Hidden meaning of ‘home grown’ solution?
By Dr. S. Narapalasingam
On September 27, addressing the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayake said, "the solution we will offer to all communities must be a home-grown product". President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been talking about ‘home grown’ solution since early 2006, soon after assuming the duties and responsibilities of the Executive President having powers similar to those wielded by monarchs. The formation of the APC, APRC and the Experts Committee to assist the APRC (All Party Representative Committee) was widely believed as the means towards the promised ‘home grown’ solution. But these have turned out to be red herrings.
The recommendations of the majority group of experts who were from all three ethnic communities, namely, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim were rejected. The proposals of the Chairman of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), based on fusing the recommendations in the majority and minority reports of the Expert Committee were also unacceptable to the President. Perhaps the inputs were not from the right sources to produce the desired output. Acceptance of the minority Expert report prepared without the inputs of the ethnic minority members would have caused other problems, although the proposals therein were consistent with the aspirations of Sinhala nationalists. What is meant by ‘home grown’ is unclear.
As the gestation period of the Mahinda Chinthanaya’s ‘home grown’ product was longer than initially imagined, in the interim the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, which is already an integral part of the Sri Lankan Constitution was proclaimed. Furthermore soon after declaring the successful conclusion of the military campaign against the LTTE, at the meetings with Indian government leaders the Sri Lankan President announced the decision to go further than the 13A in order to settle the conflict politically. The 13A plus is also now a passing. It served then to pacify not only New Delhi but also others expecting real moves towards the political settlement of the ethnic conflict. Now like the vital 17th Amendment, 13A is also said to be flawed. If there is the commitment to the original intents of these amendments, the obvious step is to rectify the flaws and proceed with the implementation. The reluctance to implement the necessary procedures vital for lasting peace, national unity and progress can only be ascribed to some hidden political agenda of the government. What the truly patriotic Sri Lankans must consider is the future of the island nation, if no meaningful steps are taken to free the country from the corrupt political system that serves the power-hungry politicians.
Daily News reported on 10 January 2009 that “President Mahinda Rajapaksa intends to go ahead with the process of implementing a political solution after enlightening the Cabinet and other political parties once he received the final draft of proposals from the APRC Chairman on January 23. The Presidential Secretariat said that the President made this request yesterday (9 January) at a special meeting held at Temple Trees with the participation of APRC members, party leaders representing the Government and party leaders not represented in Parliament. The meeting was convened by the President to discuss matters relating to the provision of an acceptable solution to the ethnic conflict in the country. According to the Secretariat, the President has pointed out that though political parties are having diverse opinions on the political solution to the ethnic conflict they should be determined to decide on a set of proposals which can be implemented practically”. The President is good at conveying statesman-like views. But the glaring omission is the deeds matching such views. Although the final draft proposals were submitted to the President by the APRC Chairman there has been no move to initiate the stated implementation process.
APRC Chairman and Minister Tissa Vitarana told the media on 4 October that the political solution to the ethnic issue would be found only after the next parliamentary election due early next year. He said that it would be easier for the government to amend the present constitution “based on the APRC proposals in the new parliament in which the government expects a clear two-third majority”. It is baffling to see the Minister contradicting his earlier positive statements on the APRC proposals. Have these been rejected by the opposition parties to assume that the required two-third majority is not achievable now? He announced earlier that discussions would be held with the main political parties, especially the TNA and the UNP on the draft proposals recommended by those who participated continuously in the drawn out APRC process.
Why this consultation did not take place? Do they know the contents of the report submitted to the President? These omissions question the real intent of setting up the APRC and the Expert Committee. One can imagine the frustration of those who spent their time and effort at the committee meetings.
