Archive for January, 2008
by Rt.Rev Duleep de Chickera
A Message to the Nation on the occasion of Sri Lanka’s National Day
This year we celebrate 60 years of independence from British colonial rule. Our history as an independent people was interrupted and suppressed at the beginning of the sixteenth century with the invasion by the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and the British. There is yet to be an apology from the former colonial powers, for the violence and exploitation to the economy and cultures of countries like ours.
[Orrs Hill, Trincomalee]
Today sixty years after self Government we still are a deprived and divided people. While there is no such thing as a perfect nation, our performance continues to be traumatic and tragic. Our growth and progress as an independent people has been violated by confrontational party politics, greed, and lack of vision and planning of the political leadership of the country, and an indifferent civil society. There has yet to be an apology from our successive layers of political leaders for depriving our people of a legitimate, secure and integrated quality of life.
A long journey lies ahead towards freedom. True freedom is freedom for all. There can be no freedom for some at the expense of freedom for others. Any such promise is immoral and a political lie.
The journey towards freedom must acknowledge and overcome the immediate national threats of poverty, impunity and violence, the oppression of ignorance and disease, the hypocrisy, rhetoric and lies of politicians, and growing corruption, suspicion and fear amongst the people.
It is a journey that will require forgiveness, reconciliation and healing between the communities.
It is a journey in which each is called to see the other as a gift. It is a journey that will only reach its destination through a transformed and participatory political vision as well as the patience and courage of all.
It is then that our people will be free to;
dance and sing on the streets,
dream and discover themselves,
think and disagree,
relate and integrate,
be different but one,
and move and live without restriction.
“May God give us the courage to change the things we can,
the humility to accept the things we cannot change,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Feb 4, 2008
[The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera is the Bishop of Colombo]
January 31st, 2008
By A.K. Verma
The cyclical politics of Sri Lanka are again at cross roads. The choice before the Sri Lankan Central Government is between expediency and statesmanship. The majoritarian complexes, as in the past, stand like an immovable rock limiting the options before the Government.
Like President Premdasa earlier, the Central leadership is again seeking the company of a strange bed fellow, the JVP this time. A union of the two might strengthen Sinhala public opinion against the Tamils, but it will cause no dent on the traditional posture of the Sri Lankan Tamils of the North and East. How does one then move forward?
An obvious option is that India should be approached to provide its good offices once again to become an interlocutor between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Central Government. The thoughts of some might even run to seeking a more decisive form of an intervention from India.
The history of ethnic strife in Sri Lanka establishes two facts very clearly, the uncompromising quest for Ealam on the Tamil side and an equal determination on the Sinhala side not to succumb to the Tamil pressure.
The Indian policy in the past was based on the fantasy that it could work out an acceptable middle path between the two extreme positions. From arms training to Sri Lankan Tamils to Thimpu talks, to the 1987 Sri Lanka accord and to the activisation of IPKF in Sri Lanka, the Indian authorities had failed to comprehend that its leverage with the two adversaries had not been of a magnitude as to give it a decisive role in the troubles between the two.
Believing in the principles of Panchashila, the thoughts of any kind of intervention in Sri Lankan affairs should have been taboo for the Indian Government. How did errors of policy, now widely acknowledged, actually occur?
More than any individual, the mechanism of policy making has to be blamed. In point of fact, no structured mechanism for making high level policy decisions existed then, as it perhaps exists not even today. Decisions were often made on a cue from the top, but usually that cue was not the distilled product of an informed debate, arising from options formally presented in the shape of approach papers from persons who could be identified as experts in their fields. Some time adhoc core committees would be constituted whose membership would necessarily be all bureaucrats with individuals qualifying for the membership on the basis of jobs held in the government.
Apart from the fact that such adhoc dispensations did not bring about the required level of scholarship, expertise or experience into the consideration of issues, the proceedings would often be marked by fruitless pursuits of one-man upmanship, opposition for the sake of opposition and wrangling for being identified as the most productive participant.
Most members might contribute by being mere mute spectators. They would be none the worse for their substandard work culture, because setting of standards, commitment, accountability and supervision were virtues which the system rarely demanded.
For example when the July 87 India SriLanka accord was signed, there was no study to check whether Prabhakaran was genuinely ready to give up Ealam and surrender all the arms held by the Tigers.
Again, when it was claimed that the IPKF would be able to clear the field of the Tigers within a week, the claim was not tested by independent scrutiny, before being accepted.
The irony was that the decision to air drop troops at certain locations was also taken in complete isolation, even without an intelligence briefing. The locations were manned by the Tigers. The paratroopers descending to the earth were decimated in large numbers.
Even the assumption that Dravidian nationalism and Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism reinforced each other, on the basis of which many decisions were taken , was a subjective formulation but no body in the policy making apparatus was willing to test it empirically or otherwise.
In the core group there were occasions when a member would only be interested in wrecking the progress being achieved by the rest. As no minutes of the meetings were officially kept or circulated, irresponsibility would never become an issue to haunt anyone ever.
Such adhoc committees or core groups as they were sometimes called, often functioned without being given objectives to be sought, by the political leadership.
At the end of the day the most articulate or the best informed would be able to carry the group with him but it did not necessarily mean that his recommendations would be in the best interests of the country if only because the discussions in the group would have taken place without laid down policy objectives, options and consideration of short, mid or long-term impact.
The resulting failure was not only in making an accurate reading of the Tamil Tiger mind: there was a similar inability to assess the limits of Sri Lankan concessions on offer to the Tamils.
At no time except in the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka accord, the Sri Lankan authorities agreed to let Tamils rule in the Eastern Province. The concession made in the Accord was withdrawn as soon as it came unstuck. Sri Lankans cannot bear the thought that the port of Trincomalee should come under Tamil governance and they would try to frustrate such a possibility till the end.
No new security management exercise seems necessary in India in order to conclude that Indian involvement, if any, in the ethnic crises on Sri Lanka must abide by the following parameters:
* The invitation to India has to be from both the sides.
* India must know in advance the ultimate fall back position of each side and its exit policy.
* Prabhakaran will not settle for less than defacto Ealam in a designated Tamils territory.
* Is the Sri Lanka Government in a position to get a Sinhala majority to live with a fully autonomous Tamil territory within an integrated but federal Sri Lanka structure? The Sinhalas must be transparent about it.
* The plantation Tamils should have the freedom to stay in their existing abodes.India must first be convinced that the two adversaries genuinely feel the urgency of a political solution. Only then it should offer its good offices. There is also an absolute need to tighten its national security management apparatus so that progress or lack of it could be monitored at every stage in terms of goals set.
