by Dayan Jayatilleka
Prabhakaran is completing the strategic encirclement of the Sri Lankan State and is about to commence his decisive siege. His Tigers have now accumulated a sufficiency of forces and combination of multiple elements, to make the historic leap to Tamil Eelam. (1) They have a decisive military advantage on the ground, which gives them a "first strike capability". This is entirely a product of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s policy, because just prior to his assumption of office, the LTTE command structure was being lethally dismantled by our Army’s LRRP and even Mr. Prabhakaran would have been sold life insurance only by a sympathetic Janashakthi executive! (2) The assertive build-up of front organizations in State-controlled areas gives the Tigers a capability of a mass screen for their aggressive expansionism. The episode of LTTE flag raising in Vavuniya is but the tip of that iceberg. (3) The diplomatic breakthroughs in Paris and Switzerland demonstrated that the Tigers have not had to pay a price for giving the world community the finger by its boycott of Tokyo; that the international community is in the Munich mode (Sept. ’38) in relation to the LTTE. (4) The accumulation of intellectual forces as evidenced by the team that gathered in Paris. (5) Prabhakaran is being successfully projected as not only a great military leader but also the civic, national and historic leader of the Eelam Tamils.
A minefield is not something one must make one’s bed in, nor run headlong into. A booby-trap is not to be hugged to one’s bosom, or dashed on the ground. The LTTE is waiting for the Sri Lankan polity, its Govt. and Opposition, to do one, the other, or both. The LTTE’s counter-proposals must neither be acceded to, nor rejected out of hand. The refusal to do the first requires guts. The refusal to do the second requires brains. Does any political formation or entity in the South have both, in correct combination? The Tigers’ Paris platform must be critiqued and the ball placed back squarely in their court by using the principles of linkage, balance, mutuality and reciprocity. Of these, linkage is the key. The South’s response must be the epitome of Reason: standardize the peace process according to universal norms; the norms that prevail throughout the world. It is one thing to accept an Interim administration that is armed with light weapons. Nowhere in the world will a parallel power structure be conceded to a rival army, wielding heavy weapons, suicide squads and a pirate navy with suicide boats. Therefore, the Southern democratic response to the Tiger platform has to be to insist on phased decommissioning under an international/multilateral authority, perhaps largely Asian, with sufficient coercive military capacity to enforce punitive measures for non-compliance. In sum, draw on the models of El Salvador, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.
Following the Sinhala savagery of ’58 and July ’83, the world opened its doors to the Tamil people, who then embedded themselves, some rising to positions of influence, in the open, liberal-democratic and meritocratic Western societies. Now they have carved a niche in the electoral political processes of these countries, which gives the Tigers a leverage that no liberation movement has and the Sinhalese never will have. The line of causation is simple: it’s a straight road from Wellawatte 1958 to Paris 2003. All our chickens are coming home to roost.
A Southern upheaval, while it cannot hurt the Tigers and can only help them, can however, do deadly damage to the society in which we live. If it is extra-electoral, we shall wind up under approximately the kind of dictatorship that prevails in the North. If it is electoral, the damage can be cancerous. Today, we the majority face the LTTE with hugely inadequate human resources. The LTTE on the other hand can draw on the resources of the Tamil educated classes and the Diaspora. A cluster of policies reduced us to this: Sinhala Only, the abolition of the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS), the take-over of schools, the abolition of the independent Public Services Commission (the ’72 Constitution), media-wise and district-wise standardization in university entrance exams, the "nationalization" of Lake House.
Indian nationalism refused to change the medium of instruction in universities, tamper with its Civil Service, military and judiciary, or depart from the principle of secularism. We in Sri Lanka violated every one of these norms. Lee Kwan Yew’s autobiography accurately holds up a mirror that shows how we threw away everything we had; everything we had inherited, won and built up. We dumped pesticide into the wells from which we irrigated our fields! Certainly, the insensitive neocolonial elite as represented by the UNP, had to be dislodged with a battering ram, but unlike the Indians, we threw the baby out with the bath-water, or worse, we threw the baby out and kept the bath-water! This was the result of policies of "leveling down", instead of "leveling upwards", recognizing merit and encouraging excellence. These policies were imposed by populist-chauvinist pressure groups and personalities fastening themselves parasitically onto SLFP-led administrations, burrowing within, and polluting the moderate SLFP’s mainstream with their ideological venom of social envy and hatred.
It is the rankest hypocrisy, however, for the UNP to decry 1956 as the Great Fall, without recognizing that it was itself the cause and creator of ’56. The policies, profile and personalities of the three years of UNP rule 1953-56, uncorked the majoritarian backlash that swept the SLFP away from its moderate line of 1951-54 and gave birth to ’56 in that specific shape and form. The slashing of the rice ration by Finance Minister JR Jayewardene and the insult to social and national sensibilities by Sir John Kotelawala, were the proximate causative factors. The two years of the Wickremesinghe UNP have been a throwback to ’53-’56 and far worse. (Significantly, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe recently excoriated the rice ration, which he failed to mention, was introduced by the most sagacious of national - and UNP - leaders, DS Senanayake!) It is about to trigger a Second ’56, which this time may be extra-electoral, and even if not, will visit catastrophe on our society.