Following the latest statement of the APRC Chairman, the veteran journalist T. Sabaratnam in his weekly column ‘As I see it’ in the ‘Bottom Line’ 7 October has predicted the likely scenario even if the governing coalition gets the two-third majority in the next parliamentary election. “The main concern of the governing UPFA which may perhaps comprise some Sinhala chauvinistic elements would be: What can we give without endangering the interests of the Sinhala people?” This has been the underlying maxim in the majoritarian politics of sovereign Sri Lanka. Although President declared after the decisive military victory in May that the word ‘minority’ is no more in his lexicon, the ethnic ‘majority-minority’ division has in fact strengthened.
The apparent “realisation that the Tamils and the Muslims should get together and place before the people and the country the basic needs they want to be safeguarded” also highlights this division. It is difficult to see how this move will bring about a mutually acceptable solution to the national issue. The underlying problem here is that the word ‘national’ has a narrow meaning to the Sinhala and Tamil nationalists. Another disturbing factor is the total neglect of the need to win trust, which requires winning the hearts and minds of the people who suffered immensely because of the bloody conflict.
The stratagem of sustaining hope without practical moves cannot succeed in preventing the resurgence of the strife that became increasingly violent following the brutal methods used by the State to suppress dissent. The ruthless terror campaign of the LTTE must not be viewed solely from the despicable methods used on the orders of the supreme leader. He would not have had a chance to start a guerrilla war, if the ethnic problem had been resolved early. Many Tamils, including those in the Diaspora now condemn the obnoxious methods used by the LTTE in the ‘liberation’ struggle. The word ‘liberation’ in the context of the internal conflict in Sri Lanka has a tainted meaning. The LTTE wanted to liberate the Tamils in the North-East from the control of the government and bring them under their autocratic control. The present Sri Lanka government proclaimed that their military campaign against the LTTE was to liberate the Tamils under the jackboot of the ruthless Tamil ‘Liberation’ Tigers. Now after the war, the ‘liberated’ Tamils in Vanni have been denied the freedom they expected when the government forcibly detained the war refugees in high security camps.
The reason given for delaying moves on the political front and the continued detention of displaced persons seems to be a mere ruse to ensure comfortable victory in the Presidential and parliamentary elections. The aim to avoid internal conflicts and secure lasting peace cannot be achieved by trickery. Honesty and determination are vital for success. The professed national interest is nothing but parochial interest. The rejection of past moves starting from the Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam and Dudley-Chelvanayakam pacts to win the confidence of the ethnic Tamils and integrate them into the political process highlights the underlying problem in building a united multi-ethnic nation devoid of the ethnic majority-minority division. Today Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem is highly internationalised and the consequences of keeping it unresolved are serious.
Raj Gonsalkorale has mentioned in his article in the Asian Tribune 30 September 2009 that a holistic approach to the resolution of the national problem is necessary. Resolution of the ethnic problem should be an integral part of this endeavour. As many peace-loving Sri Lankans he is also disappointed that even the contours of the political solution have not been presented by the government and the Opposition UNP. Because of this absence the level of confidence many had soon after the war in securing a just and fair solution to the political conflict has now waned considerably. To quote: “Whatever political proposals that are presented should not address the grievances of only a specific community. There has to be recognition that all communities have had and still have grievances and that all of it cannot be addressed through constitutional changes. Many require changes in attitudes. Some require administrative solutions”. The following comments are particularly noteworthy.
“Proposals must establish and guarantee equal rights to all communities. They must also consider greater empowerment of the people not because a particular community wants it, but because it is an evolutionary process in democratic governance”.
Both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayake have in their public speeches announced that no foreign power should make demands that challenge the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. They seem to ignore the nation’s obligation to respect international laws and the promises given earlier to friendly countries and international organizations on various matters that are crucial for restoring normality and ensuring freedom and equal rights for all the people to co-exist peacefully. No country has any intention of subjugating Sri Lanka. The fact that Sri Lanka is a member of the international community and must respect international norms and laws cannot be ignored. More importantly, international support is essential for Sri Lanka’s speedy economic development.
[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]