Get on the LLRC bandwagon


By Somapala Gunadheera

Presumably ‘national integration’ is our most discussed topic since the end of the LTTE insurrection. But the discussion has failed to produce any tangible result so far. That is not surprising in terrain where there are many roads to the destination. A logical approach to this problem calls for an objective appraisal of the roadmap to ascertain the most passable and least hazardous route to the peak.

One obvious track is through direct participation of the parties concerned. Such participation is physically impossible in a country with a mixed population of over twenty million. We have come a long way from the Greek city-state of Athens. Space and numbers are not the only constraint on direct negotiation. Centrifugal tendencies created under foreign rule have tended to divide the nation as a devise to facilitate government. These tendencies have been further intensified with the advent of Independence by political maneuvers in the attempt to overbid one another, in the race for power. The end result of this process was the creation of exclusive racial and religious communities jealously guarding their heritage against apprehended inroads from their countrymen suspected to be adverse to their interests. This situation deteriorated through a series of religious and communal riots until it reached its climax in the LTTE insurrection.

A divided society

Generations of rulers did not have the vision to realize the dangers inherent in this manifestation, much less to take corrective measures. Any such effort would have been adverse to their petty thirst for power.

Education was the most obvious tool of integration. But even politicians who had the breadth of vision to create a unique free education system failed to see the need to use that system as a unifying force. Children grew up in a sectarian, environment with no chance of meeting their ethnic counterparts in or out of school. Such interaction was mostly confined to the privileged class attending super schools in town. But even there, the coming together was mainly physical. Verbal contact was limited to the élite whose home language was English and to those living in slums. The comparatively positive approach to communal harmony in the higher echelons of society had its roots in a third language.

It is the insensitive language policy of successive governments that made the *hoi polloi* strangers among their countrymen. Several generations grew up deaf to the voice of their neighbor until they met in the battlefield using lethal weaponry as means of contact. Even where the law has provided avenues to the minorities to communicate with the authorities in their own language, that concession has been blocked by bureaucratic negligence tolerated by those in authority. Thus language has become a main barrier to interpersonal contact as a means to reconciliation.

The personal approach

I discovered the futility of seeking integration through interpersonal ventures from an attempt to create a structure for some enlightened citizens on both sides to join a common forum for finding solutions to problems that keep the communities apart. Although there was a semblance of agreement to meet, the meeting never came off due to unending preliminary questions pertaining to form and content, not to mention doubts about motivation.

A friend of mine, who has tried this method and failed sometimes back, still believes that the approach should succeed in time to come. After going through the above experience, I hold the opposite view, for two reasons. One is that the residue of prejudices created by decades of social mismanagement appears to influence even the intelligentsia subconsciously.

The other is that any consensus brought about privately among dispersed select groups cannot possibly make a tangible impact on the total picture. Such an impact can be expected only after constructive policies had created a common identity among all citizens. But that begs the question.

Interventions by organized national level institutions such as NGOs, INGOs and advocacy groups on both sides have not done better either, in spite of their size and public status. Those that represent sectional interests damage their credibility through extremism and vociferous belligerence, getting marginalized in the process. NGOs with reconciliation agendas are ridiculed as paid agents of interest groups. Sources and volume of their funding are investigated with a view to discrediting their motivation.

INGOs are said to be the insidious envoys of the Neocolonial Empire. High profile groups of senior citizens and intellectuals devoted to good governance and fair play are pooh-poohed as academic visionaries.

Irrespective of their authenticity, these allegations damage the effectiveness of the programs of the bodies concerned. In this scenario, even recognized institutions at the national level cannot be expected to make a difference to national reconciliation. The other high profile institutions where members of different communities meet are the Clubs where conversation in a third-party language strictly avoids discussing national unification in the interest of bon homie.

Failure of politics

Under normal circumstances, political machinery would have been the most effective means to achieve unification but here we have a situation where that machinery happens to be mainly instrumental in putting people asunder. Thirst for power and one-upmanship have been the hallmark of our politics. The main opposition bears the bulk of the responsibility to call a straying Government to order but they are demobilized by a divided house. One of the necessary parties to negotiation, the Tamils, was being arbitrarily manipulated by the ‘Warlord’. They have not been able to come out of the woods completely so far. The Government has consistently played an inconsistent game on the unification front. They have been weaving a Penelope’s Web on the issue creating and recreating structures, throwing their products down the drain and calling for the participation of actors who cannot be expected to attend.

