By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Our leaders lost little time after independence in 1948 to commence the discrimination of minorities for electoral purposes. The country’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake said to be the ‘father’ of the nation sensing that Tamils of recent Indian origin on tea plantations posed an electoral threat to his UNP, gave leadership to their disenfranchisement under the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 and Indian-Pakistani Citizenship Act of 1949.
The Easter Sunday Carnage on April 21 is a defining moment in the wicked and violent segment of the history of this country fueled mainly by the mismanagement since independence of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious character of Sri Lanka. Our starting point is 1948 when we became responsible for our destiny. We cannot blame providence for this, it is entirely man made. Sadly Sri Lanka has not been blessed with a statesman to lead the country who put country before self and electoral prospects. Although particularly in the early years since independence we have had a fair share of knowledgeable gentlemen in politics, for whatever reason they remained just that – gentlemen!
Discrimination of Minorities
Other acts of discrimination and callous disregard for minorities over the years include (i) State sponsored colonization in predominantly minority (mainly Tamil) populated areas in the East of the country (ii) Sinhala Only Act of 1956 which did not give official recognition to Tamil which was the first language of Sri Lankan Tamils, Tamils of recent Indian origin and Moors (iii) Pledge by then Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to have Sinhala as the only official language ‘in 24 hours’ (iv) ‘standardization’ through ‘District Quotas’ of admission to universities (v) “foremost place” to Buddhism given in the 1972 Constitution. How on earth can a country have peace and development when almost 30% of its population are disadvantaged? Don’t are leaders and people get it?
These acts of blatant discrimination and injustice to minorities encouraged periodical grave violence and other indignities to defenseless minorities carried out with political patronage by a small section from the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community. A feature of this was impunity. The refusal by successive administrations to address the grievances of the minorities particularly that of the ethnic Tamils through peaceful negotiations led to a fierce near 30 year armed conflict which came to a controversial and brutal end in 2009 in the absence of credible accountability. Reconciliation issues continue to fester. In more recent times, Muslims have been at the receiving end of hate speech and violence unleashed with impunity. It must be emphasised that under no circumstances is the horrendous violence unleashed on Easter Sunday or for that matter by the LTTE, JVP or any other entity justified. Nevertheless the discrimination and fear psychosis unleashed on minorities which still continue with impunity must be flagged. This is the background leading up to the April 21 Easter Sunday Carnage. The violence and mayhem unleashed by the JVP over the years is mainly due to socio-economic reasons and not minority issues. Nevertheless the socio-economic factors will exacerbate minority issues.
The raison d’être for characterizing the Easter Sunday carnage as a defining moment in the wicked and violent segment of the history of this country is due to:
1) The Global Context of Islamic terror far outweighs the global context under which the LTTE operated.
2) This has a huge geo-political context which involves the superpowers of the world – US, China and a rapidly growing India with Russia waiting in the wings. This had not matured to current levels during the time the armed conflict with the LTTE held sway.
3) The geo-politics of the Indian Ocean has become crucial to world powers particularly the US, China and a rejuvenated India which is fast becoming a world power particularly in the Indian Ocean.
4) Sri Lanka being at the crossroads of major sea lanes in the Indian Ocean is of huge strategic importance to world powers.
5) China in recognition of this has invested heavily in the economy of Sri Lanka which include – Colombo Port City, Road infrastructure, Hambantota Port and Hambantota Airport.
6) The growing influence of China in the Indian Ocean due to amongst others its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and Hambantota Port has led to an unprecedented response from the US which has renamed its crucial ‘United States Pacific Command’ as the ‘United States Indo-Pacific Command’ in recognition of the growing influence of India as a counterbalance to China
7) The ‘Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement ‘(ACSA) with the US renewable every 10 years was as per a ‘Sunday Times’ report renewed in 2017 with an 80 page document in comparison to a mere 8 page document in 2007. It is speculated that ACSA will give wide access in the Indian Ocean to US military assets due to Sri Lanka’s strategic location.
8) The ‘Sunday Times’ also reports that another US initiative being promoted in Sri Lanka is the controversial ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ (SOFA) which has implications as to whether Sri Lanka law or US law will apply to US servicemen if operating in Sri Lanka.
