Physician, prescribe for the real and not imagined malady
By Malinda Senevirathna
In these Narendra Modi days, we once again have fear-mongering devolutionists trying to make a fast political buck at the man’s expense. There’s reference to promises made and talk of Modi making sure that they will be kept, as though there’s something sacred about ‘word’ even as nothing is said about pledges made by India in 1987 which were happily ‘called off’ not too long afterwards. Modi is the new ‘geopolitical reality’ or rather its new articulation. India remains India though. The following was written in 2006. Prabhakaran was alive then. Geopolitical realities haven’t changed much though. Their ‘currency’ is based on some people clutching at the Modi straw to get some purchase for the devolutionist position. The article might not been ‘irrelevant’.
The year 1987, as any other year for that matter, is different to the year 2006. In the year 1987 a new term acquired political currency; ‘geopolitical reality’ (GR) became another word for ‘India’.
The GR arrived, asserted itself, got bad-mouthed no end, got burnt even, and receded into the less troublesome realm of the non-military. It continued to and continues to assert, to come and go, to give some, to take some (more?) as are the prerogatives available to GRs. By and larger, however, the term lost its analytical preponderance. The word on the street is that it is making a comeback.
The GR said ‘here I am’ at a time and in a way that sounded very much like a school bully coming to collect the lunch money of lower graders. As often happens, there was submission but there was the inevitable ‘Not Welcome’ sign on all faces.
The 13th Amendment was thrust down its throat. It constituted the grist to Rohana Wijeweera’s rhetorical mill and he used it to good effect. A party that had run out of steam in 1985 was able, thanks to GR intervention, to form a ‘punchi aanduwa’ that was at times and in some places actually the maha aanduwa’. Some 60,000 people died in the process. Sinhala society, the most vocal of the objectors, however, has time and again proved that it is flexible and does not have the ego that forbids reconsideration of positions previously taken. The 13th Amendment devil, as the popular Sinhala saying goes, was found to be less black than first believed. It didn’t cure the problem called Prabhakaran that the GR itself had a hand in nursing, of course, but it was largely seen as harmless.
Thirteen years later the general view could very well be that the GR acted in good faith, did its best and that the pill it sent down the throat was little more than a placebo. ‘Devolution of power’ and ‘decentralization of administration’ are not cuss terms per se, all would agree. And so, when there is talk of the GR playing a more assertive role in resolving conflict there is naturally less antipathy today than there was in 1987. The problem lies in what it seeks to cure, though.
Today there is some haggling over terms. During the presidential election it was whether Sri Lanka should be a ‘unitary’ nation or a ‘united’ one. These terms are not opposites. The opposite of ‘unitary’ in our context is ‘federal’ and any attempt to obfuscate the issue constitutes political chicanery, nothing less. ‘Federal’ refers to a coming-together by choice and this implies that separation by choice is an option. ‘Federal’ refers to the coming-together of disparate political entities and it is attendant with notions such as ‘historical homelands’ which of course feed into aspirations/demands for self-determination.
Today, we are talking also about ‘undivided’ when we talk of ‘solution’ as though different word usage would somehow alter the content of the political. Few talk of the substance and the logic, we note.
In short, if what we have is an ethnic problem and nothing else, and if the grievances stem from injustice that can a) be substantiated and b) be only resolved by devolution of power to a well demarcated territory, then of course such solution-speak would be legitimate. But is Prabhakaran about grievances and/or aspirations of Tamil people? If Prabhakaran’s (mis)adventure is a product of ‘traditional’ homelands of Tamil people being robbed by Sinhalese, then all well and good. Unfortunately, this has not been proved. The logical thing to say is, ‘come, substantiate or keep your peace’. In a context where the overwhelming evidence goes against Prabhakaran’s version of history, devolving power to solve what is mis-named an ‘ethnic problem’ amounts to surrender (of one kind or another) to terrorism, which everyone agrees is what Prabhakaran is about.
Until such time that the territorial claims a la history are established, all talk of devolution of power to geographies will remain articles of surrender. Devolution of power on account of it being a necessity to ensure better participation of the citizen in matters of governance or on account of efficiency considerations is a different matter altogether. To mix the two is an unhealthy convenience that is bound to further complicate already complex politics. In other words, all devolution proposals which aim at conflict resolution are by definition acts of culpability in the falsification of history and legitimizing of myth.
Thamilselvan says ‘the concept of devolution of power based on the unitary constitution has been rejected decades ago by the Tamils.’ I could say two things. First, ‘hard luck buddy, you have every right to dream, to aspire, but have not historical basis to demand.’ I could also say, ‘You know, Selvan, the concept of law and order has been rejected by the underworld criminal from Day Dot, but that has not made any democratic government yield to anarchism so that a thug can realize his free-for-all dream’.
The other and more troublesome matter when it comes to so-called political solutions is that these stem from improper diagnosis. They stem from an inaccurate reading of symptom and a criminal negligence of case history. Anyone who does not see pattern in Prabhakaran’s penchant for moving the goal posts is duly disqualified from offering solutions. For example, the Oslo Declaration, which to me is a historical injustice, offered federalism. Prabhakaran said ‘no, thank you’ and withdrew from talks.
The objective of all these exercises is, we are told, peace. Surrender can also yield peace; world history is full of examples. Vanquishing the enemy, it goes without saying, would yield the same result. It is only if this is impossible that one goes for a second-option resolution. Prabhakaran is weaker than he has ever been before. His striking capabilities need to be curbed and eventually eliminated. This may take a long time and even if we didn’t want this conflict to drag indefinitely, that unfortunately is not ours to choose.
Peace must be had, one way or another, and if peace does not come with democracy then the word is meaningless. It is this salient point that the physicians seem only too ready to overlook. Terrorism and democracy don’t go together. One can’t have both. Appeasement has proved a miserable failure in the effort to wean Prabhakaran from terrorism. Lessons, lessons, lessons!
So, as the GR sends its Foreign Secretary to talk about GR models, as Mahinda Rajapaksa talks of a Sri Lankan model, and others talk of devolution, federalism and so on, let us not forget that we can’t treat apples as though they are oranges and vice versa.
We could if we were playing silly games, not if we want to rid the land of a thug, obtain democracy and a greater and more meaningful degree of participation from the people. If the GR insists, then all we can say is, we will probably be forced to submit, but remember we still have that “Not Welcome” sign. One might add ‘who knows, history may well repeat itself in the way Marx said it does in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, first time as tragedy and then as farce’.
I don’t think the GR would like to be a resounding example of that much celebrated line, or even as its debunker, as per ‘the second time also as tragedy.’