And then there was one and only one
President Rajapakse’s maiden visit to India and his talks with Indian leaders inevitably produced a feast of commentaries and analyses in the Sri Lankan and Indian media.

Everybody seems to have chipped in with vigour and enthusiasm in keeping with the festive season. Journalists, academics, peace keepers, war mongers, budding diplomats, budded diplomats and strays like some of those on the Rajapakse bandwagon to the Dhammadvipa. Sorting out the paddy from the husk, as it were, was as time consuming and a sure recipe for neuralgia as discarding the unwanted after an orgy of celebration.

Still it must be admitted that there were some interesting thoughts that emanated from both sides of the Palk Strait. Some contributors had studied every word that dropped from the lips of our leaders and their aides with such microscopic care that an interesting issue came to light.
Sri Lanka’s leaders in more recent months have been talking of a “unitary” state and the international community- whether it be the Co-chairs or the EU- have made mention of a “united” Sri Lanka.

The joint statement issued after the India-Sri Lanka dialogue referred to an undivided Sri Lanka. Here are the relevant paragraphs. “ India reiterated its support for a process of seeking a negotiated political settlement acceptable to all sections of Sri Lankan society within a framework of an undivided Sri Lanka and consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights.”

Later on the statement talked of a political settlement based on devolution, openness, transparency and inclusivity…….. in an undivided and democratic Sri Lanka.”

When some commentators spotted the word “undivided” they vectored in on it like a one-man air force. Their concern? Was undivided a category or status below united? Did it mean that our closest neighbour and regional super power that once preached the “Indira Doctrine” of limited sovereignty on the lines of the Brezhnev doctrine in the heyday of the Soviet Union, was not particularly concerned about a united Sri Lanka?
I don’t know how those semantically-inclined would treat the degradation that is sort to be imposed, but I would think one should consider the “ground reality” as writers now prone to military parlance, might say.

If by united is meant a country in which every community-ethnic or religious- would lie in brotherly love after a political settlement has been reached, that would be over ambitious, if an understatement might be permitted. The fissures are too deep, the suspicion and fears too instilled, to be cured by a political settlement which maintains the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka that appears to be the aim of India and the western nations.

It would take two or three generations following any meaningful and acceptable solution to breed that kind of society. Perhaps this is to read too much into the use of the word “undivided”. Perhaps it is to see more than a grain of sand in a grain of sand.

But is not an undivided Sri Lanka more realistic, as it stands today, than a united one if by united is meant what has been described above?
There is a more compelling issue that unfortunately has not been pursued with the necessary diplomatic and political skills in the last few months when the tide of international opinion has been ebbing from the LTTE and flowing towards Sri Lanka, largely because the Tamil Tigers have thumbed their noses at this so-called international community.

This particular line should have been pushed hard after most international observers at last November’s presidential election chastised the LTTE for depriving the Tamil people in the north of their fundamental right of casting their vote. However much the LTTE claimed that it was the Tamil people who decided by their own volition to boycott the election, there is little doubt when one reads the reports of the election observers- the European Union and even the Commonwealth group- that few take this argument with any seriousness.

Numerous theories have been advanced on why the LTTE decided not only to boycott the election but also impose its will on others. Whatever they are, there is a fundamental reason. The LTTE abhors free and open elections, or for that matter any form of elections unless it can control them and gain heavily from them.

So pluralism, particularly political pluralism, is outside the experience of the LTTE leadership and a condition it will not accept because it implies the existence of other voices, other shades of opinion. The sole representative of the Tamil people wishes to remain permanently the sole.

Yet both India and the international community, especially the EU, have time and again underscored the need for a democratic and pluralistic society in Sri Lanka following any negotiated settlement.

The Indo-Lanka joint statement made this very clear when it referred to a political settlement “consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights.”

India is only the most recent of nations or international groups to do so.
Last December 22 the European Commissioner for External Relations Benito Ferraro-Waldner in an open letter to protesting Tamil groups, said that the international community has repeatedly “called on both parties to put their house in order. For the LTTE, this means renouncing violence, stopping political killings, putting an end to child soldier recruitment and allowing political pluralism in the north and east of Sri Lanka.”

“These are issues that my predecessor Chris Patten stressed when he met with Mr Prabhakaran in November 2003. I raised them again when I travelled to Sri Lanka last March.” Despite these very clear statements on the need for political pluralism has the LTTE paid heed?

Of course not! The simple answer is that Mr Prabhakaran and his close associates cannot and will not survive in an open society where democratic values such as the right to dissent and to do so publicly exist.
If the international community eschews all the rhetoric on pluralism and studies closely the rise of the LTTE, they would realise that it was not through open political contest or by selling their ideology in the market place that the Tigers emerged as the predominant group. The history of the LTTE is a past of eliminating all other shades of opinion, from elected parliamentarians to other armed militants.

So when western chanceries advice Sri Lanka to offer a viable, acceptable solution, they blithely ignore that whether it be a federal system or even a separate state, democracy and political pluralism will not be characteristics of that society.

Jehan Perera, who some foreign media refer to as an independent analyst, once wrote an article headlined “The lesser seen political side of the LTTE” in which he said how democratic values were being sown in the Wanni and that “the voice of democratic coexistence can be expected to be heard within the upper echelons of the LTTE.”

What absolute piffle. The world heard it on November 17. The last man standing is Velupillai Prabhakaran because all the others have been killed. Democracy is eliminating political opponents at the ballot not with the bullet.

Surely the western world understands that much. Or are they swirling in a world of their own, the inner self comforted by Jehan Perera’s promise of Tigers acting like domesticated pussy cats.

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