that of the USD 450 million grant offered by the US government in terms of the Millennium Challenge Corporation project to develop the transport and land registration systems. The parity in the money that is offered by India suggests that it wants to be considered to be Sri Lanka’s closest development partner. While the Indian assistance is in the form of a loan, it is money that can be used to boost the country’s economy and if used for development purposes can strengthen the economy so that repayment is not problematic. Transparency about how this money is to be spent would send a reassuring message about accountability.

Chinese Lease

There is unlikely to be controversy generated in Sri Lanka about the Indian offer of monetary assistance unlike in the case of the MCC grant. This could be due to Sri Lanka having been the recipient of previous Indian assistance, such as the 60,000 houses that have been built or are in the process of being built in the North and East for displaced persons and in the hill country for plantation workers. It could also be due to the trust placed by the people in the present political leadership led by President Rajapaksa. By way of contrast the US assistance has been fraught with controversy over American intentions. Previous Chinese assistance which has lacked transparency has been dogged by the concern that it has placed Sri Lanka in a debt situation where it will be compelled to give in to Chinese demands that may even take the form of satisfying China’s military objectives.

The president’s visit to India and the speeches and interviews he gave there provide a first indication of what some of the parameters might be. During his visit to India, President Rajapaksa spoke straightforwardly that Sri Lanka under him would not permit its territory to be used for military purposes by any country. He said he would renegotiate with China regarding the Chinese-built Hambantota port which was leased for 99 years to China by the previous government. In stating this in India, the president lay down the parameters of Sri Lankan foreign policy with regard to crucial national assets, such as ports which could have national security implications, as against leasing out or selling land to foreign entities for purely commercial purposes.

The president’s statements on the Hambantota port appear to have caught the Chinese by surprise as they have made haste to point out the distinction between private commercial agreements and state-to-state agreements. They have said that any revision calls for mutual agreement and not unilateral decision making by one side. They have also sent a delegation to Sri Lanka. In the light of Indian generosity, there will be pressure on China to be generous without seeking to capitalize on the negotiating errors made by previous governments. There are media reports that they agreed finally to renegotiate the lease agreement without jeopardising the long-standing friendship between China and Sri Lanka. In order to make this a win-win solution both sides decided to revisit some of the projects signed in the past but were not implemented by the former government. The Colombo-Ratnapura expressway is one among them.

Ethnic Conflict

Another issue on which President Rajapaksa spoke his mind in India was with regard to the ethnic conflict. Even prior to visiting India he had made his approach to that problem known. He said that development was the way to push forward the reconciliation process with the minorities and that in the past Sinhala and Tamil political leaders had continuously fooled people by making unrealistic promises. He said that Sri Lanka should focus on what it could do first and he would focus on giving people the opportunity to live with dignity by improving their living standard. Crucially he said that “Everybody is a Sri Lankan citizen if they are born in Sri Lanka. They have equal rights, everybody, but they should not do certain things. They have to understand the reality.”

In India, President Rajapaksa went further in explaining his position. He said that he intends to focus on development of the Northern and Eastern regions and not political issues. Development needs to take into account the needs of the people of each area, and there cannot be a blanket prescription for all parts of the country. In an interview to the Indian media he said, “We can discuss political issues, but for 70 odd years, successive leaders have promised one single thing: devolution, devolution, devolution. But ultimately nothing happened. I also believe that you can’t do anything against the wishes and feeling of the majority community. Anyone who is promising something against the majority’s will is untrue. No Sinhala will say, don’t develop the area, or don’t give jobs, but political issues are different. I would say, judge me by my record on development [of North and East] after five years.” Development and devolution of power need not be looked at as opponents but as complementary as the development needs of different areas are unique.

It is likely that economic development as envisaged by President Rajapaksa will make the ethnic conflict easier to resolve. Prosperous and well employed people are less likely to agitate violently for political change. But they will still want political change. Catalonia in Spain, Scotland in the United Kingdom and Quebec in Canada are all prosperous territories, but they continue to agitate for self-rule. So while the problem may become easier to resolve it will not go away on its own through economic development alone. With political leadership they trust, the Sinhalese majority may be willing to concede more on political issues and the Tamil minority may be willing to demand less. The crux of the ethnic problem is that what the Sinhalese majority is opposed to is what the Tamil minority has been demanding for the past seventy years. As in the case of the Chinese lease of Hambantota port, there will need to be mutual accommodation on this.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    3

    running with the hare and hunting with the hounds
    taking a leaf out of ranils book

  • 6
    6

    This is article is yet another one of those endless calls for more devolution to the Tamil minority (located in the North and East). In practical terms, this translates to a merged federal state with police powers and more land powers. Neither is salutary to the country as a whole and/ or the population outside the North and the East. More land powers means a relatively small percentage of the population will have powers over a disproportionately large area of (government) land and coastline (one third and two thirds respectively), a highly undesirable and unacceptable situation.

