BY DR DAYAN JAYATILLEKA
A man or woman must have the courage of his or her convictions. If you do something, do so because you think it is right. If you oppose something, do so because you think it is wrong. If you’ve done something because you think it is right, say so, defend your choice, and give reasons why you thought it was right, if only at that time. If you’ve opposed something, explain that opposition, giving reasons why, at the time, you thought it was wrong. If you’ve remained silent, give the reasons for so doing. If you’ve broken your silence, explain why. That’s the way to remain an essentially moral man or woman, to ascend the high ground, even if your reasons may be wrong.
Mr. Wigneswaran has sought to explain why the Northern Provincial Council passed the noxious ‘Genocide’ Resolution. In his attempt at explanation he gives the game away. His explanation is that the resolution was a reaction to State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardena’s statement that the Sri Lankan armed forces will not be withdrawn from the North. He says: “Recent public pronouncements that even a single Army Camp would not be withdrawn even if it was for the consumption of the Southern Electorate could have been avoided. It had the effect of our response by passing a Resolution on Genocide.” (‘We Feel Very Strongly Against the Continued Stay of Armed Forces’, by CV Wigneswaran, Colombo Telegraph, March 1st 2015)
However, in the course of another explanation given to Mr. Lakshman Piyasena the new editor of the state’s flagship Sinhala language newspaper, the Silumina, the Chief Minister reveals that the Genocide resolution was being mulled over for seven months, and had merely been ‘expedited’ by the remarks on non-withdrawal of troops.
“Question: When you were appointed Chief Minister of the Northern Province there was a general impression in the country that a moderate Tamil intellectual who was different from politicians who arouse communalism had entered politics. But the recent Council resolution adopted under your leadership seems to have turned that impression upside down. That resolution said Tamils in Sri Lanka had been subjected to genocide under the government for a long time. Why did you bring in such a resolution as soon as President Maithripala Sirisena who pledged to foster national harmony and reconciliation came to power? What was the need for such a resolution?
Answer: First of all I must say that this was not a spontaneous resolution. For seven months the Provincial Council had discussions about bringing such a resolution. Every member supported it including even the Sinhala members. It was thereafter adopted unanimously…
Q: Shouldn’t you have given the new government a time limit to work towards harmony and reconciliation?
A: Two weeks before the adoption of the resolution the Deputy Minister of Defence visited the North and said Army camps would not be withdrawn from the North. This caused immense pain of mind and grief to the Tamil people. Tamils consider these camps as an obstruction to their normal daily routine. This had been a longstanding problem. Just think the pressure the Sinhalese in the South would have suffered if they had to continue living in such a situation. It is the suspicion caused among the ordinary Tamil public by this talk about camps which motivated Provincial Council members to expedite this resolution.” (CHIEF MINISTER WIGNESWARAN ON TAMIL ASPIRATIONS: ‘Independence and corresponding power within a united country’, Sunday Observer, March 1st 2015)
Now Mr. Wijewardene had not made the allegedly provocative statement seven months ago. Mr. Wijewardene was not the State Minister of Defence seven months ago. President Sirisena was not the President seven months ago. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was not the PM seven months ago. So, we have to arrive at one of two conclusions. Either the Chief Minister is not telling the truth when he says the resolution was in retaliation for the statement made by Mr. Ruwan Wijewardene, or it was, and the resolution was not in the pipeline for seven months. Either way, he is not telling the truth.
That’s not the only untruth that the Chief Minister has uttered on the subject. He assured President Sirisena that the Genocide Resolution was not directed at the new Government but the previous one. If so, it cannot be true that the resolution was in retaliation for State Minister Wijewardene’s statement on the non-withdrawal of the Sri Lankan military from the North, for the obvious reason that Mr. Wijewardene belongs to the new government. If on the other hand, the resolution was aimed at the previous administration, then it should have been fired at it and not at the new one. So that’s the second lie that the Chief Minister has uttered in the recent past on this single issue.
If one is to be charitable and accepts Mr Wigneswaran’s composite explanation, the Genocide resolution was in the pipeline for seven months and was triggered, not by some remark uttered by the ‘hawkish’ Rajapaksa administration but rather a remark uttered by the ‘dovish’ Sirisena-Wickremesinghe one. So we all sound alike to them. What does this say about Tamil nationalist political behavior and the collective Tamil nationalist political mindset?
Another explanation by the Chief Minister’s camp followers is that the Genocide Resolution was the by-product of rivalry within the Northern Council and the TNA; rivalry between the so-called moderates led by Messrs. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran and unnamed radicals who were specifically critical of the presence of the former pair at the independence day celebrations. Here too, one cannot have it both ways. Either the Resolution was because Ruwan Wijewardene piqued Northern sentiments with his ‘no withdrawal’ statement or because intra-TNA/NPC rivalry peaked with Sampanthan and Sumanthiran’s attendance on Feb 4th.
