Chandrik's Sordid Overture: Soiled, Soaked and Sullied
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, has become the first head of state, ever to skip an independent day celebration, in the 52 year's history of the celebrations. A low-keyed celebration was held at the Sri Jayawardenapura Parliament complex's explanade. K.B.Ratnayake, the parliament Speaker, a dignitary below number three in the protocol list, was the chief guest. He hoisted the Sri Lankan standard, as the accredited representative of the President. Chandrika Kumaratunge, the head of state, was physically present in the country, but stayed back at her fortified official residence, absenting herself to the most important ceremony.
President's absent from the ceremony has opened up a popular debate on the security situation. People have begun to ask questions about the safety and security of ordinary citizens. A firm opinion has emerged that, the Government has meekly admitted that, the security of the country is in a perilous state.
Furthermore, the Government had admitted that, the political agenda of the country is determined, not by the President Chandrika Kumaratunge and her Government, but, by Tiger Supremo Velupillai Prabakaran and by his militant organization, Viz., the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE.)
For the first time, at midnight, on 3 February 1948, Ceylon (presently Sri Lanka), ceased to be a British Crown Colony, after Ceylon Independence Act, enacted by the House of Representative of Ceylon, received Royal Assent on 10 December 1947. On 4 February 1948, a 21 - gun salute fired from the 17th century Dutch cannon on the Galle Face green, heralded the dawn of the freedom. At Torrington, Colombo, standing on specially erected stage, the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of the British sovereign King George VI, read the Declaration of Independence, which in the years to come, set the stage for the gradual escalation of the ethnic conflict. He also a read a personal message from the British King:
"I know that my people in Ceylon are ready to make full and rich contribution to the associations of free people's and I am confident that you will carry your new responsibilities ably to the end. My wishes go out to you on this great day, and I pray that Ceylon may enjoy peace and prosperity in full measure. May God bless you all and guide your country through the years that lie ahead."
Subsequently, D.S. Senanayake was sworn in as Ceylon's first Prime Minister, who hauled down the British Royal Ensign and as national flag was yet to be designed, he hoisted the Royal Standard of the Nayaka Tamil Monarch, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, the last King of Kandy. The flag had a passant royal lion, with a sword in its right fore paw at the centre and a bo-leaf at each other corner on a plain border, heralding Ceylon's independence.
Since from the first Independence day celeberation in 1948, beginning with the first British Governor Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore, all the heads of state up to 1999, participated at the ceremony and were the chief guests at the annual national event. Unfortunately, this year Chandrika Kumaratunge stayed away from the ceremony, a unique national event, that was so important to the country as a whole.
Even on the receipt of adverse security reports, on 6 October 1981, Anwar al Sadat, the President of Egypt (1970-81) boldly participated in the country's national event, but was shot and killed by an Islamic fundamentalist, while receiving the guard of honour. Again on 30 July 1987, whilst his security officers were against any farewell guard of honour in Colombo, Rajiv Gandhi participated courageously, but was attacked by a Sri Lankan Naval rating.
Holding the office of the head of a state does not merely mean enjoying limitless power and position, but the office demands the bold exemplary display of courage and confidence. The saying, all is fair in war and love, is also applicable to those holding the highest political office in a country.
Since from the very day the country received independence, the Tamils had not shown any interest in the event. At the early stages, Tamils began to ignore the Independence day, but as the Government began to throttle with anti-Tamil legislation, initially they hoisted black flags to show their resentment. Gradually after 1972, it became a non-event, once independent homeland issue began to reverberate all over the country.
The low-keyed Independence day's celeberation was held at the backdrop of the politics of xenophobia and hatred of the Tamil minorities. It was a function with a difference. This year, a vast majority of the Sinhalese, as well as the entire Tamils considered, independence and the independent day celebrations, a non-event.
Whether such celebrations were held or not, the Tamils, living in the North and Eastern provinces, continue to languish under the government's draconian Emergency Rule. The rule under emergency regulation is on for the last ten thousand days, since April 1971, with very brief irregular respites. Cordoning off, search, arrests, detentions, incarcerations, non-judicial killings and involuntary disappearances of the Tamils are the order of the day as usual.
Chandrika Kumaratunge, though stayed away from the public celeberation, for her safety, addressed to the nation over the state television, Rupavahini. She appealed to all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their political beliefs, to join her and her Government in the process of a Constitutional Reform, the formation of a new political culture and rebuilding of a new Sri Lankan nation. In her address she said - "Since August 1994, I personally, and my Government, have worked unceasingly to seek a negotiated political settlement to the conflict and to end the war. The major opposition group and one militant group, remain constant in their refusal to constructively participate in that process."