    Jehan Perera writes, “Catalonia in Spain, Scotland in the United Kingdom and Quebec in Canada are all prosperous territories, but they continue to agitate for self-rule.” The “self rule” that many in these regions, which already have federal or near federal powers, agitate for is nothing less than independence and is an object lesson for what would happen to Sri Lanka if federal powers were granted to a merged northern and eastern province. It is not economic privation or lack of equal rights but communalism/tribalism that is driving calls for a federal state for the minority Tamils. Am I the only one who sees Sinhala buddhist claims as the southern counterpart of this tribalism?

  • 4
    1

    This beautiful Island has been sandwiched between geopolitics of India, China and US interest. stupid politicians do not know how to deal with it and how to handle it and how to be avoid confrontation. One time Modi bullies Sri Lanka, another time China bullies Sri Lanka. and many occasions, US and its allies bully Sri Lanka. where do we go from here? Only God could save us from evil eyes of these greedy geopolitical leaders.. Wisdom of Sri Lankans should prevail on this issue.

    • 0
      1

      My friend, I know “Where we do go from here?” First, get rid of fake leaders promoted by British colonalists. That is number one. And I try to find people like me, then I can show you “Where we go from here?” In 10 years, Tamil threat will be gone. WE have to use covert operation. If Sri lanka had military power, it is different case. However, if Sri lanka had people like me, last thirty years was enough to get rid of Tamil from Sri lanka without use of military or killing. You could have got rid of least 75% Tamil out of Sri lanka in the last 30 years by taking advantage of Tamil Tigers’ smuggling Tamil into the West. The rest of Tamil could have detour to India or directed to other places without one single harm to any Tamil. All you need to know little bit mathematic, geography, and how to spy. Ask Israelis if I am wrong.
      Of course, You cannot do same as Israelis because they are global power with full support from Western powers. But even Sri lanka had such power, I personally won’t use their method and don’t need to, and if we go for their type of solution it is only after every civilised methods are failed or there are is no any other option left.
      Begin to think smart! Nature is evolution. Nature provide endless examples, solution to every problem. In the nature, even tiniest creatures have self defend system which able to put down largest creatures like elephants .

  • 6
    3

    “He also said that the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would not allow hate speech against any community or racist comments to spread.”
    I show a video by Rathna Thero (MP) who spoke about taking actions against Dr Shafi on the matter of sterilising Sinhala women and Karuna Amman speaking about Muslims not in the ministries as a victory. Are these things come under the hate speech.
    Today I found out a new item which states that military in the North occupied a private land and tried to build up a Buddhist statue. Are this not come under hate against communities.
    Eye catching propaganda is not sufficient but real actions necessary.

  • 3
    1

    It appears that the Tamils in Srilanka have gone a full circle like the Airport Luggage Belt
    which goes round and round but could not get their “Baggage”.
    From Federal State to District Council to Regional Council to Separate State to Powe Sharing, but nothing has come to the hand except the ‘hand luggage’, that too without anything inside. The Underwriter India too is searching for the luggage, knowing very well, who the culprit is.

    • 3
      3

      K Anaga

      “which goes round and round but could not get their “Baggage”.

      You are talking about Banda’s airport, its normal, because the Sinhala/Buddhist crooked members of staff are at it. They steal from Sinhalese, Buddhists, Tamils, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, ………………..

      Its normal.

  • 2
    3

    I am the only Sinhalese in this forum who supports a SEPARATE Homeland for all Tamil speaking people irrespective of their religion, caste or the date of arrival scattered across the island.

    Soma

    • 3
      2

      somass

      You are the only clever dick in this forum who thinks brilliant ideas come only from yourself, by being a racist, bigot, …………… and a heartless fascist.

      Hang in there for a few more years and you are rest assured you will definitely get your Sinhala/Buddhist fascist ghetto.

      • 0
        1

        Native
        Allow me to elaborate a bit further before you jump to conclusions.
        I am proposing a CHOICE , an OPTION to the Tamil speaking people – A SEPARATE Homeland ‘OR’ the right to live anywhere,( of course not both which the Sinhalese should reject out of hand at all costs). I have said that infinite times here and I have never failed to add ” I BEG BEHIND MY TAMIL BROTHERS AND SISTERS TO CHOOSE THE LATTER OPTION”
        How more humane and democratic one can be?
        _
        Soma

    • 2
      0

      soma

      is the separate homeland you refer to the current northern and eastern provinces merged into one north east province and called somaliam?

      ps.it is easy to promise a homeland,but we would like to know its extent first?

      • 0
        0

        Obviously Mr Shankar perimeters will have to be defined within North East IN PROPORTION to the total number of Tamil speaking people in the island to the total number of Sinhalese to be fair by all.
        If desired it can further be subdivided into a Dravida Ealam and an Islamic Caliphate.

        Soma

        • 2
          1

          somass

          “Obviously Mr Shankar perimeters will have to be defined within North East IN PROPORTION to the total number of Tamil speaking people in the island to the total number of Sinhalese to be fair by all.”

