27th August 2000
Forgiven, forgotten all will live happily ever after!
An unpalatable truth about Sri Lankan post-independent political history is that though we boast of an essentially two-party political system, one of those parties, the SLFP has always ruled only as a coalition.
In the fifties it was the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, in the sixties and the seventies it was the Samagi Peramuna and now in the nineties it is the Podujana Eksath Peramuna. Yet, in all these coalitions the SLFP has been and still is the dominant force largely because over the past 40 years the elder Bandaranaikes- SWRD and Sirima- cherished and maintained the SLFP's identity within those coalitions.
But now old timers in the party are wondering whether all that has changed with the advent of the PA into the new millennium under President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the retirement of Sirima Bandaranaike from active politics- though the grand old lady remains the nominal president of the party.
That is because of the advent of 'outsiders' to the forefront of SLFP affairs- outsiders who began their politics outside the SLFP and whose main claim for promotion in the party is loyalty to Ms. Kumaratunga than service to the SLFP. Among them, Ratnasiri Wikremanayake was appointed Prime Minister and S. B. Dissanayake was appointed general secretary over and above more senior SLFPers.
For some time now it has become clear that Chandrika Kumaratunga is intent on tightening her stranglehold on the party apparatus so much so that some SLFPers say there is no such thing as the SLFP now. Instead it has been replaced by the PA which is not just an alliance but a party- the party of Chandrika Kumaratunga.
The emergence of the likes of S. B. Dissanayake as the general secretary of the party- and the way it was done, with the more senior Maithripala Sirisena being cunningly out-manoeuvered- is the clearest indicator of which way President Kumaratunga wants the PA administered under her stewardship.
To cite just one example, former Kurunegala district MP Jayasena Rajakaruna on his recent resignation lamented that today's SLFP is not what it was in yesteryear and that it was a far cry from the entity envisioned by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike when he spoke of the 'Sanga-Weda-Guru-Govi-Kamkaru', or the 'pancha maha balavegaya' in the fifties. So, as Chandrika Kumaratunga cleanses the party of the 'old' and brings in the 'new', the 'Sanga-Weda-Guru-Govi-Kamkaru' forces are being replaced by the 'Ashraff-Thondaman-Devananda-Batty Weerak-oon-Indika Gunawardena' forces.
One might well argue that such alliances of convenience are a necessity for political survival under a proportional representation system and that argument is not without merit but the problem is not in forging such alliances- the crux of the matter is the shabby treatment meted out to the SLFP Old Guard in the process.
And this was best evident last week when the Fowzie-Ashraff battle reached a peak when the Transport Minister pooh-poohed Mr. Ashraff's political prowess, challenging him to contest alone and win more than five seats, offering his resignations as an incentive.
The 'incentive' incensed Minister Ashraff who promptly dispatched his resignation to Temple Trees and dispatched himself to Mecca leaving the PA's campaign managers in a quandary. "I will not sit in the same Cabinet with Fowzie again" Ashraff roared and Fowzie scoffed at the idea in reply asking the President to appoint two cabinets.
What is at stake here is the role of the Muslim leadership within the PA. Mr. Fowzie sees himself as the Muslim leader within the SLFP, able to muster support from that community for his party much like Badi-ud-din Mahmud did for Sirima Bandaranaike and A. C. S. Hameed and M. H. Mohamed did for J. R. Jayewardene.
Minister Fowzie dislikes the communal politics of Mr. Ashraff who naturally challenges the former's role within the SLFP. Mr. Fowzie began his politics in the UNP but lost his civic rights while working for the SLFP. He is essentially a Sirima Bandaranaike loyalist and feels that the President could well sacrifice him if the need arises for he was once told by her that he cannot get the votes the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress can get.
In this respect President Kumaratunga is guilty of neglecting Muslim leaders within her own party. Consider the case of Haleem Ishak. The former MP for Colombo Central was one of the SLFPers retained in Parliament when the party was reduced to eight seats in the electoral rout of 1977 and did a good job of holding the fort against a steam-rolling UNP majority in the House. Now he is ill and his son was appointed organiser for Borella. The younger man remains an organiser but the President has appointed another for the same area- Bharatha Lakshman Premach-andra, whose larger than life cut-outs seem to adorn every junction in the city, alongside posters of G. L. Peiris with his beatific smile.
We must concede that President Kumaratunga has on her hands a delicate balancing act vis-à-vis Fowzie and Ashraff. But the President knows she must be eternally grateful to Ashraff because he was a decisive factor in 1994 and lent his support to the President then. Of course, had D. B. Wijetunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe tried a little harder to woo him promising him the sun, moon and the port he may well have joined ranks with the UNP but he denies any such thoughts now!
