Building a new Sri Lanka

Raj Gonsalkorale

The ultimate recognition of the equality of Tamils along with the Sinhalese, was stated so openly, and for the first time in UN history by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he addressed the UN in Tamil in September.

The Tamil language has never been heard in the portals of the UN, and it took a Sinhalese leader to do that. One can only hope that the Tamil Diaspora and Tamils living in Sri Lanka will accept the enormity of this gesture, and the hand of friendship and equality that the President offered, and work towards creating a new Sri Lanka alongside their Sinhala and Muslim brethren.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly

Bashing the LTTE, the Tamil Diaspora and other Tamils who have argued for a cause which they thought was right and attainable has become the order of the day for some journalists. Needless to say this is understandable judging by the fact that the euphoria amongst many Sinhalese, and to a lesser extent amongst Muslims and some Tamils, is very high on the heels of an impending defeat of the LTTE military might by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.
Sharing power

One could also argue that the LTTE and sections of the Tamil Diaspora deserves the bashing as they have together caused so much misery for their own people in Sri Lanka. This is being increasingly acknowledged by many Tamil individuals, societies and even Tamil newspapers hitherto ardent supporters of the LTTE. Some might say the rats are leaving the ship that is sinking, while others may say that sanity has finally prevailed or appears to be prevailing among Tamils who consistently and at most times, blindly backed the wrong horse.

The challenge for all Sri Lankans, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims is however not to engage in bashing but how we may collectively recover from our wounds and build a new Sri Lanka for all of us.

President Rajapaksa who has ably led the war against the LTTE, not out of any desire to wage war, but to eliminate an unacceptable situation in the country, and pave the way for a democratic and peaceful way to address the conflict, has made that clarion call at the UN to all communities to work together to build a new Sri Lanka. He, and not any other leader, has given Tamil the parity of status alongside Sinhala before the entire world.

While it is agreed that land demarcation on ethnic lines is not part of that future, it is important not to forget the cultural differences between the different ethnic communities in Sri Lanka and how we may, in a future Sri Lanka, provide avenues for all communities to have more effective political expression and power in governing the country, and how we may have more effective checks and balances in the exercise of that power, by whoever who wields that power.

Many Tamils fled the country after 1983 for very valid reasons, and some of them have suffered and still are suffering in other countries. No doubt most would love to return to Sri Lanka, and so they should.

However, if they come back looking for a Tamil homeland and everything Tamil in any geographic area of the country, they should not come back as the new Sri Lanka will not go back in history to create that false utopia for any Tamil. The entire country will be the homeland of all Sri Lankans.

What Tamils must do if they are to live happily and safely in Sri Lanka is to accept the unity of the country, and its unitary status, and argue politically and by democratic means, how different ethnic groups can share power and provide better and more effective means of making their views heard.
Concepts, processes

When suggestions for a political solution to the conflict are made, some tend to get confused between the concepts and the processes. Processes are two fold. Firstly, the processes that are needed to discuss concepts.
Secondly, processes those are required to implement concepts.

President Rajapaksa has already set in motion the first set of processes like the APRC to discuss concepts. For numerous reasons which the author is not desirous of arguing, the APRC has still not been able to arrive at a consensus on any concept to address the conflict. Perhaps even the APRC is confused about the processes!

No doubt agreeing on concepts is no easy task for an issue that has been allowed to fester for so long. It is probably very difficult now to identify where the wound is or was. However, it is important to remember that agreeing on concepts does not mean agreeing on an implementation process or a time table as that is a separate process, and it has to take into account a myriad of ground realities that effect implementation.

The concepts must as a minimum, accept that the country will have a unitary status. The majority of the Sinhala population will not accept anything less, and unless they do, there will never be a solution. However as soon as this is stated, Tamils will disagree and the country will be back on square one. The challenge therefore will be to see how some of the Tamil aspirations can be achieved within a unitary State.

If Tamils continue to argue for a "homeland" within Sri Lanka as part of their aspirations, that too is a non-starter as far as the Sinhala people are concerned. Besides, that demand has failed to materialise despite the LTTE, and their economic and moral supporters within the Diaspora, and amongst a large section of Tamils within and without. To flog a dead horse would be futile and would only add more misery to the Tamils and the rest of the country.

Sri Lanka has never posed any threat to the cultural expressions of Tamils, as much as it has never posed threats to the cultural expressions of any community. Sinhala Buddhists venerate Hindu Gods as much as they do Lord Buddha and this signifies the tolerance they have of the Hindus.
Religious harmony

Religious harmony and amity has been one of the hallmarks of Sri Lankan society despite stresses experienced amongst the communities at various times, and despite the vile attempts of the LTTE to attack the two most venerated places of worship for Buddhists, not just in Sri Lanka but throughout the world, the Sri Maha Bodhi and the Dalada Maligawa.

Not many Tamils condemned these dastardly acts, but there were no reprisals on any Tamil person or property or places of worship by Sinhalese as a consequence of this LTTE atrocity.

The alternative for Tamils in a new Sri Lanka would be to work towards greater opportunities for political expression and power at the centre as well as in peripheral political units. This is not to say there should be equal power with other communities, as numerical statistics will simply not provide such equal power at the centre or in some peripheral political units, but only shared power along with other communities.

For example, today, had the TNA opted to join the UPFA Government, they could have wielded some power and influence and shared that with other political parties at the centre. The Executive Presidency provides only limited power to the Government, but then, changing that situation is the kind of concept that could be discussed in a body like the APRC.

Even if such a change was proposed by the APRC, implementation will have to await greater political stability in the post LTTE era, as the country can ill afford a weak Presidency and a raucous and unstable Parliament to usher in that stability.

Many Tamils must be feeling humiliated by the LTTE and also feeling bad that they had thrown so much money, time and effort to the LTTE to prosecute a mindless and purposeless war. Some amongst the Tamils are probably also humiliated that the LTTE is getting vanquished in the hands of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

To all these Tamils and others who never voluntarily supported the LTTE, and who never ever supported the LTTE, we must extend a hand of friendship as President Rajapaksa did. He very aptly quoted a stanza from the Dhammapada to illustrate his point - Victory breeds hatred The defeated live in pain Happily the calm live Having set victory and defeat aside."

On their part, Tamils must realise that they can never get back to their demands of the past, and that they must work towards creating a new Sri Lanka for all communities. The Global Village has overtaken the villages of yesteryear and we owe it to our future generations to be part of that Global Village.

Influential Tamils within the Diaspora have witnessed what the Global Village can offer Tamils and other Sri Lankans.

They must take the lead in providing these opportunities to all Sri Lankans, and work with the President, the Government and other political parties to infuse new ideas and new thinking so that all those people in the North and the East and the rest of the country can have opportunities they have missed for more than 30 years due to the morbid fascination of Prabhakaran and the LTTE for death and destruction.

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