Ilankai Tamil Sangam

28th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The Nadhi...

The Tamil struggle is like a river, Nadhi in Tamil, which never ceases to flow!

by V. Gunaratnam, February 13, 2012

But in the end, it may not be about provincial councils or anything arising from it, but the Sinhalese! They have become very indifferent to what is happening to their precious democratic rights, believing it to be an extension of the war!...

It is ironic that all this is happening at a time when “Arab Spring” is transforming their world. But it appears Sri Lanka is going the other way, in a sort of “reverse gear.”

Cold Comfort

The Tamils must feel troubled, baffled, and indeed angry that the ethnic conflict is nowhere near resolution after the war, while the ruling elite is preoccupied with ensuring a third term for the President. Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to be seen as a leader relentlessly hammering down on the Tamils, reinforcing the image created by the war, and not doing anything visible in their favor. Unless there is an extraordinary change in priorities, or Indian pressure, the position is unlikely to change soon.

The Geneva Convention Myth

President Rajapaksa, riding a wave of euphoria after the war, and patting himself on the back, declared that his "… soldiers went into the war carrying a gun in one hand and a copy of the Geneva Convention in the other ...,” hoping to absolve his regime of any blame in the war against “terrorism.” But the war ended in May 2009, and the Tamils had expected it to be the catalyst for action on devolution of power, but they had reckoned without the new Dutugemunus [1], and their fantasies of power, grandeur, and wealth.

Channel 4 Expose

But Rajapaksa’s world came crashing down when Channel 4 blew his Geneva Convention account to bits by the shocking expose of horrendous war crimes, exposing his regime's possible complicity in the crimes. It was apparent he had spoken too soon, and stuck with his Geneva Convention story, unable to make any credible revision when the international outcry for accountability grew in intensity.

The war was carried on behind a wall of secrecy, with the press, and even MPs banned from entering the war zones. It was a diabolic plot to annihilate Tamil civilians standing in the way of victory. But the charges are not going to go away, nor can they be bartered away in any sort of quid pro quo agreement. Who can forget President S. Milosevic, facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, who died in a UN prison cell in Geneva while on trial in 2006.

According to WikiLeaks, Basil Rajapaksa had told US Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers, “I am not saying we are clean; we could not abide by international law...” Brother Gotabhaya is said to have used similar words. It is intriguing. How did they know the war had “not been clean?” Who told them? Did they know about it on their own? When did they know about it? What did they do about it?

Credible Reports

The Swedes were probably driven into a frenzy thinking they had missed out something in Nobel’s legacy about a prize for bloodless war. But credible reports had kept trickling out of the war zones from doctors, NGOs and other brave souls, of atrocities committed, hospitals bombed, and other war crimes, decrying any notion of a bloodless war!

China Everywhere

Sri Lanka is like a Chinese cookie. Until it is cracked open there is no way of knowing what fate awaits it. But with China so involved there, it is very much an open book. Starting with the supply of the lethal weapons used by Sri Lanka to annihilate the Tamils in the war, and the diplomatic cover China provided to shield it from the war crimes charges at the UN Security Council made Sri Lanka servile to Panda Diplomacy and a tool in China's geopolitical ambitions around the world.

China is also piling a mountain of debt on a Sri Lanka which is in a mighty hurry to showcase itself to the world, by providing the finance and construction services, starting with the Hambantota port on its “String of Pearls” route for oil imports and, in the process, annexed a strategic location to snoop on India, and monitor traffic on the Indian Ocean.

To cap it all, Sri Lanka has been made a “great trading partner” by China, but with nothing to import from the island, it has become a dumping ground for a variety of Chinese goods!

There is no repayment horizon visible for the massive investment project loans from China, because it is so very large and the borrowing costs so high, compared to traditional World Bank and the ADB loans, that it is looks like China is playing-pandu [2] with Sri Lanka..

Equally disturbing is how China is destroying tiny Tibet's rich Buddhist heritage and its people, but no one in Sri Lanka seems to be taking notice. Not even the Mahanayakes have let out a squeak about Tibet, but then they were also silent for decades as tens of thousands of Sinhalese and Tamils youth perished in the conflict, and the world was left wondering about ahimsa [3] and the sacredness of living beings.

Banda’s Legacy JR and Chandrika

It was SWRD Bandaranaike (Banda) who put the monkey on the backs of Tamils, using his “Sinhala Only”cry in 1956 as a springboard to become PM. Banda’s insanity also helped to implant an irrational fear of the Tamils in the Sinhala psyche that has been exploited like a mantra by their politicians to this day. Tragically, his folly also cost the Tamils many thousands of lives down the years.

