The Peace Cannot be Abandoned
in Sri Lanka, Part 1
PEACE CANNOT BE ABANDONED
MA(Camb), MBBChir(Camb), MBBS(Hons) (Lond),
MD(Lond), FRCP(Lond), FRACP
Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine
The Peace that has prevailed in Sri Lanka for the past 17 months, after nearly two decades of one of the bloodiest and most destructive conflicts in South Asia, is in danger of being abandoned. After half a dozen non-productive Peace Talks and no visible peace-dividend for the Tamil people in the North and East, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have declined to take part in any further talks “for the time being”. The specific accusation was of “…the government’s refusal to implement the normalization aspects of the Ceasefire Agreement and subsequent agreements reached at talks…” It is clearly a wake-up call to the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) that it is time to deliver on the undertakings given in the “Declaration of Cessation of Hostilities”, signed by the GOSL and the LTTE on 23 February 2002.
A breakdown of the peace process will be a serious problem for Sri Lanka. What is at stake is the future of the whole country. A breach of the current Peace cannot be compared with the breakdown of earlier Peace Talks e.g.1994-1995. The degree and sophistication of the militarisation on both sides is such that if war breaks out again the bloodshed and destruction will be much more serious.
If fighting breaks out again, the chance of another negotiated settlement is unlikely. It could be a “Fight to the finish”, whatever “finish” might be. It need not necessarily be the physical destruction of the country but the destruction (the finish) of the economy, which will set the country back 50 years (or more).
Before discussing the problem of Peace, some commonly, but inaccurately, used terms must be clarified.
The Tamils are often described as a “Tamil minority” mainly to portray the on-going ethnic problem as “a minority problem”. The Tamils are not a “minority” but a ”people” who are numerically less (18%) than the Sinhalese (74%).
The ongoing conflict has been described as “the Tamil problem”. It is not a Tamil problem but a Sinhalese problem. The “problem” has been the inability of the Sinhalese to accept that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural country where different ethnic, religious and cultural groups have a right to exist in equality, dignity and safety. That is a Sinhalese problem.
The necessary solution is often said to be “a devolution of power” to the Tamil areas. “Devolution” implies a flow down from a higher level to a lower level. The Tamil people are not asking for power to be “devolved” but to be shared so that they can run the area in which they live (the North and the East).
Unless these fundamental points are recognised and accepted, there will never be a solution to the ethnic problem, the current Peace Process notwithstanding. If these points are not accepted, the current “Peace” will turn out to be a “Pause-in-Conflict”.
In addition to problems in the Tamil North and East, there are significant problems in the Sinhala South. Increasing poverty and an escalating cost of living have made life for the Sinhala masses intolerable. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe has failed to deliver on his promises to address the galloping corruption, escalating poverty and poor governance which characterised the previous Kumaratunga regime. As a result, there is widespread disenchantment with the Government which has now been in power for 17 months.
This dissatisfaction has been exploited by political opportunists, especially the Marxist JVP, who are being supported by half of Kumaratunga’s party, the SLFP, amongst others. This deadly cocktail has been made even deadlier by support from thousands of Buddhist monks, the bastion of Sinhala chauvinism, who are capitalizing on the virulently anti-Tamil stance of the JVP. This has created a highly unstable situation in the Sinhala South, which can make or break governments. As a result, the Wickremasinghe Government is looking increasingly shaky. A return of the disastrous Kumaratunga regime, in coalition with the JVP, is not a possibility, but a probability. Such a change will, quite definitely, end the peace process with a return to war. It will also be the end of the current carnival in Colombo where the ‘elite’ are having the time of their lives.
The widespread peace euphoria has mesmerized expatriate Tamils, and others, who are unable to see the volcano about to erupt in the South and a sabotage of the Peace and a return to war in the North. Should this occur, violence will engulf the whole country. This is not a doomsday scenario but precisely what happened in 1988-89 when the murderous JVP ran amok in the South and the Indian Army did the same in the North and East. This time round there will be no Indian Army in the North and East but a much-enhanced and well-entrenched Sri Lankan Army, with the Indians in the background playing a proxy role.
Instead of wallowing in the euphoria of Peace, it is time that people woke up to reality rather than be taken by surprise. I have not the slightest doubt that the LTTE is very much awake to these possibilities which is why they are measuring their steps carefully and not rushing in to negotiate with a Government that may be unable to deliver. Indeed, it might not even be there to deliver.
THE OPPOSITION TO PEACE
The opposition to peace comes from different parties with different agenda. Most of the opposition is from those who stand to lose politically (e.g. the JVP), financially (e.g. the Armed Forces and arms dealers) and in prestige (e.g. the President), from Peace.
Others (e.g. sections of the Buddhist clergy and the Sinhalese elite) are those who have inaccurate, distorted or prejudiced beliefs in the supremacy of the Sinhalese.
Yet others (e.g. India) are unable, unwilling, or even afraid, to accept a solution to the Sri Lankan ethnic problem which threatens their own domestic ethnic or ethno-religious problems.
a. Sinhalese extremists led by the JVP and include the MEP and the Sihala Urumaya (SU).
b. Part of President Kumaratunga’s SLFP led by her brother, Anura Bandaranaike.
c. A section of the Muslim party.
d. Some Tamil militants, and even some Tamil civilians, opposed to the LTTE.
2. The Executive President.
The Armed Forces and arms
4. Sinhala supremacists
a) The Buddhist clergy who see Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
b) The Sinhala ‘educated’ elite who believe a fabricated version of Sri Lankan history which is patently anti-Tamil.
These different forces are now forming alliances, overtly and covertly. Their aim is to prevent the GOSL from putting forward any solution which will be acceptable to the Tamil people, thus sabotaging the Peace Process and precipitating a return to war. Their hope is that this will result in a fall of the current UNP–led Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, and this in turn will propel them to power. They say that what is needed is to militarily defeat the LTTE, however impossible this has proven to be in the past, crush Tamil resistance, take Sri Lanka down the path of ethno-religious fundamentalism and make it a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. They may or may not believe this nonsense, but of one thing they are certain, it will propel them to power.
The political opportunists are led by the JVP and the Anura Bandaranaike half of the SLFP who are about to form an alliance, an ‘Axis of Evil’ where the Peace process is concerned.
The JVP and other Sinhalese extremists
The JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna – ‘People’s Liberation Front’, a Marxist party, Appendix 3), spearheads the opposition to peace. Their agenda is quite clear. They see the sabotage of the Peace-process and the consequent probable collapse of the Government as the most certain way of getting into power. The JVP has stated in no uncertain terms that they want total war and a military defeat of the LTTE, however impossible this has proven to be in nearly the past two decades. Although this is no more than hot air with a a liberal amount of wishful thinking, indeed a pathological hallucination, it may be sufficient to get the support of the gullible Sinhalese, especially since they share this same hallucination.
The JVP arose out of unfulfilled aspirations of Sinhalese rural youths, just as the Tamil militants arose out of a similar problem facing Tamil rural youths. The JVP was founded in 1965 by Rohana Wijeweera, a rural youth, who became a Marxist while studying Medicine in Russia. The initial insurrection was in 1971 to overthrow Mrs Bandaranaike’s SLFP-Left Coalition government. This was crushed by the government but Wijeweera escaped to fight another day.
The JVP was revived, and in late 1986 changed its stance from Marxism to the well-worn path of ethno-religious populism. It became virulently anti-Tamil and anti-Indian. The latter which was evident even at its inception (one of their four ‘basic lectures’ was to warn of Indian expansionism), markedly increased after the 1987 introduction of Indian “peace-keeping” troops to the Tamil areas under the J.R. Jayawardene-Rajiv Gandhi Pact. This reached such extremes that anyone who traded with India, or even visited that country, was murdered by the JVP.
The second uprising was in 1988-89 against the UNP government of Ranasinghe Premadasa. This was far more serious with extensive destruction of public property and indiscriminate slaughter of many prominent people, including Chandrika Kumaratunga’s visionary husband. The insurrection was put down by President Premadasa and the JVP leader executed.
The current JVP leader, Somawansa Amerasinghe, for whom there is an arrest warrant in Sri Lanka, is self-exiled in England. The leadership in Sri Lanka is from the middle-rung of the 1998-99 bunch, and is led by its Propaganda Secretary, (Comrade) Wimal Weerawanse, a member of parliament. His main aim seems to be to get the JVP to replace Kumaratunga’s SLFP as the main Opposition party, roping in the President’s brother if necessary.
Amazingly, President Kumaratunga is in bed with this murderous group who murdered her husband. She even invited Somawansa Amerasinghe to visit Sri Lanka as a State guest to assist her at the December 2001 General Election, the arrest-warrant notwithstanding. Just last week, on one of her numerous visits to London (her children are studying there), she invited him for dinner. I do not think she was discussing the weather; perhaps she was – arranging a political cyclone in Colombo.
Although the two bloody JVP insurrections in the South (1971 and 1988) to wrest political power from the SLFP and the UNP respectively, have been unsuccessful, the next may well be successful because of their current collaborators. These are the other extremist Sinhala groups, a section of President Kumaratunga’s PA Party unofficially led by her brother, Anura Bandaranaike, and from the President herself. To make matters worse, unlike in 1971 and 1988, the JVP might well have the support of the Armed Forces whose Commander-in Chief is the President.
A recent serious development has been that the JVP, which was virulently and murderously anti-Indian, have suddenly become great admirers of India! Praise for India knows no bounds. They are frequent visitors to the Indian Embassy in Colombo and have even proposed that cars for members of parliament should be the Indian made Maruti. This about-turn suggests that the JVP is putting its money on India as the Power most likely to be able to wreck the Peace process and destabilize the Wickremasinghe Government.
