Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Politics and Governance

Hurry Up and Go Slowly

When we were being initiated to English under the Free Education Scheme, our teacher used to ask us to, “Hurry up and go slowly.” This command made us laugh, for by then we knew enough English to see the seeming paradox.

Sixty years later, I do not laugh at the words any more. I see their wisdom particularly in relation to the resolution of our ethnic conflict. They seem to indicate the way to put an end to this cancerous problem.

“Hurry up” implies urgency, commitment and absence of prevarication. The ethnic problem has dragged on for 60 years after independence and there has never been a dedicated commitment to resolve it. Dilly dallying has always been the order of the day. Wisdom demands that all stake-holders assume a genuine sense of immediacy to put an end to the awful dispute.

“Go” is a command to start immediately. On record we have started more than eight decades ago but really we are still where we started, if not even further behind. If commissions, committees, conferences, seminars, debates and draft bills mean anything, our ‘make-believe’ of ‘going’ may be unparalleled in history. Wisdom demands that we start without humbugging.

“Slowly” denotes circumspection, patience, and foresight. We have to see all around us, be patient enough to respect opposite views and be mindful of the consequences of our actions. That is just what we have failed to do all these years. Most of the time we have been bogged down in emotive words like ‘federal’, ‘unitary’, ‘patriotism’ and ‘sole representative’. Words have been the bane of our life.

Upatissa who later became the Chief Disciple of Lord Buddha under the name of ‘Sariputta’, met Rev. Assajee, a Buddhist monk once and inquired from him as to what the Buddha taught. On being told that it was a vast subject, Sariputta-to-be remarked “attheneva me attho. kin kahasi vyanjanan bahun” (I need only the essence. Of what use is a cacophony of words?)

Unfortunately, most of us who hold Arahat Sariputta in utmost reverence do not appear to follow his words of wisdom in practice. If we did we would have made much headway with our ethnic problem by now.

The UNP appears to have seen some wisdom in these words, when they removed the word ‘federal’ from their political vocabulary. Although they have been maligned as deceitful ‘turn-coats’ when they did this, it has to be appreciated that it is the jettisoning of that word that has brought them closer to a consensus. Imaginably and hopefully, the jettisoning does not affect what they want to do for the minorities.

Going slow also implies gradual progress in the correct direction, a ‘step by step’ approach. We have always wanted to take quantum leaps but tarried at the very beginning, due to controversies about the final destination. This reminds one of the nervous driver who does not start his car because he is worried about crossing the Maradana Junction.

Controversy is not a dirty word. It helps in the clarification of issues and the choice of options and brings about equilibrium. In that sense, we have to be thankful to rivals on both sides of the ethnic ‘tug-of-war’. If not for the force of their pull, the rope would have been snatched away to one side or the other long ago.

Political leaders should be astute enough to act at the point the marker on the rope comes to the ‘nadu center’, as the Tamils call it. One occasion it was at the ‘nadu center’ was when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed.

It is foolish to idle because the ideal is not possible. We can only achieve the optimum practicable at any point in time depending on the balance of forces currently operative. In this sense, the President’s declared move to implement the Thirteenth Amendment appears to be a first step in the right direction. May be no party agrees unreservedly to this move. Only it happens to be a move that no one would seriously oppose.

In fact it is a step backwards for we are supposed to have taken it 20 years ago. Nevertheless it would be a step forward in the sense that we have been going backwards since the Amendment. However it is important that the Amendment is implemented in full and in real earnest for it has been since diluted mostly by the greed of politicians in power to expand their ‘empires’ and the misguided priorities of the national budget.

To think that implementing the Thirteenth Amendment is the end of the race would be deceiving oneself for want of a sense of history. The sincerity with which the Amendment is implemented should generate greater trust among the communities which in turn would doubtlessly make the stake-holders more amenable to greater consensus on further progress.

‘Go’ also demands that we move forward on a time frame that would be practicable after the successful implementation of the Amendment. In the light of past experience the next possible optimum move appears to be the adoption of the Draft Constitution of 2000 or an improved version of it made possible by the ‘breaking of the ice’ by the previous move.

Perhaps it is too early in the day to visualize where we ‘go’ after implementing the Thirteenth Amendment on which we are already focused. Besides conjecturing on further moves at this stage faces the danger of initiating another controversy that would hold back even the promised ‘small mercy’. Let us not upset the hornets’ nests within sight of the Sigiri frescos. Our destination is the top of the rock.

Let us get ourselves going now and cross bridges when we come to them. It may well be that none of us living today would come to the last bridge. It would be crossed by our progeny who by then would have developed a mind-set capable of crossing the bridge with ease. They will make decisions on the dictates of their own social and intellectual environment. It is dogmatic and futile to dictate terms to future generations on the strength of existing power bases.

This does not mean that we do not have a role to play. Our obligation is to develop policies that would facilitate the crossing, not to mention the avoidance of false steps that would vitiate the atmosphere and embarrass a final resolution.

It is also important to realize that we do not have the status to dictate to the powers that would preside over the destiny of a future electorate that would carry the baby beyond the reform within our sight. That electorate would be influenced in their choice by the imperatives of their own environment.

