The three decade-long armed conflict in Sri Lanka had ended with the defeat of LTTE in May 2009. Many initiatives taken by the post-war Sri Lankan governments have not yielded any national reconciliation, in fact the divergent interests among various social, economic and political groups and increased social fragmentation have terrified the social cohesion and the future of Sri Lanka.
According to the Centre for Policy Alternatives (2013), post-war Sri Lanka has recorded more than 65 communal clashes in January 2013, illustrating the very nature of disturbed co-existence among ethnic groups. In fact, these incidents remained untreated and have renewed new divisions within society that have made the topic of national reconciliation central to political and academic debates.
Even eight years after the violent conflict, the Northern and Eastern Provinces are still under-reconstruction and military control. The defeat of the LTTE and the death of Prabhakaran is still treated as an unbearable loss by the Tamil community (De Silva 2010). Memories of the positive features of the LTTE are likely to remain fresh in the minds of the Tamil people, and would affect any government attempt at reconciliation—whether this be through policies or gestures (De Silva 2010). Not only Tamils, but also other Tamil-speaking communities have also paid in more ways than one for the war. The majority of the Muslim community, which was evacuated by the LTTE in the 1990s from the Northern Province, is not properly resettled. In addition, the sporadic riots against Muslim community in the post-war Sri Lanka threaten the peaceful co-existence of communities. This life threatening situation of the Muslim community is too hopeless. This has led to thousands of innocent Muslim families to live in fear. As regards the Sinhalese community, they remain insecure and feel fear with regard to the revival of the LTTE. As a result, the relationship between the ethnic communities is still very tense with a feeling of “us” and “them”.
Diversity Paradox and Political Parties
Prior to the advent of British colonial rule in Ceylon, the communities co-existed in relative harmony though there were distinct ethnic and social differences between people of different backgrounds. As it was the case for many parts of the world, the British colonial rulers had instigated the communal rivalries for their smooth and efficient administration in Ceylon. In particular, the continued demand for improved political representation for communities was discussed widely and remained a topic for political bargaining with the colonial rulers during the late 1920s and 1930s. This led the leaders to mobilize the members of the Ceylonese nation on the communal lines and to articulate communal interests.
However, D.S Senanayake, the Chairman of the Reception Committee, National Congress who spoke at the general session of Congress on 16th December 1927 that although the National Congress was composed mainly of Sinhalese, the Congress is not only for Sinhalese.
In fact, DS Senanayake had encouraged the Tamil community not to leave the National Congress for any reasons as he wanted the Congress to represent the interests of all communities and people. Even he continuously had insisted the British Empire to consider Ceylonese as the members of British Empire with equal rights. All his efforts on the part of Ceylonese nation from the National Congress helped to introduce the adult suffrage which was a progressive step on the road to political democracy.
According to CPA (2013), post-war SL has recorded more than 65 communal clashes in Jan. 2013, illustrating the very disturbed co-existence among ethnic groups
However, it is important to know that prior to the legislature of Soulbury, there was no political parties, but the members were grouped into organizations like Ceylon Congress, Sinhala Maha Sabha. In the 1940s, the implementation of Soulbury Constitution had necessitated the development of political parties in order to implement the parliamentary system in Ceylon. In such a situation DS Senanayake first established United National Party (UNP) in 1946 as non-communal party to deal with questions on non-communal lines. The policy of the UNP was to represent the interests of members from all sections and population of the country. However, one could possibly argue that this lacked with SWRD Bandaranaike whose Sinhala Maha Sabha clearly advocated the linguistic and religious matters which were not congruent with the polices of UNP. Jennings writes that “Sinhala Maha Sabha was not an organization of Buddhist enthusiasts but an attempt to exploit communalism for personal power and privilege”. In fact, for political benefits, many political leaders brought communal politics to the fore. This fanned communal rivalries which deepened distrust among the communities in post-independence Sri Lanka.
Soon after independence, the newly formed independent government (under the premiership of DS Senanayake) attempted to build the united Ceylonese nation with its professed goals of nation-building. A few parliamentary Acts such as the Citizenship Act (1948), and Indian-Pakistani Citizenship Act (1949) were enacted which the government saw as necessary to generate a shared identity of unifying Ceylon after the British departure. In some ways, the Ceylonese government has been successful, though this has come at the price of denying civil and political rights of the Indian Tamils.
The Rajapaksa government saw the total defeat of LTTE as a complete victory for the government forces and regarded no reason to political discussions
However, it is argued that the first nation-building in Ceylon after Independence was failure in most respects. During his political career, DS Senanayake never supported or made a claim for a special treatment to ‘Buddhism’. In addition, he never attempted to make Sinhala as the official language of the country. He never attempted to make language problem in the country as he had a wider tolerance and passion for making Ceylon as a single nation. DS Senanayake has focused more on the issues related to livelihood but not to uplift the status of language and religion. He always had a mentality that the united nation could be possible when there is a generous attitude towards the minorities. In other words, as a first prime minister, he was the only statesman who worked greatly for communal harmony.
