We are living at an important turning- point of Sri Lankan history. That is precisely why President Mahinda Rajapaksa could express the sentiments of the vast majority of our citizens when he said in his memorable speech the other day at the Galle Face Green, Colombo, on the occasion of our 61st Independence Day celebrations: "Today, there is a new vibrancy in our national flag. There is a new resonance in our national anthem. The national flag that our heroic troops took to the North, flutters in the hands of the people of the North. Our entire nation is now united in the shade of the national flag, conscious of the need to achieve victory over the new challenges before us. They love their country more than at any other time in our history".
The national consciousness and the importance of being patriotic are at a high point in our country right now. It is no secret that a considerable portion of our country was in the clutches of LTTE terror till fairly recently. It is also a fact that not only the North and the East, but also the rest of the country was going through a spree of horrendous violence at the hands of Tiger terrorism. Among those who suffered this curse of Tiger terrorism were not just the majority Sinhalese or their political leaders, but also the ordinary Tamil citizens and their moderate political leaders, most if not all of whom were eliminated from this world just because they did not dance according to the tune of LTTE terrorism. As we celebrate the 61st Independence Day, which of us (if we are truly patriotic) can deny the fact that this Independence Day is somewhat different from other such celebrations during the past few decades? Which of us can deny the fact that more than half of the period of our independence from colonialists were spent under the intimidation of LTTE terrorism?
Which of us can deny that we do feel an unprecedented national pride on this year’s Independence Day, with the military defeats of the LTTE though it is surely not the final victory for peace? However, unfortunately, there are both political and religious elements within our own country who are continuing to paint a gloomy picture of our Sri Lankan milieu at this Independence Day celebrations. Surprisingly, they were not limited to the opposition political parties alone.
Having read certain newspaper articles and editorials and the statements of some of our political parties and the messages issued by some religious leaders of our country and also having heard certain TV and radio channels besides the speeches of some of our political and religious leaders, all in view of this year’s Independence Day, I wonder how objective and patriotic they were. It is not a question of just branding anyone and everyone who opposes the President or the government as ‘unpatriotic’ or as not being objective. It is a question of more than obvious one-sidedness of those speeches, statements, messages, articles, editorials, etc.
It is no secret that the same group of political and religious personnel has been opposed to the President even before he was elected to that highest office in Sri Lanka. The way they openly sided with anti-Mahinda groups (while claiming that they were neutral!) and asked their followers also to follow suit in casting their votes at the November 2005 presidential elections, is a case in point. Such people seem to have easily forgotten that their own followers ignored their pleas, and overwhelmingly voted for the present President. They seem to have conveniently forgotten if not overlooked the bitter truth that the great majority of our people gave a resounding mandate to the President to eradicate terrorism. They also seem to be very comfortable in ignoring the fact that election after election ever since the people had resoundingly endorsed the policy of eradicating terrorism. Last but not least, they (who are champions of an exclusively negotiated settlement) have also forgotten that successive governments since the 1986 Thimpu talks have tried their best to enter into a negotiated settlement and that on every such occasion it was the LTTE which did not let such a negotiated settlement work. Why, they have also forgotten that it was the blocking of Mavil Aru by the LTTE in late 2006 that made the present government embark resolutely in fighting terrorism without turning back. It was the same people who kept on saying that it was all government propaganda when the East was being liberated by our security forces. They seem to have never learnt from past experiences, for they continue to obstinately deny reality. Sadly such political and religious leaders seem to have cut themselves off from reality and locked themselves up in their own imagined ghettoes and so have become their own prisoners! That is precisely why they keep on singing the same old song since November 2005, though the background and the audience have both radically changed since then.
While internationally respected journals like the Wall Street Journal and the TIME magazine have hailed the Sri Lankan military victories over terrorists and even referred to the Sri Lankan military efforts as a model for the rest of the world in dealing with terrorism when all avenues of negotiations fail, our own local cronies seem to be still locked inside their ghettoes. They obstinately refuse to accept that paradigms have changed and so, there is a need for a paradigm shift in perceiving the Sri Lankan national crisis.
