By Dr Dayan Jayatilleka
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga calls it “the first serious political interview I have given in six and a half years” referring to the interview she gave Sanjana Hattotuwa, editor of the website Groundviews.
Forget the lurid anti-Sri Lankan propaganda which places the death toll of Tamil civilians in the war at a ridiculous 40,000; a figure which has been disaggregated and challenged by respected civil society voices such as the MARGA Institute. President Kumaratunga has a very much higher figure than Channel 4 or even the shrillest elements of the Diaspora Tiger demonstrators. She talks of “hundreds of thousands”:
“...you eat kiributh because you are happy that the war is over but you mustn’t forget that there was another angle, hundreds of thousands of our people-- the Tamils are also our people--got killed; tens of thousands of our soldiers got killed; Sinhala and Tamil boys got killed. You don’t eat kiributh at a time like that...”
What is our former Commander-in-chief’s view of the last war and its origins? Is it the case that Prabhakaran was preparing for it and had only been deterred from its launch by the tsunami? Certainly not according to CBK, who names the Sri Lankan government and not the Tigers as the aggressor:
“...No, no, they just had some talks with the LTTE and the Government attacked some place or the other and they just broke the talks in a very flippant way.”
How does CBK rate the victory over the LTTE and the successful termination of the decades-long war, a termination which means that no one dies or is maimed by bomb-blasts which struck all parts of the country? How does President Kumaratunga assess the restoration of the territorial unity and integrity of Sri Lanka? Here’s her considered evaluation:
“This government has defeated and eliminated the external manifestation of the Tamil problem, of the Tamil people’s problem. They have eliminated the external manifestation of the continuing unresolved Tamil people’s problem of this country which was terrorism but they have not eliminated in any way the deep rooted causes of the Tamil problem which gave rise to terrorism.
So in other words, they have eliminated –it is like when somebody is having a bad cold you sort of give a hankie and the person wipes the hotu (snot-DJ) and you think this cold is ok or you sort of like inhale some dung (steam-DJ) and even the sort of stuffiness in the nose goes so then you can’t even hear the person being a bit nasal so you think that everything is fine but you have done nothing to eliminate the germ in the body, the bacteria that has caused it”.
Now it may be the case that this statement of our former president may get up the nose of many of us since the ‘external manifestation’, the ‘snot’ or ‘stuffiness in the nose’ that she so derisively speaks of, caused the citizenry of Sri Lanka to lose loved ones and limbs, and to live in fear of the loss of their parents or children during any given day over a quarter century.
Her statement may strike one as snotty for another reason. If the crushing of the LTTE, liberating us from the curse of weekly suicide-bombings and enabling citizens to travel freely across the island once again were as easy and simple as lending a hankie to blow a nose, the question arises as to why President Kumaratunga did not do so during the decade she was the country’s leader and commander-in-chief. Mercifully we are provided with a glimpse of her thinking on this subject, in the course of the interview. When asked as to how she was changed by the LTTE suicide bomb which was meant to kill her but damaged her eyesight, she says that she became:
“...much more committed to ending terrorism and violence...through non-violent means. I was getting more and more committed to my vision of a non-violent solution.”
That statement provides the evidence of how confused her thinking on terrorism had been, how that confusion caused the vacillation and strategic incoherence prevented her from winning the war and how the absence of such confusion generated the policy cohesion that enabled her successor to do what she could not.
This serious strategic confusion carries over into President Kumaratunga’s perspective on post-war Sri Lanka. She says:
“If the Rajapaksa regime was not in power it would have been much easier to resolve problems that have risen after the war than any other government with a different policy, that’s what I mean...”
Now it should be obvious that there were other governments or ‘regimes’ with different policies while the war was on and that the Rajapaksa government was in office for only a fifth (20%) of the war’s total duration. No one but themselves prevented these governments, enlightened and ennobled as they were with “a different policy”—such as that of President Kumaratunga’s -- from winning the war.
She must also reflect on the fact that even at the peak of her considerable popularity and a decade before “the state media” of the Rajapaksa government “washed the brains” of the Sinhalese – as she claims in her interview—she was unable to secure consent for her devolution ‘package’ of 1995 which remains, as she reaffirms to the interviewer, the best long-term solution (by her reckoning) to the Tamil people’s problem.
At the interview’s conclusion she reveals that: “Once again as a person who likes to hope, I see some glimmer of hope only, only [the word is repeated-DJ] because of the very vociferous interventions by the international community”.
Thus, President Kumaratunga does not place her hope in the Sri Lankan society and people, their democratic traditions, or even in the party of which she is patron and her father was founder.