Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Designing democracy: A post-Prabhakaran future

Was/is he an ethnonational liberation fighter, an egocentric megalomaniac or an unschooled political protagonist? Depending on the perspectives they would prefer to take, concerned future historians will struggle to pigeon hole Veluppilai Pirapaharan. Whatever the analysis, anarchist ideology, neo-Marxist categorization or a Minority Nation Rights discourse, he is sure to be mentioned in a very special place in post independent political history of Sri Lanka. Sokoloff (2000) argues history as an intended social signature of the contemporary elites. Then, the ownership of placing Praba in modern politics of Sri Lanka does not rest with the remaining Thamil separatists or their Diaspora imaginations in any significant manner. Because the double faced dichotomies of the international politics has decided that it is the Sinhala South and their political capitalists who are capable of deciding the future and delivering the desired political ransom in the regional super hunt for a subservient and spent state willing to deliver sovereignty like a takeaway pizza meal. Sri Lanka has undoubtedly benefited from the power struggle of moving paradigms between the western ‘democracies’ and eastern emerging powers. New eastern masters of Sri Lanka have helped recast the nationalist sentiments delicately and managed to cover the demand their political price. So for the harsh reality of this ‘Eastern Hegemony’ has not bitten the Jaathika Chinthanaya of political grand children of Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara or Dr Nalin de Silva. The blue jeans Sinhala neo-nationalist generation represented by Malinda Seneviratna, is too busy constructing a social mythology over the military victory, perhaps they have shelved this concern for a post-retirement project. Given the nature of the stubborn fundamentals of the neo-conservative world order that is unable to cover their blood thirsty greed even at a Obama led G8 summit, how can states like Sri Lanka with strategic geo-political endowments could attempt to survive the regional predators like India and China and deliver the social contract to nations within her in a post conflict condition?

This essay is a very brief outline, how designing a citizen owned democracy could minimize the possibility of the past revisiting us with a vengeance and protect the remaining democratic nuances of a fragile state like motherland Sri Lanka.

13 – The Omen?
President Rajapakse has always been a clever politician at confusing communications. There are conflicting reports that emerges out of the communication cults around him. Internationally placed propagandists in Geneva, after their historical defense of a war for greater ‘Human Rights’ have recently transformed as peace angels and argued for the immediate implementations of the 13 amendment to the SL constitution that came after the (in)famous JRJ Rajiv Indo-Lanka Accord. Then in the same night, Wimal Weerawanse now a commercial joke between ITN political cartoons came out and denied that desire. In the following morning Champion Champika Ranawaka wrote to the president that JHU is opposed to any attempt of 13. A cool President satisfying all elements within and without responded with a request for a second term and a greater mandate before he considered any devolution debates. Perhaps this may well result in a bigger fuel allowance for Prof. Tissa Vithana, for his 200 + AP musical chair meetings. But does any of these tamashas capable of harvesting the historical political juncture that the state has now arrived at? Can SL imagine transforming as two (or more) distinctly different nations desiring to live with dignity and prosperity? Donald Horawitz, a guru of mega researchers on democracy wrote:

‘’if the short run is so problematical, if the constraints on policy innovation are many, if even grand statements need patchwork readjustment, perhaps it is a mistake to seek accommodation among the antagonists. If it is impossible for groups to live together in a heterogeneous state, perhaps it is better for them to live apart in more than one homogeneous state, even if this necessitates population transfers. Separating the antagonists—partition—is an option increasingly recommended for consideration where groups are territorially concentrated’’ (1985:588)

But that was 16 years before 9/11. The (liberal?) West has transformed since then. It has revalued its liberal stance to the point, where a labour government in the most vibrant parliamentary democracy will send troops to invade a sovereign nation and will justify the same for the next decade or so. Today there is no question; there will be no support from the West for any separatist armed group, however promising they are for the global/western agenda. Because it is not the cold war bi polar positions but a unipolar stand to guard the shared military and economic interests: The fundamental IR lesson LTTE refused to learn. In the new paradigm, only a citizen owned democracy or at least a display of desire of the same is the least common pedagogy that will validate and advance the political agenda of any peripheral nation and their self rule aspiration. In this regards the GOSL has successfully maintained and marketed that the war against the LTTE was/is indeed a war for greater democracy. A clear reflection of this neo-governmentality came from an otherwise moderate Dr Sarath Amunugam at a recent discussion at the University of Oxford.

