By Kusal Perera –
The “Modi-fied Indian factor” has stirred Sri Lankan urban political minds, more after President Rajapaksa‘s return from Narendra Modi‘s swearing in ceremony as the new Indian PM, than after Indian Lok Sabha election results. President Rajapaksa’s 20 minute sit-in with PM Modi and Indian MEA officials, reportedly sent shock waves within the Rajapaksa regime. For Modi to have raised the issue of delayed reconciliation with insistence that the 13 Constitutional Amendment should be implemented in full, the request to begin the stalled Sampur coal power project and then the fishermen’s issue was not what was expected immediately after swearing in.
With that Modi as PM raised some confidence and trust for himself in Tamil Nadu and among Sri Lankan Tamils for sure. While Modi could sail through Lok Sabha without any allies and with ease, he still needs allies in the Rajya Sabha. His straight talk with President Rajapaksa was meant for such allies. The “TN lady” who boycotted the swearing in of Modi as PM, wrote immediately to Modi to say she wish to meet him in New Delhi. The 50 minute meeting with PM Modi on Tuesday and then with Finance Minister Jaitely, made all jibes during elections, a thing of the past for Jeyalalithaa. The TNA too wrote, requesting an early opportunity to brief PM Modi on the SL Tamil issue.
Obviously, the Rajapaksa regime has reasons to be disturbed not knowing what they could do, except to say, they would do all what the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) would decide. A PSC, the main Opposition and the TNA have rejected for almost 02 years for now. Meanwhile Navi Pillay has also lined up the mechanism and framework for the probe on war crimes and accountability based on the UNHRC Resolution adopted last March. She perhaps would not leave any loose ends for any other to tie up, when she retires in end August, about 02 months from now.
That external political build up is being ignored and avoided here in Colombo with the regime leaking news about an early 2015 Presidential election, now advanced to late 2014. Probably to late November or early December this year. With that, the oppositional groups are frantically looking for a “Common Presidential Candidate”. Some claim, Rev Maduluwave Sobhitha thero is the most “common” and would honour the mandate given to him. The mandate according to spokesperson Ravi Jayawardne is only to abolish the executive presidency and that would rally enough support to defeat President Rajapaksa. Defeating Rajapaksa for what, remains an unanswered question.
If and when asked, there are two popular answers for now. One, especially in the Tamil Diaspora and the other in the Sinhala South by those who cater to a “common presidential candidate”. The former would say, war criminals can not be allowed to go scot free. They have to be punished and the Tamil people must have justice, sooner than later. Their other slogan of a “separate Thamil State” posed as the final solution to be internationally sponsored. Within the Sinhala Opposition, the answer reflects a thin consensus that some democratic space has to be regained for anything to happen, for which this Rajapaksa regime has to be replaced. The broadest alliance for such change they argue, is to rally around the promise to abolish the Executive Presidency. As in any political society, there are deviations and differences within both Sinhala and Tamil propositions. Deviations and differences in how each aspiration could be achieved. Yet they all stop with targeting this Rajapaksa regime and not saying what would be left for the future once the regime is replaced.
The ever deepening crisis in Sri Lanka can not be averted with such short term answers. We are going through an economic squeeze and tightening of screws in society with militarisation, jacked up with Sinhala Buddhist extremism. With such arrogance, irresponsibility and callousness in governance, we have been dumped in a society where the life of a cow is more important than that of a human being. Where children and women are sexual playthings of any passer-by and never a living being. Where Buddhism is no tolerant and compassionate religion, but a violent and brutal tool to suppress other minorities. Where law and order is only for the powerfully privileged and not for the ordinary. In short, we are in a society where humanity is not the axis around which social values, attitudes and all things material, revolve.
Can we retrieve that lost humanity, the lost decency and rid the society of ever deepening insecurity, with only a regime change ? With Rajapaksa replaced by some one without any programme, other than abolition of the executive presidency ? To change for the better, to create a new society that respects humanity and treats all citizens as equals, we need a clear alternative programme. Endorsed by a critical mass that can dominate a change in social thinking, social attitudes and rid popular racist perceptions. Without such social change, a mere replacement of this Rajapaksa regime will not provide effective “democratic space” for “other things to happen” as argued by those who run after a Sinhala Buddhist common candidate.
Rajapaksa rule concluded and the abolishing of Executive Presidency thereafter will not be an “end all – have all” solution. Abolishing of executive presidency to get back to a parliamentary system promises no hope for future prospects of national unity and sustainable development with improved quality in life. Our 30 year experience from 1948 to 1978 with bi-cameral and mono-cameral parliaments under two different Constitutions, the Soulbury and the first Republican, provides little trust on parliamentary form of governance.
