Archive for April, 2008

Press Imprisoned

By Jacqueline Park

Across the countries of South Asia, journalists and media workers continue to be imprisoned in one way or another.

In some cases, journalists are detained without charge, jailed on spurious allegations, or sentenced to extreme penalties for exercising the right to gather, analyse and share information of interest to the public at large.

In other cases, the shackles are evident where journalists and media institutions bow to the strictures of official censorship or seek pre-emptive security through self-censorship.

[Jacqueline Park, at the Public Service Journalism 2007 Awards in Colombo-pic by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

A disturbing trend is becoming apparent in some of the countries of South Asia, where data collected by local journalists’ organisations for the annual South Asia Press Freedom Report 2007-08 indicates that a high proportion of journalists and media personnel who are targeted for attack and intimidation are young people who are relatively new to the profession.

In Afghanistan, for example, a 23-year-old journalist and student, Syed Parvez Kambaksh, was sentenced to death on a charge of blasphemy after a closed-door hearing in January.

His crime? He is accused of downloading information from the internet about the rights of women under Islam and distributing it among a small number of students at Balkh University, Mazar-e-Sharif.

He also happens to be the younger brother of a journalist who has incurred official displeasure by writing articles on security issues for an international news portal.

In Sri Lanka, Tamil journalist Munusamy Parameshwari is now 24. She fled her country recently and is in hiding after receiving death threats for several years. Her family was also threatened.

From November 2006 to March 2007, Parameshwari was detained without charge under anti-terrorist laws. Shortly after her release she was abducted and assaulted by several men in uniform who warned her to discontinue her reporting.

[Pamamesawry Munusamy was greeted by her media colleagues with bouquet of flowers and garland made with pens at the entrance of the Magistrate Courts in Hulfsdorp, on Mar 22, 2007]

Her crime? Parameshwari gathered information for articles that exposed government participation in abductions, as well as other human rights abuses. She is called a terrorist because she belongs to an ethnic group with which Sri Lanka’s Government is at war.

In seeking assistance to escape her tormentors, Parameshwari explains she needed to leave Sri Lanka in order “to live a fear-free life and regain my self esteem”. She adds: “The long period of detention and the constant harassment, coupled with the fear for my life, has had a serious impact on my psychological well-being and I am forced to seek counselling in order to function on a day-to-day basis.”

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Across South Asia and elsewhere in the world, young journalists bear the malicious brunt of forces opposed to press freedom and the right of all people to access information of importance to their everyday lives.

It is a deadly serious matter when journalists and media workers of any age and rank are censored, targeted for attack or imprisoned for the work they do to keep the public informed. However, a further negative factor kicks in when extreme efforts to silence the voices and investigations of young and inquiring journalists like Kambaksh, Parameshwari and Akash dissuade aspiring journalists from entering the profession.

Young people may come to the conclusion that the risk of personal harm-to themselves and to their families-is too high a price to pay for seeking to report the truth.

Already, journalists and media workers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are reportedly leaving the profession, concerned for their safety on the job, frustrated by censors, compromised by pressures to self-censor, and demoralised by poor working conditions and pay.

Where the incentive does exist for younger people to enter journalism, commercial pressures may compel them to turn their backs on the public service values of the profession. In countries with high-levels of economic inequality, media professionals are increasingly required to reflect exclusively the interests and aspirations of those of wealth and privilege.

Press freedom is about much more than the right of a journalist to conduct his or her work without restriction and without fear of debilitating repercussions.

It is about much more than media institutions being free to disseminate information to consumers in a competitive market. Press freedom is an essential component of the processes and structures of a free, stable and secure society.

It cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires the collaborative efforts not only of journalists and their organisations, but media owners, political power-holders, community leaders and ordinary people.

At the core of the defence and strengthening of press freedom for the betterment of society, however, is the continuing renewal of the profession of journalism through the induction of young journalists willing to stand up and speak truth to power.

As journalists’ organisations and press freedom advocates around the world prepare to mark World Press Freedom Day this Saturday (3 May 2008), we should all consider why press freedom is important in our society, and stand up to ensure that new generations of journalists need not fear or suffer imprisonment, literally or figuratively. []

Jacqueline Park is the Director of IFJ Asia-Pacific. IFJ Asia-Pacific released this week its sixth annual South Asia Press Freedom Report 2007-08. The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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How does one BECOME Sinhalese or Tamil in Sentiment?

by Michael Roberts

My interpretation of the present impasse in the politics of Sri Lanka, determined as it is by the competitive jostling-cum-conflicts between the three main ethnic groups (where “Muslim” is ‘ethnic’ by virtue of its relationship of opposition to “Sinhalese”and “Tamil” in the same sentence), leans towards an emphasis on how one should address present circumstances. Though I am a historian, I believe that delving into ancient history is of limited value for any exercise in rapprochement. Indeed, I would go further and insist that the circumstances of the immediate present, today in 2008, must mould any constitutional and economic arrangements seeking a modus vivendi. We cannot erase memories of the atrocities committed by all parties in the conflict that rest within the minds of today’s victimised survivors. But, subject to such caveats regarding the immediate past, a bracketing and limiting of historically-based claims would be of immense benefit towards paths of reconciliation. Even the census of 1981 cannot be a baseline for territorial adjustments. The hard realities of the present-day ground situation must assume predominance for pragmatic adjustments of accommodation.

History, however, looms large in the claims to space within Sri Lanka among the propagandists and ultra-nationalists who are at the cutting edge of claim and counter-claim. Historical data, or, rather, what passes for data, is at the root of arguments of legitimisation and demand. Any Tom, Dick or Harry in the ultra camps feels that s/he can deploy bits and pieces of historical ‘fact’ to support the various claims to island-space. They also voice interpretations of the more recent past to emphasise their grievances and the legitimacy of political position.

These claims cannot be majestically cast aside: for the reason that they emanate from emotional commitments and earnest belief and, as such, are part of the politics of identity and political competition. It is for this reason that I addressed the subject of “History-Making” in an article that appeared in cyber-space within The main argument was directed towards illustrating the sweeping character of the theories about the ancient history of Sri Lanka presented by some of the ultra TomDHs who ventured boldly in this field without any expertise in the subject. The emphasis was not on their lack of disciplinary training, but on the manifest absurdity of some arguments and the manner in which vast claims were asserted on the basis of one alleged ‘fact’, a fact that, as often as not, was of dubious authenticity.

