By S. Sivathasan –
“Self-reverence, Self-knowledge, Self-control
These three alone lead life to sovereign power” – Lord Tennyson
Treasuring the above values conveyed by the poet or valuing the substance, whatever the language, men of worth emerged as leaders and thrust themselves in people’s service. Before venturing into public life, they had discipline in their personal lives. That was in times past. In little Ceylon too, even as late as at the time of independence both pre and post, men of learning considered it proper to engage in public life. They came in because of the eminence they had reached. Self-control was basic to the disciplining of their body and mind. Knowledge of the self, gave them a sense of their worth. High or low they revered themselves and respected others. The people in the mass placed their trust in them and were happy to see their affairs managed by them.
In so short a time, what a fall and why so much, we are forced to exclaim. The descent always started at the top. Those in rungs below took their cue for emboldened degeneracy, while those above protected them. How should Members of Parliament in Sri Lanka weigh themselves? Selected to legislate at one per lakh for the benefit of society. Repositories of moral rectitude one would wish. Nowhere in the world has it existed and at no point of time in history has it prevailed.
Who doesn’t know it? But can it be reason enough for electors to reach for the bottom of the barrel to pick the more repulsive? Come elections and what is the sequence? So called leaders turn the barrel upside down, those below spill over and strut about as the king of the walk. This is the sense of self-worth the electable have of themselves. Their obligation is really to be lode stars to their electors. But in recent decades this has never been so. Sri Lanka has failed at election after election to make a change. In this regard the nation is well integrated with no ethnic distinction or religious difference. Little do we realize and much less concede that six decades are wasted. To sink together seems the credo.
The British House of Commons, the Mother of Parliaments had a chequered history. For once in recent centuries the King was beheaded in 1649. Why? For treating Parliament with scant regard. That much was the mean standing the House had descended to. Oliver Cromwell who got the King executed, himself chased away the Members of Parliament later. In his speech he said “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing….Depart, I say, in the name of God, go”. He did away with Parliament altogether for 7 years (1653 – 1659). Parliament itself brought on its own destruction. Ayub Khan did away with democracy in Pakistan in 1958. Should Sri Lanka fall into similar abyss? So much for the need for quality and character in MPs. Power is in the hands of the electors in August 2015, to rescue the nation.
If the need for political clarity is great in the country, it is paramount in the North. For far too long have we clashed with lotus eating idealistic philosophies. We have argued for ideologies which seemed scantily practicable, but are shown to be untenable after 2009. After much critical examination the TNA, has captured the people’s endorsement to proceed further in a clear direction towards a realizable arrangement.
At this point of time when the political configuration in the country is yet fluid and even a little murky, Tamils have not had a difficulty in January in choosing the most appropriate course. Lately they showed their acumen in lending their weight to Maithripala to make him President and writing off Mahinda. Now is the time for consolidating that victory and to garner the fruits.
Render Unto Tamils Land That Is Theirs
What are the grave issues? Tens of thousands of Northerners are dispossessed of their lands by the state, a process that went on over decades. The loss of ownership is deprivation of the very basis of existence and of employment. It means loss of livelihood itself. Not to have property is no less than living with citizenship rights denied. This denial is all the more hateful when this has been done by the state through the instrument of the armed forces.
The strident call now is to expropriate the expropriator (the state) and to restore land to the rightful owners, the Tamils. This sore point, an abrasion to all Tamils has been central to the political demands of the TNA, the vocal champion of all Tamils. Aggrieved Tamils are not confined to the North alone. It is a very large problem in the East as well. Many who have become semi-permanent residents in Colombo are losers of housing assets who yet have their hearts in Jaffna. They all want their land back. Never will they temporize and the issue is non-negotiable.
Phased Withdrawal of the Military
Not a day has passed since May 2009, without raucous calls and insistent demand for the phasing out of the military from the North. Never ever was a request or a suggestion made for total pull out. People know the levels in 1958, ’71, ’77, ’83, near total withdrawal in ’87 and to saturation point by 2009. Knowing the facts, the figures, the repercussions, the compulsions of the present and the possibilities of the future Tamils and their leadership can certainly peg the levels at realizable points. Timelines too can be worked out realistically and mutually agreed upon. However bedtime stories of a Tiger come back will take no Sinhalese or Tamil to sleep in cold sweat. Neither can it pull wool over the eyes of the international community. Government must abandon such infantile aberrations.
After ruling Japan for a few centuries, Shoguns (Commanders of Troops) got wiped out by 1867. Meiji Restoration dates to 1868. Have the Shoguns made a comeback? In the fierce Spanish Civil War 1933-36, half a million perished from all sides. Were the Republicans able to return? Only monarchy was restored. Another half a million perished in Indonesia in October 1965. Did the communists assert their strength ever after? In Sri Lanka, blood baths in 1971, 1989 and 2009 left no signs of a repetitive attempt. Ethics is not the issue at discussion. A clean wiping leaves no room for a recurrence is the lesson learnt and the point made.
Then why deploy military personnel in the North at 1 for 5 individuals?
