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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

A new thinking cap needed to break Wanni-Colombo logjam

By M Rama Rao, India Editor, Asian Tribune, New Delhi

New Delhi, 10 April ( Two developments in the Sri Lankan theatre need to make Delhi and other world capitals, particularly Washington and London, sit up and end the dichotomy that has characterised their reaction to and relations with Colombo.

Firstly, senior Lanka Minister Jeyraj Fernandopulle, the only Roman Catholic in the Rajapakse government was assassinated just outside Colombo. His religion had lost relevance for the LTTE as he facilitated the Pillayan Group’s entry into mainstream politics.

Otherwise they would not have eliminated him so soon after the Madhu church episode exposed the clergy for yet another time to the criticism that the Church in Tamil belt remains sympathetic towards the Tigers. Also, through the targetted killing the LTTE wanted to signal that they are not dead as the government has been claiming for the past several months. This is a normal tactic of all insurgent groups under pressure as the Indian experience in Kashmir and northeast of the country shows.

The second development is no less significant though it took place miles away in the United States. The Washington Times has put the spotlight on how the Tigers have made in roads into the US to help bankroll and equip their operations back home in Sri Lanka. In a manner of speaking, there is no big deal about the WT report.

That the LTTE runs a well oiled world-wide network spanning some 54 countries is by now well documented. Tigers’ operations have considerable visibility in UK, France, Australia and the Scandinavian countries. Jen Haberkorn’s despatch is significant nevertheless because for the first time the US has acknowledged LTTE as one of the most dangerous and deadly extremist organizations that has been an inspiration even for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Yet, the reaction to the killing of Jeyraj Fernandopulle appears just a routine or what can be termed as a proforma statement. The United States, European Union, Canada and India have denounced the attack that also killed 13 others and left nearly 100 wounded. “The United States denounces this vicious and reprehensible terrorist attack on civilians in the strongest possible terms," a US embassy statement said in Colombo. “Its perpetrators have achieved nothing other than to cause further suffering among the people of Sri Lanka. Only a political solution, not continued violence, offers the way forward to end the country's conflict”.

EU’s Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner voiced similar sentiment and stuck to the usual refrain, “The EU continues to believe that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka and only a negotiated settlement can open the way for a lasting peace”.

Canadian foreign minister Maxime Bernier held out the homily, “It is clear that violence will not bring lasting peace to Sri Lanka”. And South Block in Delhi tried to hide its dilemma behind semantics as the killing of a second minister and fourth politician this year coincided with the trauma of film maker Thushara Peiris. He was attacked at the gates of Gemini Studio (Chennai) when he went there to collect a print of his film on Prabhakaran. Whether the film reflects Sri Lankan national pride – abimanaya – as reports in Colombo media claim is not relevant but what is germane to the discussion is the film exposes terrorism.

Undoubtedly, there are good and bad politicians. There are good and bad bureaucrats and diplomats. May be amongst sleuths and journalists as well, there are good and bad. But a terrorist is a terrorist and terrorism is a scourge. This truism is relevant as much in Delhi’s context as that of the Washington and London. All the three have borne the brunt of terrorism, Delhi more than the other two. So much so, it has to be more forthright in finding ways and means to end the spectre of violence that has been haunting Colombo. Creation of Perumal clones is no solution whether it is by India or by Sri Lanka. More over when there is no question of balkanizing Sri Lanka either now or even in the past.

Devolution of powers to the provinces and from provinces to local bodies is a subject on which there is bound to be divergence of opinion as the Indian experience shows. Modern nation state, despite unshackling of the economy, continues to favour centralised administration. Frankly, the feudal mindset up of South Asia, where good old Princes and Zamindars of yore are replaced by ministers and elected representatives in that order will not easily allow decentralisation. And the bureaucracy knows the art of protecting their turf. Retired bureaucrats play quite a helpful role in perpetuating myths since a section of the media patronises them as ‘independent voices’.

This is one reason why Indian political leadership should take the initiative to break the logjam. It should not allow itself hostage to politics in Tamilnadu where incidentally, far away from the media glare, even in Chennai, the Sri Lankan Tamilian is not a darling. This is something very few will like to acknowledge on record but we cannot erase a ground reality.

On his part, President Mahinda Rajapakse should not remain a hostage to the politics of Southern consensus. He has his own politics of survival and he unabashedly plays to the Sinhala gallery. But as the International Crisis Group says in its latest report, Sinhala nationalism has waxed and waned in response to the political context. “At times, there has been strong Sinhala support for a negotiated settlement. Nevertheless, competition between the two main parties (the United National Party, UNP, and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, SLFP) and their inability to neutralise smaller nationalist parties have prevented governments from compromising with Tamil nationalists”.

Consensus politics is a euphemism the media is fond off. In the world of real politic, it is more a game of give and take and some compromise tailor made to local needs. Whether Delhi and Chennai likes or not, Rajapakse finds himself in a position where he could end the SLFP’s penchant for ‘ethnic outbidding’ and at the same time safeguard the rights of Tamil minority for a place of honour and pride under the Sri Lankan sun.

An unmistakable reality of Sri Lankan scene over the past three decades is that the LTTE has been equally important in blocking the elusive “southern consensus”. All peace initiatives have failed because of its intransigence and because of its over riding faith in violence as a means to achieve its goal. The LTTE leadership will do well to realise that the world has moved a long distance after 9/11 and that the West, particularly the United States, is no longer prepared to live with terrorism of one kind or the other. The global cop has clearly demonstrated a willingness to go to any extent to protect his perceived and real interests.

The Washington Times report quoted at the outset should serve as a timely reminder to the LTTE of the limitations they will come face to face with soon. This report and the Jeyraj Fernandopulle’s assassination underscore the reality namely Tamil issue in Sri Lanka is a political imbroglio. It must be addressed politically by the LTTE and by Colombo alike, not through games of one-upmanship but through a clearly demonstrable and sincere resolve for peace and progress. The onus for this as much on LTTE as on Colombo. Other players, old and new, have a role. And it is not playing their own games.

-Asian Tribune -

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