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November 30, 2008

Impediments In The Way Of Devolving Power To The Periphery

By Chandra Wickramasinghe

It is necessary for one at the very outset, to unfailingly take full cognizance of the multi-faceted aspects of the problem of devolution of the power of governance to whatever unit decided on by the Centre, as the geographical unit exercising such devolved authority. Such a close study would enable one to have an overview of the full magnitude of the problems of devolution, as well as the immediate and long term implications of putting into effect the particular model of sub-national governance, finally determined by the Centre. The following are some of the problems perceived by many as being almost insurmountable and intractable which militate against any earnest endeavour on the part of those seeking a final and lasting solution to the issue of devolving power to the peripheries.

The indecision on the part of the political authorities, stemming from their basic reluctance to part with the power and control they exercise at present to any newly constituted peripheral units. Some quarters even seriously express the view that there is no real need for any devolution at all! Some others conceive of the District as being the ideal unit of any devolution process. Still others seem convinced that the only practical way out of the impasse is to go on the Provincial Council as the unit, which is already incorporated in the 13th Amendment These appear to be some of the biggest dilemmas political decision makers face currently on the question of the devolution of power to the peripheries.

The risk of the rampant corruption and waste found at present at every conceivable level and resultant harassment and the harrowing delays the general public have to suffer to get even routine official matters attended to, being replicated and even exacerbated following devolution.

The dearth of competent persons, both at the political level as well as the level of public officials, it could be justly surmised, is bound to be a severe drawback on the quality and the standard of governance in any devolved unit. As far as the State machinery for the delivery of public services to the general public islandwide is concerned, it would therefore be in the national interest and, more importantly in the interest of the devolved unit, to continue having the existing State Combined Services viz. the SLAS, SLE (Education)S, SLE (Engineering)S, the Medical Services etc., centrally administered as there would otherwise be severe shortages of trained and experienced personnel to man the devolved units effectively. To starve these units of such experienced personnel would be to seriously hamper their development efforts. These are some of the critical aspects of devolution that deserve the closest attention.

The vital question of financial allocations to the proposed peripheral units, particularly where basic infrastructure is not developed and where a weak natural resource base offers little potential for development, would be a matter of critical importance. To tap the micro development potential of these units, the first priority would be to develop infrastructure in the vital areas of power and transport to enable the economic environment to improve rapidly and in a sustainable manner. This would basically mean the electrification of rural areas, interconnecting provincial roads with rural roads thereby linking hitherto neglected villages to secondary towns and cities enabling the facility of access to urban market centers, schools, State welfare services etc. Historically, this marked unequivalence has been created by cities and urban centers being the privileged beneficiaries over the years, of investment funds in developing the physical and social infrastructure of these selected areas, to the at times total neglect of the economically and socially deprived outlying regions. The underlying principle of devolution is to decentralise and shift the political power base thereby enabling these economic ‘backwaters’ to benefit by their direct involvement in the development process. To work towards this end, an immense amount of carefully planned groundwork needs to be done if the development scenario envisaged is to be realised.

The deteriorating Law and Order situation in the country, which again could be attributed to widespread corruption, indiscipline and the failure of the law enforcement authorities to curb escalating crime and violence, would pose a serious problem in the devolution of central authority to the devolved units. In such a scenario, one could well imagine what would follow if Police powers are suddenly devolved to the sub-national units haphazardly without due cognizance being taken of the need to have in place an integrally cohesive organisational structure, particularly in relation to the management and control of a disciplined service like the Police Service . This is where the Government will have to act with due caution and circumspection in devolving totally the powers laid down in the concurrent list. These are crucial matters that should be examined carefully and resolved consensually in the larger national interest as well as in the regional interest, if the devolutionary arrangement is to be worked out meaningfully and effectively.

The above problems, although fundamentally enervating by their very nature and seemingly intractable, could still be successfully surmounted if the political authorities have the necessary determination and the political resolve to do so.

The unit of devolution and the extent of devolution, are political decisions which will have to be taken with due sagacity and circumspection, taking into account both minority and majority concerns. The principle of devolution and the unit of devolution have been already conceded by the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It is therefore now, a fait accompli. The extent of devolution is left now to be determined within a pragmatic and workable framework. To ensure national sovereignty and territorial integrity, it would most certainly be imprudent to confer powers on the proposed unit of devolution, in excess of the powers conferred on State Governments in India, under that Constitution.

Corruption, lethargy and inefficiency may be replicated or even amplified in the devolved units unless effective preventive measures are introduced to check them.

Corruption is so pervasive islandwide today due primarily to the horrible example set by the elected representatives and the political decision makers. Political patronage nurtures and protects official corruption and often there is collusion between dishonest politicians and pliant public servants. Public servants are often rude, arrogant and unhelpful to members of the general public who are compelled to visit State Institutions for certain necessary official transactions. Fortunately, there are a few key Departments, like the Immigration Department and the Motor Traffic Department where work has been streamlined by computerisation of the work. One is indeed pleasantly surprised at the speed with which one is attended to in these two Departments. I think the secret lies in the depersonalisation of the work, which could be achieved through computerisation. It is indeed remarkable, the way efficiency levels have risen in these two State Institutions which had at one time earned quite notoriety, for lethargy, inefficiency and corruption.

A rapid turn-around of the work ethos in sluggish, inefficient and corrupt State Institutions could be achieved by streamlining and speeding up all transactions with the public, wherever possible, by the computerisation of such work. This should be implemented islandwide with the least delay; as it would prepare the ground for the devolved units to function with greater efficiency, resulting from cutting down delays and the minimisation of corruption. This should not necessarily lead to any redundancy of cadres. The workforce should be re­trained to work in the new transformed work environment. This can be easily achieved through short and intensive training courses in IT for these personnel. The initial investment in computer hardware will be covered in ample measure by the rapid speeding up of official tansactions and by the tremendous goodwill that would be forthcoming from the general public. What is required, is the political resolve of the Government and, more importantly, of the political authorities concerned coupled with the abiding commitment of public servants to do their duty conscientiously by the public, whom they are in any case, pledged to serve!

A Public Service Act to cover the Centre as well as the devolved units

A Public Administration based on the tenets of good governance, accountability and ethics, should be subject to the rule of law. The rules and regulations binding public administration should be legally enforceable. One of the important priorities in this regard, would be the enactment of a Public Service Act. A draft of such an Act has already been prepared by the Committee on Public Administration appointed by the OPA. The enactment of such legislation would go a long way in ensuring transparency and accountability in the Public Service which would hold the key to honesty and incorruptibility of Public Servants. The punitive measures laid down in the law against errant public officials, would serve as an effective deterrent, ensuring strict conformity to the rules and regulations laid down. In this respect, the Public Service Acts of India, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia are admirable models of public administration systems we could well follow.

Corruption at the level of political authorities and the introduction of basic legal safeguards for its minimisation and to ensure good governance island- wide.

There is no gainsaying that certain elected representatives of the people have earned notoriety for corrupt practices including the embezzlement of public funds. They have been able to do so with impunity due to the protracted and byzantine procedures that have to be gone through, for them to be finally arraigned before the Bribery Commissioner or the Courts of Law. The Bribery Commissioner should be provided with additional cadres to apprehend corrupt officials, conduct investigations and launch prosecutions. As it is, he suffers from an acute lack of specialised staff even to carry out effectively the work related to the hundreds of cases requiring further action by the Commission. Furthermore, if there are shortcomings in the law which stymie effective action by the Commission and require the enactment of remedial legal measures, these should be attended to urgently by the concerned authorities by bringing in the necessary amendments to the Act.

Constitutional provision should be made for all elected representatives (including Presidents) as well as all State employees to make a declaration of assets at the beginning of each calendar year. Legal provision should also be made enabling any member of the public to obtain copies of such declarations on payment of the sum of Rs. 2000. (This is to discourage frivolous requests). Non-compliance with these legal requirements should carry with it a very heavy fine.

The Bribery Act should be amended enabling Ministers and MPs to be summarily arraigned before the Bribery Commissioner to answer any charges against them. They should be placed on par with public servants and the other citizens of the country. Under the proposed Audit Act all elected representatives of the people should be made accountable for breaches of financial discipline.

There should be provision incorporated in the Constitution in respect of the above three vital safeguards which are deemed crucial to any meaningful efforts directed towards the resuscitation of good governance in this country. This is bound to have a salutary effect on the proposed devolved units.

The necessary prerequisites for social and political stability could be spelt out quite unequivocally, as Law and Order! It is the inescapable duty of the Government to ensure their maintenance at the desired level, thereby living up to the legitimate expectations of the general public.

(The writer is a former Senior Advisor to the President and a retired Additional Secretary to the President)

November 29, 2008

Mumbai: Lessons for the future

By B.Raman

While the picture of what happened in Mumbai between 9-21 PM on Wednesday and 8 AM on Saturday, when the terrorist situation was finally terminated, is still incomplete and confusing, certain facts available should give an attitude of the magnitude of the strikes, the like of which the world has not seen before:

* There were 13 incidents of intense firing with assault rifles at different places, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji Train (CST) terminus, where the terrorist operation started at 9-21 PM, the Metro Cinema junction, the Cama and Albless Hospital, outside the Olympia restaurant in Colaba, the lobbies of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi/Trident hotels, and the Leopald Café behind the Taj Mahal Hotel. The terrorists would seem to have chosen the CST for the launching of their strikes because it is named after Shivaji, a Hindu ruler, who fiercely opposed the Muslim rulers of India. Near the Metro Cinema junction, some terrorists hijacked a police vehicle and went around spraying bullets on passers-by.

* There were seven incidents involving explosive devices----outside the Taj Mahal Hotel, in the BPT Colony at Mazgaon, three near the Oberoi/Trident Hotels, the Colaba market and inside a taxi.

* There were many incidents of throwing hand-grenades---two of them at the Cama hospital and on Free Press Road. Hemant Karkare, the legendary head of Mumbai’s Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS), is reported to have been killed in the incident near the hospital.

* There were three incidents of fidayeen style (suicidal, not suicide) infiltration into buildings followed by a prolonged confrontation with the security forces before being killed or captured. These took place in the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi/Trident hotels and in the Narriman House in Colaba, where a Jewish religious-cum-cultural centre is located, headed by a Jewish Rabbi. Jewish people of different nationalities often congregate there. The centre also has cheap accommodation for Jewish visitors from abroad.

* According to the local authorities, most of the hotel guests who were subsequently rescued by the NSG had run into their rooms and locked themselves up when the terrorist forced their way into the lobbies and restaurants and started opening fire. They were not hostages. It is not yet clear whether the terrorists did manage to take hostages and, if so, of which nationalities.

* The terrorists took four Jewish people hostages in the Narriman House, three of them Israeli nationals. They were found dead when the NSG made their entry and killed the terrorists. It is not yet known how they died-----through bullet wounds or beheading as the jihadis normally do.

* There were over 160 fatalities. The number may go up as the security forces inspect the hotels. According to present indications, the number of foreigners killed was about 10 only--- including three Israelis, two Greeks, one Japanese and possibly two Americans (not yet confirmed ). The terrorists were reportedly looking for people with American, British and Israeli passports.

* Almost all the terrorist strikes took place against targets near the sea, indicating thereby that the terrorists, who had reportedly come by sea, were hoping to escape by sea if they managed to survive.

* Between 15 and 20 terrorists, who came from outside, are believed to have participated in the operation, The kind of local support they had is not yet clear.

* Two of the terrorists are reported to have been caught alive and are presently under interrogation. According to the police, one of them, who gave his name as Ajmal Amir Kamal, is a resident of Faridot, near Multan, in Pakistani Punjab. He identified himself as a member of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). His preliminary interrogation also indicates that the others, who came from outside, also belonged to the LET and had been trained at Muridke, in Pakistani Punjab, where the headquarters of the LET are located.

2. The Mumbai Police, the NSG, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Mumbai Fire Brigade have confronted the terrorists and handled the crisis in an exemplary manner, of which the entire nation can be proud. Their performance has been as exemplary as the crisis management of their counterparts in New York after 9/11. About 20 officers of various ranks, including the chief of the ATS, an additional Commissioner of Police of Mumbai, and two young and intrepid officers of the NSG have died fighting the terrorists.

3.The Government of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh and his Congress (I) are back to their denial and cover-up mode. They play down the possibility of the involvement of Al Qaeda despite tell-tale signs of an Al Qaeda stamp on the strikes. They continue to maintain a silence on the role of sections of the Indian Muslims lest any open projection of this cost them Muslim votes. They continue to highlight the role of the LET, but without highlighting the fact that it is a member of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF) and that it has many associates in the Indian Muslim community.

4.I watched with shock and disbelief on the TV, visuals of Karkare trying different helmets and bullet-proof vests before choosing one which suited his build. Here was the most threatened officer of the Mumbai Police and the Government had not even given him a protective gear tailor-made for him. This is a telling instance of the casual way we handle counter-terrorism and we look after our brave officers fighting terrorism.

5.The Prime Minister has been unwise in reportedly suggesting a visit to India by Lt.Gen.Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for discussions on the Mumbai blasts. One fails to understand what useful results will come out of it. There are strong indications of the involvement of the LET in the Mumbai strikes----either on its own or at the direction of bin Laden and most likely with the logistic support of some Indian Muslims. By failing to act against the LET, its leaders and terrorist infrastructure even after ostensibly banning it on January 12,2002, the State of Pakistan has definitely facilitated its acts of terrorism in Indian territory. By sharing the information collected by us at this stage with the ISI chief we will help him in covering up the tracks of the LET and the ISI before we could complete the investigation. There has been opposition in Pakistan to his visit particularly from the Army.

6.One should not be surprised if the suggestion for the visit had come from the US and the Prime Minister had accepted it just as he accepted in September,2006, the US suggestion for setting up a joint counter-terrorism mechanism with Pakistan. The American ploy would have been to divert any Indian public anger against Pakistan and the Prime Minister should have firmly rejected it.

7.Three of the most gruesome acts of terrorism since India became independent have taken place in Mumbai---the March 1993 blasts, the July 2006 blasts in suburban trains and the strikes of November 26-29. It is a shame that we have not been able to protect effectively this city, which is the jewel of India. Mumbai is India’s New York and Shanghai. Look at the way the Americans have protected NY after 9/11. Look at the way the Chinese have protected Shanghai. The immediate priority of the Government should be to set up a joint task force of serving and retired officers from Maharashtra in the Police, intelligence agencies and the Armed Forces to work-out and implement a time-bound plan to ensure that 26/11 cannot be repeated again. Mumbai has till now been the gateway of India. The terrorists have exploited it. We should make it Fortress India. Foreign investors will lose confidence in India if Mumbai, where most of the corporate headquarters are located, can be attacked repeatedly with impunity by terrorists.

8.The second lesson is that confidence-building measures with Pakistan cannot be at the expense of national security. In the name of confidence-building, there have been too many relaxations of immigration regulations applicable to Pakistan. There has been pressure on the Government for more relaxations from the so-called Indians-Pakistanis Bhai Bhai (Indians-Pakistanis are brothers) lobby. The terrorists have been a major beneficiary of these relaxations. These relaxations have decreased the vigilance of our people. For example, hotels, which immediately used to alert the Police when a Pakistani national or a foreigner of Pakistani origin checked in, no longer do so. According to one as yet unconfirmed report, some of the perpetrators of the attacks on the hotels had checked in some days before the strike and the others came subsequently by boat. If this was so and if the hotels had immediately alerted the Police, the terrorist strikes might have been prevented.

9. In my view, the terrorist strikes in Mumbai had the stamp of Al Qaeda in the way they were conceived, planned and executed. There has also been a touch of the Hizbollah of the Lebanon, the Popular Front For The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade and other Palestinian organizations.

10.The reported use of boats and dinghies for the clandestine transport of men and material for terrorist strikes on land is an old modus operandi (MO) used in the past against Israel. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had copied it from them. The anti-India jihadis have emulated their West Asian counterparts.

11.The use of boats for transport enables the terrorists to evade physical security checks by road, rail and air. The numerous creeks between India and Pakistan across the Bhuj area of Gujarat enable the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and the pro-Al Qaeda Pakistani terrorist organizations to clandestinely transport men and material by sea. Reports that the ISI had planned to use this MO for helping the Khalistani terrorists in the 1990s had led to the Border Security Force acquiring some boats which could be used for surveillance in these creeks.

12.The success of the terrorists in evading detection by our Coast Guard and the police reveals a serious gap in our maritime counter-terrorism architecture. If this gap is not quickly identified and closed, the vulnerability of the Bombay High off-shore oil installations and the nuclear establishments to terrorist attacks from the sea would be increased. Many of our nuclear and space establishments----not only in Mumbai, but also in other areas---are located on the coast and are particularly vulnerable to sea-borne terrorist attacks.

13.The stamp of Al Qaeda is evident in the selection of targets. The Taj Hotel, old and new, the Oberoi-Trident Hotel and the Narriman House were the strategic focus of the terrorist operation. The terrorist strikes in other places such as railway stations, a hospital etc and instances of random firing were of a tactical nature intended to create scare and panic.

14. The strategic significance of the attacks on the two hotels from Al Qaeda’s point of view arose from the fact that these hotels are the approved hotels of the US and Israeli Governments for their visiting public servants and for the temporary stay of their consular officials posted in Mumbai till a regular house is found for them.

15. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, presently undergoing trial before a military tribunal in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre for his involvement in the 9/11 terrorist strikes, was reported to have told his American interrogators that before 9/11 Al Qaeda had planned to blow up the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi. After the visit of President George Bush to India in March,2006, Osama bin Laden had, in an audio message, described the global jihad as directed against the Crusaders, the Jewish people and the Hindus.

16.Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organizations have been critical of India’s close co-operation with Israel and the US. In the past, the ISI had also shown an interest in having Indo-Israeli relations disrupted through terrorist attacks on visiting Israeli nationals in India. In 1991, it had instigated an attack by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front on some Israeli tourists in Srinagar by alleging that they were really Israeli counter-terrorism experts.

17.The fact that the number of foreigners killed was small would show that the attacks on the foreigners in the hotels was selective and not indiscriminate. Available reports indicate that the terrorists were looking for American, British and Israeli nationals----particularly visiting public servants among them with official or diplomatic passports.

18.The only reason for their targeting the British could have been the active British role in the anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan and in training the commandoes of Pakistan’s Special Services Group (SSG), jointly with an American team of instructors. The SSG was in the forefront of the raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007, and has been playing an active role in the operations against the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

19. The terrorist strike has also had an anti-Jewish angle as evident from the raid into the Narriman House and the taking of Jewish hostages there. The targeting of the Americans, British, Israelis and Indian Jews has to be seen in the overall context of not only the anger of some Muslims against the Indian co-operation with the US and Israel , but also the role of the US and the UK in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. One should be prepared for more attacks in future not only on American, British and Israeli nationals, but also on their diplomatic and consular missions and their business interests in India.

20. The attacks on the foreigners have already disrupted the ongoing tour of India by the English cricket team. it is ironic that at a time when we were considering the advisability of our cricket team going to Pakistan due to the poor security conditions there, foreign cricket teams should start having fears about coming to India due to the poor internal security in India. Similar nervousness in the minds of businessmen in foreign countries over security conditions in India could be an outcome of the spectacular terrorist strikes.

21.In the US, Spain and the UK, the terrorist strikes attributed to Al Qaeda were followed by detailed enquiries to identify deficiencies which made the strikes possible and recommend remedial measures, which were implemented. In India, even though we have been facing a series of major terrorist strikes since November 2007, no enquiry has been held. Unless we have the courage to admit our deficiencies and correct them, our counter-terrorism machinery is unlikely to improve. The public has a right to be kept informed of the results of the enquiries and the action taken.

22.There is a misleading debate started by the Congress (I) on the importance of patriotism in the face of the terrorist strikes. It has been trying to silence criticism of its mishandling in the name of patriotism. It has been citing the example of the US after 9/11. In the US, patriotism did not mean support of the Government, right or wrong. It meant support for all the measures taken by the Government for strengthening the counter-terrorism machinery such as additional powers for the agencies and the police, increase in budgetary allocations for the agencies, tightening of immigration procedures etc. It did not mean silence on the sins of commission and omission of the Government. Electoral calculations seem to be the only motivating factor of the Government’s actions and not national interests and national security----even after the colossal Mumbai failure and the consequent tragedy.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

November 28, 2008

Civilians long for elusive peace

Fighting continues in northern Sri Lanka, isolating the region from the rest of the island and displacing civilians repeatedly. Hicham Mandoudi of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) discusses the organization’s assistance to civilians fleeing the areas affected by the conflict:

People continue to endure security problems and restrictions on their movements as a result of the conflict. [Pic: icrc]

What is the current situation on the ground in the Vannifor instance numbers of displaced people, where they are fleeing from and to, and their living conditions?

The situation for displaced people has worsened in the recent past. Tens of thousands of families have been displaced from one area to another between April and the first week of November 2008.

Because of ongoing military operations a lot more people have fled from the south of the Vanni to the north than from to the north to the east. This implies that some of the families have been displaced more than once. This is a very heavy burden on people in terms of transportation costs, which are very high. People get really tired moving from one place to another, sometimes five or six times. Luckily family members have been able to move together so we have not seen many families separated by displacement.

There are still confrontations between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan armed forces in various areas. But because most of the people in those areas had already fled, there are no massive population movements at present.

What are the most urgent concerns for the displaced and what is the ICRC doing to help them?

Shelter is a major concern at present, particularly in view of the rainy season. Security is also an issue. People desperately need to feel protected. Water and sanitation too are a major concern.

The ICRC has been increasing its response to the needs of the population for some time, mainly because it is the only international humanitarian actor permanently present on the ground, following the departure of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations at the beginning of September.

ICRC teams have been distributing mosquito nets, hygiene items, plastic sheets and tarpaulins, and constructed emergency shelters. With the rainy season already in progress the ICRC is doing what it can to ensure that displaced people are protected from the elements.

What is the current security situation for ICRC staff in the Vanni?

ICRC staff continue to operate in a very volatile security situation because of frequent air strikes and dangers along the Vanni's roads linked to the evolving conflict.

The organization is applying a very strict and rigorous security system that involves notifying both parties to the conflict of every movement it makes. This is done for every working day of every week and when needed on the weekend. So, because the security situation is quite tense and volatile, there are strict rules in place and everyone has to abide by them.

The conflict in Sri Lanka dates back a couple of decades. Do you see any reason to be optimistic about a breakthrough in the near future?

The conflict has been going on for a long time now. The civilian population is very tired and is longing for peace and security that remain elusive. This is what I have been hearing in the last 12 months from the people.

From the civilians’ point of view, there is hope that this will end one day, and that their children will live in peace and be able to go to school and return home, without fear.

For the time being, no peace negotiations are under way. Both parties are now engaged in confrontations. But, We hope that the population will one day have peace.

What is your most striking memory of your mission in Sri Lanka?

It has to be the image of a number of trucks along the road at night, with people scattered about, asleep.

I was leaving work late one night when I came across trucks parked along the side of the road. There were people sleeping on the ground, on trucks, tractors, behind even the wheel, wherever. It turned out that they were displaced people. Obviously very tired, they had not had the time to pick a place where to set up camp, but simply slept where the night found them. It was a sight to behold. [icrc.org]

November 26, 2008

Threats Increase Concerns for Detained Media Worker and Family in Sri Lanka

Statement by IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) holds grave fears for the safety of detained Tamil media worker N. Jesiharan and his family in Sri Lanka after the family received threats and demands for ransom in return for Jesiharan's safety while in detention.

The IFJ appeals to Sri Lanka's Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management, Mahinda Samarasinghe, to honour a commitment he made to assure Jesiharan of protection while in custody.

Jesiharan is currently on trial on charges laid under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, Jesiharan's family in a remote village in the volatile Batticoloa District, in Sri Lanka's east, reported receiving three threatening phone calls on November 25 and 26. The caller demanded a ransom of Rs100,000 (about $US920) to keep Jesiharan alive, the FMM reports.

The family lodged a complaint with the Kalavanchikudi police station. However, the duty police officer told the FMM the police could not take action because the caller's number could not be identified.

Jesiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printers, and his partner Valarmathi were detained by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan police in March, along with senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam.

After being held for more than 150 days without charge, all three were indicted on August 25 under the PTA, and are now on trial. The charges refer to the content of Tissainayagam's journalistic work.

Jesiharan and Tissainayagam were unexpectedly moved from a remand prison to the notoriously violent Magazine Prison in Colombo following a visit from Samarasinghe on November 17. Samarasinghe had promised to improve their conditions of detention.

After local and international press freedom groups expressed extreme concern about the move, two representatives from the Human Rights and Disaster Management Ministry reportedly visited the two men in prison and confirmed that they were not being held with other prisoners.

"The threats made to Jesiharan's family make it even more imperative that Sri Lanka's Government and authorities fulfill their responsibility to ensure no harm comes to Jesiharan, Valarmathi and Tissainayagam, nor to their families" IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

The IFJ joins the FMM in calling on Minister Samarasinghe to increase security for all three, and to investigate fully the threats against Jesiharan's family and to ensure the perpetrator of the threats is brought to justice.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide

With The LTTE Eventually Eliminated Who Will Represent The Tamils?

By Apratim Mukarji

There was scarcely any surprise when the pro-LTTE Tamilnet website of Sri Lanka accorded the pride of place in its news items on November 12 to the unanimous resolution adopted by the Tamil Nadu Assembly earlier, calling for a ceasefire in the island nation.

Fighting a last-ditch battle for survival, the Tigers and their supporters clutched at the Assembly resolution as one possible key to an eventual Indian intervention to save them from the relentless Sri Lankan military onslaught.

The Tamil Nadu resolution was adopted solely in the context of the humanitarian crisis that has gripped the Northern districts of Sri Lanka ever since the military offensive was launched to finish off the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It is clear by now that if the offensive is not halted immediately, the LTTE rebellion-over twenty-five years old- would be finally crushed.

On the other hand, if Colombo eventually bows to the shrill Tamil Nadu protest, accompanied by restrained pressure from New Delhi and the international community, the LTTE would earn a life-saving reprieve. However, this appears to be a highly unlikely scenario.

To the politicians in Tamil Nadu, however, the uppermost thought in their minds is that a ceasefire at the present juncture would save Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from terrible conditions. Northern and eastern Tamils have been periodically turning into IDPs over the last three decades and longer (the first IDPs in Sri Lanka used to be those who fled home in the wake of the several anti-Tamil riots that had rocked the island nation, years before the LTTE and other armed Tamil groups began to fight the government militarily).

In his latest rejection of the suggestion for a ceasefire of hostilities and initiation of political negotiations with the Tamil community (and certainly not with the LTTE as clearly stated on several occasions), President Mahinda Rajapaksa predictably maintained (during his bilateral talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on November 13) his Government’s well-known position, that is, there would be no negotiation until the terrorists were “eliminated”. President Rajapaksa has been chillingly consistent with his Government’s policy for handling the continuing Tamil insurgency in his country.