However, after his tenure, the Sinhala Only Act was enacted by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to replace English as the official language with Sinhala. This was said that for the first few years following Independence, the UNP government with its majority representation for the interests of the westernized elite and other privileged urban groups, failed to consider the interests of the rural-poor Sinhalese. As a result, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to gain the political vote of the rural Sinhalese had provided language (Sinhala) and religion (Buddhism) a higher constitutional status. This situation provided the opportunity for Tamil leaders to seek self-determination since these disastrous policies led to deep ethnic divisions between Tamil-speaking communities and the Sinhalese.
Citizenship Act (1948), and Indian-Pakistani Citizenship Act (1949) were enacted which the Govt. saw as necessary to generate a shared identity of unifying Ceylon after the British departure
The strained relationship between the Sinhalese and Tamils worsened when the sporadic riots against Tamils took place for decades and the worst riots took place in July 1983. In such situations, the state repression against these riots created further animosity forcing the Tamil youth to defend themselves against the attacks from the Sinhalese community. Eelam War I is the initial phase of the armed conflict (1970s to July 23 1983) between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. In the 1990s, the Eastern Muslim community was also dragged into the fighting by the attacks from the LTTE. All this was exacerbated further by the ethnic violence in the North and East where throughout the 1990s, Sri Lanka faced Ealam War II (1990), and Ealam War III (1995).
During this period, all communities experienced high levels of ethnic violence which resulted in the loss of many lives and major destruction of the infrastructure. This further increased the mistrust and feelings of hatred among communities. The massacre of 147 Muslims at prayer in the Kattankudy Mosque in the Eastern Province triggered hatred between the Tamils and Muslims. This was further worsened in 1990 when the L.T.T.E expelled nearly 75,000 Muslims from the districts of Northern Province, such as Mannar, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu within a 48-hour period. The situation remained unchanged until the peace talks in 2002 (facilitated by Norway) to stop the military attacks between the LTTE and the government forces in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. At one point, to reach a political solution through peaceful negotiations, Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister signed the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the LTTE on 22nd February, 2002. To end the 20 years of conflict, Ranil Wickremesinghe insisted a permanent solution based on a united Sri Lanka. In order to find a peaceful political solution, the peace talks were held in many countries, and attended by LTTE delegates, but came to an end without any success, since the LTTE did not consider there to be any solution other than a separate state for Tamils.
However, one could say that the Ranil had adopted a non-confrontational approach to the LTTE to reach an amicable political solution. Nevertheless, even though no settlement was reached between 2002 and 2006, there was at least no fighting in the country. The presidential election of 2005 dashed any hopes for peace when the LTTE announced a boycott of the election by the Tamils. This led to the Sinhala nationalist candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, receiving a narrow win without the Tamil vote from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Once President Rajapaksa came to power as President, he resumed military operations against the LTTE. Rajapaksa government had begun to shift the soft approach since 2005. In retaliation, the LTTE increased their attacks throughout the country. The LTTE faced further challenges when the newly-appointed President, Mahinda Rajapaksha began Eelam War IV in July 2007 with government forces capturing the entire Eastern Province.
Again in January 2008 the government launched a large military attack against the LTTE in the Northern Province, in particular in Vanni, the heartland of the LTTE. By January 2009, the Sri Lankan military forces had taken control of Kilinochchi, which had been the administrative capital of the LTTE since 1999, and the heavy fighting between January and May 2009 (to seize the rest of Vanni) ended when the Sri Lankan government army captured Mullaitivu.
In fact, the coalition government attempts to prevent a repetition of what took place in the past ensuring the non-occurrence of communal violence. I believe this is a key to facilitate the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka
The Rajapaksa government saw the total defeat of LTTE as a complete victory for the government forces and regarded no reason to political discussions. However, without a political solution, there can be no hope of national reconciliation through meaningful power sharing. However, ethnic or communal reconciliation needs to come from strong inter-ethnic relations which would allow all parties to work on a political solution. Attempts at centralization by the Rajapaksa government appeared to offer no hope of solving the ethnic conflict through a meaningful political solution, despite its best efforts to amend the constitution and enact parliamentary Bills.
However, the Sirisena- Wickremesinghe government has taken again a soft approach to address the matter of national reconciliation in a non-partition manner. In fact, the coalition government attempts to prevent a repetition of what took place in the past ensuring the non-occurrence of communal violence. I believe this is a key to facilitate the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka.