Sri Lanka in a week’s time marks five years since it won the war against the LTTE, and the question inevitably comes up as to how much progress has been made in ‘winning the peace.’ Not enough it would seem, going by the continuing discontent in the North, the failure to reach a political accord [...]


Dayan and Dayapala on winning the peace


Sri Lanka in a week’s time marks five years since it won the war against the LTTE, and the question inevitably comes up as to how much progress has been made in ‘winning the peace.’ Not enough it would seem, going by the continuing discontent in the North, the failure to reach a political accord with Tamils and the inability to engage the support of the global South in that project through an enlightened foreign policy.

The most notable achievement of holding of the Northern Provincial Council election, under the terms of the 13th Amendment, has given the people of the North a provincial administration led by the country’s main Tamil political formation, the TNA. Yet resistance from hardliners within the ruling coalition has stalled the discussion on power devolution that should have followed. The Parliamentary Select Committee tasked to discuss constitutional reforms has been boycotted by opposition parties and its work seems to have been suspended. Even with a national election on the horizon in 2015 the Opposition seems unable to map out an alternative path that might gain traction with a wide constituency.

An important contribution to the activity of looking back and reviewing ‘what went wrong’ since the end of the war, and identifying the obstacles to peace, is Dayapala Thiranagama’s excellent analysis of the UPFA regime’s consolidation of power since the presidential election of 2005 in an essay titled ‘Revisiting the Rajapaksa Hegemonic Project’ (Groundviews 09.05.14). Thiranagama examines the socio-political underpinnings of what he calls the ‘Rajapaksa Hegemonic Project’ (RHP), tracing the UPFA regime’s huge success to Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic ideology, which has as its core the notion that ‘this is a Sinhala Buddhist country and it belongs to them and not to others.’ He notes that the Bodu Bala Sena’s anti-Muslim campaign has to be seen in this context.

The Supremacy model flourishes
The UPFA, he says, “have consolidated their rural voter base in a remarkable fashion. As the opposition claims, these electoral victories have been achieved at the price of political intimidation, right abuses and encroachments on the rule of law. But the UPFA …. keeps on winning the elections.” Identifying the factors that have made the RHP and President Rajapaksa electorally unchallengeable, Thiranagama asks whether this combination of forces has now become an “impregnable roadblock to democratic progress, political stability and more importantly national unity in this country.” “Even after the defeat of the LTTE the Sinhalese leadership’s unwillingness to devolve power shows that the Supremacy model still flourishes but at a huge political cost to Sri Lanka.”

The RHP draws its strength from the military and political victory over the Tamil Tigers in 2009, and removal of the very real threat of separation. The UPFA projects itself as the only government capable of securing that victory and ensuring the country’s territorial integrity. “Unfortunately, this strength has become their political weakness in resolving the Tamil grievances. They tend to believe that the Tamil demand for the devolution of power to the Tamil community can be disregarded or brushed aside as politically irrelevant as they can continue to enjoy solid support in the Sinhalese South.”

Thiranagama argues that following the military victory the regime did not go on to become a ‘national popular’ government because it failed to devolve power to the Tamil community based on the 13th Amendment and thereby isolate the extremists. The analysis critically examines the crisis affecting the main opposition parties plagued by divisions and defections, and unable to present a ‘counter hegemonic’ political project.  ”Since 2005 the RHP has been co-opting many of the Southern political parties splitting each of them right in the middle.”

The UNP is no longer needed to implement a neo-liberal economic programme because the UPFA has taken over that job. The JVP has ‘no clear political line’ on devolution, and needs to re-assess its model of socialism. The RHP has taken over the JVP’s Sinhala militancy as well, further shrinking its rural voter base. The TNA five years after the war is yet to explain its uncritical attitude towards Tiger atrocities.

We must share power
It’s interesting that as early as in 2008 political analyst Dayan Jayatilleka made arguments similar to Thiranagama, strongly urging ‘moderate, realistic devolution’ in order to win the peace. He continues to do so today, reflecting a startling consistency throughout his engagement with these issues, as an analyst, as a diplomat during his tenure as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and now as a leading public intellectual.

“To win the war, our successful military track has to be paralleled by a political one which proceeds with the same purposiveness and at the same speed. If our neighbors and the world think that a military victory for the Sri Lankan state is tantamount to a Sinhala /Sinhala Buddhist victory over the Tamils/minorities, we may be denied that victory by external economic and coercive pressure, as we once were twenty years ago. A moderate, rational political program containing a progressive vision for Sri Lanka’s post-war future is a necessary component for bringing this war to a successful close; for winning this war.” (‘Winning the war, winning the peace’ – Groundviews 30.07.08)

Writing almost a year before the war ended Dr. Jayatilleka predicted that victory was at hand at a time when few thought the war was winnable. But he also argued that “It will serve little purpose if we win the war and lose the peace.” Like Thiranagama, he flagged the dangers posed by nationalisms. “We must share power with one another so as to build a nation with and for us all.”

This idea was re-stated more recently in an extended essay dealing with issues of political philosophy, where he said:

“The Sinhalese, who won the war, are losing the peace and the Cold War because of the absence of a vision of peace that takes into account the best interests of the state and its citizens rather than the narrower, exclusivist interests of the ethno-religious majority.” (‘Plato’s cave in the Indian Ocean: Elite failure in Sri Lanka’ – Groundviews 30.04.14)

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