Hope for a drowning nation
Just for a brief moment - there's a
ray of hope forcing its way through the dark, ominous
clouds hanging over the country.
For the first time since 1952 when
the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was formed, the country's
two main political parties have teamed up. And in Geneva,
the Tiger rebels have sat down for peace talks.
For a drowning nation, that has this
very month, virtually been swamped by a raging tide
of terror and violence, it seems like at last we have
just glimpsed the chance of coming up for some air.
The very creation of the SLFP was
the beginning of the two-party system in Sri Lanka that
has seen more divisions than unity. Some blame the Father
of the Nation, D.S. Senanayake for nurturing nepotism
through what was known as an Uncle-Nephew Party, and
thereby sidelining rising stars of the time like S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike. Others blame SWRD for blind power-hunger.
And still others say that had there not been a two-party
system with all its faults, the Marxists of the time
would have taken over the country.
But all this is old hat now.
The two parties have joined hands
and a new breed of Marxists, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna,
has been sidelined as a result.
Now, the JVP is even facing pending
electoral reforms that might see it being marginalized.
Yet, it must not be easily forgotten that the JVP has
its own vociferous, and sometimes virulent organisational
structure with a growing power base among the less fortunate
in this country. And although they haven't really abandoned
their Marxist ideologies, they have opted to beat the
nationalist drum to win public support, with considerable
To say that it is sheer political
expediency that makes the JVP do so is not entirely
true. Their leaders share a genuine sense of patriotism
and love for the country. Unfortunately, their economic
thinking is outdated and obstructionist and it will
be a wise government that having now struck a pact with
the UNP, will be able to convince the JVP of the need
to modernise the State, and thereby uplift the economic
standards of our people so that Sri Lanka can join the
comity of nations journeying towards prosperity.
The nuptials we saw solemnised this
week were not arranged after years of negotiations as
some have tried to make out. It was a virtual shot-gun
marriage with a certain section of the UNP blackmailing
and arm-twisting the beleaguered leadership to sign
up or face a mass exodus. However shoddily arranged,
co-operation between the two parties, now that it has
been formalized, must be for the common good of all
the people and not tainted by craving for ministerial
posts or any other mess of potage for some politicians
or sections of the people.
The people of this country -- disgusted
with the politics of confrontation and crossovers --
surely will salute this week's decision for the UNP
to collaborate with the Government, if it is for the
good of the country, not if it is for both parties to
get together and ransack what is left of it.
Today, bribery and corruption take
place at the highest levels of government and it is
open-season from the corridors of power to the police
constable on traffic duty on our crowded roads.
The country's problems are grave and
immediate: Human rights violations are rampant and press
freedom is on a slippery slope; the cost-of-living is
sky-rocketing beyond the reach of hundreds of thousands
of people and a festering insurgency is taking a terrible
The two parties must not get together
other than to rectify this utter mess we have got into.
Not to sweep things under the carpet and paper the cracks
to maintain a façade of normalcy.
It will be the UNP that will be the
bigger loser if it abandons its Constitutional role
as the country's main opposition party, and the alternate
In this backdrop, all eyes are focused
this weekend on Geneva for what is yet another round
of peace talks, though the people's enthusiasm is dampened
by the general belief that nothing substantial will
come out of these parleys.
Once again, immediate humanitarian
issues -- the re-opening of the A9 road that links LTTE-controlled
areas with the north are being pushed up the agenda,
and the core issues like democracy, pluralism, development
and the laying down of arms, will be pushed to the back-burner
to be discussed another day, another time, another place.
And in the interim, we will see more
conflict and bloodshed -- the cycle of violence never
seeming to end.
But hope lies eternal. In a country
clutching at straws, whatever good news comes from Geneva
will surely be hailed by the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims
and all other communities who make up this long-suffering
nation. One can only hope that the country's leaders,
too, realize the urgent need to seize this chance for
peace and progress.