While Sri Lanka has, since 1983, experienced five phases of war between the Government and the LTTE, this is the first time that the military offensive has continued in complete disregard of the international outcry on humanitarian grounds and frequent diplomatic pressure.

It is beyond doubt that President Rajapaksa has been able to carry out the all-out military campaign against the LTTE in contrast to his predecessors who were obliged to bow to international pressure to stop the war with a ceasefire and get back to negotiations.

It is equally well-established that each time a ceasefire was put in place (after the military had virtually cornered the LTTE), the latter had exploited the period of the reprieve by recruiting fighters and stockpiling arms and ammunition and other essential ingredients and, after ensuring that a resumption of hostilities with all possible consequences could be well-afforded, heightened their cleverly planned violations of the ceasefire agreement that led eventually to a military response by Colombo (each period of ceasefire was also marked by Government Forces violating its conditions with equal impunity).

And thereafter the cycle had kept revolving-outbreak of hostilities followed by a civilian exodus, large-scale civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis, which was followed by an international outcry and followed in turn by a ceasefire and resumption of peace talks. President Rajapaksa has, however, chosen to break away from this vicious cycle, refusing to permit the LTTE an easy exit from certain decimation and instead has in plain language called for an “annihilation” of the LTTE before peace talks could be held.

Meanwhile, despite its numerically precarious position in Parliament, the Indian Government has steadfastly refused to follow the precedent of interference or intervention in Sri Lanka, sending the signal that even though it shares the widespread agony over the plight of Tamil civilians, it will keep off the island nation.

As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the Tamil politicians’ position suffers from a serious weakness. It does not indicate how the LTTE should be dealt with after a ceasefire comes into effect.

The Sri Lankan Government says that a ceasefire would be effective only if the Tigers lay down their arms and surrender.

The history of this war confirms the logic of Colombo’s position since every ceasefire (except the last one, which was ended unceremoniously by the launch of the military offensive in the Eastern province last year) was routinely followed by a resumption of hostilities.

It is only this time that if Colombo ultimately crushes the LTTE, its victory would not be followed after a certain period of interval by a resumption of the war as the Tigers would no longer be there to continue with fighting.

The Rajapaksa Government says that it is then that a political settlement will be arrived at ensuring peace in the country. In a recent interview to The Hindu (October 29,2008) the President said: “The current military operations are being carried out to build the environment required to free our own brothers and sisters from the cruel grip of terror and implement a just and enduring political solution based on the four Ds-Demilitarisation, Democratisation, Development and Devolution.”

It is obvious that a political settlement of the ethnic conflict under the prevailing circumstances can be one imposed by the majority Sinhala community upon the minority Tamil community though all the formalities of presenting an equitable settlement would be present.

With the LTTE eventually “eliminated”, who will represent the Tamils ? Only an answer from the Tamil community can tell us if an equitable political settlement under the prevailing situation is still possible.

So far Colombo and, more correctly, the majority community have not betrayed any intention to build a public dialogue and thereby create the necessary public space to make it possible for a truly inclusive political settlement of the ethnic conflict to emerge. The responsibility for this lies squarely with the majority community. (ENDS)

(Apratim Mukarji is the author of two books “ Sri Lanka : An Unending Conflict ? (2000) and” Sri Lanka : A Dangerous Interlude “(2005). This commentary is reproduced from Mainstream).

Prospects for democracy brighter in Sri Lanka than US

by Rohini Hensman

In recent years, America’s claim to be a democracy has been seriously damaged in the eyes of its own citizens. Even the most minimal definition of democracy – that it entails free and fair elections – was contradicted by two presidential elections (in 2000 and 2004), in which there was damning evidence that George W. Bush won only because the vote was rigged. The fact that the overwhelming majority of those who were disenfranchised in the elections were Black Americans linked up this outrage to the persistence of discrimination and violence against minority communities in the US. A lack of equal rights, exclusion from the franchise, and, after the attacks of 9/11, a rapid erosion of civil liberties: these were the marks of a state heading towards totalitarianism.

Against this backdrop, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency came as a much-needed reprieve. And the people who deserve the most credit for it are the majority of the electorate. They turned out in large numbers to vote for the candidate they had chosen, and also monitored the voting and vote-counting – no easy task with electronic voting machines – to try and ensure that the election would not be stolen. For veterans of the civil rights movement, the success of an African-American was an outcome of their struggles; indeed, as Obama himself acknowledged, it would not have been possible without a long history of patient opposition to horrific oppression. But it is also true that it would not have been possible without a large number of white people casting their votes for him. The vicious White supremacism that produced the Ku Klux Klan and lynch mobs was still very much in evidence in Sarah Palin’s rallies where the crowd chanted "Kill him! Kill him!’ (referring to Obama). But in this election, they did not prevail.

In this context, there was every possibility that Obama would fall between two stools, and at times that appeared to be happening. The son of a Black African father and White American mother, who had spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, the diversity embodied in his physical being could have been a reason for everyone to reject him. For many White supremacists, the very idea of a Black president was anathema. Added to this was his foreign-sounding name, which made them denounce him as not being ‘American’ enough (such an irony, given that White Americans are no more indigenous to the US than Black ones!). Others repeated his middle name, ‘Hussein’, and circulated pictures of him at school in Muslim Indonesia, insisting he was a Muslim: a powerful attack in the current climate of Islamophobia. On the other side, for many Black Americans he was not Black enough, given his White mother, and had not shared enough of their struggle, since he was not the descendent of slaves. It is to Obama’s credit that he was sufficiently comfortable with his own identity to ride out these attacks with equanimity, reiterating his belief in a non-racial nation.

Finally, those who organised his election campaign also deserve credit for a magnificent job well done. Obama was nowhere when he first stepped into the race; even Black Americans backed Hillary Clinton because, among other things, they simply could not see Obama winning the presidency. Thus, the whole success of the campaign hinged on grassroots mobilising of people, many of them young, who otherwise might not have voted at all, and on combating the cynicism and despair resulting from a feeling that nothing that ordinary people did could change anything. It was only after the enthusiasm of these marginalised people had been aroused that more mainstream figures came forward to back Obama. Critics from the Left who suggest that Obama won only because he was backed by the establishment need to be reminded that even if this was true after the financial and economic crisis broke out in the US, it was certainly not true at the beginning of his campaign for nomination. And while it is likely that he will not live up to the expectations of many who voted for him, this does not detract from the significance of the fact that he was elected.

Elections in Sri Lanka

The situation in Sri Lanka in many ways resembles the situation in the US prior to the elections there. Minorities in Sri Lanka, like minorities in the US, have been disenfranchised in various ways since Independence, starting with the legislation that deprived hill-country Tamils of their citizenship and franchise. They have also been subjected to all-pervasive discrimination, persecution and violence, like African-Americans in the US. This has been orchestrated by virulent Sinhala supremacists, including our home-grown equivalents of the Ku Klux Klan and lynch mobs which have periodically been turned loose to visit horrific bouts of torture, rape and murder on minority communities. These people are still very much part of the ruling elite; when we hear Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and Minister Champika Ranawaka voicing the belief that ‘this country belongs to the Sinhalese’, and ‘other communities are all visitors to the country’, we know that our country is governed by the Sri Lankan version of the jingoists who were defeated in the US election. And, as in the US, the irony is that Sinhalese are no more (or less) indigenous to Sri Lanka than Tamils.

That Fonseka and Ranawaka make such statements in public makes it clear that the government is waging a war not against the LTTE but against the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Special Report 31 of University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) (UTHR-J) reports that many of the LTTE’s conscripts are either very young children or so unwilling to kill that they prefer to kill themselves. In such circumstances, an offer of a just political solution and humane treatment for those who escape from the LTTE’s clutches would end the war very soon and save innumerable lives, including those of the Sinhalese poor who are being used by the government as cannon fodder. Yet the president has repeatedly sabotaged attempts to put forward proposals for a just political solution, and, according to UTHR-J, those who escape the LTTE are treated with sickening brutality: ‘The government in turn confines those escaping LTTE-controlled areas in mass detention centres from which they are not allowed to leave. Those in Vavuniya find themselves in a place of crime and lawlessness, where torture, murder, extortion, abduction and rape are routine and women are powerless.’

One of the main obstacles to minorities voting in free and fair elections has been constituted by the violence of the LTTE, which has thus acted as an accomplice of the Sinhala supremacists in depriving minorities of their democratic rights. Here there is a marked difference from the US. There has been a Black nationalist separatist movement in the US, embodied mainly in Nation of Islam (NoI); and when Malcolm X, who was a member for several years, left the organisation and moved closer to the civil rights movement, advocating the use of international human rights to bolster the struggle for the rights of Black Americans, the NoI leadership responded with public death threats. Shortly afterwards, he was assassinated by members of the group, but there were strong suspicions that agencies of the state, which had infiltrated NoI, were also involved. However, this was an exception, not the rule. Despite sharp differences between, say, the civil rights movement and the Black Panthers, Black activists did not collude with the racist state to kill each other.

In Sri Lanka, by contrast, the LTTE has acted as the agent – in Premadasa’s time as the paid agent – of Sinhala supremacists in their drive to eliminate every Tamil leader of any importance. Those who remain have been driven underground or into exile, or forced to accept the protection of the state, thus restricting their freedom of action severely. Nor has the supposedly non-violent TULF been innocent of such activities. The first murder of a Tamil political leader who expressed his desire to work for a Sri Lanka which was not divided along ethnic and religious lines was that of Alfred Duraiappah, who was issued with public death threats by TULF leaders (exactly as in the case of Malcolm X) before he was assassinated by their gun-wielding disciple Prabakaran in 1975. They were thus instrumental in creating the Frankenstein’s monster which later turned against them.

The combination of LTTE terror, state terror and the violence of armed groups allied to the state has ensured that there have been no free and fair elections in the North and East for decades, up to and including the recent Provincial Council elections in the East. The situation is, indeed, much worse than it has been in the US. If Mahinda Rajapaksa calls for snap elections, as it has been rumoured, it is likely that he, like George W. Bush, will win a second term, given that a large number of Tamils will not be able to vote freely. But, like George Bush, he will then have to face the consequences of massive military expenditure combined with profligate luxury consumption by the political elite, even while the mass of the people suffer a steep reduction in their standard of living. If Sri Lanka loses its GSP+ trade preferences from the EU on account of the failure of the government to achieve the relevant human rights standards, the consequences would be even far worse. The inevitable economic collapse will ensure that he leaves office as hated as his US counterpart.

Prospects for Democracy in Sri Lanka

Despite all these drawbacks, prospects for democracy in Sri Lanka are in some ways brighter than in the US. Supporters of Sinhala supremacism are a smaller minority in Sri Lanka than supporters of White supremacism in the US, and unlike Martin Luther King, we do not have to dream of a day when little Sinhalese and Tamil girls and boys play together, since most of us have witnessed such a sight or even experienced it in our own childhood.

What is lacking, however, is an organising drive which can bring together and energise opponents of ethnic supremacism in the way that Obama’s campaign did in the US. The fact that witnesses in the cases of the murdered five students and ACF workers could be terrorised by the police throughout, without effective opposition from civil society, demonstrates the weakness of the supporters of democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. NGOs, whose personnel depend on being paid to do their work, cannot be a substitute for a vibrant civil society movement whose participants freely contribute their time to a struggle for justice and equality in our country. Until that can be built, our democracy will continue to go down the drain.

November 24, 2008

Protect Domestic Workers From Violence

Many Nations Have Failed to Stem Mental, Physical, Sexual Abuse

Many migrant and domestic workers still face abuse and exploitation in Middle Eastern and Asian countries because governments have failed to adopt measures needed to protect them, Human Rights Watch said today ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

Few domestic workers have access to the justice system in the countries where they work, and even those who are able to make complaints of physical or sexual violence rarely receive redress, Human Rights Watch said.

“There are countless cases of employers threatening, humiliating, beating, raping, and sometimes killing domestic workers,” said Nisha Varia, deputy director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch. “Governments need to punish abusive employers through the justice system, and prevent violence by reforming labor and immigration policies that leave these workers at their employers’ mercy.”

Millions of women from countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Nepal are domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries throughout the Middle East and Asia. Most countries exclude domestic workers from protection under their labor laws, leaving domestic workers little remedy against exploitative work conditions.

Domestic workers are also at heightened risk of abuse because of restrictive immigration-sponsorship policies that link their visas to their employers. Employers control a worker’s immigration status and ability to change jobs, and sometimes whether the worker can return home. Many employers exploit this power to confine domestic workers to the house, withhold pay, and commit other abuses.

Authorities receive thousands of complaints of labor exploitation or abuse each year. While most involve unpaid wages, food deprivation, and long working hours with no rest, a significant number allege verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. But many cases are never officially reported, due to domestic workers’ confinement in private homes, lack of information about their rights, and employers’ ability to deport them before they can seek help.

Some law enforcement authorities have begun to prosecute and punish abusive employers, although to varying degrees. In 2008 in Singapore, several employers have been convicted of beating domestic workers, receiving sentences ranging from three weeks to 16 years in prison. In mid-November, a man was sentenced in Malaysia to 32 years in prison for raping a domestic worker, and his wife received six years for abetting the crime.

But criminal justice systems often continue to expose abused domestic workers to further victimization and give them no – or only severely delayed – redress:

  • In May 2008, a Riyadh court dropped charges against a Saudi employer who abused Nour Miyati, an Indonesian domestic worker, ignoring both the employer’s confession and compelling physical evidence. Nour Miyati suffered daily beatings and was abused so badly that her toes and fingers were amputated after developing gangrene. During the three years of legal proceedings, she remained stuck in an overcrowded embassy shelter unable to work or return to her family in Indonesia. At one point, she also was sentenced 79 lashes for changing her testimony, though the sentence was later reversed.
  • On November 27, 2008, a Malaysian judge is to announce the verdict in the four-year case against Yim Pek Ha, the employer of an Indonesian domestic worker, Nirmala Bonat. In 2004, images of Bonat’s badly burned and injured body shocked Malaysians. Bonat also had to stay in an overcrowded embassy shelter for years without being allowed to work and had to defend herself from charges of inflicting the abuse herself.

“2008 marked a year of missed opportunities,’’ Varia said. “While most governments have started to think about some level of reform, many of these discussions have stalled. Providing comprehensive support services to victims of violence, prosecuting abusers, and providing civil remedies are reforms that just can’t wait.”

Human Rights Watch recommends that, in order to curtail all forms of violence against migrant domestic workers, governments should:

  • Abolish or reform immigration-sponsorship policies so that domestic workers’ visas are no longer tied to their employers;
  • Develop protocols and train law enforcement officials on how to respond to domestic workers’ complaints appropriately, and how to investigate and collect evidence in such cases;
  • Prosecute perpetrators of psychological, physical, and sexual violence;
  • Expedite criminal cases involving migrant domestic workers, who must often wait for a resolution for several months or years while confined in a shelter, and ensure they have legal permission to work during the interim period;
  • Create and widely disseminate contacts for confidential, fully staffed and toll-free hotlines to receive reports of abuses against domestic workers;
  • Create comprehensive referral and support services, including health care, counseling, shelter, consular services, and legal aid.

To read the July 2008 Human Rights Watch report, “As If I Am Not Human: Abuses against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia,” please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/07/07/if-i-am-not-human-0

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on abuses faced by migrant domestic workers, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/category/topic/women%E2%80%99s-rights/women-workers

Human Rights Situation Deteriorating in the East

Armed Faction Is Killing, Kidnapping Civilians

 

The Sri Lankan government should take immediate steps to address the deteriorating human rights situation in the country’s Eastern Province, where there has been an increase in killings and abductions in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch said today.

Many abuses in the Eastern Province appear to have been carried out by armed elements of the Tamil Makkal Vidulthalai Pulikal (TMVP). The TMVP was originally the political wing of the armed faction earlier known as the Karuna group. It enjoys the strong backing of the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse. Karuna broke away from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2004.

“The Sri Lankan government says that the ‘liberated’ East is an example of democracy in action and a model for areas recaptured from the LTTE,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But killings and abductions are rife, and there is total impunity for horrific abuses.”

Human Rights Watch investigations have found that there have been at least 30 extrajudicial killings in the Eastern Province since September. In one recent case, the bodies of two young Tamil men who had been detained by the police on October 3, 2008, during a security roundup in the town of Batticaloa were found on a beach six days later with their hands and legs tied to a concrete pole, and showing signs of severe torture.

The police claimed that the men, Kandasamy Kugathas, 18, and A. Gunaseelan, 26, were released on the morning of October 4. But a family member of one of the men saw them at the police station that evening. A Human Rights Watch investigation found that the two were taken from their cells at about midnight by men in civilian clothing who had demanded the two by name. Since the killings, the police have intimidated witnesses into changing their account of the killings and falsified important evidence.

On November 2, unidentified gunmen shot and killed five Tamil youth at Kalmunai beach in Ampara district. On October 20, three Sinhalese contractors working in Kokakaddichchoalai in Batticaloa district were shot dead. On October 16, four farmers, two of them Tamils and two Muslims, were shot dead near their land. The killings were in a restricted area near a Tamil Makkal base, accessible only with a police pass. In Trincomalee on September 21, Sivakururaja Kurukkal, chief priest of the Koneswaram Temple, was shot dead in broad daylight while riding his motorcycle in a high-security area near several government checkpoints.

In addition to the recent killings, Human Rights Watch has learned from credible sources of at least 30 abductions in Akkairappatu and Adalachennai divisions in Ampara district in September and October. Witnesses said the abductions were carried out by armed men in civilian clothes who spoke Tamil, suggesting they belonged to the TMVP or other paramilitary groups.

In a case investigated by Human Rights Watch in Ampara in October, a young man previously detained, beaten, and released by the group was reported missing soon after his release. As in a number of other cases, family members did not report the case to the authorities out of fear that harm would come to the victim.

Members of civil society organizations and journalists in the East have also been threatened and attacked. On October 29, Sankarapillai Shantha Kumar, a member of the NGO Consortium in Akkaraipattu, was abducted around midnight from his home. Although a complaint was filed, there has been no credible investigation and he is still missing.

On September 8, Radhika Thevakumar, a journalist with Thinakaran, who at the time was working for the Pillayan faction of the TMVP, was shot and severely wounded in Batticaloa. On September 10, K. Kunarasa, provincial correspondent for the Thinakaran Tamil-language daily in Ampara, received death threats that caused him to limit his reporting. These and other threats and attacks against journalists have caused the media to curtail reporting on the security situation in the East.

“Many in the East believe that the government has given its blessing for these abuses,” said Adams. “It is important for the government to take action against perpetrators to demonstrate that this is not the case.”

Reports of these killings and other abuses come at a time of deepening tensions and violent infighting within the TMVP, particularly between factions loyal to Karuna Amman, the founder, and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, known as Pillayan, who was appointed the chief minister of Eastern Province in May.

Karuna returned to Sri Lanka in July, after serving a six-month sentence for immigration fraud in the United Kingdom, and has reclaimed the leadership of the group. On October 7, the government appointed Karuna to Parliament. Both men have been implicated in serious human rights abuses, both while with the LTTE and after they left. The abuses included abducting large numbers of children and forcing them to serve as soldiers.

A clash between the two TMVP factions on October 28 in Chenkalady, in Batticaloa, resulted in the death of four members, including a 16-year-old who had been forcibly recruited by the group. Five others were reported missing after the incident, including another boy. On November 14, the president of the TMVP party and Pillayan’s private secretary, Kumaraswamy Nandagopan, known as Ragu, and his driver were shot dead in the capital, Colombo.

Human Rights Watch has recently documented several cases of forcible recruitment of children by the TMVP. There have been three recent escapes from the group’s Valachennai site in Batticaloa – a 15-year-old who had been held since April on October 31; a 15-year-old who was taken in 2006 from Kiran on November 3; and a 17-year-old held since October 2006 on November 10. Escapees often must go into hiding to prevent being abducted again. In some instances, their families have faced pressure to give a “replacement” child soldier to the group.

“Far from being a reformed and responsible party ready for government, the TMVP is still actively involved in serious human rights abuses,” said Adams. “Instead of holding the group accountable, the Rajapakse government has provided unqualified support. The government needs to open independent investigations into all serious human rights violations and hold perpetrators accountable.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Sri Lanka, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/sri-lanka

November 22, 2008

Ramifications of 13th Amendment and its potential for change

by Dr. Lakshman Marasinghe

The Devolutionary Structures

Devolution of power by necessity engages a structural hierarchy of constitutionally determined recipients of the devolved powers. Under the Thirteenth Amendment such recipients are the Provincial Councils that fall within a structural hierarchy of centres of constitutional governance. In future arrangements other recipients of devolved powers may be constitutionally ordained such as the Districts, Municipalities and other local bodies right down to the level of the “Grama” or the Village. At the present time under List I of the Thirteenth Amendment in paragraph 4:3 the Municipalities, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas fall under the Provincial List. However, the Provincial Councils under the Amendment have the constitutional ability to’’ confer additional powers on local authorities but not to take them away.” This restricted power of the Provincial Councils is justified by the fact that, the three local bodies mentioned under that paragraph had been established under separate laws which precedes the 13th Amendment. Those local bodies were originally designed to help bring the policies of a centralized Administration to the door steps of the nation.

Under Article 154 G (8) of the 13th Amendment, the Provincial Councils do possess a power to legislate in areas which are within List I, but with regard to Local Bodies, that power is limited to legislation that would “confer additional powers on local authorities but not to take away” their existing powers. The same under paragraph 4:4 apply to Gramodaya Mandalayas.

It is important to notice that while the power to restructure the local government bodies is left to the centre — The Parliament — the Provinces are left free only to expand their powers, and not to restrict or in any way diminish their powers. The power to confer additional powers is a choice left to each Provincial Council depending on the needs of the polity over which it presides.

The Parliament

The Thirteenth Amendment leaves several areas of constitutional governance for Parliament to legislate with regard to Provincial Administration. One such area is seen in Article 154 of the Constitution. Under that Article Parliament was provided with four significant areas for Legislation in the affairs of the Provinces.

These are:154 Q

(a): “the election of members of Provincial Councils and the qualifications for membership for such councils.

(b): the Procedures for transaction of business by every such council.

(c): the salaries and allowances of members of Provincial Councils; and

(d): any other matter necessary for the purpose of giving effect to the principles of provisions of this Chapter, and for any matters connected with, or incidental to the provisions of this Chapter.”

The extent to which Parliament may legislate for the Provincial Councils in areas of significant importance for them is seen from a reading of those four sub-Articles. In support of these provisions Parliament has enacted two principal Enactments. These are the Provincial Councils Act No. 42 of 1987 and the Provincial Councils Elections Act No: 2 of 1988.

Additionally, in List II (the Reserved List ) Parliament is possessed with a power to lay down “National Policy on all subjects and functions”. The location of that power at the head of List II does not, in my view, limit Parliament to, it exercising those powers to subjects within those listed in List II, but, in my view, that power extends to all subjects listed in both Lists I and II as well. A power with such a wide constitutional sweep makes Parliament in possession of a  sufficiently wide to have an effective control and closely regulate the activities of Provincial Councils. This represents an aspect of the abundance of executive power which Parliament may exercise under the 13th Amendment.

The Governor

The genesis of the position of the Governor within the organization of the Provincial Councils, may be traced to the decolonization process and the introduction of the “Westminster Model” to the Provincial Councils. In the hierarchical structures introduced by the Colonial powers, for governance of distant places from Whitehall, in London, the repositor5 of Sovereignty of the Colony of Ceylon was founded in the two British Houses of Parliament together with the constitutional concept of The Queen or King — in Parliament)”. All three bodies as a troika represented the Sovereignty of the United Kingdom and its Colonies, Dependencies and its Protectorates. This distant source of Sovereignty was locally represented by the British Governor appointed and mandated to govern by that distant Sovereign rooted in the United Kingdom. The Colonial dependency was kept firmly rooted in Britain by the application of the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865 — a UK — Statute, where by any Law passed in any Colonial legislature in any of the above mentioned subject territories may be declared invalid, and of no force and effect by the Colonial Secretary, with the concurrence of the UK Parliament, expressed through an Order-in-Council. By such means any law passed in a Colonial Legislature may be annulled at will by the U.K. Parliament. The Colonial dependency was thus maintained through this constitutional umbilical cord tied to the UK Parliament. A similar dependency appears to have been established between the Provincial Councils and Parliament through the Governor.

In such an arrangement The Governor of the Colony represented the Sovereign and acted in accordance with the advice and consent of the UK Parliament. Such advice and consent was communicated to the Governor in the Colony, by the Colonial Secretary in Whitehall (London). That is what is conceived as the Westminster model of Government conducted through a structural hierarchy of centers of Colonial Governance.

At independence the Colonial ‘Governor’s position was transformed into one of a “Governor —General”, when the former Colony became a Dominion (See Soulbury Constitution (1948-1972). Subsequently, the Colonial Governor’s position was transformed into a non-Executive President (1972 Constitution) when the territory became a Republic. The position of the “Governor General” was replaced by the non-executive President.

The Westminster model structure became defunct once the former Colony adopted an Executive Presidency (1978).

In each of these constitutional structures the “Governor  General” (under The Soulbury Constitution) and the non-Executive President (under the 1972 Constitution), acted in accordance with the advice and consent of the Cabinet of Ministers. This is an important aspect of the Westminster model.

The 13th Amendment introduced the Westminster Model form of government into the Provincial Councils. The Governor of the Provincial Councils took the position of the “Governor General” whose Law making power for the Province was made subject to the advice of the Provincial Cabinet of Ministers. The reference to the Cabinet of Ministers with regard to the Governor of a Province, is the Cabinet of Ministers of the Provincial Councils. This fact is seen when Article 154C is read in conjunction with Article 154 F (1) of the 13th Amendment. Article 154 F (1) reads:

There shall be a Board of Ministers with the Chief Minister --- and not more than four other Ministers to aid and advise (sic.) the Governor of a Province in the exercise of his fhnctions.

Thus having stated the task set out for the Board of Ministers, the Article proceeds to mention that:

The Governor shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice, except in so far as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.

In the UK, Orders-in-Council are laid before Parliament in special folios for inspection by the Members who are free to question the Government regarding their contents and may if thought necessary with a power to move for a debate and a vote upon it. By tradition all Independence - granting Statutes of the former Colonies were adopted as Orders-in-Council, to avoid acrimonious debates in Parliament on the eve of granting Sovereignty. Notably, the Ceylon Independence Bill was passed in the form of an Order- in-Council.

UK, Orders-in-Council are laid before Parliament in special folios for inspection by the Members who are free to question the Government regarding their contents and may if thought necessary with a power to move for a debate and a vote upon it. By tradition all Independence - granting Statutes of the former Colonies were adopted as Orders-in-Council, to avoid acrimonious debates in Parliament on the eve of granting Sovereignty. Notably, the Ceylon Independence Bill was passed in the form of an Order- in-Council.

