I am not trying to explain how the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka happened and the different perspectives to its root causes. I am only going to talk only about how I perceive it. I was born in 1972 in the village of Mahawilachchiya (in Anuradhapura District of Sri Lanka) bordering the Wilpattu National Park. Velupillai Prabhakaran, who went on to create and lead the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – L. T. T. E.) and waged a bloody war on all communities of Sri Lanka) got his first human target late Mr. Alfred Duraiappah, an SLFP MP in 1975. I was just 3 years old by then. When the real terrorist War in Sri Lanka broke out in 1983 I was an 11-year-old schoolboy. Therefore, I can remember most of the sequences and developments of the ethnic war after the infamous “Black July” in 1983 into a fully-fledged civil war, that hampered the development of Sri Lanka into a possible regional economic power by dragging the country down literally to the Stone Age.
Nanda Wanninayaka – (Column 02 on November 10, 2018 – From Palmyra Peninsula) (This was originally written a couple of months ago but I was deliberately waiting till a General Election or a Presidential Election was called to publish this piece. Now that the first option has come into effect, here I publish it.)
I am not trying to explain how the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka happened and the different perspectives to its root causes. I am only going to talk only about how I perceive it. I was born in 1972 in the village of Mahawilachchiya (in Anuradhapura District of Sri Lanka) bordering the Wilpattu National Park. Velupillai Prabhakaran, who went on to create and lead the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – L. T. T. E.) and waged a bloody war on all communities of Sri Lanka) got his first human target late Mr. Alfred Duraiappah, an SLFP MP in 1975. I was just 3 years old by then. When the real Civil War in Sri Lanka broke out in 1983 I was a 11-year-old schoolboy. Therefore, I can remember most of the sequences and developments of the ethnic war after the infamous “Black July” in 1983 into a fully-fledged civil war, that hampered the development of Sri Lanka into a possible regional economic power by dragging the country down literally to the Stone Age.
I never expected this futile war to end during my lifetime or during that of my son’s for that matter. But, thanks to the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the brave armed forces, the police force, the Civil Security Force and the citizens at large who sacrifices the unimaginable, the war ended for good on May 18, 2009, before my son celebrated his first birthday. What a relief? Endless attacks on civilians in so-called “border villages,” heinous acts of killing civilians in public transportation systems, constant bomb blasts inside almost all high security zones, suicide attacks on dignitaries, air raids on Colombo etc., kept the whole nation anxious and alert and the people were tormented for almost three decades. War was that horrendous and it was a welcome decision that the former President Rajapaksa took, to take the Tigers head on, not from the tail like the other ineffective and cowardly leaders did since 1975. Mr. Rajapaksa sent the Tigers to the right place, the dustbin of the “bloody” history. This is why former president commands a lot of respect – despite the fact that he was allegedly corrupt and violated human rights – from the people islandwide, especially the people who were directly affected by war. Me being a person who comes from a so called “border village” – Mahawilachchiya – a farming settlement inside the government controlled area but on the edge of LTTE’s haven, i.e., the sprawling Wilpattu National Park from three sides of the village, I have every reason to praise Mr. Rajapaksa for his daring act of taking a stern decision to finish the terrorists’ war with counter war, if not counter terrorism.
I know a lot of atrocities must have happened during the war, especially towards the last few days of the war. There could have been killing civilians, raping women, robbing valuables from fleeing civilians, etc. During the ancient wars, this was called “the spoils of war.” Killing men, raping women, enslaving children, looting treasure were part and parcel of war. It is true that the modern-day wars should be fought by keeping with the human rights accords, etc., with least damage to the civilians. But this is the last thing one could expect during a war. There are no such things called “war crimes” for what happens during a war. War itself is a crime and the smart thing to do was (and is) to take every effort to prevent a war, not to let a small misunderstanding to grow into a national issue and develop into a full-scale war like the late president Mr. J. R Jayewardene and his successors did. What I believe is there is nothing glorious about a winning a war, especially if it is fought with your own countrymen. The most glorious thing is to live in peace with every ethnic groups.