Insofar as some of the extreme views that I challenged had harped on racial distinctions, one of the subsidiary themes in History-Making argued that the peoples of Sri Lanka were racially mixed and that blood-distinction was a non-issue. This assertion — and let me stress that it is a conjectured assertion – is based on common sense and the geographical location of the island in the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean, its proximity to the Indian sub-continent and a considerable body of widely-known facts about bodies of people who migrated to Sri Lanka at various moments during the last fifteen centuries or so.

Strikingly, though, this sub-theme is the issue that attracted most comment (thus far a week into the event). Apart from a few carping attacks by readers who had not understood my contentions, both Dushy Ranetunge and the pseudonymous Dingiri concentrated on this facet of my argument. Both in fact supported my thrust and stressed the mixtures of ‘blood’ or country of origin that have shaped the genes of the peoples who have lived in Lanka in recent past and distant past. Both even sought to provide a positivist cast to our series of assertions by suggesting DNA testing as likely proof.

It is this emphasis that gives rise to this particular essay. The emphasis on the racial aspect, our blood pedigree so to speak, is worrying even if the speakers are taking a moderate line that celebrates hybridity. For one, it demonstrates the power exercised by the racial categories spawned in the West and imported in the course of imperial expansion in an era marked by Darwinian currents. Such forms of thought found fertile soil in countries where varna theories held sway and caste distinctions averse to the mixing of blood (just read Piyadasa Sirisena’s novels of the early 20th century and the first chapter in People In between) had deep roots.

For another, it encourages a misunderstanding of ethnicity in the contemporary world and the force exerted by its depth of subjectivity. Ethnic differentiation is not solely “racial” or based on contemporary beliefs about supposed racial distinction (though that can be one powerful ingredient in such distinctions). Ethnicity is a subjective group sentiment. It is such sentiment that drives the ideologues who seek to manipulate the sentiments for their own immediate purposes. As subjective sentiment, ethnic identity is always in context and in relation to other groups in an interactive setting in territorial space. There is a “We”:”They” dimension to ethnic differentiation, one that can differentiate XYZ from several categories of neighbouring people (so that “They” can be a cluster of named others).

Such differentiation can be sharpened where there is competition for resources and for institutional power, including state power. That type of competition will be familiar to most readers so let me focus here on the cultural ingredients of subjective We-ness, that is, the cultural practices that sustain the distinctions and, then, reproduce them over generational-time in dynamic ways that can insert shifts in emphasis amidst significant continuities.

Language is often a fundamental dimension of one’s experience of the world, though it does not necessarily serve as a major factor of distinction everywhere or constitute difference in the same fashion. It is also a complex phenomenon because there can be meaningful dialect differences within each language. The dialect variation among the English and the Germans, for example, have been of considerable import for centuries and one facet of their emergence as “nations” was the moulding of an overarching ‘standard’ form of English or German that confederated their loyalties within the emergent new state.

The state as an institution was so central to the development of Englishness in the period extending from the 15th to 18th centuries that some historians depict the process as one involving a state-become-nation. But this state encompassed the British Isles and was known as “Britain” rather than “England.” Thus, the Scots, Welsh and Cornish were among those drawn into the confederative concept of Britain in the early modern and modern eras, an incorporation that was made easier by the economic opportunities opened up by the imperial expansion of Great Britain.

A subjective attachment to “Us” as distinct from neighbours is rarely constituted, and then re-produced over time, by just one central factor. It is a multi-factor process. Among other factors, self-perceptions and the sentiments around such affinities are moulded by everyday practices of a complex kind engaging preferences in cuisine, dress, tonsure, cosmetics, bodily cleanliness, architecture and so on. Let me illustrate from close to home.

In the late 1990s I was sent a draft manuscript by an Indian journal for review as Referee. The article was by Dennis McGilvray, an experienced American anthropologist conversant in Tamil and familiar with the Eastern Province. Addressing the issue of Tamil and Muslim identities in the Eastern Province his conclusions stressed the many commonalties they share and expressed a hope for political reconciliation in the immediate future. This emphasis was clearly motivated by well-intentioned hopes of peace, besides his knowledge of the regional scene. [See McGilvray’s revised article in Contributions to Indian Sociology and then again as a Marga Monograph in 2001 entitled “Tamil and Muslim Identities in the East”].

In reviewing the draft I expressed my reservations about the overly one-sided stress on similarities. Besides the evidence of recent clashes of a violent character between elements within these two bodies of people in the EP, sometime back I had chanced upon a Jesuit missionary document that recorded a violent riot some 110 years earlier in the 1890s. I also suspected that over the last century there would have been occasional bazaar clashes and land disputes with ethnic hues, flash-points that never reached newspaper reportage. So I had always been sceptical of platform rhetoric from local politicians affirming life-long amity among the different communities in the Eastern Province.

This caution was backed by my attentiveness to the significance of cultural difference of the sort embedded in practices of cuisine, coiffeur, tonsure et cetera and the reproduction of community endogamy because of the limited degree of cross-ethnic marriage throughout Sri Lanka. I therefore suggested that McGilvray’s essay could be improved if he attended to a whole range of seemingly minute areas of difference: for example (a) architectural practice relating to the directional location of one’s household cesspit and (b) the trimming of pubic and armpit hair that was enjoined on good Muslims.

Marriages across ethnic boundaries do occur in Sri Lanka. With reference to the last two centuries, say, from 1796-to-1981, one can say that in some areas, such as the Chilaw-Negombo coastline and the sparsely populated dry zone jungles there has been some degree of inter-marriage between Sinhalese and other ethnic categories — including Väddas in some places. Likewise, in the slum and shanty areas in Colombo and among the jet-set elites such cross-ethnic marriages seem to be greater than among the general populace. But subject to such caveats one can present broad generalisations to the effect (1) that Muslim women have rarely married outside their community, though some Sinhala brides have been absorbed by the community; (2) that caste-oriented marriage practices among the Sinhalese and Tamils have assisted a broad process that sustains ethnic endogamy as a general feature and (3) that the Burghers have shown the greatest propensity to marry outside their group, though even here the pukka upper-crust Burghers tried to remain pukka.

Thus, for every instance of cross-ethnic marriage in the recent Sri Lankan past one could find another case where an individual who defied community and/or parental preference was disinherited or shunned; and there are surely enough anecdotal tales of boy-girl love interests that were vetoed by parental or sibling fiat.