As there are no clear directions given in the 13th Amendment as to the most propitious method that a Governor of a province may utilize when making laws under this third category mentioned for provincial law making, in Article 1 54C. It is therefore necessary for the Provincial Governor to be somewhat eclectic. He may adopt which ever scheme he may consider the most appropriate.

Role and power of the Governor

In summary, the Provincial Governor has a wide law making power under Article l54C. Aside from those particularized powers, in all matters which are functional in nature, Article 154F (1) requires that”---the Governor of a Province --- shall in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice.” It is important that the administration of a Province in the hands of the Provincial Councilors, who comprise the elected body responsible to an electorate. As such the functioning of the Province is in their hands. But the Governor has a superintendent role to play in order to ensure that the functions relegated to the Provincial Councils are properly and efficiently carried out.

In this role the Governor has a power under Article 154 L to Report to the President that the “Administration of the Province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.” Upon the receipt of such a Report, the President may:

Under Article 154 L (1) (a) “assume to himself all or any of the functions of the administration of the Province.” And under Article 154 L (1) (b) “declare that the powers of the Provincial Council shall be exercisable by, or under the authority of Parliament”.

The concomitant supportive procedures to ensure that these powers of the President with regard to an errant Provincial Council are properly applied and executed have been set out in the rest of the provisions contained in Article 154 L. The power which the Governor possesses to make a Report to the President concerning an errant Provincial Council is a wide and at the same time an effective one. It is effective to protect the interest of the polity within a Provincial Council whose interests which the Councilors have been elected to represent and protect. The President may act on the Report through Proclamations and whereby such a Proclamation issued under Article 154L (1) orders that” the Powers of the Provincial Council shall be exercisable by, or under the authority, of Parliament”, Parliament may confer upon the President the power originally had by the errant Provincial Council to enact laws for that Council. Article l54 M (1)(a) further authorizes the President, subject to certain limitations, to vest upon “ any other authority”, the powers so allowed by Parliament to him / her.

The power which the President possesses to vest the powers of the errant Provincial Council upon “another authority” is sufficiently wide to permit a constitutional validation of such a vesting upon any Political, Social, Religious or any group of persons forming a political or other syndicate, such as any NGO or INGO.

The Governor has a power from time to time to prorogue a Provincial Council (Article 154 B (8) (a) and (b) and dissolve a Provincial Council (Article 154 B (8) and (c). In both these decisions the Governor of a Province is required to act in accordance with the advice of the Chief Minister. The limitation is that unless the particular Cabinet of Ministers which the particular Chief Minister heads has the support of a Majority of the members of the Provincial Council, the Governor is not required to accept the advice tendered by such a Chief Minister. However, whatever Advise that the Chief Minster gives to the Governor or any communication between the Governor and the Ministers of any Provincial Council, shall not be inquired into by any Court of Law, under Article 154F (3). Aside from the Executive power which the President holds to dismiss the Governor under Article 154 B (2) the Provincial Council may additionally “present an address to the President advising the removal of the Governor”- (Article 154 B (4).

Reflections

Devolution of Power and Division of Power are two cardinal modalities that modern constitutionalism has found to diffuse the concentration of Power from a single Body. Devolution of Power requires the structuralizing of centres of power upon a hierarchical basis. The Provincial Councils were devised to perform that task upon a Devolution of Power under the 13 Amendment. In this scheme of things there is the Executive President at the apex of the Hierarchy. Parliament provides the legitimizing forum for the powers that have been chosen for devolution and scheme chosen for the devolution. The three Lists in the 9th Schedule to the 13th Amendment provide that scheme.

The Governor of the Province represents the Executive power and therefore sits between the Executive President and Parliament. The Provincial Council functions as a Grand delivery point, which delivers the devolved powers in a functional form. It is here that Article l54F (1) to which reference has previously been made becomes important where and admonition is addressed to the Governor, that he “shall in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice” as given by the Board of Provincial Ministers.

The structure provided in the 13th Amendment is an adoption of the Westminster model. The nature of the Westminster model is such that the ‘Governor’ and later the ‘Governor — General’ was devoid of plenary powers and was always possessed with devolved powers which are subordinated to some other source of power. The ‘Colonial Governor’ was the recipient of powers devolved from the Colonial Secretary in Whitehall, who in turn received his powers from Parliament (House of Commons , the House of Lords and the Queen or King in Parliament) acting as the repository of the Sovereignty of the United Kingdom. Ultimately, and in reality, the ‘Colonial Governor’ received Instructions which have been approved by the Cabinet, conveyed to him from the Colonial Secretary. In the Post- Colonial era the ‘Governor-General’ received instructions from the Dominion Cabinet filtered through the local legislature according to which the ‘Governor General’ acts. Therefore it must be pointed out that the Governors never were imbued with any plenary powers and their functions were always one of superintending the execution of functions allowed to them by the constitution or some basic law such as constitutional conventions as in the UK. Similarly, the Provincial Governors have no plenary powers and are subject to the Instructions issued by the Provincial Cabinet of Ministers and from the President issued directly or through Parliament and conveyed to the Governor from the relevant ‘Line Ministry’. The exception is that they have been given law making powers under Article 1 54C. But in all matters other than what is mentioned there, all their functions are subject to the advice that the Governor receives from the Board of Ministers of the Provincial Council. This has clearly been stated in Article 154F (1).

The 13th Amendment has potential for change. It could perform an accordion like movement of both expansion and constriction. This movement is left, first, in the hands of the Governor and that is to be found in his Law making powers prescribed in Article 1 54C of the Constitution. Parliament too could play that accordion under Article 154Q of the constitution. The Provincial Councils however possess no such power. They are hemmed in by what is prescribed in Lists I.

[Dr. Lakshman Marasinghe is Emeritus Professor of Law,University of Windsor,  Canada.]

November 21, 2008

Trying to negate the rightful claims of ethnic minorities

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Recently, two viewpoints have been asserted to negate the basis for settling the ethnic conflict permanently, according to justifiable claims of the ethnic minorities. These resulted from their bitter experiences with the Sinhala majority rule that ignored the diverse ethnic, linguistic and other demographic features of the island nation. Because of this neglect, the unitary system failed to promote unity and build one integrated multi-ethnic nation. On the contrary, the way it functioned, asserted the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhala Buddhist majority relegating the ethnic minorities to subordinate status. They did not have the power or the process to safeguard their interests and fulfill their reasonable aspirations. Independence from colonial rule did not mean much to them, after this discrimination became intrinsic part of the centralized administration. Since 1956, the confidence of the ethnic Tamils in the Sinhala majority rule eroded rapidly.  It dipped low with the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom that was intended to intimidate the powerless Tamils. The involvement of the State in this tragic event is widely known.

Sinhala supremacy and democracy

The Sinhala ultra nationalists are trying to justify the Sinhala majority rule based on their baseless claim that the entire island is exclusive Sinhala nation and the ethnic minorities are the descendants of foreign immigrants, especially from neighbouring India. Even if this is the case though it is not, in a democratic country the presumption that the indigenous majority ethnic group has more rights than others is unacceptable. The supremacy of the Sinhalese and the division of Sri Lankans on the above basis has recently been espoused openly by some influential persons. Environment and Natural Resources Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka of the JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya led by Buddhist monks) and the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka have claimed that all communities except the Sinhalese are just visitors to Sri Lanka and are living at the mercy of the majority community. Based on the notion that the entire island belongs to the Sinhalese, they have declared that the ethnic minorities who are not the native people should not put forward unreasonable demands.

The Army Commander said: “In any democratic country the majority should rule the country. This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74 percent of the population" (The Daily News – 19.7.2008). In Gen. Fonseka’s view, the Sinhalese have the birthright to rule Sri Lanka and they must sacrifice willingly to protect their dominant status from minority challenges. Further, Minister Champika Ranawaka’s statement that the Muslims must not take the compassion of the Buddhists for granted has disturbed many Muslims and the All Ceylon Union of Muslim League Youth Fronts has condemned it as thoroughly irresponsible.  In a press release the Muslim Union has said: "Minister Champika Ranawaka’s statement in the national media supporting the earlier statement of Army Commander regarding the Muslims and Tamils of this country is nothing but racism. This has not only hurt the feelings of the Muslim community but put our community into ridicule. It is clear that the Minister has either become a slave to racism or has totally forgotten history”. It is significant the government has not publicly dissociated itself from this stance of Sinhala ownership and supremacy declared by two of its leading members. 

In his analysis of Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s statements, Izeth Hussain has taken a mixed view (Sarath Fonseka and the Sinhalese in ‘The Island’ November 16). He has opined: “It is of course true that under any democratic dispensation the majority ethnic group gets power over the minorities. But is SF aware of the terrible dangers of majoritarian democracy?” Izeth Hussain has not mentioned the direct link between majoritarian democracy and Sri Lanka’s unitary structure. The latter per se need not undermine democracy in plural societies such as ours, provided the majority decisions do not target minority ethnic groups to their disadvantage. This has not been the case for the past several decades in Sri Lanka. 

The distinction between majority decisions that affect all ethnic communities almost equally and others detrimental to the interests of ethnic minorities is crucial. Section 29 in the Soulbury Constitution was meant to prevent such damaging majority decisions. This was not included in both the 1972 and 1978 Republican Constitutions. The concerns and views of the ethnic minorities were not considered when these constitutions were drafted. There were also no inputs from independent constitutional experts or other professionals. The proposals incorporated were mainly those of the leaders of the ruling party, who were anxious to strengthen the Sinhala majority rule. The usual checks and balances accompanying a robust democratic system were relaxed for exercising power freely. It is the Supreme Court that is now trying to prevent the rapid shift towards autocracy. Izeth Hussain’s view that the Army Commander’s statements “reek of Sinhala triumphalism” bodes ill for the future of Sri Lanka is also fair. In short, majority rule in Sri Lanka undermines democratic values and freedom of the ethnic minorities.

In a recent article,  ‘Sri Lanka: The State Changes Face’,  Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda has said  “The idea of Sri Lanka as a multiethnic and multi-religious society is one which the establishment refuses to accept”.  On the Army Chief’s statement that Sri Lanka belonged to the Sinhalese, he has said that “it actually demonstrates some of the dynamics of the politics of Sri Lanka’s ongoing war”. The perception that Sri Lankan state is both ethnic majoritarian and communal “has resurfaced quite strongly under conditions of the present war”. This is very true. The root cause of the national problem and the reluctance to implement even the amendments to the Constitution intended to alleviate the hardships caused by previous discriminatory legislative Acts such as the 1956 ‘Sinhala Only’ language Act have now surfaced glaringly.   

Dr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council has also drawn attention to the noticeable rise in Sinhala nationalism now, which has kindled the claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese country, in which “the ethnic majority has the power to impose its own vision of a political solution on ethnic minorities. Unless the Government is prepared to accept the reality that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic society, this will be a recipe for continued ethnic strife in the years to come”.
And “the inability or unwillingness of the political leadership of the Government to address the issue of Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious polity indicates that the dominant beliefs of the incumbent administration may be in conformity with those of Sinhala nationalism”.  Moreover, “the relative absence of protest or dissent by members of the Sinhalese community to the statement that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese country would be a blow to the ethnic minorities, who number about a quarter of the country’s population”.  Along with the sudden rise in Sinhala nationalism which is linked to the military successes in the North-East, the ethnic divide has also widened further.

In the past, especially before the emergence of the LTTE as a formidable force the existence of the ethnic problem served as a handy tool in the contest for power. Promises given just before general elections were meant only to gain votes. Thanks to the LTTE leadership for the miscalculation in 2005, now the war has served admirably the Rajapaksa regime to consolidate its hold on power. It has also helped to divert the attention of the people away from the national economic and financial problems. It is time a clear distinction is made between the war and the ethnic issue which is a political problem. Without its settlement, the military success will not be total and of lasting benefit to the nation.     

Rewriting the history to justify nationwide Sinhala dominance

Dubious ancient history which indeed is irrelevant in the modern world has also been slanted and cited by the Sinhala nationalist leaders to regard the ethnic minorities as mere appendages in independent Sri Lanka. Invented fears have served the Sinhalese political leaders to cast themselves as patriots. Article 9 of the Constitution states “it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana” as if there is some real threat, when there is none from within or outside Sri Lanka. The politically inspired intent of the creators was to please the majority of Sinhalese who are Buddhists.  The ethnic minorities, especially the Tamil speaking people who are the majority group, outnumbering the Sinhalese in the North-East are imagined to be a potential threat to the future of the Sinhalese in their homeland. This hallucination that influenced many political decisions in the past is now also seen in the astounding claims such as the ones mentioned earlier. Attempts are being made to establish that no part of Sri Lanka has been under the rule of Tamil monarchs in the past!

In a five-part series on the “Right of the Sri Lanka Government to reclaim its historical sovereignty over North”, PBS Hemachandra, a retired Lt. Commander of Sri Lanka Navy (SL Guardian October 28 – November 1) has argued that Sri Lanka before the arrival of Portuguese has throughout been a sovereign state ruled by Sinhalese kings, though there were chieftains in the province of Jaffna and the Vanni. During his visits, he has not seen any artefacts, epigraphs or inscriptions of an ancient independent Tamil Kingdom in the North or East, or a single tank or irrigation system developed “by the so-called Tamil Kings” The fiefdom of Jaffna had agreements to pay tribute to the kings of Lanka just like other chieftains of other regions in the Vanni. “When the Portuguese marched into Jaffna, it was the ‘Sinhala forces’ led by Mudaliyar Atapattu who re-conquered Jaffna”, though they were defeated later. Because Mudaliyar Attapatu was sent by the King of Kandy to Jaffna to resist the invading Portuguese army, he has concluded that Jaffna was then a part of the Sinhala Kingdom.  The fact is Kandy was a separate kingdom ruled by Tamil kings. They had close ties with the royalty in south India (now Tamil Nadu). Although, Hemachandra claims his version is factual, it does not explain why the Sinhalese did not settle in the North and East. It is not possible here to review the entire series written conscientiously to establish the right of Sinhalese to rule the entire island.  There are plenty of questionable claims just as the one mentioned above. 

R. Manoharan in his timely article (SL Guardian November 1) has challenged the claims of PBS Hemachandra. His analysis also challenges the assertions of others that the Sinhalese are the indigenous people in Sri Lanka and all others are subsequent settlers. Manoharan has also said that his exposition is “the true history of the Tamils and Sinhalese of Sri Lanka which is in black and white”. His points include the following:

(1) In second century AD, Ptolemy located the Naga Dipu Kingdom covering the territory from Chilaw in the west to Batticaloa in the east. The Tamils have occupied the north eastern littoral as their exclusive homeland.  (2) Tamil kings have ruled Anurathapura(m) and the capital was built by them. (3) It was Tamil King Devanampiya Theesan who received the Buddhist missionaries led by Mahinda, son of Emperor Asoka. He was a Hindu who after embracing Buddhism started spreading the teaching of Buddha. The Hindu Tamil King Devanampiya Theesan also became a Buddhist. (4) The fact that Tamil Kings ruled from Anurathapuram before the rise of Sinhala Kings is clearly stated in the Mahavamsa itself. When Dutugemunu informed his father Kavantisa,  ruler of the southern principality of Ruhuna that he was going to declare war against the Tamils, his father replied: ‘let the Tamils rule that side of the Maha Ganga and this side of Maha Ganga is more than enough for us to rule’. (5) The Great Raja Raja Cholan, the Tamil Chola emperor, when extending his empire invaded Sri Lanka, made Rajarata a part of the Chola Empire and founded Polonnaruwa. The above historical facts show that the Tamils have been living in Sri Lanka from very early time before the arrival of Buddhist missionaries from India.

Another interesting piece from the book ‘Lanka Rani’ which narrates the story of Tamil refugees travelling to Jaffna after the 1977 riots in the ship ‘Lanka Rani’ (translated by Arular Sri Lanka Guardian November 16) reveals the version of history that challenges Mahavamsa and specifically the claim that the Sinhalese are the original settlers. According to this version, only after 12th century, Sinhala language came into existence by the intermixing of Tamil, Pali, Sanskrit and Eelu, one of the tribal languages of Sri Lanka.  If all the original Tamil words are removed, the Sinhala language will collapse. “Tamil rule has prevailed in Anurathapuram before and after the Chola rule of the 10th century. In those times, Tamil was written in the Vatteluthu from which the current Sinhalese script was derived. This script was brought from South India to write Tamil and other languages that existed in Anoor (the original Tamil name for Anurathapuram meaning a village full of cows). The Sinhala language has not come into existence at that time. The tradition of writing Tamil in Vatteluthu was prevalent in Sri Lanka until the 19th century Kandyan period”. From the 13th to the 16th century, Anurathapuram was under the control of the Tamil rulers of Jaffna.

The present “Sinhala race was living as 16 separate races speaking 16 separate languages until the 15th century. It is only after this, it gradually fused into the present Sinhala race. Many races that crept into Sri Lanka after that too have fused to become Sinhalese”. The rigid caste system followed by the Tamils too made many low caste Tamils to become Buddhists and this lineage is visible among the Sinhalese in some areas. According to this version some elite (high caste) Tamils from the North East too became Kandyan Sinhalese following their migration to the Kandyan Kingdom after the conquest of their homeland by the Portuguese. It is not religion but language that is now the main factor that is keeping the islanders separated as majority and minority communities. The British colonial ‘divide and rule’ policy has also contributed to the accentuation of this division. 

According to the author of ‘Lanka Rani’ the Mahavamsa has misrepresented “the Tamil foundations of Sri Lanka civilisation as Sinhalese foundation”.  Apparently, this started “with the arrival Siamese Buddhist sects brought from present day Thailand 250 years ago” by a Tamil King Kithisri, who wanted to bolster Buddhism that was fading out. These Buddhist monks “chose to conspire against the King of Kandy, with the intention of crowning a Thai prince who was brought to Sri Lanka as a Buddhist monk. The conspiracy was uncovered and a number of the Buddhist monks were beheaded. Among those beheaded was the Buddhist monk who re-fabricated and re-wrote Mahavamsa”. The main reason for bringing in ancient history here is to emphasize the futility of claiming that the Sinhalese are the sole national inheritors. 

The election of Barack Obama as US President

The second viewpoint comes from the election of African-American Barack Obama on November 4 as the 44th President of the United States of America. According to some Sinhala nationalists if a member of a minority community in the United States of America can become the President, this is possible in Sri Lanka too. They have conveniently ignored many fundamental differences between the separate history and political system of the two countries and blamed the ethnic minority leaders in Sri Lanka for emphasizing their ethnic identity in national politics and thereby losing the chance of an ethnic minority member getting elected to lead the nation.

S. L. Gunasekara, prominent Colombo lawyer and former President of Sihala Urumaya, the precursor to Jathika Hela Urumaya in his article titled, Obama – What ‘is’ and what ‘would have been’ published in the Daily Mirror 10 November 2008 has said: “Obama is, a quintessential  American, who prides himself of being a member of the single plural ‘American Nation’,  comprised as it is of citizens of different races, with different `mother tongues’ and believing in different religions, which, nevertheless recognizes English, the language spoken by the majority as its sole official language, and gives pride of place to the Christian Faith which the majority professes. This same Obama, the son of a Kenyan and a Caucasian, with an Indonesian step father who spent a part of his formative years in Indonesia, is now the President elect of the United States of America, having been elected to that post by a landslide majority of American voters of all races, colours, classes and religions”. He has blamed the past and present Tamil leaders in independent Sri Lanka to have “proclaimed heretical and downright stupid ideas/policies” such as there is no one nation in Sri Lanka like the ‘American Nation’; there is an identified ‘Tamil homeland’ in the island; and there should be parity of status for the different languages and religions of all the ethnic communities.   

Even the ways democracy functions in the two countries are totally different. This was quite apparent during and after the election campaign in the US. The support extended by Hilary Clinton to Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama who was her opponent before his nomination by the Party also democratically as their Presidential candidate and the notable speeches made by the loser Senator John McCain of the Republican Party and winner Senator Barack Obama at the November 4th free and fair poll, putting the Nation before their political parties is something alien to our political culture.  However, no sensible person will disagree with SLG’s altruistic statement -  “The historic victory of Obama places at least one matter of crucial  importance to us in the multi racial, multi lingual, multi religious State of Sri  Lanka beyond doubt; and that is that the key to progress lies in `integration’  rather than in `segregation’.”  Sadly, his concluding remark as usual exhibits his professional skill as a lawyer arguing the case for his client and not as a neutral objective person who takes into consideration all relevant facts.

His lopsided conclusion is: “The current problems faced by us, including the unimaginable sufferings of the Tamil civilians imprisoned in the Wanni by the LTTE would never have arisen had the so called `Tamil National Alliance’ and its `Lords and Masters’, the LTTE followed the salutary policies of Barak Hussein Obama”.  There is no doubt some blunders have been made by the Tamil leadership in opposing the tyranny of majoritarianism but the fact is the lawyer has ignored many vital facts that led to the need in the first place to form political parties along ethnic lines in Sri Lanka unlike in America with its federal structure, the history of the early African immigrants vis-à-vis the early Tamil settlers in Sri Lanka and the acceptance of English, the language of the British colonialist, which is also an international language as the sole official language. The idea Sri Lanka is a Sinhala nation emerged long before the claim for a separate ‘Tamil homeland’. The latter assumed importance after the moves to marginalize the Tamil speaking people and weaken their influence in the areas inhabited largely by them.
The national flag of Sri Lanka (Lion with two stripes for Tamil and Muslim minorities) depicts Sinhala supremacy and not one integrated multi-ethnic nation. It is important to realize that the national unity in the US is mainly because of the federal structure and strict adherence to democratic freedom, civil liberties and fundamental rights of all citizens. No religion is given any special status.      

Most US citizens are the descendants of immigrants from Europe and slaves brought from Africa to work for the White masters. Today, the American Indians and Alaska Natives constitute less than 1 percent of the country’s population. About 74 percent of Americans are whites of European descent, while only 14 percent are ‘Blacks’.  The latter has no history of controlling any part of the USA and as everyone knows, they won civil liberties only in mid 1960s.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965, (amended in 1975) suspended the poll taxes, literacy tests and other subjective voter tests. It authorized Federal supervision of voter registration in states and individual voting districts where such tests were being used. Subsequent leaders of the two main Democratic and Republican parties never used race as a political weapon in the contest for power. This was not the case in Sri Lanka. No one considered the full empowerment of the Blacks would endanger the future of the Whites. Moreover, affirmative action programmes have made America an inclusive society, whereas in Sri Lanka discrimination in higher education and employment opportunities in the 1970s and lukewarm implementation of the subsequent dual official language policy alienated the minority communities. These are some of the fundamental differences between the two countries.
How can S. L. Gunasekara forget his own bitter experience on 16 October 2000, when he was rejected by his own party the Sihala Urumaya to be appointed as a Member of Parliament under the National List, as he was not a Buddhist (said to be an atheist who was earlier baptised to be an Anglican)? Among those who opposed his nomination is the present Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka (former JVP activist), who entered Parliament in 2007 after the JHU officially became part of the Rajapaksa Government. One of the party’s Buddhist monk MP resigned to permit staunch Buddhist lay member Ranawaka to be the MP in his place. This unique practice does not exist in other real democratic countries.

Conclusion

The Island editorial 14 November 2008 has very relevant comments on the contrasting situations in Sri Lanka and the USA. To quote: “The US has remained a powerful country throughout its history and its economic prosperity exerts a tremendous pull on its people regardless of their differences. A robust economy always forms the bedrock of a democratic society”. Sri Lankan leaders after independence instead of directing their efforts towards the development of the national economy gave importance to party politics. Widening the opportunities for the many disadvantaged Sinhalese to move up the social ladder was a significant step. There was, indeed, the need for action on this front but it is the way these opportunities were created by closing the openings hither to available to the ethnic minorities for advancement that led to the violent disturbances. This hasty decision was influenced more by political expediency than the felt urgency to improve social equality.

No one can disagree with the following observation. “All the people of the US are Americans before being anything else –– White, Black, Hispanic etc. They take pride in their American identity as America is an affluent and powerful nation. But, in this country, not all communities have the same sense of belongingness which alone is capable of kindling patriotism. It is the centripetal pull of the overarching American identity on the populace that has made minorities fight against discrimination and try to win their rights while being part of the American nation without seeking separatist remedies”. 
   
In conclusion the editorial stated: “The situation prevailing in Sri Lanka is a far cry from that in the US. That may explain why Sri Lanka is not yet ready for having an Obama. In this country even the election of ordinary MPs has become a threat to national security, if the conduct of the Tiger proxies in Parliament is any indication. In such a situation how can Sri Lankans be psychologically prepared to act like their American counterparts in electing their head of State?  We will have an Obama the day this country is free from terrorism and secessionist forces; the economy develops and the majority community and the minorities are bound by a common Sri Lankan identity. Until such time, having an Obama in this trouble torn island will be only will-o'-the-wisp”. The mere recognition of the glaring differences is not enough. It is important for all Sri Lankans to know what went wrong in independent Sri Lanka and who were first responsible for creating the secessionist forces.

The Tigers did not emerge suddenly from some hideout. They were the product of the acts of commission and omission of the two main political parties that governed since independence. The lack of foresight, political will and fortitude of the so-called national leaders to implement the known corrective measures also contributed to the present muddle. Some even exploited this unsettled state to achieve their narrow political objectives.  National interest has no identical meaning in Lankan politics. 

There is no point now in beating about the bush. The present system is evidently divisive (50 years is more than enough to prove this) and unsuitable for forming a common Sri Lankan identity, for people to feel they are Sri Lankans before being anything else, for all communities to have the same sense of belongingness and confidence in the national government. The fact that it has failed to ensure unity in diversity and promote nation building and development for more than half a century is ample proof of its unsuitability.

After the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom, the British colonial masters for their convenience brought all regions under one central administration. The system functioned the way they wanted because the supreme power was with them. The unitary system donated by the departing British authorities gave opportunities to the power hungry leaders of sovereign Ceylon/Sri Lanka to use it for achieving their immediate objectives at great cost to the masses and the country.  President-elect Barack Obama called for change in his country after 8 years of George W. Bush leadership. After more than 50 years of misrule, Sri Lanka is in need of a big structural CHANGE for the nation to develop speedily and all communities to coexist harmoniously and prosper. When even the Constitutional Council under the 17th Amendment is yet to be constituted, despite repeated appeals by several anxious groups, this CHANGE seems now to be like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s 28 August 1963 dream.               

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

November 20, 2008

“Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka : The Dilemma of Building the Unitary State."

Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz

The ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka is a well-known issue of the international political arena.

Desire to maintain the unitary state structure of the country, while weakening the political solution to the deadly ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka, aggravated the ethnic tensions between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, the dominant majority ethnic group. This paper attempts to look at how the Sinhalese political elites in their quest for a power attempted to consolidate the unitary structure of the island since country’s independence in 1948, and it argues that Sinhalese unwillingness to share the power with the Tamils led the Tamils to lose trust in the state and its institutions and thus, gave birth to the violent Tamil political movements including that of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The paper is by exploring the process of the origin (pre-independent era) and consolidation (post-independent era) of the unitary structure, attempting to identify major root causes of the ethnic conflict presently known to us today.]