To be fair, one has to admit that of late, the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP), which opposed any military solution and advocated an exclusively political settlement (though they themselves failed in doing so, even after signing the 2002 ceasefire agreement with the LTTE), has at last made an about turn, a 180 degrees turn. If they were to do this a couple of years ago, they would have been in power today! Now, with the recent resounding victories of our military forces over the LTTE, the very UNP which not only opposed the government’s war against the LTTE terror, not only on our local political stages, but also went around the world campaigning against this war, have shamelessly dared to ask the people to offer religious poojas and partake in religious ceremonies to thank and bless our armed forces for the victories achieved thus far. They seem to have jumped the government band-wagon of successes in the East and the North against terror. However, the UNP has not been sincere and badly wanting in giving the due praise to the government for such victories. They have made a subtle distinction between the government and the armed forces, saying that though the government was trying to gain popularity for the victories over the LTTE, it was indeed our heroic armed forces who need to get all the praise.
Now, there is no denying that it was our heroic armed forces (most of whom sacrificed their dear lives), who were mainly responsible for those historic victories over terrorism. However, could one totally deny the present government, headed by the President, any praise for such victories? Was it the armed forces who decided on their own to wage war against the terror of the LTTE? Was it not the President and the government who took great political risks against massive opposition, both locally and internationally, in embarking on this war against LTTE terror? Not merely as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces but also in going out of his way as a last resort, was it not the President who took the bold initiative to face the LTTE terrorism squarely? If the military efforts failed, it would have been the same President and the government that would have been at the receiving end and they would have been made a scapegoat by the same UNP; if so, how come when we gain military victories over the LTTE, the government is denied any credit? We need to face these facts squarely and sincerely, rather than playing petty party politics at an important juncture of our nation’s history. It is strange but true how the UNP has tried to hoodwink our nation with such childish distinctions, as the distinction between the government and the armed forces in the context of our war against the LTTE.
Still worse is the Independence Day message of the UNP leader who is also the Leader of the Opposition. Not a single mention in that message of the military victories during the last year over LTTE terrorism, both in the North and in the East. Instead, the message painted a totally pessimistic picture as if there is nothing much of an independence that can be celebrated this time and it went on to say: "The people are uncertain as to what exactly we are celebrating in the name of freedom". It is not clear what the term "people" means in this message. If only Ranil Wickremasinghe were to open his eyes and ears on Independence Day and take a good stroll along any road of our country, he would have understood for himself what ordinary people did celebrate at this year’s independence, both in our cities and villages.
As if all this is not bizarre enough, the UNP spokesman Lakshman Kiriella has gone on record last week saying that the UNP always supported the armed forces against the LTTE and he has even dared to take the risk of testing our Sri Lankan memories by challenging anyone to prove that the UNP did not support the war against terror. Unless he has acute dementia or a split-personality, the vast majority of us who have good memories cannot forget how Mr.Kiriella himself in a press interview a couple of years ago, pooh poohed the very launching of this war against terror in the East, saying that any bull could start a fight (‘ona gonekuta yuddha karanna puluvan!’). His dementia may be so serious even to forget that his own leader Ranil Wickremasinghe went to the extent of ridiculing the capture by our armed forces of the strategic Toppigala in the East, saying that it was only a forest with a few trees on a hillock. Then, what about the same UNP members going round the world saying that this war is creating havoc against ordinary Tamil citizens? To top all that, the UNP either opposed or refrained from voting for the budget allocations for the armed forces all along, saying that war on LTTE terror will not succeed. These few selected instances of the UNP performance with regard to the present government’s war against terror, should suffice to prove to any reader (specially to people who suffer from dementia like Mr.Kiriella) as to what support the UNP extended right from the beginning to this war against the LTTE. We, ordinary citizens are not that sick as the UNP is today, to so conveniently forget what it had been saying and doing to oppose the war on the LTTE in every possible way and at every possible forum, both international and national. Nevertheless, it is better late than never! After all, of late, it is not only the UNP that is somersaulting. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which was a proxy to the LTTE all along (not only in Parliament, but elsewhere), surprised the nation when its leader, R.Sampanthan went on record recently saying that they had nothing to do with the LTTE. The writer is at a loss to ascertain which of these political somersaults would beat the other - the UNP’s or the TNA’s. Obviously, it was not without reason that the by-gone generations coined the saying that when the ship sinks the rats are the first to jump out of it.
