AWARD OF PRAIRIE ROSES TO R. SAMPANTHAN
Posted on September 5th, 2015
By Shelton A. Gunaratne
Professor of communication emeritus, MSUM, and lead author of Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (New York: Routledge, 2015)
MOORHEAD, MN–As a mindful journalism practitioner and educator, I wish to show my “thumbs up” approval to the selection of the Tamil National Alliance leader Rajavarothian Sampanthan, 82, as the Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka by the Speaker of the national Parliament.
Sampanthan was not in the Parliament at the time I was a Parliamentary reporter in the mid 1960s. He served as MP for Trincomalee from 1988 to 1993, and again from 2003, when he became the leader of the TNA. That no other politician procedurally challenged him (in spite of unofficial reports of support for UPA firebrand Kumar Welgama) for the position of Leader of the Opposition, although his alliance has only 16 seats in parliament, shows the confidence that most of the country’s politicians have in his ability restore ethnic amity and sanity in Sri Lanka.
I believe that my professional and academic qualifications and expertise permit me to express my views on public affairs without the editorial and political pressures that local “journalists” have to suffer through.
I started mycareer in Ceylon as a journalist at Lake House from 1962 to 1966, after graduating from the University of Ceylon. I was the Ceylon Daily News reporter who covered Prime Minister Sirimavo Bndaranaike’s 1965 election campaign to take over Lake House. I left Ceylon after winning a one-year World Press Institute Fellowship. I changed my career and became a college professor in1972, when the University of Minnesota awarded me a doctorate in mass communication. I was the first Ceylonese/ Sri Lankan to get a PhD in this “esoteric” field then unknown to universities in Sri Lanka.
Now, as a professor emeritus living in the United States in retirement, I reckon I have more time to pay back my debt to the people of my mother country for investing in my education that enabled me to become a global citizen. (See my book “From Village Boy to Global Citizen,” 2012).
I hope the editors of the press in Sri Lanka will set aside whatever prejudices they may have against my perceived intrusion to their territory and allow me to express my views as a non-partisan mindful observer of events and newsmakers in Sri Lanka. I do so in response to President Sirisena’s call for Sri Lankan expatriates to contribute their expertise for the wellbeing of their mother country.
My intention is to practice mindful journalism by drawing attention to the positive as well asnegative aspects of the action of newsmakers in Sri Lanka. I will make my selections based on the three dimensions of the Buddhist middle path, the moral and ethical aspect of which is remarkably similar to the path of the Hindu dharma, Christian-Islamic Ten Commandments and the basic Confucian moral principles.
Now, back to my commentary.
Sampanthan is the second Tamil political leader to become the Leader of the Opposition in SriLanka. The first was Appapillai Amirthalingam of the Tamil United Liberation Front, the principal component of which was the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) formed by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. Amirthalingam was Leader of the Opposition from 1977 to 1983. The Tigers assassinated him in 1989 together with two other TULF leaders.
Amirthalingam became the Leader of the Opposition during the initial period of Tiger terrorism in the island. He had to succumb to the wishes of the Tigers to push for a separate Eelam–a splitting of the country based on exaggerated grievances and claims. Sampanthan, a lawyer from the Trincomalee district, has become the national Leader of the Opposition under completely different political circumstances. Thanks to former President Rajapakse, peace has returned to the country.
The presidential and parliamentary elections of this year put a stop to the dictatorial tendencies of the Rajapakse regime, which has been replaced by the benevolent rule of a national government under the guidance of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe representing the two main national political parties. A much milder TNA has assumed the role of the constructive opposition.
Thus, all the propitious circumstances are in place for initiating the implementation of a strong program with national reconciliation and reconstruction as its highest priority.
To make that happen, the TNA must now begin to discard its Tamil exclusivity and transform itself to a national party and approach all roadblocks for social and economic problems in terms of how they might impinge on every Lankan irrespective of ethnicity, religion, class orcaste. They must follow the advice that Lord Krishna, in the guise of a charioteer, gave warrior Arjuna as described in the Hindu sacred text Bhagavad Gita, which shows the path to liberation: freeing oneself from desires, from attachment, and from egoism.This is very similar to Buddha’s magga that requires one to control one’s craving and clinging–the root causes of suffering in the samsara (cyclic existence).
Krishna’s advice calls on the Hindu Tamils, who complain about discrimination by the Sinhalese, to discard their egoism and not put forth unrealistic demands based on their clinging on to past historical glory and rights. Nothing is static because of the law of karma, cardinal to both Buddhists and Hindus. National reconciliation and integration is possible only by grasping the ground reality now–the present political, social, demographic and economic conditions.
Demanding the amalgamation of North and Eastern provinces (approximating one-third of theisland’s land mass, including most of its coastal belt) for the self-rule of the Sri Lanka Tamils (who constitute 12.3 percent of the island’s population), excluding the 850,000 Hill Country/Indian Tamils, will not bring about national integration, but rather provoke the Sinhalese, who understand federalism ascoterminous with separatism, to react negatively. Moreover, Tamil-speakers in Sri Lanka are themselves a hodgepodge of three distinct groups comprising the Northern, Eastern, and Negombo communities. Thus, the demand for an Eelam is a far-fetched ideal that the Tamils should not pursue at present.
The best course of action for Sampanthan to take should be to persuade the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party), the main component of the TNA, to change its name to emphasize its commitment to national integration and create a consensus among the new coalition/national government about engendering unity in diversity.
The Tamils must grab this unexpected convergence of propitious political events to discard their divisive pursuit of a federal Eelam and go national for an inclusive government signifying diversity in unity.
The new government should educate all the ethnic groups in Sri Lanka on the positive aspects of diversity in unity. Sampanthan has the experience and the backing of the Hindu dharma and the Buddhist dhamma to begin this task by egging on the government with constructive criticism from the opposition.
Sampanthan also has the responsibility to calm down the unnecessary hoopla that the Northern Provincial council and its maverick chief minister are creating to bring down the credibility of the Sri Lanka government’s ability to conduct a domestic inquiry on the accusations relating to human rights violations.
It is not in the interest of the Tamil community at large to allow the Northern Provincial Council to pass resolutions inviting foreign powers to intervene in domestic matters by blatantly pretending itself to be independent of the country’s own democratically elected central government.
The current electoral system has already favored the TNA to become the largest minority party with 16 seats in the current parliament with the backing of a mere 514,963 voters in the North and the East whereas 543,944 voters outside this area enabled the Jatika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to get only six seats.
Sampanthan has to mull over all these matters as he tries torestore ethnic amity and sanity in a united Sri Lanka on the basis of Hindu and Buddhist principles that are quite pertinent to the modern world.