The feelings seem to be mutual – a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” policy! Indian newspapers have described the JVP in glowing terms calling it a very important Marxist party. Indians from respected Indian socialist organisations have attended the JVP convention and rally earlier this year. I doubt if the Indian admiration for the JVP is entirely because of their Marxism (which, in any case, is frank anti-Tamil (read anti-LTTE) racism). India has a hidden agenda which will be dealt with later.
Over the past few years the popularity of the JVP in Sri Lanka has grown in a spectacular manner (see below for voting figures) and is now the 3rd largest party in the country. This is more a reflection of the abysmal failure of both major Sinhala parties (SLFP and UNP) to address the escalating problem of rural poverty and hardship, than that Sri Lankans have suddenly embraced Marxism.
The JVP is fast becoming the most authentic voice of Sinhalese protests at the deteriorating socio-economic problems in the Sinhala South. With its virulently anti-Tamil stance, it carries more ‘Sinhalaness’ than either the SLFP or the UNP. As such it is attempting to bring together all anti-Tamil forces and therefore constitutes a serious threat to any meaningful negotiations with the Tamils.
They have made major advances on another front, thanks to the stupidity of the UNP and its capitalist policy of privatization. The JVP has taken a very firm stand against privatization, especially that of education, and this has brought a large body of university students under its political wing, Today the (several) universities in Sri Lanka are hot-beds of JVP activities.
Despite the blatantly anti-Tamil racist stand, the JVP has tried to give itself the veneer of ethnic pluralism by having a Tamil and a Muslim among its parliamentarians. The Muslim JVP parliamentarian is significant since she is the first Muslim woman in Parliament. The Tamil JVP parliamentarian, R. Chandrasegaran, is even more significant since he is from the Plantations. In one stroke the JVP has dismissed any charge of racism and also got hold of the Achilles heel of Sri Lanka – the crucial tea estate workers. A strike of these workers will bring the Government to its knees with greater speed than will all the Tamil Tiger AK47s put together.
Fellow travellers with the JVP are Sinhalese extremists in the Sihala Urumaya (SU) , founded in April 2000 and led by Thilak Karunaratne who was sacked from the SLFP by none other than President Kumaratunga. The SU strongly opposes the Ceasefire Agreement claiming that it grants the Tamils a de facto Tamil Eelam (a Separate State) and that the proposed political negotiations will convert the de facto state to a de jure state. Their answer is to scrap the Ceasefire Agreement, embark on all-out war and smash the LTTE.
Another group of ultra-nationalists are the Mahajana Eksath Permuna (MEP), led by Dinesh Gunawardena, the son of the “Father of Marxism” in Sri Lanka, Philip Gunawardena.
Today it is a common sight to see the President’s brother, Anura Bandaranaike of the SLFP, Wimal Weerawanse of the JVP and Dinesh Gunawardena of the MEP share a platform attacking the Peace negotiations and advocating a return to war.
All these political opportunists and extreme Sinhala chauvinists have a common denominator. This is that Sri Lanka ‘belongs’ to the Sinhalese. This they genuinely believe or, more likely, do so for political gain. They have become the political voice of an enormous passive silent segment of Sinhala society. What is so worrying about the Sinhalese is that they seem to be unable to see through these political opportunists who are taking Sri Lanka on a suicidal course, purely for personal gain.
JVP stance on the Peace Process
The JVP is currently engaged in a protest campaign against the peace negotiations between the GOSL and the LTTE. They and their ilk have organized a series of public meetings (page 16) to derail the peace talks. Although thousands of people throng these meetings, they may not be protesting at the peace talks but at the increasing social problems which the Government has done little to address. One way or the other, it is the votes of these people that matter and there is no doubt as to which way these crucial votes will go. There is no reason for the GOSL, the LTTE or those interested in the future of Sri Lanka to be optimistic.
As for Norway, the “facilitator” of the GOSL–LTTE Peace Talks, the JVP totally rejects the Norwegian efforts. The JVP see Norway as an imperialist force and that its involvement in the Sri Lankan problem is to appease the USA. They claim that Norway has a dubious history as a peacemaker and cite the Israeli – Palestine peace talks (Oslo Accord) where they allege that Norway was instrumental in giving advantages to the Israelis.
The JVP go on to claim that Norway is in Sri Lanka not to bring peace but to help Western imperialists to widen their weapons market in South Asia and also has an ulterior motive to grab the Sri Lankan fishing industry.
Taking hypocrisy to unprecedented heights, the JVP has recently suggested that the Norwegians should be replaced by India as the Peace Monitors. This is the same group that unleashed such violence when Indian troops entered Sri Lanka in 1987 as Peace Keepers and executed those who traded with India or had even visited that country. Here they are now singing the praises of India, inviting the Indians as Peace monitors. O tempora! O mores! (Oh times! Oh manners!), as the Romans would have said.
As for the United States, the JVP strongly condemns American ‘imperialism’ and globalisation. Once in power, their tune might be different, especially if the dollars are liberally doled out. The current anti-American stance should not worry the United States since we are not dealing with people with principles, consistency or integrity, as India has recently been pleased to note.