[The writer is a former chief of the Indian intelligence agency RAW)]
January 31st, 2008
by Dayan Jayatilleka
“The only question therefore is this: is there an absolute enemy and who is it in concreto?”-Carl Schmitt
[The Old Parliament Building the near the Galle Face Green, now the Presidential Secretariat]
Sri Lanka turns sixty this Monday, February 4th. It has been in a single stage (albeit with many phases) of history from the year it turned 35, in 1983. For the past quarter century its destiny has been determined by the secessionist war. Now at sixty, the long war approaches its decisive peak, a highest stage of intensity which therefore also marks its last stage. The war has been a protracted one; a war of attrition. What is expected to be short by comparison, is its last stage. We have arrived, in the words of Winston Churchill, not at “the end of the end” but at “the beginning of the end”. It is the beginning of the end of Prabhakaran and the LTTE as a rival army, but between the ‘beginning of the end’ and the ‘end of the end’ there will be heavy going. Sri Lanka can derive some grim and modest satisfaction in that its armed forces have arrived at the commencement-or have actually commenced-the third and last stage of this sort of war, that of the strategic offensive, or more accurately, the strategic counteroffensive.
There will be those who contest my definition of the war as the decisive challenge and task facing the country as it turns sixty, and will argue that it is the National or Nationalities Question (also known as the Ethnic issue) that constitutes and has always constituted the main challenge. This translates itself into a perspective which holds that either Sinhala or Tamil nationalism/chauvinism is the main problem. It was Kurt Julius Goldstein, the head of the World Federation of anti Fascist Resistance fighters, who, in Moscow in the summer of ‘85 educated me out of such reductionism at the World Festival of Youth and Students. As I reported at the time in the Lanka Guardian and The Island, this veteran anti-Nazi fighter told me that the biggest error the Left made was to confuse nationalism, chauvinism and fascism: ‘we should have united with nationalism, even chauvinism, to fight fascism; instead of which we treated them as all the same’.
Doubtless Sinhala and Tamil nationalism or chauvinism caused the war to take place. However, when a phenomenon reaches a certain stage of development and intensity, it has to be dealt with as an autonomous factor, irrespective of the chain of causation. That is why those who oppose the Mahinda Rajapakse administration on the grounds of its Sinhala nationalism, or the ultra-nationalism, even chauvinism of its smaller allies, are as mistaken as those who oppose the APRC proposals for the full implementation of the 13th amendment as an unwarranted and ill-timed concession to “peaceful Tamil nationalism”. The lesson of history is that Sri Lanka must bring together Sinhala and Tamil nationalism in the war against Tamil fascism, Tamil neo-Nazism, incarnated in the LTTE and led by Prabhakaran.
This may offend the sensibilities of some, and that has been the case throughout history. Purists pilloried Stalin’s Russia when, in the face of the Nazi invasion, socialist appeals were fused with Russian nationalism and the partial revival of Russian Orthodox Christianity in the Great Patriotic War. At the beginning of 1949, the Times of Ceylon carried the text of a YMCA lecture by the LSSP theoretician Dr Colvin R de Silva giving all the reasons why the Chinese Revolution would not and could not triumph, given its rural, petty bourgeois, narrow nationalist character. On October 1st that year Mao ze Dong was victoriously proclaiming that “The Chinese people have stood up”! The dogmatic Communists decried Fidel Castro’s Moncada assault because it did not fit their checklist of characteristics for the stamp of approval. Today, many governments and leaders who are playing a major anti-imperialist and progressive role, such as Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and the ANC’s Jacob Zuma, are being opposed by a strange coalition of pro-western liberals, and ex-ultra-leftists. (The role played in Venezuela by Douglas Bravo and Teodoro Petkoff is a stark case in point.)
Thus it is not the Ethno National Question, but its issue, the war, that is our main challenge and test today. How can it be otherwise when we are faced with an enemy recently described by the FBI as “one of the most dangerous extremists groups in the world”, which according to its report, pioneered the suicide belt and the woman suicide bomber, and is the only group in the world responsible for the killing of political leaders of two countries? How can it be otherwise when we face an enemy described by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Burns of the New York Times, as the Pol Pot of South Asia, and a movement described by renowned authority on Nazism, Prof Walter Laqueur as being paralleled in its fanaticism and ruthlessness only by the European fascist movement of the 1920s and 1930s? How can it conceivably be otherwise when we are facing Prabhakaran, the man described in the Millennium issue of The Times (London) on the theme of Death, as the man personally responsible for the most number of violent deaths on the planet? A great many countries are plagued by ethno national conflicts but few are faced with enemies of this magnitude of dangerousness. How then can anyone argue that any other issue could be more important, should have greater priority or constitute more of a yardstick?
Having lost a number of outstanding leaders, the country has not been decapitated, or reduced to those who would capitulate before the enemy. The country is lucky in that its leadership has grasped “the key link….which guarantees its possessor control of the chain”, as Lenin put it. That “key link” is the need to defeat Prabhakaran and the LTTE. Sir Isaiah Berlin quoted Archilocus to classify thinkers into two main categories: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes, Sir Isaiah reminded us, know many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing. This administration may or may not know many things but it does know “one big thing”–the war and the need to win it. When that one big thing is, also that which Lenin defined as the key link, then the country is fortunate. This does not mean that the Rajapakse leadership should be exempt from criticism. What it does mean is that all sincerely patriotic criticism would be from within a strategy of critical (even savagely critical) support; which Mao referred to as “unity and struggle”.
APRC & the 13th Amendment
The raucous response to the APRC’s recommendations is, paradoxically, the best evidence of the constructive character of the proposals. There are those who criticise them as not enough, as too little too late, and those others who damn them as too much too soon. In a monograph co-published by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) and the International Centre of Ethnic Studies (ICES) in 1998, I argued, as a former Minister of the North Eastern Provincial Council, that the failure of the experiment was not because of the insufficiency of the quantum of devolution, but because of the LTTE’s war against the Council and a plethora of political errors on the part of the key political players, not least the EPRLF. The 13th Amendment has never been give a chance to work, and it should. To those who say that it is a formula which is twenty years old, my reply is that federalism is over fifty years old as a slogan in the Sri Lankan debate! As for the Indian model, that will work by definition, in India, not Sri Lanka. Here I am not being facetious. India has a huge landmass and more importantly, an ethnically multi-polar situation, while Sri Lanka is a small island with an ethnically bipolar situation, as was first observed by that pioneering Indian scholar of Sri Lankan politics, the late Prof Urmila Phadnis of the JNU. The 13th amendment is the product of the impact of the Indian model (in the person of the Indian negotiators and 70, 000 Indian troops) upon the Sri Lankan reality, and is the resultant of the interaction. It is the closest approximation of the Indian model that is acceptable to Sri Lanka.
One of Sri Lanka’s legendary educators and teachers of history, L.H. Horace Perera is a long time resident of Geneva. A man with decades in the UN system, and a liberal Catholic by belief, he is by no means a “Sinhala Buddhist hardliner”, still less a JVP or JHU sympathiser. I asked him what type of system he would recommend for the island as a historian and one who has watched independent Sri Lanka make so many mistakes. He readily answered that “given its geographic location and history, it requires a strong centre. That strong centre must permit some autonomy at the periphery, but whenever the island had a weak centre, it was defeated, and civilisations collapsed.”
Sri Lankan extremists must recognise two realities. A strong centre is imperative, which means that there can be no devolution of power beyond that of provincial autonomy or a quasi-federal system. Full federalism would be imprudent, which is something the majority of people instinctively know and therefore have consistently rejected. The other extreme must know that a strong centre cannot mean an over-centralised system. Strength lies in flexibility, not brittleness.
