By V. Gunaratnam
The dark days are back again with us as Chandrika Kumaratunga, with her now well-known penchant for self-serving politics, has once more used her prodigious presidential powers to drive Sri Lanka to the brink. Everything is in disarray, with the UPFA government reduced to a political balancing act for survival.
The peace process is in tatters. Government coffers are fast emptying with no bailout in sight. And the people’s business is on hold while the UPFA struggles to cobble together a working majority in parliament, using every dirty trick in the book, from the dangling carrot, to thuggery, and even blackmail.
Without a fresh breakthrough with the CWC, or a radical new alignment of political forces, the prospects of the UPFA surviving in power much longer look bleak indeed. But survival being the name of the game in politics, there are always ways to keep going by "traditional" Sri Lankan methods, unless the "rats," perceiving a sinking UPFA ship, are ready to jump ship. Until that happens, we have nothing to go with but the UPFA.
But what is taking center stage at the moment? For Kumaratunga political survival, by perpetuating herself in power, is the number-one priority. Other onerous matters of state can wait.
Kumaratunge knows the LTTE won’t start any trouble as long as she keeps toying with the peace process, even if it does not advance the process forward one measly inch. This also serves to keep international donors engaged, and responsive to pleas for aid. She also figures the economy can wait a little longer to get her attention, because after years of neglect people have got used to waiting.
Kumaratunge's path, however, is laden with heavy risks in the unpredictable world of Sri Lankan politics: re-igniting the civil war, losing international support, driving the economy to the ground, political chaos arising from constitution tinkering or the breakup of the UPFA alliance.
Plight of the Tamils
Kumaratunga’s political agenda is nowhere near addressing what the Tamil are crying for, urgent action to repair the huge humanitarian problems being faced in their homeland, nor is it compatible with the expectations of the rest of the country for peace, stability and economic recovery.
Tens of thousands of displaced persons and refugees need to be rehabilitated, with massive reconstruction of destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, temples, electrical services, roadways, and transport system, and the recovery of acres and acres of arable land rendered barren by the war.
And unless the Tamils are given the interim authority to manage their own affairs, and spearhead the recovery, Kumaratunga would one day soon pay a heavy price for stalemating the peace process.
This is the real tragedy. Millions of dollars promised by international donors as aid for repairing the north are just sitting in foreign banks and on hold, because Kumaratunga is delaying the restart of peace talks and starving the north of funds for reconstruction, and rising from the ashes of a devastation visited on them by the state.
While this might appear to be for strategic reasons, post-independence history tells us that it actually bespeaks a cold, uncaring and cruel indifference toward the plight of the Tamils. We are tempted to believe this might have something to do with the Sinhalese being motivated by politicians into projecting their own problems, anxieties and fears upon the Tamils.
Whatever the reasons, the net result is the same. The Tamils are a neglected and discriminated lot in their own country. But with international donor countries continuing to pressure the government of Sri Lanka to peacefully resolve the conflict, Tamil aspirations and hopes remain pinned to the peace process.
Where is it all heading?
Let’s see where the peace process is heading and what the prospects are for a genuine movement towards a comprehensive settlement of the Tamil question.
The government’s duplicity is plain to see. Their ploy is to make empty gestures to create the impression that they are keen on restarting the peace talks and get international aid flowing again to resuscitate the faltering economy. But it’s clear the gestures are just stalling tactics to buy time and put their house in order, because of the JVP being vehemently opposed to the peace process, and the need to keep the JHU on their side as they try to cobble together a parliamentary majority. So it’s all reduced to a waiting game.
On the ground, the LTTE is being constantly provoked by the assassination of innocent Tamils civilians in the east, to create the impression that there is significant dissent within Tamil ranks represented by the Karuna faction, using the 'dissent' to try and undercut LTTE claims to be sole representative of the Tamils.