A New Leaf
A vote to the TNA is a call in unison to assert their will for a fundamental demand. It is basic for the pursuit of community needs, firstly education, not nominal but covering the widest spectrum and reaching to post graduate university instruction. Having such a facility in the area of residence to be managed by the better elements in their own society is the essence of development. Health services too engage the attention of the Tamils in the North. Investment in very high magnitudes is needed primarily in these two disciplines. Highly trained personnel in incredible numbers are available to respond to a call when facilities are built up.
In like manner, human resources have to be developed to exploit physical resources, to generate wealth and to create avenues of meaningful engagement. A few areas to be highlighted for pointed attention are: 1) Information Technology (IT), a discipline with over abundant talent among Tamils living abroad. 2) Agriculture, Irrigation, Animal Husbandry, Fisheries. 3) Industries. 4) Foreign Direct Investment.
What needs to be noted perceptively and acutely and taken fullest cognizance of is that in all developed economies, 1) Services Sector is the highest contributor to the GDP, Industries come next followed by Agriculture. In OECD economies counting over 30 developed countries, agriculture thrives with heavy subsidies both production and consumer. Services and Industry generate the income to make agriculture support affordable. The law of life seldom seen or realized is, develop non-agricultural sectors more in order to foster agriculture. In this regard, IT and Tourism – real money spinners – having great potential in the North should claim precedence for Agriculture to thrive.
Needless to say, a quarter century is needed even to get to the fringe of comprehensive development. Public Private Partnership is the current mode in many an economy the world over. But preceding that should be North-South dialogue, with the North taking the initiative. The South should set the pace for it, not through theatricals but by a solid gesture in releasing lands taken in war after 1980. What was made to appear necessary in war is irrelevant in peace. Six wasteful years are past for which government is at default. Let the 1000 acres pledged to be released in January be handed over before August 31, 2015. Let the world see whether Sri Lanka sinks in the Indian Ocean or the world flies off its orbit when this is done. Let there be a timeline prescription to release all lands for goodwill to be generated.
When a set of circumstances seems favouring the coming together of ethnic entities, Mr. Sampanthan has expressed optimism at resolving national issues before end of 2016. The country is said to have a President who can steer clear of ethnic pulls. To some among the percipient the UNF is going in for a clear majority. The fortunes of the UPFA are declining by the day. With TNA and JVP going close to 30 plus, UNF approaching two-thirds is a greater possibility. Progressive measures, investment friendly legislation, pro people administration and essential constitutional amendments can be seen.
A good political environment is emerging one may say and hope. It is over six years that the TNA has built a clear stance and taken cautious steps to pronounce in measured tones “Sharing of the powers of governance through a shared sovereignty”. It is further added, “To determine our destiny within a united and undivided Sri Lanka”. The maturing political wisdom of the TNA has gained acceptance among the Tamils. The core of the TNA is the legatee to the FP and the TULF, thus having been in the fray for 65 years. It is this coalition of forces that is seeking a mandate and the leader Sampanthan is insistently canvassing for 20 seats. What for? To capture the opportunity and to negotiate with strength. This is the moment for non-initiates to wait and watch. Instead they have selected it for a display of their antiques as the fifth column.
What is the fifth column? In the nineteen thirties was the civil war in Spain where half a million perished. Franco the dictator sent four columns to fight in battle while creating a fifth column from among the opponents, to ally with the four and to serve as traitors. The term connotes enemy within, which undermines its own ranks. This is the role that non-entities are playing in the North. Sampanthan has gone in with four columns in one (four political formations under his leadership). The fifth column will show up and get crushed.
Nondescripts have ganged up as the fifth column to play the traitor. Totally without clout and getting votes in units and tens they are of ruinous value under proportional representation. The worst in this bad lot is a formation which with murderous activity brought forth a minister in earlier times. It has no chance now and yet is seeking to damage the TNA’s vote strength. The lament of the Tamils is that though Boycott has exited after 85 years, the fifth column has unleashed itself at 30 candidates per seat.
Power and Portfolios for the TNA
What is an election for? To spare the bullet, save one’s blood, to capture power through the ballot and to do good to the electors. That is the goal for a major party. A minor party like the TNA has to make do with a share of power. It will materialize with two or three portfolios. Being within the vortex helps greatly in the ebb and flow of information, not to mention massive opportunities for interaction. Above all are services from the higher bureaucracy for information and advice. Tamil politicians have been away from them all and the people still further away to know of their value
Whenever an offer of portfolios was made to the Tamils, their representatives ran away from it. Ostensibly through a faulty sense of values. A wrong sense of modesty, prating we are above desires. A false sense of humility by being on par with the lowest common denominator. Where do Tamils stand now? With total ignorance of governmental institutions and the process of government. No different is non-acquaintance with international institutions. Tamil public servants are away from Colombo and from the higher echelons with none in cabinet rank to take them in or to see to their growth.
When there is a knowledge vacuum on restitution, redevelopment, reparations, FDI, IT, financial institutions and the like; sovereignty, self-determination, nationality, nationhood etc. fill the space.