Critics of the APRC proposals seem to suffer from a touch of amnesia. Surely President Rajapakse’s response is far more constructive than that of President Jayewardene who disowned Annexure C and the APC of 1984? Surely this present outcome is better than the sincere exercise of President Premadasa’s APC in 1990, which was however, so devoid of success that it had to be shunted into a Parliamentary Select Committee? Surely it is better to attempt the full implementation of the 13th amendment than have a devolution proposal which suffers the fate of the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals, and Chandrika’s ‘union of regions’ package(s) of 1995 and 1997? Surely a practicable proposal is better than one which suffers the same fate in the legislature as President Kumaratunga’s August 2000 draft Constitution?
The proposals accepted by President Rajapakse remind me of nothing so much as the mid 1986 agreement arrived at the Political Parties Conference (PPC), the voluminous document of which is still available in print. That conference was summoned by President Jayewardene at the written insistence of Vijaya Kumaratunga who had returned from discussions with the Tamil militants in Jaffna and India. The entirety of the democratic Left was represented and did the running at the Conference, and produced a political platform which made for full Provincial autonomy, with no merger. Though he later supported the Indo-Lanka Accord as Sri Lanka’s last best chance for peace, Vijaya was himself staunchly opposed to the merger.
Petraeus & Putin
Given the war, the APRC recommendations translate in the immediate context, into an Interim or Transitional Political Authority (council) for the North, and Provincial elections for the East. Those outsiders who say that an election in the East will somehow lack legitimacy because of the presence of so-called paramilitaries, should be reminded of the far more violent conditions under which elections were held in Iraq and Afghanistan after invasion! As for paramilitaries, the US would not have initially (temporarily?) won the Afghan campaign without the support of the Northern Alliance warlords, and today, the limited success of the so-called surge and the COIN (counterinsurgency) doctrine of the cerebral General David Petraeus, is made possible precisely because of the active participation of “paramilitaries” from among the Sunni community, who have formed neighbourhood Vigilance Committees against al Qaeda. If the Anbar model is good enough for the US in Iraq, it sure is good enough for Sri Lanka in its own Eastern province! Let us not even go into the issue of Shia militia who are operating within the folds of the Army and law enforcement bodies (the pun is intended) put together by the US led coalition.’
For those at the opposite end of the Sri Lankan spectrum who oppose a Northern Interim administration with Police powers, a reminder is needed that without such an intermediate structure, the picture will be one of a Sinhala army fighting Tamil insurgents. The matter was different in the Punjab and Kashmir where the Indian Army was and is able to field a multiethnic, multireligious force, including Sikh generals. We must recall that in the Punjab, the job was finally done by a Sikh Police chief, the legendary KPS Gill, and also because the Punjab had its own Chief Minister and administration. There will have to be a sufficiently heavy Sri Lankan armed forces presence in the North and East for the foreseeable future. However, our armed forces must be relieved of the burden of the policing functions they now discharge. This will free up more Security Forces for frontline fighting. Secondly, no one can ‘police’ ethnic neighbourhoods as efficiently as those who speak the same language and come from the same community. Thirdly, the Sri Lankan armed forces after victory must not become an army of Occupation, as Israel disastrously did after the brilliantly won Six Day War. A Tamil run Provincial Council with Police powers, under an ally and partner of the Sri Lankan state (the Ramzan Kadyrov factor of the successful Chechen campaign by Russia) will help us avoid this calamity.
Sri Lanka at sixty must learn a lesson from Putin’s Russia. It succeeded in the Chechen war not because it had oil, unlike Sri Lanka. Russia had oil even under Yeltsin! Had the Chechen war gone on, Russia would have still been bleeding and would never have re-merged as a great power as it has under President Putin. It is President Putin’s resolve in defeating the Chechen secessionist terrorist army (which even blew up apartment blocks in Moscow and took hostages in a Moscow theatre), that put Russia back on the road to recovery and greatness as a state. Russia’s victory was two pronged: one was the unleashing of the full might of its military, including electronics, Spetnaz Special forces, armour, artillery and airpower; the other was the political installation of its ally and former Chechen “warlord”, youthful Ramzan Kadyrov as the President of Chechnya. Today Russia and Chechnya are peaceful and prosperous.
Absolute Enemy, Absolute Enmity
As we reach sixty then, what is the fundamental lesson to grasp? There are some thinkers who are so incisive that their work earns respect across ideological boundaries. So it was with Carl Schmitt, whose early 1960s essay (actually the product of two lectures) “The Theory of the Partisan: A Commentary/Remark on the Concept of the Political” is not only prophetic but is also the most rigorously intellectual work on the subject. In this work, in which Schmitt reaches beyond Clausewitz and ends with Fidel Castro (he names the ‘giants’-Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara; but significantly, no Trotsky) the core idea relevant to Sri Lanka today is that of “the Absolute Enemy”. Schmitt identifies the superiority of Lenin as precisely in grasping the concept of the absolute enemy and absolute enmity.
“What Lenin learned from Clausewitz, and he learned it well, was not just the famous formula of war as the continuation of politics. It involved the larger recognition that in the age of revolution the distinction between friend and enemy is the primary distinction, decisive for war as for politics. The only question therefore is this: is there an absolute enemy and who is it in concreto? For Lenin the answer was unequivocal, and his superiority among all other socialists and Marxists consisted in his seriousness about absolute enmity. The knowledge of the enemy was the secret of Lenin’s enormous strike power.” (Carl Schmitt, 1962:35)
At sixty Sri Lanka must not allow itself to defined by others; it must be true to its authentic self, its own spirit. It must stand up for itself, because if it does so, others will join in support but if it does not, no one else will. It must not cringe, beg or be blackmailed; it must be resolute. It must remember its true friends and its role in the world. It must not expect much from others who have interests at variance with its own. If it does not stand by and speak up for its friends, there will be no one to stand by or speak up for it. Sri Lanka must also, crucially, remember this: The LTTE–not the Tamils, not Tamil nationalism, not Sinhala nationalism-is The Absolute Enemy. It poses no less than an existential threat to us Sri Lankans. We cannot coexist with it. It must be fought and defeated. We must support, however critically, our political and military leadership, because it recognises this reality. What is the wellspring of this recognition? The people, the overwhelming majority of our people, the Sri Lankan people, who recognise through their experience of the last quarter century, that the LTTE is the Absolute Enemy.
Related: What Dayan Jayatilake fails to understand…., by Mano Ganesan
January 30th, 2008
By Lloyd. R. Devarajah
As I was playing truant and was very poor in my Tamil, I left St. Peter’s College Bambalapitiya where I was a student from 1937 and joined Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai on January 17, 1948. Jaffna College which was my father’s alma mater was founded by American missionaries in 1822.
Two weeks after I joined the college as an outstation boarder, Alagan Kadirgamar who was the secretary of the college Young Men’s Christian Association asked me to be in charge of its radio as he was going home to Chavakachcheri for the weekend. Alagan Kadirgamar on leaving college, joined the Colombo YMCA in the 1950s and rose to the position of general secretary and later, the national secretary of this international organisation.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
It later transpired that, that was a crucial and epoch-making weekend. It was Friday, January 30, 1948 when I was entrusted to be the temporary custodian of the college YMCA radio set which was being operated on a car battery. The college had two Homby-Rustom generators to supply electricity to the entire college as well as the campus where most of the staff lived. But these generators function only from dusk to dawn.
