Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Dutugemunu in war should remain Dutugemunu in peace

The question posed by Groundviews, “What is the most important issue facing the peoples of Sri Lanka in a ‘post-LTTE’ context and how can the State address it?” is very complex. It is hard to answer it succinctly as requested. Besides ‘post LTTE’ is a debatable presumption and limiting the focus of addressing it to the State, appears to exclude the principal actors, the People, from the dramatis personae. Finding an issue in the singular is difficult in a scenario in which both political and economic issues are equally important.

Be magnanimous
The motive power behind the war against the LTTE was the ‘Dutugemunu’ frame of mind. I believe that the most productive response to the emerging situation is that the State that played Dutugemunu in war should remain Dutugemunu in peace. The Mahavansa records the magnanimity of King Dutugemunu to Elara whom he vanquished in battle. The honour accorded to Elara at his funeral and the royal decree forbidding mounted riding past his mausoleum, built inside a proclaimed silence zone, reflect values that have been infused into the Sinhala bloodstream over the centuries. The State can do no better than living up to such values eschewing triumphalism. That should set the stage for a peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict.

It is unpleasant to hear some of our leading politicians referring to Prabhakaran in disparaging terms as he is supposedly nearing his end. Lighting of crackers at the end of a successful battle is in the same un-Sinhala tenor. Whatever his faults, limitations and mistakes may have been, Prabhakaran has stood up for his people as much as Keppetipola, Gongalegoda Banda and Veera Puran Appu stood up for the Sinhalese in their hour of need. All these heroes deserve equal admiration for their self sacrifice in rising to the occasion when they believed that their people were imperiled. Their orientation or their ultimate defeat is beside the point.

Be courageous and determined
In short what the State can do for the Tamils, for that matter, for all the minorities, after the war, is to ensure that they are given their due place in society so that they may live with dignity and self respect with the same rights, liberties and privileges enjoyed by the majority. That can happen only if the President is large-hearted enough to remain Dutugemunu after the war. Judging from the lukewarm manner in which the APRC has been staggering over the last several years, some are doubtful whether the State has the guts to steer clear of the obstacles that are likely to be placed in the way of achieving that goal.

But if the Head of State can marshal the same courage and determination with which he fought the war in the face of all odds and tremendous international pressure, he may be trusted to lay the foundation stone for a free and equal post-war Sri Lanka, provided he has the will to do so. This trust is redoubled by the views on the aftermath of the war expressed by the duo that spearheaded the military campaign for the President, the Army Commander and the Defence Secretary. They have always insisted that victory in the battlefield should be followed by national reconciliation, if there is to be a lasting peace.

Optimism is further enhanced by Victor Ivan’s observation (Island, 02.04.08) that the main ingredients of the package of reparations for the Tamils has already been written into JR’s otherwise Bahubootha Constitution.

“While the Sinhala Language continues to be the Official language (Section 18) both Sinhala and Tamil languages were accepted as National languages (Section 19). This is a deviation from the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy which was part of government policy since 1956. The right to be educated in any of the national languages was ensured (Section 21 – 1). In the event a certain course in the university is conducted only in one language, the right is ensured for a person who entered the University from the other language stream to continue education in the University in his own national language (Section 21 -2). The right is also ensured for the people of North and East to communicate with officials in the national language used for administrative purposes. (Section 21 -3).

Constitutional validity was given to the regulations approved under the Tamil languages (Special Provisions) Act No. 28 of 1958 by including them in the Constitution. The right to use a language of one’s choice was ensured in Section 14 (1) (f). By section 27 (b), it was accepted as a state policy that no citizens should face any difficulty due to language. By Section 25, it was declared a government responsibility to provide adequate facilities for the use of a language as stipulated in the constitution. The provisions stipulated in the Constitution regarding fundamental rights was even more important to minorities. Seeking relief from the judiciary in the event of a breach of a right was assured by this provision.”

Pick up the lost thread
Victor Ivan also points out that at the end of the All Party Conference summoned by JR after the Riots, in 1984, the then Tamil leaders had agreed to a reconciliation package including amalgamation of districts and land administration. When this package was about to be written into the law, the Tamil leaders unexpectedly backed out of the agreement, presumably under duress. Tamil youths had by then resorted to violence. Now that the possibility of intimidation is no longer a serious factor to reckon with, the State may resume the dialogue from where it was interrupted.

However it has to be appreciated that the theater in which the dialogue has to be resumed is not identical to what JR had to deal with. On the Sinhala side protagonists are more assertive than under JR’s dictatorial rule. What disturbs those concerned with the ongoing moves to resolve the national crisis is that Sinhala ‘chauvinists’ would upset the apple cart. Already there are rumblings from the ultra-nationalist sector that the Government is giving in too much to the Tamils. Surmounting this roadblock calls for tremendous tact and courage. In the ultimate analysis national reconciliation will depend on the capacity of the President to overcome this challenge.

This does not mean that the Government should rush forward blindfolded, reckless about possible consequences. Some dissenting voices come from learned lawyers and other professionals whose views have to be given due consideration. They cannot be brushed aside as mere ‘Sinhalese Chauvinists’. They may in their wisdom envisage certain dangers in the path to reconciliation. Even if their anti-thesis is not accepted, it has to be examined and suitable safeguards found to counteract the feared pitfalls, subject to the imperative condition that safeguards do not violate the legitimate rights of the minorities.

Present Tamil leadership is not the same that JR had to face. It has been decimated and neutralized through decades of violence. The leaders that remain do not command universal acceptance. Some have been overshadowed by their opposition to terrorism which has been the order of the day for most Tamils so far. Others have ruined their reputation through their own acts of omission and commission. Those who posed themselves as the leaders of the Tamils by proxy would naturally fade away with the civil war. The greatest need of the hour for the Tamils is to find their leadership. The Tamil Diaspora has a duty to help fill this gap. In that context the present dialogue their representatives are engaged in with the Government is a most welcome development

Act promptly
Time is of the greatest essence at this moment. Understandably the Tamils are shocked and disappointed with the collapse of the LTTE regime which was intuitively a tower of strength and a ray of hope to most of them. Quick action is needed to win them over to an alternative that would satisfy them as a genuine and positive course of action leading to their amelioration. Dilly dallying on committees and conferences will not work at this hour. In this sense, implementing the Thirteenth Amendment appears to be a first step in the right direction as it is already in place. May be no party agrees unreservedly with this move. Only it happens to be a move that no one would seriously oppose.

However it is important that the Amendment is implemented in full and in real earnest. It has been already diluted by power greedy politicians in order 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. 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.

Allow time to heal
Future developments will depend largely on the mood of the people. Judging from the results of surveys conducted by the CPA there already appears to be a growing tendency on the part of the majority to accommodate the political rights of minorities. It is a long term responsibility of the State to nurture this trend, mainly through conducive policies of education.

Multi-stream schools aught to be the order of the future. They should be encouraged to create opportunities for children of all communities to come together socially. Formation of interactive structures in schools would go a long way to achieve this objective. Where schools are limited to a single stream by necessity, the merging has to be realized through visits, educational tours, competitions and exchanges of students etc. Segregationist education policies followed in the past are mainly responsible for the present alienation among communities.

Perhaps it is too early in the day to visualize the way ahead of the Thirteenth Amendment. Besides conjecturing on further moves at this stage may be counter-productive. 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 an inclusive 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.

What Next?
This submission is in response to a question posed by Groundviews posed here that asked readers to opine on a war ‘over in 3 weeks’ and a ‘post-LTTE’ Sri Lanka. Please visit this original post to read a rich spectrum of opinion and commentary on the nature of post-war Sri Lanka.