Military defeat of the LTTE; Need of the hour is a comprehensive political defeat
The English phrase Good things come to those who wait, propounding the virtue of patience, is not a proposition that can be sold easily to sections of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
From their view point, they have waited for decades, and for them there is no light at the end of the tunnel. For many however, there was no choice but to wait, but their patience was running thin. Some did not wait, and they opted to support a terrorist group, the LTTE, to achieve their aspirations. Their support turned the LTTE into the most vicious terror group in the world.
Whatever the history of the conflict, the end does not justify the means, and as any sovereign government would have done, although no other country has been able to do it so far, the Sri Lankan government led by President Rajapaksa took a decisive decision to end terrorism and militarism, means used by sections of the Tamil lobby to win their aspirations. We are now back with non violent, political means to address this long standing conflict.
The real conflict revolves around aspirations, both of the Tamil community as well as the Sinhala (and Muslim) community, and how they maybe achieved within the land mass we call Sri Lanka. One can make this issue as complex as one wishes to, and politicians and other advocates of aspirational politics, both local and foreign, have made an industry out of it. It is unlikely though that the majority of Sri Lankans, be they Tamils or Sinhalese, are shareholders of this industry. The majority has a very simplistic view on aspirations.
They would all want to have jobs or a fair opportunity to earn a decent living. They would want their children to be educated in good schools and for them to have jobs when they complete their education. All Sri Lankans would like to own their homes and for their children to own theirs. They would want good health care, and for them to be cared for and be regarded as valuable people when they are old and infirm. Without doubt they would all like to be safe wherever they are, and not suffer any deprivation or lack of opportunity simply on account of their ethnicity.
It is true that as a collective, Sri Lankans and their political representatives, as well as various lobbyists, have not recognised these basic aspirations of all communities, and attempted, and succeeded, in dividing communities by their ethnicities, leading some community leaders to take aspirational politics away from mainstream politics, and into extreme corners, creating paradigm shifts in thinking and actions.
Pursuing a solution to a conflict does not mean and should not mean that those outside the mainstream should be made happy or their concurrence obtained as to how the aspirational conflict be addressed. It is the mainstream view that needs to be considered whether one views it from a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim point of view.
As admitted by the main representatives of the Tamil community, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and by many Tamils, the paradigm shifts mentioned above happened because of the failure of the mainstream Sinhala dominated politics and politicians to address the simple aspirations of the Tamil community and as they felt they were discriminated by the major community. It is an undeniable fact that Tamils were confronted with violence, death and destruction on several occasions, with 1983 being the worst of all such occasions.
According to them, Tamil mainstream politics shifted from considering a solution within the context of a unitary Sri Lanka, to one within a Federal solution and later, to one within a separate State as a consequence of the history of failure on the part of the Sinhala dominated national leadership. This same school of thought opines that Tamils are still very much mainstream at heart and they will be agreeable to a solution that is based on equality, and co ownership of political and economic decision making processes.
If we assume that most Sri Lankans are still within the mainstream, it is opportune now to ask whether we should (and could) direct a political solution to those in the mainstream or those outside it.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government appear to favour the former and all his words and actions have been directed towards a partnership with the mainstream in Sri Lanka. In his view, and that of many others in Sri Lanka, a political solution has to address the aspirations identified by the mainstream prior to the paradigm shift mentioned above and not after the shift.
It is their view that if past mistakes have resulted in decisions taken by Tamils that are truly not acceptable to most Tamils, although some were forced to go with them due to circumstances that prevailed at the time, it would be wrong to consolidate what are clearly injudicious decisions, at least when considering them from the benefit of hindsight.
President Rajapaksa seems of be of the view that lack of economic development has under pinned the inability for the mainstream to have achieved their simple, but vital aspirations, and has been the cause that had given rise to different points of view amongst the Tamil community as to how they could achieve their aspirations including the shift towards the cry for self determination.
The political model that President Rajapaksa has been espousing has two key components. Firstly, an economic development component that will hopefully address economic opportunities like jobs and other opportunities that have income earning potential, education opportunities that will result in jobs, provided the economy is doing well, better health and housing, all linked to economic development.
Secondly, a political power sharing component that gives all communities a greater sense of participation, and ownership, of the political and economic decision making process without one community feeling that they are only bystanders in relation to these processes.
The President has made statements from time to time about his intentions, and so have various government ministers. Numerous policies have been put into action. Teaching of Sinhala, Tamil and English to all students, making all government officers competent in all three languages, appointment of a cabinet minister to overlook language implementation, opening political parties, especially the SLFP, to all communities, are definitive directions in strengthening the mainstream and taking the country away from divisive communal politics.
What is perhaps lacking is a comprehensive statement from the President, articulating in some detail as to how he will act to achieve his vision for a united, unitary Sri Lanka where every citizen will have equal rights and where no community will be more equal than others. Such a statement has to be directed towards the Tamil community as they are the one’s who are anxiously waiting to hear the President say it.
His statement should contain all the measures that are already implemented, and those that are being implemented and will be implemented. He has done a lot and is planning to do a lot more. He must however articulate better what he has done and what he intends doing as many people still appear unsure or uninformed about these. Such a statement will also help to allay fears amongst the mainstream Tamil community that President Rajapaksa is no different to previous Sri Lankan Presidents and Prime Ministers and that he will not address their concerns being a captive of the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinistic segment of the Sri Lankan society.
President Rajapaksa is clearly a different person and he is not a captive of any particular segment of the society. The large and comprehensive mandate he received at the Presidential election as well as the general election are clear indicators of his independence from any ultra nationalistic power groups. However, it will be good for him, his cause and the country, if he is able to generate more confidence amongst the Tamil community as a Sri Lankan leader who has the ability, the capacity and the will to address this log standing issue.
The first anniversary of the defeat of LTTE terrorism and militarism will be just the occasion for President Rajapaksa to do just this, and outline his proposed approach to solving the aspirational issues faced by the mainstream in Sri Lanka. Such a statement will silence critics within and without, and the country would be able to move towards being what President Rajapaksa describes, the miracle of Asia.
It will help to begin nailing the coffin of the LTTE political machinery and their Diaspora supporters, and equally importantly, find new assignments for some NGOs and INGOs as well as sections of some Western governments, and the Western press, who seems overly concerned about Sri Lanka while they ignore real trouble spots like Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, just to name a few.
- Asian Tribune -