Click for PDF File: Paper on Sri Lanka : “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka : The Dilemma of Building the Unitary State."  By Dr. AR.M. Imtiyaz, as appeared in Peace and Conflict in South Asia, (Amsterdam : Elsevier, 2008),

TRO Response to "forfeit" of funds by Sri Lanka Govt.

Responding to the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) press release that the State has confiscated Rs. 71m from Tamil Rehabilitation Organization’s (TRO’s) bank account, TRO reiterated its denial of allegations that funds were “mainly used for terrorist activies,” and pointed out that the “GoSL has never produced any proof of these allegations in a court of law and has not brought any criminal charges against TRO,” and that GoSL has consistently denied TRO opportunity to defend against the allegations in the courts of law.

TRO's Response in Full: PDF File ~ MS Word

FMM fears for physical safety of journalist Tissainayagam in Magazine prison

J.S. Tissainayagam, senior journalist who is on trial before the High Court has been moved from the remand prison to the magazine prison in Colombo on November 18. No reasons have been given for this sudden move. Tissainayagam who appeared in courts on the 18th nor his lawyers were aware of this move. He now remains in a room with 140 convicted criminals. Free Media Movement learns that Tissainayagam has been threatened by the some prisoners. Since being moved to the magazine prison on November 18, Tissainayagam has not eaten. His dinner on the 18th was taken by the other prisoners. He was not provided with lunch on the 18th or breakfast on the 19th.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minster for Human Rights and Disaster Management had visited Tissainayagam on November 17th with the Prison Commissioner. At the meeting, the Minister and Prison Commissioner had agreed to improve the living conditions of the prison. The move to the magazine prison took place a day after the visit.

On March 7, the Terrorist Investigative Department (TID) arrested journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and detained him without charges for more than 150 days. He was later charged both under Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act for printing and distributing the North Eastern Monthly magazine and aiding and abetting terrorist organisations through raising money for the magazine. His trial is presently before the High Court in Colombo.

Free Media Movement is concerned with the sudden development of events and this movement without any reasons being given to Tissainayagam or his lawyers. FMM appeals to the authorities to ensure the safety of Tissainayagam and provide him with food and other essential facilities while in prison.

Recommended action: Send letters of concern to:

Hon. Minster Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights
Fax: + 94112693284; info@dmhr.gov.lk

Attorney General's Department, Sri Lanka
Fax +94112436421; administration@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka
Spokesperson person - Sunanda Deshapriya (+94)777312457
No. 237/22, Wijeya Kumaratunga Road, Colombo - 05., Email : fmmsrilanka@gmail.com ;

November 19, 2008

National leaders among the Sri Lankan Tamil community

by S. K. Thangavadivel

The victory of Barack Obama gives encouragement to minorities living in other countries. But they must not forget the love of Barack Obama towards his country. Obama feels he is an American and not a Kenyan. He won the hearts of the majority of Americans. Prime minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh by birth thinks He is an Indian and not a Sikh. Abdul Kalam ex-president of India, a famous scientist and a Muslim by birth too, thought he was Indian.

We had national leaders among Tamils. They were respected by the majority of the Sinhalese. The late Sir Vaithiyalingam Thuraisamy, the first Speaker in the then Legislative Assembly and the late Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, a well known national leader were some of the national leaders among the Tamil community respected by the majority of the Sinhala community.

We had two other national leaders among our community respected by the Sinhala community but ignored by us. One is Late Mr. Jeyam Tharmakulasingham, a Samasamajist, who stood for equality –– not only for racial equality but also for social and economic equality. He lost the parliamentary election in 1947.

Another national leader was the late Handy Perinbanayagam, a genuine follower of Mahathma Gandhi, and good supporter of Dr. N. M. Perera. He led the Youth Congress in Jaffna, successfully boycotted the Donomoughre Constitution, but Tamils did not treat him as a leader.

The so-called Tamil leaders specialise in condemning other politicians but they hide their own mistakes. They made and are still making mistakes and easily put the blame on others. The deaths of innocent Sinhala and Tamil youths are due to the mistakes of some of the Sinhala and Tamil politicians.

Tamils are not promoting national leaders. But even now there are National leaders among the Sinhala community. Some of them are: ministers Dew Gunasegara, Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Vasudheva Nanayakara. They are very genuine in their desire to solve the ethnic problem.

November 17, 2008

Head of a Tamil radio station held in Colombo under anti-terror law

Statement by RSF

Reporters Without Borders today urged the Sri Lankan authorities to release the manager of a Tamil radio A. R. V. Loshan, who was arrested at his home in the capital Colombo on 15 November.

The senior radio presenter and current manager of FM Vettri was picked up by Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) agents.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said that TID allegations against him of having "links with terrorists" and "aiding terrorist activities" should be based on evidence and not on simple conjecture.
"The growing number of arrests by the authorities of Tamil journalists under the anti-terror law gives currency to the common rumor that many of them are Tamil Tiger agents, but also undermines the anti-terror law itself", the organisation added.
A colleague of the journalist told Reporters Without Borders that his mother had been allowed to visit him. He is in good health and hopes to be quickly released.

Police questioned another journalist on Vettri FM before arresting the director. The 32-year-old with more than 10 years radio experience has worked for five years for the station, which is owned by the ABC press group.

Reporters Without Borders pointed out that two other Tamil journalists - J. S. Tissainayagam and Vettivel Jasikaran - are already being held under the anti-terror law. The fiancée of the second of them, Valarmathi Jasikaran, has also been imprisoned in Colombo in very harsh conditions.

Vincent Brossel
Asia - Pacific Desk
Reporters Sans Frontières
47 rue Vivienne
75002 Paris
33 1 44 83 84 70
33 1 45 23 11 51 (fax)
asia@rsf.org
www.rsf.org

Muslim anger vs Hindu anger

by B. Raman

The manner of the current investigation by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Mumbai Police into an explosion at Malegaon in Maharashtra on September 30,2008, which mainly targeted and killed some local Muslims should be a matter of concern to all right-thinking Indians.

2. Large sections of the Muslims,the anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) political class and the so-called secular elements in the Hindu community, which lose no opportunity to demonise the Hindu nationalists and the BJP in order to win the applause of the minorities and project themselves as liberals, have used the investigation to divert attention away from the hundreds of innocent civilians killed by the jihadi terrorists, many of them trained and assisted by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh and inspired by the pan-Islamic ideology of Al Qaeda and its International Islamic Front (IIF).

3.They look upon the leaks from the ATS--- many of them based on narco-analysis of dubious investigation and evidentiary value--- as a pre-election Godsend in their campaign to project the Muslims as more sinned against than sinning and the nationalist-minded Hindus, who call for strong action against the jihadi terrorists, as chauvinists and Fascists.

4.This, despite the fact that resort to narco-analysis----which was frequently resorted to by Hitler's Nazis and Stalin's KGB to obtain confessions from political dissidents--- has stood condemned in the rest of the civilised world. Many of the thousands of political dissidents, who were sent to the Gulag and the firing squads by Stalin, were tried and convicted on the basis of narco-analysis.

5.The Wiki Encyclopaedia says as follows of narco-analysis: " Narco Analysis Test or Narco Test: This refers to the practice of administering barbiturates or certain other chemical substances, most often Pentothal Sodium, to lower a subject's inhibitions, in the hope that the subject will more freely share information and feelings. The term Narco Analysis was coined by Horseley. Narco analysis first reached the mainstream in 1922, when Robert House, a Texas obstetrician used the drug scopolamine on two prisoners. Since then narco testing has become largely discredited in most democratic states, including the United States and Britain. There is a vast body of literature calling into question its ability to yield legal truth. Additionally, narcoanalysis has serious legal and ethical implications."

6. Dr. Chandrasekhar, the legendary Indian Forensic science expert, who played a highly-acclaimed role in the successful investigation and prosecution of the LTTE conspirators involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, has been one of the strongest critics of the police in some Indian States resorting to narco-analysis, which is not a scientific method of investigation. In many countries of the world narco-analysis is viewed as a political tool and not a scientific tool.

7.On the basis of statements and remarks made by the suspects under the influence of drugs, which induce a state of semi-consciousness, large sections of the Hindu community have been sought to be demonised, the army has been unwittingly stigmatised and attention has been sought to be diverted from the investigation into acts of jihadi terrorism and from enquiries to establish the full extent of the so-called Indian Mujahideen iceberg.

8.I am proud to have been the first analyst to have drawn attention on October 2,2008, to the fact that the explosions of September 30 at Malegaon and Modasa in Gujarat did not gel with the explosions carried out in other parts of India by the jihadi terrorists. I was the first to have suggested that we should thoroughly investigate the suspected involvement of some Hindus in these blasts in order to gain the trust of the Muslim community and remove the misgivings in their mind about the fairness of the Police. I was the first to have suggested in a TV interview that if the Malegaon investigation warranted a re-visit to some of the past investigations into terrorist strikes in which Muslims were the main targets, the Police should not hesitate to do so.

9. I applauded the Mumbai ATS, when they started the investigation into the suspected involvement of some Hindus in the Malegaon blasts, but I have been greatly concerned over the manner in which their investigation----instead of remaining professional and scientific--- has taken what large sections of the Hindu majority of this country will view as a politically motivated direction.Some of the media leaks attributed to the Mumbai ATS make one think that the ATS has---wittingly or unwittingly--- started playing to the so-called secularists' gallery.

10.So many obvious questions, which should have been asked by objective opinion-makers, have not been asked.One of the suspects is alleged to have lent her motor-cycle to the perpetrators. Can one think of any instance in the recent history of terrorism in which a terrorist-suspect created evidence against himself or herself by using his or her own vehicle for planting an improvised explosive device (IED)?

11.A private military school, which coaches aspirants to a career in the Armed Forces, has been sought to be condemned on the ground that some of the suspects held a meeting in its premises. What is important is, what was the purpose of the meeting? Was it to plan specific acts of terrorism or was it merely to discuss how to counter anti-national jihadi terrorism? Innumerable meetings and seminars are held every year in presitgious training institutions of the Government to discuss, inter alia, appropriate strategies against jihadi terrorism, Pakistan and Bangladesh.Very often, the speakers call for strong retaliatory attacks against the terrorist organisations, Pakistan and Bangladesh? Are they to be viewed as instigators of terrorism and are our training institutions to be criticised for holding such discussions?

12.We are now told that the explosions in the Samjotha Express in the beginning of last year were also carried out by some Hindus with the help of RDX explosives allegedly supplied by a serving Army officer, who is presently under investigation.

13.I had written as follows on the Samjotha Express blasts on February 20,2007 ( http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers22/paper2144.html ) :"The blasts on the Delhi-Attari Samjotha Express (Peace Express) on the night of February 18, 2007, are remarkable for the success as well as the failures of the terrorists. Their diabolic success is evident from the fact that two of the IEDs, reportedly attached to bottles containing incendiary material, functioned without a mishap, causing a carnage in which 67 passengers---mostly Indian and Pakistani Muslims---perished. Their surprising failure is evident from the fact that at least a half of their IEDs failed to explode and has been recovered by the railway authorities. According to some reports, they had planted a total of five IEDs of which three failed to function. According to others, they had planted four IEDs, of which two failed. So many failed IEDs should normally be a surprise in the case of well-trained, clued-up and experienced terrorists. The failures of the perpetrators of Deewana could indicate a possibility---remote at present--- that they were new to this business of terrorism---either new recruits of old and well-established organisations or new recruits of new organisations. A systematic follow-up of the forensic trail left by them should help in determining their identity in course of time."

14. The Delhi police, who investigated the blasts, did not say anything about the use of RDX explosives. From their briefings, it appeared that incendiary devices and not explosive devices were used in the Samjotha Express. That was also the conclusion of many Western experts, including of STRATFOR, the well-known US analysis organisation. If the Delhi police knew at that time that RDX was used, did they try to find out the source of the explosive? If not, why not?

15. If what the public is told now----on the basis of the leaks from the Mumbai ATS--- is correct, then what the Delhi Police told the public in February,2007, was wrong and vice versa.

16.The Mumbai ATS should investigate the blasts thoroughly and need not hesitate to have a second look at the Samjotha Express explosions, but they should do it in a professional manner, but not in a manner that adds to suspicions that the investigation has taken a pre-election political turn----- with the objective being to fix the Hindu nationalists and not to fix the terrorists.

17.I have written and spoken repeatedly about the spreading Muslim anger against what many Muslims look upon as the unfairness of the Indian criminal justice system against the Muslims. I have equally written and spoken frequently about the spreading Hindu anger against the Government and the so-called secularists over the failure to act strongly against the jihadi terrorists.

18. One should be careful to see that the manner of investigation by the ATS does not add to the Hindu anger and lead to a situation similat to what had happened in Northern Ireland where elements from the Protestant community took to arms and terrorism against the Catholics due to perceptions that the Government was not doing enough to protect them from the perpetrators of violence from the Catholic community.

19. This may please be read in continuation of my earlier article titled "Anti-Muslim Reprisal Terrorism?" at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers29/paper2892.html(16-11-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topicval Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

November 16, 2008

The Tamil Nadu Resolution and new possibilities

By Rajan Philips

On Wednesday, 12 November, the Tamil Nadu State Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Indian Government to persuade the Government of Sri Lanka to agree to a ceasefire with the LTTE and to commence negotiations to reach a political settlement. According to reports, the Indian Prime Minister handed a copy of the resolution to President Mahinda Rajapkase when the two met in Delhi. Mr. Rajapakse is reported to have turned down the request for a ceasefire agreement, while reiterating his commitment to a political solution and emphasizing his government’s efforts to deal with the humanitarian situation of the displaced people.

fort chennai

[Tamil Nadu State Assembly: Pic by: Media Ramu-Chennai]

President’s Rajapakse’s refusal to declare ceasefire is not surprising, but what is also notable is that there is increasing pressure on him to either bring the fighting to a quick end or to find an exit strategy while protecting the government’s military gains against the LTTE. The LTTE obviously wants a ceasefire right away while the government is insistent that the LTTE should surrender if it is serious about talking. It will be a while before the two parties dance their way to agreeing to do something other than unconditional ceasefire or total surrender. Until then, the war dance will continue.

The point of this article is that both the LTTE and the government are coming under not inconsiderable pressure to do something other than fighting. While the LTTE is facing mostly military pressure, the government’s difficulties, as I have alluded to sometime ago, are more non-military than military. More importantly, the Tamil Nadu resolution and its revived interest in the Sri Lankan matter raises new possibilities that could not have been anticipated only a couple of months ago.

It is not the content of the Tamil Nadu resolution that is significant; rather, it is the unanimity of its passage, the new level and nature of interest in Tamil Nadu, and the entirely different circumstances in which this interest is being manifested in contrast to the circumstances that preceded the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and the Thirteenth Amendment.

The fact that the resolution was adopted unanimously by all parties in the Assembly should not be taken by anyone in Colombo as an act of ganging up on the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka by the Tamil Nadu political class. On the contrary, the unanimity among the main political parties of Tamil Nadu marginalizes and shuts up those on the lunatic fringe of Tamil nationalism who cannot figure out where their Readers-Digest reading of the history of the Tamil Chola Empire ends and where the reality of their living begins. The same goes for the paranoid among the Sinhalese who react by conjuring absurd images of Tamil domination over all of Sri Lanka if the LTTE is not destroyed.

Tamil Nadu after the Thirteenth Amendment

Whatever misgivings there might be even among moderate Tamils about the adequacy of the Thirteenth Amendment, especially after the demerging the Northern and Eastern Provinces, it is the Thirteenth Amendment that is going to be the foundation and the framework for any future political solution. It is certainly the framework within which India can and will act in regard to influencing developments in Sri Lanka. Both the external influences of New Delhi and the internal dynamic between Tamil Nadu and New Delhi will be governed by the Thirteenth Amendment.

The plurality of support in Tamil Nadu for a political solution in Sri Lanka is predicated on the consensus around the Thirteenth Amendment. Anything short will be rejected by every Tamil Nadu Party (including both Regional and All India Parties), and anything excessively more will destroy the unanimity. Sri Lankan Tamil busybodies would do well to stop barking up the dead tree of self-determination and start persuading Tamil Nadu to become a facilitator and insurer of the formulation and implementation of a political solution centred on the Thirteenth Amendment.

There is nothing sinister or subversive about involving Tamil Nadu to find a positive resolution to Sri Lanka’s national problem. The Sri Lankan Government has appreciated the concerns in Tamil Nadu for the welfare of the Sri Lankan Tamils, but not the welfare of the LTTE. There are enough examples around the world for multi-party external involvement in resolving internal problems – to wit, the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, and the inevitability of multi-party involvement in any future resolution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Obviously, for the involvement of Tamil Nadu to be positive and productive, it should be acceptable to the Government of Sri Lanka and beneficial to all Sri Lankans and not just the Sri Lankan Tamils. The immediate benefit of involving Tamil Nadu, in my view, is in helping to draw the LTTE out of its political isolation and engaging it in the political process. As it is, positive international pressure for a political solution is asymmetrically applied, with only the government being pressurized while the LTTE is pressurized only negatively – by way of outlawing and restrictions on its operations. The government, being the executive committee of the state, has a bigger responsibility to take positive initiatives and is more exposed to inter-governmental pressure. But at some point, sooner rather than later, the LTTE has to join the political process; or, it should be brought into it. Who is capable of doing that?

Others more resourceful than I am might suggest a superior alternative, but I cannot think of anyone other than Tamil Nadu being able to undertake this task. I am not suggesting that Tamil Nadu will succeed where others have failed, but it is a shot worth taking. As I said at the outset, this possibility could not have been foreseen two months ago, but now that Tamil Nadu has got interested the way it has new possibilities are emerging.

The possibilities I am projecting here are not based on good will and willingness on the part of the government and the LTTE; although they are necessary, they are not going to be there at the outset. There are objective circumstances that are beginning to force the two parties to look at options other than fighting, or to undertake them while carrying on fighting. The LTTE will have a hard time turning down an offer of mediation from India and Tamil Nadu, based on a reasonable basis for a political solution.

The LTTE would seem to be keener than the government to have a ceasefire, but it must not hope for ceasefire conditions like the one it had with Ranil Wickremasignhe, Any new ceasefire will include more stringent conditions. As a minimum, the LTTE should make a commitment to political solution based on the Thirteenth Amendment. I am not saying that the LTTE is waiting for someone to suggest before doing it. But there is no one better equipped to put this to the LTTE than Tamil Nadu.

The government is much less keen about a ceasefire than the LTTE, and is therefore laying down the unrealistic condition of surrender by the LTTE. But the prolongation of the war and the deteriorating economy are becoming serious impediments to the government’s current war-only, war-at-any-cost plan. The costs of war cannot be borne indefinitely especially when the economy is getting into deep trouble, and the people will not hold their patience indefinitely. Someone or something has to give somewhere.

There will also be increasing pressure from outside, to end the war and work towards a political solution. The pressure will grow as the Obama Administration hits the ground running in January – to end the war in Iraq and look for an exit strategy in Afghanistan. The world’s priority is no longer fighting costly and endless wars against terrorism that characterized the Bush era, or cheering obscurantist struggles for self-determination, but waging war against the global economic crisis. That is the message from the G-20 Washington Summit of November 15, and there will be little enthusiasm for supporting anything different.

(This is a modified version of the article published in the Sunday Island of November 16)

Sri Lanka's Genocidal War on Eelam Tamils and the Question of Nation's Self-Determination

By Democratic Students Union, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Self-determination of nations in the Marxist programme cannot, from a historic-economic point of view, have any other meaning than political self-determination, state independence, and the formation of a national state. - Lenin

Genocidal war on Eelam Tamils by the fascist Sri Lankan state:

For the last two weeks, the Sri Lankan armed forces have been engaged in an aggressive war with the people of Tamil Eelam, aimed not only at the combatants but the entire civilian population. As a result, Thousands of Tamils have been killed, wounded and have been forcefully displaced.

It is not a war between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE as the mainstream media tries to portray, but is an attempt by the Sri Lankan state to wipe out the entire Tamil population from the island, in the cover of eliminating the LTTE. Schools, orphanages, hospitals had been made targets of indiscriminate aerial bombings by the Sri Lankan Air Force. For example, 61 children from “Sencholai” (Red Garden), a home for children who lost their parents in war, recently died in one such attack. Sri Lanka Army’s Deep Penetration Unit fired upon a civilian bus travelling from Madhu to Paalampiddi in January 2008 killing 20, of whom 11 were school children, and injured 14 out of whom eight were children. No civilian area has been spared by the air force, which are attacked on an everyday basis. Bunkers have become an inevitable infrastructure in all schools. It is as if the Sri Lankan government wants to create a graveyard in the whole of Tamil populated areas in the Eelam. Such an approach is consistent with the Sri Lankan President’s comment that this is the final assault to finish off the ‘terrorist’ LTTE, only after which it will think of any ‘talks’ with the Tamils! We have heard many times about the ‘final solution’ to the Tamil national question by Sri Lankan presidents through the use of brute force, but the Tamils fighting for their separate country has defeated the wars of aggression every time in the past. This time too, even with thousands of casualties, the Tamil people are bravely resisting the might of the Sri Lankan state, and this time too, its misadventure is bound to culminate in failure. The struggle of the Eelam Tamils for an independent country has emerged out of a historic experience of oppression and subjugation in the hands of the Singhalese nation. This reflects the political aspirations of the Tamil people to be free of Singhalese national oppression, and it can only have a political solution, and not a purely military one. It is therefore necessary for all the democratic voices to recognise and stand by the inalienable right of the Eelam Tamils to self-determination through secession from Sri Lanka, and to oppose the ongoing genocidal war of aggression by the Sri Lankan state on the freedom-aspiring Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of the island country.

The approach of the Sri Lankan state:

Irrespective of the parties in power in Colombo, the response of the Singahlese ruling classes in Sri Lanka towards the democratic aspirations of the Tamils have primarily been through the use of brute force. In 1983 itself, the then President Jayawardene declared that “I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people …now we cannot think of them. not their life or their opinion …the more you put pressure in north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy”. From the time direct British colonial rule ended in 1948, the successive Singhalese governments have followed a consistent policy of national oppression and discrimination towards the Tamil minorities, denying their basic rights and opportunities for socio-economic development. Land settlement policies implemented from 1950s onwards displaced millions of Tamils in the northern and eastern districts such as Mannur and Mulai Thivu in a planned manner, which were then redistributed among Singhalese peasants and landless labourers. The Sri Lankan parliament declared Buddhism as the state religion, and pursued a policy of discrimination against other religious minorities. The ‘Sinhala-Buddhist Only Act’ formulated in 1956 declared Sinhala as the only official language, which was against the policy so far followed of recognizing both Sinhala and Tamil as state language. Further, in 1970, discrimination against Tamil youths pursuing higher studies in the name of standardization led to a drastic decline in their entry to government jobs. In 1979 the Sri Lankan state enacted the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act to cope with the growing militancy among the Tamils. This Act and the subsequent crackdown by the army of Tamil youths confirmed the fears of the Tamils that the Sinhalese government was hell bent to exterminate them.

These are only a few examples from the history of a long-running process of calculated oppression and discrimination by the Sri Lankan state towards the Tamil minorities. The Tamils in Sri Lanka initially voiced their opposition peacefully to these oppressive and undemocratic policies, such as the mass resignation of Tamil MPs in 1956 and 1958, a series of demonstrations and strikes in Colombo, etc. The response of the Sri Lankan state then, as now, was to unleash a reign of terror and brute force through the army on the agitating Tamil population, leading to the first major wave of Tamil refugees to the northern and eastern parts of the island in 1958. The state-sponsored massacre of hundreds of Tamils in 1983 made the question of self-determination through peaceful means decisively redundant, and pushed the Tamils in Sri Lanka to the path of armed struggle for national liberation of Eelam, a path made crimson by the blood of thousands of martyrs. This war has also helped the Sinhalese ruling classes in diverting the attention from the basic issues of livelihood and economic development of the people of the country in general, with a large part of the GDP spent in financing the exorbitant defense budget.

The Tamil national movement for an independent Eelam:

With the democratic aspirations and demands of the national minority in Sri Lanka crushed ruthlessly, the Tamil parliamentary parties passed the historic Vettukottai Resolution in 1977 where demand for a separate Tamil Eelam was raised for the first time under the banner of Tamil United Liberation Front. From that time onwards, for more than 30 years the struggle for a separate Eelam is being waged by the Tamils, withstanding untold repression of the Sri Lankan armed forces which is aided directly or indirectly by Indian state and its imperial master, the U.S. The war imposed on the freedom-aspiring Tamils took genocidal proportions in 1995 and 2000, in 2002 when the ceasefire agreement was broken, and again now in 2008. The Sri Lankan state has violated agreements signed with the Tamil representatives over and over again, and now it is imposing the precondition of laying down arms, in one word surrender, before any negotiation. The Tamils have been facing the choice between fighting for freedom at the risk of death or living as slaves throughout the period of this decades-long war. The Tamils have been offered and they have rejected a negotiated settlement through international mediation many times in the past, which could have led to peace, but a peace without justice. An uncompromising struggle for national self-determination, the fight for a free Eelam has emerged as one of the foremost nationality movements in the world, which have been demonized and isolated by the present imperialist world order led by U.S. imperialism. Rather than recognizing and upholding the just demand of the Tamil national minority, the rulers of India represented by Congress, BJP or even the so-called communists CPI(M) has acted as the faithful South Asian agents of U.S. interests in repressing the Tamil Eelam movement.

Indian state, the faithful agent of U.S. imperialism in South Asia:

India has been following an expansionist policy towards its neighbouring countries in South Asia, and has even militarily intervened more than once in their internal affairs. In Sri Lanka too, under this policy of furthering its own geo-political interests (which is tied to the interests of U.S. imperialism) Indian state initially supported the armed struggle of the Eelam Tamils. But soon the Indian state joined hands with the Sri Lankan government to suppress the movement, and sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1986 which created mayhem in the Tamil populated areas in Sri Lanka, killing, raping and maiming thousands. After a complete military defeat of the Indian mercenary army it was forced to retreat, but Indian ruling classes, irrespective of the party in power, has till date continued full diplomatic and military support to the fascist Sri Lankan state. Pranab Mukherjee, the defence minister has this week stated that India will not stop military aid to Sri Lanka, and expressed its willingness to help the Rajapakshe government in carrying out the present genocide of Tamils. A Sri Lankan army official has recently revealed that Sri Lankan military officers are being trained in Dehradun and Gurgaon military camps by the Indian army. But this is not all. According to some media reports, hundreds of Indian military personnel are directly involved in the present war, serving in Sri Lankan armed forces in advanced battle fronts. Such overt and covert support is not surprising, given the Indian state’s anti-democratic and pro-imperialist character, which itself has been crushing the genuine demands of various nationalities, such as Kashmiris, Nagas, Manipuris and Assamese and others within its territorial boundaries through the use of superior military might. It is not possible for Sri Lanka to continue its war against the Tamil national minorities without the approval of the Indian state, and Rajapakshe’s constant visits to New Delhi of late makes it clear that Indian government is actively supporting the present war. And being the foremost custodian of U.S. interests in South Asia, it is not difficult to conclude that India is given a go-ahead in this by Washington itself.