Marriage, however, is not the only arena where one can evaluate degrees of cross-ethnic amity. Food sharing and funeral arrangements provide litmus tests. It is not enough to share Muslim feasts at Ramazan or other symbolic moments. It is when and with whom food is shared that is significant. For that matter, it is how food is shared: does a visit to a Muslim household by a Tamil or Sinhalese friend (male?) involve eating rice out of the same main dish as everyone sits on the floor in a circle around the repast? The latter practice is one sign of Muslim-ness, inclusion in the brotherhood of local being, albeit, ultimately, a pointer towards the pan-Muslim community or ummah.

This long digression is directed towards emphasising the significance of a range of cultural practices – which obviously vary with area, climate and peoples – in moulding community sentiment of an ethnic kind in the global universe writ large. Travel and migrant movement in this era of globalisation may generate melting pot conditions in some places, but at the same time one also finds the development of heightened ethnicity shaped by nostalgia, ethnic networks of support, urban clustering, ghetto situations and the prejudices of host populations. Thus, ethnic affiliations always emerge in particular “sites” in the broad sense of the latter word (inclusive of class and time-period). They also are shaped by their relational field of structured social exchanges, including the impact of demographic weight and the control of resources and state power.

Thus, the appeal in this article is for us to move away from a focus on racial pedigree or beliefs about racial origins (though the latter can be one factor in the scenario) and to consider the range of factors, including seemingly benign everyday ways of dressing, cooking, eating or refining one’s body, that constitute difference.

Towards this end I would ask each Sinhalese who reads this piece to reflect on the following issues: What makes you FEEL that you are a Sinhalese? How did you become Sinhalese? What made your parents think and feel themselves Sinhalese? And are you at the same time a Sri Lankan in sentiment? Or is the last question redundant in that “Sinhalese” is equivalent to “Sri Lankan”?

Likewise, with adjustments and a deletion of the last question, this battery of reflective questions can be pondered over by Tamils of Sri Lankan origin, some of whom may well have jettisoned their Sri Lankan-ness at this stage of their life as a result of recent experiences. In this regard the Tamils can also ask themselves if they have any sense of warm affinity to Tamils nourished in Tamilnadu, Malaysia or Fiji? In other words, is one’s “Tamilness” locale-specific and rooted in memories of place or places, say, Manipay, Paranthan or Passekudah?

To put my question in a nutshell: how did each of you become Sinhalese or Tamil and develop attachments to that entity? The inspiration for this question, I add, comes from the grave. On one occasion in August 1983 a few weeks after the anti-Tamil pogrom of that year, Charles Abeysekera and Newton Gunasinghe (both now deceased) were at the SSA office in Nawala Road reflecting on the situation facing their country. As related to me once by Newton, he was forced to confront a question on the lines above raised by Charlie: “how do you know you are Sinhalese and what makes you Sinhalese?” It was not a joke, but an analytical twister. Newton had proceeded to address it with due seriousness and in analytical fashion. It is this I ask of you. []

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Time Has Come For Fresh Indian Initiative in Sri Lanka?

by Col R Hariharan (retd.)

The Tamil Nadu state assembly resolution calling upon the Centre to take steps to bring peace in Sri Lanka last Wednesday, April 24, merits follow up action by all those who aspire for resolving the Sri Lanka Tamil issue peacefully. The resolution perhaps for the first time reflects the desire of Tamils everywhere for India to take a more proactive role in Sri Lanka in the interest of all stakeholders-people of India and Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Tamil Diaspora and the international community. Its constructive tone for finding a peaceful resolution of the problem, rather than the polemical Tamil political rhetoric adopted in the past, is too good to be trivialised.

[Col. R. Hariharan]

Coincidentally, the resolution was passed when the Eelam War-4 hit the hottest point of combat at Muhamalai causing heavy casualties on both sides. With over 7000 lives already lost since December 2005 in the endless conflict, civil society in India and Sri Lanka jaded by failure to be effective in the past should now renew their efforts to use the small opening provided by the TN assembly resolution to turn it into a productive opportunity.

The resolution, briefly worded perhaps for political reasons, by itself does not indicate possible outcome. However, Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s eloquent speech on the occasion gives sufficient indications for all stakeholders on the subtle changes taking place in Tamil Nadu political perceptions on the subject.

It is significant that in his speech Karunanidhi had defended India’s (Centre’s) policy on Sri Lanka. This sends a message to the Tamil protagonists of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who had been counting on his support to the LTTE war. His pointed reference to the lack of unity among Tamils and criticism of the killing of Tamil leaders like A Amirthalingam without naming the LTTE makes it clear that he does not equate the LTTE war with the struggle of Tamils for autonomy. And as a corollary it raises a big question mark on the LTTE claims as the sole representative of Tamils.

At the same time his lament for the failure of Tamils to unite and achieve success as the Maoists in Nepal have done indicates that his heart supports the Tamil Eelam. But his head seems to have dictated that it was not pragmatic. His pragmatism in approach is relevant because he is perhaps one Tamil leader who is widely respected by Tamils (including politicians and Tamil Diaspora) everywhere and he has the potential to evolve a Tamil consensus on the subject. His speech has given adequate indications for them to take positive follow up action in three directions-persuade India for active involvement, persuade Sri Lanka and the LTTE to cease their quest for a military solution, and take measures for initiating a holistic and structured approach to find a peaceful resolution of the Tamil quest for autonomy without threatening Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

Stakeholders’ response

Speculating on the stakeholders’ response to the resolution is risky. Many observers of the scene would be tempted to dismiss it as a political ploy of the Chief Minister to prevent the Patali Makka Katchi (PMK) leader Dr Ramadoss and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (MDMK) leader Vaiko from cashing in on the Sri Lanka Tamil issue in the local political scene. However, this issue has ceased to be a hot ‘vote catcher’ issue in Tamil Nadu for sometime now. Moreover, the war in Sri Lanka is going on too long to be ignored and any opportunity to resolve it should not be dismissed on cynical considerations. And the resolution offers one such opportunity.

Perhaps, Delhi has got its own internal dissonance on Sri Lanka within the government and the ruling coalition. At present, Tamil Nadu has a disproportionately large clout at the Centre and within the ruling and opposition coalitions. It is time for Tamil lawmakers in Delhi to close their ranks on this issue and demand a fresh Indian initiative in Sri Lanka. Otherwise Tamil public at large are unlikely to forgive them.

