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A realistic compromise, a convergence of realists

A soldier stands guard as members of the National Patriotic Movement hold photos of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband,during a protest in Colombo last Tuesday (10). (AP Photo)

Victory is within our grasp. The Tigers are about to be completely overthrown, the entire national territory re-unified. That victory will be definitive but not final, total and complete until the leadership cadre of the LTTE is hunted down and destroyed. No one must be allowed to "mediate" an end to the war, because that would deny us victory, provide the Tigers an exit and keep them intact as a player.

There are those who argue that as long as there is guerrilla activity the war is not won, and that as long as it is the national territory rather than the peoples who are (re)unified the victory would be partial and in some sense hollow.

Such criticisms are a-historical. For years after the victory of the Union armies in the American Civil War the defeated South remained deeply disaffected. Guerrilla bands such as Quantrill’s Raiders, which combined banditry with murderous violence towards emancipated slaves, continued for years. The notorious policy of Reconstruction was in order to reintegrate the South – a policy that prevented for a century, the full integration of the emancipated Southern blacks. None of this meant that the war against the Confederacy’s secession should not have been waged full-bloodedly or that the victory of the North was not real and historic.

Prissy criticisms have been recently leveled at President Rajapakse for the invocation of three great Sinhala kings, Dutugemunu, Vijayabahu and Gajabahu, in his 61st Independence Day speech. This criticism too is a-historical. I know of no country or people under threat or reawakening after overcoming a challenge , which does not make reference those points in its past when it stood tall. Examples include the rehabilitation of Peter the Great by the USSR during World War II, the partial rehabilitation of Stalin in today’s Russia, the invocation of Joan of Arc by de Gaulle, the recall by Fidel Castro of Maceo, Manuel Cespedes and Marti, and Barack Obama’s references to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Why should Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese and Mahinda Rajapakse be any different?

President Rajapakse’s Independence Day speech is also criticized by the politically correct for its absence of a reference to the 13th amendment. His speech was made while the Sri Lankan armed forces were fighting back against the Tiger thrust of Sunday February 1st, spearheaded by three suicide truck bombs. There was good reason that the Marshall Plan was not unveiled or even conceived of while the Allies waged the Battle of the Bulge, fighting back the Nazis’ last offensive spearheaded by the formidable Tiger tanks. What effect would that have had on the rank and file Allied soldier?

The LTTE’s daring if ultimately abortive counterpunch of February 1st proved a boon for the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces. The counterpunch was prepared during the 48 hour lull unilaterally declared and implemented by the Sri Lankan side for humanitarian purpose and in response to an Indian request. The LTTE’s characteristically opportunistic aggression steeled the State’s resolve never to repeat the gesture. As for the Armed Forces, after the initial setbacks the Tiger lunge provided the chance of inflicting heavy casualties in the counterattack.

While the war is reaching its climax, it is time to be clear about what should come after. Let’s lay it on the line: forget the fantasies of both sides, of a dramatic resurrection of Tamil separatism aided by tens of thousands of volunteers from Tamil Nadu marching to MIA’s rap tunes, or of Sri Lankan generals being judged by History to be the equal if not superior of Vietnam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap who beat two imperialist armies including that of the world’s mightiest superpower. What can happen is that both sides engage in mutual deadlock at best and mutually assured destruction at worst, the Sinhalese holding down the Tamils, the Tamils dragging down the Sinhalese.

Is that what we want? That can very well happen, unless we make another choice, a different one. That choice is simple: a convergence in one form or another of the moderates, or more to the point, the Realists of both sides, Sinhala and Tamil. This also means marginalizing the extremists on both sides of the ethnic divide. But who are the moderates/realists, and who are the extremists? That is easier to define than it might seem. I would argue that the Realists are those who agree that the way forward is the actualization of the 13th amendment, thereby realizing the full potentialities of the Sri Lankan Constitution. Who then are the extremists? Those who oppose the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. These include Sinhala forces /elements who think that the 13th amendment is too much and the Tamil elements who hold that the 13th amendment is too little.

A Tamil realist understands the need to reintegrate into the national political and social mainstream, while a Sinhala realist understands the need for that mainstream to reform so as to facilitate such reintegration. A Tamil realist understands that the international community is not going to secure Tamil Eelam or federalism while a Sinhala realist realizes that Sri Lanka cannot prosper in isolation from the world community and that isolation can be prevented only by the speedy and full implementation of the 13th amendment.

Hopefully for the last time, let me set out why there is no federal option, only a federal fantasy:

1. The balance of social forces does not permit it. According to all non-state public opinion polls (Research International Pvt ltd, CPA’s PCI, FCE, NPC) some conducted in tandem with foreign universities, for over a decade now, the overwhelming majority of the overwhelming majority (95% of the Sinhalese) are against it.

2. The balance of political forces does not permit it. The Federal party could not achieve federalism after decades of peaceful agitation. Even President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the height of her popularity as the "peace candidate" could not implement a quasi federal ‘package’, let alone a fully federal transformation, and had to water it down to the 1997 and 2000 drafts, which themselves could not be pushed through.

3. There is no internal political force which can propel federalism successfully. If any mainstream party advocates it, it will lose the majority of the majority and thus the election. No minority party or parties can come up with the numbers. And even if they do, the federal proposition will lose massively at a national referendum.