Even the so-called "international community" seems to be not that badly lagging behind our own local political parties and their leaders when it comes to its own somersaulting. The so-called "co-chairs" with regard to Sri Lankan national crisis, were opposed to this war on the LTTE all along, often unwilling to make a distinction between the Tamils and the LTTE. On the eve of this year’s Independence Day, the same co-chairs of the Tokyo Aid Conference – Norway, Japan, the US and the EU – went on record calling on the LTTE to lay down arms and discuss with the government the modalities of ending hostilities to avoid further civilian casualties. To say the least, the writer is pleasantly surprised at this sort of a request coming from such quarters who acted (till fairly recent times) as if they were "the god-parents" of the LTTE.
That they did such somersaulting and called on the LTTE to do what is more than obvious, is surely to their credit. A similar about turn is seen also in the Human Rights Watch (HRW), who now say that it is the LTTE which is preventing the ordinary Tamil civilians trapped in Mullaitivu from leaving for safety. However, what surprises the writer is the fact that the local self-appointed "peace-doves" and some of the political and religious leaders, are far behind from making such practical, realistic statements and effective suggestions as those of the ‘co-chairs’ and other international organizations like the HRW. They seem to be badly bogged down in their own imagined worlds and seem to have not taken cognizance of the changing paradigms in the Sri Lankan situation.
I also had the privilege (or the misfortune) both on the day before Independence Day and on the day proper, to attend a few religious ceremonies. On both occasions, the ceremonies were clouded with extra-pessimistic sermons and exhortations. Not a single mention was made of the victories over terrorism, the regaining of the lost land from the LTTE, the liberation of the East, the re-establishment of democratic rule there and the massive developments taking place there with foreign aid, specially Western aid. No mention was made of former LTTE-terrorists, like Karuna Amman and Pillayan, now joining the main democratic political stream of the country. Such events seemed to be not positive or optimistic signs for them. As usual with such people, the refrain that a military solution is not the ultimate solution was repeated ad nauseam. It was also mentioned repeatedly that in the current war effort, hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamils were displaced in the North and also that many civilians were killed in the war. No mention was made why and how this war began in the first place, nor how the LTTE triggered it off by blocking the Mavil Aru. No mention was made either of any legitimate government’s duty to protect its civilians from any form of terror, including LTTE terror. Instead, fighting terror was portrayed as a great evil. But what took the cake was how such people highlighted the plight of the Tamil civilians now trapped in Mullaitivu between the government forces and the LTTE. Not surprisingly, no mention was made that it was the LTTE which does not let those innocent civilians escape into the no-war zones. Nor was it mentioned that the government created such no-war zones or that the government gave a 48-hour period for civilians to cross over to safety. Nothing was mentioned of government’s willingness to grant an amnesty to all those LTTE cadres who surrender. To me, it appeared that for such people, defeating LTTE terrorism was something to be pitied. For them, it appeared, the LTTE and the Tamil civilians are the same, and so, the defeat of the LTTE was such an evil that this government does not deserve at all to continue in office. That any government has the primary duty to protect its own civilians is a given. That even during a war civilians are to be protected as far as possible, is also part of not only international law but also of any civilized law. There is not a single event in our war against LTTE terror in the East and the North to prove that at any given instance, the Sri Lankan security forces deliberately targeted the civilians. So, to just highlight only the civilian casualties of this war while giving the impression that such casualties are caused by government’s ‘malicious intention’ to target innocent Tamils, is outright calumny. Surprisingly, such people do not ever make mention of civilian casualties at the hands of LTTE terrorism even during this war, thus, betraying how subjective they are.