In fact, the 3-decade-long rancorous war was not Tamils’ war or Sri Lanka’s war. It was by no doubt India’s war. The hitherto peaceful, studious, hardworking Tamil boys and girls were dragged into a bloody civil war by India against their own fellow citizens in Sri Lanka. It was India’s disastrous foreign policy against her neighbors that was turned into an ethnic war during the late Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. With India’s secret spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW,) she misread the political situation in Sri Lanka and manipulated it into a full-scale civil war. As I see it, (I strongly believe I am right) Indira did not like the newly elected Sri Lankan president J. R. Jayewardene’s Open Economic Reforms that opened up the door for investors in the West that could create a rapid economic development in the island nation. The open economy could have easily made Sri Lanka the economic powerhouse in South Asia, just like Singapore did in the South East Asia. Mr. Jayewardene enjoyed a huge mandate of 5/6ths of enormous majority in the parliament and he only wanted a vicious Indira Gandhi to upset his apple cart and that of the country. And she was up to it and absolutely successful at that. (India would sarcastically brush off this claim stating that India was already a super power and Sri Lanka was not a significant player when it comes to the former’s economic realms to wash her hands-off Sri Lanka’s misfortunes.)
India, being a more leftist patriarchy with a soft corner to Soviet Union and the rest of the communist world, was a far slow economy with her ill-advised “License Raj” approach to domestic production of goods and services, was upset when she came to know that Sri Lanka had an open minded and a futuristic leader in the capacity of J. R. Jayewardene who had stronger links with the White House than with the Rastrapti Bhawan or Kremlin for that matter.
It is customary and “politically correct” to a Big Brother like India to harass a tiny island nation like Sri Lanka if the former takes the latter as a threat economically or otherwise. It happens elsewhere too. The USA – Cuba, Ukraine – Crimea, China – Hong Kong, etc. are the living examples to prove my point.) But being politically correct does not necessarily mean it is the right thing to do. Besides, fostering terrorists has been compared with nursing the serpents for the time immemorial by the visionaries and Mrs. Gandhi was so irrational not to understand that universal truth and decided to turn the Tamil boys who were very peaceful and committed to whatever work they took on to a terrifying terrorist outfit in the name of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE.) Let us not discuss how the LTTE crushed its brotherly terrorist outfits to be the so-called sole representative of the Tamils here.
Mrs. Gandhi used its southern powerhouse (Tamil Nadu) lead by M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) an actor-turned stupid politician who did not know much about politics than being the emblematic knife-wielding movie hero he was cracked up to be on the silver screen. He knew pretty well that it was easy to change the mindset of the Tamils in Tamil Nadu who were docile enough to treat their sly political leaders (especially actor turned politicians) as demigods.
The result, my friends, was MGR’s Tamil Nadu becoming the cradle of Tamil Tigers with the full blessings of Mrs. Gandhi. And the lambs to the slaughter were the poor Tamil boys in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Later the whole Northern and Eastern Provinces were infected by the deadly terrorism. Sri Lanka, being such a promising country with a lot of economic and other developmental opportunities, went to the labyrinths of endless terrorism as a result.
If Mrs. Gandhi believed in self-governance and promoted it, she should have offered Khalistan, the de facto nation that the Sikhs fought for, on a platter. But she didn’t. Instead she spearheaded a brutal war that killed both the terrorists – yes, I call anyone who breathes the air of a country and drinks its water and eats its fruits and fights for parts of the same land terrorists – be it Tamil Tigers, Sikhs, Tamils, Talibans, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, ISIS, etc., whatever – and the civilians in Punjab saying that their claim for a Khalistan was illegitimate. How can she advocate self-determination for Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka and say no to the Sikh terrorists who claimed more or less the same for the same reasons? She went ahead with the controversial attack of reducing Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the holiest place of worship of Sikhs, almost to rubble (and finally paid for it by being brutally gunned down by two Sikh bodyguards of her own security cordon.)
Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination should have reduced the calamities in Sri Lanka if a smart and visionary leader succeeded her. Unfortunately, it was her own son, Rajiv Gandhi who had nothing but the being son of the slain Mrs. Gandhi and the grandson of late. Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru as the only qualifications to rise to the thrown – ascended to power in the aftermath of this avaricious woman’s death and later went on winning the General Election also by a big margin, mainly of sympathy votes, something the subcontinent is cursed with. Mr. Gandhi resumed from where his mother left and went onto reinforce the support RAW, India’s notorious secret service was providing for the Tamil boys in the North and East of Sri Lanka. (For documentary and pictorial evidence just read Professor Rohan Gunaratna’s Indian intervention in Sri Lanka: The role of India’s intelligence and Shenali Waduge‘s articles on the subject. Just rummage through the web and you would find scores of them). If you think these two authors are biased for the fact that they are Sinhalese and Sri Lankans, read the books written by some of the Indian journalists, ex-diplomats assigned to Sri Lanka, ex-RAW personnel, ex-military high ranking officers, etc. and those of the independent sources to see how foxily Mr. Gandhi manipulated and escalated Sri Lanka’s cursed civil war.)
