Reconciliation – history and relevance


By Gunadasa Amarasekera

Neville Ladduwahetty, in his article on the National Anthem raises a very valid point, namely that we are prepared to violate the Constitution for the sake of reconciliation. The LRRC whose main objective was reconciliation, was prepared to violate the Constitution and allow the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil. To avoid a major irritant was the excuse for doing so. The incumbent President whose role in this respect has been enumerated in your editorial (unflinchingly vaporized the then Government which had a majority in parliament and installed a minority one; he decreed that Mohan Pieris who had been functioning as the Head of the Judiciary was not the Chief Justice. Then he appointed Nimal Siripala de Silva whose party is not in the opposition as opposition leader. (6/4 Island) He has violated the Constitution for the fifth time by declaring that the National Anthem could be sung in Tamil.

We seem to be blissfully unconcerned of these violations committed by President Sirisena. We seem to take a very indulgent view of these constitutional crimes. No President has done this before. JR at whom we are too ready to point our finger, never violated the Constitution as such. What he did was to change the Constitution to suit his purpose; not violate the rules of the game but change the rules of the game. I have on a number of occasions pointed out that it is time we brought a vote of no confidence against the President on this issue.

My concern is not to delve into these violations in the name of reconciliation, but to trace the history of this reconciliation process, what has been achieved by it, and more than anything else to discuss its relevance to the situation the country is facing at present. This I think is all the more important as a valiant attempt is being made by the present regime by establishing a constitutionally recognized body headed by Chandrika Kumarataunga, to achieve this much desired reconciliation.

Reconciliation in different forms has been one obsession with us, right from the beginning, from the time we gained independence. The different pacts, Bandaranaike-Chelvnayakam, Dudley-Chelvanayakam came into being in the name of reconciliation. Moves like the implementation of the 13th Amendment, promising to hand over the North to Mr.Prabakaran for ten years, the various Peace Talks held right across the globe, the Sudu Nelum Movement, the package deal, PTOMS - all these were different versions of the reconciliatory process.

With the defeat of terrorism, and the paradigm shift that ensued, we of the Patriotic National Movement believed that no reconciliatory measures are required any longer. Working on that assumption the PNM appointed a National Revival Commission headed by Justice Rajah Wanasundara to go into the problems faced by the country in the new situation. Many valuable recommendations were made in this report which was written entirely by Justice Wanasundara. However no encouragement or publicity was given to us by the government. The media was advised to ignore us. It was with difficulty that I managed to present a copy of it to President Rajapakasa. The response of the government to the new situation, took us by surprise. It appointed a LLRC consisting of a bunch of star gazers who had their feet in the air and not on this soil. What they recommended was a continuation of the reconciliatory process with greater commitment. It was a God send to the separatists, who used it as a bludgeon to hit back.

A reconciliatory process is a coming together of two parties with opposing views to find a solution to a problem they confront. What is absolutely essential at such a meeting is to define the problem they confront in the clearest terms possible. It has to be spelt out loud and clear. When those PACTS were initiated and all those other reconciliatory processes carried out, that procedure was never adhered to. It was vaguely referred as an ‘ethnic problem’, left to one’s imagination but never spelt out .While the proponents insisted on the existence of such a problem with no evidence to substantiate it, the opponents took it for granted and never challenged it. This was the background to all those reconciliatory maneuvers that took place in the past.

It is only recently during the last two or three decades that such a challenge was made by the opponents. Nalin de Silva was one of the earliest to do so. He put it across very cogently, posing the question, ‘has the fact of being a Tamil deprived you of any right enjoyed by others in this country?’ Neither the Tamil racists nor their vociferous sympathizers have answered him up to date. Many others have asked the same question on many occasions. SL Gunasaekera asked Kumar Ponnambalam on a televised debate to enumerate the injustices he is facing as a Tamil. The injustice he could point out was that he had to fill out his income tax forms that were in Sinhala! As injustices were hard to find, they were replaced by grievances, which too were difficult to be named. Lately, that too has been replaced by aspirations. The Tamils have been denied the realization of their aspirations. In spite of these lame excuses the myth of an ethnic problem has survived and has got established well and truly, so much so, any challenge to it has become almost a sacrilegious act.