Strangely enough, up until the time of writing this essay, neither the President nor any government authority has said that the ultimate solution to this national crisis is a military solution. The President keeps on repeating that this is only the first step (i.e., the crushing of the LTTE militarily) and then we need to enter into a negotiated political package that would do justice to all communities in our country. But these self-appointed ‘pessimists’ continue to read their own interpretations to whatever the President or the government would say and take great delight in portraying the latter as an evil force fully bent on harassing the ordinary Tamil citizens. They keep on reciting their litany of woes and refuse to see any good done so far. History will no doubt condemn them to oblivion but what grieves the writer is that the very people and followers whom these religious and political leaders claim to represent, will also be unfortunately lumped together with such leaders when they would be dumped into the dustbins of history. That is a pity because the vast majority of those followers who are at grassroots do not share what those leaders claim, as shown by the former at election after election.
Long ago, Jesus Christ advised his disciples to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Unfortunately, in our situation those political and religious leaders seem to be giving neither Caesar nor God their respective due! They seem to be so blinded by their own petty partisan prejudices that even while seeing they seem not to see, even while hearing they seem not to hear…..I mean reality. Sooner or later, they will have to liberate themselves from the prisons they themselves have created and got themselves locked in, but it will be too late. By then, they would have lost not only such great opportunities in being sharers of our nation- building but also in shaping our history. For, we need all Sri Lankans in nation- building at this critical but historic moment. We just cannot afford to lose even a single contribution of any of our citizens, for eventually, it is we as a whole, we as a nation, who would be poorer.
In the last analysis, does the government deserve any credit for clearing the North and the East of terrorism? The author believes firmly that it deserves at least some credit because it was the government’s resoluteness in eradicating terrorism and its decisiveness (things which were absent in all the previous governments), which brought this great victory over the LTTE whom most of us believed (or were made to believe) were invincible. Of course, a mere military victory is not the ultimate solution, as the President made it so clear in his recent Independence Day speech, as before. These military victories, would pave the way, hopefully, for a negotiated settlement, a settlement that does justice and gives dignity to all communities of our country. The President’s invitation at the recent Independence Day celebrations to all who left the country due to violence and war, to return, is apparently directed at the many Tamil citizens who fled the country in fear during the past few decades. Such an invitation, itself, is a clear sign of the need for national integration of all our citizens, whether Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, Muslim, Malay or whatever. For all of them are the equal sons and daughters of Mother Sri Lanka.
That corruption, bribery and waste are rampant in present government circles is a fact. That a good number of ministers and government personnel are relishing in wasting government funds while ordinary masses are struggling to find their next meal, is also a fact. That political favouritism and injustice still reign supreme, thanks often to political patronising of them from higher echelons (often, of the ruling party), is also an undeniable fact. That the President and the government have to do something about these national liabilities is undeniable. The government also needs to take the responsibility of ensuring the human rights of every citizen, irrespective of the political party to which he/she may belong. Or else, we do not need a government! It is surely not sufficient for a legitimate government to just say that they are ignorant of brutal day-light killings. The government needs to manifest to the country that they are in control of the affairs of the country. The recent brutal killings of media personnel is a case in point. The government has the duty to bring the culprits to justice and also to ensure that such things do not happen in future.
However, that the need to eradicate LTTE terrorism has to take top-most priority at the moment is also a fact, a fact which many of those who opposed the President or the government do not wish to admit, simply because they are blinded by petty partisan politics. Such people may have their own solutions and alternatives (which even may be much better than those of the present government), but then, this government which has got such resounding mandates at successive elections, needs to be allowed to do its job of finding a solution to the national crisis, especially in eradiating terrorism. Once that is done, it is the bounden duty of the government, on its part, to address the other crucial issues which are eating into our nation, in order to prevent other "LTTE’s" being born in our country, not only in the North and East, but also in the South.
However, in the meantime, let’s give credit to those who deserve it, for being resolute, single-minded in giving direction to our armed forces. Let’s give the present government the credit it so richly deserves, at the same time not forgetting our brave armed forces who were directly involved in achieving such victories, often at great risk to their own lives.