As far as Sri Lanka is considered, its adroit President Rajapaksa by now must have understood that the end of the tunnel was still not visible despite the huge cost of lives resources paid in the war so far. It should be equally clear that a fresh political initiative with India at the helm (rather than Norway) could possibly be a better way of resolving the issue. If nothing else, it would save a few billion dollars down the drain and a few thousand lives, while presenting a possibility of success, than pursuing a purely military option.

The international community (a.k.a. four co-chairs in Sri Lanka context) is perhaps wiser now of the limitations of Norwegian mediation and their own actions, long on rhetoric and short on results. Perhaps they should consider asking India to don the mantle for a change to give a lease of life to their well meaning efforts in Sri Lanka.

It is too tempting to dismiss the LTTE as irrelevant in any peace process. However, it will continue to be an important denominator in the issue. At the risk of being branded as the LTTE’s ‘military guru’ as some wise Sri Lanka columnist had done, I can say the LTTE has enough brains to know that the current war is reaching a point of no return. Inflicting more body counts or carrying out more suicide bombings-as the Tanil Nadu resolution was greeted, is not going to resolve the misery of millions of Tamils. It is time for the LTTE to show “Vivekam” (wisdom with discretion) in addition to its much touted “Veeram” (valour) because the war is going beyond the military domain.

The LTTE is not known to listen to external advice. I can only hope that it reads this and makes a pragmatic reassessment of the situation as the Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) has done. And that has only added to his stature. Will the LTTE do it? That is an answer its supporters and admirers should demand. There is no time to be lost anymore.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail:

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Is it the end of Wimal, the politician?

by MSM Ayub

However much one faction is small, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is divided, and leaders of the party could not hide the division, when they spoke on the present crisis, claiming as usual that this was a problem involving one individual.

Somawansa at a media briefing said that Wimal has not been expelled, and he can come to the party office in Pelawatta anytime and face to the charges levelled against him at the Central Committee.

But prior to that at the “April Heroes Commemoration” meeting held at the Viharamahadevi open gallery on April 5 he explained how people left the party from its inception and with a thundering applause said that anybody who cannot toe the party line will be purged.

[Wimal Weerawansa]

If Wimal had not been sacked or if he was not to be sacked, how was Somawansa’s speech relevant to the occasion? Who was referred to by that speech? Somawansa was questioned by a media man at the beginning of the press conference he held on April 9 to answer Wimal’s speech on the previous day in the parliament as to why he was in a joyful mood and pat came the answer saying “because the party has been purified”. It implied that Wimal has already been axed.

On the other hand, if the relationship between Wimal and the JVP had not been severed by that time, why did Wimal make a speech in the parliament accusing the party, something which cannot be expected even in an ordinary party, leave alone a party that boasts to be a revolutionary movement?

JVP leaders still claim that they will invite Wimal and his followers to the party convention that is scheduled to be held in May while Wimal told in an interview with a private television channel that he would go on his own way unless the party takes action against conspirators in the party and re-induct him and his followers into the party. Both sides are preparing to go their own way whilst attempting to tell the world that they were eager to work together, although they could not do so due to the intransigency of the other party. This is nothing other than deceit and self-deceit. They have already parted.

Still there are no policy differences between the JVP and the Wimal group, but only some differences in strategies in implementing policies can be seen.

Both sides reject the open economy that is in the country and the concept of devolution of power. Both parties promote the military solution to the ethnic problem. Both groups accept Marxism and Leninism as the basis of their political philosophy.

JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe said that the party could not make use of their parliamentary group leader to speak in the parliament against the expulsion of Tamil lodgers from Colombo in June last year. In reply to this allegation Wimal says that he was basically not against the party stand and he could not make the speech since he was away from the parliament at the moment attending a meeting of Patriotic National Movement (PNM).

While citing reasons for not making that statement in the house Wimal says that tactically it was a statement that should not have been made, for it might give added voice to the LTTE and its allies.

If one accepts Wimal’s contention he would never utter a word against any harassment against Tamils since it would strengthen LTTE voice.

However, here too there was no policy difference between Somawansa and Weerawansa, it was only a difference of strategy.

Concerning the disarming of Pillaian group, no difference between the two groups of the JVP, however Wimal wants it to be done gradually strengthening the security in the east up to a level where Pillaian group’s security is ensured, while the JVP wants it to be done forthwith.

Now that the split is confirmed the country has to look forward as to what kind of new organization Wimal is going to form, what action plan he is going to put forward, would he be able to politically survive in the new environment.

Answering a question put to him at the above said TV interview as to whether he can run a new organization or a party in light of all previous factions and splinters of the JVP could not last long, a witty Wimal replied that before the October revolution in Russia in 1917 no such kind of revolutions had occurred in the world.

True, but it is also true that Groups and parties formed by those who left the JVP did not last for long. First, GID Dharmasekara, presently Anagarika Dharmasekara who supported Rohana Wijeweera in his effort to form a political party fell out with him to form the Matru Bhumi Arakshaka Sanvidhanaya before the 1971 April insurrection.

It was his organization that attacked the American embassy in Colombo on March 6, 1971 prompting the authorities to proscribe the JVP or the Che Guevera Movement as it was then called a week later and arrest its leader Rohana Wijeweera three days before imposing a state of emergency on March 16.

The Matru Bhumi Arakshaka Sanvidhanaya lived a short life until about 1975 in and outside prisons where most of the JVPers were herded by the Sirima Bandaranaike Government following the 1971 insurrection and gradually faded away. Towards the end of the prison life of most of the JVP rebels another organization was created by the dissidents of JVP who left the party for various reasons. Janatha Sangamaya, as it was known was more organized and consisted of more theoretically knowledgeable people.

They published some books and newspapers mainly criticizing the JVP, but they too did not have a political programme independent of the JVP for which reason Janatha Sangamaya also slowly died down in one or two years. Soon after the thirty odd main accused in the case against the 1971 insurgency were released in 1977 one of them Mahinda Wijesekara, a minister in the present Government started another organization called Nava Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna which could not last even months.

Just because one is popular and has powerful oratorical skills he cannot form a political party and win over the people.