"I invite one more time, all democratic political leaders to do battle for their country by reaching a consensus on the means of resolution of this conflict that has dogged us far too long. Then we would have reached agreement between all democratic political parties and groups representing all our peoples - the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher citizens in Sri Lanka." She further emphasized, "We also invite the LTTE to participate in this noble and great process with us all. --"
In 1994, when she became the President for the first time, she was hailed as the apostle of peace. But within few months, she took the opposite position and declared the infamous "War for Peace," a campaign, which led to death of thousands and Involuntary disappearances of several hundreds. Subsequently, in October 1999, she called for the Presidential election, before the expiry of her term, stating that, she wants to obtain a mandate to resolve the festering ethnic crisis. Unfortunately, she failed to obtain what she sought for, but managed to scrape through in the election for a second term in office. Last month, she led vent of her frustration over her reduced mandate by her divisive criticisms and harangues.
Three hours long vituperative outburst of the President, she showcased at an interview with the state television, was calculatedly maneuvered to bring about adverse political ramifications in the body politic of the island republic. The President, made scathing remarks on the LTTE, alleging that they were after her to assassinate. Her accusations were also leveled against the top businessmen in the metropolis, alleging them of planning to assassinate her, and a section of the Sri Lankan army planning to stage a coup. She also made unsavory remarks against the independent electronic and print media, which were very intimidating and provocative in nature. The President by her desperate verbal assault, communalised the already divided politics, a clever bamboozlement to rope in the support of the Buddhist chauvinists. According to political analysts, her design and manipulation would bring about serious repercussions in the future.
On the other hand, Tamil militants, from the beginning never made any attempt to declare unilateral independent Tamil state of Eelam, a mono-ethnic independent and sovereign entity, by bifurcating Sri Lanka into two states. They exercised caution and restraint, though there exists diarchy in the country, a dual administrative control. Up to now, LTTE did not venture to the extent of declaring a separate state for the Tamils. Separate state of Eelam for the Tamils, which is generally considered only a shibboleth by the Western media, also referred as a slogan and not a serious political philosophy. Interpretations may differ, but Government should not force the militants to resort to the declaration of unilateral independence of Tamil Eelam in the near future.
The recent scurrilous and ostentatious philippic by the President, questioning the liberating tendency of the LTTE, might evoke a situation forcing the Tamil militants to reconsider their position in the context of brining about meaningful interpretation of their struggle for liberation. This might turn into an irrepressible situation, eventually open the floodgate for more violence and mayhem in the country.
Already, Chandrika Kumaratunge, who is in her initial stages of her second term, had approached the LTTE through her contacts and invited them for negotiation. Despite her frantic appeal to the LTTE for talks, it is noted that, her recent flourishes against the LTTE, does not seem to augur well.
Last 20 years of conflict has clearly depicted that, the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka could not be solved by war. Resolving the problem requires a firm political resolution. Parties at war have to come forward to find a solution to their conflict without resorting to war. However, looking at the present situation, it becomes apparent of a serious lapse, that precludes both parties from arriving at a political solution. The defect is the existing mutual mistrust and hatred for each other, that both parties have so far nurtured strongly. Therefore, first of all, parties must seek to build up mutually, the required trust and confidence between them. Unfortunately, complexities of the issues have forced them into such a precarious situation, where both parties are unwilling or unable to build up such confidence on their own. The present impasse is such that, it is an independent third party, that has nothing to do with this war, could be in a position to effectively build up such trust and confidence between them. Once mutual confidence achieved, then it would amount to laying a firm foundation, a matured and responsible positioning, to initiate discussions, with the intervention of a third party.
Skeptics and advocates are of the view that, the international community is unwilling to act evenhandedly in the mediation or facilitation to resolve the ethnic conflict. This they state, was due to the attitude of the infinitely intolerant hard-line government and of the unpredictable nature of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Conditions set out for talks, both by the Government, as well as by the LTTE, according to diplomatic perceptions, do not fully reflect any reality. Hence the international communities, adopted "wait and see" approach, until preternatural conditions given up and a clear consensus of opinion emerges for a negotiated settlement in the midst of the government leaders and the Tamil militant organization.
Time and again, whenever Tamils' leaderships entered into an agreement with the Sinhalese political leaders, the Sinhalese leaders were deceitful and had gone back on their words, amounted to deleterious acts. Thus they have a sordid history of deceptively reneging agreements.
It all started with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister, who was the father of the present President. With the view to bring about a solution to the ethnic problem, in 1957, he entered into an agreement, "Banda-Chelva Pact," with S.J.V.Chelvanayagam, the leader of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Federal Party). Later, on 9 April 1958, saffron robed Buddhist clergies and Sinhalese chauvinists, assembled in front of his private residence, and agitated against the any implementation of the Banda-Chelva Pact. Bandaranaike, with the view to appease the Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinists, unilaterally tore and canceled the agreement.
