Vanquished to victory Nandikadaal to Orumittha Nadu
Posted on November 5th, 2017

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

How did we arrive from Nandikadaal to Orumittha Nadu? Usually, it is the victor who becomes the post-war architect. It is they who persecute the defeated, get compensated for the damages incurred during the war and decide what the problem was and the appropriate solution. However, in our case after defeating three decades of terrorism, it is the Sri Lanka military and those who gave the leadership to finally and resolutely eradicate terrorism who had become pariahs of the State. It is we who are being lectured to and pushed to reform not only our security sector, but our very Constitution. The pressure is coming from the very forces that aided, abetted and justified terrorism.

Last week, for three days Parliament debated on the Constitutional Assembly Steering Committee’s Interim Report. On the first day itself, around 75 members of the Constitutional Assembly tasked with formulating a draft Constitution were absent. The thrust of the argument Government worthies like Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, MP Dilan Perera and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne made was this is the “last bus” for a lasting solution and should not repeat our “history of missing the bus, always.”

Minister Senaratne made an interesting observation. He stated that the Tamil National Alliance has already agreed to support the new Constitution. He claimed, this in itself is the biggest victory and we must make the most of this unprecedented opportunity.

This raises a number of questions. First, how can the TNA agree to support the new Constitution if it is still in its formulation stage? Was this a slip of the tongue for many Government critics have speculated that the new Constitution has already been compiled outside Sri Lanka by non-Sri Lankans. They thus accuse this whole exercise of formulating a new Constitution as a farce.

If these speculations are just that, speculations, then what specific parameters in the Interim Report captured the support of the TNA? If garnering the TNA’s support is considered an unprecedented victory, then raises the question at what cost are we going to retain it?

This is not the first time we are hearing the slogan, “last chance” (or “bus” as in this instance). In an earlier era, when the current chairperson of National Unity and Reconciliation Chandrika Kumaratunga was the President of Sri Lanka, we even heard slogans such as “peace at any cost”.

As Minister Samaraweera pointed out, it is the very ones who supported projects like the Sudu Nelum Movement who are opposing the current attempts to resuscitate the Constitutional reforms.

Reminding the assembly of MP Dullas Alahapperuma’s support to the Movement, Minister Samaraweera pointed out, “the draft Constitution that MP Alahapperuma then campaigned for was a far more progressive one than what we have proposed in terms of power sharing. That draft did not contain the word ‘unitary’ but spoke about a united country. It even agreed to offer Police and land powers to the provinces.” Yet now MP Alahapperuma is asking the House whether the country needs a new Constitution, he noted.

There is, however, a vast difference between then and now. The Movement was launched in 1995 as an ambitious project of the then newly elected People’s Alliance Government. The objective was to bring peace to a war against terrorism that had already seen more than a decade of violence. The political thinking at the time was that the war could never be won. The West led international opinion certainly endorsed and even propagated that view.

Worse, as revealed by Major General Kamal Gunaratne’s “Road to Nandikadaal”, even the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle was not confident of a military victory. This fact was highlighted when Lt. Gen. Balagalle accompanied with the then political heavyweight Milinda Moragoda to the Nagarkovil headquarters in 2002 to resolve a disagreement between the then 55.1 Brigade Commander Gunaratne and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The then Brigade Commander Gunaratne had refused to quit the terrorists’ fortification, which was 200 metres south of Nagarkovil junction.

The Sri Lanka Army had captured this just before the signing of the infamous 2002 Cease Fire Agreement. Soon after, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam demanded the withdrawal of the Army. Moragoda at that point had been quite blunt in his assertion that this war cannot be won and the Army Commander had meekly agreed with him.

The point is, despite peace projects as the Sudu Nelum Movement and the willingness of the then political powers to consider the terrorists as a political partner, the LTTE could never be appeased. Despite the many trips to the negotiating table, there was simply no negotiating with the terrorists. They continued to terrorize.

Mavil Oya

The crucial turning point was with the closing of the sluice gates of the Mavil Oya on 26 July 2006. The humanitarian operation that began then continued until Vellupillai Prabakaran was killed on 18 May 2009 on the banks of Nandikadaal. As the guns fell silent and people’s lives began to normalize, within few short years, every Sri Lankan rejoiced and Sudu Nelum peace projects were binned.

With the end of the war, it is not only the people in the South who benefited from its victory. There is no debate that it was the people in the North who suffered the most, because of terrorism. Therefore, they were the ones who benefited the most from its elimination. They no longer had to pay taxes to a terrorist organization – failure of which for so long literally meant losing one’s head. Children can go to school without fear of abduction. The war winning administration even disarmed their own friendly paramilitary groups, so that people may exercise their franchise with absolute freedom.

NPC not trusted

The confidence the people in the North regained in the Southern people, namely the Sinhalese, was recently demonstrated. On 25 April 2017, hundreds of ex-LTTE cadres launched an unprecedented campaign against the Government from handing over military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools in the Northern Province to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). They wanted these farms and pre-schools be kept under military supervision and they be assigned to work as servicemen of the Civil Defence Force.

They agitated that their livelihoods would be at stake if these were handed over to the NPC.

The irony is not that these same ex-LTTE cadres were engaged in fierce battles with the same military they now wish to serve under a mere eight years ago. The irony is that these ex-LTTE cadres are clearly rejecting the TNA led NPC, meaning the TNA itself. Until the annihilation of the LTTE, the TNA acknowledged that the sole representative of Tamils in Sri Lanka is the LTTE. The LTTE may be disbanded as a group, but it is still the same people and they do not want to be led by the TNA.

Therefore, the TNA’s contribution to the new Constitutional process will not be acceptable to the Tamils in the North. In fact, GG Ponnambalam who tried to push a disproportionate power sharing formula of 50 per cent of the power for the Vellalar Tamils in the North, categorically rejected federalism, denouncing it as bad for the country and worse for Tamils. He stated, that, it was “‘midsummer madness’ for the Tamils to ask for partition of the country and segregation of different communities”.

After 30 years of terrorism, the ex-LTTE cadres – once recognized as the only representatives of Tamils – have arrived at the same conclusion that Ponnambalam did in the ’50s. Then, how did we come all the way from Nandikadaal to Orumittha Nadu, which is another term for federalism, in just eight years?

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