Some of the boarder’s sought shelter in the YMCA building from the slight shower that interrupted their evening games. I tuned the radio to Radio Ceylon (English Service) for the 5 to 5.45 p.m. Yours For The Asking listeners’ request programme.
As that programme ended, some of the boarders wanted me to switch to another programme. Whilst I was twiddling with the radio knob as I was not yet familiar with it I managed to hear very faintly an announcement from an unidentified Indian radio station: “Gandhi was shot by a youth. He died peacefully a short while ago.” The time was 6.04 p.m. I and some of those around me couldn’t believe what we had heard. After a long silence which lasted about three or four minutes, religious music came on air.
The radio programme was then interrupted and an announcement, punctuated with sobs, came over the airwaves. It said: Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi, the spiritual leader of millions of Hindus had been shot dead by a fanatic and that he succumbed to his injuries. Later, the station identified itself as All India Radio, Trichinopoly.
After this confirmation, the tragic news spread like wildfire round the college campus, its environs, and also some of the neighbouring villages and hinterland.
It should be noted that 60 years ago, the radio was a luxury and only a few owned or possessed one. In Colombo too, it was a rarity and worse still, in the rural areas television was virtually unknown then. Television became popular in the late 1950s in the Western world and came to Sri Lanka only in 1979.
Crowds then gathered at the college YMCA hall within minutes of the sad news breaking. As the hall could not accommodate such a large crowd, the powerful Zenith All-World Radio (with about 10 to 12 piano keyboard like press-button studs) was brought out into the terrace and placed on a wooden bench. Mats were spread and the whole area around the YMCA was floodlit for the benefit of the several hundreds who had gathered there. A freshly-charged additional car battery was pressed into use for the benefit of all the listeners.
It was not long after when the now well known Indian song Raghupathi Ragava Rajaram came over the airwaves.
The then Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and other leaders such as Sardar Vallabhai Patel spoke to the nation that same fateful night. They appealed to the Indians to uphold the principles of universal brotherhood, communal love and tolerance, and non-violence for which Gandhi had lived and died.
Pandit Nehru who spoke with great emotion said: “The father of the nation is no more. Now that the light has gone out of our lives I do not quite know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader is no more. The light has gone out of our lives and there is dark ness. I do not know what tell you and what to speak.
“Our beloved leader Bapuji, the father of the nation is no more. We will never see him again. A mad man has killed Gandhiji.”
Sixty years ago on Friday, January 30, 1948, five days before Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) won her Independence from British Colonial rule, Gandhi, the Hindu spiritual leader and champion of a free united India and communal peace, was shot dead by a Hindu nationalist in New Delhi. Gandhi was walking with his two grandnieces — Manu and Ava through the garden of Birla House about 5.00 p.m. that fateful day to the place where he conducted a daily prayer meeting when a youth — Narayan Vinayak Godse, 25 years, editor of Hindu Rastra fired three shots with a pistol at point blank range. The Mahatma fell with severe injuries in the chest, stomach and groin. Rastra (Nation) in Poona, stepped into Gandhi’s path, bowed down and worshipped him and He was then gently carried into Birla House where he died at 5.47 p.m. the same day.
The assassin was disarmed and pummelled by the crowd that had gathered to hear the Mahatma at the prayer meeting.
The news of the death of the Mahatma was first flashed to Earl Mountbatten who was then Governor General of India, and then to King George VI.
Mahatma Gandhi (his full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) born on October 2, 1869 was trained in law in England. He began advocating self-rule, non violence, pursuit of native handicrafts, removal of untouchability (which forced millions of the poor to remain menials by heredity) in 1919. In 1930, he launched a “civil disobedience” including the boycott of British goods, and rejection of taxes without representation. India won her Independence from British rule on August 15, 1947.
The following morning (Saturday, January 31, 1948) a special edition of the Times of Ceylon announcing the death of Gandhi (which was put out the previous night in Colombo over radio) was flown to Jaffna. A copy fetched the then fabulous price of Rs.5 owing to the demand
January 30th, 2008
Full Text of Press Statement by iTRO:
Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) offices today took time to pay their respects and remember the 7 TRO humanitarian workers who were abducted on 29 and 30 January 2006 while traveling through the Welikanda area in the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) controlled Polonaruwa District.
Paramilitary forces allied to and working in conjunction with the GoSL abducted the 7 TRO workers (6 men and one woman) tortured them, raping the woman, and then executed and disposed of their bodies. The bodies have never been found. This incident was the culmination of a series of attacks on TRO in GoSL controlled areas which began in 2004, it was also the beginning of a campaign of intimidation and harassment of local and international NGOs by the GoSL, paramilitaries and government controlled media outlets.
Since January 2006, 60 humanitarian workers have been killed in Sri Lanka leading John Holmes, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, to observe that Sri Lanka is among the most dangerous places on earth for humanitarian workers.
These killings of humanitarian workers appear to be aimed at limiting or ending the humanitarian work that local and international NGOs are engaged in, thus creating a climate of fear within the humanitarian community.
The execution of 17 of Action Contre La Faim (ACF) humanitarian workers in August 2006, a massacre the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission blamed on the GoSL security forces, received worldwide attention and condemnation. Unfortunately this has not led to any improvements in conditions for humanitarian organizations or the communities that they serve.
The lack of any meaningful investigation of the attacks on TRO, ACF or the other organizations has contributed to the current climate of impunity in Sri Lanka and has reduced the space available for humanitarian organizations to operate effectively.
Though the President of Sri Lanka created a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the ACF executions, amongst other cases, the TRO 7 were not among the cases taken up and the whole exercise is seen by most to be an attempt by the GoSL to placate the international community. Even the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), set up to monitor and give technical advice to the COI, has severely criticized the investigations and the lack of independence of the COI.
TRO appeals to the international community, the UN and human rights groups to move beyond the tired, ineffectual statements issued to date. These statements have failed to have any impact on the GoSL. The first step should be to establish a United Nation Human Rights Monitoring Mission and to bring the massive violations of human rights by the GoSL to the attention of the Security Council. This is even more important now due to the unilateral abrogation of the Cease Fire Agreement by the GoSL and the resulting departure of the SLMM.
The 7 TRO humanitarian workers abducted:
29 January 2006 Abductions:
Mr. Kasinathar Ganeshalingam: Age 53 (Member TRO Board of Directors; Secretary of the Pre School EDC)
Mr. Kathirkamar Thangarasa: Age 43
30 January 2006 Abductions:
Ms. Premini Thanushkodi: Age 25 (Chief Accountant Batticaloa Office; Student at the Eastern University)
Mr. Shanmuganathan Sujendran: Age 24 (Children’s Home Accountant)
Mr. Arulnesarasa Satheeskaran: Age 23 (Children’s Home Accountant)
Mr. Kailayapillai Ravindran: Age 26 (Children’s Home Accountant)
Mr. Thamiraja Vasantharajan: Age 24 (Children’s Home Accountant)
500 Sunleigh Road, Wembley, HA0 4NF, UK
Tel No: + 44 (0) 208 733 8283
January 29th, 2008
Full Text of press statement by The Committee to Protect Journalists, NY
[New York, January 28, 2008]-The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s brazen public call yesterday to censor the media and reintroduce criminal defamation laws. The comments were published in a Sinhala-language interview by Sri Lanka’s largest weekly, Sunday Lankadeepa, according to Free Media Movement spokesman Sunanda Deshapriya and veteran Sri Lankan journalist Iqbal Athas.
