The life of Nelson Mandela demonstrated, as did the life of Mohandas Gandhi illustrate, that a people’s legitimate aspirations cannot be snuffed out but will triumph in the end. A people’s spirit that finds incarnation in a determined soul to give it life, flesh and blood cannot be extinguished. It cannot be incarcerated. It cannot be [...]


MR, Wignes must orchestrate peace waltz


The life of Nelson Mandela demonstrated, as did the life of Mohandas Gandhi illustrate, that a people’s legitimate aspirations cannot be snuffed out but will triumph in the end. A people’s spirit that finds incarnation in a determined soul to give it life, flesh and blood cannot be extinguished. It cannot be incarcerated. It cannot be stifled or stilled. It cannot be killed.

Building up a working relationship: Rajapaksa and C.V. Wigneswaran exchanging views soon after the latter took oaths as the Chief Minister of the Northern Province.

The use of raw force can overpower it. Military might can flay it. The entire state apparatus of a despotic government can bulldoze it and raze it to the ground. But in its ashes the embers will still burn, glowing brightest when the night is at its darkest to spurt forth anew a raging inferno beyond control.

Mandela was jailed for more than 27 years. His voice silenced behind prison walls. His soul barred from the light of life beyond his celibate cell, denied intercourse with the outside world. But his spirit, which no moat or fort could bar, moved a nation to breakdown the tyranny of apartheid. Gandhi was imprisoned many a time; his Buddhist doctrine of ahimsa, nonviolence, even when met with violence, tested many a time and oft tinged with despair, doubts and defeats, succeeded at the end in the overthrow of the colonial yoke, leading to the dismantling of an empire the world had never seen before. What Hitler attempted to do with violence and disastrously failed, one man, in a loin cloth and a spinning wheel, a one-time Inner Temple Barrister ridiculed as a half-naked fakir, triumphed with his home spun doctrine of nonviolence.

Crucifying Christ on the cross and the religious persecution of his followers could not nail his gospel of love and his ‘turn the other cheek’ creed, but spurred millions to embrace the Christian faith. His resurrection symbolises the risen spirit which still pervades the human conscious long after empires have crumbled in the dust and become levelled in the sands of time.

History is pillared with the marbled columns of man’s indomitable will and indestructible spirit that transcended the injustices of an age its perpetrators thought would never end, to emerge sovereign. As Gandhi said, “The history of man has shown that Truth always triumphs in the end.”

But for truth to flourish, for justice to prevail, for the long suppressed aspirations of a people to finally find release, the cause must be just and be embraced by men of honour, men of courage, men of selflessness and men of moral rectitude who can see beyond the reaches of their own narrow parochial interest. Men who can put the nation before race; the country before self. Men who realise that Nature has not divided the homo sapien species into segments and differentiated them on the basis of their colour, race, creed, or culture. Only man has done so. And what man has done, man can undo.

For the last 65 years since Lanka gained independence from the British, thanks to India’s leaders, it has become the common parrot cry of the Tamils that their rights have been trampled upon by the Sinhala majority. With the first term of the SLFP which moved away from the non-communal politics of the UNP into the grasping arms of the rabid Sinhala chauvinists, the Sinhala Only policy only confirmed the Tamils’ darkest suspicions.

More than twenty years of negotiations followed in an attempt to rectify the damage done. But it did not bear fruit. The Sinhalese too had their own grievances. For far too long, while the Tamils had enjoyed the plums of office under the British, the Sinhalese, apart from a few turncoats who had changed their religion with the same consummate ease with which they had dumped their indigenous attire and sold their souls for titles, land and other privileges offered by the colonial masters, were waiting for just recompense in an independent Ceylon.

Many promises were made to the Tamils to assuage their disappointment over the failure to give the Tamil language a reasonable place in the Official Language Act but none were ever kept. The best laid plans of Dudley and Chelvanayakam in 1965 were disposed by mass public opinion and it became another broken promise made by the Sinhalese. This was followed by the abandoning of the SLFP-FP agreement in 1969, and by the failure of the 1972 constitution to accommodate Tamil demands.

With dissension in the ranks swelling, with radicalism creeping in and a once held hope that their grievances would be addressed and remedied by the Sinhala majority falling by the wayside, the Tamil political psyche came to believe that the road to achieving their goal lay in the path of embracing the mirage of a separate Tamil state on Lankan soil. This resulted in the infamous Vaddukoddai declaration by the Tamil political parties at the first National Convention of the TULF in May 1976 where the idea of a Tamil Eelam was first articulated and put forward to the Tamil people as a reaction to Sinhala chauvinism.