He must have a political vision and a political programme that would address aspirations of at least a segment of the society and must be seen distinguished from other parties, especially from similar parties, more especially the party from which the leaders of the new party parted.

Two highly successful examples are the formation of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) by late SWRD Bandaranaike in 1951 breaking away from the United National Party (UNP) and the creation of the JVP by Rohana Wijeweera, a former student of the Patrice Lumumba University in Russia in 1965 after he was expelled from N Shanmugathasan’s communist party or the “Peking Wing” as it was then commonly known.

Bandaranaike may have been prompted by personal ambitions to break away from the UNP and to form a political party, but he could present to the country a vision and a programme that could be endorsed by a large segment of the Sri Lankan society then.

The UNP was then seen by many as a subservient ally of the former British rulers who even by then had their representative, the Governor General as the chief administrator of the country, despite Ceylon as it was then called had been granted independence in 1948.

And this had alienated many people, who were more nationalistic and influenced by the ideologies of the then powerful left movement, from the Government and the ruling party, the UNP.

Bandaranaike who might have identified these forces which existed with a lacuna of leadership put forward a vision and a political programme with the slogan of “sanga, veda, guru, govi, kamkaru” to be well received by a large segment of the country.

And within a short span of five years, at the 1956 general election he could defeat the powerful UNP which is the only party in the country even now to have spread its wings from Point Pedro in the north to Devundara in the south.

Rohana Wijeweera too could win over the youth with the help of the vision and the programme he produced through his famous “five classes” which instilled some sort of heightened confidence and self-esteem in carders of his organization.

The motivation was such that the cadres of the JVP captured police stations with a few shot guns during the 1971 insurgency.

Wimal has to prove his credentials in this regard if he is to survive as a leader of a new political party, if he is going to form one as he already has claimed. If he fails in this effort that would be end of Wimal the politician. JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva’s argument in a newspaper interview that Wimal was seen so brilliantly due to the JVP ideology is not totally wrong. But it was not only the ideology but also the craftsmanship and meticulousness with which the ideology was fashioned presented that created the politician named Wimal Weerawansa.

It is not the individual character that creates the history, but it is the history that creates individual characters, Karl Marx once wrote. Applied to Wimal who might still consider Marx as his ideological and theoretical mentor, it was the historical and political surrounding that made him sparkle and not the other way round. If he steps into a more appropriate political surrounding, a surrounding that is craving for leadership he would continue to shine.

It can be inferred from the rumours emanating from the sources close to Wimal that he will go with the PNM or build something attached to it.

Also rumours are that he has chosen the nationalistic path which is more prone to end up in communalistic politics.

However, leaving alone Wimal ,the JVP is the hardest pressure group in the country though it is not their purpose.

Despite the fact that it has emerged as a third force in Sri Lankan politics it has also created a situation where no party can institute a government on its own without the assistance of some other party especially the JVP. In other words JVP has created an unstable situation in the politics of the country and that situation itself in turn has produced a powerful pressure group by the name of the JVP.

The pressure power it had and the effectiveness of it was vividly seen when the party compelled the Chandrika Kumaratunge Government to bring the 17th Amendment to the Constitution under which several commissions aimed at good governance were established, in spite of the fact that haste in promulgating the said amendment has created fresh setbacks in the process of good governance.

Splitting the party will sag down their pressure power and it will pave way for corruption and authoritarianism that already reigns in the government and the bureaucracy. Therefore breaking the JVP for the moment is not in the interest of the country. []

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Bob Rae Calls for Canadian Leadership on Sri Lanka

Pointing out the “continuing fighting and terrible loss of life in Sri Lanka,” Mr Rae, former Ontario Premier and an advisor to an earlier round of peace talks, said in a media release issued in Canada’s Liberal party website that “The world can’t just sit back and let this death and destruction happen. This is a humanitarian disaster and must be met with a concerted response,” and that “Canada should put conflict prevention at the top of its foreign policy agenda. We can’t be indifferent to this tragedy.”

Full text of the media release follows:

The continuing fighting and terrible loss of life in Sri Lanka should arouse Canadian foreign policy from its slumber, says Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae.

“The world can’t just sit back and let this death and destruction happen,” said Mr. Rae. “This is a humanitarian disaster and must be met with a concerted response.”

This past week at least a hundred people have died as a result of fighting between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Mr. Rae said Canada should be working with a group of like-minded countries to press for a complete ceasefire and a return to full-scale negotiations on the constitutional future of the country.

As Chairman of the Forum of Federations, Mr. Rae acted as an advisor to an earlier round of peace talks. His recommendations included that the LTTE had to abandon terrorism and that the government of Sri Lanka had to accept the need for a political response to the crisis rather than a simple military one.

“Canada should put conflict prevention at the top of its foreign policy agenda. We can’t be indifferent to this tragedy,” said Mr. Rae. []

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On the lingering conflict and worsening conditions

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The November 2005 Presidential election could be termed as a turning point in the effort to seek a political solution to the protracted ethnic problem that escalated since 1983 into a gory war destroying about 70,000 lives and displacing tens of thousands of families from their habitats. Paradoxically, both the Sinhala nationalist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the separatist rebel group the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) were responsible for the outcome of the last Presidential election. The changes in government and governance that occurred since then have exposed the intrinsic problems in politics and with politicians. The way President Mahinda Rajapaksa fragmented the major opposition parties and brought together minor parties as diverse as the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the LSSP-CP leftist parties is very striking. But the power struggle which has been the bane of politics, ever since the SLFP and UNP emerged as the main rivals continues unabatedly. Politics which has throughout been influenced mostly by parochial rather than national interest has bared fully its ugly face.

Sinhala nationalism also got energized after the Presidential election. Tamil nationalism survives on Sinhala nationalism. Sinhala nationalists have not realized it is the two incompatible concepts that pose a threat to unity and territorial integrity of the nation, which is multi ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural with diverse demographic features across the different provinces. On the other hand, the concept that the entire island is exclusively a Sinhala nation in which the ethnic minorities are auxiliary groups who depend on the generosity of the ethnic majority Sinhalese is the base for disunity and unrest. It is this notion inbuilt in the unitary system which in effect established the Sinhala majority rule that led to its subsequent rejection by the ethnic minority Tamils.