Rajapaksa, who is the brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, told the Sunday Lankadeepa that he advocated press censorship, harsh punishments for critical reporting on the military and military expenditures, and a criminal defamation law, according to extracts from the article translated by the Free Media Movement.
“If I have the power I will not allow any of these things to be written,” the secretary said in reference to reporting on the military, according to the Free Media Movement translation.
“This is an open intimidation of the media,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The Sri Lankan press sorely needs space to report independently on the escalating instability in the country, free of government intimidation.”
CPJ documented the case of a reporter who said she was personally threatened by Rajapaksa last year, but this is the first time his aggressive attitude toward the media has been publicly demonstrated.
The newspaper group Wijeya, which publishes the Sunday Lankadeepa and several other widely circulated publications-including the English-language Sunday Times-and the broadcasting conglomerate Maharaja were singled out by the secretary as examples of privately owned media groups that abuse their existing freedoms by reporting critically, according to the Free Media Movement translation.
January 29th, 2008
Full text of the press release issued by Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), Paris-based media rights advocacy group on Jan 29th:
Reporters Without Borders appealed today to President Mahinda Rajapakse to rein in various government ministers whose inflammatory comments and incitements to violence have serious threatened the safety of dozens of Sri Lankan journalists.
“Mr. President, it is not yet too late to restrain those of your close associates and political allies who sow trouble and fear among journalists,” the press freedom organisation said. “The violent behaviour of the men employed by some of your ministers is bringing the government into disrepute, a situation that will be hard to redress if nothing is done.”
The defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the president’s brother, said in an interview in the Sunday Lankadeepa on 27 January: “Journalists should not be allowed to write about military matters. Strong action ought to be taken against those who do. We should return to the laws that criminalize defamation in order to punish those who try to murder us.” He also criticised the Wijeya and Maharajah private press groups.
Thugs working for labour minister Mervyn Silva, who is well known for his racist comments about Tamils and his diatribes against journalists, were probably responsible for the stabbing of Lal Hemantha Mawalage, a journalist employed by state broadcaster Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), on 25 January.
Two men on a motorcycle, who were armed with knives, ambushed and attacked Mawalage as he was returning home on the outskirts of Colombo. He and his son managed to hide in a forest until the police came. He was hospitalised with stab wounds to the hands and body.
Mawalage told several journalists he had received death threats in the weeks that followed the violence at SLRC headquarters on 27 December, when Silva ordered his men to beat up the channel’s news director T. M. G. Chandrasekara. Terrified at the possibility of further reprisals, Chandrasekara recently asked to be relieved of his post.
After that incident, Reporters Without Borders contacted presidential aides to express concern about the threats to SLRC journalists.
On 7 January, social welfare minister Douglas Devananda, who is also the head of the pro-governmental EPDP militia, accused journalists working for Minnal, a Tamil programme on Shakthi TV, of orchestrating an interview with a Tamil opposition parliamentarian at the behest of the Tamil Tigers rebels. In the interview, conducted a few days before he was murdered in Colombo, the parliamentarian told the station he was being threatened by the EPDP.
Devananda called on the police to investigate the programme’s journalists, especially Sri Ranga Jeyaratnam. Following his comments, demonstrations were held in various parts of the country to defend Minnal, which is one of the few remaining Tamil programmes to cover politics in an independent manner.
Devananda’s thugs are also suspected of being responsible for the threatening phone call made on 6 January to the Jaffna-based daily Uthayan. The call came from Kayts, an island controlled by the EPDP. Uthayan editors told Reporters Without Borders they feared for the safety of their employees.
Another journalist, Suhaib Kasim, a former senior member of the staff of the Tamil-language daily Thinakaran, was stabbed by unidentified assailants at his Colombo home yesterday. The motive of the attack is not known.
January 29th, 2008
by Dr. Baptist Croos F.S.C.
A nation’s history is embellished by the names of its illustrious sons and daughters ‘its ingenious inventors, chivalrous discoverers, statesmen, painters, scholars, entrepreneurs, patriots, artistes, sportsmen and the whole gamut of professionals.. The latest addition to this impressive galaxy is none other than Muttaiah Muralitharan, the spin-wizard or just ‘Murali’, as he is popularly called, who has made Mother Lanka proud by breaking the world-record for the number of wickets, previously held by the flamboyant Shane Warne of Australia. By any standard, Murali’s record is a remarkable achievement indeed!
It is said, “Success must go to your heart and not to your head.” Murali accepted his enormous success with a spirit of true sportsmanship. Simple, modest and unassuming, with his ever green and contagious smile, Murali’s photos and pictures, most particularly the giant posters of his charming family have been adorning the picturesque landscape of Sri Lanka; the tabloids, dailies and weeklies the world over. There is magic in his smile that evinces the noble character Murali possesses. His personality trait would be the envy of so many future cricketing aspirants, who would like to emulate his exemplary and impeccable professional career.
Humility, the exalted virtue.
One of the virtues that would propel any man or woman to heights of glory and grandeur, is humility which is based on sacrifice and self-denial. Humility is the hallmark of eminent personalities who shot into prominence and reached the pinnacle of their profession by sheer honest and hard work. There is no substitute for that. Forbearance and tolerance are sine qua non in this pivotal matter. Time and again I have read this jewel of a sentence in our dailies, “Be humble in victory, but determined in defeat.” Perhaps this adage would have stirred Murali to reach significant milestones in his cricketing career. On a number of occasions Murali was humiliated, jeered and booed by boorish and un-sportive partisan spectators; denigrated and willfully challenged, adding insult to injury, which made Murali to skip a couple of overseas tours. But with profound humility and indomitable courage Murali swallowed those bitter pills. Submitting himself voluntarily to various complicated tests and correctional measures to meet the requirements of the ICC that he did not breach the 15 degree flexion rule while attempting his ‘doosra’, he came forth triumphant; a legend in his own life time!
The sterling quality of integrity places a person far above all the others, in any field of activity. It augments a person’s character and class. Murali, apart from breaking world records, is a cricketer of distinction, a lovable companion and an indispensable team-mate. His winsome and infectious smile disarms any adversary. With poise and dignity Murali has been successfully handling all types of crisis, controversies, dubious aspirations cast on him and adverse comments about his avowedly awkward but natural bowling action. Of course gold has to necessarily go through a frightful fiery furnace before it emerges purified and brilliant.
Murali, the philanthropist.
