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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Repeat Performances?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"Mahinda Rajapakse completed a year as president of Sri Lanka on 17th November. His decision to rely on Sinhalese nationalists and military hardliners to capture the presidency had him bogged down in a quagmire, compelling him to procrastinate over political initiatives to expose Prabhakaran’s bluff."
UTHR-J (Bulletin No. 42 – 13.12.2006)

In a rate moment of candour President J R Jayewardene described his opposition to the B-C Pact as lack of intelligence, lack of foresight and lack of courage (at the press conference subsequent to the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord). The opposition of the UNP did undermine the B-C Pact but Mr. Bandaranaike could have handled it if he was backed by his own party (conversely if the UNP supported the Pact he could have withstood the rebellion from within his own ranks). The end came when a group of SLFP monks conducted a Satyagraha outside the PM’s residence. Having come to power on a whirlwind of Sinhala supremacism (which he exacerbated and harnessed to further his political ambition) Mr. Bandaranaike could do little else but tear the Pact, literally. This first violation of a democratic agreement to appease a minority of vocal hardliners was followed by others, creating a trail of shattered hopes and broken promises which paved the way for the formation of the Tigers and sustains them even now.

There is a tragicomedy in the making around the Expert Committee and its reports. The Rajapakse administration’s panicked reaction to the denunciatory cries of its extremist allies, reminiscent of the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, would be comic if not for its tragic implications. The administration seems to be going several extra miles to prove that it has nothing to do with the Majority Report. But that is not all. And according to the front page lead of the Lankadeepa of December 13th at the instructions of the President his Secretary summoned the three officials on the Experts Panel and asked why they ‘took a side’ at the Panel.

Of serious concern is an allusion contained in the statement by the Media Minister, distancing the government from the Majority Report: “The elements and institutions in question, have given this misconstruction to the proposals of the Experts Panel, solely going by news sources, without a proper grasp of the reality or, have chosen to arrive at this irrational conclusion, in a bid to belittle the political and legal validity of the laws and regulations enforced, with a view to decisively defeating the LTTE’s fascism”. Does this veritable maze of a comment imply that the government equates enhanced devolution to the Tamils with a weakening of the struggle against the Tigers? This is the belief of the JVP and the JHU; if the government shares it, then the potential present in the Majority Report would be still born. Instead of providing a framework for democratic devolution, the Majority Report will merely become another missed opportunity. Such an outcome will strengthen the Tigers by demonstrating that the Sinhala polity lacks the will and the desire to come up with a political solution to the ethnic problem.


The JVP has withdrawn from the APRC, in protest against the Majority Report. The JHU has met the President seeking clarifications. Quite apart from their genuine Sinhala supremacism, both parties are in need of a political horse to flog; the JVP cannot credibly use the Cost of Living issue while the conversions issue, the raison d’être of the JHU, is a non-starter currently (this can change in the future). What better than an issue which will enable the JVP-JHU to place themselves at the forefront of the ‘patriotic struggle’, even ahead of the SLFP? President Rajapakse has to moderate his public stances and pronouncements (whatever his private sentiments may be) for very obvious reasons. This will enable the JVP-JHU to become the most strident advocates of the unitary state and the most principled opponents of ‘divisive’ devolution (in their book anything beyond administrative decentralisation is akin to, or leads to, division).

The departure of Nandana Gunatilake seems to have killed whatever moderating influences there were within the JVP (his unenviable fate will discourage any other JVPer from following in his footsteps; the regime which reportedly encouraged his inner-party struggle seems to have consigned him to political oblivion, in favour of his erstwhile comrades). The JVP is beginning to sound more and more hardline on the ethnic problem, almost the way it did in the bad old days of the Second Insurgency. The Supreme Court verdict on the merger has obviously buoyed the JVP; its increasing stridency is perhaps also due to President Rajapakse’s continuing dependency on the party’s unarguably superior organisational and propaganda capacities.

The Presidential dependence on the JVP became apparent in the aftermath of the Tiger attempt to assassinate Gotabhya Rajapakse. According to media reports the President turned to the JVP to organise a ‘public’ campaign demanding the immediate proscription of the LTTE. Last Sunday’s ‘Mawbima’ detailed how, at the President’s request, a campaign was launched by various para-JVP organisations demanding the proscription of the Tigers. The highlight of this campaign was a demonstration in Colombo. The fact that the demonstrators were permitted to enter the high security zone around the Temple Trees to present a petition to the President is the best proof that the entire exercise was a joint effort between the President and the JVP. No wonder Mr. Rajapakse panicked when the JVP took shrill exception to the Majority Report.

