Colombo, Identity, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Reconciliation, War Crimes

A clueless regime’s parade for glory with a bumpkin polity

While a victory parade with military highlights is on to commemorate the war victory, that provides occasion for this regime to revel on its own pride in defeating the LTTE, what is the most important need of the 19 million people, right now ? In a more direct way, does the Sri Lankan polity know what they most urgently need ? The whole pugnacious crisis in Sri Lanka lies in the answer to this simple question. The bumpkin Sri Lankan polity knows not, what they most urgently need. This was aptly demonstrated and proved in the two most historically important elections held in post war Sri Lanka.

The presidential elections in January 2010, announced in November 2009, just 06 months after the war was declared victorious with the defeat of the LTTE and thereafter the parliamentary elections held in April 2010, within 01 year of the conclusion of the war, discussed nothing of importance in terms of Sri Lanka’s future. They were mere parades of political jokers on platforms and in the media that left the Sri Lankan people entertained. Why not ? The people liked it that way too. The media too played on those cheap entertainment, canvassing for more of the same. No serious debates and discussions on policy and principles were ever encouraged. Just simple and plain “We air – You laugh” media, it was.

Sri Lanka on 19 May, leaves one whole empty year behind, since the war was concluded. One whole year, with absolutely no answers to it’s endemic problems since President Rajapaksa’s address to the nation on 19/5, declaring the LTTE as defeated and the war concluded. A question then arises, as to what these problems are, that has to be solved. The conflict that was militarily suppressed and is interpreted as “defeating Tamil separatist terrorists in war” provides the answer to that question, in an abstract manner.

In its historical context, it means a continuous, stubborn failure in establishing a modern, democratic nation State with plurality for over 60 years since independence. Failure in establishing a nation State that should necessarily accommodate all ethnic, linguistic and religious communities and groups as equals with equal opportunities, in forging a futuristic society that accepts life within a competitive global economy. Political neglect in establishing such a pluralistic nation State, fostered and nurtured Bandaranayakes, Rajaratnams, Cyril Mathews, Nalin de Silvas, Amarasekaras, Champika Ranawakas and then the JVP as Sinhala entities that politically force bred Chelvanayagams, Amithalingams and then Prabhakarans as their political counterparts, and in opposition.

Today, after the war and without Prabhakaran, we are left with the politics of all others before Prabhakaran, that finally led to Prabhakaran himself. That simply means, we are still left with our core issue unsolved. The issue of establishing a modern democratic nation State with plurality, in a country which now is far more divided ethnically, far more poor in human living and even less democratic after this war against “Tamil separatism”. A country that by now has the added problem of agitating the Muslim people in the East, as well.

All of it together left this country at the end of the war, not only with accusations on crimes against humanity and war crimes for international lobbying, but with a massive human tragedy heaped on vast scale destruction to infrastructure and property in war ravaged areas. That being no small issue in this post 19/5 period, what is crucially important is the complete militarisation of society and a seriously endangered democracy that also decides the quality of rehabilitation and resettlement of all war affected people. This in a failing economy that has little option but to sustain a family regime with no future plans for the country. Added is a miserable Opposition that is unable to understand what goes wrong with it, in living a viable Opposition.

Its this war, projected and promoted as the “one and only answer” to “Tamil separatism”, that helped this regime to establish itself with such arrogance and insipid power and left the Opposition bewildered. Its this war that established this regime outside the Constitution and independent of a parliamentary majority. Its strength during the pre 19/5 period was beyond laws and Acts passed in parliament and that of enforcing Emergency Regulations (ER).

That power, that arrogance to establish itself as a family “kleptocracy” came through a political ideology that thawed and garnished the Sinhala psyche into accepting this war with all its accompanying tragedy. That turned the Sinhala South to live with a malleable Sinhala psyche, justifying and enjoying all arbitrary arrests, all threats to life, all abductions and forced disappearances, all savage physical assaults, all extra judicial killings and also all extortions. This regime thus took hold of the State and political power, beyond law and above the constitution, with a warped Sinhala popularity.

