By Rajan Hoole –
The 1990s: The Culture of Untruth and a Perilous Vacuum – Part 8
The Culture Of Untruth
For the failure of the process of accountability, the new government can only be partially blamed. It is unrealistic to expect politicians
to carry through a seemingly thankless task while the vocal members of the public are either hostile or apathetic and the ‘independent press’ was launching tirade after tirade. In its editorial comment on Two years of the PA, which appeared as the lead item, the Sunday Times of 18th August 1996 attacked the PA Government in an unprecedented manner. It accused the Government of mismanagement, and, in an obvious reference to the commissions of inquiry, of failing to unite the country. It ended with the Cromwellian expression, ‘For God’s sake go’.
Let us take what the Sunday Times editor wrote under the name Migara in the Weekend of 4th November 1982 after Jayewardene’s victory at the presidential election and his concoction of the ‘Naxalite Plot’ to detain key members of the opposition. He wrote, “The abortive October Revolution by political bankrupts did not take place. The voters of Lanka made a wise decision to avert such a crisis.” We know how Jayewardene united the country. This gives us some idea of the degree of honesty behind these tirades against the PA government. Anything approaching such attacks would have been unthinkable under Jayewardene or Premadasa.
An article by ‘Police Correspondent’ in the Sunday Times of 16th February 1997, accused the PA government of letting the LTTE off the hook for Athulathmudali’s murder and in turn wrongly blaming good police officers of complicity. It concluded thus: “We will peddle this [distorted] thinking until the south of Sri Lanka gets subverted, and becomes a subject state of the Tamil Confederation.” The primordial fears of the Sinhalese public were being played upon, while carefully avoiding an independent examination of the evidence. We will go into this in the next chapter.
It was about this time that the PA government crossed the line where it ceased to offer any hope of a fresh political culture with clean government and accountability. The Government itself lost interest in the findings of commissions except as possible propaganda material. Sri Lankan politics seemed back where it was. The Government too was getting mired in cynicism and unfulfilled expectations. The political solution to the Tamil problem was in abeyance. The Government showed greater accountability for war-related violations in the North-East, but in the vast majority of cases, there was no conclusive inquiry and no redress.
Finally, the humbler sections to which the bulk of the victims belonged are left facing the obduracy of the system. Politicians of all hues will talk about social upliftment and those in power will throw in some money. But in the absence of democratic accountability for such a basic thing as life, the results of such benevolence will be dubious. The vacuum will remain and we will all pay the price.
A Wider Responsibility
There is of course a wider responsibility for the non-realisation of the nobler pledges of the PA government that was voted into power in 1994. This failure is part of the same process that led to a decisive weakening of the Left. It also involves a loss of faith in the democratic ideal of giving people guarantees of justice and control over their lives. For many, it was a consequence of being thrust into unforeseen roles during the JVP insurgency. That experience brought home to them the feeling that it is power and the exercise of it that matter and not the people. If that is so what is the rationale for the existence of the Left?
In the years following the JVP insurgency, we have seen a significant exodus from the Left to the Right – the UNP. Several others remain in the Left but only nominally. Among left-oriented writers and journalists too there is a new uncritical approach to the UNP, one that is lacking in historical perspective. This has also distorted perceptions about the Tamil problem along the lines that it is power that matters and not people. The current wisdom is to make a deal over power with the LTTE and forget about the Tamil people and their human rights and dignity. There is little appreciation of the fact that the Tamil people today face the same dilemmas that those in the South faced from 1987 to 1990. What prospects were there of making a reasonable deal with Wijeweera once the die had been cast and he had made up his mind to kill his way to power?
Those who became compromised during the JVP insurgency can clearly argue that the UNP government by trying to deal with problems in the South and the North-East through repressive anti-democratic means created public sympathy for virulent phenomena like the JVP and the LTTE. It brought about a situation where options were limited and individuals under threat were cornered. The solution must therefore be to strengthen democratic institutions and not let this happen again.
There is also another important implication for the ethnic conflict in allowing the State to demean the rights of the people. It confuses the difference between the Sri Lankan State, Prabhakaran and Wijeweera. There ceases to be a clear moral argument in favour of any one of them. Reforming the Sri Lankan State would thus improve accountability to the Tamil citizens even as the war is prosecuted and so raise its moral standing. This would remove debilitating confusion.
The failure on the part of many of those individuals and movements openly to come to terms with their dilemmas and dispositions during the JVP era has had a baneful effect on the politics of this country. Their earlier enlightened position on the Tamil question has given way to something unwholesome. In trying to represent their own disposition during that period as ‘politically correct’, they tend to be silent about the JVP and the dangers of its brand of political obscurantism. As a corollary they obscure the nature of the LTTE, pretend that they have a formula for making peace with the LTTE and blame the Government for the ongoing war. It is all politically correct, and yet, barren. The resulting vacuum is evidenced by the fact that the most spirited attacks on obscurantism come either from persons connected with the state media or from individuals shunned by the ‘progressive’ lobby.
In this atmosphere of cynicism, the PA government has moved to use commission findings selectively to impose a politically useful history of the JVP era. This is bound to lead to much anger and further volatility in the politics of the nation. After all, beginning from July 1983 and especially during the JVP insurgency, the conduct of the SLFP too was highly questionable. The SLFP unthinkingly and unfeelingly condemned thousands of youth to their deaths by their misguided opportunism in attempting to secure power through the JVP’s guns. The cause of peace and stability requires a careful and honest approach to history.
Those who are working towards ending the civil war and restoring peace would be conceding an important part of their case if they fail to press ahead on accountability to victims in the South during the JVP insurgency. The record will clearly show that those in the forefront of killing Sinhalese during 1987-1990 are much the same persons who made a virtue of killing Tamils from July 1983 onwards in the name of furthering Sinhalese interests. Unless one recognises that violence in both instances is part of the same social phenomenon, one would make little progress with solving the Tamil problem.
Having about 1998 made a final break with the awkward commitment to justice for the disappeared, has not this country once more become tolerant of political murders and criminals asserting themselves in politics?
To be continued..