Why this has become so, is worthy of analysis.

For that we have to go back to history.

Our Independence movement was not the result of a mass movement as such, it was an affair confined to an elitist group consisting of both Sinhala and Tamil leaders. They came together to form the Ceylon National Congress. The modus operandi adopted was negotiation with the white rulers. The Sinhala leaders in the Congress in my opinion belonged to the Macaulay generation with cosmopolitan liberal views and no national ideology. Their only concern was to get into the shoes of the white ruler and carry on in the same manner. Some of them even did not want full independence, but wanted the white ruler to remain. The Tamil leaders in contrast had a national ideology of their own, for example Arunachalam Ponnambalam who was a prominent figure had a vision of an Eelam consisting of parts of Ceylon, India and Malaysia even prior to joining the National Congress. With these divergent views the National Congress could not last long. The Tamil leaders were out to have a state of their own, or at least a federal state. The stumbling block was the fact that they were a minority. They tried to circumvent that with moves like fifty-fifty. But with changing circumstances they knew that they could not succeed. The only way to extract the privileges that they had enjoyed under the British was to create the bogey of an ethnic problem and bring the charge of discrimination and harassment. The Sinhala leaders who took over power were not much concerned with these complaints. DS Senanayake sought to pacify them by offering Cabinet posts. However, the opportunity for them to use the bogey of an ethnic problem and intimidate the Sinhala leaders came with the emergence of the SLFP and the Sinhala community getting divided between the UNP and the SLFP. Either party had to seek the support of the Tamil parties in order to come to power. For that they had to accept the existence of an ethnic problem whether they believed in it or not. They had to agree to concessions and pacts; sanctioned by both Sinhala parties the ethnic question entered the psyche of the majority Sinhalese giving rise to a false consciousness. That false consciousness got established to such a degree that no one dared to question it. It was like the proverbial emperor’s clothes, to challenge it was a sacrilegious act. This in brief is the history of the reconciliation process.

It is time we who have been obsessed with reconciliation, realize that the entire landscape that nurtured the bogey of an ethnic problem has changed dramatically. The conjurors that created the bogey have begun to disown it.

Both Vigneswaran and Sumanthiran that dominate the landscape have openly declared that they are no longer interested in the 13th Amendment –in reconciliation; that this reconciliatory process is incapable of making them realize their ambition.

What has brought this about? Is it a change of heart? Is it that they are not after Elam anymore? Or is it that they have discovered a new strategy to achieve their goal-Elam?

The key to understanding this is provided, not by us, but by the US State Department, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

These two organizations have right along worked on this issue, in terms of human rights violations, and accountability, and the possibility of R2P intervention. The Darusmman Report and all other documentary evidence are being collected for this purpose. By September all that will be brought out. It is this activity that has brought out the change of heart in these two gentlemen. It is not a change of heart, but a change in the modus operandi to achieve Elam.

When Vigneswaran brought the charge of genocide, and handed over the charge sheet to the UN office many dismissed it as being prompted by a hallucinatory streak of an aging Dodo consumed by racism. Little did they realize that the far sighted Vigneswaran was performing the role allocated to him by the US. In working out the diabolical plan for R2P intervention Vigneswaran had meticulously worked out the cases of so called genocide year by year for the last fifty years. What more evidence is needed for R2P intervention?

Thamara Manimekala Kulanayakam , one time our permanent representative to the UN office has spoken out at length on this matter in an interview given to the newspapers.

‘US seek to eventually partition Sri Lanka; humanitarian R2P is contemplated’ was the caption given to her interview. I do not intend reproducing her valuable insights except the observations she had made regarding the role of reconciliation in the present context.

"LLRC is necessary for the island to unify our people. The sooner we do that the better for us. But it is not going to change the position of the world or that of the US .What they are looking for is accountability not reconciliation, which is the third pillar of R2P".

It is time we opened our eyes and not allow us to be lulled into believing that the new reconciliation process headed by Chandrika Kumaratunge or anyone else is going to save us.

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