Addressing an inter-cultural literary festival in Kilinochchi, President Maithripala Sirisena has again appealed to all people and political parties to come together in a spirit of unity in diversity and take the country towards sustainable, eco-friendly and all-inclusive development.
The festival, in which Sinhala,Tamil, Muslim and other literary groups participated, was organized by the National Reconciliation and Unity office headed by former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who played a key role in bringing President Sirisena and the National Government to office and is now taking the front line in the reconciliation mission.
President Sirisena has expressed deep regret that some political groups -- apparently with personal or party political agendas -- were spreading propaganda, accusing the National Government of trying to bring about “federal reconciliation.” He said it was a now-or-never situation for the country because for the first time the two major parties -- the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) -- were working together. There were differences of opinion and problems on some issues, but the two parties had reached consensus on major issues including the 2017 budget and the reconciliation process through a devolution of power and resources to the provinces. The President, apparently referring to pro-Rajapaksa politicians who have formed a new party, warned the Government would take stern action against anyone trying to stir up racial or religious tension.
Since 1951, when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike broke away from the Government of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, the country has been plagued and has paid a colossal price for racial and religious strife. Mr. Bandaranaike, though he introduced the Pancha Maha Bala Wegaya or people power, also created the worst ever division through the Sinhala Only Act. It alienated the minority communities and led to the 30-year civil war in which hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans were killed or injured with the material damage going beyond estimation. But to his credit, Mr. Bandaranaike realized his blunder and repented within two years. Behind the scenes, he worked out the Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam pact for regional councils which had far less power than the present provincial councils. But some opposition parties then led by the UNP’s J.R. Jayewardene accused Mr. Bandaranaike of trying to divide the country and this led to the 1958 racial riots, forcing Mr. Bandaranaike to abandon the BC pact. On September 26, 1959 he was shot dead by a Buddhist monk, though many analysts believe it was part of a deeper conspiracy within the party.
In 1965, the UNP, then led by Dudley Senanayake, formed a National Government including the main Tamil group, the Federal Party. A Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact for district councils was worked out, but the then opposition SLFP and some government ministers forced the Prime Minister to abandon this pact also.
After 1970, the situation became worse. In the aftermath of the April 1971 armed insurrection by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s United Front Government worked out a Republican Constitution. This had many positive dimensions, but the main negative was the exclusion of a provision which guaranteed minority rights. This move and other factors, mainly the district quota system for university admissions, led to crisis after crisis and conflict within conflicts, ultimately exploding in the civil war.
In the 1980s, during the executive presidency of J.R. Jayewardene, Sri Lanka was shattered by the July 1983 riots, the 1986 Indo-Sri Lanka agreement which brought hundreds of thousands of Indian troops here and the 1987 reign of terror.
In 1999, the then Executive President Kumaratunga -- apparently trying to fulfil what her father could not do -- introduced a devolution package worked out by Neelan Tiruchelvam and the then Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, who is now leading a new party opposing the National Government’s reconciliation process. The way some of these politicians change their policies is similar to what the United States President Donald Trump is doing.
While urging the National Government to be sincerely committed to this policy and give the people servant leadership, we also urge the people to go beyond selfishness or self-centredness and commit themselves to work for the common good by becoming country-first citizens.