Proving the theory of proverbial nursing serpents, Rajiv Gandhi was paid with what he richly deserved, being blown into pieces by a Tamil woman who was allegedly gang-raped by India’s forcibly-sent Indian Peace Keeping Force – (IPKF,) on the former’s way to make it to the PM’s chair once again at a victorious election rally in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. (Don’t think I am happy to hear that these unscrupulous politicians paid for what nasty things they supported. I feel for every human soul, but one should be human enough to deserve such a sympathy. Being part of or masterminding massacres of civilians or even soldiers or terrorists for that matter, is no trivial matter. There are better ways to solve regional politics without resorting to the devastating terrorism.)
See what happened to the then internally stable Pakistan after creating Talibans to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan with the US money. See what happened to Afghanistan after the creation of Al Qaeda by the United States who also fought for American interests in Afghanistan. See what happened to Iraq, Libya and Syria after the advent of the ISIS terrorist outfit that was allegedly created by the United States. They all turned back and waged war on their very creators.
So, after a lengthy explanation, let me come back to the title of this essay. “Does Sri Lanka Really Need a Federal Solution?” A big NO, is my one and only answer and I won’t change this for any reason. Why? I am no political analyst or an expert on political science. The only academic qualification I have to talk about political science is the mere “C” pass I obtained for Political Science at high school level. All the rest comes from my own experiences and extensive reading about politics.
Sri Lanka does not meet any of the criteria that a federal state requires. We are a small island nation with enough access to any part of the island within a couple of hours. We don’t have the divisions some other countries have within ourselves, i.e., Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. We were living peacefully and our cultural heritage and religious beliefs are very close to each other and we share the same faith or reverence to places like the Adam’s Peak, Kataragama and Nallur rather than fighting each other to claim the ownership of those holy places to each ethnic groups like it happens with Jerusalem in the Middle East. Christians, Jews and followers of Islam are fighting for it while we harmoniously climb Adam’s Peak holding hands with each other respecting each other’s beliefs that it is their respective holy messengers’ footmark that lies up there.
I have seen how so-called intellectuals, both local and international, bring about various logic to prove that Sri Lanka needs a federal solution to solve its “nonexistent” ethnic issue. All three communities in Sri Lanka suffer because of the corrupt governments and corrupt politicians we keep electing. We are discriminated not because of our race. All three communities suffer because of the dirty politicians’ shortsighted decisions. Rich becomes richer and the poor becomes poorer. Rather than treating each other enemies, we should understand that it is our poverty and ignorance that these politicians manipulate and we should unite and fight them, not ourselves. All three races are equally ill-treated by successive governments since the Independence in 1948. Those governments included politicians from all three communities and they held high offices in them. The only thing they did was looking after their own welfare rather than that of the citizens’ whom they were voted in by.
There are talks of how bags of dollars changing hands in the process of advocating a federal solution to Sri Lanka but I have no proof. At least nobody paid me to write this piece. I am not a big fan of Professor Nalin de Silva. But I do believe in at least two of the many theories he kept advocating. What he said long before the things got worse and complicated in Sri Lankan polity was
He said something to the effect of,
There is no solution other than a military solution to fight the terrorism and the military can definitely defeat the terrorists in Sri Lanka.
If the government kneels down before the terrorists and agrees to create a separate state for Tamils (Eelam,) from the next day onward, there would be an endless border war.
He was (and is) correct. Without an official state, the Tamil Tigers had an almost conventional army, a sizable navy and a tiny air force, something that no other terrorist organization in the rest of the world ever had. Imagine what could have happened if they had a federal state that would definitely upgrade itself to a legitimate sovereign nation, how strongly the Tamil Diaspora and the West pumped money and technology to initiate and sustain an unending border war. Sri Lanka would have been the “Israel of the Indian Ocean” and the chaos would have kept going in Sri Lanka till humans started civilizations in Mars!