The present government which initially tried to win international support by convincing it will be ‘fair and just’ according to the rule of law in bringing to justice the criminals and its commitment to pluralism, multi-party democracy and settling political problems via all-party consultation process has now turned against the very countries it tried to placate earlier. The reason for this shift is that the earlier spontaneous moves turned out later to be counterproductive from the standpoint of implementing the political agenda in the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’. The JVP backed the President during the election campaign on the understanding that this would be implemented fully. Although the party did not join the coalition government, it had been extending support largely because of the military campaign to liberate the North and East from LTTE ‘terrorism’. The Rajapaksa regime was also keen on maintaining this bond with the JVP. The success achieved in the East has been an impetus to proceed confidently with the military campaign in the North. The government has a huge stake in its success, notwithstanding the enormous funds spent and the losses incurred.

During his recent visit to the UK along with few APRC members to study the different power sharing and devolution systems in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the APRC Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana told BBC Sandeshaya that President Rajapaksa was forced to take military action by the Tamil Tigers themselves. He also said, President Rajapaksa “honestly tried his best” to negotiate with the LTTE but the rebels launched “provocative attacks”. In fact both were wrong moves, not really intended to end the lingering conflict early and the suffering of the people. Regarding the President’s then
readiness to talk directly with the LTTE leader, dialogue with him was not a serious proposition, when he had rejected even the December 2002 Oslo understanding to explore a federal solution. The President was venturing to talk while clinging on to his election ‘Chinthanaya’ which he needed badly for strengthening and sustaining the support given by Sinhala nationalist parties in the November 2005 election.

Subsequent events have shown that right from the start it has been a game of scoring points to impress all, particularly the foreign governments that have been pressing for a permanent political settlement to the lingering conflict. The Sunday Observer April 20 reported that the APRC chairman opined -“the North Ireland settlement is a good example for all political parties in Sri Lanka in dealing with our own crisis”. There are two important factors here that need reminding. First the main parties to the conflict in Northern Ireland had realized that by continuing it, the suffering of the people will be pointlessly prolonged as no military solution was possible. Second, there was a powerful third party involvement that brought about the Good Friday Agreement. Both are lacking in Sri Lankan case. The situation that prevailed there was such both the Unionists and the Republicans had to trust each other for the sake of the much needed peace.

Real situation in Sri Lanka

The conflict that is now called ‘war against LTTE terrorism’ is helping to conceal the dismal situation in Sri Lanka that has serious financial and economic consequences harmful to the wellbeing of the whole country. Even the current day-to-day problems faced by the masses because of the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities and the collapse of law and order are being ignored. With regard to the complaints about enforced disappearances of civilians, the official response is they have gone abroad seeking asylum! However, the cost of protecting Ministers, parliamentarians and top officials in the administration is siphoning off considerable public funds that could be utilized for meeting some urgent needs of the poor people. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has identified eleven countries as hunger’s global hotspots. Sri Lanka along with Afghanistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe are heading towards a “food emergency”. There is little concern amongst politicians wielding power for the country’s present dismal state but there is plenty of rhetoric aimed at distorting the real situation.

[Wholesale traders in Colombo put up their shutters April 23 afternoon claiming they had no rice stocks to sell-pic courtesy: Gamini]

An article in the Daily Mirror April 18 titled ‘Claims of marked progress’ has exposed the attempt to downplay the impact of the steep rise in prices that have escalated the cost of living, affecting very badly those relying mainly on nominal fixed incomes for their daily needs Although the figures in the annual report of the Central Bank, 2007 show a rate of inflation as high as 28 percent, Governor of the Bank has been emphasizing the concept of ‘core inflation’ that excludes food and energy prices. According to this concept the piece increase is only 7 percent for the year. It is the cost of food,
energy and other essentials that swallows bulk of the income of the working class and pensioners. ‘Core inflation’ is a measure of ‘demand induced inflation’ over which alone monetary policy has any control Changes in the cost of living are also due to other reasons outside the influence of the country’s monetary policy. (For more R. M. B. Senanayake’s article- ‘Core inflation’ measurement and its uses’ -‘The Island’ April 23) John Plender in Financial Times April 23 has said to focus mainly on core inflation rates is potentially dangerous.

The country’s financial situation is precarious. According to the latest Central Bank Annual Report, revenue shortfall in 2007 was Rs. 35 billion while recurrent expenditure exceeded the original estimate by Rs. 26 billion, which widened the gap between revenue and recurrent expenditure last year by Rs. 61 billion. The government had to borrow internationally at high interest rates. Interest payment last year was Rs. 13.5 billion more than the estimated amount and will remain high if the traditional donors do not help. At the June 2003Tokyo Donor Conference on Reconstruction and Development, the donors pledged US$ 4.5 billion for a 4-year period from 2003 to 2006 but because of the lack of progress in the peace process Sri Lanka was unable to benefit optimally. Since then public investment in Sri Lanka has been lower than the required amount. The peace process collapsed mainly because of LTTE’s intransigence, despite the support of the donors for a political settlement based on the 2002 Oslo understanding. Another opportunity was missed!

Very little thought is being given to the causes for the relatively high GDP growth rate and whether this type of income growth is sustainable without sufficient investment and output growth of the productive sectors. A sizeable part of the growth now is related to the war and employment in public service that is exceedingly overstaffed and unproductive. This is largely due to political patronage, which has become an intrinsic part of the system. In this regard, the following observation in the CB report is relevant. “The recruitment to the public sector on an ad hoc basis and the availability of non-performance based benefits in the public sector not only discourage unemployed youth from joining the private sector, but also encourage those already engaged in the private sector to join the public sector.” Moreover, “the expansion of the public sector has reached such proportions that today more than half the country’s tax revenues is allocated to meet the payment of salaries and pensions of state employees.” Can this pattern be a sound base for sustainable growth and development?

The April 20 Sunday Times Economic Analysis column has also stated: “The fact is that the government itself is responsible for the inflationary conditions owing to its high spending, the losses generated by public corporations that are run inefficiently, the large fiscal deficits and defence expenditure. It is now quite clear that the government is little concerned with putting its own house in order perhaps due to a lack of understanding of economic issues. This situation portends serious social tensions and political unrest as the hardships are borne by the people in a context when they see so much of conspicuous wasteful expenditure. Statistical contentions, boasts of growth rates, calculations of core inflation and other methods to
deceive the people will not succeed”.

