marching backward into the future
Recently there was a story doing the rounds that
Sri Lankan authorities have banned women from buying liquor at the
airport duty free shop. It was hard to believe. But if such a decision
had been made it would come as no surprise.
What with the bigotry that is increasingly beginning
to infest our society who could put beyond an administration hard
pressed to win friends and influence people, not to succumb to such
ludicrous demands from political and religious quarters that are
fast becoming intolerant of other views and values.
The ban on those entering the country-both locals
and foreigners- from bringing in the usual quota of cigarettes seems
to have been a decision taken under commercial pressure.
But any decision to stop women from purchasing
liquor would have to be made on some high moral principle though
it would have been violating the principle of gender equality by
discriminating against women.
Fortunately the story happened to be just a rumour.
Still the fact that such rumours circulate and sometimes do presage
things to come, is evidence of an axiom that used to be drummed
into us in our school days many decades ago- from small acorns do
big oak trees grow.
From whatever source such rumours emanate and
then spread, it does mean that people do not put it beyond our politicians
and governments to come up with some disastrously unproductive and
useless ideas that do little to elevate our moral standards, if
that is indeed the intention.
Some might call this ingenuity, others insanity.
Talking of insanity, I was reading the other day the 20-point demand
list presented to the government by the JVP that should be met if
the Mahinda Rajapaksa government wants its support.
If I still remember correctly my early lessons
in Christianity, God presented Moses with 10 Commandments. The JVP,
which believes it is god in our political firmament despite recent
election setbacks, has dramatically improved on God and presented
Rajapaksa with a 20-point wish list that appears incredibly confused,
if an understatement might be permitted.
Subsequently I read somewhere that the JVP leader
Somawansa Amarasinghe has said it might still extend support if
as a first step, President Rajapaksa abrogates the Cease Fire Agreement
(CFA) that Ranil Wickremesinghe entered into with LTTE leader Prabhakaran
in February 2002.
More about this Somawansa Amarasinghe later. What
immediately concerns me are the 20 commandments which though they
may not begin with "Thou shalt not" do this or that, seem
to have the same effect of telling Rajapaksa what he should do if
he wants the JVP's political support to strengthen the government's
parliamentary numbers which don't add up to much right now.
It is not certain-and Amarasinghe has not enlightened
the public on this-whether the 20 points are in order of priority
or sequential. As they have been presented they do create much confusion
which is perhaps evidence of the simplistic and narrow mindedness
that invests the JVP's own thinking.
The JVP calls for "reinforcing democracy
in the North and East." While those who are genuinely concerned
with political pluralism and the right of the people in the region
to exercise political freedoms, the JVP's objective is easier said
How is it to be achieved? That of course is not
made clear in that document. Whether Amarasinghe expanded on it
at the press conference or whether he was questioned on it, one
does not know.
The JVP suggests that military power be used to
free Northeast from terrorists and to enforce government rule in
un-cleared areas. One supposes that the latter is to be done in
the same way that the Northeast is to be freed of terrorists which
is with the barrel of the gun in the same way that in the late 80s
the JVP tried to do to impose its edicts on an elected government
and the people.
Of course at that time the JVP was not so concerned
about democracy or democratic rights of others as Somawansa Amarasinghe
well knows. After all he was a member of the JVP's politburo during
those days when the JVP did its best to spread anarchy in the country.
When the JVP leadership was wiped out by the government
of the day Amarasinghe was the last man standing, or rather running,
for important persons in that same government helped him run away
eventually ending up in the UK.
In a political move that was nothing but self
serving and intended partially to satiate her thirst for power it
was the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga that brought down Amarasinghe
to Colombo from London to help her boost the government's dwindling
numbers and diminishing public support.
Had it not been for her innate desire to cling
on to power, Somawansa Amarasinghe would be still languishing in
the UK having run from obscurity to oblivion.
The 20-point programme makes fascinating reading
if only because it clearly demonstrates the naivete that is at the
heart of JVP thinking about international affairs and diplomatic
relations. But that discussion must await another Sunday column
because right now other aspects of its 20 commandments must take
precedence given the current politico-military situation in the
If as the JVP demands Rajapaksa should accept
that government rule be enforced in the un-cleared areas by which
is obviously meant territory under LTTE control, the way shown by
the JVP is military action. It also calls on the government to free
the Northeast of terrorism and the way to achieve that is also the
same, military means, which several experts on such matters, have
said is virtually impossible.
Having said all that the JVP calls for direct
talks with the Tiger organisation.
In short what the JVP says is this. Free the area
of terrorism, enforce the government's edict in the un-cleared areas
and then hold talks with the Tigers, if the sequential arrangement
of the 20-points implies its logic.
Some might then ask why hold direct talks with
the Tigers if the government has eliminated terrorism and enforced
its rule in Tiger held territory? If the Tigers have been reduced
to a rump by such actions why have direct talks only with the LTTE
when the JVP is all for political pluralism and democracy in the
north and east?
Is this not to give a place of undue importance
to a group from which the whole initiative and power have been wrested
by the government? Would this not be at the expense of other Tamil
voices that surely exist but are today silenced by coercion and
How interesting it is to listen to the JVP's homilies
on terrorism. Those who lived through the years in the late 1980s
would remember only too vividly the killings and the attempts to
intimidate a people into submission. Journalists were not only threatened
but actually murdered only because they were practising their profession.
Officials and security personnel were killed because the JVP acting
in the names of some Sinhala kings which they actually denigrated,
because they stood against the anarchy that the so-called Vijayabahus
unleashed on the nation. Does Somawansa Amarasinghe still remember
all this or does he suffer from convenient amnesia.
Now, by proposing some incredulous ideas that
impinge not only on domestic affairs but also on our international
relations without any sense of the world we live in, the JVP is
merrily marching us backward into the future.
It is indeed an impressive set of ideas-like uprooting
cash crops like tea and planting manioc. Why not? After all Amarasinghe
and his cohorts have big mouths, don't they.