Peoples Alliance Party
In bed with the JVP is a faction of the PA, unofficially led by the President’s brother, Anura Bandaranaike, who failed in his bid to become the leader of the party in Parliament. That went to the more intelligent Mahinda Rajapakse, the son of a former Marxist.
There is no love lost between Bandaranaike and Rajapakse, nor between their factions within the PA. This will shortly come to a head when the President has to nominate one or the other as the Presidential candidate of the PA. The undeclared ‘plot’ seems to be for the President to have her brother elected as President (to succeed her) and for her to step down into Parliament and at the same time return Executive power from the Presidency to Parliament. That seems to be the strategy. Whether the Sinhala people will be dumb enough to allow this ‘grand plan’ to succeed is another matter. Unfortunately, history has shown that the Sinhalese are “dumb” in this context and will probably allow it to happen.
Anura Bandaranaike’s leadership qualities are best described in the only Sri Lankan newspaper worth reading, the “Sunday Leader” which asked:- “Are we to be led by Anura Bandaranaike even when he is sober? When he was afforded (by the UNP, no less) a rare opportunity to serve the nation and made Speaker, what did he do? He trotted the globe with his servant boys at state expense. He ordered himself magnificent raiment from the finest British tailors and charged it to the public purse. Is the future of this country to be consigned to people who have never done an honest job in their lives but have lived instead as parasites on the taxpayers generosity?”
Anura Bandaranaike, like his father, mother and sister, thinks that the way to the top is by embracing Sinhala chauvinism (some 70% of the population being Sinhala-Buddhist). He is currently campaigning against the prevailing peace.
He was earlier even against the de-proscription of the LTTE, even if that meant that the LTTE would not come to the negotiating table. Such are Anura Bandaranaike’s priorities. A pertinent question was asked by an outstandingly courageous Sinhalese, Lasantha Wickrematunga :- “If the LTTE is unwilling to talk while the proscription stands, then should we abandon the cease-fire and return to war? If so, will they come forward to fight? Or is it only other mother’s sons who must die, even as the likes of Anura Bandaranaike globe trot, bottle in hand, living off the patronage of friends?”.
If Sri Lanka is going to be led by the likes of Anura Bandaranaike or the JVP or, as is likely, both, it may well be the end of country. The choice lies with the Sinhalese people, not the Tamils, because it is the Sinhalese who elect the Head of State, the Tamils being mere spectators.
It is important to focus on this since these are the so-called Sinhalese “leaders” that will rule (ruin) Sri Lanka. If the Sinhalese choose to be led by such people, that is their choice. However, there is no reason to inflict such abysmal ‘leadership’ on the Tamils and no earthly reason why the Tamils should accept it either. Although it is not recognised as such, this is one of the strongest reasons for a Separate Tamil State, Eelam i.e. to distance the Tamil people from ‘leaders’ such as this.
Until there was a separate Muslim party, and even after this, the Muslims have simultaneously supported both the major Sinhalese parties. This, they saw as their best chance of survival i.e. to have a foot in both Sinhalese camps.
Mohammed Ashraff, the veteran Muslim politician, founded a Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress to specifically address problems facing this community.
Family bandyism (discussed later) is a problem in Sri Lankan politics. The latest addition to this phenomenon of ‘replacement-by-widows’ is Ferial Ashraff, the widow of Mohammed Ashraff, the leader of the Muslim party, Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC), killed in a helicopter crash. This was such an unpopular choice that the SLMC split, with the lacklustre Fariel Ashraff forming the Muslim National Alliance.
Some went with Ferial Ashraff, as the Muslim National Alliance, while the others remained with the original party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) under Rauff Hakeem.
This dubious group has decided to throw in their lot with the Sinhala chauvinists. Ashraff lacks the credibility and standing to be a major threat, but might still bring in some votes for the saboteurs of peace.
Lanka Muslim Congress
This is the major group of Muslims under the enlightened and no-nonsense Rauff Hakeem who is currently with the Government. However, there may be problems, both with the Government and the LTTE. Problems may arise if the Government fails to control the anti-Muslim violence in the East committed by Tamils, allegedly the LTTE.
There might also be problems if the Government decides to hand over the North and East to the LTTE without adequate representation guaranteed to the Muslims. Hakeem has an identity problem because he is not from the East but from Kandy. As such he will want to appear to support the Muslims in the East even more strongly if their interests are threatened. Hakeem will not tolerate nonsense from anyone and has already quit an alliance with Kumaratunga’s party (which precipitated the collapse of her government in 2001). His support for the Wickremasinghe (or any other) government cannot be taken for granted, introducing yet another destabilizing factor into politics in the South.
problems in the East
The problems in the East between the Muslims and the Tamils, are escalating. There is little doubt that all of this is not spontaneous. There is an unseen hand, with a hidden agenda, organizing this violence. From the distance I am (Australia), I cannot identify this unseen hand(s), and have no intention of speculating. Nonetheless, it is an increasing problem East which will not be settled by the peace talks between the GOSL and the LTTE. It is naïve to believe it will be. The least that can be done is to invite representatives of the Muslim community from this area for the peace talks, assuming that there are going to be more.
