Six years have passed since the violent end to Sri Lanka’s civil war, but the central issue – the plight of Tamils – is no nearer solution than it was in 1983 when the resistance really began. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man who won the war, was sensationally defeated in the elections last year that saw a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, a Rajapaksa acolyte who turned against his chief at the last moment, come to power. The Tamils supported Sirisena in his campaign, but their ability to influence him is limited, given that the Sri Lankan military is still camped in the Tamil homeland and rehabilitation is slow, reluctant and half-hearted.
It is perhaps against this backdrop that former National Security Advisor M K Narayanan suggested “across the border” citizenship for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in India, at a forum on the subject on November 4. Obviously, it was not a solution, but one more step to make their lives more secure. Just as obviously, it found no favour with a section of refugees, who hold India, not the LTTE’s record of atrocities, responsible for their plight. Narayanan is considered especially culpable as he was the NSA when the LTTE went down. So, when a young dissenter named Prabhakaran threw a slipper at Narayanan, the real surprise was that he had managed to breach the security cordon. Though there were no injuries except to ego, the incident raises serious questions about the decency of dissent.
No one disputes the injustice Sri Lankan Tamils are suffering and disagreement over proposals to find a way out is only natural. But throwing slippers or tomatoes or rotten eggs at Narayanan or any other player is hardly likely to help. Worse, it trivialises a more serious issue, finding justice for the Tamils. The real damage, however, is to the right to dissent, which is integral to an open society. Incoherent minor thuggery of this kind reinforces a feeling that dissenters are hooligans, which is far from true. It also distracts attention from the reasons for disagreement and tends to promote groupthink rather than diversity that should be central to every democracy.