And that is why S. B. Dissanayake, Mangala Samaraweera and D. M. Jayaratne were all reportedly hanging around Mr. Ashraff's house at Stanmore Crescent this week pleading with him not to abandon the PA. This was a pathetic show by the gung-ho gang of the 'new' PA, virtually grovelling at the feet of Ashraff the 'great'- and surely S.W.R.D. Bandaran-aike must be turning in his 'samaadhi'!
Mr. Fowzie was quickly disowned by D. M. Jayaratne in his role as secretary of the PA and the former's statement challenging Ashraff's poker tactics was said to be the personal sentiments of the Transport Minister and not the policy or opinion of the PA.
But the SLFP Muslims and indeed old-timers like Mahinda Rajapakse, Richard Pathirana were backing Mr. Fowzie while the likes of Prime Minister Wikremana-yake and Ministers Lakshman Jayakody and Kingsley Wikremaratne maintained a diplomatic silence.
The other Muslim in the PA cabinet and the government's favourite troubleshooter in trade union disputes, Alavi Moulana who always performed a balancing act between Mr. Fowzie and Mr. Ashraff threw his weight with the 'new' gang this time around. All in all, the dispute did throw the PA into disarray at least for a while and a sense of panic has crept into the camp. Of course, whether this dispute translates into consequences in terms of votes at the polls is still left to be seen.
The opposition UNP meanwhile was content to watch this spectacle with glee. To date it has not tried to use it to its advantage by trying to woo Mr. Ashraff. Apparently the party has decided it will keep away from him, come what may. Their line of thinking is that if Mr. Ashraff wants to be king (or queen!)-maker the UNP should call for a clear mandate from the people to defeat the king-makers.
Even the likes of former SLMC MP M. Zuhair believe that the 'secret' SLMC- Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) agreement to work together at least on an unofficial basis could only result in giving added muscle to the Sihala Urumaya campaign to defeat the king-makers be it Ashraff or Arumugam Thondaman.
Mr. Zuhair obviously has some serious problems with his brother-in-law, A. J. Muzammil, who is now closer to the SLMC leader than Zuhair himself-which is why he fears that businessmen and tenderers are getting closer to Mr. Ashraff and that as a result, the party's image is at stake. Indeed, the SLMC's demand for four national list seats has been seen by some as a way to make money for the SLMC. It was not long ago that the SLMC came into an electoral agreement with the Liberal Party-which probably couldn't find enough voters to fill the Savoy cinema! That was to tap the funds given by the Friedrich Ebert Stiffung- an NGO for the Liberal Party. Now, six years later, they do not need such contributions. Indeed, they may well be in a position to give the NGO a donation!
When a place on the National List was given to a businessman who had forty cases with the People's Bank for non-settlement of debts, the SLMC leadership went on record telling a Tamil daily, "yes, he is a businessman and we did some business with him!". So, these are the concerns surrounding the politics of the SLMC and these are the reasons why the SLFP old guard is wary of Mr. Ashraff.
But then, as far as the President is concerned, she couldn't care less about these apprehensions. And so, the PA readily sucked up to the SLMC leadership despite Mr. Ashraff's theatrics against Minister Fowzie. The bottom line then is that when Mr. Ashraff returns from his pilgrimage he will have a chat with the President and he will be back in the PA again- with or without Mr. Fowzie. All will be forgiven and forgotten and the PA, SLFP and the SLMC will live happily ever after.
Now, that shouldn't be too difficult to imagine. Just consider the scenario of Dinesh Gunewardena- son of the Boralugoda Lion and the epitome of the Sinhala Buddhist credo- even though he never held office. A few weeks ago, he was on the streets protesting against the draft constitution and rubbing shoulders with the Sihala Urumaya.
Come Thursday and he visits Temple Trees and chats to the President and agrees to support the PA at the polls- the party which has agreements with Arumugam Thondaman, trying its darnest to get Ashraff, Sambanthan et al and its pledges to re-introduce that same constitution even with a simple majority should it be returned at the polls! Need we say more?
Legal support for illegal action?
The move to establish a 'legal fund', es pecially to help police officers who have been convicted by the Supreme Court mainly in relation to violation of fundamental rights would only encourage errant officers to carry on with such beeshanya activities.
It was worse still to hear that the delegation, which met President Kumaratunga to seek approval to set up such a fund, was led by the Inspector General of Police himself.and that the President had pledged funds from the Presidential Fund to set up this 'Legal Fund'.
It certainly smacks of encouraging F.R.violations in a big way. It is however heartening to note that there are a few right thinking Police Officers still left in the service to resist such Hitlerian projects.
