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Thursday, May 23, 2024

13 A: Presidet’s maneuverability is being tested and his options are becoming fewer


“Winston Smith: Does Big Brother exist?
 O’Brien: Of course he exists.
 Winston Smith: Does he exist like you or me?
 O’Brien: You do not exist. ”
― George Orwell

It’s time that the Government and all other political parties and fringe groups realized that holding the elections for the Northern Province would eventually benefit not only the Province in question, but also the country at large and its people. Those who occupy the threshold don’t seem to have any place other than the threshold; they will keep in between extremes without having any pivotal role to play. Politics does not flow like that, other than in Sri Lanka whose leaders have never failed to sustain their own parochial thinking and take an unsuspecting mass of voters along a very destructive path.

Northern Provincial Council elections could not be held if the Thirteenth Amendment was not there; Provincial Councils are a creation of the Thirteenth Amendment, yet if any adjustments or further amendments- however minute or slight they may be and the purpose of such amendments is to dilute the powers already devolved to the Provinces- are effected, then we are killing the spirit of the 13 A. Outside of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, all other provinces acquired their current Council status mainly and solely owing to the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment. The decentralized administration, manor-like official residences, fat allowances and salaries, attendant perks and all other fringe benefits that flow into the pockets of politicians, officials and their main and minor staff did materialize because there is a provincial or regional administrative mechanism in play with extensive powers to implement the policies and principles of that administration. The very spirit of that devolution is embedded in the devolution of political power which overrides all other powers, be it administrative, financial, cultural or economic.

Trapped in a cocoon-mindset, the Sinhalese Buddhists seem to have, especially after the war-victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam and other Tamil militants, hastened to the utterly wrong and lop-sided conclusion that a ‘historical’ wrong has been righted; the rightful place of Buddhism and the dominance of the Sinhalese race could be restored. Ancient stories embellished and exaggerated beyond any rational realities in ‘The Great Chronicle’ are being rendered credence, validity and legitimacy. In this irrational adherence to and blind faith in the fantasies narrated in history books, the majority of the uneducated and half-educated Sinhalese Buddhists are clinging on to stories of massive war victories of their ancestor kings and ministers over the invading armies of the Chola and Pandyan rulers, now all broadly categorized into “Tamils”.

But the most sinister acts were committed by the twentieth century politicians of both extremes of the racial spectrum. The overindulgences in the historical half-truths and amplifications on the part of the Sinhalese leaders were matched by the mythical concepts of ‘traditional homeland of Tamils’, mapped from Puttalam along the northern coast extending via Jaffna and Trincomalee, all the way to Potuvil on the South Eastern border of Ceylon. This infuriating belief on the part of the Tamils that more than two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s pristine beaches were part and parcel of the ‘Traditional Homeland’ of the Tamils’ historical inheritance gave rise to a more extreme and exaggerated sense of racial bias among the Sinhalese which was more often than not called ‘patriotism’ in the Sinhala-Buddhist mindset.

This dual dynamic, one on the part of the Sinhalese Buddhists and the other on the Tamils mainly residing in the North, became a growing conflict waiting to explode, and it did. As in most such historical eruptions, the final and deciding explosion is preceded by some minor tremors and hiccups. When the British Raj captured the entirety of the Island of Ceylon in 1815 and brought the country under one umbrella of rule and with emergence of capitalism replacing feudalism and early mercantilism, the British University and College-educated classes of both races, began in earnest a ‘friendly’ comradeship that usually was experienced in the Oxbridge culture, a vicarious product of which this educated class, representative of both races, was.

The minor tremors were the riots that erupted mainly in the South and other parts of the country in the fifties, sixties and the seventies leading to the inevitable explosion in 1983 and thereafter to a full-blown warfare between the two factions lasting more than a quarter of a century. While all this was happening in Sri Lanka and prior to the explosion in 1983, India was assuming somewhat a spectator’s role without exerting undue pressure on the Sri Lankan polity. Despite the influence of the Tamil political parties in the State of Tamil Nadu, India remained totally reluctant to advance any military assistance to the growing militancy among the Tamil youth. However, the ’83 riots in which thousands of innocent Tamils were murdered, raped and manhandled by the insanity-driven Sinhalese marauders, in most cases led by members of the Maha Sangha- more aptly called, ‘thugs in yellow robes’- in broad daylight and sometimes under the supervision of the official security forces of the then UNP Government, changed the social painting irrevocably.

India could not stay uncommitted any longer; the pressures exerted by the Tamil Nadu State government were too heavy a burden to bear, even for the broad shoulders of the ‘big brother’- Indian Central Government. The 1971 skirmishes and later open Indian intervention in the creation of Bangladesh, gave added confidence and inspiration to the local Tamil militants as well as the moderates led by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Mrs. Indira Gandhi being at the helm of Indian power, threw even more fuel at the already hotpot of racial disharmony waiting to explode in Sri Lanka. The rest, as they say, is history. The massive military operations undertaken by the Sri Lankan security forces led to an unqualified victory for them resulting in a complete obliteration of any militancy among the Tamils. The Tamil leaders are still languishing in the unsavory broth of defeat and their attention, particularly in the face of overindulgent triumphalism and Sinhalese superiority complex has rendered them almost impotent and willy-nilly driven them to the threshold of Indian Central Government. India today is not the India of the eighties or the nineties. Her great economic and military expansion has made her one of the ‘giants’ of Asia and especially in South Asia, she is the undisputed Queen reigning with supreme confidence and power. India’s recent flirtations with the United States of America has given her added sense of strength and self-assuredness and has shown that she would not hesitate to bring diplomatic, economic and social pressure on Sri Lanka. India wants the implementation of an unamended and unchanged Thirteenth Amendment.

It is into this vortex that Mahinda Rajapaksa has walked in with his eyes wide open yet not seeing a thing.

In the diplomatic world, India seems to hold all the cards, namely, Kachchathivu, CHOGM and Trans-shipment of containers through the Colombo port. India might unilaterally acquire the island of Kachchathivu and Sri Lanka will not have any military strength or diplomatic leverage to neutralize it. She could also threaten to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka later this year. Both these diplomatic and political pressures could be compounded by a severe economic threat that India could hold against Sri Lanka by threatening to abandon the trans-shipment business that is being conducted by her using the Colombo port as the main facilitator. Should India choose this option, Sri Lanka’s economy will be cooked beyond recognition. If India opts for the exercise any of these choices, one by one or as a collective combine, Sri Lankan Government too, at least in the short-run, has a bold alternative. That is to play the usual, time-tested ‘patriotism’ card to the local gullible masses. The build-up of frenzied propaganda around the Thirteenth Amendment and its certain amendment or abrogation was no accident or a knee-jerk reaction to an unintended event. It was a deliberate ploy put in place by the shrewd operators of the Government political think-tanks and are planned and plotted and being executed with precision bordering on military lines. However, the results are yet to be known.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is not in a happy place. His maneuverability is being tested and his options are becoming fewer. India holds the cards. Jawaharlal Nehru, that great son of India once said thus: “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you is determinism; the way you play it is free will.” Sri Lanka has been dealt a hand that is not all that promising, yet do we possess the strength and character to exercise our free will and play it right?

Mr. President, the choice is yours and yours alone.

Please don’t let the country down

– Ceylon Today


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