Ranil Wickremesinghe was never my hero. He wasn’t anybody’s hero for that matter I guess, especially those of his own party, the United National Party(UNP.) Politics was never his field of expertise or his field of interest. I have read somewhere when his uncle, the late president Mr. J. R. Jayewardene (JRJ) asked him to join politics, the former had flatly refused and said, “Please, please uncle. Politics is not my field of interest. Just let me be like this.” or something to that effect.
Well, Mr. JRJ has done several mistakes in his political life.
JRJ politicized the then well-established civil service by giving the powers of the civil servants, especially the District Secretaries – who were then called “Government Agents” – and the Divisional Secretaries – who were then called “Assistant Government Agents” – to the conceited and corrupt bunch of politicians from the ruling UNP who were then called “දිසා ඇමති” (District Ministers.) The whole governing system was turned upside down as a result and the repercussions are seen and felt today than ever.
Introducing the Open Economic Reforms in an unprecedented and hasty manner creating lot of chaos in the country which totally disturbed the lifestyles of the people. Local industries collapsed like a card of dominoes and the hitherto surplus of the balance of payment became a huge deficit and the whole country was submerged in a quagmire that never was able to get out of to date
One of the gravest mistakes of JRJ was masterminding the notorious “Black July” in 1983 and letting his own UNP goons to kill, wound and loot the Tamils living in the South of the island. JRJ’s thugs did not stop at that but were given an “unofficial license” to rape Tamil girls and women. These heinous acts were understandably reciprocated by the Tamils who were the dominating ethnic group in the North and East of the Island. Being the all-powerful executive president of the country, JRJ never took the correct path of quelling this unwanted riots and what happened in the aftermath of this is the history.
I think the worst mistake JRJ did for the country was getting this very lethargic and non-practical young man, Mr. Wickremasighe to the political arena. You don’t need any example as to show how disastrous JRJ’s decision was as you can see Mr. Wickremasinghe as the living example himself. He was never a decent public speaker. His body language while he does public speaking especially in the local language, Sinhala is so terrible and he becomes a bigger comedian than Mr. Bean the world famous comedy character performed by the British actor Rowan Atkinson. Moreover, Mr. Wickremasinghe never understood the heart or the pulse of the people in the country. Maybe at least some of his moves were meant to be productive to the country but the way he communicated those to the masses wasn’t convincing at all. It was easy for the opposition to make mincemeat of him of anything he put forward for the country due to this weakness of him. He was easily made the traitor of the country even when he tried his best to be the patriot. I don’t want to go any further describing this poor man, the biggest failure in Sri Lankan politics anymore.
Instead, I will come to the root cause of the current issue of the sudden political destabilization. Let’s recap how the incumbent president, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena was brought to the wrong side of the presidential elections in 2015 as the common presidential candidate by the UNP-led coalition. They say politics make strange bedfellows but this queer union of Mr. Sirisena and the UNP-led coalition made the former in totally uncharted waters. It was apparent that the money, energy and the huge election campaign masterminded, funded and carried out by proxy actors locally was actually was done with the generous help of India, USA and some of the powerful countries in the unholy NATO camp that made the former Gramasewaka (village headman,) the president of Sri Lanka, something nobody expected to happen even in wildest dream before January, 2015. As expected, once elected, the president became a big joke, maybe a little less jocular than Mr. Wickremasinghe, his Prime Minister. Okay, let’s leave it at that.
The ex-president, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Machiavellian politician he was cracked up to be, cracked himself a few weeks ago by idiotically masterminding a constitutional coup that made himself the Prime Minister with the support of a minority group of unreliable MPs in the parliament by putting the country in the doldrums. He should have waited till the current parliament completed its mandate given by the voters. If it continued its full run, in one and half years’ time that was left to it, it would have crumbled from its inside. But Mr. Rajapaksa was so power-hungry that he joined Mr. Sirisena, the former’s arch enemy who betrayed Rajapaksa big time and robbed his apparently inevitable chance of being elected as the President of Sri Lanka for a record and a historical third time. The two unlikely pair joined hands after what looked like a constitutional gimmick that paved way for the President to appoint Mr. Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister of the nation while there was an incumbent PM who was already in office. This shouldn’t have happened under ANY circumstance. Mr. Rajapaksa should have weighed the pros and cons of the situation. But you cannot expect that type of logical reasoning from an experienced politician who trusted his “official soothsayer” than an opinion poll or two to test the waters and called a presidential election two years before the stipulated time and ended up losing his presidency two years shy of the allocated period.