Yet after all these years of passivity, the Sinhala society can not be expected to live with a hopelessly failing economy that cuts across the very Sinhala supremacy it approved. The dilemma nevertheless is that this Sinhala society has no organised social structures, strong and credible enough to win over and mobilise people. Accepting the Opposition as a naïve presence, the trade union leaderships are also in disarray. Most sectors don’t have organic leaderships. Most public and private sector places are least unionised. They are heavily divided as professions and trades and on political affiliations too, with loose alliances and fronts that add little meaning to the divisions. Since late 60’s these politically led trade union leaderships have tended to go with State power. Today they have opted to tail the regime with most leaderships provided with petty perks.

So are the issue based non governmental sector. They have been discredited and politically strangled as anti social and often unpatriotic. With no social base except elite recognition, some have opted to take up compromised positions for their own safety. So are professional, academic and artiste presence in society. They have where possible, compromised with the regime and its ideology of Sinhala supremacy, forfeiting their very independence in taking political positions.

The post 19/5 challenge therefore is to find answers to avoid heavy pounding of remaining or possible opposition, while Sri Lanka slips into a “Mugabian” economy with a “Than Shweik” rule. This comes with contradictions this Rajapaksa regime is forced to live with. All post elections decisions taken by the regime to throw up a new democratic façade, are weak compromises for its own survival. They clearly show the regime is under pressure to compromise at some point in its arbitrary rule, by international and regional power blocs. Those that have to play by public decency in the face of world opinion.

Therefore pressure on this regime comes from its own need to survive in a failing economy, over which the international community is placing conditions. What ever is said for public consumption, the apparel market in the EU draws the regime to compromise on human rights. The IMF has to be listened to, to restructure the economy to qualify for the next tranche of the loan. The world has to see the regime act democratically, to douse the fuming human rights lobby and also have Indian pressure satisfied. The very weight of these issues emerging after the war have pushed the regime to move with slow and cautious steps in compromising its existence.

The “Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission” comes just that way. It was approved in cabinet with a Rs.10 million budget, but in no way seems independent. Lacks capability in generating confidence among the affected Tamil people. The necessity to have such a Commission and the lack of any commitment in the regime, exposes the contradiction the regime lives with. Establishing the Commission on its own choice, while leaving the best option of making it inclusive and credible by having it discussed and approved in parliament, proves it beyond doubt.

With no apparent change in the regime’s behaviour in belittling its own Commission, nothing could be expected, except waste of time. This “Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission” becomes nonsensical with the declaration of a “Victory Day” on 18 May each year, to be celebrated with military might. It is by all means a “victory day” for the Sinhala psyche with a preceding “heroes week” that can only be a Sinhala event.

The Tamil people, who were victims of this war would have no reason to be part of it, even in their wildest dreams. Tamil parents in the war affected Vanni and North have even been denied the right to remember their own sons and daughters who died in this 30 year conflict. Their cemeteries have been ploughed and flattened to the ground, leaving the parents to sigh in mutilated post war agony.

That is how the Tamil people in this conflict are treated and how the war is interpreted by this regime. It therefore needs no Commission report on “lessons learnt and reconciliation”. This leaves Sri Lanka with its 60 year question, “how can Sri Lanka develop itself into a democratic State that lives with equality for all its people?”

There is seemingly only one answer, but not overnight. That lies in an effort to forge an alternate social democratic platform to bring all estranged communities and social forces to accept plurality in a democracy. One that would accept a regulated market economy, immediately disarm para military groups and demilitarise society, establish independent State structures for law and order and justice with a complete change in the electoral process to reduce representative numbers at the centre and strengthen local governance and provincial power in people’s representation. This within a new Constitution that provides power to larger provinces to look after their own socio economic development and administration.

That for sure needs immediate answers for present issues and it thus starts with lobbying for a more serious approach and intervention in reconciliation and reparation. Lobbying for change in the constitution of the proposed “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” and its mandate, that should be discussed and approved in parliament. One that could win the confidence of all war affected people on both sides of the war barricades, in a wholly demilitarised environment.

A way out, at least to begin the long walk to sanity, in confirmed chaos for now.