If the Tamils believed their cause was just, if they held their grievances as genuine and their struggle to realise a utopian dream as noble, their tragedy was that they had no Gandhi, not even a Mandela, to espouse their cause and fight the good fight under the raised flag of ahimsa but instead had only a deranged demon, the distempered son of darkness whose god was Death, whose dark angels were his black suicide squads, whose sole language was violence, whose dispensable fodder were the thousands of misguided Tamil youth brainwashed and commanded to unleash wave after wave of massacres under a dome of terror that only brought in its wake nothing but death and anguish to both Tamils and Sinhalese.

The Tamil dream of a separate Tamil Eelam, being achieved, in the words of TULF leader A. Amirthalingam “only through violent struggle and bloodshed”, died in the cold waters of Nandikadal on May 19, 2009 with the killing of their demented demi god. But did the aspirations die with it?

Apparently not. The war has been won. The majority’s will has swayed; its pride has been satisfied, its dominance through military might has been re-established. But have the minority grievances been addressed, its perceived discriminations been resolved, its dream of living as equal citizens of Lanka been realised? Nay. The Sinhalese have not been magnanimous in victory and the Tamils have remained defiant in defeat. And there seems to be no letup in the intransigent stance both have adopted.

We are back to square one. Nearly five years after winning the war, winning the peace still eludes this nation. Without addressing the real issues, both sides are busy hurling accusations against each other, referring to past injustices, and past misdeeds as if the solution to this tragic crisis is purely to be determined by the side finding the most number of faults of the other side. Without enjoying the riches of peace, they are like children bitterly fighting over a toy without happily playing with it.

But what will that achieve? Real reconciliation cannot be enforced but can only come and must from within, with a profound realisation that to continue with the present acrimony will only serve to prolong Lanka’s collective agony.

Each side must give their lot and each side must receive their mite in a spirit of compromise for the greater good. The isle of Lanka belongs not to one race but to its citizenry irrespective of the tags they wear. It is an undivided co-owned land and each square inch of it, be it in Point Pedro in the north or Dondra Head down south, belongs to all. The agricultural produce of the land cultivated by the Sinhala farmer in the north increases the gross domestic production of the country even as the Tamil businessman’s industry in the south enhances the per capita income of its people. No matter where they toil, the sweat of their brow will enrich the land for the lasting common weal of all.

The most significant event last year was the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections and the election of C.V. Wigneswaran as its chief minister. His credentials and his record are impeccable. Here is a man who seems to have come out from his well-earned retirement to answer the call of a nation’s destiny. Furthermore and more importantly he has declared that the Tamil people had rejected separatism and violence in any form and that self-determination was possible within the framework of a united Lanka. What better starting point for negotiations to begin.

Two weeks ago, the President renewed a call to the TNA to come to talks. This was cursorily rejected the following day. But no matter. The man to negotiate with is Wigneswaran and no other. Any agreement reached with him that meets the just aspirations of the Tamils and safeguards the legitimate interests of the Sinhalese would be welcomed by all. With the international community bestowing its blessings upon it, the Tamil Diaspora would be rendered silent, the diehards in the TNA rendered impotent to object and foreign busy bodies would have no justification to further meddle in Lanka’s internal affairs.

Whilst Mr. Wigneswaran undoubtedly possesses the moral authority to negotiate and conclude any agreement with the support of the TNA leadership, the question will be raised whether the Sinhala people will buy it, whether any Sinhala leader short of committing political suicide in even suggesting it, can sell it, can deliver the goods in the face of rabid chauvinistic Sinhala opposition to any deal with the Tamils. Fortunately for Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa can. To all sense and purposes he is king, uncrowned only because there is no reason to gild refined gold or paint the lily. He is the man who won the war and he is the only man who can win the peace. He will be trusted by the masses not to sell the Sinhalese down the river. Any agreement, any concession made to the Tamils that meets his seal of approval will be good enough for the majority of the Sinhalese.

Time and destiny have brought Vishvalingam Wigneswaran and Mahinda Rajapaksa to this auspicious pass. All it takes is the willingness to accept the reality of the situation, to compromise, to sacrifice, to dispel prejudices, to display statesmanship for the good of the nation as a whole; and, in the spirit of Nelson Mandela, to forgive the past without rancour and forge a new beginning brimming with goodwill. Or else the unfulfilled spirit of Tamil aspirations will continue to plague the Lankan body politic and the current war of attrition will tarry for another thirty years or more, draining Lanka’s chalice to the lees and leaving her sovereign status internationally traduced in the dust.

As President Rajapaksa said, ending his Commonwealth speech quoting the words of the Buddha, ‘Let not one take notice of faults of others or what they have done or not done. Let one be concerned only about what one has done and left undone.’ If both sides can take this gem of the Dhammapada to heart and put it into practice ensuring the just aspirations and interests of all are reasonably met, only then would Lanka truly become the Miracle of Asia, if not the world.

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