…democracy cannot grow in an anti-democratic terrain, The LTTE in its 30 years of war displayed abysmal disregards to democratic values which in (re)turn made the GOSL undemocratic. So terminating the LTTE was the prerequisite for a democratic development in SL which the Rajapakse rule has now achieved

What Amunugama meant by democracy or who define the same remained unexplained. But my friend: life scientist, Dr Himesh Fernando a Sinhala-Buddhist from Matara who studied at Cambridge and now researching at Oxford with all his western democratic experience (after a second pint) explained:

Democracy needed in SL is not what we witness in the west. Because it is not suitable for us! The western liberal system where freedom of speech and equality of human rights are paramount is a mistake and cannot fit a ‘’developing’’ country like ours.

My take away lesson from that meeting was disappointingly simple. I presume we define democracy in an ethno-political sense. Those of us who wish that the British government treat us with dignity and consider repaying for their colonial history in the same breath believe fair play is a too expensive game. Can the reverse of this ‘home grown’ democracy argument also be true? Not that a western type of democracy is unsuitable for us in SL but we are unworthy for a very liberal democracy? Then why should we consider Thamil rights beyond a victor’s justice? Can the present rhetoric and once failed 13th amendments be a new beginning? I argue given certain conditionalities it could be.

Barriers to Accommodation
In India (Kadian 1990, Hagerty 1991), Sri Lanka (Gunaratna 1993, Loganathan 1996, Senaratne 1997) and elsewhere, (Pfaffenberger 1988, Bullion 1994) enough has been written to analyze the birth and the political death of the 13th amendment and Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) as its surrogate mother. Yet the 13th a. – in its original form and spirit within a realpolitik context still offers the least common denomination for a democratic shared rule between the Sinhala and Thamil nations and other social identities. I see this for the following reasons.

  1. It is a product of India – the sole protagonist/catalyst of the historic Thamil separatist ideology as much as its current defeat( and any future politics of SL)
  2. The accord was written and imposed for the greater benefit of the Indian super power interest, a fact that the West has come to agree with and will be a governing factor in all future regional politics. (see the point 2 of annexed letter between JRJ and Rajiv)
  3. It assures that SL is a unitary yet a multi/pluri national state (see1.2). A healthy compromise between the Sinhala majoritarian hegemony and an ethnonational Thamil separatist ideology.
  4. The Accord recognizes the Thamil Nation as a distinct political identity in SL, which provides the space for political and culture independence and internal self determination (1.3)
  5. It affirms the merged North and East as the historical habitat of the Thamils and argues for a self rule within: the core political desire of the Thamils (2.1)
  6. Further, it paves the way to regionalize the rest of Sri Lanka for a greater accountability and civic rule by transparent democratic accountability.

Of course the ILA is not the best or final stage of a negotiated political settlement. It is in many aspects, the beginning of a long road.

But these are the same political realities emerging as barriers to accommodation from a Sinhala majoritarian analysis (Hennayake 1989). For a greater part, the political contest in Sri Lanka as argued by Prof R. A. L. Gunawardene and Prof Uyangoda is result of the ‘Minority mindset of the majoritarian Sinhalas’. Their painful memories of the invading and colonizing past, fear of the future, limitation of the global and regional ethnic identity, placed in a small island, all these prevent the Sinhalas to imagine any non-Sinhala identity as equal or legitimate. The repeatedly reproduced Mahavamsika mind frame which justifies the killing of Demalas as a non event because they were neither Buddhist nor Sinhalas is still a fundamental conceptual frame of analysis of the non-Sinhala identity discourse. The vivid narrative in Mahavamsa explains how King Dutta Gamini over powered thirty odd Damila kings and finally killing and burning Elara with sixty thousand men, later ruled Lanka as a ‘single sovereignty’ (Chap. 25:74-78). The king who was enjoying all the royal comfort still regretful of killing a vase number (millions chp.25:108?) was met by eight Arahants from Piyangudipa who comforted the king

