The annual Victory Parade which has now become a ritual in Sri Lanka’s official calendar took place with the usual military razzle-dazzle.
Colombo last week was rattled in the mornings with the Air Force doing their practice runs and streets around Galle Face closed for military rehearsals. Commemorating the military victory over terrorism is amply justified but whether all the military trappings evident at the ceremony were justified with the poor and the middle class reeling under the price hikes imposed by the government through taxes, is much in question.
The expenditure involved in holding military parades which are becoming bigger and grander each year are never revealed to the public. But the people – rich and poor – have to foot the bill for these social high jinks such as when the military top brass, politicians, high ranking panjandrums together with their spouses in all their finery assemble under the blazing hot sun, of course to be photographed and televised to the hoi polloi at night.
In countries where the rulers are sensitive to the mood of their people such lavish and gaudy social displays are usually avoided. The most recent example was last week’s swearing-in of the new French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace. The socialist President arrived with his wife sans an entourage and took his oaths at a simple ceremony, as requested by him. The traditional French grandeur was dispensed with following the austerity measures that have been imposed on the people, which the new president hopes to do away with soon. In Sri Lanka military victory over terrorism has been achieved but it does appear that a complete victory over terrorism has yet to come. If not, why is the strength of the armed forces being increased over and above the strength they were, at the height of the terrorist war? The allocations for expenditure in the Defence Ministry budget had been steadily on the rise even after the end of the ‘War’ and such increases cannot be explained away on the ludicrous additional activities undertaken by the Defence Ministry such as scavenging in the city of Colombo or urban development.
The Rajapaksa regime should, while basking for the third year in a military victory, take time to ponder on why they cannot reduce defence expenditure by reducing on armaments and manpower in the services. The excuse is that the terrorist threat is still not over particularly in the north and some regions in the east. That is the reason given for the strong military presence particularly in the north. They fear re-emergence of terrorist groups as it happened before. At least that is what government officials and politicians say.
The great thinkers of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime could not have simply forgotten the basic premise of winning over terrorism: Winning the hearts and minds of terrorists. Since the terrorists cannot exist within a community without its support, it is essential that winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil community in these regions is a sine-qua-non. Whatever Tamil government supporters like those of the EPDP may say, the mood of the Tamils towards the Rajapaksa government, at best, is sullen. They may be glad that the juvenile thugs who ruled them for over a quarter century are no more. But to imagine that they have welcomed the ‘liberators’ with open arms would indeed be asinine. No community would like to have armed contingents in their neighbourhood day and night and for years on end. Even the Sinhalese in Colombo found the presence of troops who were Sinhala, irksome and were happy to see them off the streets. This status quo is likely to remain into the foreseeable future unless the government and the mainstream Tamil political parties reach an understanding regarding the factors that are keeping Tamils within their shell.
For three years after the elimination of the LTTE militarily, the Rajapaksa government has been prevaricating in coming to terms with the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance. It has had no guts to come out openly and offer the Tamils what they could, to alleviate Tamil grievances. Instead under the cover of democracy they want the opposition political parties to join hands with them so that in case of a Sinhala backlash they could point their finger at the opposition parties. Even when some political parties reached consensus on a solution such as at the All Party Conference (APC) the Rajapaksa government shelved the proposals and ignored them.
The latest ruse appears to be the proposal for a Parliamentary Select Committee. The government agreed to this proposal some time ago but even with more than a 2/3rds majority in the House, it has not been able to make any headway. It seems obvious that procrastination and prevarication will not make the problem go away and for the sake of the country President Rajapaksa has to come to grips with the problem.
Surprisingly the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe and Leader of the TNA R. Sampanthan broke the ice that had frozen the two communities apart and held a joint May Day rally where both leaders carried the national flag and Sampanthan declared that he stood for a united Sri Lanka. This is a worthwhile effort that should not be permitted to lapse and it should now be the turn of President Rajapaksa, his brothers and sons to carry the flag forward.
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