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We need not be ‘wolfish’ or ‘sheepish’ to do right by our country

(Courtesy of ft.lk)

As a nation, especially a small nation beleaguered with many economic, social and security worries, Sri Lanka must learn to speak up and articulate its position clearly. It is very important that we engage with all countries, especially our closest neighbours, positively but not subserviently – 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’s “The Ravana Syndrome: Presidential parameters for India and Modi?” is based on the implication that the contents of the article “The undeliverable ‘Tamil aspirations’” somehow reflects the Government’s position with regard to India and Indian Premier Narendra Modi.

The basis of Dr. Jayatilleka’s weak argument is that this writer (the author of this article), attached to the President’s Office, has not included the “standard disclaimer that it represents only her personal views and not those she holds in her official capacity”.

Dr. Jayatilleka’s point would have made sense had this writer used this official title to qualify the points raised in this article or to establish this writer’s right to such an article or as part of this writer’s identity. However, this writer has never used her official title for any other purpose than official. This article presented as views of a citizen is thus equal to a document without a letterhead or a rubber stamp seal.

As Daily FT is a newspaper for professionals, it is left to the reader to decide whether a letter (or as in this case an article) with simply the name of the writer sans any reference to any organisation that writer may be attached to could be clearly interpreted as views of the writer and the writer alone or somehow be confused as views of that organisation.

Why “Tamil aspirations” are undeliverable 

Whether this said article is “wolf warrior-ish” (as accused by Dr. Jayatilleka) is also left to the judgement of the reader. To refresh the reader’s mind, the key points made in this article were:

1. It is not possible to devolve power to the Tamils in the North without first rectifying the enormous injustice metered to the Sinhalese and the Muslims who were living in these areas. To continue to ignore their presence and allow a political solution only to cater to “Tamil aspirations” without taking aboard the concerns and aspirations of other residents into account would validate ethnic cleansing as a tactic for gaining ‘self-determination’.

2. As nationalists, Sri Lankans fought for a country that belongs to all communities. As supremacists, the LTTE terrorised all for an exclusive homeland for ONLY the Tamils in the north and east. Thus, nationalism should not be misconstrued as xenophobia.

3. The LTTE terrorised the Tamils the most. Those who could escape the LTTE infested areas did so. As a result, over 52% of Tamils live outside the north and east, amidst the Sinhalese.

4. The Tamils who escaped to Tamil Nadu are still living as refugees, though they aspire to live as Indian citizens and so be allowed to continue the life they had built in India amongst fellow Tamils over the decades. The Indian Government is yet to address this issue, though PM Modi had repeatedly called upon the Sri Lankan Government to fully implement the 13th Amendment that fulfils “Tamil aspirations”.

6. As an Amendment, the 13th Amendment has utterly failed. It even failed to disarm the LTTE. Also, this has been rejected by the minority communities, including the Tamils living outside the North and East, as attested by the Yahapalana Government’s failure to empower the provinces whilst eunuch the Central Government. The reason being, such a solution would leave the minority communities in a province at the mercy of the majority in that province.

7. This solution that is promoted as panacea to “Tamil aspirations” would only work for the Tamils in the north and east if and only if these two provinces were merged. Otherwise, the Tamils in the east would most likely live under Muslim dominance. However, the Sinhalese and Muslims living in the east would not agree to the resulting Tamil dominance and would thus reject the merger, which should only happen through a referendum.

8. It is thus obvious that the “political solution” promoted to cater to “Tamil aspirations” is not feasible. It is the unhappy observation that the West uses “alleged war crimes” and India uses “Tamil aspirations inspired political solution (aka the 13th Amendment)” to keep the Sri Lankan people divided.

10. However, this strategy has not worked well for India either. Therefore, India must change its foreign policy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka and engage with the nation as a whole than hold the entire bilateral relationship at stake over the concerns of one community. After all, by excluding Sri Lankan Tamils from the eligibility list of India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, India has acknowledged that Tamils in the Island are not under any persecution or discrimination.

11. Hence, it was wrong of PM Modi to insinuate that the Tamils in Sri Lanka are maltreated. As the subject minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera correctly pointed out that implementing the 13th Amendment or to change the unitary status of the country to a united nation is a decision solely for the people of Sri Lanka.

These points are from Sri Lanka’s perspective without expressing a single anti-Indian sentiment and there is no reason for one either. However, as a nation, especially a small nation beleaguered with many economic, social and security worries, Sri Lanka must learn to speak up and articulate its position clearly. It is very important that we engage with all countries, especially our closest neighbours, positively but not subserviently.