There are added administrative problems. The East with almost an equal distribution of Tamil, Muslims and Sinhalese, because of a deliberate policy of a succession of Sinhalese governments to alter the ethnic composition of this once Tamil-speaking area (the Muslims in the area are mainly Tamil-speaking), will be a nightmare to administer. There is no question that the Amparai district which has been subjected to massive Sinhala redeployment from the South will have to be administratively excised from the Tamil North and East and attached to an adjoining Sinhala area, if a decision is made to set up a separate administration for the North and East. It still leaves the Trincomalee area and north of it, the ethnic composition of which have been seriously tampered with by a succession of Sinhala governments. The administration of this area will call for a degree of tolerance and understanding that may be available. Peace has a long way to go in this area. The problems are only emerging now and the solutions have not even been discussed, let alone addressed. As such, this area may be a disaster waiting to happen. The problem will be compounded by unseen hands stirring an already simmering pot of ethnic of strife.
Tamil militant groups and Tamils opposed to the LTTE
There are some Tamil militant groups e.g the EPDP led by the dubious Douglas Devananda, who enjoyed power in pre-December 2001, now in the political wilderness and economic doldrums, who are completely opposed to the LTTE. They will align themselves with anyone (including and especially India) who will prevent the LTTE from being put in charge of the North and East. Not surprisingly, these dubious groups are now being actively solicited by President Kumaratunga.
Some Tamil civilians, especially Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil, who was the Foreign Minister when Kumaratunga controlled Parliament, and who enjoyed unbridled power and authority during the previous regime but is now on the Opposition benches, are also opposed to the LTTE.
Kadirgamar is an interesting person. He has been a member of parliament since 1994 without being elected by anyone. As such, he represents himself and no one else. He is a product of Colombo and has more in common with the Sinhala elite than his own people. It would surprise me if he has the faintest idea of the problems faced by ‘his people’ in Jaffna or anywhere in the Tamil areas. In 1995, when half a million Tamil civilians were fleeing Jaffna to escape the aerial onslaught by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, he was the man who cautioned the United Nations Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, not to exaggerate the “minor problem” of an “internally displaced” people that concerns the “internal affairs” of a “sovereign state”. As one could predict, Kadirgamar is President Kumaratunga’s right hand man, indeed her right hand and left hand man. The reality is that he is an aberration in Sri Lankan politics, rather like Phillip Ruddock, the Australian Immigration Minister is in Australian politics. Ruddock is the man who sports an Amnesty International badge but whose actions are the main concerns of that Nobel Prize winning human rights organization.
A recent addition to this group is Anandasangari, the leader of the Tamil political party, the TNA, who has been side-lined by the LTTE by not being invited to participate in the ongoing peace negotiations. He and his ilk seem to be unable to accept the reality that they are ‘yesterday’s men’ who have no relevance today. Their writ will not run in the Tamil areas. I doubt whether they can even visit the area and get out alive. Although they can, and do, ‘let off steam’ from time to time, it is doubtful if they are a serious threat to Peace although they may well be explored by the likes of Kumaratunga, and even the Indian Government, as an alternative to the LTTE. This would seem to be an exercise in futility.
1994 President Kumaratunga was given an overwhelming mandate from
war-weary people of all ethnic groups (the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim)
to end this war. No other Sinhalese leader has ever been given such a
mandate. However, she threw it all away and embarked on an unwinnable
war which has brought untold suffering to the Tamil people in the North
and East, to the Sinhala people whose rural youths were returning in
body bags, and to the country which was brought to near bankruptcy. To
such a President, the prospect of Peace, achieved by anyone else, will
be a major threat.
President’s overt and covert association with the JVP, which even
extended to inviting Somawansa Amarasinghe to help her in the last
General Election and meeting him in London, is a considerable worry. So
is her unqualified support of her brother, who is in the process of
splitting her Party and taking his faction into the JVP camp. I might
add that the other faction, led by the more intelligent and competent
Mahinda Rajapakse, and a number of senior members of Kumaratunga’s
Party, completely oppose a link with the JVP. However, they do not have
the support of the all-powerful President who will probably intimidate
them to support her brother, if only for her political
Kumaratunga’s behaviour after the election of the new Government has been appalling. The people have spoken in the December 2001 Elections and rejected her Party (SLFP), giving a mandate to Wickremasinghe’s UNP. However slim the majority, the UNP did form Government and therefore had a democratic right to govern. The last thing that Kumaratunga has done is to allow the Government to govern. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe not only had to settle the major problem with the LTTE and bring about a cease-fire but also address the serious and escalating problem of rural poverty, rescue a country from near bankruptcy and run the country. He has to do all this with an obstructionist President who has set up road-blocks wherever and whenever possible. This is absolutely irresponsible behaviour for the Executive Leader of a country facing a major crisis.