No prizes are being offered for guessing who is responsible for these killings, but if the LTTE were to retaliate in any significant way against the perpetrators, it would be the excuse Kumaratunga is waiting for to abandon the present peace process and reconstitute it to her stipulations. This has the merit for her of casting blame on the LTTE, destroying the peace process and, hopefully, preserving international aid.
Simultaneously, the ISGA is being assaulted on all sides by the extremists, led by the Marxist JVP, who are calling it nothing but an instrument for achieving separation. The JHU also is chiming in with their own brand of invective against the peace initiative. When they are all so reluctant to even sit at the negotiating table, look at the ISGA and talk about it, we have to wonder if their real intention is to kill the peace process.
The deception of the UPFA is only exceeded by the insanity of some of the fringe groups, with high-sounding names, who claim to speak for the large mass of people. For example, the World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka commenting on the ISGA says "there is no foundation under the law and the Constitution to support the continuance of the temporary merger of these two provinces, the LTTE’s proposal … envisages."
Their comical one-sided tirade against the ISGA conveniently forgets that their rationale is based on an illegal constitution, rendering all their arguments completely worthless and without any force! They must also be living on another planet, because the 2004 election returns overwhelmingly speak to the unity of the northeast as one!
Consider also the recent ranting of the JHU that the LTTE should not be recognized as the sole representatives of the Tamils. Their feigned concern for Tamils is so touching! But let’s just expose the falsity of their logic by posing two simple questions. Who gave this rump-party the right to speak for all the Tamils? Who gave them the right to speak for all the Sinhalese? For the record, the Tamil MPs who were so overwhelmingly elected by the people in 2004 from the northeast have wholeheartedly endorsed the LTTE.
India also has been much in the news, since the UPFA assumed power, and from the Sri Lanka prime minister down they have been calling for India to come in as a major player in the peace process.
Has it come to such a pass that Sri Lanka has to call on India to pull their chestnuts out of the fire? There was a time when the Sinhalese people and their governments hated anything Indian, and India’s intervention in the 1980s on humanitarian grounds, on the side of the Tamils heightened this feeling. Many things went seriously wrong with that campaign in the northeast, not because India had ulterior motives, but because of their peacekeeping force’s indiscipline. To expect India to do Sri Lanka’s bidding now is the height of naiveté.
Somehow the push to get India has since lost momentum, perhaps because India has more serious matters to deal with in Kashmir, Pakistan and the rest of the world, or India does not see any constructive purpose behind Sri Lanka’s request, except as a cat’s paw to extinguish the democratic aspirations of a tiny section of the people with affinities to India. And that’s anathema to the spirit of a great country founded on cherished values held so high by its people.
This then is the strange combination of vicious forces arrayed against the Tamils, excepting India. At every turn, it seems they have nothing in mind but the downfall of the Tamils. But the time is fast approaching when the Tamils have to weigh their options and move forward.
One Choice Only
It all comes down to one thing. Is the Sri Lanka government, with the Sinhalese people behind it, serious about peace, and reaching a honourable settlement with the Tamils?
They were forced to reach a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE after severe military reversals at the hands of the Tigers, which began to turn the tide against them. The MoU was signed against this background, with the government having to eat humble pie.
The Tamils’ demands were well known at that time, and having conceded only the right to secede, there is no question now of drawing back further from their well-known position. Otherwise, the door is wide open for the government to work within the boundaries of a federal power-sharing system, several variations of which are so successfully working around the world.
The ISGA just provides the mechanism for the Tamils to immediately take care of the massive humanitarian problems crying out for solution in the homeland, and creating a fledgling administration to take over when a permanent solution is handed down, but which is not expected to be ready for several years.
The Sinhalese politicians let the genie out of the bottle – playing politics and driving up the fears of their people, and now it is they who must work to put it back in the bottle, and once and for all lay to rest the old bogey that the Tamils pose a threat to their existence. There is no other alternative for them, because if they fail, they would leave the Tamils with but one choice.
Posted June 16, 2004