Our immediate task then, is to ‘hurry up’ with the Thirteenth Amendment. That happens to be the most pragmatic move immediately possible. Then we must ‘go slowly’, but progressively, step by step, towards a harmonious, integrated and equitable Sri Lanka with honesty of purpose and commitment.

We have also to make way for those coming after us by removing road-blocks and implementing conducive and proactive policies that would facilitate them to progressively make optimum decisions towards the ideal. Even after ten Prabhakarans, Peace will not dawn on us until the system makes it possible for every citizen to share and share alike the bounteous legacy of this land.

  • Political problems can be resolved only with the help of political experts, neither by military warfare nor state terrorism. Any logical and pragmatic political solution to the problem in the North East(NE) can never be found because of the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka(SL), though wearing robes, have become neither clergy nor politicians.

    Yesterday, the “Mahanayake of Asgiriya Chapter” spoke against terrorism but never mentioned of prevailing state terror. State terror, though earlier in the NE is now at his door step in the South. Also yesterday, JVP warned the government for “state terrorism” against its political supporters.

    The difference between politics in the NE and the South is that in the South, contrary to civilised political and spiritual norms all over the world, the Buddhist clergy make political pronouncements. But in the NE, Hindu, Christian and Muslim priests do not rightly make political pronouncements.

    The curriculum of Buddhist priests does not include political Science, let alone Social Science. Yet in SL, they are “heavy weights” in politics in the South idiotising masses, making them neither political nor spiritual. Though Buddhism requires the denial of desires, the monks desire politics too much ending up even in the legislature.

    The political party leaders go on their bended knees to please the monks. Mahinda goes even on his belly. The South is in a messy political situation because of this. Even the war in the NE is because of the continuous fingering of monks in political and miltary decisions from the 1950’s. They even spoilt SWRD Bandaranayake with the devil inside of them and misled him to Sinhalised politics. A monk finally gunned SWRD down showing to the whole world that they are a vicious lot.

    Since then, there is a curse to politics in SL from this brand of monks. They rarely speak wisdom, thinking of the welfare of ALL the citizens in the island. Instead, their concern is about Sinhala Buddhists only.

    Although, Buddhism advocates non violence and non killing, the pronouncents by the Buddhist monks from the top to bottom have a hidden intent to kill Tamils, exterminate them and take control of NE; which is genocidal and criminal.

    The world community should have banned the import of this killer Buddhist cult philosophy into their countries long ago and imposed travel ban to selected “loud speakers” of genocide.

    A separate independent state of Eelam would be inevitable, unless the Buddhist monks in SL are made to “shut their gap” on political matters.

  • When Human Rights are grossly violated or crimes against humanity are perpetrated, civilised countries, valuing human life, take punitive action against the offending state. But when genocide is carried out, the UN is bound to act based on the 1948 UN convention on Genocide. This happened in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

    Radovan Karadzic,the Bosnian President during 1992-1993 war, fought to take Sarajevo and link it to Serbia. Water and power were cut off and the people lived on scarce food. Bombs and grenades rained Sarajevo daily. Bosnian civians were killed. Along with his military commander Ratko Mladic, Karadzic now faces charges of genocide over the Sarjevo siege.

    Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan President, is fighting a war to take over Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu and link to Colmbo. Medical, fuel and food supplies to the areas are cut off. The Government Agent for the area is moved out.

    At least 12,000 families, mainly with women and children have left; unwillingly leaving behind the sick, the blind, the maimed and the handicapped. Their animals are left without food.

    Surely, this is “Collective Punishment” by the GOSL for the political belief of Tamils to achieve self rule. It is a war crime. Each of the 12,000 is a Collectively Punished Person (CPP). The UN and the International Community should recognise them as such. The term IDP does not clearly denote who they really are.

    The Serbians viewed Bosnians as property less than human and so do the Sinhalese view the Tamils.

    Therefore, upto this stage, every act of the siege of Kilinochchi stinks exactly like the siege of Sarajevo.

    The only thing left is for the GOSL to rain bombs, grenades and shells at Kilinochchi daily, kill Tamil civilians and destry their property. With that Mahinda Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka would more than qualify to face charges of genocide in the Hague. And Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese would be disgraced and humiliated internationally like Serbia and the Serbians.

    Mahinda Rajapakse started the war as “war on terrorism”. But the bombings and shellings of his armed forces killed many civilians, destroyed their property and displaced many. Now the war has changed into State Terror on Tamil civilians, collective punishment and genocide. But still he calls the war “war on terror” to cover up his genocidal acts and hoodwink the world.

    The UN and the International Community are normally slow to act on genocide. The trouble is that it takes a long time for the west to identify and name it. The presidents of USA stopped short of calling the killings as Genocide when it started in 1990 in Bosnia, in 1994 in Rwanda and in 2004 in Darfur.

    The west should stop acting as those who only record the history of genocide. Instead, they should learn to prevent it by taking timely and appropriate action under the 1948 UN convention on Genocide.