Now let’s move from the manifest lies and contradictions to what lies beneath. What do those lies and contradictions reveal about the substance of things?
This year’s Independence Day parade was dismayingly downsized, with no fly past, no parachute drops and no patrol boats. President Sirisena spoke of a “barbaric war”. There was no mention in the entire discourse of the day, against secessionism/separatism (“bedum vaadaya”). A message of peace and reconciliation was read out. Now, that was the nature of the Independence Day celebration that Messrs. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran attended. If it was a political betrayal in the eyes of a school of Tamil nationalist politics, just how radical must that school of thought be? If Messrs. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran did not defend their attendance robustly and prevail within Tamil nationalism, how powerful must that radical current actually be? If it was necessary to compensate for that attendance on this downsized February 4th with a resolution that accused Sri Lanka of genocide, how supine must the moderates be and how extreme and extremely strong, the opposing current in Tamil politics must be?
Let me move on to the Chief Minister’s explicit excuse, namely the statement by State Minister Wijewardene. The State Minister had to win the confidence of the armed forces for the new administration. For this purpose he made some reassuring remarks. In any country on the planet, armed forces are stationed in border areas. This is more so, if there has been political hostility across those borders. If there are co-ethnics/ethnic kin across the borders of an area of the country which has witnessed a separatist struggle, then there is almost never a question of the withdrawal of the armed forces, and certainly not a mere five years after the end of the war. It took twelve years after the US Civil War for the Union armies (of the North) to leave the ex-Confederate states of the South.
This does not mean there is nothing to be negotiated. What remains to be discussed and resolved is the footprint of the armed forces in the North; their role and function. Their very presence cannot be the subject of debate, but that is exactly what Chief Minister Wigneswaran has signaled is the issue.
Furthermore, if the very presence of the armed forces in the North, a legitimate security need in any ex-separatist border zone anywhere on the planet, can be the subject, not of serious negotiation, but can trigger an 11-page resolution calling on courts throughout the world to try Sri Lanka under universal jurisdiction, on the charge of genocide, then we have a problem. If this can happen one month into a new, liberal administration which has engaged in serious confidence building measures, (downscaling Independence Day, appointing a dovish civilian governor) then we have a serious problem. If we have Tamil moderates such as Sampanthan and Sumanthiran who cannot robustly defend themselves from the radicals and actually go on to justify the Genocide resolution, then we have a very serious problem. That problem is the dogmatic, politically fundamentalist nature of Tamil nationalism.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s stated reason, namely that Ruwan Wijewardena’s remarks triggered the Genocide resolution clearly implies that hurling in a formal political manner, the very worst kind of accusation that can be made against a state – that of genocide—is, in the Chief Minister view, a perfectly understandable and acceptable reaction and way of being. So, Ruwan Wijewardene says something that ruffles the fine Northern feathers and we must all be sympathetic and understanding when the formal political reaction is to accuse our founding Prime minister and all others elected after him, of perpetrating genocide on the Tamils, and to call upon the world to haul Sri Lanka up before every possible tribunal on the charge of genocide. Who does the Chief Minister think he is? What does he think the Northern Provincial Council is? Where on the planet does he think he and the NPC are? And who does he think the rest of us are?
Given the recent exhibition of Tamil truculence in the Northern Province resolution, it is utterly unwise to downsize beyond a point, the strong Executive presidency and level the playing field between the parliament and the Northern Provincial Council. Thus the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is correct in its proposals to reform rather than drastically dispense with the executive powers of the Presidency. These are in line with the MoU signed by candidate Sirisena and the JHU.
The UNP, JVP, Ven. Sobitha, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne and sundry civil society progressives are dangerously wrong. Constitutions are not made and unmade with a specific incumbent and the next five years in mind. Constitutions are the basic political architecture of the state; of a political community.
The Ancient Greeks were right as (almost) always: conduct is the expression of character. Given this character and complexion of Tamil nationalism, the Sri Lankan armed forces have to remain in the North for the foreseeable future, albeit with a smaller footprint. Someday, with the mellowing of Tamil nationalism as manifested in the election of a Northern Provincial Council that will repeal the genocide resolution, we may consider the graduated downsizing of our military presence. The NPC is lucky that President Sirisena is not the sort who would dissolve the Council, but it mustn’t push its luck. There should be a freeze on any discussion of enhanced devolution and/or troop shifts unless and until the Genocide Resolution is repealed. As the Sinhala saying goes ‘never give a monkey a razor”.