In the recent past the incidents of fundamental rights violations by police officers has increased.The violators include the IG Police, DIG-CID, Director CID, and even the Secretary Defence. The Supreme Court convictions appear to be having an adverse effect on the morale of some in the Police Force resulting in the reluctance to act even when the necessity arose. That is certainly a dangerous trend that calls for remedial measures.
What the remedial measures are, for such chicken-hearted attitudes, is an important question. The answer is certainly not a 'Legal Fund' to protect and encourage wrongdoers. The answer is a well-planned program to educate and train all police officers on their duties and lawful powers. It is that training which is badly lacking today at all levels of the police force. This is why police officers and the Defence Ministry are seeking to ensure themselves against the course of law through such an ill-conceived "project".
How did the police tackle law enforcement during the period before politicians usurped control of the Police Force? Although F.R. violations were not justifiable before the 1978 constitution, police officers were always answerable to courts for their actions when dealing with rights and liberties of persons. Police officers then were educated and trained to act reasonably and within the law, and to make their notes correctly and present facts to courts accordingly. Therefore they used their powers whenever the need arose and there was no need to desist from acting or to deny the action taken as happens ever so often today.
There are many instances where police officers used their powers without fear or favour. Politicians were always there, but the Police did not abdicate its powers to politicians. Timely police action saved many a life and limb, and property.
I will take just one case study for illustration: - In 1963, a massive trade union demonstration was organized in Ampara by a confederation of trade unions. The demonstration was led by Ranbanda of the LSSP and the Bakmeewewa brothers, Kulasiri and M.C. of the MEP. Tension was high and a serious breach of the peace was anticipated.
The Ampara Government Agent Neville Jayaweera and Gal Oya Development Board Chairman I. M. de Silva were in a tight situation as the T .U. demands were accompanied with a show of criminal force. Summoned by the G.A., Ampara ASP Ernest Perera went to the scene with HQI Walter Liyanage and assessed the situation.
The G.A. Ampara and Chairman GODB were not in a position to grant the TU demands and the crowd was getting restive. Mr. Perera requested the G.A. and Chairman GODB to leave the place. He then got down a Police baton-party. – SI Palipane was in charge. Mr. Perera ordered the demonstrators to disperse, whereupon the crowd became even more restive. A baton charge was ordered and Ampara town was cleared in next to no time.
It was a major loss of face for the Trade Unions and Dr Colvin R de Silva who was head of the Co-ordinating Committee of Joint Trade Unions, took the matter up with the Government and pressed for action against the Police Officers.
The Government requested the Attorney General to frame charges against the police officers. Dr Colvin R de Silva lobbied hard in the Attorney General's Office pressing his case.
The thrust of his argument was that the demonstrators had not committed any acts of violence when the Police baton charged them. The A.G., ACM Ameer, took pains to level charges against the Police. The evidence supporting the TU complaint and the Police notes agreed on all material facts. It was the apprehension of the Police, for reasons explained in their notes and supported by the G.A. and Chairman G.O.D.B that justified their action under the law.
The AG explained to Dr Silva why no charges could be maintained and Colvin just folded up his papers and left the AG's Office accepting the decision of the AG. As it turned out to be, there was no better person than Dr Colvin R de Silva to explain the legal position to the Trade Unions.
It is unfortunate that such leadership is lacking today both in the Police Force and in the Defence Ministry.
The Prabhakaran factor in the elections
The elections are not until October 10, but a lot is to happen before then. Clearly, the federal constitution will be the issue that will dominate this election. Even though this is bound to work against the Government, the PA after the debacle it faced in Parliament, has no other option but to drag the distasteful and, as widely acknowledged, unpalatable document to the campaign stage. The UNP, on the other hand, will be ranting about the state of the economy, simply because it acted as the PA's accomplice in the attempted crime against the people in being part of the formulation process. Both parties will, each in their own way, attempt to hijack or at least keep neutralising the Sinhala-Buddhist fervour that erupted with the constitution being tabled for debate in parliament. Already Mahinda Rajapakse and the new Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake from the PA and Karu Jayasuriya and Lokubandara from the UNP have been assigned this project of dealing with the so-called "Saffron Wave".
The draft constitution has been ripped apart on many counts by many parties, not least of all because of the indemnity it provides for the President and the dictatorial elements enshrined in the document. This document will provide the fuel for much rhetoric over the next month. Naturally. But the election will not be a simple matter of an opinion poll on the federal constitution. A key factor, not much talked about, will be Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran almost crippled the PA's Presidential campaign by its operations in the Wanni between the 1st and 7th of November. If by some chance his attack on December 18 succeeded, it is not too far-fetched to speculate that he might be ruling this country by now. He cannot allow this election to proceed peacefully. Neither can the PA for that matter. They have amply demonstrated that they are more than willing to make a "Wayamba" out of the entire country if that is what it takes to win.
