Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Rajapakse: A Prisoner of Sinhalese Nationalism

by V Gunaratnam

But he keeps reiterating, parrot-like, his great love of peace, promising a “maximum devolution of power” to the Tamils...

This mantra, whatever it means, is a hollow prescription for an accord, because there is no “vessel” to hold all that generous, liberal, and munificent flow of power to the Tamils Rajapakse has in mind, sans a distinct territorial unit, and the authority to act independently.

As an explosion of violence in the NorthEast threatens the ceasefire, and the fear of war grows, the big question is: What is President Rajapakse doing to quell the violence, resume the peace process, and find a solution to the Tamil question?

Sinhala intransigence and fantasies

Before we continue, let us note that in nearly sixty years of dealing with Sinhala governments, nothing has been achieved by the Tamils; even what they already had has been eroded still further. They are even being cheated out of donated international humanitarian aid for tsunami victims!

What we have today is an army of occupation, the killing machine they call their armed forces, and the paramilitary goons, a gang of thugs who operate under cover of the CFA, to torture, kill, and disrupt the lives of innocent Tamils.

Nothing is sacred to the Sri Lanka government, not Tamil lives, not even the lives of their Sinhalese soldiers. Promises and agreements are made only to be broken at their whim. We have to wonder if the Sinhalese are suffering from a persistent sense of inadequacy: the puffed up delusions of grandeur as a race apart; a dwarf in the Buddhist world with pretensions to being the citadel of its pristine glory; the obsession with a phantom fear of the Tamils; a majority with a minority attitude.

Perhaps all they need is some therapy, like a kick on the back from the international community, to exorcize their delusions, help them regain some perspective, and learn to live and let live! Their obsessions have turned Sri Lanka into a sort of Gulag for the Tamils, with nothing to redeem the stark realities of the existence they have endured for so long.

Rajapakse’s world

Now, let’s look at what President Rajapakse has been trying to do to bring about a resolution. As Prime Minister he sat behind Chandrika Kumaratunga like a mouse, but never once challenged the basic concepts behind Tamil aspirations for equality, a Tamil homeland, and the freedom to manage their own affairs, which were all open to negotiation anyway.

But on the way to becoming the president, everything changed drastically. Rajapakse embraced the ideological extremism of the JVP and JHU just to win, and disavowed everything he had previously accepted as prime minister. He turned Sri Lanka’s political world upside down, trumpeting the virtues of the unitary state, and rejecting the emerging basis of a resolution recognized by the international community.

Rajapakse sucked the life out of the peace process that had evolved out of years of conflict. The CFA is in a shambles today, and in imminent danger of collapse. But he keeps reiterating, parrot-like, his great love of peace, promising a “maximum devolution of power” to the Tamils. But there is a hollow ring to it all, since it carries little real meaning.

This mantra, whatever it means, is a hollow prescription for an accord, because there is no “vessel” to hold all that generous, liberal, and munificent flow of power to the Tamils Rajapakse has in mind, sans a distinct territorial unit, and the authority to act independently. But we know that Sinhala politicians are willing to say anything to win power.

If Rajapakse is so keen about talking to the LTTE, his actions don’t seem to be reflecting any urgency. He is still dithering about the venue for the talks. For someone who was ready to go the extra mile to meet with the LTTE, it is funny how he keeps dodging a simple decision on the venue.

Rajapakse’s first duty was to channel tsunami aid to starving and dying Tamil victims, but he has done nothing so far. Contrast this with how swiftly tsunami funds got siphoned off into a private “Helping Hambantota” account. If he doesn’t even have the heart to get a little humanitarian aid to the Tamils, what is he going to do about more weighty matters?

No sooner was he elected president, than this peace loving man went looking for a black knight to do his dark deeds, to deal with the LTTE. Rajapakse's diplomatic offensive to get the activities of the LTTE/Tamils banned in more countries, has not brought any discernible results. India rebuffed him, the EU is still mulling over its action, while the US issued its expected response. But since he seemed to come back empty handed, we have to assume it was because he was not on a purely peace mission.

Prisoner of his own making

It is very evident that Rajapakse finds himself a prisoner of his own policies, having climbed into a Sinhala-nationalistic strait jacket. By constantly having to pander to the Sinhala chauvinists, he is finding it difficult to act decisively and govern. Even the armed forces seem out of control. Rajapakse is being bypassed.

Rajapakse had a lot of faith in India, believing they would come out swinging on his side. Without a sensible plan of his own, to his deep disappointment, neither India nor any other power has responded positively to his pleas for action. They probably realize that Sri Lanka does not have a democratic alternative leading to a solution for the Tamils.

Deeds, not words, matter

Rajapakse should be expending his energies at home, in troubled Sri Lanka, not New Delhi, Washington or the EU. There is no point in flitting around to foreign capitals or mounting a diplomatic offensive when the problem is rooted in Sri Lanka, with so many situations crying out for urgent attention.

Talk is cheap, Mr President, so if you really have something up your sleeve, let us first see what you can do before you start piling the “maximum devolution of power” on the Tamils:

  • Quite simply, the first thing to do is to get humanitarian aid sent to the Tamil tsunami victims. You won’t need a piece of paper to legalise anything, because there is no law against humanitarian aid being sent to citizens of Sri Lanka, wherever they might be living! Just have it shipped to Tiger country. They’ll know how to get it distributed. The important thing is getting aid to them.
  • Next, you have to put an immediate stop to the violence being perpetrated in the NorthEast by your military, in defiance of the CFA. You can’t have it both ways. It’s not possible to be holding peace talks and at the same time conducting a shadow war. Otherwise, it’s going to be a tit for tat exchange, escalating into a big confrontation, and a terrible war.

If by some chance Rajapakse follows this advice, it would vastly improve the climate for peace talks. But first, Sri Lanka should stop its delaying tactics and agree to Norway’s choice of venue. As the sovereign state on whose critical decisions rest the fate of the negotiations and the outcome, it is Sri Lanka’s responsibility to be making sure the talks take place.

  • Finally, the Sri Lanka government should already be thinking about what to do with the military enclaves within the NorthEast, termed their High Security Zones, because they intrude harshly on the lives of the people. Countless numbers of people have been displaced by this aberration. This is a major issue with the Tamils crying out for a solution.

It would count as an enormous humanitarian act of goodwill if there could be a negotiated relocation of these HSZs. The HSZs might be reassuring to the government that security is being taken care of, but with the soldiers surrounded on all sides by inimical forces it is reckoned they are sitting ducks should another war break out. A “strategic” relocation would be a harbinger of real peace descending on the region and, in fact, on the country as a whole.

Never too late

All this could have happened long ago, but didn’t. It is a simple plan of action, and to give it clarity, it has not been burdened with details or clouded by sophistication.

Tamils cannot wait interminably for the Sinhala government to act. Our rights are our own and it is conceivably time for us to act to secure them and be free of Sinhala domination forever.

Mr President, if you want to start winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils, and begin a dialogue that would finally lead to an accord acceptable to the Tamils, you better start doing something to demonstrate your bona fides now.

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