People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 21

May 31, 2009

 


Sri Lanka: Time For A Lasting Political Solution

K Varadha Rajan

 

THE 33-year long war between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE has finally come to an end. Besides taking thousands of lives of fighters from both the army and the LTTE, this war has also led to untold miseries for the innocent Tamils in Sri Lanka. Large number of them have also lost their lives. Enormous damage has been done to the properties of civilians due to these conflicts. Several lakhs of people have left their homes and became homeless in their own homeland.

 

The post-independence history of this island nation has sadly been dominated by the clash of two hard line ideas –– one by the Sinhala hardliners who wanted a hegemonic, Sinhala supremacist State and another by the Tamil hardliners who strove for a separate State of Tamil Eelam. We have to turn the pages of history in order to understand the fundamental causes that led to these continuing conflicts in the island nation.

 

SINHALESE

CHAUVINISM

 

After the independence of Sri Lanka, those political parties which came to power did not take any step to undo the damage done by the British colonialism in the country. Issues like equal rights for all, unity among all sections of people were not addressed properly by the ruling parties. Instead, the opportunistic stand taken by these parties to protect their own class interests and vote bank politics, led to much more divisive trends among the people.

 

Today in Sri Lanka, 69 per cent of the population follow Buddhism as their religion and 75 per cent of the population speaks Sinhalese language. In such a background, ruling parties utilised majority Sinhalese language and Buddhism as weapons to fuel chauvinism and keep the people divided.

 

Also due to the uneven, lopsided development pursued by the government, a number of agitations were held with various demands in the areas where Tamils lived. All those agitations held in the years 1956, 1958, 1978, 1981 and 1983 were brutally suppressed by the successive Sri Lankan governments. The worst was the chauvinistic killings that took place in July 1983 in which thousands of people were killed during the riots. It is a shame that not even a single person responsible for those killings, was punished even till date.

 

The Sri Lankan Constitutional Amendment Act, 1972 is a classic example of the sectarian interests pursued by the government of Sri Lanka. Secular governance and equal rights to all people irrespective of which language they speak should be the guiding principles of any nation. Instead by this amendment, the government declared Sinhalese as the official language of Sri Lanka and Buddhism as the principal religion of the nation.

 

Such majoritarian approach of the rulers infuriated the people and their anger led to formation of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Hundreds of youth who were inspired by the Communist movement and anti-caste oppression movements in the nation entered into a struggle for their rights. This movement, which originated with the goal of formation of a “socialist Tamil Eelam” scattered into several smaller parties in due course.

 

INCORRECT

STAND OF LTTE

 

TULF, which was formed by Selvanayagam, scattered into more than ten organisations such as LTTE, PLOTE, EPRLF, EROS, EPDP, TELO, etc These organisations also declared that they would take the path of armed struggle for achieving their goal.

 

An important aspect should be noted here. All these organisations originated from a divisive slogan of formation of a “separate Eelam”. But in due course, a proper understanding prevailed upon them and accordingly they changed their stand. This, of course, happened in several stages. Gradually they came to position that a new constitution must be evolved with additional powers devolved to the areas where Tamils lived.

 

But the LTTE called all these organisations as traitors and started armed conflicts with them. One could witness the sad spectacle of these organisations committing massacres to destroy their own brethren with an aim of eliminating each other. In particular, LTTE launched murderous attacks against all other movements and finished them in the process. More than 400 leaders and cadres of various Tamil organisations were shot dead by the LTTE so far. Important leaders like Padmanabha of EPRLF, Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Sami Thambi Muthu, MLA of TULF were among those who fell to the bullets of LTTE.

 

One important reason in pushing the Tamil organisations towards armed struggle has been the Jeyawardane government’s injection of Sinhalese chauvinism in Sri Lanka in the past. His government neglected the rights of Tamils and the Tamil language. Jeyawardane government’s activities drove many Tamils into the armed struggle. At the same time LTTE did not bother about ending this meaningless war. Nor did it worry about finding a peaceful solution to protect the rights of Tamils. The only aim of LTTE was to achieve power for itself. It did not do anything good for the Tamils living there. Instead, it only harmed their interests.

 

PRESENT SITUATION

AND TASKS

 

The LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran has announced several times that separate Eelam will be achieved through armed struggle. This struggle continued for nearly 33 years. But, finally the government of Sri Lanka recaptured the entire areas from the grip of LTTE. Now the war has come to a sad end after the killing of thousands of people, including Prabhakaran himself. Several lakhs of people were also rendered homeless and living in shabby camps scattered all over the area.

