Vijayakala’s Rhetoric and ‘RealPolitik’


by Merril Gunaratne

Vijayakala’s singing of praises of the LTTE can be understood both as an attempt to incite extreme sentiments as well as to boost her own image amongst those who admired the terror group. The south has ben clamouring for her ‘blood’ in a legal context, apart from the disciplinary steps taken by the UNP against her. There can be no dispute that the UNP had to take the required steps against her for voicing utterances which were inconsistent with the policies of the party. But whether legal action should be contemplated against her is another matter.

Realpolitik is about giving priority to practical political considerations over moral obligations. So long as such considerations, rather than being enmeshed in petty, parochial objectives, seek to improve and stabilise the national interest, the endeavours undertaken by the state would fall within the scope of realpolitik. World history is replete with a multitude of such decisions. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa chose to exploit the advantages derived by taking Karuna into confidence in the pursuit of the war, overlooking the brutality perpetrated by him on the police. This policy paid rich dividends. The British in the early 40s virtually abandoned the exiled Polish leaders resident in London in favour of the Russians, in order to keep the unity of the allies intact to vanquish Germany.

The same gauge can be applied to Vijayakala’s rhetoric. There may be prudence in giving priority to considerations which may safeguard the national interest, as against taking legal action for the contravention of the law. The courts of law can be used as effective purveyors of propaganda. Father Singarayer in courts in the 80’s is a case in point. After the abortive Munich putsch in the 1920’s, Adolf Hitler used the courts as a stage to advance his political career. Vijayakala likewise may benefit in her aspirations to expand her support amongst those with extremist proclivities if afforded ample publicity through courts. Leaders of the Federal party and the TULF had also voiced rhetoric in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.The difference then and now is that coming after the elimination of the LTTE , the rhetoric of Vijayakala has hurt the sensibilities of people in the south. The utterances of 50s 60s and 70s were made before the advent of militancy, and did not receive the publicity now possible through the electronic media.

Despite the radical rhetoric of TULF and FP leaders, they were at best moderate, compared with extremists who filled the political spectrum in the 1980s.Unfortunately,the government and the police often associated these moderates with the separatist campaign, though their virulent expressions were designed more to extract political concessions. The Swabasha language policy and standardisation of marks at examinations were perceived as being discriminatory. The language policy caused considerable alienation amongst youth who pursued education only in Tamil; they found it difficult to gain employment in the south, since they were ignorant of English and Sinhala. Even Dr Colvin R De Silva once spoke words of wisdom when he said, ‘one language, two nations, two languages, one nation’. Communal disturbances where large numbers of innocent Tamils were killed in the 50s, 70s, and 80s also accentuated the feeling of insecurity amongst them, and helped the escalation of militancy.

The propaganda of moderates in the 70s and early 80s was aimed at persuading governments to offer political concessions. The regional councils mooted by late Premier Bandaranaike in the 50s as well as the District Development Councils which were proposed in the early 80s were acceptable to the moderates.

In a campaign against militancy and terror the best weapon with policy makers is the strategy of isolating moderates from extremists, particularly before popular support shifts from them to militants, so that with political concessions, their hands could be strengthened so as to keep popular support within their fold. To put it differently, the carrot could be offered to them, so that when extremists are isolated or cornered, the stick can be effectively used against militants. We have repeatedly failed to realise the wisdom of the policy of winning over moderates to isolate extremists.

Ana Seneviratne, a former IGP and head of intelligence in the 1960s, speaking at the launch of my first book said, referring to the emergence of demonstrations of the TULF in the 1970’s that "Eelam was not negotiable". He was referring to a period of time when terrorism had not even raised its head. Following upon the communal holocaust of 1983, the UNP government employed the emotive step of requiring the TULF leaders to take the oath of allegiance in Parliament. Feeling insecure, they abandoned the north and Colombo and took refuge in India. The militants who were a mere handful in 1983 quickly filled the political vacuum left behind by the relatively moderate leaders who as elections of the time demonstrated, yet enjoyed overwhelming popular support. Therefore the government of the time apart from reneging on the promise of District Development Councils, weakened the moderates and strengthened the extremists.

The current political leaders of the north urge the grant of political concessions in their agitations. The fact that grievances exist and political concessions are necessary has been acknowledged by policy makers from the 1950s. Unfortunately all political leaders had failed to ameliorate grievances due to intense protests in the south. The twofold results of their failures had been the emergence of the ugly head of terrorism, and the clamour for a separate state.

Former President Rajapaksa perhaps had the best opportunity to examine and offer realistic concessions after his unique victory over terror. Given the sensibilities of the south, the triumphant victor of the war was in the best position to rally the people behind him. The Tamil leaders of the north may also have been more responsive to reasonable concessions following the obliteration of the LTTE.

It is arguable that many concessions that policy makers offered between 1983 and the assumption of power of president Rajapaksa were against the backdrop of a war where the LTTE appeared to have the edge. Such proposals therefore may have been excessive and unrealistic.

But now it is a different story. The LTTE had been wiped out in a remarkable campaign and policy makers now have to talk to moderates. The moderates should realise that they should be responsive to revised realistic concessions which policy makers may offer. One of the irreconcilable issues concern the decentralisation of the police. Both from short and long term points of view, this concession may presage formidable threats to national security. In case extremists again decide to chart a path of violence, there can come a time when most in regional police may merely be passive onlookers or protagonists. In such a changing and transient climate, security authorities controlled by the ‘Centre’ could also become inept and ineffective, for terrorism has an unpredictable way of rendering security forces personnel passive and inactive when the latter perceive militants to be gathering strength and popular support. Guarantees and safeguards on paper can be discarded or could become impotent by force of circumstance. Given the potentially tempestuous north with an unpredictable future, an armed police force could also be easily exploited for subversive ends. Another contentious issue is the demand for a merger of the north and the east where the Sinhalese and Muslims together are the majority.

The current Tamil leaders have to be cautious. The Tamil people too had undergone immense suffering with the LTTE, and may be placated with reasonable political devolution and an environment where they could manage their own affairs without discrimination. It is difficult to think that they are obsessed with concepts such as police decentralisation and the merger of the north and the east. Actually, the demand for a separate and independent police service in the north was touted by the LTTE for subversive ends.

The reluctance of Tamil leaders to tone down demands may also be influenced by their desire to enjoy abundant political power and authority. It may be prudent for them to consider the acceptance of reasonable proposals, for insistence on a package with contentious issues could give rise to two developments; first, the danger of inciting Tamil youth to violence, and second, the physical threats that may arise to them from militants. Subject to rare exception, in a revolutionary campaign, the militants gain monopolistic control by eliminating moderates. It is said that "All revolutions devour their children".

Therefore the willingness of both sides, one to offer a set of reasonable concessions for acceptance, and the other to look at them with an open mind, may be a prerequisite for peace in the short and long terms. Realpolitik is practised by all countries, big and small: and this principle dictates that whilst policy makers have an obligation to offer proposals for reasonable and revised concessions, Tamil leaders have to show an inclination to be objective in their consideration, in the quest for a solution.

(The writer who retired as a Senior DIG Police was a former chief of intelligence and nation al security)

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