9) It is widely perceived that in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday tragedy foreign military advisers and intelligence personnel mainly of US origin are operating in Sri Lanka. Of course the mutual sharing of intelligence is entirely another matter and most welcome – provided we act on it!!
10) All of the above has brought Sri Lanka to the centre of big power rivalry in the Indian Ocean as never before with all its implications to a country which does not treat all its citizens equally.
Sri Lanka although a small country is today due to our collective stupidity caught up in the maelstrom of global geo-politics and terror due to the gross mismanagement of our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
Successive administrations in pursuance of political power have manipulated the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious fabric to set us up against each other by distorting history and appealing to humanity’s lurking base instincts. Such an environment is conducive for the birth and nurturing of a fifth column. The results have come home to roost over the years culminating in what we witnessed on Easter Sunday. Again I stress – no matter what instances of violence can never be justified.
His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is spot on by attributing the main cause for global Islamic terrorism at the doorstep of successive US administrations. He has rightly pointed out that it is due to its furtherance of the commercial interests of US’s powerful military–industrial complex (MIC) and geo-political interests in which Israel figures prominently. It is widely believed that the US is the main reason for the birth of the radical Islamic Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The MIC is defined to be an ‘informal alliance between a nation’s military and defense industry’.
What follows below on ‘Presidential Stakes’ although speculative is rooted on ground realities.
The main protagonists vying for domination in the Indian Ocean are the US and China. India fast becoming a superpower from a military standpoint is for all intents and purposes a US ally. Given the strategic location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, these powers will have a stake in the electoral politics of Sri Lanka.
The 19th Amendment prohibits the most popular candidate former President Mahinda Rajapaksa from contesting the presidency. Ground reality would suggest that Gotabaya Rajapaksa – former Defense Secretary and younger brother of MR is the frontline candidate followed to a lesser extent by President Sirisena. The US and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe himself (post 2005) are fully aware of Wickremesinghe’s dismal presidential prospects.
i) Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Ground reality would also suggest that the US if it wishes to can be a spoiler by refusing to accede to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request to annul his US citizenship. The two civil cases filed against GR in the US gives the US ample space to manoeuvre to delay renunciation until it is too late to qualify as a candidate.
Are there any signs that the US appears to be cozying up to him?
Robert Blake former US ambassador to Sri Lanka who was in the country in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage with reference to the alleged poor coordination between our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies in regard to Easter Sunday was complimentary of the professionalism of Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he reportedly said:
“I remember Gotabaya Rajapaksa led an interagency group of all intelligence, law enforcement and military personnel. Every single week, they gathered all the intelligence together and looked at the threats.”
Is not the fact that Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself exudes supreme confidence that his US citizenship will be revoked on time to enable him to be a presidential candidate indicative of a possible nexus between him and the US?
This does not appear to be far-fetched since of all contenders GR would appear to have (i) the best chance with the majority Sinhala-Buddhists (ii) the Easter Sunday carnage may also stand him in good stead in the perception he is a strong leader (iii) Possible US arm-twisting of Ranil Wickremesinghe and some others could have some traction with some of the UNP faithful (iv) Possible US arm-twisting of some TNA leaders such as M.A. Sumanthiran may even have some traction however unpalatable with a small section of the Tamil community.
Is it not likely that GR’s core support base will not in their wildest dreams imagine that their man could be a US proxy? On the other hand, if GR is obsessed on being President and the US can be a spoiler, would it not give the US leverage to have him where they want – to do their bidding?
Is all this far-fetched?
(ii) President Sirisena
There is ample evidence that President Sirisena is also obsessed in having another term.
There are signs that Sirisena will be China’s man. He was virtually summoned to Beijing by President Xi Jinping.
‘The Sunday Times’ reports:
“President Xi chaired a joint Sri Lanka-China bilateral meeting on security co-operation with Colombo”
A key decision was on “strengthening co-operation in the defence sector and sharing intelligence between Sri Lanka and China”
China is also possibly taking cognizance of speculation there is ambivalence within sections of the Rajapaksa family in regard to the candidature of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Sirisena had developed some support for his purported strong stand against the drug mafia. He may
have lost some of this due to his poor handling of matters leading to the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sirisena most likely will be more acceptable to minorities than GR.
Does not simple logic tell us that GR would have been by far China’s first choice? Does not China itself now realize they have lost him to the US?
Is this too far-fetched?
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