This country’s history is repeating itself with deadly accuracy. Last week Gotabaya Rajapaksa reiterated what Sinhalese leaders have been saying since the parting of ways with the Tamils in 1958.
In an interview with the BBC on Monday (May12) Rajapaksa was asked about ‘a recent local government reshuffle in the north which has seen some senior Tamil officials replaced by Sinhalese personnel’. His reply had been: “Earlier before the war all were Sinhalese, just as much a lot of Tamils worked in southern districts. Sinhalese and Muslims should be able to work in the north. It is a part of Sri Lanka”.
BBC: So were Tamils correct to view the north as a predominantly Tamil place?
Rajapakse: Why should be that? (Sic) Why should be that? (Sic). If you are a Sri Lankan citizen you must be able to go buy property from anywhere. I am not talking of forced settlements. I am talking about the freedom for a Sri Lankan to live anywhere in the country.
We will refrain from making comments on this issue; the subject of traditional homelands of the Tamils having being debated with much sound and fury for 54 years without being resolved.
Meanwhile, the main party representing Tamils, the TNA, have also begun reiterating their age old demands with equal vehemence.
The TNA has not flinched from their demands such as the amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern provinces to constitute their traditional homeland; formulation of a devolution package that goes beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution; and freedom for Tamils to have unrestricted authority to govern themselves in their own land, protect their people and develop their economy.
R. Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA, made most of these demands at the 14th annual sessions of the TNA held during the weekend in Batticaloa. A vital difference in their party policy was that it no longer demanded a separate state as when they were in alliance with the LTTE. Instead the present demand is a call for a United Sri Lanka but with most of the half century-old demands in a new package.
The intransigent attitudes of both the ruling Rajapaksa regime and the TNA are indeed regrettable for the country appears to have arrived back at square one after 50 years, including a 30 year war.
A grand opportunity was missed after the end of the three decade old blood letting when both sides had the opportunity to let bygones be bygones and get together. But the Rajapaksa regime, delirious in victory, was in no mood for displaying the magnanimity of victor and instead played petty racist politics with elections in mind. It wanted no other claimants for their triumph other than those in Rajapaksa & Co., and even the commander of the victorious army was thrown behind bars.
With the elimination of the juvenile thugs who held the once educated and respected Tamil community at the point of a gun and massacred the flower of Tamil political leadership, it was the opportune time for the TNA to condemn the LTTE and join mainstream politics. Undoubtedly it was an extremely trying moment for the TNA leadership but they should have thought of the Tamil people who were in the depths of their degradation and should have tried to rescue them. Instead the TNA leadership simply sulked and let matters drift for three years.
The TNA may have hoped for the expatriate Tamils in the West to work miracles for them but that was a vain hope. Western politicians may support the so-called Tamil diaspora on specific issues in their political agenda and for votes in marginally balanced electorates such as in Britain but are in no mood to support terrorist fronts at home. Hence the LTTE remains banned.
Sampanthan in his address at the TNA sessions held during the weekend in Batticaloa admitted the mistake of Tamil parties in falling out with India and hoped that once again New Delhi would play godfather to them. But to expect New Delhi to promote any form of Tamil separatism in Lanka which would catalyse separatism in Tamil Nadu is a pipe dream of the TNA. The LTTE learnt it the hard way.
Meanwhile, what have the ‘Rajapaksa Brothers’ achieved in their three joyous years of victory? The much heralded economic spurt of Nivard Cabraal which was expected to be heading towards the stars is falling back to mother earth. The debts accrued by Chinese loans are now reaching the proverbial Chinese celestial heavens. Direct foreign investments are no longer spoken of, foreign exchange reserves are fast diminishing, the balance of trade gap is expanding and the poorer sections of the community are reeling after being clobbered by price hikes.
Are ships sailing into Hambantota Harbour? And is the billion dollar Norochcholai Chinese built coal power plant working or failing ever so often costing Sri Lanka millions of rupees each day and even making the loquacious Champika Ranawaka keep his trap shut?
On the Western front the human rights drum beats are on and the stern rebuke by Sri Lanka’s defenders of its sovereignty to Washington’s Iron Lady and her allies to mind their own business about the militarisation of Jaffna is not going to be taken too kindly.
The stout defenders of human rights of the West have smelled blood. The unprecedented 50 years of imprisonment imposed on former Liberian President James Taylor last week is a message to leaders of weaker nations to play ball according to Western rules. Whether the West violates human rights or not is not the business of small and weak countries, is their view. Might is right seems to be the message.
What G. L. Peiris agreed to with Hillary Clinton in Washington we do not know. But another day of reckoning will come in November this year when the UNHRC meets again in Geneva. The stance adopted by Uncle Sam and his allies in the Lankan issue of human rights seems to be: ‘No hellung Pol Mallung’, as the Sinhalese say.
The Rajapaksa regime should reflect, at least for a moment, on what would have followed had they used tact and diplomacy with Western nations instead of flexing Lanka’s feeble and ineffective muscles on national sovereignty.
Besides Western threats and influence the Rajapaksa regime should well realise that the Tamils are people of this country entitled to basic rights as the Sinhalese and for peace in this land reconciliation is sine qua non. Had those rights been granted, much of the hell fire and brimstone directed by the mighty gods of the West may not have been.