Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena set the right tone for the sixth anniversary of the end of the civil war in the island nation when he said that the truth of what happened in the conflict needed to be established and justice delivered. He was unequivocal when he said, “We were all happy when the war ended. But can we be happy with the developments post-war? We were not able to win hearts and minds of the people. The true reconciliation could only be achieved by winning hearts and minds.” This kind of a statement was unthinkable until a few months ago when Mahinda Rajapaksa was in full command in Colombo. He celebrated the end of the war as “Victory Day” for five years, while Sirisena re-christened it as “Remembrance Day”.
The change in nomenclature signalled a change in the popular perceptions about the war. For the first time, the Tamils felt that they, too, could take part in the observance, if not the celebrations of the anniversary. Remembrance included the sacrifices made by one and all, irrespective of their ethnicity. For the first time, the Tamils in the North and the East in the former war zone were allowed to hold a memorial ceremony for the civilians killed in the war. That it was attended by a large number of people, including Northern Province chief minister C V Vigneswaran and many members of the Provincial Council, was proof that Sirisena’s attempt at reconciliation has been paying dividends. Of course, there is no denying that some Tamil politicians are not impressed by the change in tone for they do not find any fundamental change in the government’s approach.
It is undeniable that during the last four months, the government has taken a series of steps to win the confidence of the Tamils. For instance, many political prisoners were released, large tracts of military-controlled land were returned to their original Tamil owners, and investigations into civilian deaths were begun. There is, as of now, no clarity on the happenings during the last few days of the civil war. There are reports that many Tamils were shot at close range after the actual war had ended. As long as these charges are not probed and the guilty punished, reconciliation will remain a pipe-dream. This process needs to be accelerated for which India should do everything possible, diplomatically, politically and economically.