Be sensitive to the Sinhala voice

The lead story on this newspaper’s yesterday’s edition was the TNA’s request for Indian Premier Narendra Modi’s intervention to solve the island’s national or Tamil question.
Modi was in Sri Lanka on a whistle-stop two-day visit which ended today (Saturday, 14 March).
Regarding the national question, it seemingly affects the sensitivities of the Tamils living in the North and the island’s majority Sinhalese in the first place, simultaneously. It doesn’t affect only one community.
buddhist-monks-protest-in-colombo_11It also has an impact on the Tamils living in the Eastern Province (EP), the single largest ethnic population in that province, though the Muslim and Sinhala populations together comprise over 50% of the EP’s population. To state the obvious, Tamils however comprise well over 50% of the population in the Northern Province (NP).
For Tamils living in the rest of the country, on a narrow perspective, the island’s ‘Northern’ question may not be ‘that much’ of a political problem. ‘Emotional,’ it may be, because a number of their relatives were affected by the war and their properties destroyed. If not, they themselves may have also been personally affected by the war.
Across the shores, that may be the reason why the Tamilian diaspora is agitating for accountability from the Government of Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes. And their influence, both political and commercial, has got key western capitals agitated over the issue, a knock on effect is the UN’s involvement over this question and Sri Lanka’s loss of the GSP+ zero per cent import duty concession to the EU, the island’s largest export market, for the fifth consecutive year.
The TNA has its vote base in the NP and to a lesser extent in the EP. It controls the Northern Provincial Council and returned the largest number of MPs at the last general election from the NP which was held in 2010. And, in the EP, it returned five of the total number of 17 MPs voted into power, second only to the UPFA which voted in seven members to Parliament from that province. Unlike in the NP, the TNA doesn’t command an absolute majority in relation to elected members to parliament in the EP because it’s a mixed ‘electorate.’
The UPFA governed the country for nearly 11 years before the ouster of its former strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Maithripala Sirisena at the 8 January 2015 polls.
Meanwhile, our lead story in yesterday’s edition reported that the TNA has wanted Indian intervention vis-à-vis the island’s ‘national’ question. Those were in six areas: Implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment (13A) plus, settlement of war displaced Tamils, withdrawal of the army from those ‘occupied’ areas to make such resettlement possible, repatriation of Sri Lankan (Tamil) refugees in India, tracing of missing persons due to the war and the issue of ‘political’ prisoners.
With the UN and its adjunct agency the UN Human Rights Council calling for a war crimes probe, the phrase ‘national question’ may be but a misnomer. In that context, it may be more appropriate to call it Sri Lanka’s Northern or Eastern problem, and/or the international question (!).
Implementation of 13A Plus may be a contentious issue as Parliament has approved only 13A. Let 13A be first implemented, 13A Plus may be debated later. Resettlement of displaced Tamils and the army withdrawal from private land in the Northern and Eastern Provinces is sine qua non. There can be no debate on this issue.
Repatriation of Sri Lankan (Tamil) refugees in India, provided they want to return, and there is no legal impediment for those wishing to settle down in India to do so, then the rest should come back with the dawn of peace. Some of them may have been living in India as refugees at least for the past 32 years, since the outbreak of the July 1983 riots.
Tracing of missing persons is also sine qua non; there can be no question about that.
Other than the UN, ipso facto led by the USA, EU and India, have internationalized Sri Lanka’s Tamil question, which countries like Japan, Sri Lanka’s single largest donor country until recently, has however refused to do so (see also this newspaper’s editorial on its yesterday’s – Friday, 13 March issue).
Its internationalization has come about due to the intervention of the Tamilian diaspora and Tamil Nadu (TN) politics, where, in the case of the latter it had its origin in New Delhi, since the reelection of the late Indira Gandhi in to power 36 years ago in December 1979.
Delhi has seemingly nurtured a ‘tiger’ vis-à-vis TN’s political interest in the NP of Sri Lanka in particular, which it may now find difficult to tame.
Nevertheless, it would be foolish for either Colombo, Delhi, New York, Geneva, Brussels or Washington to try to rush through a solution to this question without taking into account the sensitivities of the island’s majority population the Sinhalese as well, a view diplomatically expressed by the Japanese Ambassador in Colombo in that editorial, probably because the ‘Sri Lanka Question (!)’ doesn’t politically affect Tokyo?
Or, is it because of the ‘soft’ spot that Tokyo still has on Colombo because of Sri Lanka’s former Finance Minister (later President) J.R. Jayewardene’s ‘famous’ speech at San Francisco 64 years ago in 1951 where he asked the international community to forgive and to ‘forget’ war crimes (similar connotations vis-à-vis the Sri Lanka context!) committed by Japan in World War II, is anybody’s guess.

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