M.R. Narayan Swamy
(IANS) A prominent Sri Lankan politician who played a key role in the peace process says his country stands at ‘a critical point’ when decision makers need to make choices to help heal the wounds of a war that ended two years ago.
‘We stand at a critical point. We have an opportunity to make our future,’ Milinda Moragoda, who has held many cabinet posts in the past, said on the sidelines of an event here.
Sri Lankans could ‘either lay the foundation for a prosperous Sri Lanka or potentially sow the seeds for another conflict’, said the 49-year-old, who in December 2009 founded the Sri Lanka National Congress with a view to promoting national unity, inclusiveness and political reforms.
Moragoda was one of the key speakers at the release of a Norwegian government-sponsored but independent study on the reasons Oslo’s role as a facilitator failed to bring peace to Sri Lanka. Formerly of the United National Party, he played a vital role in events that led to the 2002 ceasefire agreement between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers.
The truce later collapsed, sparking off fresh war that led to the decimation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, formally ending a conflict that had ignited a quarter century ago.
Moragoda said Sri Lanka remained a divided country, the most visible and major factors factored around religion and ethnicity.
‘Political parties have become tribal, there is too much patronage system,’ said the former MP who is now considered close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. ‘A lot of this,’ he added, ‘is because of the corrosive impact of the war.’
Sharing his insights on Sri Lanka, he said the conflict, which claimed tens of thousands of lives between 1983 and 2009, had destroyed many core values and caused cracks in society.
‘We need to come together as a society. We need to feel less insecure.
‘Our post-independent politics divided rather than united us, demonising one group or the other. Post-war (2009), we need to be less parochial, more visionary.’
Moragoda argued that contrary to what many outside Sri Lanka may think, the average Sinhalese was not racist.
‘There is nothing wrong with Tamil or Sinhalese nationalism per se. But they should not get destructive.’
He said ‘moderate politicians’ like him got ambushed from both sides. ‘The middle ground has become weaker.
‘Buddhism is about the middle path. If we lead the life of Lord Buddha, we would not be having this debate at all.’
Moragoda also called for much stronger relations between India and Sri Lanka, which are set apart physically by a strip of sea.
‘India is the great opportunity for Sri Lanka, economically, culturally and politically,’ he said, taking a line shared by many in his country.
‘We have to integrate with India economically, like Hong Kong has done with China. India can also be a (political) model for us.’
He admitted that many Sri Lankans saw India as a threat. ‘It is very easy to demonise if you are living near a giant.’
But he underlined that India also needed to reach out to Sri Lanka, a country which no Indian prime minister has visited for years bilaterally. This rankles many Sri Lankans.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)