Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Misconceptions that prolong our ethnic conflict

There is no doubt that our ethnic conflict is the worst scourge that has bedeviled this nation since Independence. An incisive and objective look at the calamity would reveal that it is being prolonged by misconceptions born of prejudice, parochialism and rivalry.

Perhaps the initial mis-concept is the impulsive assumption that the conflict has to be settled by a grant of concessions from one sector of the nation to another. There can be no ‘grantors’ or ‘grantees’ among ethnic groups in a nation. Once a community is inside, it should automatically be entitled to all privileges of citizenship. These privileges are inbuilt and non-negotiable. What is negotiable is only synchronization of interests.

In the national context, fundamental rights do not depend on numbers. Claims of a community with lesser numbers are identical with those of another with larger numbers, for these claims are acquired by birth and not by force of numbers. Each community should respect the others irrespective of the strength or the weakness of their respective numbers. It is not implied that this ideal standard is universally observed but wherever it was undermined, discord, degeneration and ruin has been the inevitable result.

Vote-catching Tactics
Equality of citizenship was more evident in the pre-independence era. Leaders of all communities fought side by side on an equal footing to wrest power from the colonial masters. In the wake of liberation from colonialism, came government based on franchise and national leaders had to depend on votes for their survival. Communalism became a ready tool of vote-catching and leaders of all communities stooped to it to conquer. Language, history and numbers became the handiest weapons of the rat race.

Despite bitter experiences of the past, Muslim leadership had the sagacity and the vision to keep to a non-collision course, thereby enhancing the prospects of their followers. The dispute between Sinhala and Tamil leaders deteriorated progressively, prompted by extremists on both sides, seemingly despite their own better judgement. The net result of that trend is the war that has raged for the last two and half decades, causing untold hardship, destruction and death to both sides.

No rational mind can tolerate terrorism as a means of resolution. At the same time reason demands that the causes that lead to such travesty be investigated dispassionately and corrective action taken. It is presumed that the on-going APRC is an attempt to address that imperative. The honesty of that attempt has to reflect itself in the speed and productivity of its search, both of which manifestations have been unfortunately, absent so far.

It is also axiomatic that the search has to be made jointly by all stake-holders. In this context, it is regrettable that the most affected party to the conflict is not among those present in the APRC. The Prince of Denmark is shut out of ‘Hamlet’! The possibility that the overt representatives of the most affected are restrained by insidious forces, cannot be ruled out either. Some of those invited to the talks have been playing hide-and-seek to serve their own agendas.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, not only in conventional politics, but also in revolutionary interventions. There is the human tendency to get power-drunk even in that sphere. Such endeavours may have commenced with lofty motives but there comes a stage when their leaders would reject the most pragmatic solution to their problem. That happens after such a leader has been deified and the solution could cost his ‘divinity’.

Grantor-Grantee Syndrome
Be that as it may, the recent declaration that the solution to the ethnic conflict would be announced only after the LTTE has been defeated, raises certain disturbing issues, in addition to the uncertainty when that happy day would arrive. It unwittingly connects the solution with the LTTE and impliedly credits relevance to them. Why was there no solution before the LTTE was born? How could the existence or the predation of that group be conditional to the just aspirations of the Tamils?

More disturbingly, the declaration highlights the ‘Grantor-Grantee Syndrome’ mentioned at the beginning of this exercise. Logically even the head of state cannot be a ‘giver’ of inherent rights. He is only the referee. He has no side. His duty is to see that the ethnic problem is resolved fairly and expeditiously by consensus and announce the result at the earliest opportunity. Such announcement need not await the demise of a party alien to the process of resolution.

The declaration has a humiliating aspect as well. It is tantamount to saying, “You get the bone when you stop barking”. Irrespective of the infradig implications of the promise, it would appear to be unsound strategy pragmatically, for giving the bone to begin with would automatically stop the barking!

Penelope’s Web
It has been often asserted that the LTTE could not be eliminated as long as they retain the sympathy of the Tamils. Even their defeat militarily could not eradicate the threat until they lose their relevance to the Tamil cause. In that sense, announcement of a package of ethnic resolution acceptable to the average Tamil would be more deadly to the LTTE than all the weaponry of the armed forces put together. Such announcement would also put an end to the international rumbling that is embarrassing the on-going war effort of the government.

Let us pray that the Guardian Angels of this Nation grant our leaders the wisdom to complete the Penelope’s Web of the APRC Package without further procrastination and exhibit the product with due expedition. It would be tactical to do so while its possible detractors are still under the spell of Pooneryn.