          Even if borders are finalised how would you stop the saffron clad brigades crossing over illegally into Hindu temples and perform their last rights with in its premises to cremate dead saffronistas?

          You chose not to see, not to hear not to talk about such incidents.

        • 0
          0

          soma

          okay,then lets have the western province& the northwestern coastline upto puttalam.Fair enough isn’t it?You all can have the dry and arid north,but can sleep peacefully because you become a buffer between 80 million in tamilnadu and SL.

          ps.no need of caliphate.If muslims work hard,we tamils work harder and compete.

    • 2
      0

      Soma, do you realise that Giving a Separate Homeland to all Tamil Speaking people will open the doors to TamilNadu to Walk in and turn Sri Lanka into a State of TamilNadu?

      Especially since you specify “Irrespective of their Date of Arrival”!!

      • 0
        2

        We have to assist our Tamil brothers and sisters to face off such a situation. Our Caliphate brothers will not take it lying down

        Soma

      • 2
        1

        Hamlet

        “Soma, do you realise that Giving a Separate Homeland to all Tamil Speaking people will open the doors to TamilNadu to Walk in and turn Sri Lanka into a State of TamilNadu?”

        It’s for Hindians to decide.
        Remember as far as Hindians are concerned Sri Lanka is a Sinhala state of Hindia.
        Stop worrying about Tamil Nadu Tamils moving into this island en masse, start worrying about Hindutva swarming the island.
        Hindutva fascism could easily replace Sinhala/Buddhist fascism.

        Gota and his goons may have to redesign their uniforms to match the sartorial elegance of their Northern Counterparts.
        Following Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) instructions Gotas goons will have to wear khaki shorts, white shirts, black beret, ankle length black boots, black leather belt, a silambam stick, ceremonial sword, ……………….. and threatening minorities, …. oh it’s easy it comes naturally to the Sinhala/Buddhist fascists ……………

  • 1
    0

    The culprit has stolen the luggage and gone to Toronto. From there he keeps complaining about his lost suitcase while the Baggage belt continues on an endless loop.

  • 4
    1

    “The crux of the ethnic problem is that what the Sinhalese majority is opposed to is what the Tamil minority has been demanding for the past seventy years.”

    The crux of the ethnic problem is Tamil nationalism, which has its roots in India. For example, In 1939, E.V.Ramasamy organised the Dravida Nadu Conference for the advocacy of a separate, sovereign and federal republic of Dravida Nadu. And in 1940, the South Indian Liberal Federation (Justice Party) passed a resolution demanding a sovereign state of Dravida Nadu. This is the separatist ideology which originally inspired Prabhakaran. Before Prabhakaran, the main proponent of Sri Lankan Tamil separatism was SJV Chelvanayakam. His initial goal was to get a so-called federal state for Tamils, as the first step towards an independent state. Once the first step failed to materialize, he came up with the Vaddukodai Resolution, which stated explicitly the demand for “Tamil Eelam.” While it is important to condemn rioting by Sinhalese mobs (1956, 1977, 1983), we should understand that Tamil politicians consistently put forth outrageous demands, such as 50-50 power sharing, and encouraging Tamil militants to carry out attacks against Sri Lankan security personnel, as was the case in 1983. The caste dynamic is also strong here, as Tamil politics was controlled by Vellalars until LTTE took over. By opposing the Sri Lankan state, the Vellalar leaders like SJV & Amirthalingam were trying to protect their own interests. Regarding Sinhala nationalism, the root cause is economic, not ethnic or racial. If it was racial, why allow a pro-LTTE party like TNA to openly demand separatism in the Parliament? Why bother with Tamil foreign ministers?

    • 2
      1

      Let Sri Lanka go back to Teaching all Sri Lankans Good English. The Problem of asking for a Tamil Homeland started, when Tamil Speaking Sri Lankans could not Understand what the Sinhala Speaking Majority was telling them!
      Till we begin to Understand One Another, The Tamil Speaking Minority of Sri Lanka, must Accept, that The Sinhalese have only One Country to call their Own! Whereas Tamil Speakers have the Option of Emigrating to TamilNadu, (or Singapore) if they so Wish!

  • 1
    0

    Nice article, Jehan, hopefully a cool headed administrator running the country may work. Also, he has learned the lessons of the past.

    Does it bravery count in politics or in the battle field only? I think both.

  • 1
    1

    GOTA’s policy is to things get done smoothly his way. It means no fooling around with him.

    • 4
      2

      Charles

      You are right. How can you fool around with a CRIMINAL who has power and armed with AK47. He will kill you man . Change the word fooling around to stop F.c.ing around.

    • 4
      2

      Charles ( Prince)

      Just one other thing . Did you see how Modi tamed the Hot Tempered animal to accept that no more Cheenavedi in Sinhala Lanka . You cant fool round with the Big Brother man. Table has been turned. Even Rambukkawela and Sir Basil have gone quiet. One Election promise broken with more to follow.

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