The process of constitutional reform, establishing an accountability mechanism and seeking a political solution to the National Question is bound to be a highly contested and polarized arena of ideological and political struggle. Already, the new constitution is being labeled as a ‘death trap’, by the Joint Opposition. Any form of accountability will be trumpeted as betrayal of the ‘Ranaviruvos’. Any concession towards solving the national question would be blasted as promoting ‘separatism’. The 2/3 majority in Parliament held by the government would split, once these issues are taken out publicly in the form of referendum. This eventuality would lead to shameless conciliation, compromise and appeasement with the chauvinist-supremacist forces and preservation of the status-quo, with some reforms thrown in. The prospect of a radical restructuring, democratization and humanization, which calls for dismantling the chauvinist-supremacist State and its replacement by a modern, democratic – pluralist State – at the very least would be jeopardised. Some dominant sections of the TNA would be coopted, but the more nationalist militant factions would be severely marginalized. The sparks of separatism would gather more force than ever before, while all those who dreamed of radical change and a better future would end up in utter despair. In this context, it is worthwhile to look at the present alignment and configuration of the political forces and how the game would be played out.
Internal Contradictions Within and Between the Yahapalanaya Camp
One of the chief planks, if not the main plank, of the ‘Government of National Unity’ that has brought the two main traditional political parties- UNP and the SLFP – together, is the pledge to establish a Regime of ‘Good Governance’. However, it cannot be assumed that this overarching concept was understood in the same manner by each and every one that supported it and brought the new Regime to power. Nor can it be assumed that there was informed consensus even between and within these parties and their respective partners and supporters. It was simply the ‘catch slogan’ of the hour that cut through the major dividing lines of class, nationality, gender and geography. What was shared at the minimum was the need to end the era of dynastic dictatorship of the Rajapaksa Regime. It was, however, commonly understood to mean a cleanup of rampant and institutionalized corruption and abuse of power and the establishment of the Rule of Law, combined with prosecuting those found guilty of high crimes. For the progressive Tamil and Moslem voters, they expected to be recognized as nationalities, with parity of political status. This was the ‘Social Contract’ between the followers and supporters of the ‘Yahapalana – Good Governance- camp.
However, this shared consensus and ‘Contract’ contained diverse and divisive expectations and aspirations and brought contradictory elements together. A radical-democratic perspective, at the very least, called for an overhauling and restructuring of the State involving the systematic dismantling of the structures of ideological and political dominance based on chauvinism, nepotism, supremacy and hegemony, replaced by a vibrant form of people’s democracy where political representatives and government officials would be directly and effectively held responsible and accountable to the electorate.The radical-democratic trend is marked by its commitment to universal values of dignity, equality, solidarity and democratic freedom for each and all citizens without any form of discrimination or subordination. There is also a right-wing, conservative trend that did not agree with the radical-revolutionary democratic agenda. Instead, it was expected that the State and the new government would respect and recognize the supremacy of the Sinhala-Buddhist Nation and its exclusive right to nationhood and statehood, and that all others to be treated as ethnic minorities that must coexist with the privileged status of the dominant majority. ( Recall that this was Mahinda Rajapaksa’s triumphalist language). Then there were others who simply jumped the bandwagon to save from being prosecuted or simply to abandon the sinking ship – some of whom are Cabinet Ministers. In other words, there was no shared, informed consensus regarding the character of the State, nor the agenda for democratic reform.. Truthfully, the majority of the electorate neither understood nor cared for the intricate ramifications and divergences contained in the Contract. They simply wished for change that would usher in a better life and a better future.
Perspective of a Radical-Democratic Agenda
Among the ‘ruling triumvirate’, Madam Chandrika appears to represent the radical-democratic perspective that calls for dismantling the prevailing chauvinist, hegemonic, supremacist ‘quasi-theocratic’ State, while President Sirisena appears to guard towards maintaining the exclusive status and privileges of the Sinhala-Buddhist nation and still guarantee dignity and equality to all the constituent components of the Sri Lankan people, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, technocrat as he is, appears to balance between the two to arrive at a win-win situation. This is why we have contradictory statements being issued regarding the proposed accountability mechanism, the approach to be taken in prosecuting members of the Rajapaksa Regime, the character of the State, the political status of the Tamil people and of the Sinhala Buddhist Nation, since these are the most volatile issues to be confronted. Of course, the first imperative is to ride the impending storm, appease the UN and the International powers, withstand the potential opposition from the Rajapaksa backlash and stay alive politically.
