Celebrating May 18

I am one of those who wrote in support of the Government’s war effort while it was in process, on the ground that the war had been thrust on it and that it had no alternative whatever to fighting it and trying to defeat the LTTE militarily. The LTTE put itself in the wrong after 1994, most particularly after it sabotaged Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Presidential prospects and helped President Rajapaksa to come to power. It showed a total intransigence about trying to reach a peaceful solution. It was certainly a just war that the Government waged.

But should the victory be celebrated on a national scale? The question arises because of the obvious fall-out that can be expected among the Tamils. We must take certain factors into account in deciding for or against national celebrations. I believe that if the UNP had continued in power and the LTTE had continued to wage guerrilla warfare appropriate to a long drawn-out war of attrition, instead of resorting prematurely to positional warfare, we would by now be having a de facto Eelam. The majority of the Tamils would by stages be brought under the heel of a neo-Fascist dictatorship. A demoralized Sinhalese people could come to seek green pastures elsewhere on a huge scale. They could be expected to feel that at one time they had Dutugemunu, while now they have Mervyn Silva. As for the Muslims, their total ejection from the EP would most certainly have followed. (Most Sri Lankans, including the Muslims, are not sufficiently aware of the horrible relationship between the LTTE and the EP Muslims).

I don’t think I am being fanciful in holding that Sri Lanka has been saved from a very horrible disaster. The case for national celebrations on May 18 is sound. The problem is that many Tamils will see them not as national celebrations but as Sinhala triumphalist celebrations. Is there a way out? I believe that it can be found by seeking the antecedents of the present situation not in 1994 but in 1975. By that time the Sinhala Buddhists had asserted their position as sons of the soil who were entitled to supremacy in Sri Lanka. The inequities and imbalances coming from British times had been corrected, but in their place there were new inequities and imbalances. They could obviously be corrected, and the way was clearly open to reasonable pragmatic accommodation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. But what followed was something quite different. J.R.Jayewardene shortly after coming to power started his State terrorism, which reached its genocidal apogee in 1983. The Sinhalese power elite was seen as showing that they could with impunity treat the Tamils as pariah dogs – worse in fact because we never burnt pariah dogs alive, as were the Tamils in 1983. The ground was cut from under the feet of the Tamil moderates, and the way smoothened for the ascent of the LTTE. The rest is history.

Let us therefore hold national celebrations on May 18. But on that day let President Rajapaksa announce that henceforth the anniversary of Black Friday 1983 will be observed as a Day of National Mourning.

Izeth Hussain

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