Somapala Gunadheera, in the Island, 3 may 2011
The Darusman Report has caused much embarrassment to us and made our motherland a target of international bickering. The legitimacy, the propriety, and the logic of the report are under scrupulous scrutiny. But I do not propose to enter that arena here. My purpose is to draw attention to the fact that things might not have come to the present catharsis if diligent attention was paid to the real problems of the Tamils soon after the end of the war.
It is an open secret that there is widespread disappointment and disillusionment about the inordinate delay in implementing urgent measures to bring about national reconciliation, as promised at the victory celebrations. This lethargy has caused much loss of face to the Government, nationally and internationally and resulted in substantial material loss to the country. The credibility gap created by the inaction is widening day by day. Lip service alone cannot bridge it convincingly. What is needed is prompt action.The nitty-gritty of reconciliation
Although the authorities have done much to assuage the physical deprivations of those who were affected by the fighting, nothing has been done so far to address the core issues of national integration that have led to the strife, such as language, education, employment and decentralization in line with the rest of the country. This hesitation appears to stem from a fear psychosis on possible majority reaction to the reforms. But it is clear from the statements of the diehard champions of the Sinhala Cause that they have no quarrel with the granting of fundamental rights to the minorities as far as language, education and employment are concerned. In fact they are themselves perturbed about the delay in settling these pestering issues.
The real bone of contention is the power structure. The resistance is to devolution. Decentralization is less controversial. This controversy arises only when decentralization is planned from top to bottom. Nobody objects to the ‘Grama Rajya’ concept where the pyramid of power is built up from the grassroots with the village as its base. Even though the authorities declare to be enthusiastic about the idea, they have so far not moved a finger to lay the foundation for it. If a beginning is made promptly at the village level, the chances are that growing mutual confidence would progressively remove distrust about the resulting pyramid of power.
Inaction reigns supreme even in the implementation of minority rights written into the Constitution by JR, without protest. Institutional decay has resulted in observing these concessions in the breach but the Government has failed to attune the state machinery to deliver them as provided for in the 1978 Constitution. This responsibility is assigned to the Ministry of National Integration which is too peripheral to have an effective and visible impact on the implementation of the declared policies of integration.
The news is that a committee of high ranking officials has been appointed to oversee this shortcoming but there is no visible improvement even after its appointment. Committees of otherwise occupied top bureaucrats have never been known to produce tangible results in a hurry. Nor do they have the clout to make a revolutionary change in lethargic performance that has become routine over the years. The task of implementing policies that are to make a regime change in inter-racial relations calls for nothing less than a Presidential Commission composed of outstanding men and women of action.
A house divided
This frozen inaction in providing for and implementation of national integration has left us high and dry at this moment of crisis. The support we get is mostly sponsored. Even that is marred by the cheers of the TNA for Darusman. The situation would have been quite different if the Government had made an honest and timely effort to talk to the TNA and win them over. In that scenario their reaction to the situation would have been far less damaging and far more constructive. Their alienation at this crucial moment has not only prevented us from speaking in one voice but also provided ready fodder to the critics. Let us not forget the proverbial truth that a starved cat shits on the home fire.
It is true that the TNA was elusive during the fighting for obvious reasons. But after the end of hostilities they have been more willing than Barkis to talk. All that we read in the papers is that they talk to the President and run away to talk another day. That day is often postponed and there is reference to a draft package being prepared by the TNA. That draft appears to be taking longer than Penelope’s web in the making. Why all this hide and seek? Why cannot the two sides talk to a finish as the issues are clear and the limitations are known? The hamstrung APRC has at least succeeded in focusing on these issues and possible solutions. Matters would have been resolved by now if the ARPC script was used for the talks with the TNA, unless a new script was called for to delay the première deliberately.
Making tools out of weapons
The Stage Manager of the tragedy is known to be the Tamil Diaspora which is supposed to use the ‘Neo-imperialists’ and the TNA as their dramatis personae. The Diaspora has no personal stakes here. They are motivated by what they consider to be the wrongs done to their kith and kin they have left behind. But they are bound to transform themselves to a national asset, if we could satisfy them that we were genuinely interested in nation building. Unfortunately the Government’s failure to get on with the task of national reconciliation and its Hamlet-like, handling of the issue has begun to demolish what it has already attained with blood and sweat. Nearly two years after the end of terrorism, national integration is still where it was when Prabakaran’s corpse was brought ashore at Nandi Kadal.
If we are wise, we should first put our own house in order before we challenge the UN. Doing so would in fact take the wind off of sails of protest. Getting the cultivation committee of Palugama to pass a resolution condemning ‘Moon’s servility to the rapacious West” produces only a comic effect. There will be many more landmines on our way as long as we keep the nation divided. Doubtlessly, the long term solution is to unite the dissident segments of our siblings. That calls for vision, integrity, commitment, valour and large-heartedness.
It is not yet too late to begin. The mission needs a powerful Presidential Task Force for National Reconciliation. Such a Force can cut the ground from under the feet of the ongoing controversy and many more to be expected.