For these reasons people have lost faith in the moves being made to find a political solution. The other danger is that a political solution has an inherent tendency to polarize opinion and make subjective choices based on expediency. Even if the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), happens to meet at last with full representation, it is doubtful whether it would be able to evolve a political solution in a hurry. The reason for the doubt is that it is meeting in an adversarial environment. Parties have not yet put their daggers completely back in the sheaths. Strategy demands that the atmosphere be cooled down before the adversaries meet at the PSC.

The best panacea for relaxing tensions on all sides is likely to be the honest and fast implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC. The recommendations have met with the approval of the UNP. The TNA are asking for their implementation. The international community including India is happy with the proposals. UNHRC wants them implemented within two years. For once here at last, is a plan of reconciliation that is in a win/win situation.

The Report contains the highest common factor of consensus on reconciliation attained so far. The dissentient voices are few and far between and even they do not object to fundamentals. These objections may be looked into in the process of implementation and accommodated wherever possible, without unfair prejudice to any stakeholder. The truism that no one can satisfy the whole world at the same time applies here and the saying goes he who wants to satisfy half the world must be deaf to what the other half says. But the Government is in a much better position with the LLRC recommendations. They have met with minimal resistance.

Pangs of populism

In that background the Governments apparent dilly dallying on the recommendations calls for an explanation. Does it think that although expressed objections are negligible, the silent majority are opposed to the recommendations? That may well be the case with a populist Government that is ultrasensitive to assumed public opinion, seeing a tiger under every bush. Before assuming that the majority are opposed, it is important to ascertain what ‘majority’ implies, for that concept has a temporal context in the sense that it is prone to change with time. The majority opinion on an inter-racial issue today cannot be assessed on criteria that applied during the days of the Sinhala-Muslim riots. Majority support then depended on blood and affinity. But today’s majority is far more enlightened and they make decisions on objective criteria.

The questions that are relevant to ascertain majority opinion on the LLRC recommendations are,

1. Are you in favour of a unitary State?

2. Should national resources be shared equally by all citizens?

3. Should human rights apply to all citizens irrespective of ethnicity?

4. Does every citizen have the right to choose his/her own habitat?

5. Should reparations be made for damage suffered under the war?

6. Should crimes committed under cover of the war be investigated and punished under the normal laws of the land?

7. Should the rule of law apply equally to everybody?

8. Are not people of all communities entitled to a life free from fear, coercion and violence?

9.Should not the structure of government be built up from the village upwards?

A survey made on these propositions is bound to find a very large majority in favor, irrespective of communal bias and they are what the LLRC has proposed. Hence the Government’s cold feet on implementing these proposals appear to arise from ‘anthill phobia’. A shrewd Government will pounce upon the golden opportunity offered by the LLRC Report. In one stroke it has produced a consensus that political strategy has failed to bring about so far, despite straining state funds and personal demagogy. Qualms of conscience caused by certain comments in the Report and its observations affecting personal interests may be overlooked in the larger interest of the Nation.

If the ultimate objective of the 18th Amendment is to be realized as planned, the Government must be able to maintain the self-satisfied society that came into being with the elimination of the LTTE. That calls for its ability to heal wounds of the past and keep all communities together. The LLRC Report appears to be the best weapon in the Government’s hand to achieve that end on the political side, with universal satisfaction. It is not necessary that all recommendations are implemented in one stroke. The process must begin with the least controversial. Initial success would make consensus on harder issues more pliable in due course. That would include the vexed question of constitutional reform assigned to the PSC.

According to the Spokesmen of Government, implementation of LLRC recommendations is in hand. But there is no ready reckoner to ascertain what is being done or who is doing it. The work involved calls for not only an effective machinery of implementation but also for publicity for what is being done. If only our Geneva Team was in a position to support their oratory with hard facts on their claims they would have come out in better colors.

As I have repeatedly stressed, the task of implementing policies that are to make a regime change in inter-racial relations calls for nothing less than a Presidential Commission composed of outstanding men and women of action. Such an institution will have immediate access to the centre of power and the clout of the President himself to direct and coordinate the entire government machinery. The very announcement of a Commission to implement the LLRC recommendations is likely to clear lurking doubts about the government’s sincerity regarding their implementation. Besides, the new SPC will derive its credibility automatically by inheriting the halo of its predecessor. It is earnestly hoped that the Government would soon discover the Highway to Reconciliation constructed by the LLRC and run its best machinery on it to reach our long awaited destination, without further delay.

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