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Mahinda, Liberator or Conqueror?

It will be written in the great book that as the new century dawned, a "demala" King Velu, ruled in the North from his capital in Kilinochchi. It will be written that many kings and queens of Lanka tried in vain to defeat him but failed until Mahinda, from the ancient Kingdom of Magama, ascended to the throne of Lanka and after assembling his "yodhayas", one Gotabhaya among them, raised a huge army and battled in the East on the banks of the Mahaveli and then to the North, where he defeated the "Demalas" and drove them to the sea - well a patch of beach. It will be written in the great book, that Velu hid among the civilians on the beach to save his bacon.

The story is almost identical to that which occurred in 161 BC between Dutu Gemunu and Elara. Both Dutu Gemunu and Mahinda are from Magama, both mobilized huge armies, both had a Gotabhaya, both first battled in the East and then the North. Both have had to appease the population - Gemunu by building a tomb for Elara and Ruvanvelisaya and Mahinda having to initiate massive reconstruction projects.

The only difference is that 70-year-old Elara was a brave warrior who wanted to save his people and came out and challenged for single combat outside his capital while King Velu ran away from his capital and hid among his people on the beach, using the people as a human shield.

There is great historical significance in present events in Sri Lanka which few Lankans appreciate. Most Sinhala nationalists like to think that the island was united for most of history under a central Sinhalese authority. It was not.

Before the present day Mahinda militarily united Sri Lanka in 2009, the British King George III of the House of Hanover militarily united it in 1815. That unity lasted for about 150 years before starting to come apart.

Before that Parakramabahu I of Polonnaruva united Sri Lanka around 1160 AD. The great Parakramabahu’s unity did not last even 100 years.

From 1215 to 1619 there was a kingdom in Jaffna, longer than the life of the United States of America. It was briefly annexed by Bhuvanekabahu VI, also known as Sapumal Kumaraya, in 1450 but lost control of it by 1467.

Rev. Phillipus Baldeaus who lived and preached in the Kingdom of Jaffnapattnum has written extensively about it and his publication in 1672 has a map of the Kingdom.

It is quite extraordinary that what is happening today is a mere repeating of history which has been played out so many times on this island.

Unfortunately, no one has over the years has come up with a winning formula to politically consolidate the unity achieved militarily.

If we are to focus out and look at global developments in democracy and governance over the last 200 years, the present developments in Sri Lanka are an anomaly; Rajapakse and his supporters are swimming upstream.

It is this anomaly, which attracts criticism of the Sri Lankan regime, particularly in the Western democracies.

The global trend, dictates in favour of the Northerners getting their political space in the North (not the one the Sinhalese, drunk with nationalism at present have in mind). From Hong Kong to London, substantial devolved governance is on the cards and the level of devolution is increasingly not controlled by force of arms of the centre or the majority, but by the aspirations of the citizens of the unit of devolution.

In Quebec, Czechoslovakia, and Scotland, referendums have been held or speculated, on separation. This is the future, whether the Sinhalese like it or not.

Unlike Rajapakse and his supporters, senior Sri Lankan diplomats are tuned to global trends and acknowledge that the Northerners always had and have the moral high ground in respect of their cause. Hence the international sympathy for the Tamil cause (not LTTE).

What the Southerners have is a mere window of opportunity.

War on terror, so skilfully exploited by the Sri Lankan state, is the trade wind that has carried the Sri Lankan galleon thus far. What is disturbing is that the Sri Lankan authorities, lost in a whirlwind of nationalism, may fail to position Sri Lanka to exploit the new changing winds.

The War on terror phenomena ensures that India and the Western powers can be managed at tolerable levels to eliminate the scourge of LTTE terrorism. But the moral high ground of the Tamil cause always remains, only temporarily eclipsed by War on Terror.

Globally, as the War on Terror phenomena fades as we move into this century and the ability of the Sri Lankan state to manage the calls for increased autonomy and devolved governance will diminish.

Today, unity of the island is enforced via the barrel of artillery and the level of militarization is at its pinnacle with civilian power and rights severely curtailed. To maintain the status quo at the present level, Sri Lanka will have to maintain a Burma style militaristic regime. This is unrealistic and unlikely and will eventually meet with civilian unrest.

A more realistic trajectory is a fading of militarism and a gradual restoring of civilian rights and powers over the next few years. Already all military procurements have ceased. Economic circumstances will not allow it.

These developments would be encouraged by the international community including India, which will be uncomfortable with a militarized Sri Lanka. This is a process that will gradually increase democracy in Sri Lanka up to a point where its citizens will, like in other democracies, be able to determine the level of devolution and yes, even the unthinkable at present.

The days that ethnic majorities controlled the political aspirations of minorities via legislative or physical control at the point of a gun will rapidly diminish within this century.

The state can justify a military response to terrorism. It cannot justify a military or a police response to the aspirations of a community if demanded politically.

Military power as a means to control or contain internal political aspirations/disputes would increasingly be viewed globally as being expensive, counterproductive, increasing local and regional risk and leading to political and economic destabiliztion.

The world will frown upon states, which use the military or police power as a strategy to contain internal political aspirations and demand that political intervention be used as it is far more successful and less costly.

Unity and nationhood, has to be won over, and can never be enforced. In other societies the racists like the KKK in the United States, the BNP in India, NF in the United Kingdom are outside the government and marginalized, but in Sri Lanka they are in bed with the government, a cancer within the majority community and within the government.

Gotabhaya speaks of the cancer of Tamil nationalism which has to be overcome to win the war; but to win the peace, the more potent cancer of Sinhala nationalism will need to be cut out of society. This would be the more difficult task and without it the days of Mahinda’s unity, achieved at great cost to the nation, are numbered.

Its Mahinda’s choice: does he want to be a conqueror like those before him whose enforced unity disintegrated within a few years as in the case of George III and Parakramabahu I or take bold initiatives to assault the ingrained prejudices of the majority community, empower all the citizens with wide powers of devolution, and be a liberator to all our peoples, breaking the cycle of history and setting Lanka on an unprecedented path of unity, prosperity and political stability.

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