Unnoticed, for many years Murali has been doing great charitable work. In December 2004, when the monstrous Tsunami ravaged and engulfed some coastal areas of Sri Lanka , Murali with his friend Shane Warne, rallied round the lucky survivors and the most affected people helping them financially to tide over their urgent and immediate needs. Seeing Shane Warne and Murali in action, coming forward generously to offer their services, was really heart-warming. Such selfless humanitarian ventures need our admiration and praise!
The family dimension
As I mentioned earlier, the fascinating portraits of his loving family that are displayed at every nook and corner of the city and its environs, speak volumes of his well-balanced personality. Name, fame and fortune have not made him proud and ambitious, on the contrary, they have helped him to be mature, responsible and bring up an exceptionally happy family. That is his inalienable and ever-present moral support. The members of his family are his most ardent fans and intimate friends and Murali was thrilled that he broke the world-record in their encouraging and appreciative presence. How delighted they must have been!
Generally he is unruffled by certain umpires’ cock-eyed attitudes and erroneous decisions or sloppy fielding of slovenly players. Occasionally he fumes and frets, but his magnanimity and graciousness come to the fore and the whole nasty episode vanishes into thin air. At the end of it all, he can go back to his adorable family to seek solace and consolation. It is true, “A happy home, is an earlier heaven!”
Murali, the Maestro!
Loyal to his Alma Mater, St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, and staunchly faithful to his loving family and friends, Murali has become the cynosure of all eyes because of his bowling prowess. 61 times he has taken five or more wickets in an innings. That’s incredible! He went on a tour of England with the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team in 1991 and made his Test debut against Australia in Colombo in 1992. He was a part of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team that won the prestigious World Cup in 1996 under the dashing captain Arjuna Ranatunge. In 1997 he claimed his 100th Test wicket. In 1998 Murali took the first ten wicket haul ‘12 for 117′-against Zimbabwe in the first Test in Kandy. In the same year he took 9 for 65 in the second innings of one off Test against England at the Oval in August, which enabled Sri Lanka post its first Test victory in England. His match figures ‘16 for 220′ still stand as the best by a Sri Lankan. In 2006, playing his 101st Test, he claimed his 600th wicket. In 2007 in his 113th Test he took his 700th wicket and in the same year on 3rd December he bowled Paul Collingwood, an accomplished batsman from England, to break ShaneWarne’s world record.
It was a fantastic feat!
Murali, the Magician
This poem was written in 2000
Twenty-six wickets in just three Test matches,
Incredible but true, Murali really bewitches,
A hero for Sri Lanka, a tormentor to his opponents,
Enough material for years, for cricket correspondents.
He gallantly warms up, to cast his magic spell,
The batsman is puzzled, from his face you can tell,
Murali simply glances, he side-steps, he advances,
The wicket is taken and the bowler gleefully dances.
It’s a rare delight to watch him, run up and bowl,
To bamboozle and capture wickets, is his only goal,
Against him the opposition, at the wicket fears to stand,
Because of the magic balls, that he spins from his hand.
He ties up the batsmen, in a spell-binding spin,
His captain has told him, get them out to win,
Some dare and whack him, for an almighty six,
But at the next ball, they are in a terrible fix.
Like a graceful gazelle, he’s agile in the field,
His acrobatic fielding and accurate throws, results yield,
Though sometimes he misses, and is full of blushes,
But he soon makes amends, with his classy catches.
Murali strides to the wicket, padded up to the teeth,
He draws his heavy bat, like a sword from its sheath,
Whether it is a six, or four or even a lousy duck,
Murali simply smiles, over his good or bad luck,
He charms and mesmerizes, Murali, our magician,
Our ambassador of good will, our master tactician,
Hats off to our hero, and three hearty cheers,
He knows how to laugh, amid failures and tears
January 27th, 2008
by Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne
The Government hastily removed the ill-fated health services department circular. It appeared like a bomb blast, disturbing the entire worker population and it disappeared before one could say ‘why?’
It was undoubtedly a threat posed to organised workers in general, as it challenged the right to strike and protest. It clearly amounted to a violation of rights guaranteed under labour regulations and several international agreements signed by respective governments.
But after the budget victory, the Government thought it was in a position to dictate such terms to the Left oriented working-class movement. Also, it was considered to be very necessary.
However, it was not taken seriously by the JVP-oriented trade union leaders. Maybe, as long as the Government is fully committed to the war in the North, the JVP is not bothered about the rights of the workers.
Now the situation has quickly changed and the Government has decided not to confront the workers’ movement. The doctors’ strike must also have been an eye-opener for the Government. The GMOA totally ignored the circular and the President himself came out for a discussion with the union, and settled the immediate issue. He does not want to sever his connections with reformist trade union leaders. At least, not yet.
However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot cover up the greedy Mudalali class that gets fatter and fatter at the expense of the suffering masses. Deshapremi speakers scream from tree tops that everyone should sacrifice for the patriotic war.
People are asked to tighten their belts and give every penny to the war. Reformist trade union leaders are frightened into silence. But the southern national bourgeoisie is not making any sacrifices.
On the contrary, they are grabbing every penny from the suffering masses. We are told that increase in food prices means a better life for the farmer, fisher and the peasantry.
But poverty has increased in village society while new palaces grow up in close by cities. Obviously, the middle men are making millions under the cover of the war and the rising oil prices.
This southern national bourgeoisie Mudalali is for the war as it has created for him a background to plunder. Of course, he will give generously to the disabled soldiers’ fund, but his patriotism will stop there; beyond that he has nothing to sacrifice but only to bleed on the suffering masses. He is for Americans, for Indians, and for MNCs, provided they help to continue his patriotic war against LTTE terrorism.
Though there is protest and anger among the poor masses, in cities as well as in villages, the national bourgeoisie Mudalali network acts as a shield for the Government. In turn, this class of people survive with the help of the power of the regime.
Actually it is the petty bourgeoisie layer that follows the JVP that is making genuine sacrifices for this so-called patriotic war. They hold on to their misery and suffering, for the sake of the war that they believe is conducted against an alien and powerful enemy.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to defeat this alien force and to an extent he is committed to this task-his regime has to be protected. This is what their leaders say, and this is what they really believe in. If the Government turns back in any way, they will do something very serious. Their sacrifice cannot go to waste in vain.
When the JVP leaders say that they will take the war forward, if and when the Mahinda regime retracts its promise, it is the voice of a class of people, made to believe in their destiny that speaks. So, the matter is serious.
In 1971, the JVP did not have a substantial mass base when they first made their attempt for power. They were more organised and powerful in 1989, with a certain following in the armed forces, when they made the second attempt. But today, they are a parliamentary power, have a strong following in the armed forces, and have a strong loyal section in the state bureaucracy that looks upto them.
If there is going to be a third uprising of the JVP in the near future, it is going to be a very important event in the history of the country. Neither the workers movement nor the Left movement is prepared at present, to face such a situation. But there is still time for them, to open their eyes and look at the reality, in order to take up the challenge.