It is in this fluid and volatile context that Madam Chandrika’s statements on federalism and secularism gains critical importance. Chandrika, as President, once presented the far-reaching ‘August Proposal’ that stepped out of the box, as a basis for a negotiated political settlement to the National Question, envisaging the structure of the State as a “Union of Regions”. She organized a mass advocacy campaign called the “Thavalama” and the “White Lotus Movement” to educate and mobilize an informed national consensus. This mass campaign did gain momentum. The UNP Opposition set it on fire in Parliament. I bring this out to demonstrate an example where the struggle for a radical democratic restructuring of the State was taken out openly and defiantly to the people, challenging the fundamental assumptions and premises of the powerful chauvinist-hegemonic-supremacist power structure. Yet, it was effectively sabotaged. This is the history of every effort at devolution of power- however truncated. There is a powerful lesson to be grasped. That is that, whatever amount of deliberation and discussion at the top among policy and decision makers and the elite intelligentsia, unless the people are motivated and led to engage in open discussion and struggle, intellectually and ideologically, at various levels of engagement, for a liberating vision, program and agenda for change, the effort at radical, structural reform shall be assailed by entrenched vested interests and end up being sabotaged. The structures of chauvinist domination and supremacy must be assailed and brought down through conscious, organized mass mobilization such that no power would dare to challenge or oppose it. It appears that this process of mass political engagement in restructuring the State and the democratic transformation of the Political Order is being manipulated and subverted by a process of constitutional engineering and dangling the magic of constitutional reform.
The Dominant Trend
The main trend and temptation officially appears to be to arrive at the common minimum denomination to appease these contending and conflicting interests in the name of a ‘grand alliance for democracy’. This leads to the politics of unprincipled compromise, where core values are diluted- and negated. This is to be approached by introducing a language of discourse that is bereft of controversial concepts such as Tamil nationhood and conjoined right of self-determination and secularism that would challenge and provoke the extremist elements of the Sinhala-Buddhist constituency. Tamil nationhood and conjoined right of self-determination are core concepts, principles and endeared universal values that embody fundamental democratic rights over which a war was waged for nearly 30 years, and for which immense sacrifices have been made. It appears that the official approach have replaced these core concepts and values by a language of ‘ethnic minorities’. This approach is defended on the basis that every possible inch that can be taken towards democratization must be defended, however diluted and sterilized, since the alternative would be a return to power of the Rajapaksa clan. There is also an implied agenda to preserve the status-quo. Look at the happy family get together at Dudley Sirisena’s son’s wedding! Utterly despicable and disgusting camaraderie! Indeed, there is even underhand deals being taken to come to terms with Mahinda Rajapaksa, as opposed to criminal prosecution. The requirement of 200% certainty in prosecution sounded by the prime minister is a call for deliberate prevarication that effectively ties up the prosecuting agencies. It is so patently obvious that Mahinda Rajapakse could be prosecuted for high treason under the PTA for aiding and abetting terrorism for having bribed Prabhakaran. He could be prosecuted for trying to suppress the presidential election results and stage a coup. There is enough and more evidence and witnesses for the latter, including the Attorney General, Chief Justice, Elections Commissioner, Wimal Weerawansa, and Ranil Wickremesinghe himself. This is not to mention gross and systemic corruption and abuse of power, with piles of evidence, witnesses and accomplices – ala Sajin Vas and Gamini Senarath and others. All this could put him away for life. Yet, he is set free to fly the skies, organize rallies and form political platforms against the government.-or rather, against his arch enemy, Maitripala Sirisena. This conciliatory and duplicitous approach is nothing but the politics of Machiavellian , double-dealing machination. So then, where is the pledge to establish the Rule of Law and deliver Justice to the people- as so solemnly pledged? This is the nature of the diabolical game being played on the people, where everything is made to hang on the magic of a new constitution. This package is being sold in the name of ‘pragmatic realism’. This approach may be eminently pragmatic, if the overriding objective is the political survival of the Government, play up to the US-UN agenda and preserve the status quo. But it will neither challenge nor overhaul the fundamental structures of chauvinist domination and supremacy, not usher in an era of Good Governance. It is a game where the people are cynically manipulated as mere pawns. It will not transfer real political power