The so-called Marxist parties such as CPI, CPI(M) or CPI ML (Liberation) too has abandoned the Leninist principle of supporting the democratic demand of national self-determination, including secession, and have failed to force the Indian state from following a policy of non-intervention in Sri Lanka. They are equally responsible for castigating the movement for Tamil Eelam as ‘terrorism’, thereby helping in its brutal repression. Major regional parties in Tamil Nadu, whether DMK or AIDMK which never fails to celebrate Tamil nationalism to garner votes, have utterly failed to take any decisive action to prevent the ongoing massacre and displacement of thousands of Tamils in Eelam. Close to than 60,000 people have died and nearly 3 lakh have been displaced so far during this war, most of whom are Tamils. The media also has played its devious role in hiding the true situation of Eelam Tamils, which is uncritically presenting the biased versions spoon-fed by the Sri Lankan government, or completely blacking out this calculated extermination of an entire population in the name of ‘war against terror’. The Indian media, such as the casteist and Brahmanical Hindu group run by N Ram, too is guilty of justifying this brutal repression, rather than building a public opinion against this unceasing cold-blooded massacre of hundreds of civilians on an everyday basis.

The need of the Hour:

The Sri Lankan government, in its attempt to silently carry out this latest military misadventure to sniff out the Tamil resistance, has expelled all humanitarian agencies including the Red Cross as well as the international media from the war front. Of late the Sri Lankan forces have also stopped providing data about casualties in the ongoing war. Such criminal attempts of systematically silencing democratic and genuine rights of the people by use of force will inevitably fail. We must demand an immediate and unconditional declaration of cease-fire from the Sri Lankan government and a stop to the genocide in Tamil Eelam. At the same time, following the principles of Marxism-Leninism, which stands unequivocally in favour of the right to self-determination of the oppressed nationalities, we must raise our voice in support of the demand of Eelam Tamils for independence. It is high-time that the Sri Lankan and Indian ruling classes as well as their master U.S. realize that only a free and independent Tamil Eelam can ensure permanent resolution to the nationality question in Sri Lanka, and only a unity based ofsn justice and equality of the two nations can usher in peace in the island. Moreover, only an integration of the revolutionary class struggle with the national liberation struggles can effectively fight feudalism and imperialism, two primary enemies of the people in the Third World countries.

[Democratic Students Union, Jawaharlal Nehru University ~ Email: dsuatjnu@gmail.com

November 15, 2008

AI appeals on behalf of Tissainayagam and the Jasikarans

Statement by Amnesty International USA

Amnesty International considers the detained Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his legitimate work as a journalist. AI calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

With respect to the detained Sri Lankan writer and publisher, Vettivel Jasikaran, and his wife, Valarmathi Jasikaran, AI calls on the Sri Lankan government to provide them with a fair, prompt and public trial in accordance with international standards, and to treat them humanely while they are in detention.

Please visit Amnesty USA-Sri Lanka Action page and send appeals to the Sri Lankan government on behalf of J.S. Tissainayagam and Vettivel & Valarmathi Jasikaran. You will also find at that website an online action on behalf of the Sri Lankan human rights lawyer, J.C. Weliamuna; please take action on his behalf as well. Thank you for your consideration.

[Full Text of Statement by Amnesty International]

[Journalist J.S. Tissainayagam (C) is escorted to High Court by prison officers in Colombo November 5, 2008, pic: Buddhika Weerasinghe, via Yahoo! News]

November 14, 2008

Tamils – Need for an innovative and pragmatic approach

By: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

Problems are the common burden of the human species irrespective of where we live in this world. In biblical terms this had become our ‘Curse’ the day Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden apple. If not for this ‘Curse’ we will be yet roaming the Garden of Eden, naked and feasting on nature’s bounty, without any aspirations! Problems have made us become what we are. The challenges posed by the problems we face, have made us destructive at times, creative at others and imaginative at all times. We create problems and then struggle to find solutions. This is what has made us different from others in the animal kingdom.

The problems of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, encompassing various grievances, are serious, but not unique. A pecking order or hierarchy- where the stronger dominate the weaker- is the norm in the animal kingdom, of which we are a junior member. However, as humans, we aspire to rise above our ‘Animalness’ and become ‘Human’, inspired by our beliefs in what is divine or transcendent. Violence subsides and remains subliminal among animals when stable hierarchical arrangements fall into place. Violence erupts only when there are challenges to established hierarchical arrangements. In civilized human societies, social contracts, constitutional arrangements and the rule of law are designed to protect those who are collectively weak - because of their smaller numbers -and are likely to be trodden under foot, by an insensitive majority. Minorities within a majority or minorities within minorities- based on religion, caste, creed or other differences- are also protected by such arrangements. These are designed to prevent our inherent instinct to dominate others, becoming a social evil. Irrespective of what is legislated, there should be covenants unreservedly respected by all nations that all human beings are equal in terms of their individual and group rights, and should be provided the environment to achieve their potential. Those who are handicapped for whatever reason should receive a helping hand to overcome their disabilities. This would be the ideal all peoples and nations should aspire. Any disputes and controversies with regard to these issues anywhere in the world should be open for binding international arbitration.

In Sri Lanka, independence from Great Britain precipitated a challenge to the established colonial social structure and the accompanying hierarchical political arrangements. In the absence of an all-encompassing and lofty vision for the newly emergent nation and a wise political leadership, the jostle for dominance and a greater share of the limited economic pie by various interest groups degenerated into lawlessness, inhumanness, violence and a barbaric civil war. We have been singularly incapable of bringing forth a high calibre leadership with a broad all-encompassing vision for our nation, in the six decades since we gained independence. The qualities of politicians we have permitted to manage our affairs have degenerated by the day and in turn they are contributing to the degeneration of society and the people. The missionary zeal required to move forward towards a lofty vision has been replaced in our politicians by a pernicious zeal for personal aggrandizement, accumulation of wealth, grabbing untrammeled power and exploiting the helpless masses. The ability to identify problems objectively and enunciate and implement strategies to deal with them objectively, for the greater national good, has been an elusive commodity. India on the other hand, despite all her inherent problems and built-in contradictions, millions of fold greater than in Sri Lanka, has been able to enunciate a clear vision encompassing the unity of the whole nation and set herself on the path to greatness in the modern world. She is achieving this greatness too.

The non-visionary, narrow minded and sectarian approach to national politics in Sri Lanka is a reality; we will be unable to overcome for years to come, given the trends persisting over the past sixty years. Despite three decades of civil war and the brutality and blood shed it has entailed, we have failed to learn the lessons that should have been well learnt by now. We are proving our selves to be a nation incapable of civilized responses to national problems. Every new government pretends it has to re-invent the wheel with regards to the Tamil issue, while the so-called Tamil leadership continues to sing the same old tune, to of course a new beat. Tamil leadership of all hues and types has been the pied piper leading the Tamils to the deep blue sea, to drown. While the majority of the people, irrespective of their affiliations and predilections are capable of civilized responses to our problems, our political leadership has been incapable of responding in kind. In fact, the political leadership -of the present and the past- has thrived on frustrating the will of the majority nation-wide- through instigating irrational fears and phobias-to seek civilized visionary solutions. This has been the strategy deployed by our politicians to snatch more and more power away from the people, in contravention of the principles on which our democracy was founded. The so-called Tamil-problem has been manna from heaven for our politicians and militants, and they will not easily permit it to be resolved, even if the nation goes to the dogs.

The election of Barack Hussein Obama – a black man and a self described ‘Mutt’ (Mongrel or cross-bred )- as the President of the United States of America, should be a lesson to nations such as ours and people like us. A black man born to a Muslim, Kenyan ’Black’ father and a Christian, American ‘White’ mother is to be the President of the USA- in effect, the most influential leader in the world. The blacks see in him the emblem of their success at being accepted as equals. Their journey from degrading and inhumane slavery, through segregation, barbarity, disrespect, disdain and social marginalization to the ‘White House’ has lasted three centuries and a little more. The ‘Whites’ see in him a man capable of leading the nation in the 21st century and in a time of economic turmoil. Both 'Blacks and Whites' are enthused by his vision, intellect, charm, oratory and potential ability. His humility is as astounding, as his achievements at forty seven years of age. He has come to represent an America that has very largely purged itself from racial bigotry and the accompanying irrationality. By electing Barack Obama to the presidency, the USA has stamped its mark on the 21st century. As much as the statue of liberty in New York symbolizes the liberty, opportunity and hope America epitomized in the past two centuries, Barack Obama will symbolize an America also freed of racial bigotry in the 21st century. Barack Obama by getting elected President has already done more for America than he could do in his one or two terms in office!

The response of the ‘White’ leadership- Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush- to the travails of the ‘Blacks’ in America, have made it possible for Barack Obama to become President-elect. The struggle , efforts and success of ‘Black’ men and women of the likes of Kunta Kinte (Of ‘Roots’ fame) , through to Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Theodore Marshall, Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young, Colin Powel and Condoleezza Rice (a few among a multitude), have made the necessary cracks in the ceiling- to borrow Hillary Clinton’s phrase-which facilitated the Obama break through. The achievements of ‘Black’ sports-persons, musicians and actors that made all Americans proud, paved the way for Obama to win the presidency. All ‘Black’ American who proved themselves in their field of endeavour contributed their mite towards this astonishing journey. This achievement was built brick by brick by thousands of blistered and calloused ‘Black’ hands and bruised minds, over several generations. It was a difficult- an almost unbelievable- and long journey for the ‘Blacks’, but they have achieved the ultimate victory, without tearing their nation apart. They as a people have borne the pains of bigotry- whipping, various forms of physical violence, rape, humiliation, arson, lynching and the murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan- but have finally reached the ‘White House’ and found national acceptance in very large measure. Their struggle has been largely peaceful. The sporadic attempts to stray into a violent path were unsuccessful. The ‘Bus Ride’ of Rosa Parks, the ‘Dreams’ speech of Martin Luther King and the ‘Peace March’ on Washington D.C by thousands of ‘Blacks and Whites’, had a more profound effect on the American psyche than the flashes of violent response seen throughout ‘Black’ history in America. The democratic and republican parties in the US represent the 'Blacks' and campaign for their votes. Abraham Lincoln, a republican, liberated the 'Blacks' from slavery and Lyndon Johnson, a democrat, accorded the 'Blacks' their civic rights.

The journey of the ‘Blacks’ from plantation slavery to the ‘White House’, should be inspiring to all minorities in the world and particularly the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The acceptance of a ’Black’ man as their President by ‘White’ America and the enthusiasm with which they have done so, should be a lesson for all people who consider themselves the majority in various countries around the world - particularly the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. The Tamils-though a minority- have been a part and parcel of Sri Lanka for thousands of years, stretching back to an unfathomable time. In circumstances where the Tamils are yet not finding acceptance as part of the national mosaic in Sri Lanka and their distinctiveness continues to be under concerted and concentrated attack in the post-independence state, the progress of the ‘Blacks’ in the USA is not only astounding, but an indication of the ascendance of the American civilization over ours.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka have to review their history of the past six decades and contemplate the following realities:

1. The Sinhala political leadership will not grant any significant degree of internal self-governance to the Tamils whole heartedly and willingly, in the near future.

2. In the event significant constitutional arrangements are forced upon the Sinhala polity, concerted efforts will be made to undermine and reverse such arrangements over time.
3. The Sinhala polity as it exists has no respect for constitutions, constitutional processes and rule-of-law. It is divisive by its very nature and incapable of evolving a national consensus on matters of even grave national importance.

4. The Sinhala people will continue to be misled by their political leadership that granting any degree of internal self-governance for the Tamils will lead to partitioning the island.

5. The ancestry of Tamils in Sri Lanka and their claims to areas of traditional habitation will be questioned and unscrupulously undermined by the Sri Lankan government and its cohorts through every means at their disposal using Goebellesian tactics.

6. It was a mistake for the Tamils to have embraced the concept of an independent Tamil Eelam, as a tactic to force concessions from the Sinhala polity. This tactic in the course of time had assumed a dynamic of its own to rebound and bedevil the Tamils.

7. The Sinhala polity, India and the world-at-large will not permit an independent Tamil Eelam to come about in the island.

8. The Tamils will not regain the world’s sympathy, unless they renounce violence and terrorism. The Tamils need the world, more than the world needs the Tamils.

9. The Sinhala people, by and large, are capable of sympathizing with the grievances of the Tamils, provided these are explained to them in a rational manner with respect to their sensitivities and without posing a threat to them as a people. A majority of the Sinhalese yet do not genuinely understand the Tamil gripe.

10. The non-violent struggle the Tamils claim to have waged in the 1956-1976 period, was non-visionary and lacked the ‘Spiritual / moral’ strength to withstand the violent government response.

11. This non-violent struggle was not directed towards winning over the majority of the Sinhalese to the cause of equal citizenship and rule of law, but towards reverting to the status-quo of the colonial era- an impossibility.

12. The Tamil mind-set of the pre-1980s was oriented towards employment in the government services and the prestige and security this entailed. Securing employment in the government services was the pinnacle of Tamil ambition.
Circumstances have since conspired to kill this mindset. This change has also coincided with the national economy escaping the strangle hold of the government.

13. Tamil resistance that progressed into violence, militarism and terrorism, has been counter productive and has caused unforeseen mortal damage to Tamils and their socio-economic-cultural structures. This damage is largely self-inflicted and has surpassed the damage inflicted by Sri Lanka government misrule and Sinhala extremism.

14. Tamil militancy in its various manifestations has alienated a significant number of Tamils, and the Sinhalese who would have otherwise been natural allies in the pursuit of justice, security, equality and opportunities.

15. The so-called Tamil Liberation movements have degenerated into self-seeking gangs and forces of oppression, and hence do not bode well for the future.

16. Tamil militancy and extremism have not brought forth solutions to our problems, but have contributed to entrenching Sinhala extremism and making it more subtle and hence more focused and, vicious.

17. Tamil militancy and extremism will not deliver us solutions –even in an independent Tamil Eelam-that will make us a free people, empowered to determine our destiny.

18. It will take decades for Tamils to throw off the shackles of Tamil militant oppression, regardless of whether or not these militants succeed in establishing an independent Tamil Eelam.

19. The Tamil militancy and the blinkered and immoral approach of the LTTE are very likely to fail, having drained the Tamils of their vitality and resources over the past three decades.

20. To continue on the path of militancy, terrorism and violence, will leave the Tamils, damaged beyond repair as a people.

21. The alternative to the Tamil militancy led by the LTTE, being engineered by the government of Sri Lanka, is a leadership consisting of armed Tamil quislings, collaborators, criminals and other anti-social scum, who have sold their souls to the devil. This so-called alternative to the LTTE will at most times readily and at other times grudgingly acquiesce with the government agenda to marginalize the Tamils further in a more sophisticated manner. Their survival, both in terms of their lives and positions, depend on this type of abject surrender and sell-out. These men and women are not the equivalents of the Theodore Marshals, Andrew Youngs, Colin Powels and Condoleezza Rices- ‘Blacks’, who have served the US government!!

22. The Tamil militancy and extremism have to be renounced fast and a different path
chartered to preserve Tamil heritage and place in Sri Lanka.

A broad vision for the future has to be formulated by the Tamils that would permit them to live in a united Sri Lanka, as a distinctive, distinguished and successful entity, proud of their identity and citizenship, and contributing to the national wellbeing, whilst not posing any threat to their fellow citizens. This would appear impossible to many who have read the realities I have itemized above. However, once broken into components (Eg... Education, health care, employment, agriculture, land use, industry, transport, communications, infra-structure, security, culture, etc.,) that are of crucial importance to the Tamils and subjected to a strategic management approach, involving a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats); it will be possible to understand how this can be done within a decade or two at most. Goals and strategies have to be formulated to give form to this vision and thereafter it should be the single- minded mission of the Tamils to achieve these. A ‘Recovery and National Integration’ movement motivated by this grand vision should replace the Tamil militancy and the LTTE at the earliest.

Tamils should also join the national mainstream by seeking membership of political parties such as the SLFP, UNP, JVP and others according to their personal predilections. These political parties should find a footing in Tamil majority areas and Tamils have to become stake holders in their electoral fortunes. The Tamil issue should no longer be a major factor in the political fortunes of these parties. These parties should also evolve to represent all peoples in Sri Lanka. The political parties bearing the name Tamil, Tamil Eelam, Tigers or other sectarian connotations should not find favour amongst the Tamils any longer. We can be Tamils, as much as we want to be, without flaunting it to the annoyance of others. Sinhala political parties have very largely avoided such sectarian labeling.

Tamils, though badly debilitated, yet have the capacity and resources to do this, mostly by their own efforts. The biggest hurdle to surmount will not be the Sinhala polity, but the Tamil militants who have become their burden. A united stand by Tamils supported by the world will be a moral force these militants will find hard to resist for long. Tamils can achieve all their envisioned goals within the existing set-up in Sri Lanka, without wasting anymore time demanding things that are very unlikely to be granted or gained. Tamils should get out of the rut they are struck for the past sixty odd years and formulate new strategies to survive and prosper as a people in a united Sri Lanka. Do the Tamils have the wisdom and will to do this? How will they do this? These are questions Tamils have to set their minds on immediately. I hope a meaningful discussion, rising above petty name- calling; rancour and baseless accusations will be stimulated following the publication of this article.

I understand the concepts postulated herein will be a red flag to many and considered defeatist and traitorous. I would consider it 'Enlightened self interest' of a people. However, I think a paradigm shift in thinking and modus operandi are needed for the Tamils to survive and prosper as a people in Sri Lanka, having been witness to and victim of what has unfolded in Sri Lanka over most of my conscious life. A people should fight to live and not die! Land is for people to live and not for cemeteries to bury them!

November 13, 2008

New Delhi Should Have Anticipated The Growing Disquiet In Tamil Nadu

by G. Parthasarathy

A major lesson that the Manmohan Singh Government has learnt in recent days is that the warm and friendly Delhi-Colombo relationship cannot remain unaffected by the dynamics of Colombo-Chennai equations. Significantly, some of Sri Lanka’s most astute officials are appointed as Colombo’s Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai. If people in Punjab get outraged by Sikh children in France being prohibited from wearing turbans in schools, it is unrealistic to expect that relations with Sri Lanka can be conducted smoothly if Tamils in Sri Lanka, who have strong familial, emotional and cultural ties with their fellow Tamils in India, are perceived to be suffering, or persecuted.

Political parties in Tamil Nadu inevitably have links with one or another Tamil group in Sri Lanka. New Delhi itself has maintained links with several Tamil leaders, political parties and in the past, even with militant outfits in Sri Lanka.

Attitudes in Tamil Nadu towards the LTTE changed when it provoked a conflict with the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in 1987 and thereafter engineered the brutal assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. In Mr Karunanidhi’s third term as Chief Minister, the LTTE was given a free hand to enter and establish havens in Tamil Nadu. But what is not well known is that till the IPKF was compelled to act against the LTTE in Sri Lanka, Mr Karunanidhi was one of the LTTE’s strongest critics for its role in assassinating his protégé — the founder leader of its rival, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation — Seeri Sabarathinam.

The LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran were, in fact, protégés of Mr Karunanidhi’s archrival, the then Chief Minister MG Ramachandran. MGR, however, was angered by Prabhakaran’s obduracy and when I met him in 1987, while he was convalescing in Baltimore, on instructions of the Prime Minister, he expressed his understanding of Rajiv Gandhi’s compulsions in ordering the IPKF action.

New Delhi should have anticipated the growing disquiet in Tamil Nadu, where the LTTE still has an effective propaganda machinery, when the Sri Lankan Army was preparing to crack down on the last LTTE stronghold in Killinochchi, in the Island’s Northern Province. While the LTTE does use innocent Tamils as human shields, the fact remains that since 2005, when the ethnic conflict escalated, 20,000 Tamils have fled to India as refugees and about 500,000 have been displaced internally. The European Union has voiced its concerns about these developments.

But what New Delhi has failed to do is to explain to people in India that while it sympathises with civilians caught in the conflict, it also recognises that the LTTE and particularly its leader, Prabhakaran, have no inhibitions in deliberately using civilians as human shields and that with the defection of its key military commander Karuna in the Eastern Province, the LTTE is isolated both internally and externally.

People in Tamil Nadu cannot support an organisation that is designated as a terrorist group by 31 countries, including India, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and 27 members of the European Union. Prabhakaran is responsible for the assassination of one President (Ranasinghe Premadasa), one Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi), nine Sri Lankan Ministers including the island’s most prominent Tamil, former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, and 18 prominent Tamil political and Parliamentary leaders. They include popular figures who could challenge Prabhakaran within the Tamil community, like TULF president Appapilai Amirthalingam, Sam Thambimutu and human rights activist Neelan Tiruchrelvam.

Prabhakaran started his career by assassinating the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappan, in July 1975. One important reason why the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987 could not be implemented was Prabhakaran’s refusal to allow any role for anyone other than those he wanted in the interim administration — an approach MGR disapproved of.

When the DMK Government gave some elbow room to the LTTE in Tamil Nadu, Prabhakaran responded by assassinating Padmanabha, the general secretary of the rival EPRLF in Chennai — an action that resulted in EPRLF leader Varatharaja Perumal having to seek political asylum in India. The Manmohan Singh Government failed to highlight these issues while seeking public support in Tamil Nadu.

Speaking at the all-party meeting in Chennai on October 14, and recalling the assassinations of TELO founder Seeri Sabarathinam and EPRLF leader Padmanabha (by the LTTE), Mr Karunanidhi made it clear that it was “fraternal wars” caused by the LTTE in the past that had proved to be a major setback for the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka. He regretted that “the present situation we are facing in Sri Lanka is due to the fraternal wars of the past”.

The DMKs’ patriarch, whose party was routed after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and who led the UPA to a resounding victory in Tamil Nadu by capturing all 40 seats in the 2004 election, was signalling that while he recognised the excesses of the LTTE, he wanted New Delhi to spare no effort to end the killing of innocent civilians in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, while Opposition leader J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu also vows to protect the interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka, she has shown by her past actions in that she is fully cognisant of larger national interests in dealing toughly with the LTTE.

Unfortunately, influential sections of the leadership in Sri Lanka appear to believe that with the LTTE in retreat they can ignore the issue of guaranteeing a life of dignity, equality and honour for the Tamil population. New Delhi has to persuade both the Sri Lankan Government and public opinion in Tamil Nadu that while it is determined to back the Sri Lankan Government in dealing with the psychopathic Prabhakaran, it expects early implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution which guaranteed devolution of power to the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka, while urging that measures that former President Kumartunga proposed in 1997 on the issue should be taken into consideration.

As major aid donors like the USA, European Union and Japan have similar views, it should not be difficult to forge an international consensus on these lines. Moreover, with agreement reached with Sri Lanka on the vexed issue of fishermen from Tamil Nadu crossing the international maritime boundary, a major irritant causing ripples almost daily in the State appears to have been addressed. (ENDS)

[G.Parthasarathy is a former ambassador and joint secretary of India's external affairs ministry]

November 12, 2008

Barack Obama - Hillary Clinton: Face - Off Between Race and Gender Bias In U.S.Politics

by Jayanthi Natarajan

Barack Obama has won the battle and, as one columnist put it, this is an "emotional, incandescent moment" not just for Mr Obama, but, in a sense, for the entire world. The significance of Mr Obama’s victory for African-Americans, oppressed minorities all over the world, is immeasurable. The issue of Mr Obama’s race is foremost on everybody’s mind as the world and America rejoice that US voters have perhaps, cleared, the greatest hurdle of racial discrimination and carried forward the battle that was started by Rosa Parks, who refused to vacate her bus seat for a white man, and Dr Martin Luther King, to put, in the ironically-named White House, America’s first African-American President.

[Sen. Hillary Clinton campaigning for Sen. Barack Obama in Hibbing, Minnesota, Oct 21, 2008 - pic: www.barackobama.com]

Tonnes of newsprint have already been used up to analyse, and comment on the Obama phenomenon. Mr Obama himself spoke to the hearts of his countrymen and women, and indeed the world, with his now immortal speech on race and other issues. To his eternal credit, Mr Obama did not run a campaign solely on the race issue. Instead, he articulated a dream for America that resonated with millions of Americans, particularly the young.

There is no escaping in the US presidential campaign of 2008 race was a major issue. And the most fascinating aspect of Mr Obama’s victory is how he managed to somehow transcend the stereotype of African-American racial politics and capture the imagination of Americans above and beyond the concerns of the civil rights movement. The answer to this will, undoubtedly, contain the defining moment of modern America’s political evolution.

The obvious comparison with Indian politics is the issue of caste. Caste and race are similar (in that they reflect lower status, hierarchy and discrimination) although not synonymous, in that race is genetic, while caste is based on social hierarchy. The debate on caste and race is multifaceted, but the most important distinction between the two is that while it may well be accepted that Mr Obama managed to transcend race, while still symbolising victory of the civil rights movement, can and will an Indian politician be able to transcend caste? Can identity politics in India rise above electoral compulsions, and become truly inclusive of national concerns? If indeed the miracle happens, can our democracy sustain it without allowing inclusiveness to fail at the altar of divisive and competitive politics? These are compelling questions before our democratic polity today.

while Mr Obama and his supporters justifiably take pride in their incandescent moment, my thoughts go to that less talked about and somewhat disheartened undercurrent of this particular US presidential election, namely gender. In the face-off between race and gender, it is clear that race was a far more compelling justification to the mind of the American voter.

Gloria Steinem, the inimitable icon of feminist writing, summarised it perfectly in an article for the New York Times. She starts by saying that if Barack Obama had been a woman of biracial descent who first worked as a community organiser, then became a lawyer, married a corporate lawyer, was the mother of two little girls aged nine and six, and served as a state legislator for eight years, could she be elected to the US senate? And after one term as senator, could she become the President of the US? The answer is a resounding "No".

Because "gender is the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who should be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House… Black men were given the vote a half century before women of any race were allowed to mark the ballot, and have generally ascended to positions of power from the military to the boardroom before any women… So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the rascist one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects only the female half of the population".

Consider the heavy sexist bias during the presidential debate Chris Matthews of MSNBC called Hillary Clinton a "she-devil". The New York Times wrote about her "cackle" of a laugh. The Washington Post wrote about her cleavage, while David Schuster of NBC said that Chelsea campaigning for her mother seemed as if she (Chelsea) was being "pimped out". In Salem, New Hampshire, two hecklers got up and told Hillary to come home and iron their shirts, while Maureen Dowd (yes, a woman) called her "unapologetically emasculating". The worst was when a woman called asked McCain how "can we defeat the bitch", and instead of protesting, McCain joined in the general laughter.