January 27th, 2008
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has completely rejected the 13th Amendment as a solution to the Tamil question and gone further to declare that it could not even prove an effective basis for the commencement of talks. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, TNA Parliamentary Group Leader, R. Sampanthan said that the inadequacy was best demonstrated by the many efforts to present acceptable proposals to form the basis for talks undertaken by successive heads of state. He said that the 13th Amendment concept did not emerge from the APRC but was imposed on the APRC by the President. The Trincomalee District MP claimed that the real issue was not Pirapaharan’s insincerity to peace but the failure of successive governments to present devolution proposals that could challenge him and put him to the litmus test. He added that it was an absolute shame that a party like the UPFA entered into an agreement with an organisation like the TMVP to create a false impression that the UPFA was acceptable to the Tamil people. Excerpts:
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: President Mahinda Rajapakse has declared that the government’s solution to the ethnic conflict will be ‘the 13th Amendment plus one.’ Is this a feasible solution?
A: The 13th Amendment was enacted around 1988. Since then, successive governments in this country during the periods of Presidents R. Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga and even Mahinda Rajapakse, during his two years in office, were dedicated to the task of evolving a set of constitutional proposals to find a solution to the conflict.
That in itself is an admission that the said amendment was not a solution to the conflict taking into account the manner in which the conflict has developed.
We did not contest the provincial council elections after the 13th Amendment. When I say we, I refer to the authentic TULF that comprised Amirthalingam, Sivasithambaram, myself, Neelan Tiruchelvan and several others. Today it is represented by only one person.
We did not contest for a reason. We informed the Indian government that the constitutional amendment was woefully inadequate, not durable and in no way a solution. This was proved subsequently. The new body could not independently deal with agrarian services and regional transport. The Supreme Court held that the powers of the center were adequate for the center to do anything. Even simple things like the two areas I mentioned could not be decided upon by the PCs.
The 13th Amendment is certainly no solution to the Tamil question and cannot even be the basis for the commencement of anything that can move towards a resolution of the conflict. This is proven beyond doubt by the fact that since its introduction, successive presidents have attempted to propose solutions more durable.
Q: In that case, do you think the President is being very hopeful that the affected parties would settle for what he is willing to offer, which now appears to be a solution proposed 20 years ago?
A: The President must remember in the first instance that when appointing the APRC, he also appointed an experts panel comprising 17 persons – 12 Sinhalese, four Tamils and one Muslim to come up with proposals and help the APRC. He did this for the reason that even he recognised that a new set of proposals was required to attempt seeking a resolution to the conflict.
Eleven persons of this committee came up with proposals that went far beyond the 13th Amendment as the contours of a political solution. Everybody knows that the said report could have been a useful basis for the commencement of useful talks at the APRC. Unfortunately, that was consigned to the dustbin. Thereafter, Prof. Tissa Vitharana came up with a new report based on the reports of the majority and minority experts. Even his report went far beyond the 13th Amendment. The discussion at the APRC took place on that basis.
The 13th Amendment concept did not emerge from the APRC. In my view, the President imposed it on the APRC. That is the inevitable conclusion we had to come to.
While some parties at the APRC level strived to develop something of value, certain extreme parties like the JHU and the MEP were having direct contact with the President, independent of the APRC, conveying their apprehensions about the progressive thinking of the APRC.
It is my impression that the President stifled the exercise, frequently summoned the APRC in recent times to inhibit and curb its activities. Perhaps instructions were also issued as to what can and cannot be done, hence the dilution of the process. These directives were also in line with the thinking of the JHU and the MEP.
When the President came under increasing international pressure to come up with a set of acceptable devolution proposals, he looked for a way out and clung to the 13th Amendment as a lifeline.
Q: You mean, he fell back on the 13th Amendment, though never fully implemented, and 20 years old?
A: If he is speaking of this amendment, he should abide by it. What came out from the 13th Amendment was devolution in a merged Northeastern Province. He can’t think of it without accepting the concept of a merged northeast. If he wants to revert to this, then he must revert to the position enunciated by the Indo- Sri Lanka Agreement which was a merged northeast.
That existed for 18 years under Presidents J. R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, D. B. Wijetunga and Chandrika Kumaratunga. Mahinda Rajapakse as a minister and as a prime minister also accepted this position while serving Kumaratunga’s governments.
Q: One argument often put forward by southern political parties is that Velupillai Pirapaharan is insincere in negotiating peace. Do you agree? If not why?
A: The litmus test in regard to that would be to come up with a set of proposals that would challenge him. When Rajapakse assumed presidential office, in his ‘Martyr’s Day’ speech, Pirapaharan called Rajapakse a ‘pragmatic person’ and called upon him to come up with proposals that could meet the reasonable aspirations of the Tamil people.
The question is not Pirapaharan’s insincerity but whether President Rajapakse has managed to put on the table a progressive set of proposals thereby issuing a serious challenge to Pirapaharan.
Not just him, no southern government has. If there was, there could be no justification for the continuity of the armed struggle. The Tamil people are overwhelmingly prepared to support such proposals. Then the armed struggle will have to come to an end.
If the P-TOMS agreement was implemented or an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) was set up, things would have evolved. I am aware that the LTTE was very interested in the resettlement of the war and the tsunami displaced. They would never have been able to destroy what they were instrumental in rehabilitating. But that never happened.
I am not saying that everything is right with the LTTE. Nor do I imply that they have not made grave mistakes. They have. But the fact of the matter is that the Sri Lankan state has never come up with progressive proposals that constituted a challenge to Pirapaharan. He was therefore never put to the litmus test of having to either reject or accept proposals designed to meet Tamil aspirations and also acceptable to the country and the international community.
Q: Can the government succeed in its military efforts in your opinion? Is it likely that the government intends catering to Tamil aspirations only after achieving its military objectives?
A: As long as the struggle of the LTTE can be linked to the just demands of the Tamil people which have not been fulfilled, it is my view that the government will not be able to succeed in its efforts to achieve a military victory.
They may weaken the LTTE but there cannot be a military victory in the real sense. The government should not think that a military victory could be a substitute to a reasonable political solution. If the government thinks that a military victory is possible and thereafter they can ram down the throats of Tamils some political solution, they are sadly mistaken. The Tamils will not settle for such.
Q: President Rajapakse recently told newspaper editors that the north was not being cleared to capture territory whereas the military commanders have pledged to remove every trace of a mini state within the north. Do you think these military advances are as simplistic as portrayed by Rajapakse?
A: I have not the slightest doubt that what the President desires is a military victory. This is not because he thinks that a military victory is a solution to the conflict but because he is unable to come up with a political solution to the problem.
He thinks if Tamils are subjugated through military means then a political solution of his choice, acceptable to his extremist allies, could be rammed down the Tamils’ collective throats. It will prove a sad mistake for Tamils are resilient enough to withstand any such pressure.
Q: Is it your contention that the President is unable to pursue a political solution due to being held ‘prisoner’ by extremist allies?
A: There is no question about his status as a political prisoner. He is in bondage. Yet, I do not conclude that he is of the same wavelength as the JHU and the MEP.
But if he was not, the MoU signed with the UNP gave him a glorious opportunity to disengage himself from these political formations and think differently and arrive at consensus with the UNP which would have conferred the necessary two third majority in parliament and provided the required support in the country. He had his opportunity to try what the Conservatives and Labour did with regard to the Northern Ireland question.
He did not pursue the MoU and refused to utilise the golden opportunity to strengthen himself. These factors go against the President and portray him as one in line with his extremist allies.
