Between Govt abdication and TNA appropriation

8 July 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By N. Sathiya Moorthy

Events and developments in post-war Sri Lanka have given the impression that mutual mistrust from the past continue to cause a deadlock in the peace process. What may be on hand is negative movement in the wrong direction, by both sides, namely, the Government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Of the two, the Government wants to abdicate its responsibility by wanting to share it ironically with the rest of the nation’s polity on this one issue in the form of the PSC. On the other side, the TNA purportedly continues to arrogate/appropriate to the self the ‘sole representative status’ once belonging to the LTTE but in great moderation. Worse still, neither has found the need or time for creating a mechanism to sort out issues that need not have assumed the characteristics of a national or international discourse in the first place.

It started with the Government not wanting to characterise the TNA’s entry into the negotiations process at the outset, one way or the other. It was anxious to have the TNA on board, but there were people then as now who would argue that the Government wanted deniability from the outset. It was only to be expected. So was the reciprocal TNA decision to enter the negotiations process with an ‘open mind’. Both were ‘open-ended’, instead, with the stake-holders temptingly staying close to the gate for a quick retraction than to walk well into the process, settle down with confidence and move forward. The mutual suspicion and mistrust was sown with consummate deliberation, as has always been over the past decades. ‘Caution’ was the name it has taken. The lack of confidence was as much internal as it was mutual – and the other side often had to take the blame.

Everyday issues pertaining to rehabilitation should have been sorted out at the levels where they had emerged. The army was in control of the rehabilitation and reconstruction, and had a well-layered hierarchy at work. Yet, no attempt was made by either the Government or the TNA to form local-level committees to address these issues. Instead, clogged sewerage and non-laid water-pipes would have to find their solution either at the level of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, or his then Senior Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, now the even more powerful Economic Development Minister, or Defence Secretary Gota R – or, there would be no solution.

It is not too late even now. The TNA has its elected members in the local governments. So have other political parties in the war-torn areas. With due respect for the representative status of these elected people, including parliamentarians and members of the civil society, the Government should set up joint committees to suggest and supervise works, hear out complaints and propose solutions. The TNA should either allow others to be members of the committee, or work towards bringing all sections of the Tamil-speaking polity on a single platform, even if it is only for the limited purpose of addressing daily issues of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Reconciliation would have begun there, and could still begin there.

Time was when the Government and the TNA decided in one of their early round of talks since September 2010 that they would discuss rehabilitation issues at the highest level. It was top-heavy and possibly not meant to deliver. The apex body, where policy decisions would have to be taken, could still have the national leadership of all stake-holders, or whatever it takes to do it. At grassroots-level, it should devolve powers on the official(s) on hand to deliver whatever they are mandated to do. A graded approach based on work on hand would also ensure that there are no gaps in the civilian/political administration, when the armed forces are finally called upon to return to the barracks, for the latter to take full control. 

The ‘gaps’ in the administrative capacity of the Government at all levels and those at the grassroot-level within the moderate Tamil polity were appalling at the conclusion of the war. Inducting the army, with its hierarchy-based delivery mechanism, may have made sense in the interim. The army has also supposedly worked on ‘capacity-building’ in the civilian administration after it had been lost to decades of war, displacement and at times, non-replacement. The polity and civil society suffered as the LTTE appropriated official authority and civilian representation after neutralising the rest. Their exit has left a gap. Inability and/or unwillingness of the TNA and the rest to fill the vacuum in time could lead to their being misappropriated all over again by new-generation hard-liners as the situation evolves. The moderates at the top would have only themselves to blame.
For starters, the TNA should stop shying away from devolving responsibilities on their own elected representatives and civil society sympathisers. The reverse is true of Tamil parties in power. Their voice is heard where none should have been, and at levels they should not have been. The denial of devolved responsibilities in both cases have produced near-similar results of not creating effective second and third-line leaderships in the Tamil polity and community, after much of it had been swept away by and in the LTTE blitzkrieg. What their leaders have instead is words, words and more words. That is their part of the responsibility of talking to the Government at the highest levels on the reconciliation process in political terms.

It is in the Sri Lankan psyche, a national character. When charisma feared to be failing, constitutional cover helped muster all powers in the hands of an Executive President. The UNP which did it then has been talking about reversing the trend at election time, not otherwise. Less said about the SLFP, which had suffered politically at the hands of the UNP when Executive Presidency was created, the better. No major political party in the country encourages internal democracy. The fight in the UNP has been over the same. In the past, internal dissensions had come out in the open when the two ‘Sinhala majors’, and also in the likes of JVP, were in the Opposition. Simmering discontent could be smelt when they were in power.

If only the Government and the Tamil stake-holders had shared ideas at the higher-levels and shared responsibilities down the line, otherwise, then some of the reconciliation between various Tamil groups at one-level and between the Tamils and the Government on the other, might have happened already. Yet, it is the norm in democracies of every kind that political leaders at the top seldom want to share power with the lower ranks, whether in power or otherwise. The UNP’s problems, and the more recent split in the JVP, for instance, all flow from such perceptions from within the respective party. The anxieties of the Government and those in the TNA about ‘yielding more’ on the ethnic front owe not only to justifiable causes but more to the not-so-justifiable belief – or lack of it – in the self.

Yet, in the peculiar circumstances of Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue, there are stake-holders and governments that think otherwise. They see in constituency-driven political favouritism the hidden hand of the Sri Lankan State – and worse still, that of the ‘Sinhala nationalist polity’.  They however confine such perceptions only to the Government side, not wanting to fix responsibilities on the Tamil leadership. Hidden unintentionally is the traditional thinking that problem-solving of the kind demand the creation of a ‘level playing-field’. Such thinking has failed Sri Lanka -- and the Tamils in particular. Where however the Tamil polity is involved, their selective approach and even more selective memory have confined criticism to those Tamil parties that are in power. The rest have had no responsibility to the Sri Lankan nation, at least from the commencement of the ethnic issue and the conclusion of the ethnic war. Post-war TNA is trying to make a difference, but neither whole-heartedly, nor with the desired result.

In a way, the Tamil community has deluded itself by believing that there are “our leaders and their leaders”—just as some of them believed in “our terrorists and their terrorists” in the days of the LTTE. Such memories linger on in some, stopping them from accepting others of the ilk into the larger Tamil polity. Course-correction of the kind alone would help end fraternal quarrels, which however have stopped with the political arena. Thankfully, with singular exceptions, it has not denigrated to other levels and methods, as used to be the case in the LTTE era. Yet, the failure of the moderate Tamil polity to resolve their differences when they have time on their side, could lead to further fragmentation with passage of time. Individual ambitions would then completely replace residual ideology. The latter would still be the excuse that each one of them would flaunt, to justify their action, inaction or ‘over-action’ and consequent reaction – be it involving the Sri Lankan State, Sinhala polity or other Tamils. If it rings a bell, that is how post-war Tamil polity too has been evolving, so (sorry) to say.

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