Cabinet meetings that are so crucial in democratic Governments have become a farce with the Cabinet in one political party and the President in the opposing one-essentially a spy in the Cabinet. In fact this was quite literally true when there was a recent scandal that the President had a secret video camera hidden in her handbag! Cabinet meetings have degenerated into slanging matches between the Cabinet and the President.
To add to this mess, the President blasts the Prime Minister, the Government and, what is absolutely unpardonable, the Peace Process, when ever and where ever possible. The most recent outrage (just four weeks ago) was when she was openly critical of Wickremasinghe in an interview with an Indian newspaper on Indian soil. For a Head of State to be critical of his/her Prime Minister in a foreign country is clearly unacceptable but apparently not to the Sri Lankan President.
Even worse is a leaked intelligence report that she has recently summoned some minor Tamil militant parties to ascertain what India’s response (and their response) would be if she is to take steps to derail the Government of Ranil Wickremasinghe. This is outrageous behaviour for a Head of State.
The most recent act of the confused President is to send a message via a Tamil MP to the LTTE that they are more likely to get what they want from a government headed by her rather than by Wickremasinghe. If she expects the LTTE to swallow that, she is not functioning in the world of reality.
The fault lies not only with Kumaratunga but with Prime Minister Wickremasinghe for the weakness he has shown in standing up to the President. His decision, post- December 2001 to ‘cohabit’ with the President was described by me as a joke, not a strategy. He should, after long association with the lady, know that it is not possible to ‘cohabit’ with someone of her temperament and track record. I guess he will have to learn it the hard way. Unfortunately Sri Lanka will have to pay the price.
There were many ways to deal with an obstructionist President. Severely curtailing her dictatorial powers by a change in the Constitutional (if necessary appealing to the people for a mandate to do so) or even impeachment for abuse of power and more serious charges, were options. The major financial scandals with which the President’s name has been linked should have been looked at by a Commission of Inquiry. This was promised but not done. Why?
Even more serious charges of the President being linked to gangsters and murderous underworld characters, in particular close confidantes in her Presidential Security Division e.g the notorious criminal Baddegana Sanjeewa, should have been investigated. This was promised but not done. Why? Was it that Wickremasinghe was worried that his own past, especially his association with a notorious thug Gonawela Sunil would come out? Was he afraid that the corruption and criminal activity of some of his own Ministers who had crossed over from Kumaratunga’s party would be exposed? These are questions that Sri Lankans should be asking and if they are too frightened to ask them in the Democratic Socialist Republic, then we who live outside Sri Lanka should do so.
I am not going into details here, but Kumaratunga’s behaviour both politically and outside politics, and even her language, have been unbecoming of a President. This has most certainly tarnished the image of the high office she is holding. This is, however, a problem for the Sinhalese to address. Where it affects the Tamils is that if this is the type of leader that the Sinhala South can produce, it is a good reason for the Tamils to be able to pick their own leader and have a Separate State which he/she can lead. This powerful argument has not been focused on by those who have been clamouring for a Separate Tamil State.
THE ARMED FORCES
The Armed Forces have much to lose from Peace. They lose their all-powerful God-like position, power, and above all, the bribery and other dubious sources of income that make their official salary merely pocket money. They have opposed Peace in the past (1994-5) and oppose it now.
When the People’s Alliance (PA) won the 1994 election and Chandrika Kumaratunga become Prime Minister (August 1994). Kumaratunga, more with a view to winning the support of the Tamils for the forth-coming Presidential election, eased the economic embargo imposed on a vast array of goods going to the North. Fertiliser and fuel were two crucial items for these agricultural people. She dared not lift the embargo on these two because of opposition from the military hierarchy. For them, war was paramount and the bans served the interests of the Military to prosecute the war.
So also with the “Declaration of Cessation of Hostilities” signed between the Kumaratunga Government and the LTTE on 8 January 1995. Whatever good ideas Kumaratunga may have had, the Military, especially in the East, had other ideas. The Security Forces did not carry out the orders, undermining whatever Kumaratunga wanted to do, assuming that she did want to do some good.
This time round the game is the same. Whatever the UNP and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe have in mind, the Armed Forces have their own agenda. They will not allow a cease-fire agreement signed by the UNP Government and the LTTE to get in the way of their agenda. They will sabotage the Peace and have the ability to do so (as they have had in the past).
The ability of the Armed Forces to sabotage the peace process and precipitate the resumption of hostilities has been markedly increased by having a Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and President, covertly and overtly, supporting them. The two individuals are in fact one – Chandrika Kumaratunga.
In the past three months it has become clear that the main saboteurs of peace are not only the extremist Sinhala chauvinists, but sections of the Defence Establishment, in particular the Sri Lankan Navy operating off the North and East coasts. The entire spectrum from the top brass to the rank and file have engaged in covert and overt acts to sabotage the cease-fire.
The first strategy is to deliberately provoke the LTTE by arresting (on as frivolous a reason as not having a driver’s licence – a matter for the regular Police and not the Armed Forces), senior LTTE cadre and humiliating them, hoping that the LTTE would retaliate.
