By Dr Laksiri Fernando
There have been two clearly discernible dimensions to the ‘national question’ in Sri Lanka in modern times.
The first dimension of the national question signified or still signifies the independence from colonialism and after independence (1948), the freedom from post-colonialism or what is perceived as imperialism or outside interference, primarily from the Western hemisphere. This can be termed as the external dimension of the national question. The ‘independence,’ ‘sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ have been the main demands or slogans of this dimension of the national question while it also could invoke the ‘overall right of self-determination’ of the country. At times, India has also come into this equation as a challenge or a threatening power.
The second dimension of the national question has been the much vexed problem in the country for the last three decades or even before and the failure to resolve this problem peacefully has been the reason for the war, death and destruction. The second dimension of the national question means the ‘Tamil national question’ or the national question of the minorities particularly of the Tamils and the Muslims. This is the internal dimension of the national question. As ethnic nations or national groups in society, they rightfully aspire for national equality in many spheres and denial of them has led, on the part of the Tamils, to demand ‘autonomy,’ ‘federalism’ (internal self-determination) and ‘separation’ (external self-determination). The ‘self-determination’ has been their main slogan or demand in various forms.
In contrast to the peaceful resolution of the first or the external dimension of the national question or independence, the abysmal failure on the part of the political leaders to resolve the internal dimension or the second dimension of the national question is very much conspicuous.
Actors of Extremism
The actors of extremism are those who assert one dimension of the national question against the other, on both sides of the divide, without compromising for a balance between the two, quite detrimental to the country’s stability, democracy and development. Like the SLFP, the UNP has also been complicit at times of asserting the external dimension of the national question against the minority rights of the national question. Quite similarly, like the LTTE, the TNA has also been complicit at different times asserting the internal dimension of the national question quite detrimental to the external or the country dimension of the national question.
But in relative terms, the UNP and the TNA are moderate forces that can be relied upon in bringing a compromised solution to the country. Even within the SLFP, there were moderate forces that were willing to compromise on the national question prior to the advent of Mahinda Rajapaksa to the leadership.
The ‘package’ and the 2000 August draft constitution were some examples. Even there is an opportunistic deviation between the initial Mahinda Chinthana (i.e. 13+) and the post-Mahinda Chinthana policy of Mahinda Rajapaksa. What can be seen is the hardening of the extremist stance of the Rajapaksa administration on the national question day by day.
Some of the broad contours for a compromise on the two dimensions of the national question could be a political system based on a united country, autonomy and devolved powers, enshrined human and minority rights, multi-culturalism both in theory and practice, and institutionalised power sharing both at the centre and the periphery as relevant.
There is a need to understand the other side of the coin on the part of all protagonists and more and more efforts at assessing and evaluating the issues beyond one’s own ethnicity or ethnic prism. Both academics and journalists (similar species) particularly need to see beyond their own ethnic affiliations.
One extreme to the political equation, the LTTE, is gone; the other still remains and that is the Rajapaksa administration. It is difficult to see a political resolution to the national question within this administration, although even after, the tasks might not be that smooth. At least a change might bring a manageable situation. There are so many other related and distinctly related matters why the Rajapaksa administration should go. Those are matters of democracy, good governance, imposed economic hardships, human rights, violence, corruption, and communalism, family-rule, rule of law or simple reasons of political decency. I have never seen a regime deteriorating into such low
What is necessary to bring about a political or a regime change is a broad collation of democratic forces both in the South and the North, at the begging marching separately and striking together, and eventually forging more understanding and alliances for a viable Political Front even drawing upon the liberal and leftist sections within the present government itself.