President’s version of police powers

At this juncture, it would also be pertinent to briefly visit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s view on the matter. The key points President maintains on this subject are:

1. Only the granting of land and police powers to provinces are pending from the 13th Amendment.

2. However, majority of the people have legitimate concerns over the granting of these powers.

3. In a democracy, it is not possible to go against the will of the people.

4. Therefore, solutions that are acceptable to all must be explored.

5. After studying the basis for the demand for these powers in the first place, it is possible to adapt practical solutions that are acceptable to all and also which better addresses the original needs.

To elaborate further on the fifth point, people in areas where the majority speak Tamil run into difficulties when the Police personnel are not fluent with the language or familiar with their habits. This has been the root for the demand for police powers. Understanding this practical and real need of the people, the President plans to recruit and station police personnel from the area itself.

From all angles this is a very practical solution. This will increase the area’s employment opportunities and minimise the psychological and social impact associated with outstation postings. This will also reduce the Administration’s logistic burden in providing to the needs of outstation officers such as married quarters etcetera. Above all, the area residents will have a police force who will understand them.

It is a robust solution that addresses many grievances at all different levels and thus one everyone would find acceptable. It will also ensure that vital intelligence will continue to be shared through the entire police network and not locked down at provincial level as it would happen if police powers were granted to provinces as per the 13th Amendment.

It is noteworthy that the main culprit of the gang rape and murder of the 18-year-old Sivaloganathan Vithiya was caught in the Western Province. It was because the police is a centralised force and not localised that the culprit of a grisly crime committed in the Northern Province was nabbed before he could escape from the island.

Police powers to provinces as envisioned by the 13th Amendment do not allow such flow of information. This would greatly benefit culprits with political “immunity” as Swiss Kumar had allegedly enjoyed with the then State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran.

The President’s solution also redress the concerns over allowing each province to train and arm its own police force as the respective council feels fit whilst limiting the functions and purview of the National Police. The more Sri Lanka comes under pressure to implement political solutions inspired by “Tamil aspirations”, the greater the fear that Sri Lanka would have another deja vu to the LTTE days would prevail.

Soft diplomacy vs effective diplomacy

In dealing with larger nations, Dr. Jayatilleka, besides recommending a reading list for the staff of President’s Office and a world map as interior decor, also advocates “soft diplomacy”. However, the most effective diplomacy Sri Lanka needs is workable solutions.

Sri Lanka is not at war with any country and is perhaps the friendliest nation on earth. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s risk at rocking its diplomatic and international ties had always been over the country’s handling of its own internal matters that are arguably irrelevant to the outside world. Thus, if to enjoy good relations with the rest of the world, Sri Lanka must have its act together.

Furthermore as can be seen from exercises as the UNHRC Resolution 30/1, only the Government of Sri Lanka are held accountable for the events in the country. The accountability demanded from the political and military leadership during the most successful phase of the war is not extended to any other entity – not even the LTTE (though its surviving leaders such as Adele Balasingham are living openly in the West). As such the TNA is also not held accountable for justifying the LTTE atrocities.

Pressure is not exerted on respective countries either for its failure to arrest the illegal activities in their own soil that supported terrorism in Sri Lanka. Even the past governments, whose bad decisions prolonged the war or exacerbated the situation are not included in this exercise supposedly undertaken to ensure closure and non-recurrence.

This bizarre situation only underscores Sri Lanka’s need to articulate its position clearly. Sri Lanka had such a moment when Dr. Jayatilleka, as Ambassador to Geneva, defeated a Resolution against Sri Lanka in 2009 and got the Assembly to congratulate Sri Lanka for successfully eradicating terrorism from the country.

However, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara in response to Dr. Jayatilleka’s “Avoidable clashes” notes that along with this counter Resolution, Dr. Jayatilleka “on his own… manipulated to provide a clause in it indicating the full implementation of the 13th Amendment”. This accusation that Dr. Jayatilleka has inserted his own personal opinion as the official stance is a very serious matter. He was naturally terminated from his position immediately.

State Minister Weerasekara observes that it was this clause, which resuscitated the separatist agenda that was defeated at the Nandikadaal lagoon. Curiously, Dr. Jayatilleka has led this charge slide even though he had taken considerable pains to respond to Minister Weerasekara’s other points.

Conclusion

The Easter attacks are still reverberating in our ears. Just as the LTTE would not have survived for three decades, the Easter attacks too would not have taken place if not for the “solutions” promoted by powerful nations and bodies.

Despite our efforts to abide by these advice, we have not been able to forge positive relations with any of these entities. These “solutions” instead of redressing the issues at hand have worsened the situation. On the other hand, when we find the courage to implement solutions that we see fit, we have been able to progress as a nation.

We must learn from these lessons and there is nothing “wolfish” in doing so.

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

(The writer can be reached via ranasingheshivanthi@gmail.com)



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