to the people. State power shall continue to be monopolized and manipulated by the same double-dealing, corrupt, crony ruling Mafia. Nor, will it address the fundamental issue of Tamil nationhood and statehood and the conjoined right of self-determination. As it is, the North and East is under intensive Sinhala colonization where Buddhist statues and temples are being erected even in places where there are no Buddhists. The policy of continued military occupation when there is no imminent threat to national security, is part of this process of colonization, where cantonments are being built to house the families of members of the armed forces. This is also the rationale behind encouraging the armed forces to engage in land occupation for agricultural purposes and tourist and other commercial investments. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the process of reconciliation itself and the prospect of a negotiated democratic political solution shall remain an exercise in constitutional engineering designed and defined from above, to be adopted by a given 2/3 parliamentary majority and taken to the masses for certification through a national referendum. It is a shame that dominant sections of the Tamil political leadership are complicit in this game. Of course, the US, in complicity with the UN, shall accommodate all this machination, so long as they can steadily sink their fangs into our bloodlines in order to seize vital geo-political strategic territory.
Trapped Within the Box
For there to be the kind of radical, transcendent transformation that is required, not only the state and political order must be subject to overhaul, but also the consciousness of the people must be radically transformed and liberated from the box. It requires that Tamil society undergoes a deep process of self-critical evaluation as to how a liberation movement and struggle could degenerate to the level of killing civilians en masse, including your own. How it could resort to barbaric counter-terror no better than the enemy, and to be finally isolated, encircled, routed and decimated. While the dominant sections of the Tamil political leadership are harnessed and willingly coopted, the Tamil nation lives in utter political subjugation, under military occupation as a consequence. The sad fact is that there is no effort to critically transcend and advance from the narrow nationalist, chauvinist ideology and politics of the LTTE on the part of Tamil society. It is a case of either denouncing and selling out the liberation struggle or simply glorifying it. Any liberation movement that does not engage in deep and transforming self-criticism, learn bitter lessons paid in the blood of the people, and strive to raise its theory and practice to a higher scientific level, shall never scale the emancipating heights of liberation. It shall forever remain prisoners of the past and trapped in the box. This is the same with the JVP which led two generations of revolutionary youth to capitulation, decimation and defeat, under the banner of petit-bourgeois adventurism and ending up in sprouting rabid chauvinism as loyal agents of the State. This would require an exceptional quality of vision and leadership which neither the JVP nor the LTTE has yet produced.
The Path Forwards
A profound, radical – democratic transformation requires that we leap beyond this criminal negative legacy- both in the South and North. We must all engage in this process of deep and merciless self-criticism to raise our theory and practice to a whole new and higher scientific level. That is owed to the people who sacrificed. This is in order to arrive at a profoundly transcendental democratization and humanization of the State and political order, so the legacy of division, terror and war could finally be buried and the path to a new chapter and a new future for the people could be paved. Civil society and all genuine democratic forces who aspire for a radical-democratic restructuring and transformation of the State and the Political and Social Order that would bury the legacy of chauvinism, corruption and terror once and for all, and usher in an era of popular democracy where the people shall truly exercise their sovereignty and decide their future, should stand independent of any political machination, whether ruling or in opposition. While not being fooled and coopted by vile deception and deadly illusion, all genuine progressive democratic reforms extracted by the State must be defended and advanced against neo-fascist, chauvinist forces. However, this stand should not be exercised to defend the status-quo, which includes the entire ruling class and their various political agents. Through this process and practice, we must work to build an independent people’s movement aimed at a revolutionary-democratic transformation of the State and the Political, Economic and Social Order It is only when the people unite consciously and willingly, across divided borders as an invincible force to mount the stage of history, guided by a liberating scientific vision and leadership to command their State and their future, that we can achieve genuine independence, unity and freedom. The rising conjuncture presents both deadly challenges as well as rare historic opportunities, if we only dare to grasp and act on them.