It is in this background that all criticism on the approach either of the Government and/or the Tamil community and polity needs to be viewed and understood. Else, we would end up continuing to promote arguments that blame one or the other side for the inconsistencies between the promises and delivery in terms of ethnic reconciliation in the post-war era. In a way, conscious and conscientious elimination of mistrust would lead the nation to a situation in which forced equality, promoted by the international community and promised through legislation nearer home, would have become redundant. Without such a mind-change, external efforts of the kind would remain short-lived and short-changed.
In the absence of cooperative elimination of mistrust, no amount of legislation would help. International perceptions and threats based on such perceptions could embarrass and/or harass one or the other of the stake-holders (or, both) but would not ensure equity and equality that they all aim at, or promise. The recurring criticism of the 13-Amendment even before the constitutional amendment became law flows from such a construct. In the end, neither the Tamil or the Sinhala society and polity, nor the Sri Lankan State and the LTTE, felt convinced and contented about it – or, stayed united with it.
With no earnest effort made to remove the mistrust in the past, the Government party split (as witnessed during the JRJ era, so did the majority Sinhala community. It was no different in the case of the Tamils, where the militant LTTE was daggers drawn at the moderate TULF leadership – and literally so. The situation was no different when the Tamil society had lot to hope for from the leadership of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, as the LTTE would not have any of it. Today, with the LTTE gone, the Sri Lankan State suspicion is about the existence of rump groups among the Tamils who might want and engineer a return to those days.
The situation was no different in the case of the Sinhala polity, either. When the JRJ presidency was too strong for the comfort of the political opposition of the day, the anticipated dissension had to come from within in the form his Prime Minister, Ranasinghe Premadasa. When the LTTE eliminated Premadasa, the CBK leadership of the nation that followed after a break was not as strong as his. The political challenge to the Government’s peace efforts naturally came from without, in the form of UNP Opposition and party Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe. There is a pattern, and thus a lesson, in all this.
The political concerns of the ruling combine under President Mahinda Rajapaksa are one thing. The societal imperatives are another. Yet, the security concerns of the Sri Lankan States, as perceived by the armed forces and their intelligence arms, are yet another facet. It is difficult for them to overcome their apprehensions over their shadows, overnight. They would need proof that the situation on the ground had changed for good, and the process could not be reversed. What is true of the Sri Lankan armed forces is true of other armies in its place.
The reverse, of the Tamils wanting the army mindset out of their way in the Sri Lankan State’s dealings with them is truer, even more. Hence, the continuing talk of high military presence in their midst, and about the armed forces running civilian canteens in places where the Tamil civilians should have been encouraged to do so. To them, it is a symptom, a continuing one at that, yet again.
The process may be slow and even generational after a point, yet, there is a need for delineating real-time security concerns from perceptions that seek to lend unconvincing justification of such measures. ‘Colonisation’ as the Tamils have known it even before Independence, had more to do with social re-engineering of a kind, coupled with economic re-distribution, reportedly based on ethnicity in the twentieth century Sri Lanka.
In a democracy, the Tamils do need to acknowledge, the process cannot be stopped after a point – as the upper castes/class in the Indian context have been finding out still. In Sri Lanka, it is more about State security or State’s perception of security, and the consequent mistrust that it entails and enriches in turn. This trend has to be stopped, and reversed. No time is a better time than the present one. If it cannot be done now, it cannot be done in the foreseeable future. That is for a fact.
N Sathiya Moorthy
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