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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2703

The Lankan Tragicomedy

BY Tisaranee Gunasekara

“A precipice in front; wolves behind”
Latin proverb

In Sri Lanka surreal is normal. Last week, the APRC ceremoniously presented President Rajapakse with a ‘consensus’ document advocating the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. The week before the President had given the APRC a document advocating the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, with instructions to present it back to him as that long suffering body’s own recommendation. The APRC acquiesced. The ‘consensus’ imposed by the President was presented to the President with a straight face and was accepted by the President with a straight face.

The idea of fully implementing the 13th Amendment is not a bad one, so long as it is not in lieu of a political solution to the ethnic problem. Is the regime willing and able to fully implement the 13th Amendment, despite the antipathy of the JVP? In an interview with the Irida Divaina parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa declared the JVP’s opposition to the 13th Amendment. If the JVP launches an anti-13th Amendment campaign, accusing the regime of betraying the country, the JHU is likely to follow suit, fearful of losing political ground to its bête noir. What will the regime do in such a situation?

The President is not interested in a political solution to the ethnic problem; in fact, as he has stated on a number of occasions, he does not believe in the existence of the ethnic problem! The rehashing of the two decade old 13th Amendment is a desperate attempt to satisfy the international community in general and India in particular. Mr. Rajapakse is unlikely to risk the survival of his government for the sake of the 13th Amendment. If the JVP’s opposition becomes dangerously stringent, the government may dump the 13th Amendment (as it did the Majority Report of the Experts Committee) on some technicality and direct the APRC to go back to the drawing board. But the President’s preferred option is bound to be a clandestine deal with the JVP based on a secret promise not to implement the 13th Amendment. This would enable the President to buy time, to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, without seriously antagonising either his Sinhala supremacist allies or the international community.

The lesson is an obvious one. A political solution that can satisfy Tamil and Sinhala extremists cannot exist because extremists on both sides of the divide do not want a political solution. Therefore our task is to seek a political solution that can satisfy the moderate elements of all communities. The LTTE is a bar to such a moderate solution as are the JVP and the JHU. Ranil Wickremesinghe failed because he wanted to find a solution agreeable to the LTTE; Mahinda Rajapakse will fail because he does not want a solution that is disagreeable to the JVP and the JHU.

Deadly Allies

The JVP’s stance not just towards the 13th Amendment but also towards the ethnic problem is clearly spelled out in the political column of the latest issue of Lanka, the unofficial party paper:

“As we pointed out in this column previously Tamil chauvinist separatism consists of two main fronts. One is the fascist front. It is being represented today by the LTTE. The other front is the ‘democratic’ front. It is being represented by the EPRLF, EPDP and various other Tamil political organisations. It looks as if the government is getting ready to satisfy the ‘democratic’ front of Tamil chauvinist separatism while defeating its fascist front. What will be the end result of this? The victory of Tamil chauvinist separatism! Suppressing the armed fascist power of Tamil chauvinist separatism does not mean the complete defeat of Tamil chauvinist separatism…. Provincial councils are a sharp sword….. Now President Rajapakse is planning to give that sword not to Pirapaharan but to a different type of Pirapaharan. The problem is not Pirapaharan but Tamil chauvinist separatism. Pirapaharan is a problem not because he is someone else but because he is a representative of Tamil chauvinist separatism. Therefore what is the difference in giving the sword to another kind of Pirapaharan rather than to Pirapaharan?”(Lanka – 27.1.2008; emphasis mine).

The JVP’s current stance cannot be clearer. Unless there is a major change in the balance of power within the party, the JVP will oppose even the most minimalist devolution proposal, because in its eyes there is no real difference between Vellupillai Pirapaharan and Douglas Devananda or V Anandasangaree or D Sidharthan. The JVP’s stance on the ethnic problem showed a marginal improvement between 2002 and 2005; that was because the prevailing general politico-societal consensus was a pro-devolutionary one bordering on federalism. However this changed with the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapakse. The Children of ’56 became enthroned and the dominant opinion changed in an anti-devolutionary direction. For the first time since the Accord a President of Sri Lanka denied the existence of the ethnic problem and, with it, the need for a political solution. Sinhala supremacism became acceptable again. In consonance with this shift the JVP’s own stance on devolution regressed to where it was in the mid to late 1980’s. The JVP will therefore prevent the administration from implementing even the most minimal devolution deal, as the political column of ‘Lanka’ clearly indicates:

“President Mahinda Rajapakse is getting ready to ‘serve’ two ‘masters’ at the same time. These (masters) are patriotic national forces and separatist chauvinism. The battle against Tiger terrorism is the service for nationalist forces. The so called political solution which satiates separatism is for the peaceful front of separatism. It is clear that by trying to serve these contrasting masters President Rajapakse is digging his own grave…. It is now clear that President Rajapakse is planning to remove the garments which cover this contradiction…. This will have just one result…. He will antagonise the nationalist forces by depriving himself of the only one reason on which his government depends…(ibid – emphasis mine).

