By Malinda Seneviratne –
Humility is probably the most powerful propaganda tool around. It is also the least used, especially by politicians. This is why Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe should be applauded for acknowledging that his party erred in July 1983. He said that the then UNP government did not take adequate action to prevent the riots.
Wickremesinghe referred to this as he urged the Government to make sure that matters be resolved before they get out of hand; the ‘matter’ being that of Buddhist-Muslim tensions in the aftermath of riots in Aluthgama and Beruwala. Implied here is the notion that contrary to wild extrapolations, what happened last week was nothing like ‘July 1983’ but that this country might very well see a repeat of ‘July 83’ if issues are not addressed adequately and conclusively.
That’s another issue. What’s interesting here is Ranil Wickremesinghe’s humility. He was not only a cabinet minister at the time but as the nephew of the President widely viewed as heir apparent. He lived through it all, silently. But as they say, ‘better late than never’, after all it’s a lot more than other leaders have done, both in the UNP and in other parties. The JVP, for example, still indulge in ‘mumblement’ when it comes to 1988-89 without clearly saying ‘yes, we killed some 3000 “informants”, close to 2000 “Government supporters”, almost 500 public servants, fifty principals of schools, one professor and one vice chancellor, over 500 members of the security forces and police, close to 100 home guards and 24 bikkhus’.
The same goes for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). D.B.S. Jeyaraj has for example called out the TNA for duplicity, loud in calling for investigations into alleged crimes by all parties (knowing the LTTE is no more and therefore the exercise is futile and even impossible and knowing that only the Sri Lankan armed forces are being targeted) but remaining silent about TNA’s complicity in LTTE crimes. Jeyaraj elaborates thus: ‘The TNA never appealed to the LTTE to release the Tamil civilians under its control even during the height of the war, is yet to condemn the conscription of children and will not celebrate the lives of political colleagues brutally murdered by the Tigers. Among other things, one might add.
The crimes of omission and commission of the SLFP and its later avatars, the PA and UPFA, and its allies (JVP, Karuna-Faction) and the many, many, many acts of thuggery including murder perpetrated by top ranked politicians of that party are well documented. They might pale of course when compared to the ‘adventures’ of the JVP and UNP, but that’s no excuse.
The JVP will do (or will not do) this or that and that’s their business. The same goes for the TNA. The same goes for the UPFA. Ranil Wickremesinghe has come clean on the crimes of his party and in this he’s scored to the detriment of his detractors in the aforementioned parties and indeed those inside the UNP. There’s a hitch though. It is not the case that the only blemish of UNP rule between 1977 and 1994 was ‘July 1983’. For each individual assassinated by the JVP the UNP regime oversaw the murder of at least 10. Wickremesinghe has opened a door. He must now walk through it all for selective humility is not humility but calculated political deceit.
No politician in this country, apart from perhaps Champika Ranawaka and Sarath Amunugama, is more qualified than Ranil Wickremesinghe to review those UNP years (1977-1994). Wickremesinghe was in the middle of it all. He has the intellect. He has the analytical skills. He has shown that he has the humility and therefore it is legitimate to hope that he has what it takes to enumerate and discuss dispassionately that era. He can begin with the 1978 Constitution (which he has described as a document that has outlived usefulness), take us through the July 1980 strike, the ‘Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme’, the ‘Green-Black July’ of 1983, the White Paper on Education, the Indo-Lanka Accord, the IPKF years, the bheeshanaya and his ascent to the post of party leader subsequent to multiple assassinations.
He will no doubt inform, illuminate and teach thereby all politicians in his party and elsewhere the difference between politician and statesman. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain. More importantly he would be setting an example, a standard that others would be judged against. He will be rewarded too, by an electorate that has demonstrated time and again an amazing capacity to forgive and forget and to show particular affection to those who are humble. The UNP will benefit, naturally. The UPFA will be stumped because as incumbent the party would have to acknowledge ongoing errors (mild word, that) unlike Ranil, whose disclosures could be easily dumped into the account of JR Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com