The Sri Lankan electorate is allergic to the twin extremes of the social and national insensitivity of the UNP right-wing elite, and the restrictive, crippling, intolerant "closed door" policies of the SLFP-Left coalitions. In general, mass opinion is moderate and stays in the middle-ground; the homeland of the "left" or the "centre" of the right-of-centre UNP, and the "right" of the slightly left-of-centre SLFP. Unfortunately, the right-wing elite of the UNP proves more durable than its "left" or "centre", while the crasser populists and chauvinists in and around the SLFP succeed in crowding out its moderate mainstream, propelling the party away from its natural "Middle Path". What then would be the New Centrism, the New Middle Path? In economics, an avoidance of the closed economic model of ’70-’77 and the neo-liberalism of ’94-’2000. In matters of war and peace, rejection of the policy of appeasement and surrender, and any delusion of a negotiated peace with Prabhakaran, while also rejecting a policy of war without a reform component consisting of the devolution of power to the Tamil people through their democratic representatives. On devolution, a policy of regional autonomy (the B-C Pact was an early prototype), avoiding full federalism as well as a centralized unitary state. In foreign policy, rejection of the UNP’s supine servility to all things foreign (except the "War on Terror"!), and the JVP’s paranoid, pathological anti-Westernism. In culture, a policy of modernity and openness, embracing global culture, rejecting both mindless mimicry of the trashiest aspects of Western culture and conservative cultural closure. Taken together, these are the contours of a contemporary Social Democracy, which SWRD Bandaranaike explicitly identified as the founding ideology of the SLFP (before it was derailed by the chauvinist pressures of ’55-’56).
The Ghosts of Crises Past haunt us. Its attempt to intimidate, dictate to and dominate the SLFP resisted by President Kumaratunga, the JVP has now decided to construct a "broad national alliance for national unity and national security with other parties, Buddhist clergy, mass organizations and personalities", ("Lanka" Sept. 7th). A party spokesman adds that the new movement will "not be a merely electoral one, but will be based upon an honest and advanced program for building the country". At a press conference, the party advertised it as a "powerful national force". All this sounds remarkably like the JVP’s avatar and front organization, the Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (DJV) of the ’80s. The UNP’s own history recurs, with the JVP set to stage a "reverse replay" of JR
Jayewardene’s march to Kandy against the B-C Pact of ’57, by marching from Kandy to Colombo, Sept. 27th to Oct. 1st. In this context, wisdom suggests that any future discussions involving the SLFP and JVP not be bilateral, but trilateral or multilateral (SLFP, JVP, PA, EPDP, EPRLF-V, PLOTE, EROS, NUA), and always chaired by President CBK.
Today a Southern reaction that leads to another bout of "leveling down" and Tamil Eelam will not only be born, it will be a Singapore or early Taiwan out of Israel, while the Sinhala South (the shrunken Sri Lanka) will become a wretched, unlivable hell-hole, a Rwanda or Idi Amin’s Uganda. If anyone thinks that a radical or pseudo-progressive chauvinist South can rally the troops and victoriously recapture the lost North-East, they’d do well to recall the experience of Ethiopia. The radical Mengistu regime, which carried out the most thorough-going land reform in black Africa, had famine in its territory, while it was smashed militarily by the Eritrean separatist army before it was finally overrun and mercifully overthrown by a regionalist guerrilla coalition. It is of enormous significance that the solitary chance for Ethiopia and Somalia to avoid their ghastly fates was in 1977, when Fidel Castro toured the region and proposed a Red Sea Federation comprising Somalia, Ethiopia, an autonomous Eritrea. The "left-wing" leaders of all three entities rejected his plea. Perhaps they felt that "federation" and "autonomous region" were "outdated Western concepts" (as the JVP Gen. Sec. defines the " devolution of power") unwittingly deployed by Fidel!
Against this grim and ever darkening backdrop of our crisis, a pin-prick of light was provided by the serialization in The Island (Sept. 4-9) of the Prem Bhatia lecture on "The World Order after Iraq" delivered by Lakshman Kadirgamar in New Delhi on August 11th. One has to go back to SWRD Bandaranaike to discover a Sri Lankan politician capable of so masterful a synthesis of reading and argument, apprehending the world scene and its dynamics, intellectually situating and orienting Sri Lanka and indeed the global South. It is the perfect example of the New Middle Path, and could indeed be transplanted as embryo of a New Non-Alignment. Contained in this and other speeches, in Parliament and overseas (especially Warsaw, 2000), the Kadirgamar Doctrine’s "seven pillars of wisdom" (if I may abstract at the risk of caricature) are as follows: (1) Sovereignty is the core concept and value, and must be defended against separatism, terrorism, and hegemonistic interventionism. (2) India and Sri Lanka are strategically interdependent, and strategic convergence/interlock with India must be the cornerstone of our foreign policy. (3) The attractive strengths of American society must be celebrated; the USA is a highly valued friend from whom we in South Asia must never be disengaged, and the world must never seek to isolate. (4) The recent and growing Indo-US rapprochement must be welcomed. (5) Unilateralism, hegemonism and militarism in US policy, as illustrated by the aggressive war on Iraq and the ongoing occupation, must be soundly rejected; any move against a sovereign State, especially involving regime-change, must have UN leadership. (6) Europe, Russia, China and India may emerge over the medium-term as a counterweight to US attempts at global domination. (7) A truly global united front of democracies, combative and robust, based on mutual support and active assistance, must be brought into being against terrorism.
The UNF propagandists’ witch-hunt against Kadirgamar following his highly responsible alert (as a patriot and a South Asian) about the security of Trincomalee, reveals the moral gangrene that has set into this administration. While we are flung by explosion or collapse by implosion into our separate identities, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, Lakshman Kadirgamar remains the horizon of what we might have been: Sri Lankan.
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