There are strong indications that the SLFP-UNP MoU will die a natural death, ere long. The President and the Leader of the Opposition were both motivated by private political needs rather than national and popular concerns in signing the MoU. Mr. Rajapakse needed to improve his image internationally, by bringing on board the ‘reformist’ Ranil Wickremesinghe. Mr. Wickremesinghe needed to kill the budding rebellion in his party. The MoU improved the President’s image internationally. It also ensured a stillbirth for the anti-Ranil rebellion in the UNP by according to the much defeated Mr. Wickremesinghe a badly needed new sheen and stature, elevating him to the status of a national leader above narrow political bickering. Once the MoU was signed and hailed by all and sundry as a great breakthrough, the anti-Ranil rebellion was lost.

Having got over the challenge to his leadership with the generous assistance of the President, Mr. Wickremesinghe no longer needs the MoU. A weekly political column known to be written according to his instructions castigated the MoU as an instrument fashioned by President Rajapakse (with the help of the UNP rebels) to control and emasculate the UNP. The truth is made to stand its head in this rendering, since in reality Mr. Wickremesinghe survived as the leader of the UNP thanks to the timely assistance of Mahinda Rajapakse. And from the partisan political perspective of the President it makes sense to keep Mr. Wickremesinghe as the leader of the UNP. Having such an unelectable man as the leader of the main opposition party is a blessing for any President, particularly one who has a second term to gain. True it is bad for the country to have as Leader of Opposition a man who at any given moment is capable of acting as a fifth columnist for the LTTE; however one cannot reasonably expect Mr. Rajapakse to sacrifice his own political future for the sake of the country.

Since the LTTE does not want a political solution to the ethnic problem Mr. Wickremesinghe will do his utmost to prevent the APRC from adopting a version of the Majority Report. Thanks to the hysterical reaction of the JVP and the JHU, he may not have to try very hard to achieve this aim. Rather than antagonise its allies, the regime may prefer to vacillate and procrastinate, thereby making it unnecessary for Mr. Wickremesinghe to overexpose his hand. He can sit back and let the JVP and the JHU play the Tiger game, albeit unconsciously. At the end of the day the Northern and Southern extremists will be triumphant; and the country will be the loser.

The Yearning of the Tiger….

Vellupillai Pirapaharan ends his statement on the death of Anton Balasingham with the sentence: ‘The yearning of the Tiger is Tamileelam’. Though this slogan has been the LTTE’s standard battle cry, this is probably the first time it has appeared in English in pro-Tiger media. This should come as an eye opener for those self-delusive types who persist in chasing the mirage of a negotiated settlement with the LTTE. A negotiated settlement with the LTTE is impossible, so long as Mr. Pirapaharan is alive, because nothing short of Tiger Eelam will satisfy him. What is possible is a political solution to the ethnic problem based on democratic devolution; such a solution will be unacceptable to the insatiable Sun God but it will be welcomed by Tamil moderates and to the international community.

The recognition granted to V Anandasangaree by the UNESCO (in the form of the Madanjeet Singh Prize) is an indication that the international community is willing to look beyond the Tigers. Similarly our own response to this development indicate that we are still very far from seeing the democratic Tamils as our strategic political partners in the struggle against the LTTE and in the quest for a lasting peace. As Hemantha Warnakulasuriya pointed out on the ITN’s political talk show, Thulawa (on December 14th) none of the Lankan TV stations, including the two state TV channels, gave any prominence to the extremely anti-Tiger speech made by Mr. Anandasangaree at the UNESCO award ceremony. Similarly no Lankan media made any mention of Mr. Anandasangaree’s interview with the BBC in which he debunked many myths about the LTTE. Obviously we do not understand the value of democratic Tamils in the struggle against the LTTE. The reason, apart from sheer stupidity and ineptitude, is that the official thinking under Rajapakse regime has become more Sinhala than Sri Lankan.

When Ketheshwaran Loganathan wrote a book on past attempts at resolving the ethnic conflict, he aptly titled it ‘Sri Lanka: Missed Opportunities’. Eventually he was to become yet another victim of those missed opportunities, gunned down by the LTTE in cold blood. As the daily death toll and, with it, the agony of the country mounts, the faint hope that there may emerge a viable proposal of democratic devolution is being asphyxiated by the fascism of the LTTE, the maximalism of the JVP-JHU and the cowardice of the SLFP and the UNP. A tragic old tale is about to repeat itself….

A Necessary Postscript:

The following statement by the UTHR needs to be taken seriously by Tamil democrats and Southern moderates, because, if even halfway correct, its implications are horrendous: "The killer group phenomenon is the bringing together of diverse elements from state intelligence and two Tamil and two Sinhalese extremist parties among others; and granting them impunity. On its own, each subgroup would have been very cautious about undertaking a killing. But under one umbrella with a guarantee of impunity gives the collective a life of its own. Any one group could initiate something and the others with no deep interest in a particular killing would go along in a game of you scratch my back and I scratch yours. There is no risk. With risk removed a larger circle of contacts would also be willing to do things for money. Collectively, they acquire a hugely inflated sense of power that also makes them reckless. The killing of Raviraj was after all such a revealingly clumsy affair." (Bulletin No: 42 – 13.12.2006).

- Asian Tribune -

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