The new kid on the block of the Rajapaksa return project is the supremely ill named “Eliya” meaning “light” organisation headed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, whose stated intent is to oppose the proposed post war reforms of the Unity Government. At its recent launch with all the usual suspects of the Joint Opposition and their sundry cheer leaders in attendance, the arguments put forward were essentially the same old tired and hackneyed, fear mongering and paranoia which had been conclusively rejected by the people at two elections in January and August 2015. Essentially there is no new argument, no new shrill screams of paranoia which were not made in 2015, that are being made now.
After all, then candidate Sirisena was called a foreign agent, an NGO puppet, a Diaspora lackey and every other conceivable insult that self-induced paranoia could produce, but prevailed at the polls, despite actually spending a lot less, facing totally adverse state media coverage and arguably being the less flamboyant of the two candidates.
The voters did not forget and ignore, the gross mismanagement and rampant corruption which were the hallmarks of the Rajapaksa national security state.
Now clearly the JO, the “Eliya” and its fraternal SLPP all hope that come 2020, fear and thinly disguised racism are potent enough that with the passage of time, swing and new younger voters will forget or at least forgive, the world’s most expensive highways, Telecom regulatory funds spend on electioneering, empty ports and unused airports resulting in unsustainable commercial debts, the white van abductions, the killing of editors and journalists, sacking a chief justice and jailing the opposition presidential candidate, who is a war hero, to name a few of the features of Rajapaksa misrule, lest we forget.
However, the arguments made by “Eliya” are weak and require to be countered.
Firstly, the argument is made, that constitutional reforms will negate the war victory and provide through reforms what the LTTE were unable to win on the battlefield. The LTTE were not fighting for reforms. In fact, the LTTE opposed every attempt at reform, including the 13th Amendment to the constitution and the devolution of power to the provincial council.
The LTTE was fighting for a mono ethnic separate state, which was neither democratic nor respected basic human rights. Which is why the LTTE killed Tamil political opponents and conscripted young Tamil children. The proposed constitutional reforms are not going to reduce democracy, human rights or enable the creation of a separate state. On the contrary, it will do the opposite. It will strengthen democracy and human rights, strengthen the social compact between the state and the governed while reducing the alienation of marginalized communities and especially ethnic minorities from the Sri Lankan state.
Secondly, a retired general and published author in attendance at the Eliya launch, according to media reports has stated that because he spent three decades fighting in the North, he rather than the community’s democratically elected leaders knew what the people wanted. One wondered if he fought the Tigers or dialogued with them. We presume the former. His comments move from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The Sri Lankan Army knew very well the alienation of the Tamil people from the Sri Lanka State.
That is why during the entire duration of the war, Tamil people from the North were not allowed to come out of the Jaffna peninsula and indeed the Vanni, without a special military pass. We never fought the JVP in 1989/90 confining people to their homes, but the only way to contain the war to the North and East and prevent it spreading to the rest of the country was to confine the people of the North and East, to their own areas. The fighting was ended but the causes of the conflict remain to be addressed.
Even a fairly cursory study of either history or political science would teach us, that the best way to have social cohesion and fidelity to a constitutional order is to ensure that there is no systematic alienation of people or groups of people from a State.
In that context, we need reforms of the Sri Lanka state, which ensures that the State accommodates the full diversity of her peoples. Reforms which address, what LTTE suicide bomb victim late MP, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam defined as “the anomaly of having imposed a mono ethnic state on a multi-ethnic polity”.
No better example of the mono ethnic nature of the Sri Lankan State is needed than in the issue of the singing of the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil at the National Day celebrations and indeed the near hysteria of the “Eliya” mentality type persons who predicted dire consequences if it happened. The anthem is sung now in both languages and we are a stronger nation for it.
Reconciliation is a long-term process and progressively pursued by the Unity Government, strengthening social cohesiveness as it progresses, though admittedly slowly.
Finally, the arguments on constitutional reform are mixed up, rather illogically with issues of post war accountability. Illogical because real politic would most likely ensure that political reforms which are the best guarantors of non-recurrence would lessen not increase the pressure on accountability issues. However, the JO and indeed the Rajapaksa clan must remember that it was President Mahinda Rajapaksa who in May 2009, in a joint declaration with the then UN Secretary General pledged Sri Lanka to a post war process of accountability, a political solution and rehabilitation.
This position though often reiterated in international fora throughout the shortened Rajapaksa second term from 2010 to 2014, was not implemented in any way and the international community was only progressively requiring Sri Lanka to be true to her own commitments and international obligations. From a foreign policy standpoint, the Rajapaksa clan’s great error was to belittle and ignore their own international undertakings. In hind sight, it was the foreign policy acumen and course correction of the Unity Government which once again normalized Sri Lanka’s relations with the world.