Whither now ‘international community’?


By N Sathiya Moorthy

All those Sri Lankans – and the tipping-scale – who had voted Candidate Maithiripala Sirisena for President, on their own perceptions that the international community (IC) was there to see through at least the first five years of the unnatural coalition that too facilitated the same should be looking themselves in the mirror just now. Going beyond the post-war Tamil population, egged on as they were by the TNA – or, in the reverse – and the Muslims after a series of BBS attacks on the community tying down the their political leadership(s) in knots, too should be asking themselves the question: "Whither now the international community?"

For the Tamils, it was the promise of a political solution, following the post-war peace of the graveyard kind. For the Muslims, there was to be peace without fear of future attacks. Even the Christians from among the majority Sinhala community were not spared with Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. All three communities voted against incumbent Rajapaksa, and by default, for Sirisena. The UNP that needed some political victory or the other after losing the presidency way back in 1995, too obliged Sirisena – or, was it the IC, instead? That way, who did Sirisena oblige – his conscience (?) or the international community, by revolting against the Rajapaksa leadership, and still making it to the presidency.

No marks for guessing, who were all behind the grand strategy that made Sirisena, President? The Rajapaksas thought instead that it was a ‘grand strategy’. There could not have been a better political coup than this one in a democracy, and more so in the Rajapaksa era. Three years down the line, what has come of that coup, and that leadership? They are still on the ‘fighting mode’ only that they are fighting themselves.

The wise men

It is anybody’s guess, who had advised the international community on the day to get rid of Mahinda R politically, five years after he had eliminated the LTTE and Velupillai Prabhakaran. It is anybody’s guess equally as to how did the IC come to believe those all from Sri Lanka who were their think-tanks from within. Ask any one of them, and those very persons that may have claimed credit in the past may now want to distance themselves disown the project.

The more circumspect among these wise men with an eye on the future (their own, to begin with) might even tell you that they were not wrong, but the execution of the project was wrong from day one, two or three, as they may wish to believe, or want you to believe. After all, they need to pick up the pieces from where they all had dropped, and expect the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo too to drop sooner than latter so that others could pick it all up and rejoin the pieces to see if it still fitted the zig-saw that is Sri Lanka.

No justification

There is prima facie no need to suspect the international community’s hopes and expectations for and from post-war Sri Lanka. Democracy was in peril under the Rajapaksa regime, long after the war had ended. To give it the benefit of doubt, if at all, leadership did not know when and how to dismount from the war-time high-horse that had been the problem with the Sri Lankan State and the ruling party even before the LTTE had become so very powerful and nationhood-threatening.

There was no war per se when the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983. If anything, the war and violence flowed from it. Neither Rajapaksa, nor his SLFP was in power at the time. So was when the second JVP insurgency occurred under the UNP’s watch, though for the first insurgency, the SLFP and the Sirimavo regime had to take the blame. The annihilation of the Sinhala youth (also in their reproductive age-group, as with the Tamil youth, if proved to be any, at Mullivaikkal) in their thousands should not be forgotten either, if history were not to repeat, be it in the North or in the South.

The very announcement of President Mahinda R that he was conceding the election on the morning of 9 January 2015 was enough to ease the tension on the streets of Sri Lanka and in the minds of Sri Lankan, which until the earlier minute could have been cut with a knife, no questions asked. That also included the democracy that was being denied to the Tamils of the North, East and even capital Colombo, where all they continued to remain suspect in the eyes of the armed forces, which were still recovering LTTE weapons cache every other day, from every other conceivable and inconceivable nook and crony.

But that is what all the nation in general and the Tamils in particular got on the democracy front, and almost in the first minute of Sirisena’s election, with his formal elevation following that very evening – along with the ‘selection’ of Ranil W as Prime Minister. Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have on umpteen occasions since then have publicly criticised the media, which in the pre-war Sri Lanka meant something, and in the war-era, something worse. Yet, overall the situation is better than it was even under the second Rajapaksa regime, for which there was no real justification unlike possibly during the first.

Tilt and tip

The same cannot be said about other issues of governance, starting with corruption and maladministration, the economy and prices – which again the international community too felt could tilt and tip Sri Lanka one way or the other under the Rajapaksas. The less said about the Central Bank bonds scam the better – not only because it happened but more so because it began just a month after the new government had assumed office (implying that the plot, starting with Singaporean, Arjuna Mahendran’s nomination as CB Governor) had been hatched even when these worthies were berating the Rajapaksas for visible and perceived corruption.

For the Tamils, the tip and tilt related to power-devolution and return of civilian lands in the possession of the armed forces during the war years and decades. On the first, there was real progress at the table, but both sides would go back to original, uncompromising positions, once out in the open. Anyway, there was no talk of ‘accountability issues’ to which the TNA and the resident Tamils of the nation got wedded only after the IC began eating out of the pro-LTTE sections of the Tamil Diaspora.

There was hence a lot of tall talk, both on war-crimes probe and power devolution. Truth be acknowledged even at this distance in time, the Rajapaksa regime possibly offered what was/is possible under Sri Lankan circumstances and post-war environment, and not what the IC thought the Tamils needed to be given (even when they had Afghanistan and Iraq happening in front of them, and thanks mainly due to them).

When Mahinda R offered a negotiable political package acceptable to all stake-holders, the TNA would backtrack. They possibly and readily agree to a new Constitution Assembly and a newer Constitution, when the IC talked them into accepting it even pre-poll, for a post-poll government to pursue. If not the IC, the TNA leadership knew pretty well that it would not happen under Sri Lankan circumstances and the State and the Sinhala polity had ways to scuttle it all, wantonly or owing to the very nature of the nation’s politics, since Independence and even before that.

The unstated IC expectation, if not outright demand, concerned China. Today, China has more of Sri Lanka, not less. Given the way, Sirisena and Ranil are sharpening their will and daggers for each other as much as for the one-time common adversary in the Rajapaksas, the nation can possibly forget the new Constitution, the Tamils what all that was promised to them by nations and forces that could not possibly move a pin in a democratic Sri Lanka any more than earlier.

Who then said that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo fooled or cheated the international community as much as they did the Tamils nearer home, and also their own traditional urban, liberal Sinhala middle-class, which under the Rajapaksa rule had also expanded to cover semi-urban centres, elsewhere too in the South? The IC too wanted to be fooled after their freewheeling deals in and with Afghanistan and Iraq. They got what they possibly wanted, but did not know they wanted it, after all!

If someone can still stop Mahinda R from returning to power as President, it is the Sri Lankan people and their existing Constitution, not the international community. But then, he may still be able to return as Prime Minister, a la Vladimir Putin in Russia, and there even an incumbent President in Sirisena’s place may not be able to stop him – if it came to that. If it were to happen, if at all, then Sri Lanka would have come a full circle under the duo’s care, nothing more, nothing else. Amen!

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: sathiyam54@gmail.com)

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