Lanka’s peacemakers are hailing the declarations made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his meeting with UN Secretary General António Guterres recently at New York on his proposed moves for national reconciliation. The intended peace moves of Rajapaksa may have been somewhat of a surprise to peacemakers because Rajapaksa’s reputation is of a man who won [...]

Sunday Times 2

Halt the slide: Lanka beckons a De Gaulle or Mandela


President Gotabaya Rajapaksa called for national reconciliation during his talks with UN Secretary General António Guterres at UN headquarters in New York last month

Lanka’s peacemakers are hailing the declarations made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his meeting with UN Secretary General António Guterres recently at New York on his proposed moves for national reconciliation.

The intended peace moves of Rajapaksa may have been somewhat of a surprise to peacemakers because Rajapaksa’s reputation is of a man who won ‘The War’ rather than that of a man of peace.

The enthusiastic cheers of the peacemakers, the NGO representatives, can be appreciated if the precarious existence of these personalities are considered: To be tolerated by the Numero Uno (No 1) of any government and also be considered defenders of human rights in Lanka by their benefactors in the northern hemisphere.

Hence, the loud cheers of the peacemakers for Rajapaksa at this opportune moment can be understood.

The Rajapaksa proposals for a dialogue with representatives of the Tamils in Lanka and even the extremist Tamil diaspora scattered around the world, is not something new but is as old as six to seven decades.

Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike sparked off the conflagration in the mid-sixties with his Sinhala-only proposal and on being elected to power made it a law with ‘one stroke of the pen’. Whether it liberated some and damned others is another matter but it did set the country on fire and the decades old embers are still glowing red — hot with the potential of rekindling devastating communal fires.

Banda (as he was known) probably wanted to undo the collateral damage after his victory with his ‘Reasonable use of Tamil’ etc but the monster he created destroyed him within two years. And that monster continues to lurk behind the body politic of Lanka and comes out spewing venom whenever racial reconciliation proposals are presented.

It happened to Sirima Bandaranaike, Dudley Senanayake, J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe. There was no talk for reconciliation between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prabhakaran, even though Vellupillai Prabhakaran helped Mahinda to win with his ‘fatwa’ ordering Tamils who were solidly behind Ranil Wickremesinghe not to cast their ballots. Soon after Mahinda assumed office, Prabhakaran attempted to kill the new Defence Scretary Gotabaya, with a suicide Trishaw driver at Piththala Junction and terrorism continued in all its fury.

History reveals that the moment peace talks are on, the racist monster dating back to 1956 roars: ‘Menna Rata Bedanda Hadanwo! (Attention: they are now trying to break up this country!) — Our national sovereignty is at stake; religion endangered; culture destroyed; ancient tanks, dagobas, temples and people threatened with extinction!

‘Halt the negotiations!’ And all such negotiations have been stalled in the past.’

Will Gotabaya and brother Mahinda who raised the same cries of Sinhala nationalism and threats to national security to win presidential and parliamentary elections now move for national reconciliation and talks with the Tamil diaspora, some peacemakers have gently and diplomatically queried.

To some observers, the proposals for reconciliation negotiations come at the worst possible time with the nation engulfed in the worst possible natural disasters and man-made economic crises.

The best time for uniting the two estranged communities would have been when Prabhakaran was killed in May 2009 and with that his entire organisation folded up within days. Tamil civilian groups were ready to give up their claim for a separate state and even the demand for a federal state if a fair degree of autonomy was granted to the North and Eastern provinces.

But Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government, amidst the confusion at that time of the surrender of LTTE cadres and allegations of massacres of those who surrendered while rehabilitating thousands of civilians, could not resist an islandwide celebratory spree of ‘kiributh and kavun’ street parties. Twelve years after that opportune moment had gone, Gotabaya Rajapaksa makes his proposals in New York.

Speculations are rife in foreign media about a possible political feint by the Sri Lankan President to divert attention from the charges being levelled at some of his military colleagues and the resolution before the Geneva UNHRC which even has the potential of imposition of international sanctions.

Since Rajapaksa made his proposals in New York, there have been no further comments by him in the open while the response from the Tamil community has been perfunctory.  Perhaps the President may have his own strategies to broach the issue.

In recent months, his thinking appears to be made ‘out of the box’ and fundamentalist — even trying to square the circle or going back in history to reinvent the wheel. His recent decision to ban, with immediate effect, the use of imported chemical inorganic and resort to compost fertiliser is a retreat from all the scientific advances made by international research that lifted many regions of the world out of poverty and hunger. Sri Lanka’s only achievement during the 72-year post-Independence period has been the self-sufficiency in rice. Rajapaksa’s move is a blatant threat to that achievement.

His fears of inorganic fertilisers causing kidney diseases in the dry zone has been rejected by scientific researchers. The soil degradation caused by inorganic fertiliser is admitted by scientists but an instant switch over to compost, they say is suicidal. Other plantation crops — tea and rubber — still mainstays of our economy — face the same dire threat.

And this comes at a time when the global COVID-19 pandemic is still crippling the economy and the economy is in shambles with a mounting debt crisis and empty Treasury coffers with a Central Bank Governor producing empty rhetoric instead of much wanted dollars.

In plain Lankan terms, ‘Sri Lanka is going down the pallang fast’ or in classical terms ‘Going down the Gadarene Slope’. Can Gotabaya or brother Mahinda halt the rapid slide into the unknown?

History shows how single-minded leaders have saved their countries from disasters. Charles De Gaulle who saw the Nazi forces overrun his country, led the Free French during their darkest hours. Later after the World War as the leader of France when the country was being torn apart by the Algerian War, he granted independence to Algeria amidst stiff resistance within his own ranks, established the Fifth Republic and made France what it is today.

Nelson Mandela who spent 26 years in an island prison with long periods of solitary confinement fought back the White Supremacist Apartheid regime while being behind bars, forgave his tormentors who had humiliated him in the worst possible manner and went on to perform the miracle of uniting the two very disparate races into one nation which still holds today.

Does Sri Lanka have a de Gaulle or Mandela that could save this land?

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