Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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There is No Way to Peace. Peace is the Way!

by V Gunaratnam, March 7, 2009

But peace is inevitable and the war will come to a halt, as it must, and that day is not far away, despite Sri Lanka’s intransigence in the face of human tragedy and international pressure to stop the carnage. And if the Tamils believe there was “never a good war or a bad peace” Sri Lanka will soon be driven by its vital self-interests to stop the war and negotiate an end to the decades-long conflict.

Peace is the way

     People are dying every day in Sri Lanka’s north, Tamils caught up in the relentless genocidal onslaught unleashed on them by President Rajapakse’s armed forces, with a ferocity and cruelty reminiscent of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or the generals of Burma.

     It is no consolation for the Tamils to be reminded of Gandhiji’s words, “There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall,” because they are facing a clear and present danger, and are in imminent need of a safe harbor to keep alive. But with Rajapkse’s sights set on winning the war at any cost, his armies care little for Tamil lives.

     For now at least, Sri Lanka has defied all calls to abandon its bloody war, maintaining victory is at hand, and there is no need to negotiate an end to the conflict. But however bleak the prospects for peace might appear, Tamils cannot hang their heads in despair. There is an urgency to look for a way forward, like people with a conscience, fighting for a better tomorrow.

     Stopping the war is one thing, but the absence of war does not mean peace will descend on the Tamils tomorrow. For decades Sinhala-dominated governments have been systematically oppressing the Tamils and standing in the way of peace and justice flourishing and embracing them too.

     But peace is inevitable and the war will come to a halt, as it must, and that day is not far away, despite Sri Lanka’s intransigence in the face of human tragedy and international pressure to stop the carnage. And if the Tamils believe there was “never a good war or a bad peace” Sri Lanka will soon be driven by its vital self-interests to stop the war and negotiate an end to the decades-long conflict.

Sinhala chauvinism

     President Rajapakse’s Mahinda Chinthana was crafted to play on Sinhala chauvinism and catapult him to power, and not as an instrument to bridge ethnic differences and find a way forward to end the conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese.

      It is a manifestation of the prejudice that has stoked the war to genocidal proportions. SWRD Bandaranayake’s “Sinhala Only Act” of 1956 was what really set the stage for the others who followed and discovered for themselves the efficacy of this mantra that has become the central theme of Sinhala politics ever since, poisoning every aspect of life on the island for the Tamils.

      In nearly fifty years, the Sinhalese have not come up with any solution to excite the Tamils into believing that equality with the Sinhalese is possible. Even the lean devolution pacts their leaders had entered into in 1958 and 1965 with the Federal Party went up in flames without a chance to be implemented.

     The APRC set up in 2006 was really Rajapakse’s subterfuge to fool the world into believing he was seriously working on finding a negotiated solution, but all the while plotting war on the Tamils. The APRC was doomed to fail from the start because it was wrapped in the 13th Amendment of the unitary state constitution. The Supreme Court’s ruling later that the North-East merger was illegal, put an end to any speculation that there was any life left in the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, or that the APRC was nothing but a mirage created by Rajapakse till he was ready to move against the Tamils.

     It is 2009, but Rajapakse still cannot trust himself to have the APRC release its report, knowing full well it will outrage the Tamils and the world, forced as it will be into the Mahinda Chinthana straight jacket, discussed below under “Albatross for the Tamils.”       

     But the real problem goes even deeper, because the Tamils are not being listened to or understood. There seems to be a kind of mental block to the Sinhalese understanding or feeling what the Tamils have been subjected to. It’s because they have never experienced or suffered like them. Just consider what it is to be suddenly asked to learn Sinhalese in order to keep your job. Multiply that several times to really understand the enormity of what the Tamils have been subjected to!

     Perhaps all Sri Lankans should know that a more tolerant path followed by countries like Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, all devastated by WWII, led to spectacular results for their peoples. But Sri Lanka, plagued for decades by ethnic conflict, continues to languish in the ranks of  the ‘banana republics’ of the world, denounced as one of the worst human rights violators on the planet, and under developed, condemning its people to a life of relative poverty.

India forgets its friends

     India’s response to the genocide of the Tamils has been at best tepid. Tamil Nadu says India has been actively aiding Sri Lanka prosecute the war, and its calls for restraint by Sri Lanka are meaningless and just a ploy to give Sri Lanka more time to ‘finish’ off the LTTE, without regard to civilian deaths.

     Tamils everywhere are convinced this has prevented other countries from making any headway in their efforts to stop the war. But it was India, under Indira Gandhi, that nurtured and trained the  Tigers and got entangled in the affairs of Sri Lanka to undermine its pro-western stance, but it actions now are inexplicable, in the face of its biggest adversaries gaining ground in Sri Lanka: Pakistan and China.