 

The main question now before all peace loving people is what must be done to arrive at a political solution for this long lasting conflict in Sri Lanka. History has witnessed many important agreements such as Lal Bahadur Shastri-Srimao Bandaranayake agreement in 1960 and Rajiv Gandhi-Jeyawardane agreement in 1987 etc. All these agreements had good provisions regarding bestowing rights to Tamils, devolution of political powers to the residing areas of the Tamils etc. But many of those provisions were not implemented, leading to doubts whether the ruling bourgeoisie-landlord parties in Sri Lanka consider that their political future will be safe only if these problems continue to exist and are therefore deliberately not resolving them. There is a large amount of Indian capital invested in Sri Lanka. Even then the government of India has not initiated suitable action.

 

The views expressed by Deva Gunasekara, general secretary, Communist Party of Sri Lanka, regarding Sri Lankan problem deserve to be mentioned here. He says: “As far as Leftists are concerned, we have been insisting that a solution for this problem should be found out quickly. This is a national problem. No particular political party can find a solution to this problem. This is the lesson we have learnt from history. We, the communists, are demanding that both important and bigger political parties should cooperate and take joint efforts to find out a solution to this problem.”

 

These are the views of not only the Communist Party of Sri Lanka but also the considered opinion of Tamils in Sri Lanka and all democratic sections among the Sinhalese.

 

The war has come to an end after resulting in a severe loss of lives and property of a large number of civilians and ordinary people. This being the ground reality, when we analyse the total situation, it is imperative that a solution for peace must be found out immediately. Only that will do good to all the people in Sri Lanka, including the Tamils.

It would be a blunder on the part of the majority polity in Sri Lanka to forget the simple truth that the LTTE is the by-product of the failure of successive regimes in Colombo to respond to the genuine grievances of the minorities in general and the Tamils in particular. In the immediate context, it is the responsibility of the government to tend to the basic minimum needs of the displaced and restore a modicum of dignity to their lives. The Tamil community needs a healing touch and it is the duty of the majority community to reach out to it if the unity, integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka are to be strengthened.

 

IMMEDIATE

TASKS

(1)             The Sri Lankan government should come out immediately and ensure equal rights for Tamils in Sri Lanka, particularly the right to peaceful life.

(2)             The government of India should use its diplomatic relations to pressurise Sri Lankan government to convene an all party meeting and initiate the process for a political solution to this problem.

(3)             The Sri Lankan government should ensure supply of food, medicine etc., to the affected Tamil people through Red Cross and United Nations Organisation.

(4)             The facilities available are abysmal. While providing relief is crucial, what is more important is the urgent need to resettle all the internally displaced persons in their original dwelling place as early as possible. There are some apprehensions that these displaced persons will be kept in camps for an indefinite period. There is also suspicion of a hidden government agenda to settle Sinhalese in the Wanni and to alter demographic patterns. Early resettlement can dispel this anxiety. This has to be followed by the re-settlement of all displaced people from all communities in the island.

(5)             The government must reach out specifically to the Tamils. In the past, it alienated many Tamils through its obsession with the war. Now is the time to move away from capturing Tiger-controlled territory to capturing the hearts and minds of the Tamil people.

(6)             The stringent security conditions must be gradually relaxed. Those detained without trial or charges being filed must be released. Security measures like checks and searches must be relaxed in a phased-out manner.

(7)             A special financial package is necessary to help the people of the North and East reconstruct and develop their battered economy and shattered lives.

(8)             Constitutionally, Tamil is now on a par with Sinhala as an official language. This however is not being implemented. Efforts should be under way to implement Tamil as an official language through the length and breadth of the country. An adequate number of Tamil-speaking officials must be recruited quickly to the public service.

(9)             The government must go ahead with the unfinished task of nation building through genuine power sharing. Much valuable time has been lost and many opportunities squandered in the past.

(10)         The international community, India in particular, has a crucial role to play. While helping to evolve a political settlement, they must also ensure that the economy receives a boost. The war-ravaged infrastructure of the Northeast should be rebuilt through external aid and input.

 

 

These then are the parameters within which a new beginning is possible in a united Sri Lanka. Despite bleak prospects in a post-war scenario, the beleaguered Tamil people must once again move towards the goal of being an integral component of the Sri Lankan nation. The government must reciprocate by re-inventing and re-invigorating a ‘new’ Lanka for its long-awaited tryst with destiny.