Again, before and during the July 1960, parliamentary general elections, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by Srimavo Bandaranaike, the mother of the present President, agreed to implement Banda-Chelva Pact, if Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi support them in parliament to topple the minority government led by Dudley Senanayake. They also requested the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, to campaign in the general elections, on behalf of their candidates, to muster the support of Tamil voters, who lived in the midst of the predominantly Sinhala populated constituencies. Once Srimavo Banadaranaike was ensconced in power, she dishonored her pledge.
Once again, in April 1961, she was the first leader to deploy armed forces to the North and Eastern provinces, to quell the Satyagrahis - the Tamil pacifist resistance campaigners. Tamil Satyagrahis were brutally attacked by the Government soldiers. Tamil members of Parliament were arrested and indefinitely detained at the army camp at Panagoda. She dispensed with the civil administration in the Jaffna district and appointed Major A. Richard Udugama (later Major general) of the Sinha Regiment, as the chief administrator of the district.
Following the footsteps of her father and mother, in 1995, the present President purposely dilly-dallied the negotiations with the LTTE and was instrumental to bring the negotiations to grinding halt. Subsequently, she proclaimed her two point program, "War for peace" and the so called "Devolution Package," as panacea for the ethnic conflict. It was a heart wrenching story of continuous disappointments, deception, deceit and untrustworthiness, as far as doing politics with Banadaranaikes, who had continuously dishonored their pledges to the Tamils.
Keeping in mind the past bitter experiences, LTTE insists on a guarantee for any future agreement they may enter with the Government. Recently, several ministers, have begun to make supererogatory and preposterous statements, contradicting the very essence of the public declaration made by the President. Anuruddhe Ratwatte, the deputy minister of defence berated
"Our president began to talk to the LTTE with an open mind in 1995, to bring about peace and unity in this country, but the talks collapsed, when they suddenly attacked ships in Trincomalee, and now, the Government is determined to build peace after wiping out terrorism."
Deputy Defence Minister's twaddle of a military solution is a conflicting scenario, that negates the earnestness of the President's appeal. In another development, a section of the saffron robed Buddhist monks, went on a procession in Colombo, demanding the government to fight the LTTE to the end and bring about a military solution to the ethnic conflict.
In the meantime, Norway, one of the Scandinavian countries, a season peace-brokering campaigner, has come forward to explore possibilities of bringing the warring parties to the negotiation table. Norway, a country with four million populations, already won a role as a successful peace-broker, when it hosted numerous secret meetings in 1993, between Israelis and Palestine Liberation Organization, that subsequently led to the historic Oslo Peace Accord.
Recently Norwegian Foreign ministry officials were in Colombo, meeting political leaders, reviewing the chances of facilitating a dialogue with the warring and aggrieved parties. Government, it is learnt, has insisted that any negotiation to end the ethnic conflict, have to be based on its constitutional proposals, co- authored by the People Alliance and late Neelan Tiruchelvam.
The constitutional proposals put forward by the PA Government, embodying the devolution package, is simply rubbish. It is designed to impose a Sinahalese solution, to end the conflict. Also, the constitutional reform package is an appendage of the Sinhalese chauvinistic hegemony over the Tamils. It is unfortunate, despite the protracted war for Tamil Eelam, the Sinhalese leaderships have failed to discern the thinking of the Tamils and comes to terms with them. Their colonial mentality, their loudly proclaimed racial discrimination against the Tamils, their blunt rejection of Tamils' claim of nationhood, equality and honour, actually brought about the long-drawn out ethnic conflict and turmoil.
Tamils are of the view that, devolution and provincial council arrangements would not in anyway satisfy their need for a distinct nationhood. They also feel that, it falls far short of their sacred right of self determination. Tamils consider that the proposals embodied in the constitutional reform package, would not in anyway be an alternative to their struggle for a separate state of Tamil Eelam.
Therefore, the Government has to get rid of its original proposal and openly come forward to negotiate with the leaders of the Tamil Tigers to search for an acceptable resolution to bring about sustainable peace. The unending search for peace has to be initiated with open mind and heart, both by the Tigers, as well as the Government.
Norwegian officials and it's Government have to be thanked, for coming forward to review the possibilities of brining in peace. Also, they have to be remembered of the complexities of the issues involved, to enable them to focus positively their attention on their mediatory role. It is not an issue concerning Sri Lanka - a single unitary state, as portrayed by the Government, but it is a conflict between two nations, who lives in a geo-political enforced entity, called today, Sri Lanka. Therefore, a permanent solution has to found to allow the two nations, the Tamils and the Sinhlaese to -
1. Co-exist together with peace, honour and dignity - or else
2. To exist separately, but peacefully.
Therefore, pursuit of peace is the noblest thing one ever could go any far. Search for peace should not end and parties should be courageous and bold enough to compromise for the sake of peace. Peace too is a battle, that has to be won at the negotiation table, without declaring any party as victor or vanquish. Once Peace is declared the winner, enmity, mistrusts, hatred and superiority complex have to slip out of the back door.