The need for inclusivity in politics

Tuesday, 10 April 2012 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It is more than two years since the 30-year war with the LTTE was brought to a successful conclusion.  The LTTE has been militarily decimated. The domestic political landscape of Sri Lanka saw a drastic change resulting in political purges and the fragmentation of political parties. Ideologies of political parties have undergone tremendous changes owing to the post-victory politics.  

The Government appointed the LLRC Commission in an attempt to reconcile ethnic differences. There are conflicting messages from the Government and from its coalition partners. Some have rejected out right the recommendations of the report whereas others have publicly stated that some of the recommendations have been implemented and sought further time for its full implementation.

The Geneva conference and our ties with India

Some senior officials who represented the country at the Geneva conference are delivering different stories. There has been no official statement released by the Government as yet of its stance over the Geneva debacle. The Geneva conference was an ominous sign for the country as it showed that even if another Government came to power, there is no guarantee that the Tamil separatist lobby would change its stance.

The pro-separatist lobby would continue to lobby foreign governments for autonomy for Tamils in Sri Lanka unless the Government of the day works out a plan to stave off such demands. The first thing is to re-establish our traditional ties with the West. Confrontational politics would take Sri Lanka further away from the benefits that we can derive from them. We are on the wrong side of the global politics.

No impression should be conveyed to foreign countries that the Government with its Sinhala majority is not serious enough to address the ethnic issue, thus paving the way for unnecessary foreign intrusion into domestic affairs of Sri Lanka.   

It would be very unfortunate if we further push our closest and mighty neighbour India away from us. It is paramount that any political fix, whether permanent or cosmetic, should be done in consultation with India. Our foreign policy would be coherent if we go along with India.

Indian strategic thinkers no doubt must have raised the issue with the Delhi administration over growing Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka and it would be logical to assume that the U.S and India must now be keeping a close watch over Chinese intentions in Sri Lanka. It is the Government’s responsibility not to tilt the balance of power in the region and the Government must also take into account American and Indian strategic interests in the region.

When UNP believed in a military solution

The domestic political issues of Sri Lanka are being successfully marketed overseas by the pro-separatist lobbyists and the Government seems to have had difficulties countering the massive propaganda campaign against the country. It looks like all have conveniently forgotten the root causes that fuelled the ethnic war in Sri Lanka. The UNP too followed a hostile campaign against Tamil separatists during the 1980s when the leader of the Opposition happened to be a representative of Tamil community.  

The campaign was spearheaded by late Cyril Mathew and Dr. Neville Fernando and there were other prominent members who delivered speeches in defence of the country. It would be wrong to say that the UNP was pro-Tamil but if one goes by historical accounts or the Hansard reports, the UNP fought enough wars with the LTTE and the final episode of the UNP’s military pursuit ended when Operation Liberation or the so-called Vadamarchachi operation was about to encircle the LTTE leader. India became directly involved in our affairs and stopped the war in direct violation of the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

Sixth amendment to the constitution

In the immediate aftermath of the 1983 riots, the then UNP Government had to bring in the sixth amendment to the constitution expressly prohibiting a call for a separate state. The amendment firstly states that no person shall, directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka. Secondly, that no political party or other association or organization shall have as one of its aims or objects the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka.

Thirdly, that any person who acts in contravention of the provisions of paragraph one shall, on conviction by the Court of Appeal, after trial on indictment and according to such procedure as may be prescribed by law, be subject to civic disability for such period not exceeding seven years as may be determined by such Court.

The then leader of the Opposition lost his seat as he could not take oaths while he was travelling all over the world soliciting support for a separate state. He was at the forefront of instigating youth violence and spreading the seeds of hatred and finally had to face the violence that he himself unleashed.  These type of politics caused chaos and misery in Sri Lanka.

Tamils represent only 12.7 per cent (according to the 1981 census) of the population and carving out a separate country would be impracticable as Sinhalese command the majority. One must not forget that Tamil nationalism however grew out of certain grievances and none of the experiments of the successive governments seem to have satisfied the Tamil aspirations.

How are we to build an inclusive society where all stakeholders of the country could participate in the affairs of the state? The Tamils did not feel justice for three decades due to extreme bias and prejudice. Now there is total peace and the time is opportune to build an inclusionary society. How could Tamils be assured that there is hope?

It can only be achieved by proving that the Government’s actions take into account that the constitutional rights of all citizens are guaranteed. For instance, there should not be any more white vans. This is the imperative need of the moment.     

Sri Lanka comes under the microscope

The ethnic issue has now reached all boundaries of the world and we can no longer turn a blind eye to these issues and the Government must come up with a coherent strategy which could be marketed worldwide in order to garner support from the world. There should be an inclusionary political action plan where Tamils can live with Sinhalese side-by-side with the assurance of equal opportunities.

A proper meaning to the country known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka would be implied when minorities are treated with equal status as the majority is. As rightly stated by the President, “It is necessary that we give to these people the freedoms that are the right of people in all others parts of our country. Similarly, it is necessary that the political solutions they need should be brought to closer to them faster than any country or government in the world would bring. However, it cannot be an imported solution. We do not have the time to be experimenting with the solutions suggested by other countries. Therefore, it is necessary that we find a solution that is our very own, of our own nation. It should be a solution acceptable to all sections of the people. We expect cooperation for it from the international community and not obstruction. Should the international community doubt our capability to find such a solution, when we have successfully overcome a challenge that that the world was unable to achieve? No. We can achieve this”.

It is therefore pertinent that we as a nation solve our problems within ourselves. We have had political dialogues and a mass of literature produced over many decades about the type of solutions that could be considered. It therefore behoves the Government to show its conviction that it is committed to a solution. The Parliament Select Committee would be ideal but the Government must first show its efforts.

Why does India call for ‘genuine’ efforts in their official statements?

It is not clear as to what India meant when it repeatedly said “genuine” in their official statements. quoted a statement from an Indian representative at Geneva who stated, “The LLRC report recognizes that a political solution is imperative and that the Government of Sri Lanka should provide the leadership to this political process'

“It further sets out several constructive recommendations including those pertaining to missing persons, detainees, disappearances and abductions, promotion of trilingual policy, reduction of high security zones, curbing activities of illegal armed groups, return of private lands and demilitarization and restoration of civilian administration. This Council has also been briefed by the Government of Sri Lanka in this session on the series of steps taken to implement the report and other measures. We welcome these steps. We are confident that implementation of the report will foster genuine reconciliation”. It stresses the point “genuine reconciliation”.

(The writer is a freelance journalist, a political lobbyist and a government relations consultant)


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