‘From this deed arises no hindrance in thy way to heaven.
Only one and a half human beings have been slain here by
thee, O lord of men. The one had come unto the (three)
refuges, the other had taken on himself the five precepts.
Unbelievers and men of evil life were the rest, not more to be
esteemed than beasts. But as for thee, thou wilt bring glory to
the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold ways ; therefore cast
away care from thy heart, O ruler of men ! (Chapter 25:109-111)

Like all post independent power- sharing projects, the current opportunity and the desire (or lack of it) needs to honestly face and rise above this historical attitude whether it reiterates from the JHU or from president’s own PA. What one has so far not witnessed is the serious, convincing attempt taken towards fulfilling this historical mandate. Instead, the post war polity has gravitated around greater militarization (with 100,000 more recruits) and establishing of SLA command posts in the northeast. The argument of finishing with the remaining Tigers and clearing land mines and make ‘suitable conditions’ for the return is failing to convince any one beyond the Temple Trees. These are a people who lived under tigerish garrisons of the LTTE, they survived the brutal non-stop carpet bombing of the SLAF and above all they desire to return than to be treated like inmates of extremely militarized detention camps. The conventional use of IDP fails here. They are not displaced. But captured and camped without an option to the open natural society and world. Beyond these dark realities, it is yet to be seen how President Rajapakse the tactical politician and commander will emerge as a true statesman and the leader of all nations of Lanka. Will he be willing and able to mobilize the culturally influence Maha-Sangha especially of the Southern nikayas such as the Amarapura and Ramagngna, to support a genuine power sharing with the Thamil nation to restore her rightful place within the state of Lanka? Will his brothers, party and supporter rearrange their motives to go beyond personal glory and profits? Who will advice, help or force him in this task?

Beyond Mullaitheevu
The epi-central issue of any post conflict situation is political. How shall we construct sustainable democratic good governance? In Sri Lanka the role and respect of any international mediator has (deservingly?) failed. As Dayan Jayathilaka in self-appointed manner lectures to the West: this is Lanka. We work differently. Our values (and priorities) are different. Therefore the global thirst for equitable democracy may not arrive that soon as in the post Berlin eastern block. The greater portion of the Sinhala south is satisfied that their state defeated and finished with the LTTE. For them, like my scientist friend, democracy has a cost and thus it can wait. In fact demanding democracy at this juncture is undemocratic and unpatriotic The Sinhala south revolutionaries who mounted two bloody revolts against the state demanding greater democracy, are passively silent because their perceived enemy- the state has become the slayer of the LTTE and the statehood aspirations of the ‘para’ demalas. Few members of moderate Sinhala academia such as Uyangoda and Sumanasiri have decided either to be silent or focus on non-confrontational Para-politics. Thus the paradigms have become paradoxes. The hathuras have become mithuras. Otherwise why should the JHU – which once accused Russians for conspiring to kill Ven. Gangodawila Soma, march in their Paramitha Perahera to award honors for the service rendered? The politics of Colombo, as often happens is without many trajectories even after a ‘historical’ victory because now it is forced to think of equitable democracy. In the same manner the largely ethnonational Thamil diasporas has not imagined this end, thus is without any immediate action plan. Therefore it appears as though what the SLA has achieved is not just to clear Mullaitheevu of the LTTE and camp 300,000 Thamils, They, under the given conditions have cleared the ground for a two distinctively different set of possibilities. 1. Sri Lanka faces the true challenge and turns her attempts and aspirations to be a working multination democracy 2. Or she will comfortably slip into a pseudo electoral governance and share the political and social fate like Burma or Zimbabwe. Once again I argue the historical task of making peace or dismantling democracy is in the hands of the Southern Sinhala votes and their elected elites. What kind of a democracy and society they envisage to build? How can a supreme Theravadin philosophy be a base for a society governed by Vinaya and Damma? Can the new debate on the 13th amendment be a beginning of that process? How the 13th amendment –in its true form, promises to be a catalyst will be analyzed next.

Suren Raghavan- researches on Democratization of Post–colonial Multination States and the Role of Cultural elites in Contemporary Politics at University of Kent.UK.