By Kumar David –
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has won an immense landslide victory among the Sinhalese (72% of Sinhala Buddhist and nearly 60% of other Sinhalese – Catholic/Christian – voted for him). Equally stunning was his total rejection by Tamils and the Muslims. Never before has polarisation been so stark in our electoral history. However, that is all water under the bridge now. How to go forward? The spirit of this column is: 1) Let’s make proposals that are legitimate and feasible; but 2) let’s keep up our guard till be have assurance that we can safely lower our guard in case Gota, his government and his loyalists turn out to be a bad. Allegations about Gota’s human rights violation record can be ignored only at peril.
The economic programme, constitutional intentions and approach to minority fears are all crucial to how the government will evolve. This short column comments on only the third topic. An old leftist university friend, now an ardent Gota admirer, emailed me as follows: “I hope you see is that a separate state for Tamils (more correctly N&E Tamils not estate Tamils who never joined the Elam demand) or a form of devolution that gives police and land powers is not a solution. The latter would be a first step to future wars and a Kashmir or Palestine situation. Let us spare future generations the horrors of another Ethnic war. Today, with the clear mandate given to Gota there is an opportunity for a solution. It takes two to tango; it works in both ways. What we need is some programme of conflict resolution and healing of past animosities”.
The sticking point here is police and land powers. After large scale civilian deaths it is unlikely Tamils will surrender the option of monitoring the police in their areas. Excluding Tamils and Muslims from land powers in their areas of domicile is also likely to be no-go. If these views reflect Gota’s, there will no settlement of minority concerns by his regime. This is the result of Gota’s obligations to his Sinhala Buddhist constituency.
This will swell to confrontation with India if there is Tamil unrest in the coming years. Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar met Gota in Colombo on Tuesday and told him: “The Indian government expects the you to take forward national reconciliation and meet the aspirations of the Tamil minority for equality, justice, peace and dignity”. Jaishankar as Mody’s emissary also conveyed an invitation to Gota to visit India which was accepted. This is a ballet that Lanka and India have danced time and again since 1983 if not earlier. The pressuer on Gota to whittle down, if not completely deny devolution, exercised by his chauvinist lobbies are immense and progress is unlikely. Mody does not care a fig for the Muslims, he will drown them all in the Indian Ocean if he could, but Tamil Nadu is a different story, so a regional imbroglio is again in the making.
If President Gotabaya wants to be remembered as a solver of the ethnic problem in addition to his other successes, he will do well to take note of a poster that has been coming up in Hong Kong reminding student rioters that there are things not to do if one is demanding democracy. Meaningful devolution of power to the minorities is essential if there is to be meaningful democracy. If the minorities are angry and truculent and feel alienated all Gota’s other development plans will come to grief.