The second was to suddenly declare large areas of Jaffna as a “High Security Zone”, which prevents access to civilians, and the occupation of nearly half of the commercial hub of the Jaffna peninsula, Jaffna city.
The third is to prevent the return to “normalcy” which was promised in the Agreement between the Government and the LTTE by refusing, despite Government orders, to vacate temples, schools, public buildings and homes in the Tamil areas occupied by them and return these for civilian use.
These three (and other) strategies of the Armed Forces are raising serious doubts about the sincerity of the UNF Government. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s sincerity is not in question but his ability to control the Armed Forces is in serious doubt. The widely held view is that the Prime Minister has no control over the Armed Forces. This is arrant nonsense. He is either running the country or he is not. If he is running the country he must have control of the Armed Forces and if this is denied to him by the President, he must have the courage to tell her where to get off. The people rejected the Kumaratunga regime in December 2001. They did not vote in Wickremasinghe to be Kumaratunga’s lap-dog.
Another group who will lose if there is Peace are arms dealers and those who get massive commissions from the sale of arms (these include senior members of the Armed Forces). For them, peace is an economic threat. With the current Peace, the arms dealers are languishing in the economic doldrums. Should Kumaratunga decide to dissolve Parliament and have another election they are ever willing to fund politicians who will fan the flames of war. There are no prizes for guessing which party they will finance.
There is no doubt whatsoever that there are
unholy alliances, covert and overt, amongst these destructive forces.
For example, a UNP MP recently claimed that a senior JVP member was seen
visiting the home of a well-known arms dealer. What was he doing there?
I doubt if he was in search of a cup of tea.
Clandestine activity aside, a series of public anti-peace rallies have been organised and addressed by these various groups, including the Buddhist Clergy and the President’s brother and his new-found ‘Marxist’ friends.
THE SINHALA SUPREMACISTS
Despite the fact that Sri Lanka is a multiethnic,
multicultural, multireligious, and multilingual country, there are those
who believe in the supremacy of the Sinhalese, just as Hitler believed
in the supremacy of the German people. Their perception is that Sri
Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. The main proponents of this
ethno-religious chauvinism are the powerful (Sinhalese) Buddhist clergy.
There are also a substantial number of Sinhalese who hold this view.
In a country where some 70% of the population is Buddhist, the Buddhist Clergy have enormous influence and power. Sections of this influential and powerful group are (and have always been), religious fanatics who see multi-ethnic, multi-religious, Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
Sinhalese-supremacist sections of the Buddhist Clergy, which,
unfortunately, seem to be most of them, base their doctrine not on the
teachings of their great leader, Buddha, but on the Mahavamsa
(the Great Chronicle). This manuscript, discovered (by a Britisher!) in
1826, is believed to have been written about 600 A.D by Buddhist monks
who clearly had the same anti-Tamil hatred as their present day
brothers. It describes events several centuries earlier and is a mixture
of legend and history. It is not a historical journal (as the
‘patriotic’ Sinhalese-Buddhists believe) but propounds Sinhalese
superiority and a hatred of non-Buddhists. It is the Textbook of
Ethno-Religious Fanaticism. I freely recognise that not a word in this
paragraph will be accepted by the Sinhalese, even the non-Buddhists.
This is because of the nonsense that the Sinhalese, be they Buddhist or
Christian, have learned in school, especially after the State took over
the writing of school texts and Sri Lankan history was rewritten with a
patently anti-Tamil flavour.
The Buddhist clergy are revered by the Buddhists, especially in rural areas, and this extends even to the way they vote. As such, these racist bigots have the power to make or break Governments. Unscrupulous politicians, starting with the current President’s father, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, in the early 1950s, were quick to cash in on this and use these fanatics to advance their political career.
Since then, every attempt without exception, made by every Sinhalese leader to resolve the problem with the Tamils and come up with a solution which brings some justice for the Tamils, has been blocked by these racist bigots. They even went to the extent of assassinating Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike because he dared to offer the Tamils a limited use of their language in the area they live in!
there are scores of High Priests and hundreds of senior and junior
Buddhist monks who have their own political groups e.g. The National
Bikkhu Front (NBF) and are also supported by the National Joint
Committee, a group of key Buddhist organisations. They have also thrown
their considerable weight behind other chauvinist forces such as the JVP.
They were recently seen on the streets of Colombo burning the Norwegian
flag in ‘recognition’ of the effort that Norway is making to broker
peace. On 22 April 2002 the NBF organised 150 Buddhist monks to march to
the Prime Minister’s office to protest. When the police stopped them,
they squatted on the main road in commercial Colombo creating traffic
chaos. This is exactly what they did to Prime Minister S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike in April 1958, when they squatted outside his home until he
tore up his far-reaching Pact with the Tamil leader, Chelvanayagam,
which, if implemented, would have prevented so much blood-shed and
destruction in Sri Lanka.
history teaches us anything, it is that if the proposed negotiations
between the current UNF Government and the LTTE result in a mutually
acceptable arrangement to solve the ethnic problem and if this has then
to be “passed” by the Buddhist Clergy or, as some of the current
leaders say it will have to be, subjected to a Referendum where 70% of
the population are Buddhist and whose voting can so easily be influenced
by their bigoted racist religious leaders, the result will be a foregone
conclusion. Unlike the British parliament, Sri Lanka does not have a
House of Lords. It is not without reason (or humour) that some Tamils
call the Buddhist clergy, Sri Lanka’s ‘House of Lords’! They are
unelected, senile (the Chief Priests of the three most powerful Temples
are often in their 80’s. as are the many members of the British House
of Lords), obstructionist and living in a political climate and an era
that has long since changed. They have not woken up to this.