The rating agency S&P in the latest report (April 16) said Sri Lanka’s present credit rating B+ is at risk because of the worsening Government debt composition. To quote LBO: “The rising share of external debt, estimated at about 49 percent of total, and within that, the proportion of more expensive and shorter maturity commercial funds, is gradually eroding what has so far been a relatively favorable debt profile.” And “further signs of fiscal slippage, either through expenditure pressures or lower revenues, or a more adverse shift in government borrowing patterns, would lead to a rating downgrade.” Sri Lanka is among six other countries – Hungary, Pakistan, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic – which were either on negative outlook or credit watch.

The United States Congress is expected to endorse shortly a legislative proposal urging for the cancellation of debts owed by some of the world’s poorest countries. But some nations including Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Laos have been singled out due to their human rights situation and other ‘financial management standard’ issues. Sri Lanka’s debt to the United States alone amounts to mammoth Rs. 53 billion while the total foreign debt is much higher at Rs. 1.3 trillion according to the Central Bank 2007 Annual Report. Sri Lanka falls under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Heavily Indebted
Poor Country (HIPC) programme but according to reports, “the island does not meet the Jubilee Act standards in human rights and financial management standards”. Alan Beattie in April 23 issue of ‘Financial Times’ has reported that accusations of human rights abuses by Sri Lanka’s government are “jeopardizing a special EU ethical trade deal that has helped its garment industry survive competition from China”. The report also quoted Sri Lankan International Trade Minister G. L. Peiris, “Imposing tariffs of 10 per cent would make a lot of these factories unviable”. In Sri Lanka’s case it is not only the poor human rights record but also other factors that stand in the way for debt relief and other concessions. Not only the US and the EU but also other foreign donors are upset now. Sri Lanka is seeking development
assistance from Iran and China.

‘No safety, No escape’

The hapless people particularly those in the conflict zone have been affected in various ways. The ‘Watchlist’ mission in a detailed 60-page report called: ‘No safety, No Escape, Children and the Escalating armed Conflict in Sri Lanka’ launched in New York April 14 at the UN headquarters tells only a part of the tragedy. Nevertheless it is useful to understand the real situation. It states: “Gross human rights violations committed by Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and armed breakaway groups, like the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP)/Karuna
faction, have created a climate of constant fear and insecurity throughout the country. Both the GoSL and the LTTE have restricted or denied the delivery of vital humanitarian aid to the Jaffna peninsula and the Vanni area in the North, certain areas in the East and GoSL-declared high security zones. Adding to considerable bureaucratic barriers, humanitarian and human rights workers have been increasingly harassed, threatened and even killed while carrying out their lifesaving work. Additionally, restrictions on the movement of civilians have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis by preventing
civilians from escaping into safety or seeking assistance. Perpetrators commit violations against children and other civilians with impunity”.

On the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) the report states: “Between April 2006 and April 2007, the resumption of violent conflict displaced more than 300,000 people within Sri Lanka and forced more than 20,000 to seek safety in India. Approximately half a million Sri Lankans had been displaced prior to April 2006. Children comprise approximately 39 percent of the displaced population. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) suffer as a result of poor sanitary conditions and strained health facilities, as well as insufficient food supplies in host communities and IDP camps. The lack of security in and around the camps has exposed children to abduction, recruitment and sexual violence. Some IDP camps have become direct targets of military attacks”. The report has also drawn attention to the plight of Sri Lankan refugees in and outside the temporary camps in Tamil Nadu, south India. (For more visit

Internal weaknesses bared

The inherent weaknesses in the governing system have now been exposed to the world. Last week the eleven-member International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) from India, France, Indonesia, the United States, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Canada, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan, abandoned their mission to oversee the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate and inquire into some 15 serious violations of Human Rights, because they felt their presence did not serve any useful purpose. The departing international experts in their final report blamed the government for the absence of will to inquire into gross violations of rights and lack of absolute respect for the international norms of justice. They also mentioned specifically, conflict of interest in the proceedings of the CoI; lack of effective victim and witness protection; lack of transparency and timeliness in the proceedings; lack of full co-operation by State bodies; and lack of financial independence of the Commission of Inquiry that have hindered progress. The Attorney General’s Department has been severely criticised and its representation in the CoI objected on the grounds of conflict of interest. The Attorney General himself in a 17-page report has rejected the criticisms saying these are not well-founded. A lot of effort is being made to extricate from the damaging allegations made by the IIGEP.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission in a statement AHRC-STM-097-2008 issued on April 17, 2008 was also highly critical of the role of the AG Department. It said, “AG backs government – government backs the AG and no one is backing the rule of law” and the Department in the present situation is “playing a falsifier’s role and developing shrewd techniques to defeat justice.” The very next day April 18 the AHRC in another statement said, “Sri Lanka is a nation without a political will”. This in the opinion of this writer is the main reason for the lack of progress in solving national problems; the balanced development of all regions; and national unity. There has been no lack of will to gain political mileage from various factors that keep the society divided. The governing system itself is structured to serve the interests of those in power. The AHRC has in conclusion stated pointedly: “When the constitution of a country itself provides for a political system based on an executive president who does not need to demonstrate any political will, that nation is fated to be without determination to resolve any of its major problems. It is this experience that makes even the words, ‘political will’ meaningless”. So is the word ‘patriotism’ which is the refuge for the extremists, who want to strengthen Sinhala hegemony.

The Paris based Action Contre la Faim or Action against Hunger whose 17 aid workers were targeted and brutally killed in Muthur August 2006 said on April 18 it had decided to withdraw from Sri Lanka consequent to the IIGEP quitting its mandate to oversee the proceedings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. It considered the presence of the IIGEP as an essential condition for the credibility in the investigations into the killing of 17 of its staff in August 2006 and now doubted whether the CoI would respect international norms and standards. It said the Muthur slaughter could not be considered only as “collateral damage” as the team had been specifically and deliberately targeted and their death had been carried out in execution style with gun shots to their head. ACF alleged: “Everything was consciously and brutally planned. The victims were kneeling, unarmed and defenceless. The culprits of this massacre are the ones who were carrying the arms. We can assert that this massacre is a war crime in violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

Nordic truce monitors (SLMM) had earlier blamed the massacre on state security forces. But the government denied responsibility and accused ACF of being responsible for the massacre of their own local staff through “negligence” and “irresponsibility” In August 2007, particularly in the context of the gruesome execution-style slayings of the 17 ACF aid workers in Muthur, U.N. humanitarian relief chief John Holmes said, “Sri Lanka was one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers.” The government responded by calling Holmes “a terrorist”! The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) in its latest report said there was evidence to implicate the military in this incident and blamed the government for not taking prompt action
on the killings of 5 Tamil students earlier in Trincomalee. These too are alleged to have been committed by security officers and this lapse was an impetus to those responsible for the Muthur massacre. The UTHR(J) report has been praised by international human rights organizations as bold effort in conducting thorough investigative work. In response to this report, Action Against Hunger (ACF) called for an international inquiry into the killings. The government rejected this proposal, saying it would infringe on its sovereignty. Apparently, ACF now wants to seek justice from the world court. India: To be or not to be?