Hillary Clinton simply could not get it right. The irony was that she tried to become the "tough guy" in American politics with a hard stand on everything from the war in Iraq to welfare issues, while Barack Obama finely honed a language usually associated with women namely "the uniter, not the divider". Hillary thought, as Susan Douglas says, that "she should be more like a man in her demeanour and politics, leaving some basic tenets of feminism in the dust. Unfortunately for Hillary, the collaborative compassionate, so-called feminine virtues had become far more attractive and inspirational to the younger generation. Especially, when displayed by a man… in this case, Barack Obama.

Her campaign failed, although she made 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, and ensured that women will no longer be considered as token or novelty candidates. As for today, we wish Mr Obama well in his challenging task with a final eloquent quote from Ellen Goodman: "So, has the women’s movement made life easier? For another man?"

[Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Indian Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.The views expressed in this article are her own.]

November 11, 2008

IOC.Article 19 Call For Release of Sri Lankan Tamil Journalist in detention- 250 days

As the trial of newspaper editor and human rights activist J.S. Tissainayagam gets under way, ARTICLE 19 and ‘Index on Censorship’ call for his immediate release, after being held in detention for 250 days.

Tissainayagam was detained by the Sri Lankan Terrorist Investigation Division on March 7, 2008, for what we believe are politically motivated reasons.

Prior to his detention, Tissainayagam had been working for the German government funded website OutreachSL, on a number of critical stories about the government’s military campaign and its track record on Constitutional and civilian protection, including articles on peace and justice.

He was held without charge for nearly six months but, following local and international calls for his release, Sri Lankan authorities finally brought charges against him on August 25, based on his having authored, published and distributed the North Eastern Monthly between June 2006 and June 2007. Tissainayagam is the first journalist accused under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), of bringing the government into “disrepute”, creating “ethnic disharmony” and aiding and abetting “unknown persons”.

Tissainayagam has not had regular access to legal representation or permitted to meet his lawyers without the presence of the security services. The case against him rests primarily on his own confession, despite evidence of torture. In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, described torture in Sri Lanka as “routine” and general. Sri Lankan law stipulates that confession is not admissible without clear safeguards, due to a history of forced admissions. However, under the PTA, confessions are allowed.

The lengthy detention without charge, along with the strategy of procedural delay of court proceedings, and the precedent of using anti-terrorism legislation against a journalist, are not only a gross abuse of Tissainayagam’s rights, but they also create a culture of self censorship and a “chilling effect” on the Sri Lankan media generally.

ARTICLE 19 and ‘Index on Censorship’ call on the Sri Lankan government to respect their commitment to international standards on free expression. The government should release Tissainayagam immediately and withdraw the politically motivated charges. At a minimum, it should release him on bail and ensure a fair trial without delay. Tissainayagam should also be allowed unrestricted access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, any specialist medical treatment he may require, and access to foreign diplomatic delegations that may request to visit him.

ARTICLE 19 and ‘Index on Censorship’ call upon all diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka to monitor the trial carefully and to request permission to visit Tissainayagam to confirm his wellbeing. In particular, we also call upon the governments of India, Japan, United Kingdom and the USA, all of whom have a very close relationship with the Sri Lankan government, as well as international representatives in Brussels, Geneva and New York to convey their concern of this precedent in their communications with the Government of Sri Lanka.

The New Broadcasting Station Regulations

A statement by the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

The recently gazetted Private Television Broadcasting Station Regulations and the intended Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Act are very worrying and must awaken all democratic minded Sri Lankans

While the stated intention of these regulations is to ensure National harmony and security they also give the Media Minister wide ranging powers to control the right of the people to information and to diverse opinions.

It is understood that there has been no consultation with those who operate Private TV Stations and there is also a view that this gazette notification disregards a previous Supreme Court ruling.

The clause that enables Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation channels to be imposed on satellite or cable TV stations is a serious violation of the right of discretion of these Operators and the right of selection for viewers.

The thrust of these regulations indicate a fear that the people will not hear and know the truth and this is not a healthy sign. The freedom given to the media is in the final analysis an indication of the dignity and respect that a Government has for the people. The integrity of the whole nation will be at stake if these regulations and implemented.

Consequently I call upon the President and the Media Minister to put this decision on hold, seek the advice of the Attorney General in terms of the existing law and the Supreme Court ruling and initiate a dialogue with TV Station Operators and Civil Society. Any steps taken thereafter to ensure National harmony and security must also ensure the freedom of the private media and the right of people to information.

Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo
5 November 2008

November 10, 2008

Obama win can reduce Sinhala-Tamil divide says one of world’s top ten thinkers

by Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva

 

The historic win of Barack Obama can help reduce ethnic prejudices and divides throughout the world, such as those between Israelis and Palestinians and Tamils and Sinhalese. This is the view expressed by Kishore Mahbubani in the Commemorative Issue of TIME magazine on the Obama election. Mahbubani is described as one of “the world’s top ten thinkers” in the current (Nov/Dec 2008) edition of the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine published by the Washington Post foundation, and asked for his suggestions for the incoming Cabinet of President-elect Barack Obama.

 

Mahbubani is Professor, National University of Singapore, and Dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School at that university. He is Singapore ’s former Ambassador to the United Nations. His latest book is The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. 

 

Mahbubani is one of the ten global personalities (others include David Miliband and Amartya Sen) to be invited by TIME magazine to comment on the global implications of the Obama victory for the Commemorative Issue. He says: “…And if we can reduce this deep ethnic prejudice, we may have hope for other ethnic divides, like those between the Israelis and Palestinians or Tamils and Sinhalese. If we can finally focus on our common humanity, we have a real opportunity to create a better world”.

November 07, 2008

The promised political solution

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Following the successful (October 25-26) visit to New Delhi of his special envoy Basil Rajapaksa MP and Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an extensive interview with Narasimhan Ram, the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Hindu’ on 27th October at ‘Temple Trees’ Colombo reiterated that his “government is firmly committed to a negotiated political solution based on devolution of power and ensuring the democratic, political, including linguistic, rights of all our Tamil brethren within an undivided Sri Lanka.” He also said: “As President of Sri Lanka, I am absolutely clear that there is, and can be, no military solution to political questions. I have always maintained this. A military solution is for the terrorists; a political solution is for the people living in this country."

This definitive answer would have infused hope in the minds of those who ignore the undercurrents in Lankan politics that originate from nationalistic Sinhala interests and confrontational politics associated with the power struggle. In both cases, the underlying factor is political power. In the case of Sinhala supremacists or the majoritarians, absolute ruling power is essential to uphold the control over the entire island. There are also the radicals opposed to any devolution of powers to the ethnic minorities/provinces. There will also be some Sinhala nationalists, who admire such positive statements as clever stratagems. This is evident from the fact the opponents of political solution have not objected to the President’s affirmative replies to Ram’s questions. The Hindu published the full interview with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 29 October 2008.

President’s 4-D approach

Rajan Philips in his analysis of the interview (”The New ‘Ram’ Sethu”, Sunday Island 2 November and Tamilweek 2-8 November 2008) has concluded: “Alas, Mr. Ram’s interview seems to have given President Rajapaksa enough room to wriggle out of a tight situation, showing off his new talking points”. The promised political solution is based on his new 4-D approach: Demilitarization; Democratization; Development; and Devolution. To the most significant question in the interview – “are they (the 4-Ds) in some order?” – President Rajapaksa affirmed the above order in his answer and Rajan Philips has rightly taken this to mean: “no devolution without development, no development without democratization, and no democratization without demilitarization”.

No wonder the JHU, the JVP and the Patriotic National Front have no qualms with the 4Ds when the political solution is at the last stage of the ‘peace process.’ Even the very first stage of demilitarization will not finish conclusively when no political solution is in sight. The Army Commander himself has said as a last resort, the LTTE will turn to guerrilla warfare. The deprived people will not turn against the insurgents without the requisite political changes that instill confidence about their safety, security, rights and future. They must feel that they are no longer under the same old discriminatory majority rule, unable to exercise their sovereign rights to meet their collective needs and aspirations. The present system undermines the sovereign rights of ethnic minorities.

On President Rajapaksa’s 4-D approach with political solution as the final phase, Tisaranee Gunasekara in her column in the Sunday Island November 2 has also raised valid questions. “Does Mr. Rajapaksa believe that a political solution to the ethnic problem (he is careful not to use the term ‘ethnic problem’) should follow rather than precede demilitarisation and devolution? True a political solution, however generous, cannot be implemented on the ground, so long as the Tigers remain a force, as Mr. Pirapaharan’s (recent e-mail) interview with ‘Nakkeeran’ indicates. But a political solution must be in existence, on paper, in order to create some of the conditions needed for the defeat of the LTTE, especially denting the Tigers’ will to resist, winning over civilian Tamils and neutralising the Tamilnadu factor”. She also said: “Their (LTTE’s) commitment can be undermined only if a doubt is created in their minds about the necessity of the war. And such a doubt is possible only if the Lankan state offers a substantial power sharing deal to the minorities, thereby making the Eelam goal superfluous and the war to achieve it unnecessary”.

The reservation this writer has to this idea of a suitable political solution just on paper is that it will not carry much weight among the Tamils given the poor credibility record, especially of the present government. It will be seen as another deceptive means to keep the ethnic minorities under majority domination. It is recalled that the 13th Amendment would not have been possible without India’s direct involvement. And now India is pressing for its full implementation and greater devolution. This was one of the key agreements reached in the meetings Sri Lankan special envoy Basil Rajapaksa had with Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon recently in New Delhi.

APRC another false hope

In his reply to Ram’s query about the contours of the political solution, President Rajapaksa explained: “I would like to see more devolution to the people. It must go to the grassroots level, because they must decide on their development work, what they need. We must allow them to participate in the whole process. For that I appointed an All Party Representative Committee. I have given them time but unfortunately they couldn’t give me a final proposal in that time. But they have given me an interim proposal, which we are implementing. We are implementing it in the Eastern Province. Within one year of clearing the Province, we had local government elections and Provincial Council elections. A Tamil Chief Minister is in office and development work has been taken up on a priority basis. We will set up a committee to benchmark what more can be done to deepen the devolution and democratic process in the Eastern Province”.

On President Rajapaksa’s reference to the APRC, written off by many discerning Sri Lankans after he rejected the Expert Committee (majority) report and the Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s report, Rajan Philips has said: “Particularly insulting is the reference in the reporting of the interview to the tardiness of the All Party Representative Committee Process, and the assurance by the President that ‘I myself will take charge of the political process and see it through politically’. …”the real reason for the tardiness of the APRC was the President himself. Rather than probing what went wrong and how different the APRC process will be from now on, the interviewer simply lets the President off the hook and swallows the President’s words - hook, line and sinker”.

Promise on the 13th Amendment

In my previous article on the ‘Basis for national unity and lasting peace’ Tamilweek October 26, attention was drawn to the inaction on the promised implementation of the 13th Amendment despite the APRC recommendation made on the instruction of President Rajapaksa. According to APRC Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana, the President’s thinking then was that “the 13th Amendment was sufficient for him to act in the interest of winning over the Tamil speaking people and also to convince the international community of his commitment to a political solution to the conflict”. The Provincial Councils system without all the devolved powers in the PC Act passed two decades ago will continue to remain a white elephant. The Political column in ‘The Sunday Times’ November 2 also stated that India “won a commitment from the government of Sri Lanka for the implementation of the 13th Amendment and greater devolution of powers to the provinces." Incidentally, this consent too has annoyed the Sinhala supremacists. On October 30 the JVP reiterated its anti-Indian stand saying the joint statement issued after talks between senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa and Indian leaders appeared to be a betrayal of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and dignity as a nation. The JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe told journalists that “India had insisted on the need to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, and Mr. Rajapaksa had given in to Indian pressure in this regard instead of taking a firm stand”.

The Sunday Times also drew attention to the fact that “this is not the first time New Delhi has sought and obtained similar assurances. In fact, the non implementation of such assurances prompted Premier Singh, according to diplomatic circles, to avoid a meeting with President Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly sessions in September”. The main problem with the present leadership in Colombo is the great emphasis placed on rhetoric without any intent to execute the said proposals. The promise to devolve adequate powers to the new Eastern Provincial Council went under many moons ago. The way it was announced gave the impression there would be greater devolution for the East compared with other provinces. The democratization of the liberated East started and ended with the holding of local government and Provincial Council elections. These were held without decommissioning the weapons with the paramilitary groups.

According to the Special Report No. 31 of the award winning human rights organization UTHR(J) released on October 28: “In the East, where the Government’s public relations men boast of development and the restoration of democracy, there is greater fear, uncertainty and a deliberate cultivation of communal tensions”. This volatile situation in the East portends a dismal future for democracy and security in Lanka as a whole. On the habit of giving promises the report said: “This is a President who pulls rabbits of varied colours out of his hat to flag messages of passing convenience that he does not want to be directly associated with. Deceit has a price. His ritual boast of having restored democracy to the East by implementing the 13th Amendment, rings patently hollow against the reality. That says much of his intermittent promises of a political settlement. The small print negates any substance”.

Sinhala patriots condemn the US Ambassador

Earlier, the Sinhala patriots reacted angrily to the sensible suggestions on the approach to permanent settlement of the conflict made by the US Ambassador in Colombo Robert O. Blake in his speech delivered at the interactive meeting held in the University of Madras, Tamil Nadu. He said - “some in Sri Lanka believe that the Government should first defeat the LTTE and then proceed with a political solution. The U.S. view is that the Government could further isolate and weaken the LTTE, if it articulates now its vision for a political solution”.

“The U.S. also believes that an improvement in the human rights situation -- that has disproportionately affected Tamils -- would help to hasten reconciliation and give Tamils a greater sense that they will enjoy a future of hope and dignity within a united Sri Lanka”. Stressing the importance of political settlement for the future of Sri Lanka, he said at the very beginning itself: “America’s experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has taught us that terrorism cannot be defeated by law enforcement and military measures alone”. The US Ambassador also said - “One way forward is for Sri Lanka to complete the work of the All Parties Representative Committee which has reached agreement on 90% of a blueprint for constitutional reform that most Sri Lankans believe offers great promise. It remains for the country’s two main Sinhalese parties to agree on the document, which has proved a significant hurdle thus far”. (The full text of the speech was posted by Federalidea on October 24 www.tamilweek.com). It is recalled, there was prior agreement on 95% of the draft Constitution Reform Bill submitted to Parliament in August 2000 by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga; yet it was abandoned because of the last minute sabotage by the main opposition party, the UNP. Shamelessly, copies of the draft Bill were set alight in the House.

The JHU led by Buddhist priests said that “the sentiments expressed by the US envoy, in support of Tamil Nadu, had run counter to the brave deeds of the security forces who were defeating the LTTE on the war front, and added that it clearly proved that the US Ambassador’s intention was to plunge Sri Lanka into a crisis”. JHU General Secretary Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera said in his statement: “Going beyond diplomatic service and interfering with the internal affairs and matters concerning terrorism is challenging the sovereignty of this country”.

The JVP in its statement condemning the views expressed by Ambassador Robert Blake in Chennai stated: “We the JVP are of the firm belief that no other country whether it be the US or India has any right to influence the Sri Lankan government on how to solve our national question. If anyone is against the military action undertaken by the Sri Lankan government against terrorism they are aiding terrorists. We also stress that the Sri Lankan government does not have any other option but to defeat terrorism since the LTTE is committed to terrorism and the creation of a separate state”. The silence of Sinhala patriots on President Rajapaksa’s 4-D approach to political solution is remarkable.

Truth bared

In another interview with the India Today magazine, President Rajapaksa after his special envoy Basil Rajapaksa gave assurances to the Indian government about their concerns on the tragic developments in the North said: “I don’t call it a war. It is a military operation we have launched to wipe out terrorists. Kilinochchi is the LTTE headquarters. We are also advancing from the East to take Mullaitivu. Progress is slow because we want zero civilian casualties.” Asked if he would yield to pressure from Tamil Nadu political parties to have a ceasefire, the President said: “We know they (the LTTE) will not honour a ceasefire now. Let them lay down their arms and surrender. We will declare a ceasefire’” He added, “Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had not requested for a ceasefire during a recent telephone conversation with him and had instead only expressed his concern about the Tamil civilian population”.

He let the cat out of the bag when he said: “I believe that if the southern political parties that form the majority do not accept a political solution then we can’t implement it. I don’t want to thrust a solution on parties. If I can have all the parties agree to a solution to solve the problem it would be by the people. Otherwise there will be riots and no government will be able to implement it,” It is obvious that from day one, he had no intention of giving guidance to pull the country out of the mire and lead on the right path to peace, stability and rapid progress. He wants a political solution acceptable to the southern polity that has now the Sinhala nationalists as a force to be reckoned with in national politics and government. This too is the result of his pampering the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists throughout for political advantage.

The ethnic Sinhala majority that is now being pressurized by the Sinhala nationalists will decide what kind of solution is needed to settle the national issue. According to the President it is the ethnic majority who will have the final say on the problems confronting the ethnic minorities. Even here, majoritarianism is the criterion in decision-making. As things are, it seems there is no chance of a consensual political solution, if at all there is one it will be imposed by the illiberal Sinhala majority or by the intervention of an external power. No efforts are being made towards reconciliation and building trust. On the contrary the war-related developments have polarized more the Sri Lankan society, which is the hallmark of the present government. This is what the LTTE leader expected in 2005 but it failed to produce the desired result, because of the worldwide categorization of the ‘liberation’ movement as a ‘terrorist’ group.

The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) in their aforementioned report have quite rightly stated that the recent tragic developments are also getting the Tamils isolated from the Sri Lankan state, because the war against the Tamil Tigers is becoming "an ideological crusade" against the ethnic minorities. The rise in the Tamil fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu should be a cause for concern to both New Delhi and Colombo. The isolation of Tamils in Sri Lanka has left them with no choice but to depend on the support of Tamils in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Paradoxically, the Sinhala chauvinistic forces that indirectly pushed the Lankan Tamils to campaign for Tamil Eelam in the North-East are now drawing in Tamil Nadu to come to the assistance of the helpless Tamils in Sri Lanka. The leaders in Tamil Nadu including the Chief Minister M. Karunanithi have announced that the Tamils in India are prepared to even sacrifice their lives to safeguard the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.

Indian factor

For a long time, New Delhi has been consistently saying that there is no military solution and a political solution to the protracted ethnic problem capable of fulfilling the aspirations of all ethnic communities is needed. But Colombo bluntly ignored the advice. The Congress-led coalition government in Delhi functioning with the support of some regional parties including the present main ruling party in Tamil Nadu, the DMK did not want to get involved deeply in the Sri Lankan conflict for various reasons. One is the bitter experience of the previous Congress government led by the late Rajiv Gandhi in trying to end the conflict politically, which cost his life and of about 1200 Indian soldiers sent to the unsettled North-East as members of a large battalion of Peace Keeping Force.

The visit of President Rajapaksa’s brother Basil Rajapaksa MP, who is also his Senior Advisor to New Delhi came in the wake of the agitation in Tamil Nadu demanding the Indian government to intervene and stop the war in Northern Sri Lanka that has been causing huge losses and immense suffering to the civilians there. The humanitarian crisis, with over 230,000 displaced persons many without adequate shelter and sanitary facilities has also been of great concern to many foreign governments and international organizations. With the onset of the N-E monsoon rains their plight has worsened.

Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) President K V Thangabalu told reporters (October 29), the Centre would not interfere in the battle between Sri Lankan forces and LTTE. "We cannot stop the war that is going on in Sri Lanka." However, “the UPA Government was taking all steps to protect innocent Sri Lankan Tamils caught in the conflict and was interested in implementing Rajiv-Jayawardene Accord”. The agreement reached in New Delhi on October 26 struck a balance between this inability to stop the war and calming down the tension in Tamil Nadu. This suited remarkably President Rajapaksa’s plan to continue relentlessly the military offensive against ‘LTTE terrorists’ on which he has placed his and his government’s political fortunes in the near term.

However, the general mood in Tamil Nadu is for India to take the initiative to stop the war and bring about a permanent political settlement. Several protest meetings, demonstrations and shutdown by traders were held even after the October 26 deal. On October 31, shops closed in protest over the sufferings and difficulties faced by Tamil civilians in the North. And on November 1 Tamil film stars, including superstars Rajnikanth and Kamalahassan, joined a protest fast in Chennai. There is, no doubt, an element of local party politics in the organized mass protests in Tamil Nadu but this has not overshadowed the true feelings of the people for the plight of their brethren in Sri Lanka. If not for the LTTE factor, the feelings would be total and as high as it was soon after the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. Addressing a gathering on October 29, the Chief Minister M. Karunanithi said his party always stood for peaceful settlement through dialogue. He said, “The Indian Government should make efforts to initiate the dialogue process between the warring parties and the Tamil Nadu Government would extend its support.” He also said “DMK always stood for the protection of the ethnic Tamils. We want the ongoing war to end and peace to prevail there.”

Tisaranee Gunasekara, has also said – “the belief that the Indian factor is neutralised is a folly. There is no question that India would not be appeased by something other than a substantial devolution package for the Sri Lankan Tamils”. The leftists and moderates in Sri Lanka are also pressing for a political solution Western People’s Front Leader and Member of Parliament, Mano Ganeshan, said in his statement: “Tamils of this country thank the Indian central government and the Tamilnadu state for the (caring) aid. But food and medicine is not a substitute for the all important political solution to the national question of Sri Lanka. The need of the hour is political power devolution beyond 13th Amendment to the Tamil and Muslim people.” His commitment to human rights and determined efforts to stop abductions and killings of civilians are also praiseworthy.

Speaking to reporters in Chennai on November 1, the CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat said the LTTE should not be tackled militarily but politically and the Indian Government should press upon Sri Lanka for a political solution to the ethnic Tamil issue. Accusing the Tamil Nadu Government of not exerting "much" pressure on the Centre over the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, the CPI on November 2 said it will reach out to like-minded parties to press the state administration to convene another all-party meeting on the matter. The previous meeting took place on October 14. The head of the Tamil Nadu unit of the party D. Pandean also said “the DMK-led Government should have exerted more pressure on the Centre on the Sri Lanka Tamils issue” in pursuance of the resolutions passed earlier by the all-party meeting. MDMK general secretary Vaiko said, on November 1, that “the island nation would heed to the request for a ceasefire, if India imposed economic sanctions on that country. The Indian Government had extended crores of rupees as interest-free loans to Lanka. Therefore, India could exert pressure for a ceasefire by threatening to cancel the trade agreements with that country and imposing economic sanctions”.

Responding to the allegation by several parties that the Tamil Nadu State government has not exerted sufficient pressure on the Centre, the Chief Minister M. Karunanithi on November 2 said, “it was wrong for anyone to state that the resolutions passed at the October 14 all-party meet on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue had been sidetracked”. Writing in the DMK organ 'Murasoli', he said that the “Tamils in the state have a common goal that each and every Sri Lankan Tamil should be saved. We are all working to achieve these objectives."

The belief that the problem will somehow subside and vanish eventually seems to be prevailing. This is evident from the happenings in the ‘liberated’ East, The stratagem is to please and make the TMVP leaders accept whatever administrative arrangements offered by the Center and not demand more that undermines the present unitary structure. But the plan is not proceeding smoothly. Already the TMVP is divided on the devolution of land and police powers with the founder, the newly appointed MP Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias ‘Karuna’ taking a accommodating stand.

The following comments of Tisaranee Gunasekara on the Tamil Nadu factor in the political settlement of the ethnic conflict are highly relevant and should serve as forewarning to those who believe it could be dodged. To quote: “Basil Rajapakse’s visit to Delhi did not end the Tamilnadu crisis but merely caused it to de-escalate temporarily. The fate of Lankan Tamils will remain a key issue in Tamilnadu politics, assuming ever greater importance as the war escalates and national and regional elections in India draw near. Mr. Karunanithi has launched an immensely successful relief fund for ‘Eelam Tamils’. …The BJP has declared that "India had the ‘moral right and responsibility’ to intervene in Sri Lankan Tamils issue and should not remain a ‘silent spectator’ to the sufferings of the civilian Tamils in the island" (The Hindu 29.10. 2008). Clearly what Mr. Rajapaksa has obtained is nothing more than a breathing space; if there are civilian killings in the North and/or if the APRC becomes an exercise in futility (again), the Tamilnadu factor will get reactivated, in a far more dangerous form.” If the BJP wins enough seats in next year’s general election to oust the Congress Party from the central administration, India is likely to be more assertive on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue.

It is clear from the above analysis delaying further the political settlement is to invite complicated troubles that will have grave implications for the future of the island nation. The way to safeguard the future of the Sinhalese is certainly not preserving their absolute supremacy in the governing system. This is archaic and importantly counterproductive. The white supremacists tried to maintain their authority through dominance in South Africa and ultimately in the face of global opposition to apartheid, the repressive rulers had to yield. The economic loss to Sri Lanka as a result of prolonging the ethnic conflict has been immense. We need change fitting for the 21st century that not only restores the past glorious image of the island as a serene attractive place with diverse demographic and regional features but also gives hope to all for a better future.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

The sweet ironies of Obamania

by Rajan Philips

Barack Obama’s election as America’s first African American President is a historic answer to what really did not even begin as a question in the 2008 Presidential election. Obama did not question if America was ready for a Black President. He ran on the assumption it was. He defined his candidacy and secured his nomination over Hillary Clinton by his opposition to the Iraq war. Questions about Obama’s race, elitism and experience exercised many Americans during the Presidential election, but they were washed away by America’s financial tsunami and economic devastation. In the end, the election that began as an indictment against President Bush’s twin disasters – the war and the economy - went beyond his trial and conviction by the court of the American people and even the world community. Obama’s victory marks a huge step in America’s perpetual quest for a perfect union of equal citizens. It should inspire other states and societies of the world to similarly strive for equality among their peoples.


[President Elect Barack Obama on Election night Nov 4, 2008]

The appreciation of this achievement was best expressed, soon after Obama won the Democratic Party nomination, by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the first female African American to hold high office in the Administration. “We the people”, she said, referring to the opening words of the Constitution, “is beginning to mean all of us”. She came out of her Republican loyalties again to congratulate Obama after the election. So did President Bush, gracious and fulsome in his praise for Obama and America’s historic milestone.

The tone for this coming together had been set by John McCain, the defeated Republican candidate, in his inspired concessionary speech on election night, in Phoenix. Turning to history rather than Hollywood for a parallel, McCain recalled not “Guess who is coming to Dinner”, but President Theodore Roosevelt’s dining with Booker Washington, a Black educationist, in the White House, in 1901. Not only did the dinner provoke national outrage but it also “proceeded under the disapproving gaze of a Negro butler". A hundred years later, America and ‘all her races’ are well at ease with a young and charming African American family taking tenancy of the White House.

Obama’s speech the same night, following John McCain, and in front of a vast multitude in Chicago’s Grant Park, was predictably magnanimous but remarkably subdued, sombre, earnest and resolute. In what was a palpable measure of the man, he seemed more preoccupied with the challenges awaiting his presidency than going giddy over his victory. He returned to his campaign theme of “change” and the rhetoric of “inclusion”, invoking the name of Lincoln to stress the importance of unity and inclusion, and echoing John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address to stress the difficulties ahead and call for a new sense of patriotism and dedication to public service.