By then, the incumbent Prime Minister Mr. Wickremasinghe was already immensely unpopular and the best thing to do should have been letting him stay in power for the rest of his office and wait till he faces the General Election which was already swaying to the Rajapaska’s newly created party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP), which was already the main contender and the fresh thing in the menu. But what megalomaniac Rajapaska did was something totally unacceptable ethically, politically and strategically. Mr. Wickremasinghe was at the receiving end as he messed up big time right from the beginning of his office and the UNP would have faced a humiliating defeat at the general election with dodgy Treasury Bond scam, corruption, inefficiency, ever-increasing inflation, monthly increase of price of fuel and the heavy tax burden on the public to sway even his traditional vote base to Rajapaksa’s camp, even though it would have been only an agony of choice for the voters to elect someone from both the mainstream parties. But Rajapaksa would have had an upper hand in defeating UNP-led collation even without the support of the president Sirisena and his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP.)
But everybody knows how power-hungry the Rajapaksa clan is. They are not the only megalomaniac clan in Sri Lankan politics. Think of Senanayake, Bandaranaike, Premadasa clans too. This is part and parcel of the politics in the subcontinent and you can’t help it. But this time Rajapaksa did the worst gamble in his entire political life and he got the already unpopular PM out of his office and made himself the Prime Minister. The process was seen as something done by the president but we know what happens behind the curtains in the corridors of power in Sri Lanka.
So what has Rajapaksa got at the end? The good-for-nothing Wickremasinghe has become the “Mandela of Sri Lanka” now. Mr. Wickamesinghe didn’t have to waste 27 years in a prison to become Mandela. Only thing he had to do was continuing his idiotic governing style but both Sirisena and Rajapaksa “Mandelaized” the born-loser Wickremasinghe. Now he has got the sympathy of his traditional vote base which was drifting towards the Rajapaskas. Furthermore, Wickeremasinghe has become the doll of the Western powers and the Western media now and is the zero-turned-hero without much ado.
So, what have Sirisena and Rajapaska got on their plates? Going down the drain to the political dungeons of Sri Lanka? The chances are that even if you win this political standoff and survive the constitutional crisis, you will still be the at the receiving end of the public at large. Local and international media and the rest of the world will ensure you have a hard time and you will have to fight a Do-or-Die battle to cling on to power.
One might justify the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) taking some of the Ministries from the then Prime Minister Wickramasinghe’s government in 2004 that ultimately led to an early dissolution of the parliament which brought CBK’s United People’s Freedom Alliance coalition get back the power in the House. At that time, the country was at a crucial crossroad with the unpopular peace deal brokered by the Norwegians and signed between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which was condemned by the majority of the country. Everybody thought that the country would be split into two which would create an inevitable border war. There was no sympathy towards the then Wickremasinghe government as the sympathy of the public was with the CBK government. But at this time, there was no such immediate threats to the National Security of the nation. Even the so-called federal solution which was being demanded by the mainstream Tamil party, the Tamil national Alliance (TNA) was not to become a reality. The two main reasons the Wickremasinghe government had not to provide a federal solution was that it did not have enough time left to go for that even if they wanted and the second reason was that the country was not ready for it. Mr. Wickremasinghe being in power for 3 years of wasn’t able to convince the people, especially the majority Sinhalese, that federal solution was a viable solution to the long standing standoff between the majority and minority ethnic groups of the country. But as a result of this unethical and undemocratic overthrow of the Wickremasinghe government helped getting it the sympathy of the TNA and the rest of the minority parties as well making Mr. Wickremasinghe a lot more powerful than the Prime Ministerial powers he enjoyed and continue to enjoy to date being the de facto Prime Minister despite Rajapaksa is the official, yet, they say, the unconstitutional Prime Minister.
I am not a political analyst but I have lived 46 years in this Island and this is what I feel about this unnecessary quagmire the country is plunged into with this power struggle. Even if the Sirisena-Rajapaksa camp is to successfully survive the constitutional crisis, all what we can expect is the country would be thrown into a quicksand from the present quagmire and the public would be the ones who suffer. Everybody knows Lord Acton’s famous statement, Power corrupts and extreme power corrupts extremely. So, my compatriots, live with it.