[Editors’ note: An edited version of this article appeared in the Daily Mirror today.]
“The existing constitution is more than enough for us to live together. I don’t think there is any issue on this more than that.
“I mean this was given as a solution for the whole thing with the discussion of these people. I mean now the LTTE is gone, I don’t think there is any requirement.
“I mean what can you do more than this? … Devolution wise I think we have done enough, I don’t think there is a necessity to go beyond that.”
Thus spake the Defence Secretary to the Indian media organ Headlines Today. The significance of these remarks lies in their utterance by arguably the most powerful man in the country on the most important issue facing the country, if it is to move from a post-war to a post – conflict situation.
Gotabaya Rajapaksha is the secretary to a ministry. Ministry secretaries are not supposed to pronounce on policy in public. Moreover, in this instance, the pronouncements of this Mr Rajapaksha are at variance with those of another Mr Rajapaksha who happens to be his minister and the President of the Republic. In another era and in this country, Secretary Rajapaksha would be sent packing for stepping so egregiously out of line. This Mr Rajapaksha however is different. He is a key member of the brotherhood that runs the country and the key architect of the military victory that has brought about the post-war situation. I have called for his resignation or sacking on more than one occasion. This is yet another.
The propriety of his pronouncements notwithstanding, Mr Rajapaksha has provided a candid and authoritative insight into the mindset of the regime. He has confirmed what some of us have always suspected and in this respect, his pronouncements serve as a catalyst for honest appraisal of the prospects for a post conflict Sri Lanka. Explicit reiteration of his opposition to the devolution of land and police powers to the provinces, would have settled the matter beyond doubt and dispute. However when he says, “I mean what can you do more than this? Devolution wise we have done enough, I don’t think there is a necessity for us to go beyond that”, he is defending the prevailing status quo – Thirteenth Amendment Minus. Is there any reason to assume that the parliamentary select committee will not come to the same conclusion?
By digging in its heels, the regime poses a serious challenge to Tamil and Muslim political representation in acquiescing or rejecting the current constitutional dispensation. The TNA in particular has to think about what it can and should do when the parliamentary select committee reaches its foregone conclusion. Likewise, Delhi, which has consistently called for a political settlement. The key factor here could be Tamil Nadu and the extent to which Jeyalalitha’s interest in Sri Lanka and importance to the ruling coalition parallels and outlasts the playing out of the select committee charade in Colombo and the announcement of its foregone conclusion. The satisfaction of Indian economic interests by Colombo is yet another factor which could defuse any pressure regarding a political settlement.
Countering Indian and Western pressure through Chinese protection and loans, the Rajapaksha regime believes it can get away with it – military victory trumping political settlement, its brand of economic development blunting political grievances and aspirations. On a political settlement it intends to be unyielding – the farcical placating of sections of international opinion aside; on human rights and war crimes accountability that allegedly reach into the very heart of the regime, it will engage to combat.
The glitzy launch of the Defence Ministry’s film and report “Lies Agreed Upon” is an illustration of the latter. Whilst not explicitly presented as such, the Defence Ministry productions are a response to the Panel Report and Channel Four. The objective, one would have thought, was to lay the allegations to rest to the extent possible, rather than sustain the controversy. Both the Ministry Report and film, however, preach to the converted. The overwhelming objective is to establish how horrendous and horrific the LTTE were. Only a very selective reading of the Panel Report and Channel Four would conclude that they need convincing or disagree on the LTTE. In both cases the LTTE too is accused of war crimes.
Much has been made of the admission that there were civilian casualties – despite the incredible denials of the past. There is no mention of the murder of the 17 ACF workers or of the alleged attacks on hospitals. In the film, allegations are refuted through the five doctors who, maintaining that they were subjected to LTTE intimidation, retracted what they said during the war in a subsequent press conference. Tamilchlevam’s widow is interviewed along with George Master and a number of ex-LTTE female cadres who pay tribute to the way in which they have been treated by the forces. Whilst Karuna was in the audience, one waited in vain to see KP on screen.
The Rajapaksha regime seems unable to grasp the challenge and promise of reconciliation and unity, of moving from post-war to post –conflict. Most disturbing, it doesn’t seem to care.
Gotabaya has spoken and it looks like we are going back to the future.