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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2253

Who should the President listen to - Can Federalism or Devolution elevate the people?

By Shenali Waduge

The very people whose formulas failed to bring decades of terror to a close are now pressurizing the Government to implement a solution. These “experts” have little right to demand anything of the Government for their peace formulas failed and Sri Lanka’s loss through 3 decades is estimated at a whopping USD200billion worth of opportunities. The President has solved the primary problem – eliminating terrorism that too in just 2 years and 10 months. This fete has alone given the right to the President to nullify some of the unreasonable demands placed by the LTTE over the years and accepted by previous Governments. Thus, essentially we need to start afresh by identifying if there are problems exclusive to Tamils in the present context before we move forward to drafting solutions.

It is more than apparent that some members of the international community, foreign media, human rights and peace activists as well as the UN desire a Federal solution, demarcation of territory, devolving police powers etc. Would they first like to explain whether these are what the people want or what they and their cronies think should be adopted? Can they also explain how these solutions are likely to lessen the burden faced by the poor – be they Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and elevate their status? Or do they prefer Sri Lanka’s territory carved out rather than first look into what the majority of people actually need to be provided?

We are well aware how the LTTE administered North was despite having kangaroo courts, own tiger insignia, police stations etc…. the LTTE failed to provide even food (the most basic of needs) to the Tamil people of the North? Having lavishly spent on sophisticated underground bunkers, 7 airstrips, Tiger secretariats….the LTTE had to steal food rations and medicines sent to the Tamil people by its official Government even for their own consumption – for 3 decades too! In the backdrop to choosing from an array of solutions on offer it is necessary to ask whether we are putting the cart before the horse.

It then necessitates for us to ask what these grievances are before committing to any solution. It is obvious that the frenzied movements to commit to a solution is purely on the grounds that vested parties want to quickly get the Government to commit to a solution before the public too starts raising these key questions.

* What are the "grievances" exclusive to Tamils?

* Do Sinhalese get served first in private or public establishments?

* Are there any hoardings that state preference is given to Sinhalese?

* Are Sinhalese given preferential treatment in public hospitals?

*Why then are Sri Lanka’s prisons full of Sinhalese?

It is obvious that we have been misled all these years to draft solutions to grievances relevant to the past only, grievances that are also relevant to other ethnic groups (but conveniently ignored) and grievances that are merely to leverage and sustain political careers of some Tamil politicians. The charade must stop. More and more it is clear that "grievances" itself provided different connotations to those seeking the solutions.

As a developing nation it is estimated that of the 20million populace 5 million in Sri Lanka are categorized as poor. Moreover 90% of Sri Lanka’s poor live in rural Sri Lanka. The highest percentage of poor families (47.7%) lives in the Moneragala district and the lowest number (9%) reside in Colombo. Barely 1% of Sri Lanka’s population will fall into the category of rich (these are members of all ethnic groups who together belong to one category the "elite") It is these who will own the businesses & have access to the bulk of wealth and opportunities. It was often amongst this group that Sri Lanka’s politicians emerged save a few. Similarly, it is not too late to realize that Tamil leaderships of yonder years also rested upon not only an elite group of people but an elite group that belonged to the highest of castes amongst the Tamils – the Vellala.

Not many Tamils will like to accept that Prabakaran’s struggle was actually against his own people – the Vellala high castes (the Jaffna Tamils). The first person Prabakaran actually killed – Mr. Alfred Duraiappah also belonged to the Vellala caste (this was how Prabakaran is supposed to have started his “freedom” movement – by killing another Tamil).

Prabakaran ended up killing over 35 Tamil leaders (against 5 main Sinhala leaders) and practically all of these Tamil leaders including Amirthalingam (TULF leader) belonged to the Vellala caste. As the LTTE diversified and internationalized itself it made sense to attach "ethnic discrimination" "genocide" against the Sinhalese rather than profess his hatred for his own people and that secured him enough "sympathy" to clandestinely run his international operations well aware of the façade that foreign nations themselves were portraying beneath the diplomatic statements that often misused issues like human rights violations to dictate terms to lesser powerful nations whose natural resources these larger nations wanted to tap upon.

