By Malinda Seneviratne –
There is a time-tested formula to obtain the optimum in any engagement. It was proposed first by the All-Knowing and All-Seeing, the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama. The doctrine is contained in two ideas: compassion and wisdom. Applicable to all, this formula offers the best instruments to dissect and respond to the manifesto recently put out by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Promising sun, moon, stars and everything underneath is part and parcel of manifestos. If, as Lee Kwan Yew once said, democracy in Sri Lanka is but the periodic auctioning of non-existent resources, the TNA cannot be faulted for promising the undeliverable.
The TNA manifesto pledges a commitment to a separate state in no uncertain terms. The deliverability aside, there are several reasons why such a manifesto makes sense, politically that is, for the TNA. There is no Tamil country in this world. As such, the promise has appeal, albeit to the less-critical and baser instincts of the Tamil community. It need not be a place, even if obtained, that someone in Colombo or Toronto, for example, would ever inhabit, but it is certainly an idea that is warm enough to warrant support.
Then there is also the issue of belonging. The distance between the powerful and the powerless is such that few can actually relate with heart and soul to rulers. A Sinhalese being President does not make all Sinhalese feel safer. A woman president doesn’t automatically emancipate women from patriarchal fetters. Given decades of deliberate mis-education by communalist leaders, a war where primarily Sinhala soldiers fought an outfit made of Tamils and failure to address real, felt grievances (never mind the inflations of the same), that sense of un-belonging can be expected to be more acute in a Tamil. The TNA manifesto, therefore, is something that the Tamil voter could salute, never mind the fact that it echoes the Vadukoddai Resolution and the anger, violence, misery, death, destruction and dismemberment it precipitated. Manifesto-scribblers are tasked to script documents that rake in the votes. They don’t have to deal with the fall out. Responsibility is not their referent framework.
The TNA Manifesto is different from those of other parties only in the fact that it pledges to deliver different ‘undeliverables’. It plays on different aspirations. The key words remain the same: ‘undeliverable’ and ‘aspiration’. There’s nothing undemocratic about it. Hardliners, after all, can operate within a democracy and do their ‘hardlining’ democratically. And of course, this is ‘vintage’ Tamil communalist politics. Nothing new here.
The manifesto, therefore, should be looked at with compassion, as we have done above. That’s part of the ‘wise way’, we offer, of treating the TNA and its hardline politics. Wisdom, however, has other dimensions.
The TNA’s hardline precludes the possibility of any reasonable, say, ‘softliner’, considering that party as a credible partner in post-conflict reconciliation. Indeed, this manifesto can be branded as ‘RECONCILIATION OBSTACLE’ because it proposes a schema that will result in perpetual antagonism between communities.
Hardliners and ‘hardlines’ are not contained by legislation and especially not by that horrendous affront to democracy, democratic process and communal harmony, the 13th Amendment. On the other hand, it remains a legitimate cling-on for separatists, Indophiles, regime-haters and other spoilers in the absence of a comprehensive, gloves-off, lets-be-real, lets-not-beat-around-the-bush, exercise to enumerate ALL grievances of ALL communities that include credible measurement of the same, leading of course to practical mechanisms capable of alleviating grievances to the satisfaction of all.
All this calls for a fresh sheet of paper. The first line on the paper could be ‘The Second Republican Constitution’. Whether we like it or not, that document and all the errors scribbled into it that make for the legal accumulation of privileges by the rulers and the cover-up of all things illegal, while systematically robbing citizen of participatory agency in decision-making, remains ‘starting point’, this side of revolution or invasion.
It is a relatively simple exercise (and one that has been done by many critics) to identify all its flaws and all its anti-citizen clauses, i.e. those lines which favor ruler and detract from the ruled. In the rush to assert identity, consequent fixation with one’s community and simultaneous suspicion of the relevant ‘other’ to the point of fear, sense of threat and resolution to fight (back), the broader category of ‘citizen’ has been forgotten. In power politics this is to be expected; ‘citizen’ is somehow less sexy than ‘Tamil’, ‘Buddhist’, ‘Catholic’ or any such identity. Hardliners will not think ‘citizen’, and this adds to the burden of ‘softliners’.
Whatever the TNA’s ‘hard line’ produces, the softer and ultimately more enduring line of national reconciliation is that which focuses on ‘citizen’, engages relentlessly with the constitution and consistently privileges reason over emotion. Everything else is nothing but testosterone rush and the comparison of libido.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com