Q: Amidst the conflict, the economy is badly hit. Is that not a high priority for parties like the TNA?
A: We are certainly concerned about the peoples’ constant suffering. The middle and lower middle classes have it tough. The majority of the masses are greatly suffering and are being impoverished daily.
It is the government that does not seem too concerned about it. They seem to think that if a military victory is possible, all these issues could be neatly swept under the carpet. That shows both the insensitivity and callousness of this administration.
Q: During the recent budget vote, TNA legislators were largely absent. There was the abduction of some MPs’ family members. But by such abstinence, haven’t you also given into terror tactics and therefore paved the way for repeats?
A: It is a very difficult position when close relations of parliamentarians are abducted. They were kidnapped by the TMVP with whom the government has now struck an unholy political alliance to contest in Batticaloa.
When they are threatened with death, a political party is unable to extend its whip to compel those MPs to vote. That was a serious question that affected individual members. We could not be so insensitive to their concerns and feelings.
But we appealed to the government as it was well within the powers of the government to ensure the release of the abducted. It is not that we kept quiet. We raised it in parliament and with the Speaker and the President. But nothing happened because the state was quite unwilling to intervene and enforce the law.
The law enforcement machinery has collapsed. It’s paralysed. It clearly shows that the state can behave in the most unprincipled way in order to ensure their political survival.
Q: You have raised the issue of MPs’ security regularly. Three Tamil legislators have been killed since November 2005, two from the TNA. Following Thyagarajah Maheswaran’s killing, there was a move to enhance parliamentarians’ security. Are TNA legislators now enjoying increased security?
A: Our security has not been enhanced. Our members are naturally concerned and apprehensive about their security vulnerabilities. We had Natarajah Raviraj and Joseph Pararajasingham brutally killed, former on a public highway within a high security zone and the latter inside a church. Maheswaran was killed in a temple. These incidents have a serious impact on other parliamentarians. But what can we do? It is up to the state to make MPs feel secure.
Forget MPs. Take journalists. What happened to the inquiry into Sivaram’s death? He was a brilliant journalist. I raised the matter in parliament and requested international involvement in the investigation. Here, inquiries are conducted in such a manner that even if arrests are made, they will be released subsequently. We have no faith in the law enforcement and inquiring agencies here.
Q: Nominations have been called for selected local bodies in the east. The UNP has already decided not to contest and you were quoted alleging the holding of a poll would prove ’suicidal’ at this point.
A: There is an organisation, the TMVP that is brazenly committed to a gun culture and more so in the east. A number of persons have been abducted; a series of extra judicial killings and extortions too have taken place. These incidents continue. Many have disposed of their vehicles fearing they would be simply taken away. There is so much of fear created that people will not dare oppose these brute forces.
Q: But then there could be a silent protest of not voting?
A: The law enforcement machinery has totally collapsed. If the LTTE had been present in the northeast at one point of time, at least in the government controlled territory, the law enforcement machinery was functional and in force. People relied on it.
So previously, candidates and voters could effectively depend upon the law enforcement agencies. But due to these paramilitary groups, things have drastically changed. There is the law of the jungle. The law enforcement agencies are now hand in glove with these militants, conniving together and condoning their actions.
This is the big difference. That’s why we have decided we would not risk it. Some of our candidates and elected members have been killed during previous local authority elections. We have no wish to expose our candidates and supporters to brute forces. This election is a farce and a joke. Nobody will take it seriously.
When local polls were held previously in Tamil dominant areas the ITAK swept the polls, as did the SLMC in Muslim dominant areas. The same thing will happen in Batticaloa if not for the TMVP.
Q: Won’t that cause your electoral base to erode?
A: No. The TMVP leader went abroad on a diplomatic passport and had a visa issued on the strength of a Foreign Ministry note. He was driven up to the aeroplane in a car along the tarmac. Today, he is cooling his heels in a British detention centre. He reportedly went to attend a conference on climate change sponsored by the JHU minister in this government. It is this man’s deputy who leads the TMVP in Batticaloa today.
The Tamil people have a long history with regard to their democratic processes dating back to 1956. Since then, they have consistently spoken and voted in support of a certain policy. That’s an indisputable fact. Those in the TMVP today were a party to the Oslo Communiqu‚ and to the ISGA proposals. That was the same political thinking that has existed for decades.
Today the TMVP finds a saviour in Mahinda Rajapakse and supports his policies. This is not what the people have voted for over 50 years at a series of elections. Tamil people are aware of this history and this fraudulent election will never erode our voter base or make them change their stance.
Q: But the government claims the east is cleared and simply wishes to complete the exercise by holding elections there?
A: President Rajapakse’ singular purpose is to achieve a military victory. He is under tremendous international pressure to come up with a political solution and finds himself quite out of depth there.
He has sought refuge in the 13th Amendment and knows that he should show that something is being done. He believes that the outside world can be convinced that he is doing his best. In doing what he is doing, he is primarily cheating himself.
Q: It was reported that the UPFA has signed an agreement with the TMVP to contest for the Batticaloa MC under one banner. Isn’t this official recognition of a link between them whilst conferring political legitimacy upon a renegade faction?
A: It’s a shame that the PA which is the main party in government has signed an agreement with an organisation like the TMVP to create a false impression that the PA is acceptable to the Tamil people. It only demonstrates PA’s political bankruptcy and the poverty of its thinking with regard to the Tamil question. They think by such desperate actions, they can win the support of the Tamil people.
Q: The Indian Premier, Manmohan Singh and British Premier, Gordon Brown in a recent joint statement called for a ‘credible devolution package’ as a key contribution to finding a political solution acceptable to all communities within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. Do you think the government is ready to drop the word ‘unitary’ in favour of ‘united’?
A: Obviously not. In my view, three very significant phases in the APRC process should be considered as manifestations of the President’s reluctance.
One was the abandoning of the majority experts’ committee proposals. Second was the abrogation of the MoU between the PA and the UNP. The third, the SLFP’s devolution proposals that contemplated a unitary structure of government with the district as the unit of devolution. They all reflected presidential thinking.
I don’t think the President has accepted that there can be no devolution within a unitary framework. This is one of the fundamental flaws in the 13th Amendment. This is also why the provincial councils could not make progress with regard to even agrarian services and provincial transport. That’s why the Supreme Court ruled that the centre could take whatever action it desired.
Not just the Indian and British Premiers, several other countries, the Co-Chairs, the EU, and the US independently, and India repeatedly, have called upon the President to come up with acceptable proposals within a united framework. Some have used the word ‘federal’ explicitly. But there has been no response to these calls.
This is the crux of the matter. If these proposals were prepared to accommodate these views, that would have been the litmus test to Pirapaharan and the LTTE.
Q: Do you think that India is currently keen to play a decisive role in helping Sri Lanka to end the conflict despite an unhappy previous attempt?
A:India must play a role. India is a country very close to all of us-close to Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims alike. We all came from there.
Unfortunately, India was betrayed by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils. There may have been mistakes all round. But India also has a responsibility to help resolve this country’s conflict in a reasonable and acceptable manner. India must play that role and all of us must welcome that role.
January 26th, 2008