By Somapala Gunadheera –
Reading the record of the interview that Tissa Jayatillaka has given to Lackshman Piyasena, I was reminded of a folktale my father was never tired of relating, as I sat on the arm of his easy chair. The story goes as follows:
Once upon a time a Guru went on a long voyage with his favourite pupil. One day, night fell as they came to a river that had dried up. The Guru wanted to sleep on the soft sand of the riverbed. The pupil warned him against his choice, pointing to the risk of a sudden flood. The Guru dismissed the objection and went to sleep on the bed of the river. The cautious pupil slept at the foot of a Kumbuk tree on the bank.
By midnight the river was suddenly in spate and the Guru got caught in the torrent. He started crying for help as the waves brought him up. The pupil was unable to help and started climbing up the Kumbuk tree for his own safety. And as he reached the top of the tree, he shouted back,
“kiyana nahana Guru ihala yathath pala pahala yathath pala”. (Let the obstinate Guru go up or down the waves).
Cockeyed foreign policy and extremism
Briefly, Tissa’s submissions are as follows:
“Our foreign policy positively maintained by D.S. Senanayake and Sirimavo Bandaranaike suffered a setback after Lakshman Kadirgamer. India and the US had their own reasons to back our fight against the Tigers before 2009. They expected us to manage the ethnic conflict amicably after winning the war. But there are no signs of an attempt at rapprochement even up to the end of 2013. CHOGM gave us a chance to proclaim to the whole world that we were building up reconciliation between the majority and the minorities. But we failed to convey that message. We must honestly realize that it is that failure that India and the West are holding against us.
We cannot survive in this world by ourselves without contact with other nations. The foundation we had laid in the past to solve our problems amicably with the rest of the world is sinking. A country must base its foreign policy based on a firm foundation and multilateral understanding. We cannot expect China to come to our rescue when we are mulcted by other Powers. Nations prioritize their own interests over all others.
We have learnt more than enough that we cannot solve our problem, by surrendering to extremist forces of ethnicity. It is clear that Sinhala ultra-nationalism is a vote catching stunt of knavish politicians. We have to ascertain whether this extremism is a real demand of the populace. Irrespective of their ethnicity, ordinary people do not want to dispossess other communities of their rights. Minorities believe that the majority has grabbed their opportunities. But what has really happened is that even the Sinhalese have been losing their democratic rights after DS.
Defeating Tiger terrorism was more important to us than to India or to the West. After attaining that goal we ought to have come to a solution that is suitable to us and attainable internally. I believe that the most suitable leader to achieve that end is President Mahinda Rajapaksha. He is trusted even by extremists who attempt to exploit racialism to their advantage. Ranil and Chandrika do not enjoy that command. With that clout, the President could have won over the people to an amicable solution as Nixon used his anti-Chinese public image to win over the Chinese. He could have shown a green light to the world that he was committed to solving the ethnic problem. His failure to find a solution will be harmful to us.
Our culture provides the best tools to withstand the pressures coming from the world outside. We only boast about our heritage but do not use it to solve our problems. What is operative today is an arrogant, resentful and provocative discourse. Lanka is now imprisoned in a self- made world of make-believe”.
I wish these views of Tissa Jayatillaka are given wider publicity in order to enrich the ongoing public debate on the Government’s approach to national integration. Already there is a wealth of material placed before the rulers for their consideration in putting the Tiger War to eternal rest. Individual correspondents, national organizations, intellectual associations and the clergy have made many appeals to put the memory of our racial conflict behind, by bringing the majority and minorities together. Their overtures have fallen on deaf ears.
In this connection, two points made by Tissa deserve special attention. One of them is the inroads made by politicians trying to fatten their vote bank by blocking the reconciliation process, believing that they were thus pandering to public opinion. Tissa’s position is that their belief is misguided as the majority has no grudge against the grant of their human rights to the minorities. The other group of protesters are the warmongers who see a tiger under every bush. The President’s occasional bravado that he would not divide the country or that he would not surrender to the demands of the Diaspora reveals an obsession with their demands. The happy news is that the President’s clout on these deviants is capable of restraining their excesses.
Even the most generous of the pacifists do not want the demands of the TNA granted without exception. They certainly do not want the country divided. In their view, withdrawal of the forces is not possible forthwith. It has to be aligned to the regression of the threat to peace in the region. Powers not granted to the other regions need not be granted exclusively to the North. What is objectionable in their view is a possible use of the land power of the Centre to deliberately change the demography of a habitat. They accept that much has been done on the material side with resettlement and development.
On his part the new CM of the NPC has gone out of his way to establish rapport with the Central Government. He called on the President to take his oath of office. The CM could have made the CHOGM an occasion to embarrass the Government but he did not lend himself to troublemakers foreign and local, to abuse the event. Imaginably he would have stood his ground against the belligerent sections of his Party, in taking this stand. But what did he get from the Government in return for his principled stand? Only a grim silence.
In his large-heartedness, the President could have grabbed the CM’s hand of friendship with both his hands. Was he held back by his deference to the rabid nationalists and the warmongers that Tissa has referred to? Time has come for the President to act according to his own conscience in controversial matters as in the case of banning night races in the metropolis. He has proved himself right, whenever he acted so, as in the case of closing down the Centre for Security Information.
A positive approach
Fortunately another opening has appeared for the President to reciprocate the goodwill of the North. That is the second courtesy call paid to the President by the CM of the NPC in the New Year, despite his disappointments. A prudent Government would lose no time in maximizing the effect of this meeting. That cannot be done through formal Parliamentary Committees. The need is to build upon the one upon one contact the CM has established for the second time, despite the cold shoulder he got after the first.
It is earnestly hoped that 2014 would usher a new chapter in our ethnic relations, if only the Government and its advisors have the sense and sensibility to make it happen. Let us go from the simple to the complex. What the CM needs immediately is to streamline the administration, finance development and concessions to attract capital for investment. Remarkably, the CM has overruled the extremism of his own colleagues as in the case in which he got a resolution asking for ‘a Tamil Governor from the North’ amended to read as ‘civilian Governor of any community from anywhere’. All these requests are things that the Centre could accommodate conveniently. The grant of such facilities is bound to open the gate to peaceful coexistence.
The other important observation that Tissa has made is the collapse of our foreign policy after Lakshman Kadirgamer. We direct our foreign relations on the moth-eaten tutorials of the last Century. We still believe in the inviolability of state sovereignty and direct our affairs on a false sense of security, depending on our immunity to action under the Rome Statute. In the meantime the West has discovered new devises to impose their will upon the Third World. They have discovered a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in situations where they decide on their own that there is a need to intervene. And they create the situations themselves.
That is what happened to powerful leaders like Gaddafi and Mubarak. The pattern is to create a situation of unrest in the target country and allow it to blow up and go out of hand. Then the Saviours of the World use R2P to intervene and manage the unrest until the leadership is thrown out. Strangely the Saviours themselves have got side-lined in turn; so did the victims they came to save. Ultimately the booty is carried away by a third party who was out of the picture at the beginning. This is what happened in Libya and Egypt. Our siblings in the North would be wise to make themselves aware of this danger before they appeal for international help.
Our leaders also should be alive to these developments and not go to sleep on the UN Charter. Such awareness should make them alive to the new dangers ahead and be prepared to face them when they do arise. One wonders whether the street protests that the Opposition is planning for the New Year are to be the thin end of such a wedge. These initiatives are so deftly remote-controlled that even the participants are not aware that they are being used. In the circumstance, our President should take a hard look at the developing danger and act with diligence and foresight to save his admirers from the pathetic plight of having to cry from their perch on a Kumbuk Tree.