“Tonight is your answer”

No American President in living memory has enthralled the nation and the world while winning an election. The Kennedy brothers became legends not in victory but in death. Rev. Martin Luther King bestirred all Americans including President Kennedy (who listened on the radio) with his “I have a dream” sermon at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, in 1963. But he was a preacher, a seer and a non-violent activist, and he was not interested in political office. He too became a legend after his assassination. Obama attracted crowds like no one else, and he mesmerized them with his flights of oratory from ten thousand feet above. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians thronged the Grant Park and many of them cried with joy when he told them “tonight is your answer” to any question or doubt about America’s standing, stability, or its future.

His inspirational eloquence almost became his Achilles Heel many times during the primaries and the Presidential campaign. There were not unreasonable doubts about his policy depths and organizational experience, given the challenges facing the country and America’s troubled relationship with the rest of the world. His calls for one inclusive America were derided as naïveté by the more partisan Democrats and the Republicans. But he has confirmed his mettle by running a flawless campaign based on human caucusing and electronic networking, and proved his point by pulling off a plurality of support.

All sections of Americans voted in much higher proportions for Obama than they had voted for John Kerry or Al Gore, the Democratic candidates in the previous two elections. He won small towns and States which pundits have set aside as Republican territory. America’s electoral map has been transformed, yet again. Lincoln, the Republican, ended slavery without enabling equality. Slavery gave way to segregation, socially, economically, politically and legally, as the Democratic Party dominated the confederate southern states for nearly a century after the civil war. Segregation was ended first legally by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, and then politically by the march of the Civil Rights movement under Martin Luther King. President Johnson’s Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act earned him his “place in history alongside Abraham Lincoln”, but in the process he sacrificed the Democratic Party’s support in the South.

In the forty years after Johnson’s presidency, there have been only two Democratic Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Southern Governors, for a combined total of twelve years. Barak Obama is the first Senator and Northerner to be elected President after John F. Kennedy, but while President Kennedy won by the smallest of margins, Obama’s victory is far more comprehensive. He has been credited with achieving a rare alignment within the Democratic Party – between its liberal elites and the African American base. Not without reason, he was criticized as being elitist and not “Black enough”. Obama is not elitist by property and pedigree like a Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush, Gore or McCain, but a “charter elite” as Maureen Dowd impishly described him.

He is a rare intellectual among politicians, one who not only reads but who can also write. Seldom, you will hear a politician technically describe race as an “organizing principle” of American society – a sure sign of being the intellectual son of an Anthropologist mother. Born to a White mother and a Kenyan student father, and raised in Indonesia by his mother and in Hawaii by his White grand parents, his later association with the African American tradition is more by choice and conviction than by inheritance and experience. His borrowing of the phrase “the fierce urgency of now” from Martin Luther King, to justify his candidacy over more experienced contenders, sounded a tad opportunistic at first but has since been vindicated not only by his campaign credentials but by the enthusiasm he generated among all Americans and around the world.

In his path-breaking speech, during the primaries, on America’s race relations and his own location in American society, he highlighted the generational differences in the experiences of racial oppression and discrimination and the struggles against them. He equally applauded America’s genius to continually and progressively change its internal polity. In every sense, Obama is the fortuitous beneficiary of the struggles by others before him, but he has added his own chapter to that saga. His chapter rhymes with the temper of the times; his is not one marked by the forensic persistence of Thurgood Marshall, or the messianic fervour of Martin Luther King, and certainly not the revolutionary agenda of Malcolm X.

Obama is more centrist than most Black leaders and many among the mass of supporters he has excited. In mixing faith and politics, he might be closer to Bush Jr than to Jeffersonian separation of state and religion. He might like to be avuncular like Reagan and less pugnacious than Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is more likely to err on the side of prudence like Bush Sr than do trial and error like Franklin Roosevelt. He is no more inexperienced than Lincoln was when he became President, but he will need in good measure the foreign policy flair of Kennedy and Nixon, the legislative prowess of Lyndon Johnson, and the economic mastery of Bill Clinton, if he is to successfully steer America through a period that is looming to be more difficult than anything that any President since Roosevelt has seen. What Barak Obama has in abundance is the good wish of everyone to succeed.

Aspects of barriers on Federalism in Sri Lanka

Point of view: Some aspects of barriers on Federalism in Sri Lanka:

By A. Rajasingam

It is a tragedy to observe that the Sinhala Only Act accounted as a marked departure towards the march of communal cry, a problem that was created unnecessarily. The Tamils would have studied the Sinhala language even if the Sinhala Only Act was not passed, had Sinhala and Tamil been enshrined as official languages in the constitution.

It became worse when the 1972 constitution was passed with the sole purpose of denying a place for Tamils by not having a Senate. This was still made worse when JRJ passed the 1978 constitution with the introduction of proportional representation solely with the view to deny any hearing of the Tamil community. To their surprise Amirthalingam became the Opposition Leader. But it was a shame that even the Official Residence of the Opposition Leader was burnt by hooligans. Since successive governments concentrated on marginalizing the Tamils from all quarters, the feelings of the Tamils as equal citizens of this country has become a question mark. The Sinhalese politicians have already decided that this island belonged solely to the Sinhalese which was further fortified by the late D.B.Wijetunge when he openly said that Tamils were like parasites clinging on to the Sinhalese. Further the late R.Premadasa bluffed that everything was given to Tamils and engaged in supplying arms to the LTTE in driving the IPKF out. Then came Chandrika with the famous slogan of 'Peace for All' and ended up waging war on innocent Tamils, swallowing the Tsunami Fund and abusing Presidential powers for her self interest.

Today President Mahinda Rajapakse (who protested over the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord and of the IPKF, but also ridiculed the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord with the demerger of the North East Province) too follows the same steps of his predecessors and is maintaining silent or avoiding on declaring a meaningful solution to the burning problem. Further, Gen.Sarath Fonseka's statement that Sri Lanka belonged only to the Sinhalese, appeared to be out of his depth in Sri Lankas's history. The choice of Karuna as Parliamentarian and Pillaiyan as Chief Minister has proved to be a liability and aggravated the situation and proved a costly error. Such grave errors kept the concept of federalism out of bounds in their search for a lasting solution. Instead of showing the world that the ethnic problem could be solved through wider participation by the people, they cheated the world by increasing the number of Parliamentarians with a mega Cabinet, all of which point out the failure to provide good governance to the people by the Sinhalese leadership by avoiding the talk on federalism. Good governance is part of respecting each other's rights and redressing other's grievances. Sri Lanka has yet to learn a lot of lessons from the Western democratic countries as to how those countries exchange ideas and respect others' rights by way of wider participation (coordination within the Provinces). Strictly speaking the Sinhalese political leaders deliberately deviated the attention of the masses to ethnic problem with the sole view to deny the benefits of federalism which are due to the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

Even the media was twisting and providing a bitter taste of federalism to the people without knowing the concept of “Denied Powers” to the Federal Government and Provincial Government on certain areas which are monitored by the Senate and dealt by the Judiciary. The time is ripe for the people to realize that politicians were and are still instrumental for the destruction of hundreds of thousands lives and property in deliberately avoiding available answer of federalism, when other countries have accepted federalism for the development of their country and avoid unnecessary bloodbath.

Against such a background the statements that 'I am committed to a political solution' by the President; 'Tamil Citizens should feel equal citizens and partners of this country' by Dayan Jayatilleke; 'there is no ethnic problem' by Rohoita Bogollogama and so on, have only resulted in unleashing of barbaric actions of the Sri Lanka forces on the entire helpless innocent Tamils. The desperate situation of the innocent school children running to bunkers on hearing the noise of Kifir Jet Bombers which has become a daily occurrence, has not changed their hearts. What would have happened had their (politicians and writers) children confronted with such a horrific situation. Will there be a different law for them? Politicians do not seem to realize that some of these innocent children could become leaders of tomorrow Politicians when the global thinking on federalism is on the increase among the new generations..

The question that roams in everyone's mind is what went wrong in this country. On analyzing this issue, the mind is taken as to who was instrumental for the creation of Tamil Chauvinism and what are the factors that should have been laid for a strong foundation for Tamil citizens to feel that they are equal citizens of this country. If the people are prudent to look at the ways and means in developing a confident building measure, then they would find that crux of the matter lies at the grass root level which stem from the coordination between the Provinces for the creation of an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood.

Federalism has the force of fostering peace through discussions and consultations and thus prevent wars. All conflicts can be thrashed out by exchanging ideas for the betterment of the entire country by way of discussions at a conference of Provincial Ministers. Economic prosperity could be promoted internally within the Provinces.

Similarly, on the economic point of view politicians failed to realize that every Province has its own natural resources which could be exploited with the assistance of the Provincial representatives through exchange of ideas by a mechanism of wider participation that should have been provided in the constitution.

Such a mechanism was deliberately nullified on account of the undesirable behaviour of politicians like K.M.P.Rajaratne, Cyril Mathew, Ratnasri Wickremaratne, the JVP, the JHU and now even the ruling political leaders. They are only interested about their false superiority over the others at the expense of the minorities. The reasoning that the Sinhalese do not have any other countries for opposing Federalism is without any foundation. In India though there are several races, they called themselves as Indians. Similarly in Canada as Canadians, in America as Americans and so on. It is at this juncture one should appreciate the remarkable feature of federalism which allows a nation within a nation. It is not separation. It is the coordination within Provinces and share each other's ideologies and cultures in an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood. From the Banada– Chelva Pact to the present APC the political leaders failed miserably to settle about
the existence of coordination between the Provinces.

It is the behaviour of the politicians that eventually give birth to the oppression of the minorities. These politicians have entirely forgotten that federalism is a mechanism involving a nation within a nation with a well coordinated network of intergovernmental departments. It has one main identity of the larger nation while retaining the other identity within the Provinces which fact has been misunderstood by the Sinhalese politicians and had deviated the path to destruction. Briefly Federalism respects plurality of identity of human beings when Provincial Governments are empowered on certain areas to attend its own matters by the constitution. The challenge of accommodation of human diversity depends on how the powers are allocated to the Provincial Governments. Should there be a conflict amounting to the detriment of the federal government, it should be resolved through some mechanisms by way of incorporating a powerful Upper House (Senate) similar to the one in USA together with an independent Judiciary, all of which points out that the Federal government will have the absolute power to protect the individuals who are targeted by the Provincial Government. This is where the Sinhalese political leaders have blundered in abolishing the Senate.

The undesirable behaviour of the politicians are treated and accounted as barriers for the smooth operation of federalism. If such barriers are not properly checked, it would not be a surprise that uprisings would lead to the bleeding of the country. The short-sighted thinking of the selfish politicians eventually led to the false assumption that the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils can be suppressed with military might. If the people can lay a barrier to the entry of undesirable politicians at the elections, then the people will begin to reap the fruits of federalism.

Moreover, the politicians also failed to realize that Parliament is a sacred place to pass laws for the welfare of the people. They have already tarnished the image of the sacredness by misusing their privileges without looking at countries such as USA, Canada, Switzerland, India, etc where the aspirations of the entire people are fulfilled because of federal features.

Today the political leaders who were instrumental for the creation of the unsettled solution are trying to thrash out with various theories when the available remedy of federalism is at their door step. It is regret to observe that Sri Lankan leaders were only concerned of the Military's fire power and not the people's will power. It is several weeks since the President believed that the military is within sight of the much heralded victory over Kilinochchi without knowing the probability that Kilinochchi would later turn out to be the grave yard for the Sri Lankan soldiers. The swollen headed political leaders have forgotten the lesson about the tragedy of the American soldiers in Vietnam. In war nothing is certain. The tactics of the LTTE is to crouch and pounce on these soldiers by encircling them. Against such a scenario, when Tamil nationalism is running over the Tamils and been duly exploited by the LTTE, the allegation that the war is waged on terrorism by politicians become meaningless when such liberation struggle is blended with terrorism or terrorism is blended with nationalism which is a matter for the future historians to evaluate. My humble submission is that if war is waged on terrorism then it is the paramount duty of the government to seek the assistance of the NGOs to provide adequate shelter food and other necessities to the helpless and innocent Tamils and isolate them from the terrorists.

The other vital question is against whom is the government waging war. It is the Sinhalese political leaders who had honey moons with the LTTE prior to the elections for publicity and later when they fall out with the LTTE, they wage war on its own citizens who have been deprived by all means. This is the scenario that is taking place in order to cover their own faults. What is crucial, in a changing world, is the global line of thinking on federalism among the next generations on account of development of the IT throughout the world. The younger generations throughout the world exchange ideas which are beneficial to them and the country. The Sinhalese political leaders can no more hide the benefits of federalism to its own people. They should find means of bringing a meaningful solution. The extremist groups such as JVP and the JHU are a curse to this country for not allowing the unification of Sri Lanka. If only the political leaders can understand the gravity of coordination between the Provinces then they would not dare to utter that Federalism is separation. Instead they will find it as a concept of 'Binding Together'.

India as a Mediator, at the time the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed, could have insisted on Federalism proper to adopt a meaningful political solution to the conflict that meets the aspirations of the entire Sri Lanka’s communities. The Sri Lankan leaders allocated adequate funds and powers for the other Provinces but not to the North East Province, a fact signaling the refusal to move even an inch towards the federal set up. This is where the international community expects the dispute to be settled within a federal framework where all communities can live equally. However, the LTTE should be blamed for failing to lend a supporting hand to the India. It assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in their own soil violating their laws, in addition to a number of educated moderate Tamils. One can characterize the nature of the LTTE when it continued to ridicule the IPKF through their Tamil Parliamentarians in and out of the Parliament. The short-sightedness of the LTTE allowed room for the Sri Lanka Government to continue to crush the Tamils. At the moment only some highly respected persons such as Mr.P.Chidambaram in the calibre of Mr.G.Parthasarathy with the first hand knowledge and experience of the situation can deliver some meaningful solutions within the federal framework, though Article 2 of the United Nations Charter discourages interference into the domestic affairs of a country except for genocide.

This is the hour for the President to overcome all barriers of petty politics and act as a statesman in declaring federalism as the ultimate solution with one stroke of the pen and dismiss exploring unnecessary researches of finding other avenues which have become a futile exercise. By declaring federalism the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be strengthened and will not be affected in any way. The entire world will applaud him (including the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims) if he declares federalism as the ultimate solution. The choice is in his hands whether to lead the country to a glorious chapter or allow it to continue bleeding the country.

November 06, 2008

IFJ and IPI Call For International Attention on Landmark Journalists' Rights Case in Sri Lanka

Statement by IFJ:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI) call on colleagues in South Asia and international press to report loudly and widely on the current trial of senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam who is defending himself against terrorism charges in the Colombo High Court this week.

In what will become a landmark case in the history of press freedom in Sri Lanka and beyond, Tissainayagam will this week give evidence on two charges of writing to bring discredit to the government and inciting ethnic and racial disharmony and printing and publishing such material in the North Eastern Monthly between June 2006 and June 2007 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (1979) and one charge of violating the 2006 Emergency Regulations with regard to allegations of aiding and abetting terrorist organisations through raising money for the magazine.

A representative of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is attending the trial this week as an independent legal observer.

Tissainayagam was arrested on March 7 2008 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan police force and spent over five months in detention without charge, before a formal indictment was issued on August 25. Two other media workers, E-Kwality Printers owner N. Jesiharan and his wife Valamarthi, also continue to be held.

The IFJ and IPI appeal to journalists and editors to report the proceedings of Tissainayagam's trial to ensure that the international spotlight remains on this watershed case that will have ramifications worldwide.

For further information contact:
IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
IPI: E-mail: ipi@freemedia.at, Tel +43 1 5129011

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide
IPI is the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries

Obama’s triumph, heavy setback for majoritarianism and racial bigotry

By Lynn Ockersz

Quite understandably, a celebratory, festive atmosphere prevailed at a banquet hall at the Colombo Hilton, on the morning of November 5, where the US embassy in Colombo conducted an exhilarating event to telecast, via CNN, the results of the recently concluded US presidential election which has quite rightly been described as ‘historic’. The joyousness of the Obama victory, apparently, was uncontrollably infective because more than a few Sri Lankans too attending the occasion, cheered lustily as the results poured in confirming an Obama triumph.

[Democratic Presidential Nominee, Barack Obama and his family on election night in Chicago, IL on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. (David Katz/Obama for America)]

It is not the aim of this columnist to throw the proverbial wet blanket over the near-revelrous welcome some of his compatriots accorded the final election results but one only hopes they did not cheer for the wrong reasons. Was it the ‘black’ identity of Barak Obama which triggered the cheering? If so, my compatriots have reveled for the wrong reasons. If so, the good cheer is a cause for regret because these Sri Lankans have only uproariously endorsed ethnicity – a political scourge of our times, which is bleeding Sri Lanka and many other Third World countries white. It is this columnist’s hope that the cheering was occasioned more by an endorsement of the political principles and policies of Obama and not predicated on the naive belief that one of ‘our men’ was now the ‘most powerful man on earth’.

Woe unto us if we are endorsing Obama on account of his ethnicity, for, the wasting separatist rebellion in Sri Lanka’s North-East is also basically fuelled by ethnicity, race-hate and partiality. Rather, the Lankan public needs to see in the truly historic electoral triumph of Barak Obama a still more drastic qualitative improvement in democratic governance in the US. This is the true significance of Obama winning the US presidency.

We need to see in this polls triumph by a member of the Afro-American community, which was at one time in the history of the US a desperately powerless and depressed social entity, a further maturing of the ‘world’s oldest democracy’. To be more specific, the pinnacle of political power in the US could no longer be accessed by only a single ethnic group which happens to be numerically superior to all other communities. This is , essentially, what the political phenomenon of majoritarianism is all about. Rather, from now on the highest political office in the US will be accessible to anyone of ability and resourcefulness who professes and practises the creed of democracy, as conceived in the US.

Accordingly, from this point of view, the arresting opening to Obama’s acceptance speech acquires a supreme profoundness; ‘Tonight because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America’.

A ‘defining moment’ indeed. American democracy from now on will never be the same. American democracy has developed and progressed to the point where the colour of one’s skin or one’s ethnicity and other ‘cultural markers’, would no longer be a barrier to one’s advancement in public life. As the winning and losing candidates conceded in their speeches on receiving the election result, the US has more than adequately proved a land of tremendous ’opportunity’, and more significantly, this ‘opportunity’ could be accessed by almost all.

Another vital dimension in the steady democratic development of the US is the ability of the average US voter to now base his political preferences almost entirely on perceived merit and not on extraneous considerations, such as, ethnic and cultural identity. The vote for Obama, which transcended racial, regional, cultural, class and even political considerations, proves this adequately. He has received the endorsement of not merely Wall and Main streets but of the whole of the United States.

The ‘bloodless revolution’ triggered by Barak Obama ,while being significant for the fulfillment of the ‘dream’ of Obama’s forefathers, which showed initial signs of realization with the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln, declaring all slaves in America’s confederate states free, is of enhanced importance to us in South Asia because the event has emphatically underscored the standing of the US as a benchmark in democratic development.

This is an occasion for earnest soul-searching for us in Sri Lanka. How do we compare as a democracy to the US of today? This is the question. Could we also proclaim, as the US could today, that we are a ‘land of opportunity’ for everyone in this country, regardless of ethnicity, creed and other cultural markers? Would the extremists of numerous kinds make it possible for anyone in this country, who possesses the required capabilities to vie democratically for the highest public offices in Sri Lanka, regardless of these cultural markers? Rather than get carried away by sentimental swoons about the US presidential election result and ‘the man of the moment’ Barak Obama, it would be more worth our while to probe these issues and find out where we have gone wrong as a polity.

"Do unto others as you would have them do to you’. This scriptural injunction forms a bedrock principle of all successful, vibrant democracies, although the principle may not be laid out in identical terms in all democratic constitutions. Sri Lanka and many other countries of the Third World which are today described as being ‘conflict-ridden’, have, apparently, not found this principle to be of any significance in nation-building. However, it is patently obvious that if this principle is observed more in the breach or callously cast out in the belief that it would get in the way of particular communities exercising hegemonic control over states, it would be only a matter of time before social discontent possesses them and begins to tear them apart.

Why Sri Lanka has failed to produce a Barack Obama ?

By Sanjana Hattotuwa

"Obama avoth LTTE ekata vasiyak venewa kiyala kathawak ahala nedda?” (Haven’t you heard that if Obama wins, it may be advantageous to the LTTE?) Emigration and Customs official, Katunayake International Airport

The discovery that I am interested in peace building by an emigration or immigration officer at Katunayake is always an invitation for the brief discussion of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, the articulation of their unswerving (and I believe genuine) confidence in the incumbent regime to bring peace and my own parting appeal for them to look beyond military victories to the need for a political solution.

[Democratic Presidential Nominee, Barack Obama and his family on election night in Chicago, IL on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. (David Katz/Obama for America)]

As I was heading out of Sri Lanka on the November 3, to visit the US, the conversation also turned to the US elections and the nature of the two candidates. When I said I hoped Obama would win, pat came the reply I have quoted above. I paused, not knowing how best to respond to this popular fiction. In the end, I thought the best response would be to note that Dayan Jayatilleke, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva whose name they instantly recognized, looked at Obama quite positively. Grunting his surprise and not entirely convinced, my interlocutor sent me on my way.

Having come to America, it feels like a country that is voting for the first time. Televised scenes from across the country were reminiscent of the turnout and enthusiasm surrounding South Africa’s first post-apartheid democratic elections. Cable networks showing black, white, Hispanic, Indian and other Americans–famous in Hollywood, television and the music industry as well as ordinary folk from places like Harlem – who on the streets, in their homes, in parks, hotels, malls, lobbies, churches spontaneously breaking out into chants, gospel, song, tears and dance. It looks as if everybody is crying on television; Rev. Jesse Jackson, Oprah, Sean P. Coombs, entire congregations in Harlem and many Republicans, albeit for different reasons. There were people getting out of their cars in the middle of the road and breaking down in tears, and then into dance. In New York, Times Square thronged with thousands who shouted so much when it was announced that Obama would be the next President that it was a tremendous noise sandwich. “America did the right thing…. It feels like anything is possible” said Oprah on CNN, one of Obama’s earliest and most devoted fans. Also speaking to CNN, Colin Powell noted that the Obama was a person “who just happened to be black, who just happened to be African. He is American first, a transformational figure”, echoing his earlier ringing endorsement of Obama as someone who transcended racial identity.

Early editions of newspapers on November 4, simply call Obama ‘Mr. President’. One even had a photo of Obama with the headline ‘O Baby!’ Around the world – in Kenya (where the 5th has been declared a national holiday), in Sydney, Japan, Honolulu people are celebrating the awe-inspiring ascendance of a most unlikely candidate to the office of the President. The sheer scale of Obama’s sweep of America’s popular vote and his ability to turn voters in traditional Republican states and many independents to vote for him was astounding. There are stories of voting booths in states like Virginia overwhelmed by those who turned out to vote, in some cases waiting hours. Entwined in the magnitude of this moment, it is difficult to capture in words the timbre of an American that wakes up to Obama’s significant victory. For many, there are in fact no words to capture their relief and joy at the culmination of a campaign truly incredible in its design, ability to inspire people, generate enough campaign financing to overwhelm both McCain and Hillary and inter alia, leverage, the power of the web, Internet and mobiles to get Americans to vote.

“We may not get there is one year or in one term” was the cautionary note that Obama, ever the strategist, struck in his acceptance speech in Chicago. Faced with a Russia that lost no time whatsoever in new jingoism against the US, the significant problems in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, a global financial crisis, growing domestic economic woes and a myriad of other significant social, political and economic problems, Obama will very quickly find that promising change is significantly different to, and far more challenging than delivering it. The high levels of expectation and support Obama commands today can quickly change to impatience and apathy. It is precisely here, in the adroit management of impatience in polity and society, that Obama’s years in political office will be judged. It is also here that the greatest danger lies for him and us. Unless he is seen to deliver, the optimism and hope that he has been so remarkably successful at engendering and capturing will, at a pace quicker than what it took to build them, turn sour. A country of cynics is not an America that will bring global stability.

But these are issues others, both in the US and elsewhere, will deal with in more detail and insight. Whilst participating in the pervasive euphoria of the moment, I simply remembered what Immigration Official told me as I was leaving Sri Lanka. Articles and op-eds by those close to the Rajapakse regime in Sri Lanka have already appropriated Obama’s language, ideas, message and campaign for parochial ends.

This is to be expected by a regime keen to demonstrate, to an international audience in particular, that it alone is best placed to bring about peace in Sri Lanka through the decimation of the LTTE and afterwards a political solution. Severely undermining these attempts to curry favour with the international community are the policies, practices and statements by a regime with scant regard for any of the principles of inclusivity, humility, respect and the transcendence of identity that define Obama, his campaign and his approach to and understanding of governance and politics. A regime that sees and openly, unashamedly with complete impunity notes that Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays, Chinese, Boras, Moors and other identity groups are ‘visitors’ is not one that can transcend identity and inspire the vision of a Sri Lanka where all our peoples, and all our nations, can be united. A regime that commemorates the violent expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna under the LTTE but does not meaningfully express regret over the expulsion of hundreds of Tamil peoples from Colombo in 2007 – an action designed and implemented by a State that revealingly made no distinction between Tamils and terrorists – is not one that will inspire change, or build bridges between and within divided communities and peoples.

It is doubtful whether in the context of Sri Lanka’s hugely partisan politics and systemic violence, anyone able to unite Sri Lanka meaningfully will ever emerge. Obama, in his acceptance speech spoke of a country “not of blue states and red states, but a United States”.

Who is articulating a similar sentiment in Sri Lanka today? A united Sri Lanka requires an equal measure of political imagination to envision and courage to articulate. It has never been possible under the LTTE. It is not possible under the Rajapaksa regime. Sadly, most of us are still caught up in the feverish rhetoric of war as the only answer to all that vitiates our progress, development and national unity. This is a falsehood. The promise of change can never be hostage to the vicissitudes of war.

Our failure to realize this is also our failure to produce an Obama.

CPA challenges validity of recent regulations concerning TV broadcasting in Sri Lanka

By Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) this week filed action in the Supreme Court by way of a fundamental rights petition, challenging the validity of recent regulations concerning television broadcasting.

The Minister of Mass Media and Information promulgated a new set of regulations on 10th October 2008, cited as the Private Television Broadcasting Station Regulations, under powers conferred by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Act, No.6 of 1982. These new regulations seek to regulate all aspects of private television broadcasting, including classification of stations and services; issue, revocation, and duration of licenses; fee structure; territorial coverage; ownership; duties and responsibilities of private television broadcasters; extended powers of the Ministry; and content controls.