The JVP is likely to combine economic and governance issues with its opposition to devolution in a single campaign. The UNP may join such a campaign since Mr. Wickremesinghe would want to sabotage the full implementation of the 13th Amendment on behalf of his Tiger masters. The Lanka political column hints how the JVP will justify the opening of a second front in the South while the Eelam War IV is raging:

“….what will happen to the heroic forces who are risking their lives to defeat the LTTE? Are the Security Forces tasked with opening the road for the forward march of peaceful Tigers by defeating the armed Tigers? If so, who can say that the heroic forces will not ask themselves whether there is any point in risking their lives in battle for such a task” (ibid).

In other words the JVP will, in such a context, try to engineer dissension within the armed forces, to get a section of the armed forces to accuse the government of betraying the ‘nationalist cause’. If the JVP succeeds, it will be thanks in the main to past policies of the Rajapakse administration, particularly giving the JVP – via the Manel Mal Movement – a carte blanche to infiltrate the armed forces. In fact, as the media reported at that time, JVP hardliner Wimal Weerawansa and other leaders of the Manel Mal Movement were flown to Jaffna by the regime in order to address the troops there. The JVP parliamentarian allegedly stated that the war can be won in 24 hours via air attacks. Such infantilism cannot but backfire on those who have succumbed to it.

Irrespective of the outcome of the war, we will have to devolve more power to the minorities. The only question is whether we will share power willingly or wait until we are forced to do so by external players and factors. In any case, the LTTE came into being and thrives in a unitary Sri Lanka. A unitary state thus cannot prevent separatism from taking root in a country. On the other hand a quasi-federal/federal state may make a majority of the minority community content with the status quo, therefore disinclined to back separatism. There will always be those extremists who will yearn for a separate state; our task should be to create an environment which will marginalise these recalcitrant elements, to render them powerless in the community. But the extremists in the minority community cannot be made ineffective by pandering to the whims and fancies of the extremists in the majority community.

Back to the Past

The international relations of a country should not be conducted in the manner of an inter-school debate. Legion are the arguments we can use against those countries which use the human rights cudgel against us. But what do we gain from winning such debates apart from an ephemeral glow of self-satisfaction? Such verbal confrontations will not persuade our critics to change their negative image of us; instead our reputation will worsen and the likelihood of punitive actions against us enhanced. Such a trend is already discernible; in the last one and half years we have won many debating points vis-à-vis the West; we also had to face aid curtailments and soft military sanctions, including from the US. If media reports are to be believed more punitive measures will be enacted by the West in the coming months; Japan too may follow suit. In such a context the limited backing that China, Russia and Pakistan can afford to give us plus the solidarity of the majority of the Third World will avail us little. The criminally irresponsible actions of politicians and high officials will damage us still further - in his statement to the court Col. Karuna stated that Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse arranged for him to have a diplomatic passport.

The President is attempting to counter these negative international trends by coaxing India into our corner with a born again devotion to the 13th Amendment and a memorial to the IPKF. Unfortunately his tactic does not seem to be succeeding, if the recent joint remarks by the Indian and British Prime Ministers are anything to go by.

Both leaders emphasised the need for a ‘credible devolution package’ within a ‘united Sri Lanka’ – a clear euphemism for a federal solution. Though Delhi may be happy with the IPKF memorial, its backing for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment is conditional on that being just a step in the search for a political solution. In any case the 13th Amendment has been qualitatively debased by the regime’s departure from two of the fundamentals of the Indo-Lanka Accord – the merger and the homeland concept.

Mr. Rajapakse has indicated that he would prefer India to play a more active role in Sri Lanka, an obvious tactical ploy to discourage Western involvement. India will not become directly involved in Sri Lanka again, so long as Vellupillai Pirapaharan is alive. If Mr. Pirapaharan dies of natural causes or is killed by enemy action, India will willingly go back to playing the role of the Big Brother, intervening directly, with the blessings of the West, to compel Colombo to offer a federal solution to the Tamil people. The US and the EU may impose the most stringent sanctions on Sri Lanka; but they will not militarily intervene in the Lankan conflict. The only country that can and will intervene militarily in Sri Lanka is India; that intervention will kill the unitary state and it can happen only in the absence of Mr. Pirapaharan. Contrary to the rosy expectations of many a Sinhala supremacist, the demise of the Tiger leader will not render greater devolution unnecessary; it will merely make an externally imposed federal solution inevitable.

- Asian Tribune -

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