Politicians are concerned about coming into power – their existence in power rests upon their ability to not only win votes but carry forth programs that would keep them in power. Therefore, politicians are wise to know where their votes come from and the present Government has been quite artful at generating people’s popularity. It must also be mentioned that the military’s efforts were also sustained as a result of large numbers of rural youth joining the military.

Given this scenario it necessitates the Government especially the President to offer solutions that would benefit the larger populace – not the Sinhalese as some may like to believe but the larger numbers of people who need to better their lives for which devolution or demarcation of territory provides little or no assistance. Given the large infrastructure development programs that have been running simultaneously alongside the military operations, the road infrastructure has served to better the lives of people both young & old. After the East was liberated a survey asked of the people whether they desired a separate state & their response was that they did not require a separate homeland but what all poor people would desire – better infrastructure, schools, jobs etc. Therefore, should the President allow a handful of people to bring amendments to Sri Lanka’s constitution, devolve power, demarcate territory etc. For a country to prosper the poor needs to be leveraged and for this education plays a pivotal role as education assists the poor to rise out of poverty.

Which is all the more important to wonder why Prabakaran did not kidnap the children of elite Tamils and make them into killers but chose to instead burden the poor Tamils to sacrifice their children transforming them into suicide killers & members of his child soldier brigade. Could Prabakaran not have given these poor Tamils a better life, better education, a means to earn a living rather than teaching them to kill? (Sri Lanka’s military at least enjoy a pension and other entitlements what have these LTTE cadres achieved in the end?) True, the LTTE in its later stages comprised men of higher castes but these were men who were as psychopathic as Prabakaran and those who sold their souls to the devil to become partners of a killing enterprise that was also privy to an annual wealth of USD300million. That is why we are not in the least surprised when members of the media, NGOs, INGOs, members of UN, peace advocates even some high ranking officers of the military ended up becoming part of the LTTE enterprise – does this permeate any to accept that the LTTE comprised Tamils working towards a freedom struggle for the Tamil people?

It is in this context that we must demand of the international community an apology for banning the LTTE but allowing the LTTE and its operatives to freely move in their soil, raise funds, carry out propaganda campaigns and even allow their politicians to speak on behalf of the LTTE on various occasions. It is Sri Lanka’s right to question and know why certain countries would go beyond their mandate to side with the LTTE – a group these very countries identified as terrorists. When the countries that make arms create conflicts to sell arms what right do they have to decide on human rights violations and on what moral grounds can they deny loan facility to countries?

Quite naturally the President of Sri Lanka must be in a dilemma. Countries may loath the Executive Presidential powers of Sri Lanka but it is these powers vested upon the present President that allowed him to withstand the exerting pressures that came in all directions. The supreme powers bestowed upon him ensured that he brought to an end the shams that had gone on for decades – thus in identifying what type of problem Sri Lanka was suffering from the Government was able to delegate all powers to the military to crush LTTE terrorism in 2 years and 10 months – a task that any military would feel elated and proud of. Therefore, the specialists in terrorism, conflict-resolutions, negotiations etc must provide why their formulas failed for many of these “experts” have been beneficiaries of funds taken from the public for their "expertise". Therefore Sri Lanka’s public deserves an explanation for why their efforts failed!

In declaring that Sri Lanka will no longer have majority and minority it essentially means that the North must open its doors to Sinhalese and Muslims who wish to reside in the North, start business and start their families. Voices raising "colonization" cannot take place. It is unfair and incorrect to declare these as "colonization" for no one objected to the large numbers of Tamils setting up residence in the South especially when LTTE and TNA propaganda continuously projected discriminations & genocide by the Sinhalese. Therefore, the North needs to open up its doors to the other communities and Sri Lanka must be a land for all is citizens to live where they like. At no point of time did the North belong to the Tamils. When Sinhalese and Muslims do actually live and reside and open up businesses in the North the people of the North will soon realize that the Sinhalese and Muslims are not the people the LTTE had made them out to be. When there were no Sinhalese and Muslims in the North how could the young LTTE cadres claim the Sinhalese were killers unless they were brainwashed to think so by the tiger leaderships. Their lack of education denied them to question why over 50% of Tamils were actually living in the South and the present set of Tamil parliamentarians supposedly representing the North ensured that the people of the North remained ignorant of the truth for their own gains. To the Tamil political leaders – "grievances" of the Tamil people mean territorial divide giving them greater power – the needs of the Tamils become irrelevant. Grievances of the masses of Sri Lanka – probably over 90% of the total population would rather make do with better roads, better educational facilities for their children, job opportunities, vocational training, better public service rather than any of the "solutions" that are presently being drafted. What can a poor Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim do if he gets a Federal state/Provincial Council if its leaders care not for the welfare of the people? What is eventually left to do? The Central Government ends up regaining control eventually.