If the PA calculated that the new constitution would serve to weaken the LTTE internationally, then it is to be expected that Prabhakaran would not concede any ground without a fight. If the LTTE decides to "participate" in this election (and they know only one way to do that, since they see through the barrel of a gun) then will this campaign become a real struggle.
The PA has already chosen their slogans. Among these, the most important is the question, "If this constitution will divide the country, why is Prabhakaran rejecting it?" This is an important question, and one which did the rounds during the Provincial Councils election as well. The answer of course is pretty obvious.
What has been proposed is a federal system. However, Prabhakran's military-political dreams are way beyond a federal constitution. At this point it is not clear whether all he wants is a separate state in the North and East. It is likely that the universe of his ambition includes a capture of the entire island. One thing is clear. Prabhakaran aspires to a military victory. Here all proposals for a negotiated settlement (which some people call a "political solution" totally ignoring the fact that guns and bombs are also employed in the matter of "politics"), as far as he is concerned, and as has been made clear by Lawrence Thilakar, are seen within a military logic. If the LTTE is to win, it has to break the back of the Sri Lankan army. If this is done, capturing the entire island is a simple matter.
This is what happened in Israel. When a certain degree of "self rule" was granted for the Jews in what used to be Palestine, no one thought that this process will end in the creation of Israel. After Hitler's massacres, the Jews began to agitate for a country. This dream was realised in 1948. The Arabs were defeated decisively in battle. The fate of the Palestinians was thus sealed. Over the next 25 years, parts of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt were annexed to create a Greater Israeli state. Prabhakaran's strategies and the contours of his dreams are quite similar. He has been able, through the calculated sowing of falsehoods, to reap a harvest of sympathy akin to that which the Jews enjoyed after the second world war. In Israel's case, its main ally, the USA, was on another continent. Prabhakaran's friend "Tamilnadu", on the other hand, is only a few miles away. With the fall of Elephant Pass, the call for a Tamil state gained currency in Tamilnadu. It was with the fall of Elephant Pass that the DMK leader said that the abandonment of the call for secession from India was nothing but a strategic ploy.
India, for all its economic might, remains a weak and loosely constituted state and all the capital flows diverted to Tamilnadu cannot defeat either the slogan or the political designs of Tamil separatism.
It is interesting to see a lot of people seeing economic power as one way of controlling separatism and ethno-nationalism. Not just Marxists, but even some popular Buddhist monks are of the view that the problem in the North has its tap root buried deep in the economic realm. Even the UNP's main cry is about defeating separatism by strengthening the economy.
This, of course, is a popular myth. The basque movement in Spain gathered momentum not because the people were undergoing any enonomic difficulty. It is the same story with regard to Quebec's move to secede from Canada and the dream of separation entertained by the Scots and the Welsh. Thus, the argument that the intrusion of capital into the North and East will silence the separatists, is, at best, a political naivete.
The idea of a Tamil state in India was first mooted by V. Kalyanasundaram (1883 - 1953). He argued that the Dravidian family of languages was superior to the Aryan ones. It was he who drew a line separating the Aryans from the Dravidians, regardless of the validity or otherwise of purity claims on both sides of the divide. This language struggle later took on religious tones. The argument was predictable. The Dravidians were the first "civilisation", subdued by the Brahmin-Aryan invasion; Rama became a symbol of this domination, whereas Ravana (identified as a Tamil) is the true heroic character and symbol of Dravidian liberation. The cultural objection gathered into its folds an anti-Hindu mindset. And in this well-constructed "history", Sri Lanka was always considered a part of the Greater Tamil "nation".
When the BJP swept into power by selling the idea of "Ramraj", Tamil nationalism was rudely awoken. First it attempted to counter the Vaishnava Hindu wave by forming an alliance with the Congress Party. Later they were forced to ally themselves strategically with the BJP. In the meantime, Prabhakaran scored his victory in Elephant Pass. With this, even Karunanidhi joined people like Ramdas and Nedumaran in calling for a Tamil state.
There is massive anti-Indian agitation in Tamilnadu today, much like the discontent around 1965. In 1967, when the DMK came to power in Madras, it immediately changed the name of the state to Tamilnadu, or "Tamil State". Prabhakaran is preparing for a long struggle for secession. Where people like E.V. Ramasamy, Annadorai and Muthuvel Karunanidhi failed, he has succeeded in sowing angry secessionist seeds in Tamilnadu.
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