     In the end India is likely to be the big loser when peace settles on the island again, because they may have forever damaged their relations with their Tamil Hindu blood brethren in Tamil Nadu and on the island by going with a Sri Lanka that is already deeply mortgaged to Pakistan and China.

     It still has a chance to retrieve itself and re-establish good relations with the Tamils and possibly Sri Lanka, by taking a more decisive route to end the war and bring peace to Sri Lanka as a whole.         

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

     There is a ringing truth about Lord Acton’s dictum that completely fits President Rajapakse. He seems to be totally consumed by the immense powers of the presidency, using them without any scruple or conscience to trample on the rights of Tamils, his critics and opponents, and project himself as the champion of the Sinhalese.

     As his rule gathered momentum, and he was able to patch together a more stable and reliable parliamentary majority, elaborated under (ii) below, he grew more self-assured and arrogant, and less and less tolerant of the rights of not only the Tamils, but his political opponents and critics, democratic institutions, the rule of law or the need to work within the constraints of a constitutional democracy. It was therefore not surprising that he soon found devious ways to exploit the powers of the presidency to get his way. Some of the more important ones are dealt with below.

     (i)  Rajapakse simply ignores the constitutional imperative to set up the Constitutional Council for making appointments to high office like the army chief, IGP, bribery commissioner, and attorney general, and continues to appoint his own political types to these high positions, to do his bidding, politicizing every vital institution of importance in the process. The damage to the democratic process is incalculable. Today the law is what is set on the fly by the most powerful political types.

     (ii) He created a world-record 100-odd cabinet of ministers to lure opposition MPs to his fold, at enormous cost to the state treasury, to virtually do nothing except vote with his party in parliament. The main opposition UNP was the biggest loser, and parliament reduced to a forum for exchanging vulgar political epithets, not serious debate of people’s business.

     (iii)  ‘White van abductions’ has become a lucrative industry, carried on with impunity under the very nose of the law. MPs, journalists, critics and opponents of the government have paid the supreme price, for having confronted the government on the war, corruption, human rights violations, right to dissent and people’s right to the truth. But none of these crimes have been seriously investigated, or solved.

     (iv)  Human rights violations against the Tamils abound. Their right to protection under the law is recognized more in the breach. It is no secret the armed forces wantonly detain, torture, rape and kill Tamils. Food, medicine, and medical aid are routinely rationed or withheld by the state as an instrument of torture. International and local observers and journalists are not permitted in the war zone to report on the conduct of the war, and human rights violations. But Rajapakse, as the C-in-C of the armed forces, has done little or nothing to protect his Tamil citizens from harm.

     (v)  Lastly, the President has ignored calls by the international community to stop the war and negotiate. He seems more concerned about finishing off the Tigers at any cost than saving the lives of tens of thousands of Tamils trapped in the war zone. It is simply not enough to say they are being forcibly held back, and bomb them to bits, instead of stopping the war and saving lives.    

Albatross for the Tamils    

     The type of provincial government the Tamils will have, if Rajapakse is allowed to have his way, will be the albatross the Tamils will have to carry around. Just consider the scenario that will unfold.

     Imagine a non-elected governor, very likely a Sinhalese, appointed by the president and remote controlled by him from afar, manipulating and controlling the destiny of the Tamils, while their elected provincial ministers and chief minister have no say in how the province is run or managed, because they are not vested with any executive power!

     The whole thing will be hocus-pocus, and a deception, better described as a mockery of democracy, designed to perpetuate Sinhala domination over the Tamils.

     Let it be very clear that the provincial ministers and their chief minister will have no power even to move a fly! With no executive power to do anything, they’ll probably have nothing better to do than carry the tea tray to His Excellency the governor, and humor him!

     And don’t forget, the governor can be kicked out at any time by the president for any number of reasons he or his advisors can invent. Even the provincial council can be dissolved at the whim of the president.

     That, in a nutshell, is all the ‘democracy’ in action the Tamils will see under Rajapakse’s Mahinda Chinthana, if it should ever come to pass.

 What is the future?

       It’s fascinating to contemplate what the future is going to be like for the Sinhalese after the Tamils. Once they are out of the way, one way or another, what will the Sinhala parties do for an encore? Will they start bashing each other, and tearing each other apart to win political power? Will it give birth to another more virulent JVP type? But it is foolish to be speculating in this fashion to derive some vicarious satisfaction out of it.

     The real question is, will the Sinhalese finally wake up to the realities of the present situation, start wondering how all this has been happening in a civilized Buddhist country like theirs, come to their senses, and work with the Tamils to find a creative solution to their common problem?

     The Sinhalese are by far the dominant majority in Sri Lanka, and political power will always rest with them. There will then never be the need to put the Tamils down, for them to come up. That is almost axiomatic in today’s world. There is only one path forward ordained by the shared heritage.

     Peace is the way!