4. No military struggle can push it through: the Tigers, "the most lethal" guerrilla movement in Asia according to Barbara Crossette, couldn’t extract anything from the Sinhala state beyond the 13th amendment, and that too was thanks to India. Any one else will meet the same fate. The Sinhalese will always be the overwhelming majority on the island and the massive attendance at "Deyata Kirula" shows that the Sri Lankan army will always have a huge, motivated recruitment base for the foreseeable future.

5. No external force can implement federalism: 70, 000 Indian troops could only under-gird provincial autonomy.

6. There is no logical or rational basis for a federal slogan for Sri Lanka: 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu have obtained only quasi-federalism, not full federalism as in Canada, so why should a small fraction of that number of Tamils feel entitled to federalism in Sri Lanka? And if the IRA representing the Irish Catholics of Northern Ireland can settle for the devolution of power within a unitary state, why are the Tamils of Sri Lanka entitled to more?

Luckily there are at least two Tamil political personalities who understand this reality. The excellent three page feature in the New Indian Express on the post Prabhakaran prospect offers these perspectives among several others:

"The Tamils feel defeated because a large number have for long felt the LTTE is their sole and most effective representative, even the anti-LTTE Tamils. Moderates think the LTTE is responsible for their plight. If it had not positioned itself as the sole representative of Tamils and not annihilated all other players, the Tamils could have bargained from a position of unity. The LTTE has killed more Tamils than any Sinhalese government. It killed even those who went helped it in its early years, people such as A Amirthalingam, the Tamil United Liberation Front chief, and former President R. Premadasa.Without the LTTE, Tamil bargaining power is weak. But with Indian help it may get Colombo to implement the devolution package contained in the 13th amendment to the Constitution. The Tamils may have to view any future settlement realistically. "Something is better than nothing" should be their attitude towards a settlement." - D Sithadthan, a former MP and leader of the PLOTE

"The complete annihilation of the LTTE is necessary for Tamil survival. As a one-time gun-toting militant and now a mainstream parliamentary politician, I can say that militancy and the armed struggle have only brought misery and poverty. The main problems of Tamils are poverty and deprivation. Prabhakaran is completely blind to this. By continuing the armed struggle (I gave it up after the 1987 accord), the LTTE has only worsened the plight of Tamils. I believe they need not take to arms for their rights in a united Sri Lanka. They can use the parliamentary system to secure their demands, not at one go, but step by step. This can be achieved with help from India, which indirectly authored the 13th amendment, by the 1987 accord. The Tamils and the LTTE lost a golden opportunity to settle the problem, by rejecting it." — Douglas Devananda, EPDP leader and Cabinet minister

The danger of agitation and pressure, domestic and foreign respectively, for a federalization of the state is that it will be seized upon Sinhala ultranationalists as a weakening of the country and a sellout of the gains of the war for which so much has been sacrificed by so many. The resonance this has may tilt the national balance of forces in the most regressive way imaginable and shunt political development onto a different path, one which Sri Lanka and India – alone in the region— had eschewed. Political adventurism by Tamil nationalists and external actors could dangerously destabilize the democratic civic order and the equilibrium between various institutions, with "Caeserism" or "Bonapartism" the outcome. Any superficially clever calculation that this would polarize the situation, reinstating the viability of secession, would be yet another blunder by those who were certain that an internationally less plugged in Mahinda Rajapakse administration would be an easier target for Tamil separatism. Deeply alienating though it would be to someone of my sensibility and temperament, the degree of national-popular consent for, and the strength of the passions unleashed by populist-plebeian Praetorianism enjoying priestly sanction, must never be underestimated.

The history of the Sinhalese is a history of long duration. It reveals that they will eventually throw up a vanguard personality and throw out an appeasing, ineffectual or treacherous personality, when there is a feeling of danger and humiliation in the deepest recesses of the collective psyche. Deeply embedded in the Sinhala consciousness are the ideas that the Sinhalese are a minority in the neighborhood especially in relation to 50 million Tamils across a narrow strip of water; that the island is the only place the Sinhalese inhabit as a majority and on which their language is spoken as a native tongue; that ethnic Tamils or Tamil speakers have a second home in the linguistic state of Tamil Nadu and are also present in large numbers as far a-field as Malaysia and Mauritius.

Those ideas transmitted from generation to generation, are reflections, however exaggerated or distorted, of existential reality. This is why the Sinhalese will never give up the island or allow it to be dismembered, shrinking the state. The island is just too small, the Sinhalese just too big a majority on it, and a hostile Tamil Nadu just too close, to permit two states, two armies, two capitals. The centrifugal and the irredentist are unaffordable risks, posing mortal dangers. Sri Lanka cannot afford bi-polarity and must always remain politico-militarily uni-polar, though there can be the downward dispensing and divestiture of power to ‘peripheral centers’. The devolution of power within a unitary state is as good as it can get.

Intervention, interference or the application of coercive external pressure on the island is counterproductive. The more besieged the Sinhalese feel themselves to be, the greater the hardships they will put up with and the more radical the vanguard and the methods they will choose as instrument of resistance and re-conquest of their unique island home.

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(These are the strictly personal views of the writer)

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