Following the two-day conference on ‘Peace and Reconciliation in South Asia’ held in Oslo on April 10 and 11, the eve of the Sinhala and Tamil Hindu New Year organised by the Art of Living Foundation of Indian spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a proposal to seek settlement to the lingering conflict in Sri Lanka through India’s mediation has emerged. There seem to be increasing realization amongst those fed up with the cycle of war, ‘peace talks’ and war that only India can play a decisive role in realizing a political settlement that cannot be rejected easily, unless the concerned party irresponsibly wants to ignore the consequences (past experience in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force cannot be ignored) and gamble with the future of the society.

One Cabinet minister (Tamil from the upcountry), one moderate opposition MP, Buddhist monks (one residing in Jaffna) and officials including the Secretary-General of the Peace Secretariat from Sri Lanka also participated in the meeting. The most high profile Tamil representative was Vaiko, the MDMK leader from India. Norway’s special envoy to Sri Lanka, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, and members of the European Parliament were other participants. After the meeting the guru told IANS – “the Oslo conference went off very well, though there were heated arguments and accusations, no one walked out! There was a strong commitment for peace and understanding.”

He also told IANS that he enjoys the trust of both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. He does not need any invitation to act to try ending one of the world’s longest running armed conflicts. “If someone’s house is burning, you don’t expect an invitation from them! A sensitive person will simply jump in”. Since the world is one family he added: “I think it is quite normal for anyone with a sense of belongingness to just act”. Since the Art of Living Foundation has ‘no ulterior motives other than to bring peace to one and all’ no one can object to a role of helping to end the Sri Lankan conflict.

The guru opined: “‘I have always dreamed the impossible and it has become possible. If conflicts could be resolved in Kosovo, in Ireland, in Baku (where Art of Living played an important role) and if Mahatma Gandhi could bring freedom to India, (the ability to end) the conflict in Sri Lanka through dialogue should not be dismissed. I don’t mind going to the end of the world if it helps to bring peace and lessen the suffering of the people.”

In a subsequent interview the guru explained: “In the larger interest of the humanity, people will have to come closer and resolve this issue amicably with a spirit of give and take, before more lives are lost. Everyone knows about the causes of the conflict. Lack of vision, short sightedness, and vote bank politics are at the very root of the issue”. On Norway’s proposal that India should play a decisive role in bringing peace to the war-torn island, he replied: “India is one of the major regional powers and being socially, culturally and spiritually linked to Sri Lanka, she cannot shy away from this. Not
only Norway but other countries too are of the opinion that India should play a vital role”.

Since early 2005, the spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been actively engaged in efforts to bring peace in Sri Lanka, holding talks with the government, parliamentarians and the LTTE. There is not the slightest doubt, “religious and spiritual leaders can play a big role in conflict resolution” but unfortunately the power hungry Sri Lankan political leaders have two separate stances towards religion and politics. They all faithfully visit the Buddhist prelates of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters in Kandy and seek their blessings for their political work that has often been an affront to Buddhist principles. This is not different to that of the armed rebels who devoutly pray and then go and kill unarmed civilians. How religion serves politicians in Sri Lanka is also seen in Daily Mirror editorial April 22, 2008. This was after the JVP renegades led by Wimal Weerawansa visited Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. “Political renegades in this country are often seen seeking refuge in religion. Weerawansa who has all along claimed to be a Marxist has now apparently become a fervent devotee of religion. What all these political gimmicks that are enacted in the political arena prove is the pathetic standard to
which our political leaders have descended”. It is very unfortunate the influential Buddhist prelates have not persuaded the Sri Lankan political leaders to follow the approach that spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is now advocating. Had this been done, politics in general would have been more useful devoid of the features that have obstructed unity, peace and steady progress in social, economic and political fields since independence.

On his return from Oslo, the MDMK general secretary Vaiko met Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in New Delhi April 17 and requested the government to mount diplomatic pressure on the Sri Lankan government to stop its military offensive and initiate peace talks for a workable solution to meet the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils.

‘The Hindu’ reported April 18 that Vaiko had explained to Dr. Singh the outcome of the Oslo conference and that “the situation in Sri Lanka was becoming grave day by day, endangering the life and security of Tamils. Innocent Tamils were being killed by the military. He explained the plight and misery of Tamils living in jungles without food and medicine”. According to Indian Foreign Ministry sources (Daily Mirror April22) – “No decision has been reached although the leaders are discussing it (India’s proactive role). However, India has always helped Sri Lanka and will continue to offer its assistance as and when the Sri Lankan Government requires it.”

The Tamil Nadu State Assembly passed unanimously a resolution April 23 urging New Delhi to intervene “with a humanitarian attitude based on the gesture shown by Sonia Gandhi in granting pardon to Nalini Murugan, one of the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and the recent meeting her daughter Priyanka had with Nalini in the Vellore prison” . Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, the government’s defence spokesman reacting to the resolution told reporters April 25 that Sri Lanka understands the political compulsions in neighbouring India but “the Indian government stands supportive of our campaign to eliminate terrorism.” Earlier (Daily Mirror April 16) the Minister told: “We do not need to offer any special invitation to India. The
moment we get our friends involved in the Sri Lankan conflict, it turns out to be volatile as the LTTE does not want peace in this country.” Minister Rambukwella added “India has always been involved in the Sri Lankan conflict by offering its assistance to the Sri Lankan government when required and as such there was no need to invite them for any direct involvement.” Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Government is trying to gain peace militarily or to put it more aptly political mileage, regardless of the present (daily killings are in double figures) and future costs to the nation. It remains to be seen
how India will respond to the latest plea, especially in the light of the new developments.

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

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