28th September 1997


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Sinhala Commission: an invitation to feudalism?

By Ameen Izzadeen

I think it’s back to feudalism. The Sinhala Commission interim report presented to the Mahanayakes of the Trinikaya on Wednesday after it was brought atop an elephant by commission members dressed in Kandyan style, is a subtle invitation for feudal style governance or dictatorship where the minorities will have to live at the mercy of the majority.

The report and its recommendations, harping much on what the commissioners call historical facts-their interpretation of history - are more reflective of the extremist opinion of the section of the Sinhala community than highlighting the real grievances of the Sinhalese.

That the Sinhalese were denied their due place under colonial rule is undisputed and granted. Even the extremist Tamil elements would agree. But these wrongs were to a large extent righted with the introduction of political reforms, beginning with the 1931 Donoughmore constitution. Unfortunately this very process triggered an anti-thesis, creating panic and fears of discrimination in the minds of the Tamils.

It is not disputed that a section of the Tamils were a privileged lot under the British but this does not mean the downtrodden Tamil civilian coping with the oppressive caste system and other economic burdens was any better off than his Sinhala brethren - if I may be allowed to use a term of fraternity. The socio-economic and politial yoke around the downtrodden Tamil led to the armed rebellion against the state. It is the civilians on both sides of the communal divide, who are affected most. One cannot also ignore the plight of the Sinhalese in the villages close to the theatre of war.

The pogrom on Tamils took place in 1983 but can any one deny that no Tamil was killed or harassed for the mere fact of him being a Tamil before 1983?

Pre-1983 violence against Tamils which I witnessed as a child and what followed after 1983 - massacres of innocent Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people, - make me query why men cannot treat fellow men as equals in Sri Lanka. Who is responsible for the massacres and the mayhem? The answers still elude me and the Sinhala Commission report, it appears to me, has made them a mirage.

The report, in my opinion, is more an anti-package exercise than a document containing grievances of the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese and the National Joint Committee have all the right to highlight the grievances faced by the majority community. In newspaper advertisements and speeches at the September 17 ceremony where the report was released, several Buddhist monks of highest order and other diginitaries pointed out with examples of grievances of the Sinhalese. They include the Deegavapiya land issue, the rights of the Sinhalese who lived in the north, the cutting down of historically significant Bo trees and the fear of losing the identity of the world’s only Sinhala state. The speakers also outlined their desire for peace and pointed out that the minorities lived peacefully under Sinhala kings.

They urged the government to keep in mind the more than 2000 years of history of this land when handling matters of national importance, like the constitution.

Well, the written history - whose authenticity is always a subject of intellectual debate - may suggest that Tamils and Muslims co-existed peacefully with the Sinhalese. Yes, within the socio-political and economic order of that era, it seemed a sine-qua-non for survival. It was long before this country was colonised, the introduction of democratic values like equality and freedom and the Sinhalese elite took over the political leadership from the British.

Many were the scenarios that have passed by the landscape of socio-political and economic order of the world. Today the situation is different. What we need is a system for peace that will fit today’s environment.

In the light of this, the question that arises is whether the Sinhala Commission citing history is asking all of us to revert to a feudal, political and social structure where a Sinhala Buddhist king would command the obeisance of all his subjects. Or does it want a constitutional clause that the head of state should be a Sinhala Buddhist and this country never be identified as a pluralistic one.

The need of the hour is not any move that would increase the communal hatred in the minds of the people but efforts that would bring the people together. On this score, the Sinhala Commission has failed in its civil duty, though its reports tackle logically the constitutional obstacles to an adverse economic consequence of the devolution package.

One of the speakers at Wednesday’s ceremony, opposing the package said the country was a unitary state even during the colonial period. But he failed to mention that sovereignty lay elsewhere. It seems having a foreign sovereign as head of state is acceptable to the proponents of the Sinhala Commission but power sharing with a people of this country to restore peace is demonic.

We conjure up a tear-drop or an inverted mango-like land block when Sri Lanka is mentioned. Our nationalistic feelings constitute this image and we refuse to compromise on it. A liberal and fair-minded nationalist may, however, say "take anything but not part of the land" which he considers his country. A federal system which would not change the geographical shape of Sri Lanka is acceptable to a liberal nationalist.

Within this framework, a devolution package or a constitution which contains it could be seen as an attempt to bring about peace. Whether peace would dawn as a result of this is another question but the attempt has to be encouraged if the spirit of it is aimed at peace. If the Sinhala commissionists and the members of the National Joint Committee are opposed to the devolution package, the democratic system - which some of them termed western scrap unsuitable for Sri Lanka - demands that their right to be heard should not be denied.

Let them do their work, and the government its. The people will decide.

A strategy for peace and prosperity

By Lal de Mel

Time is fast running out for the Government that came into power with a people’s mandate to usher an era of peace and prosperity. Are we any nearer to achieving a lasting peace and reaping a peace dividend? What can we do to expedite the achievement of the goal of peace and prosperity?

In business, warfare and to a lesser extent in national planning it is fashionable to talk of strategic planning. Sun Tzu (500 BC) is still considered to be the guru of strategic planning. I will intermittently refer to his words of wisdom.

"Thus it is in war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory". "In warfare, first lay plans which will ensure victory, and then lead your army to battle; if you will not begin with stratagem but rely on brute strength alone, victory will no longer be assured". - Sun Tzu

Strategy is about deciding where one wants to be in the longer term and preparing plans to get there. For this purpose we need to take stock of where we are and where we want to be.

We have been fighting a civil war for 14 years. Over 50,000 people have died during this period. An equal number have been victims of landmines. While Rome is burning we appear to have been fiddling half the time with select committees that have taken us nowhere. The forces are facing personnel shortages as a result of the need to divert forces to guard the civilian Tamil population in Jaffna and the politicians in Colombo. Attacks on civilian vessels by LTTE are making the transport of goods to Jaffna expensive. On the other hand the LTTE has lost a large number of their fighters, shrinking the size of their fighting force considerably. Under these circumstances some Tamil citizens have decided to appeal to the Secretary General of the United Nations to intervene and enforce a ceasefire.

Opinions will differ, but most people will agree that "We want to be again one of the more prosperous nations in Asia".

"If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself".

"In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact: to shatter and destroy it is not so good.

Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory":

(1) "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight;

(2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces;

(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit;

(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared;

(5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign. Victory lies in the knowledge of these five points" - Sun Tzu (500 BC)

"When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, the men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardour will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardour damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue" - Sun Tzu.

The last peace accord was guaranteed by India and the Indian army discharged their obligations when the LTTE resumed the war. We need the devolution of power to be accompanied by an enforceable peace agreement. Who can act as guarantors?

There is little hope of the two main political parties arriving at a mutually acceptable devolution proposal. The LTTE appears to be favouring third party mediation. How can we arrive at a solution acceptable to all?

The suggested strategy is to invite the Indian Ocean rim countries, our main trading partner USA and perhaps UK representing the Commonwealth of Nations, to assist us in evolving a mutually acceptable devolution proposal, guaranteed by the participating countries. Representatives with proven problem-solving and team work skills should be nominated by the political parties to the peace committee. They must be empowered to arrive at a mutually acceptable devolution proposal with the assistance of the intermediaries. Besides the countries acting as intermediaries, we need to invite the LTTE to participate in the peace conference. A peace proposal prepared by such a committee has a better prospect of gaining the approval of two thirds of the members of parliament, to amend the Constitution. The participation of our neighbours and main trading partners in such a peace conference will result in strengthening our economic ties with them and hasten the process of evolution of strong economic groupings.

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