It was under these 02 Constitutions and under parliamentary rule that plantation sector Indian origin Tamil people were totally dislodged from society as Stateless citizens. That divided the ACTC and prompted the formation of ITAK and the call for federalism in the North. From then on, making Sinhala language the only official language, deploying military in the North against democratic civil protests, giving Buddhism a privileged position in the 1972 Constitution, removing Constitutional checks and balances for minority rights, politicising the Sinhala State, curbing university admissions on geographical demarcations, eventually paved the way for the forming of the TULF and the Vadukkodai resolution for a separate Tamil State, all under parliamentary rule.
In the South, Sinhala society also gained nothing. Poverty increased and so have foreign debt increased. Corruption seeped through every State organisation and politicisation robbed credibility and efficiency. In 1971, the South witnessed the first armed youth insurrection and massacre of youth. A long continued rule under emergency regulations and turning the ceremonial army into a battle ready military, was by parliamentary rule.
How different is this parliament that is proposed to be established after the abolition of the executive presidency ? How equipped will it be, in guaranteeing a humane rule ? In establishing a secular and a plural State, a democratic rule that accommodates minority politics and social needs on the ground ? That will not be possible unless a political perspective that accepts and accommodates Tamil rights and needs is debated, discoursed and mandated as the dominant ideology in framing the basis for a new Constitution and the new State. It would have to make any proposal for the establishment of a “separate Thamil State” thereafter politically irrelevant. Such discourse is not one that should be left to Tamil politics. In fact Tamil politics will not see a need for such discourse unless the South engages constructively.
Towards this, there is now some probing done by Kumaravadivel Guruparan, with Radhika Coomaraswamy making few serious incisions in arguments put forward by Guruparan in his recent article (May 24) in the GV. In this article Guruparan argues, the Sinhala South does not guarantee a plural, inclusive State. He rightly says, abolition of the Executive Presidency and the repeal of 18 Amendment does not in anyway answer Tamil aspirations. They will not abolish the Unitary Sinhala State says Guruparan quite emphatically (I have said it before and totally agree with him). Tamil aspirations will not be what Rev. Sobitha Thero would want to address as a “common candidate”. The problem lies with those who back Rev. Sobitha thero not wanting to discuss the outcome of abolishing the executive presidency. They wish to avoid discussing Tamil demands, fearing their “common candidate” may loose Sinhala votes. Guruparan’s whole argument thus leads to a silent Statement that says, “We therefore have to have our own Thamil State” but leaves the question, “how safe and secure will it be ?”
Interestingly, spurred by Guruparan’s elbowing, Radhika intervenes to prise out some answers for questions the Tamil Diaspora also avoids. She holds the LTTE equally responsible for the annihilation of the Tamil people in the Vanni. No serious leadership would push its own people in massive numbers into such violent and desperate helplessness she says and she is awfully right. She then disagrees with the slogan “a separate Tamil State” as never feasible. She has her own justification(s). I agree with Radhika on her critic about the LTTE and its brutally adverse role in completely busting Tamil democratic politics. That, at the expense of innocent people and their future. A proud Tamil society was forced to finally accept a humiliated barbed wired survival with doled out charity by the oppressive Sinhala State. The LTTE simply did not understand politics. They cultivated an ego that made them incapable of understanding post 9/11 global military surveillance and intelligence that arched over national politics. The LTTE remained a heavily trained and armed insurgent organisation that could calculate military gains but was gradually loosing their combat lustre. They did not accept they had lost combat capability in matching the military might of the extremist Sinhala regime, Prabhakaran decided to help hoist in the South.
In such context, questions and answers raised by both Guruparan and Radhika intricately entwine Southern politics. The LTTE and the “separate Thamil State” define “Sinhala patriotism” and the nature of the Sinhala State. They also decide the ideology of the South for electoral politics. That’s what this regime lives on. Therefore answers that has to be worked out in replacing the present regime, should be answers that could bring together democratic political aspirations of both North and South, onto a single discourse.
It is also true, in a global economy that often decides regional politics and influences national governments, isolated life is not possible even for islanders in little Nauru. Yet, externally pressured solutions have not been any wiser in bringing about sustainable and peaceful solutions. Modi’s India therefore need not necessarily be a factor in deciding answers. Sri Lanka has to have a clear national programme at home, to avoid external interference and to positively engage with India, to its advantage. That responsibility falls more sharply on the Sinhala South than on any other minority community, North, East or Central. The South, dominating every aspect of governance and every regime elected, will have to take greater responsibility in deciding what “national priorities” are. Will it continue denying a secular and a plural nation State with the Sinhala South submerged in growing poverty, crime and economic plunder labelled as “patriotism”, or, will it opt to discourse an honourable way out for all in a democratic and a decent country that respects identities and divisions ?
It would be wise therefore to use the issue of a “common candidate” in assembling solutions for all than avoiding them, for want of Sinhala votes just to change the name and face of the regime. Relaunching of the same product with new packaging and a different brand name will not cure, deepening and festering wounds.