After winning the Northern Provincial Council elections, the Tamil National Alliance by arranging for Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to take oaths before the President has given a strong political message to the south that they are willing to go along the reconciliation path quite contrary to the picture portrayed by the southern extremists.
Selecting Colombo-based Wigneswaran as the chief ministerial candidate primarily by R. Sampanthan, the Leader of the TNA, and subsequently by the decision making authority of the TNA after much deliberation, was itself a message that they were willing to go along the reconciliation path. These are strong political gestures.
Soon after the end of the bloody war, Sampanthan has given a similar type of message to the south by arranging to hoist the National Flag and sing the National Anthem in Tamil at a function but not only was it ignored by the south, it was also negated by the Government by prohibiting the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil, citing that it was against the Constitution, which is violated frequently by persons in power.
We should keep in mind that during so-called rule of the LTTE in the north, it was prohibited to sing the National Anthem or hoist the National Flag. Therefore Sampanthan’s act should have been highlighted and supported rather than prohibited.
Sampanthan is not carrying out these deeds with ease; rather he is doing so with great resistance from the rank and file of the TNA supported by Tamil extremists who are of the view that they can politically gain very little from the Government which has a predominantly Sinhala base.
This dictum was proved over and over again in the history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka starting from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact. Therefore it is the duty of the southern moderates to support the Sampanthan-Sumanthiran-Wigneswaran trio in their endeavours, as pointed out by many political commentators.
After being sworn-in before the President, in a brief speech Wigneswaran said: “It is the need of the hour that we remove the misunderstandings and doubts that have crept into the minds of various communities. I sincerely ask the Sinhala people to realise that to the same extent the Sinhala people cherish and respect their language and culture, so do the Tamil speaking people cherish and respect their own language and their traditions. There is no place for violence in this realisation. None could force such realisation. It is such sincere realisation that would take us all on the path of peace and brotherhood. Therefore let my simple symbolic act today pave the way for the unity of the people of the two communities in our island.”
The path of reconciliation which is being opened gradually should be supported, as the President suggested in his response. One needs immense courage to go along this path.
Dutugemunu at the end of the war with Elara erected a tomb for the slain leader. He then ordered that anyone who passes the tomb of Elara should walk rather than using any means of transportation.
His younger brother Saddhathissa’s youngest son Walagamba had to get down from the carriage and walk when he was passing the tomb of Elara when he was running away to escape from the Chola invaders. As a result the invaders were nearing and one of his wives Somadevi volunteered to get down in order to reduce the weight of the passengers and allow the carriage to move faster. Walagamba escaped with a great sacrifice and that happened as a result of the strong order given by Dutugemunu and the way it was accepted by the people including the subsequent rulers.
This symbolic act of Dutugemunu paved the way for the much-needed reconciliation at that time. Although Elara was a foreigner, there were Tamils and Sinhalese serving for him. The Mahavamsa describes that the rule of Elara was with justice toward friend and foe, on occasions of disputes at law. According to the Mahavamsa, once he ordered the severing of the head of his only son for killing a calf by running his vehicle over it. This act of Dutugemunu, who was one of the greatest statesmen produced by Sri Lanka, was to win the hearts of the people who respected the great slain leader.
If we were to take a more recent example, Nelson Mandela after serving a prison sentence of 27 long years for getting involved in freedom struggle and after being elected first black President in South Africa, initiated the idea of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was a court-like body and witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences. Offenders of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
This way of operation was heavily criticised by the native South Africans citing the fact that offenders can get away from the criminal acts they have carried out by just tendering an apology. But this act of Mandela was acclaimed internationally and locally as only the way out of hatred which was imbedded into the day-to-day life of South Africans.
A well known speech given by J.R. Jayewardene as the then Finance Minister representing Sri Lanka at the San-Francisco conference held after World War II, declaring that Sri Lanka did not need any compensation from Japan for the crimes that country had committed against humanity while other nations were demanding compensation, can be cited as being in line with the political gesture of the South African President.
Mandela, rather than giving speeches, expressed several political gestures such as taking steps to unite the divided nation by promoting the South African national rugby team which mainly comprised whites and hence supported by whites only, as a national symbol supported by whites as well as blacks at the World Rugby Cup matches sponsored by South Africa. At the final match against New Zealand which was won by South Africa, as the Chief Guest, Mandela wore a Jersey of the South African team, symbolising nation-wide support to the team which was hitherto unprecedented.
Unfortunately, soon after the end of war, the leadership of Sri Lanka adopted a short-sighted policy of national de-reconciliation supported by Sinhala extremists. It was well proved by the results of the Northern Provincial Council that reconciliation is not just economic or infrastructure development but treating all as equals and helping the Tamil community to heal the wounds of war.
The Government after the war has given the impression that it has defeated not only the LTTE but also the Tamil community in large by various political gestures such as commemorating the winning of the war year after year. The Government keeps excessive forces in the north hampering the day-to-day civilian lives of the people and in contrast to that Dutugemunu did a similar thing by placing Buddhist monks in the areas acquired by his Army. The difference is sheer arrogance against matured diplomacy.
Had the Government gone along the path of reconciliation right from the beginning soon after the war, the international pressure built up on the Government would have been eased to a great extent resulting in lesser dependence of the country on China although it is not a simple equation. Hence the Government should respond positively to the political gestures of the TNA and its Chief Minister. We should really appreciate it coming from the minority community after winning a relatively less important provincial council election considering the fact that such gestures hardly came from the Government after winning the war against the LTTE irrespective of the fact that local as well as international great political leaders used the same for greater reconciliation between communities within the respective countries.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)