In 1977 UNP’s JR Jayawardene won a huge majority with Tamil support, and created a grotesque new constitution, to become the first executive president, 1978-89. But when he revealed his vicious side, declaring in July1983 “Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy," and thousands of Tamils perished in the pogrom that followed, he destroyed every hope of the Tamils.

Years later, Banda’s daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, SLFP leader, and president 1994-99, had a great opportunity to bring about an accord with the Tamils in 2003, when UNP’s Ranil Wicremasinghe was the PM, by bringing the two biggest political parties together when the ceasefire was in place, but politics triumphed reason, when she wrecked everything by proroguing parliament.

The Tamil Dilemma

The Sinhalese have ruled the country ever since independence in 1948, but allowed ethnic concerns to develop into racial violence and economic ruination. They resisted all attempts at an equitable resolution. It was then a case of the Tamils trying to extract something from totally one-sided legislative assaults on their rights. What is on offer now is only a pale shadow of what multi-ethnic liberal democracies around the world have given their peoples.

Placing Tamils under military duress, as if they remain the enemy even after the war, is not doing anything for reconciliation. If there is fear of the Tamil, they are but a small minority not remotely capable of overrunning the country. And it is insane to think Hinduism and Buddhism will be butting against each other, because the Indian experience is a clear refutation of this perception.

But what is there to relate China to Sri Lanka? There is really nothing to bind or endear the Chinese to the Sinhalese like India. It is different, because of its proximity, as a friendly neighbor, and history. From ethnic and linguistic ties, Buddhism, culture, trade, investment, tourism, cricket, and political co-operation over centuries, there is much to celebrate between them. Despite some serious irritations and incidents, their ties have remained strong.

India will remain the dominant force in the region, and the power that helps to solve the Tamil problem. But the Tamils never seemed to see eye to eye with them and, looking back, this probably cost them dearly. The Tamils have been negotiating since the 1950s, but have very little to show after all these years! But more importantly, Sri Lanka’s refusal to deal squarely with the issues dragged the country through 30 years of conflict, destroying lives, and ruining the economy. China’s entry has only served to muddy the political waters, and distract Sri Lanka from its primary duty to bring closure to the ethnic strife.

What is China doing in a region so far from home? It is a communist empire, ruled by a bunch of dictators, and in Sri Lanka only to achieve its own ends. Myanmar exemplifies the damage done by years of Chinese domination, and Sri Lanka cannot ignore how it is moving to free itself from decades of suffocating clampdowns, and introduce democratic reforms.

It is difficult to see Sri Lanka becoming another Myanmar. With strong democratic and religious traditions, an activist Buddhist clergy, a very literate population, a powerful trade union movement, a viable economy, and a solid revolutionary base founded on the JVP and LTTE experiences, the people have everything to defend their democratic way of life.

But Sri Lanka is deeply entangled with China, diplomatically, and the massive debt burden unloaded on it by the Chinese to finance the island’s development and prestige projects. While it is all too much for tiny Sri Lanka to bear, it raises an irresistible question.

Was it so difficult then for Sri Lanka to grant the Tamils a little political space to manage their own affairs in their homelands than suffer the debilitating dependency on China?

The provincial council concept, as it stands, is a defective instrument for a genuine power sharing arrangement with the people. They are not designed to bring democracy closer to the masses, and decision making a palpable experience for them. It is transparently clear that it is the president who manipulates everything with an invisible hand from afar. There is no denying that it is nothing but a strategy to concentrate power at the center for controlling the destiny of the political bases in the provinces.

The “Arab Spring” and the Sinhalese

But in the end, it may not be about provincial councils or anything arising from it, but the Sinhalese! They have become very indifferent to what is happening to their precious democratic rights, believing it to be an extension of the war!

Sri Lanka is on a strange course. Everything appears to be manipulated by a Svengali like figure acting to shut down the democratic process. It is like a nation ruled by “white vans,” murders, and disappearances, with the security forces, prosecutors, and often evens the courts, acting in concert, to bring about the desired outcome.

It is ironic that all this is happening at a time when “Arab Spring” is transforming their world. But it appears Sri Lanka is going the other way, in a sort of “reverse gear.” The Sinhalese people must wake up soon from their reverie, before events overtake them, and find a way to save the country from surrendering its democratic way of life by default!

1. Dutugemunu: A Sinhalese king of Sri Lanka in 164BC – 140BC, and a potent symbol of Sinhalese power.

2. playing-pandu: It is English-Sinhalese, to say Sri Lanka is being kicked about like a ball by China.

3. ahimsa: Implies non-killing and non-injury. More comprehensively, it means the complete abstinence from causing pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, by thought, word, or deed.


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