We cannot afford time to experiment. The LTTE has wasted over 3 decades of time fooling the Tamil people and denying them better chances in life. Over 200,000 need to begin their lives – they need homes, their children need schools and the parents need to have a means to live and earn money. We do not need to carve out territory, demarcate areas or devolve powers to apply systems in place to meet these needs. These needs in essence are relevant to some even in the commercial hub of Colombo.

What Sri Lanka now needs is a more energized group of people – be they in the public or private sector or even those self-employed who are inspired to work towards building Sri Lanka into a greater & more prosperous nation.

Sri Lanka’s constitution is a sacred document – no one has the right to tinker with it. Thus, we again question the legality of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord which was only privy to the Executive President Jayawardena and to no other. Foreign nations too must realize there is a limit to their “assistance” – they cannot expect to barge into our country and dictate terms as to how we should run Sri Lanka. It is extremely important that India realizes this first of all. If on the grounds that there are Tamils whose roots are traced to India and warrants India to feel concerned it is best to actually ask of these people if they would rather stay in Tamil Nadu or remain in Sri Lanka. India cannot continue to exert pressures on a sovereign Government using the “concerned about the Tamils” line all the time. Sri Lanka’s Tamil leaders also must show some maturity and self-respect for themselves. Indian leaders even the Tamil Nadu politicos do not seek advice from Sri Lanka’s Tamil leaders or even consult them in deciding on new amendments to laws in Tamil Nadu state, why should then Sri Lanka’s Tamil leaders go scurrying to India and humiliate themselves? Many of these Tamil parliamentarians are bewailing the plight of the IDPs – it is interesting to know how many of these donated a penny from their personal incomes to provide even a meal to these displaced people?

None of these foreign or local experts on the conflict were in any hurry to end the conflict and it is interesting why they are so eager to see Sri Lanka declare what Sri Lanka’s solution is. These moves certainly require the Government not to be in too much of a hurry and to ensure that the needs of the majority are catered to rather than a handful. By majority it is again stressed that it is the majority of people belonging to all the ethnic groups whose actual demands are simple changes that can be done even now through systematic programs. It was the overambitious “aspirations” that denied a larger role to the Tamils in post-independence and it was the overambitious “aspirations” that drove Tamils to take up arms and suffer through almost 3 decades therefore the Tamil people are also called upon not to fall prey to the present set of leaders many of whom are carrying baggage from previous alliances to those past “overambitious aspirations”.

The affluent in Sri Lanka would like to have further opportunities to increase their profits – many of these have contributed greatly and supported many social programs over the years. With the conflict coming to a close many of them are looking positively at implementing some of the ideas they have had to shelve. The Government needs to back them, provide incentives and as far as possible forge partnerships. The middle-class had to bear the burden of most of the conflict through the escalating consumer prices and many of them must now be thinking of a better tomorrow. The poor of Sri Lanka were always sidelined – they provided the votes, the soldiers for the military even the cadres for the LTTE and politicians never seemed to appreciate this. Therefore, the President now has a good opportunity to correct the imbalances by firstly asking some key questions. It is apparent that many are patting their own backs at the solutions they have formulated but how many of these solutions are answered is questionable.

Are Tamils of Sri Lanka denied rights exclusively to them constitutionally or legally in the present context? (Past incidents are relevant if they are continued in the present)

Sri Lanka belongs to all its citizens no area is demarcated as exclusively to a particular ethnic group therefore ethnically portioning areas should not be encouraged. All opportunities should be on merit & this must be strictly adhered to in public sector as well.

Empowerment must first begin at grassroot levels and work upwards from thereon therefore it is certainly wise to design a homegrown solution.

- Asian Tribune -

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