CPA is of the view that the regulatory regime imposed by the new regulations violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression recognised by the Constitution, balanced against the legitimate aim of reasonable regulation. In particular, the wide areas of discretion conferred on the Minister in respect of the grant, suspension, or cancellation of television broadcasting licenses lead us to believe that the new regime would be seriously susceptible to abuse, both in respect of the freedoms of expression and information, as well as the independence and integrity of the Sri Lankan media. Moreover, we do think that the power to make regulations conferred on the Minister by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Act, extends to such a broad area as the new regulation seek to cover.

We also note that the new regulations are an attempt to introduce wide-ranging controls and regulation of the televisual broadcasting sphere without adequate regard or reflection about the implications of technological advances of the last decade or so, especially in respect of internet and telephony based communications. Furthermore, it is our firm belief that the necessary regulatory regime in this field is a matter that is more properly to be dealt with by legislation enacted by Parliament, rather than by executive fiat and subordinate rule-making.

CPA hopes that the Supreme Court would be pleased to grant leave to proceed with its application, and further, that the Court would use the opportunity afforded by this case to further develop its jurisprudence in securing, protecting, and advancing the freedom of speech and expression in Sri Lanka.

###

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process. The primary role envisaged for the Centre in the field of public policy is a pro-active and interventionary one, aimed at the dissemination and advocacy of policy alternatives for non-violent conflict resolution and democratic governance. Accordingly, the work of the Centre involves a major research component through which the policy alternatives advocated are identified and developed.

For more information, please visit http://www.cpalanka.org

November 04, 2008

Over centralization of Power is prime cause for war

Following is the full text of the declaration issued at the conclusion of the People’s Movement for Power Sharing National Delegates Conference 1st November 2008:

We the delegates assembled at Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on 1st November 2008 at National Delegates Conference of “Peoples Movement for Power Sharing” representing the Provinces of Uva, Central, North West, Sabaragamuwa, Vayamba, South Western and East affirm the following Declaration as partners of the “Peoples Movement for Power Sharing “.

We have realized that the over centralization of “Power” is the prime cause of the war the 30 years of war and the national conflict including the under development and poverty that prevailed in the country for decades.

All the political parties and the Government that came to power have failed to take effective steps for the “sharing of power”. Instead, they took further measures to centralize power. With the appointment of an Executive President, under 1978 Constitution, the situation reached its peak level. No elaboration is necessary to explain the fate that the country is facing today.

We who have participated in the workshops on “Power Sharing” for the past 12 months know the value of power sharing as a means to solve the grave political, social, and economic issues of the country. In the past the peoples participation in any issue including constitutional amendments was lacking. Taking all these factors into account we declare that the following measures should be taken for “Power Sharing” in the Country.

1. All the provisions of the Provincial Councils Act passed in 1987 under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented.

2. A proper financial mechanism should be evolved to ensure the supply of funds from the Central Government and the resources to generate funds to the Provincial Councils.

3. Powers should be given to establish Province Police Service to help the civil administration and to keep law and order in the area.

4. Subjects like Land, Health, and Education should be devolved to all the Provincial Council in order to bring effective administration and to fulfill the needs of the people of all the Provinces without delay

5. A second chamber consisting of provincial elected members should be established to provide provincial administration in national level decision-making.

6. Supreme Court procedure should be expanded to ensure the rights of each unit when issues come up between and among the devolved units.

7. The public institutional system that serves the people should be separated from political influence so that they will be more independent and democratic.

8. Mechanisms to protect human rights should be established at provincial level and measures should be taken to allow those mechanisms to function independently and effectively.

9. The representations of provincial delegates should be ensured at the national planning level.

10. Laws should be formulated to protect the ethnic identity equitably at all decision making level.

11. The powers of the central {executive} government to dissolve the Provincial Councils should be transferred to the second chamber and the Supreme Court.

12. Through effective power sharing all efforts should be taken to find sustainable solutions to the national issues.

13. Priority should be given to the people living in the provinces when recruiting people in order to pave way for an efficient Provincial Public Service.

14. Independent Provincial Public Service Commission should be appointed.

15. Arrangements should be made to include all the above measures into the constitution and to safeguard the sovereignty of the constitution.

Specific proposals made by the delegates of Regional Conference held in Kurunegala on 13th September 2008.

Uva Province

• The sole right to impose taxes and the right to the ownership to such income vests with the Provincial Council.

• To reduce the number of representatives to Parliament and to increase representation to the Provincial Councils.

• To reduce the powers of the Governor and to increase the powers of the Provincial Council.

• To receive foreign aid with Governments approval ( Repayment by the Provincial Council)

North Western Province

• The present system of elections to the Provincial Councils should be changed.

• There should be 35% of women and also other ethnic groups representation at decision making level.

Central Province

• Implement the Provincial Council Finance Commission.

• Subjects like Land, Health and Education should be given to all Provincial Councils.

• Implement the 13th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution

North Central and Eastern Provinces

• Ministerial positions in the Provincial Council should be granted through the Senate.

• The Central Government funds must be shared with Provincial Councils on the basis of land, population and development.

• The administrative languages in the Provinces must be Sinhala and Tamil and English must be a link Language

• Protection of minorities in the Province must be assured

Sabaragamuwa Province

• Appoint a Local Legislative Commission comprising of 10 members as follows..

• Chief Minister 01, Representatives of the Chief Minister 01, Leader of the opposition 01, Representatives of the opposition 03, Representatives of the Government 03, An Advisor appointed with the concurrence of the chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition 01 (Without voting rights).

• Should remove Provincial Council’s special powers vested with the President

November 03, 2008

Tibet: 'Status qup plus' As an option?

By B. Raman

There is a note of increasing dejection in the post-Olympics statements and comments of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his spokesmen regarding the future of Tibet. His hopes that in the wake of the protest demonstrations in Tibet in March,2008, the international community will step up pressure on Beijing to reach an accommodation with him have been belied.

The restrained post-March 2008 reactions of theinternational community have shown that the economic links of the West with China have become so strong that the West is not prepared torisk this linkage by over-focussing on the Tibet issue to the annoyance of China. Apart from proforma expressions of reverence for HisHoliness and of support for the improvement of human rights in Tibet, the West is disinclined to do anything more. It has come to therealisation that it won't be desirable to exploit Tibet as a card against China.

2.This disinclination to exercise undue pressure on China on the Tibet issue is likely to increase further as the West's dependence onChinese co-operation for re-stabilising the global economy increases. Despite the spectre of large-scale unemployment due to decrease inexports to the West, the Chinese economy is still in a stable state. Its foreign exchange reserves ( touching US $ 2 trillion ) have not sufferedany major depletion so far despite the decrease in export orders from the West. China has major worries over the possibility of social unrestin the southern coastal provinces, which would be the worst affected by any recession in the West, but in spite of this, its leaders realisethat the global financial and economic crisis provides it with an opportunity to play a benign role in helping out the Western powers andthereby earning political and strategic dividends. At a time when the West is looking up to China to help it out in this hour of crisis, it is evenmore unlikely than in the past to exploit the Tibetan issue.

3. The coming to power of a Maoist-led Government in Nepal has already affected the political and operational manoeuvrability of theTibetan exiles in that country, who were playing an important role in keeping the anti-Beijing forces alive and active in Tibet. It is likely to befurther affected as the Maoists consolidate their position further.

4.It is this realisation which seems to be behind the note of increasing dejection in the comments and statements of His Holiness and hisspokesmen. He continues to be critical of China and accuses it of bad faith by being not serious in its talks with his representatives on thefuture of Tibet. He has been saying that he does not expect any forward movement in the latest round of talks for which his representativeshave gone to China.

5. He has realised that the time has come for a major re-think of the policies hitherto followed by his Government-in-exile based inDharamshala in India in consultation with the representatives of the Tibetan diaspora and with the international well-wishers of the Tibetanmovement. He has convened two meetings for this purpose.

6.Tenzin Taklha, a spokesman of His Holiness, was quoted as saying on October 27,2008, as follows: " The Dalai Lama is considering amajor policy shift towards China following a complete lack of progress in talks on Tibetan autonomy with Beijing.All options would be on thetable at a meeting scheduled next month of exiled Tibetan leaders involved in the campaign for greater autonomy for their Himalayanhomeland. The only non-negotiable aspect is that the movement will still be non-violent. Everyone is agreed on that.He (the Dalai Lama) has lost hope in trying to reach a solution with the present Chinese leadership which is simply not willing to address the issues.His Holinessfeels that other options have to be considered, and this will be done at the meeting in November.There is no immediate prospect of the Dalai Lama going into retirement. Despite the current sense of frustration, an eighth round of talks with Beijing was expected to go aheadas scheduled this week. Whatever happens we have to keep the door to dialogue open."

7.The Dalai Lama, who is currently on a week-long visit to Japan at the invitation of local Buddhist organisations, stated as follows at apress conference in Tokyo on November 3: "The drive for greater autonomy for Tibet has ended in failure. The Tibetans should be open toall options in negotiations with Beijing. My trust in the Chinese Government has become thinner, thinner, thinner. Suppression (in Tibet) isincreasing and I cannot pretend that everything is OK.I have to accept failure. Meantime among Tibetans in recent years, our approachfailed to bring positive change inside Tibet, so criticism has also increased. So there is no other alternative than to ask people."

8.He said he would be calling a meeting later this month among Tibetans to decide on their future strategy towards the ChineseGovernment. The first meeting to be held in Dharamshala, on November 17, will involve exiled Tibetan communities. This will be followed byanother in New Delhi that will convene international supporters including lawmakers and former foreign ministers. It is not clear whetherthis meeting will also be in November.

9.He added: "I don't know what will happen.Their minds should be open to explore all different options... and not fixated on oneissue.Hopefully their discussions will not be emotional, but intelligent and carefully thought out."

10. The Dalai Lama has refused to indicate whether he would give any advice to the forthcoming meeting. His movement originally called for Tibetan independence. When it realised that independence was no longer a feasible option, he modified their objective as a middlepath----meaning autonomy for Tibet on the lines of the status given to Hong Kong. The Chinese, who have already closely integrated Tibetwith the rest of China and changed its demographic composition by settling a large number of Han Chinese in the region, are not prepared todiscuss any change in the political and administrative status quo. From the stand taken by them at the seven rounds of talks with the DalaiLama's representatives till now, it is clear that , firstly, they are not prepared to allow any political role for His Holiness and, secondly, whilethey are prepared to give him a limited religious role over the Buddhists in Tibet, they are not prepared to recognise any successor to theDalai Lama in whose selection the Chinese Government and the Communist administration in Lhasa had not played aleading role.

11. With the Dalai Lama now openly admitting the failure of his middle path policy, only two options remain:

Either revert to the previous option of independence. This is what the younger elements in the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) will want. They have always been critical of the Dalai Lama's advocacy of a middle path.The independence option had not worked in the past and is unlikely to be feasible in future even if the TYC is prepared to take to violence for this purpose. Moreover, the international community is unlikely to support any violent upheaval in Tibet unless it starts viewing China as a major threat to international peace and security. Such a contingency is very remote.

Or come to terms with the status quo in Tibet with some concessions--- that is, a kind of 'status quo plus' policy. Such concessions could be in respect of the restoration of the full religious authority of the Dalai Lama and his successor with no political role and a Chinese commitment that the successor to His Holiness would be chosen in accordance with the Tibetan Buddhist traditions with no interference by the Chinese Communist Party and State. It is doubtful whether either the TYC or China would accept this option. The Chinese might be prepared to accept the restoration of the religious role of the present Dalai Lama subject to some restrictions, but they are determined that the successor of His Holiness would be chosen by the Communist Party and the Tibetan Government with the co-operation of theTibetan Buddhists, but with no role for the diaspora.

12.The forthcoming meeting will have to take a painful decision on the future of the Tibetan movement. It is difficult to foresee at present what that decision will be. However, it is unfortunately clear that the options of His Holiness and his followers are getting narrowed down.(3-11-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

Need of the hour is the Political solution

Thousand thanks to Mother India for the Humanitarian aids but need of the hour is the Political solution

Statement By Mano Ganesan

Tamils of this country thank Indian central and Tamilnadu state governments for the forthcoming generous 800T humanitarian aid in ten days from today to the needy in the Vanni region. But the food and medicine cannot substitute the all important power devolved political solution to the national question of Sri Lanka. The need of the hour is the political power devolution beyond 13th Amendment to the Tamil and Muslim people said Civil Monitoring Commission Convener and Western Peoples Front leader parliamentarian Mano Ganesan.

Ganesan said further in his statement, We witnessed Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad sitting with presidential advisor Basil Rajapakse and plenty of state officials in Colombo discussing ways and means for proposed Indian humanitarian aids reaching trapped people in Vanni. We do not need an India for this job. India is needed for better, greater and superior role. All peace loving Sri Lankans want India to push GoSL for fair and reasonable political solution well beyond 13th Amendment. Non other than the suffering people of the Vanni, to whom India is making arrangements to send humanitarian aids, will push LTTE towards real peace talks.

Three basics of the upheavals in Tamilnadu are stop the war, stop the military aid to SLA and send humanitarian aids to the needy in Vanni. The Indian Government virtually dismissed first two and got hold of the last comparatively easy one. The food, medicine and clothing & shelter are already taken care of by the UN and INGOs from Vavuniya. The situation is bad but, these issues are someway being addressed.

We understand that India’s difficulties in adhering to the first two basics dealing with the war. But instead of putting a demand for a ceasefire, India can firmly demand for a political solution beyond 13th Amendment to the Lankan ethnic question. The customary Indian assurances for political solution are not going to comfort the Tamils today. The logistics to a political solution should be tabled.

President Rajapakse’s hurried public commitments for a political solution reported through selected Indian media are not bringing any new hopes to us, the Tamils at the receiving end in this six decade old ethnic struggle. Neither GoSL’s ‘latest statements of understanding’ of Tamilnadu’s concerns for the Tamils in Lanka to the extend of thanking Chief Minister Karunanidhi are convincing the Tamils. Presidents own men in the cabinet and army have dismissed any hope for any political solution. We do not note any intelligent hope for any normalcy to the country. The minister in the so called Tamil-Muslim majority provincial council in the east Mr. Hezbollah of the ruling party is complaining that no power is devolved and everything is centered in Colombo. The change if any is too slow and too small even at the level of provincial council. On the other hand, the phase of the military machine is very speedy and very deadly.

Therefore India is needed here for a political solution. Let our friends in the other parts of the world take care of the humanitarian subject, however difficult it is, as they have been doing for the last two decades.

[Mano Ganesan MP, Leader of Western People’s Front, Convener of Civil Monitoring Commission, President of Democratic Worker’s Congress and Member of Parliament for Colombo District]

November 01, 2008

A constructive way forward, to the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis

Empowering Tamil Nadu within empowered India: A constructive way forward, to the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis

By Ravi Sundaralingam

Abstract: If ‘politics’ is the domain of the professional politicians we are puzzled by the furore raised by those wanting to take decisions without ‘political-responsibilities’ in democratic countries. On the contrary, politics should be a tool of empowerment, available to everyone, not every four or five years, but to be exercised on every occasion, daily, provided constructive structures are available. However in our context, far removed from these ideal scenario we argue the Tamil Nadu politicians have the right to be involved in the ‘politics’ of Sri Lankan ethnic issue for socio-economic, socio-psychological reasons. We also argue, it is when Tamil Nadu feel empowered at the centre, with an empowered, strong India a constructive way can be found for the resolution for the crisis.

When Tamil Nadu politicians pick up the case of their suffering Tamil brethren, only twenty miles away, all sorts of cynicisms are spouted out from all corners. It may be because of the chaotic and disunited manner, without a political framework, they seem to let loose the genuine sympathy and anger of the ordinary Tamils in the state. May be also because some do not want the politicians reasserting their legitimate power over an issue hitherto a going concern for only a few; for an outsider it is very hard to say. The general accusation boils down to that the politicians are using the issue for their own party political benefits, therefore somehow morally corrupt.

 It is understandable when these objections come from our Indian brethrens, passing themselves as concerned intellectuals and observers as they have own political or personal agendas. Some who have been ardently promoting the Tigers at the expense of all other groups, at the expense of ‘pluralism’, now trying to purify their souls for the sins with the blood of Rajiv Gandhi, and the IPKF Jawans who perished in the island. Some have sought their redemption on the other side, and gone over to the Sri Lankan state, with the sole aim of liberating the Tamils from the LTTE; no change in their concept on killings or mass murder, just a readjustment about the legitimacy to kill. Few are also discovering that there are many different Tamil speaking communities suffering under the Sinhala state, and the Tamil Nadu politicians are ignorant to all these ‘newly’ unearthed facts, and they appeal with “do you know many are badly treated by the Tigers” condescending brand of conferred wisdom; presumably all of them will be better off with the Sinhala supremacist state. Some call for the defeat of the Tamil militancy by all means, as it has challenged a legitimate state, to recover the land and to impose authority over it, but with the best possible taste, of course: just politely ask the Sri Lankans to kindly refrain from aerial bombardment.

In all these, one only detect only a weak sentiment towards the suffering, and absence of understanding of the fundamental cause of that suffering; mere gesture towards the cruelty of war, alas, also the preparedness for the fatality of humanity.  It is strange and create unease within us, when minds of the finest quality, held in high regards by many of us loose their finesse and exhibit their wants than rational or humane nature. What difference would it make for the Tamils if the bombs fell on them in dozens from air-crafts or rained down on them relentlessly from multi-barrel rocket launchers? While speaking of the ignorance of their politicians they also fail to note that the Human Right Watch are now accusing Georgians of violation of Geneva Convention precisely for using such imprecise weapons indiscriminately on the South Osscestians during their misadventure recently, a people they claim to be part of a ‘legitimate’ state.

 Is it the choice of weapon that put an end to ones claim for a territory and the peoples who inhabit it for centuries? Before that state itself came into being? Or is it the fact, that any state prepared to use any form anti-people violence, including a full scale war against them in the name of destroying a group, and worse still feeling the need to articulate its atrocity in the name of one particular nation within itself, automatically terminate its claim?  Especially when those committing such ‘feats’ against minorities on territories they inherited from their colonial masters, never having convinced those peoples of collective nation building after the Whiteman’s departure?

Does India or its armed forces have the heart or the will to bomb and wage a full-scale military attack against its own citizens in Kashmir, Assam, or Naxal areas, and still expect them to become part of India?

Even for a Ceylon Tamil, experienced to the utmost confusion within our own struggle and seen that confusion perpetuated beyond endurance by our own well-meaning, but pig-headed intellectuals, the criticisms and cynicisms of the Tamil Nadu politicians by the Tamils on both shores most puzzling. Perhaps, some of us have come to view politicians and ‘politics’ as a choice between the disastrous and the unpalatable, as Kenneth Galbraith would have us believe, but why?

When Ceylon Tamils, whether a member of the Sinhala government or those fight against it ask for “Indian help, without interference”, what does it mean? Didn’t we use the Tamil Nadu politicians when we sort out their patronage in our petty fight to ascend the mole-hill, the leadership of our people? Aren’t we trying to use the Tamil Nadu politicians when we speak of Tamil as an alternative to Indian identity? Shouldn’t these be viewed in same cynical-light one sees the Tamil Nadu politician? Or should we make exceptions for the Tamils in Malaysia, despite their differences in origin and social status plead for Indian help? Aren’t these people and communities want to “use India?”

The Ceylon Tamil Expatriates are familiar with the accusations, (i) the betrayal of the LTTE by joining the Sinhala state to eject India from the island, (ii) the murder of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and (iii) the murders of EPRLF leaders in Chennai, on the soil of Tamil Nadu, amid the people who provided sanctuary and support. Most of us share the shame, pain and feeling of betrayal with them without even a murmur in protest. Some of us used to the view that understanding and acceptance of ones wrongs as a weak form of human response, may hold their ground and offer a few pitiful defence on behalf of someone else, yet, deeply repentant inside.

When recalling the status and respect we have had as a movement, the support and assistance we found from the ordinary Tamil Nadu people and their politicians, we are depressed by a greater pain realising, that there is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery as Dante Alighieri, 13th century Italian Poet observed. However, there are many other pains our Tamil Nadu brethren endure, perhaps as consequences of our actions that hurt more deeply than we appreciate or hear about.

Yet, if we could only pay attention we could see them in the brims of their eyes, and discover there are so many. The killing of TELO leader Sri Sabaratnam, and the elevation of the LTTE leader as the leader of the world Tamils, inexplicably by some of Tamil Nadu politicians, must have estranged the heart and soul of the CM, he has written so much about them, most of them in cryptic odes. AIDMK, the party under MGR promoted the LTTE to the hilt, became so violently opposed to it, it’s the leader Ms. Jayalalitha was prepared to shut anything down that uttered two syllables about the Tigers. Tamil Nadu communist parties, which are animated now, went into hibernation, except to re-release their statement on the ethnic crisis time to time.

The past fifteen years, since the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, has been a wilderness for the Tamil Nadu politicians, and our issue a taboo subject, endured with the help of an imposed or self-imposed censorship, a situation which only a few individuals could take advantage of. To the credit to its politicians, Tamil Nadu became occupied with its own economical development and its social and political institutions during this time. Therefore, their non-interference in our affairs has served well to readdress Tamil Nadu at the centre-stage of Indian politics, institute it as one of the fundamental pillars of new India and governance, without any contradictions as patriot great poet Bharathi foresaw, and become inseparable part of the state itself. Yet, the feeling of impotence in their own backyard, for all those lost years, for something they never did, must have been painful for the Tamil Nadu politicians and people.

Though as part of a movement we recall with pleasure and pain of our time on Tamil Nadu soil, it is sad to see the psychosis of fear some of us has created still lingers on, like a bad smell that would not go away. There were times when the politicians were genuinely terrified to come out to meet their own people, let alone people of Ceylon origin. No one can for sure say this nasty mist hanging around the state has fully lifted, as the mainstream politicians and leading people are still jittery about terrorism at their doorstep, and not surprisingly they are not thankful towards our contribution.

Every state has its own internal dynamics, with open and hidden variables that direct them, and India is no different. If we are to suggest that the Tamils in the Indian bureaucracy, especially in every branch of its diplomatic corps, had suffered terribly in the aftermath of the fallouts that began with the war between the LTTE and the IPKF, only those with excessive expectations of us will object. Those with the verve and expertise survived the cull, as the Tamils lost out once again, and today we see only a very few Tamils have made it up the ladder, and that is not because of lack of ability or knowledge; a heavy price Tamil Nadu and its people had to pay for their support for our movement.

When Tamil Nadu and its people feel that they have either lost out, in pain or fear, how can anyone accuse its politicians of using the Sri Lankan ethnic issue for their advantage? Even if they did why would that be wrong? Why can’t they use the issue, which made them lose heavily and that directly affect them? What is wrong for them to demand for more Tamil people in the government services, rather, the end of ‘discrimination’ against the Tamils, now they have come back from their self-imposed exile, having proven their ability adopt and change accordingly and as true Indians, and more importantly, as a high income state?

How can a people empower themselves, if they cannot use the issues they see fit to enhance their position? How can Tamil Nadu contribute constructively, if it is not empowered and at the centre, and it didn’t own the issues it has rightful ownership over due to socio-psychological reasons?

Can the Tamil Nadu politicians by their ‘political interference’ influence the lives in our homelands more than their socio-economical projects for the region?

When people of the same language are separated only by a few-miles sea, lives are inextricably linked for centuries, our cultural lives as Ceylon Tamils are so dependent on our Tamil brethren across the sea, the talk of one using the other is merely a ‘political’ stand, perhaps, to asserts each according to other and remind our particular responsibilities, and nothing more. Therefore, using each others issues and making them into ‘politics’ are as natural as ones daily duties, and to question that would be to question our very existence itself as human beings.

‘Politics is an art of the possible’ not as Otto Von Bismarck intended to say, but in its entirety, more than what he could have understood about modern and complex nations and their regional responsibilities, beyond his time. We are all political animals, if not should be, and we become informed and enlightened individuals only when we feel belonging to an empowered society. An animal that usurps and grows as a social being to become an individual not to stand alone and wither, but to advocate for its prosperity and prosper within it. Those who feel they are alien to ‘politics’ can only be those at the margins of  an exclusive society, whom some individuals may prefer to remain un-‘politicised’ and ignorant; at its lowest level, like those who dip into the deep raw swage without a bit of protected clothing, sloshed with numerous chemicals and human waste as the passing motorists in their 4-wheelers admiring their sacrifice, courage and for their being, and those beaten to death because they are ‘North Indians’ and labourers, in the streets of Mahraashtra.

For reasons outside our understanding Tamil Nadu politicians have broken through a mental barrier that may not serve the Tamils of Ceylon much this time, but will render them in good stead for their own people. In the way they have handled their actions vis-à-vis with the centre in Delhi, they have shown a political maturity that has developed alongside their economical prosperity. Only a few days ago, it would have been hard for any of us to imagine that Ms. Jeyalalitha could have put a marker for a resolution to our crisis; her recognition of our peoples right-to-self determination within a united Sri Lanka, along the line what Mr. Balasingam has proposed during the Oslo talks. The popular ‘events’ organised to vent their pent up emotions against their self-imposed conditions that prevented them from raising an opinion on our matter, also provided an opportunity to assert their entity as Tamils and Indians. They may have over reached their organisers’ markers at times, nevertheless, served their own course well.

It is the empowered Tamil Nadu within and empowered India that can argue well for a reasonable resolution for the crisis in the island. To seek it though a difference between India and Tamil Nadu, or elsewhere though a single party or political patronage can only be futile attempts that befit the ignorance of the sea change India and Tamil Nadu and its people have gone through, which some of us may still have.

However, having used our issue to empower the Tamils and Tamil Nadu how can the politicians fulfil their wishes for constructive engagements and their duties that can benefit us?

We are convinced Tamil Nadu politicians can build on what they have already achieved: behaviour and mannerism that befit a true Indian and a Tamil, responsibility and the sporadic unity shown in their actions, and their full understanding of their role as ombudsman and no more. When Indian Foreign secretary says “see how you can contribute to a solution”, when speaking to the Tamil Nadu CM, then the onus is on all the Tamil Nadu politicians.

In this respect,

(1)   They can all come to a “minimum of understanding” based on the ideas of right-to-self determination as suggested by the AIDMK leader, without party political competitions, with the view of forming a steering committee towards a resolution

(2)   The steering committee can be made up of experts on the issues and serving or retired civil servants that will have constant dialogue with Colombo, and Delhi.

 (3)   They should also address their Tamil brethren beyond their shores, in the island and elsewhere to bring about their own separate “minimum of understanding” for a possible resolution to the crisis.

(4)    They can also appoint a group of Ceylon Tamil people, after consultations, with the view of having continuous dialogue with every party, to work towards the formation of a structure appropriate for the phases that are to follow.

We would wish that these ideas and suggestion be viewed within the context of, and together with what we have already proposed in the paper titled, “Indian strategy in full circle;…” published in the SAAG web site (No 2894) recently.

Ravi Sundaralingam can be reached by E-mail: academic. secretary@gmail.com