Ethnic Relations Take Centre Stage In Sri Lanka

By S. Sivathasan

“Tenderer than a flower is love. Very few recognize how delicate it is” Thirukkural 

A Clean Break

To the writer yet more tender than love, is the art of nurturing ethnic relations in our midst. More so since it has been ravished for long and is being brought back to life after 67 years. In those times never did we seek to be independent. Our dependence was on strife and turmoil to resolve our tussles. What have we gained from them all? This question is posed only as a rhetorical one. Quite a span is needed to place irksome memories in the back burner for them to recede with time. Our vision transfixed on the future and energies canalized for growth and change, can see the beginning of that difference.

 

Reconciliation at centre stage

Wall Street Journal saw Sri Lanka at the ready to take centre stage. Quite perceptively Armitage and others placed Ethnic Reconciliation at the top of the agenda for the nation’s redemption.

At a perfectly timed visit to Sri Lanka, Ms Nisha Biswal met the powers that be of the government. From TNA leadership she “heard their perspective for meaningful progress on Reconciliation” she said. She also “expressed United States’ willingness to work with the new government and looked forward to partnering with the Sri Lankan people”. A welcome initiative for the nation to take the cue from.

President Maithripala Srisena in his Independence Day address placed particular emphasis on the process of Reconciliation. From the way its importance is highlighted by voices from the US and responded to by the highest Executive of the country, one could look forward to accelerated attention in this regard.

6(31)A new axis

In a change of regime, the US and the West foresee other developments to follow. Sri Lanka’s shift towards India is one such. Responsiveness to the stances of Japan is another. With momentum moving in a westerly direction, embracing Europe and US, extending due weightage to India and the Indian Ocean and the leverage of Japan being correctly understood; Sri Lanka is sure to be drawn into the vortex of Washington, New Delhi and Tokyo. This is not to suggest that Sri Lanka will be out of China’s financial benevolence. Time may be all too soon when the island nation benefits from both the worlds.

Some changes are already sensed. Ban on fish imports to Europe may be suspended for six months. To follow is likely to be restoration of GSP plus concession. Loss of momentum on the UNHRC Resolution is casting its shadows. All what they indicate is that if the infant grows up with acceptable behavior it will be molly coddled well and chaperoned with care. Do not fight with your smaller siblings may be the staple coming from outside.

Indo Lanka rapprochement

The President’s trip to meet Modi in 10 days, signifies great things to come. It comes about after visits by two Foreign Ministers, who presumably did the groundwork. Of no less importance was Sampanthan’s meeting with Modi in New Delhi. The visit of Modi in March will be a portentous one in setting the pace for a protracted and meaningful journey.

The meeting comes as the fifth in a series, preceded by high calibre discussions in recent months. The national question, with all the fallout thereof has gnawed at the membrane of every citizen’s consciousness. But that is not reason enough for the ethnic problem to collapse like a pricked balloon. It is not given to us to cheer like the British when Neville Chamberlain exulted “Peace for our Time” after signing the Munich Agreement in September 1938. Neither Modi nor Maithripala nor Sampanthan can be exuberant with victory scored.

We should be happy that a thorny issue kept aside for long is brought to the front burner for attention. With understanding and goodwill on all sides we may reach the periphery now and the core even swiftly. The polity cannot pitch its sights all too high and then abandon itself to disappointment. The problem by itself is not intractable. Danger lies in unrealistic expectations. Working on the outcome with pragmatism will help take issues to a separate turf and a different level.

Economic front

7(13)As for social stability and harmony, so with ethnic peace and cohesion, erosion of economic disparity is compulsory. Economic and Social Statistics published annually by the Central Bank provide authentic statistics that are edifying.

When the data is related ethnically to Tamils there is a contrast with the Sinhalese. When compared geographically, the North-East suffers badly with most of the remaining Provinces. War doesn’t explain away. Marginalization policies could have been abandoned. Affirmative action in five plus years should have narrowed the contrast. It is not meant to dwell on it any more. It’s most pragmatic to turn the disadvantaged past to a beneficial future.

The New Regime can make January 2015 as a watershed in the nation’s history. Taking the cue from the benevolence showered by nations on Sri Lanka by Tsunami, the government can negotiate for debt moratoria, rescheduling of loans and even for write offs. All these for a credible economic house in order.

Of much greater significance is Direct Investment from foreign quarters. Institutional aid apart are massive amounts flowing in as remittance by expatriates. China and India stand tall in this regard. Sri Lankan Tamils together with Sinhalese and Muslims can show dazzling performance. The condition precedent is that armed marauders, who sojourned for a quarter century and more should be put behind bars. May it be remembered that LLRC has emphasized this necessity.

Good infrastructure built by the previous government was for show purposes. The incumbent regime was voted in to change the culture of waste and to usher in an ethos of investment. Let the people partake of the benefits of investment and employment. Let the powers that be become totally blind to ethnicity and religion.

 

Reconciliation

Economic progress will make for Reconciliation. Nothing else can.