Sri Lanka comes up with a political leader who can stand up to these
racist bigots and ask them to return to their Temples and let
politicians govern the country, the outlook for Sri Lanka, the current
Peace notwithstanding, is poor.
all the Buddhist monks are racist bigots. Some are not involved in
politics (thank God) and others are even progressive. Leading this
refreshingly welcome bunch is the only Buddhist monk ever to be elected
to Parliament, Baddegama Samitha Thero, a Marxist, who was elected as a
candidate of the (old) Marxist LSSP. in coalition with Kumaratunga’s
PA party. Although I was appalled by the election to Parliament of
someone who should be in his temple, he has turned out to be sensible,
rational and even brave to stick to what is right, irrespective of what
the racists in the PA decide.
Samitha Thero (there are others too) might well be the light at the end
of a very long and dark tunnel but runs the risk of being expelled from
the Party for his outspokenness. Perhaps he is the sort of monk we
should support and build on.
The Sinhalese People
There are a substantial number of Sinhalese people who subscribe to this Sinhala ethnic chauvinism. Many of them were born after World War 2, especially after Bandaranaike’s Sinhala Only Act in 1956, and have learnt a distorted version of Sri Lankan history which had a strongly anti-Tamil flavour. It was after the State took over the publication of school text-books that authors appeared whose quality, accuracy, scholarship and integrity were abysmally poor. Their scholarship, if any, was completely submerged in their anti-Tamil racism. The result was that ‘history’ texts presented the Tamils as ‘foreign invaders’ and ‘the enemy’. This resulted in generations of poorly educated children who grew up into adults with a marked anti-Tamil bias. There are many fascist States across the world where this deliberate distortion of history has occurred. Instead of building a nation and generating mutual respect between the different ethnic groups, the State was destroying a nation and is now surprised that it is falling apart.
Education seems to have little to do with these absurd views. Indeed, there are a surprising number of so-called “educated” Sinhala elite, who really should know better, who choose to believe this Sinhala chauvinist version of Sri Lankan history. Unbelievably, some Christians and even Church leaders are among this group. I paid a price, nearly ¾ of a million rupees, supporting a so-called “Christian” organization, before I found this out. This will be published shortly – “The Christian Church and Peace in Sri Lanka”.
India will oppose any solution in Sri Lanka which gives the Tamils a degree of autonomy or even power sharing which she will not give her own minorities or regions e.g. Tamil Nadu, the Sikhs etc. It is as simple as that.
There are also other factors that have made the central Government in India and some Indian leaders in the periphery, virulently anti-LTTE. If there is the slightest possibility of a negotiated settlement in Sri Lanka which puts the LTTE in a position of power, India will sabotage it, even if this means chaos in Sri Lanka. It is an extremely worrying stance for a major regional power to adopt. One could even call it utterly irresponsible and outrageous. This will be referred to again later.
Reference has already been made to India’s sudden admiration for the JVP whom, incidentally, they helped to crush in the 1971 insurrection! The lack of consistency and integrity is not a monopoly of Sri Lankans.
[to be continued]
 Based on a talk given in Brisbane on 11 May 2003.
 popularly referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
 Appendix 2
 An unusually well-informed medical colleague, Dr Ralph Cobcroft, an Australian, pointed out that the two major problems in the world are ethnicity and religion. Sri Lanka is ‘blessed’ with both! Small wonder it is in such a mess.
 My wife put a question mark on this paragraph. Sorry, I cannot see a problem. George Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ is nothing compared to the Sri Lankan ‘Axis of Evil’ which has the potential to destroy the country.
 Somawansa Amarasinghe, the current leader, says that Marx got it all wrong! In 1896, the 2nd International, supported by Marx and Engels, passed a resolution “…this congress accepts the right of self-determination of a nation”. But, says Amarasinghe, “We, in the JVP, do not live in the past. The Right to Self-determination belongs to the past”(!).
 The footnote is mine. There is still hope for Anura since President George Bush had a serious drinking problem but today is the most powerful man on earth!
 See my “What can the Tamils expect from the 2001 Election?” www.sangam .org
 For example, Badiuddin Mahmud, a SLFP Minister, and A.C.S.Hameed, a UNP.Minister.
 but given VIP status by Wickremasinghe for no good reason. When his colleagues protested, the PM responded “He has his uses”. May we ask him to elaborate?