Rajasingham Narendran, in May 2013, responding to the President’s Victory Day Speech … courtesy of Colombo Telegraph where comments will be found
While the 4th February is often a moment for fanfare and pomposity, so too is the 19th May now celebrated in most (but not all) parts of Sri Lanka and the occasion for a display of leadership and sermons from above. But sermons and addresses can, in this democratic age, flow both ways. At a time when we are seeking pathways that will generate amity among ethnic and religious communities at loggerheads and acrimonious political rivalries at many levels it is advisable for us to take note of voices of dissent and caution that are not an integral part of these divisive forces, especially where those vices demand self-examination. As with the interventions of Izeth Hussain and Jayantha Dhanapala, the courageous efforts of Rajasingham in Narendran challenging various Presidential proclamations provide us, one and al, with food for thought… and, of course, debate – debate in the democratic manner that President Rajapaksa must perforce embrace. Unless our political associations and leaders look deep within themselves and re-examine cherished notions, the roads to reconciliation will remain blocked and potholed. Needless to say, this applies to the Tamil and Muslim political forces as well. Michael Roberts
I read with much interest the President’s ‘Victory Day’ speech at the Galle Face Green, yesterday, reproduced in CT. While I agree with much of his recount of recent history, there are glaring gaps in the story he recalled. Further, he has failed to address the current concerns of the victims his forces liberated at all. I have selected some sentences and sections from his address to express my concerns.
- “Today we have the fourth opportunity to celebrate with dignity the great victory of our Motherland.”
Mr. President, victory over whom? I raise this question in terms of the word ‘Conquered’ used in a war memorial in Mullaitivu. Was it a victory over the LTTE or the Tamils? Motherland! Whose? I did not see any opposition figures in the podium? There were also no representatives of the Tamils, who were liberated by the armed forces, on the podium. I also did not see any Hindu priests, Christian padres or Muslim Moulavis on the podium, except for a handful of Buddhist monks. The absence of Sarath Fonseka, the man who led the army from the front, at this function and his name and role not being even mentioned were glaring omissions that portrayed the smallness this great country is being reduced to.
Further, the language in the inscription on the war memorial at which flowers were laid was only in Sinhalese. Why? What does this imply in terms of the word ‘Motherland’ used by you? Is Tamil not the language of the ‘Other’ children of ‘Mother Lanka’? Why were these inscriptions not also in Tamil- an official language and English- a link language? What is the message this government is conveying?
- “We must bear in mind that thousands of heroes like this sacrificed their lives for the country to obtain this great victory.”
Why were the thousands of civilians- innocent and forcibly conscripted by the LTTE- who sacrificed their lives and much more, not remembered or mentioned in the president’s speech. They are war-victims who are yet living and are the bigger heroes. Those Tamils liberated from the clutches of the LTTE are the real victors. They sacrificed most, put up with the worst imaginable and barely escaped alive. Why were the disabled, the orphaned and widowed Tamil civilian survivors, not paraded and honored at this event? Why was an opportunity to promote national reconciliation once again missed?
- “If one is to fully understand the great service provided by these heroes we must recall how the people of this country lived before May 2009.”
I hope you had in mind the period preceding the emergence of Tamil militancy and the LTTE, where the Tamils were exclusively targeted and the interim period when they were also subjected to state terror. The Tamils have borne the consequences of terrorism- of the state, Sinhala hoodlums and the Tamil terrorists masquerading as liberators, for a much longer period than the others in our Mother Land. They are the bigger victims and the larger than life heroes. They are the ones who should prod our conscience and make us humane and hence human.
* “We know that those who had ceasefire agreements that betrayed the country to the Tigers are making every effort to make us forget the heroism of this nation.”
This is a very unfair and inaccurate statement. It is the last ceasefire agreement signed with Norwegian mediation that exposed the LTTE for what it was to the Tamils and helped weaken it from within. It was an important prelude to what the last war achieved.
- “This era should be not go-down in history as an era when we were warring, but an era when war was ended.”
True. What about the hereafter? What sort of peace are you trying to build? What sort of nation are you trying to build? This has been neither defined nor clarified yet. Is it going to be a victor’s justice or resolution of issues that led to Tamil militancy, terrorism and war, for all time, to the satisfaction of the Tamils and all right thinking people in this country? Are the minorities to be permanent step-children in the Mother Land that is also theirs?
The end of the war has also not helped liberate all the peoples of Sri Lanka from the scourges of bad governance and the unbearable cost of living. There are haunting realities in the lives of all the citizens of this country. The armed forces have won a major battle under your leadership, but you are on the way to lose the bigger war.
- “Similarly, this era should go down in history as one that carried out a major transformation to prevent the occurrence of war again.”
What sort of major transformation? Are increased militarization and surveillance the only answers? Should not the political needs, concerns and fears of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims be addressed in a more Statesman-like manner? Isn’t it important to remember that each one of is a child of Mother Lanka and the weaker in political terms, need special care from your government, which at the moment is in charge of affairs here.
Why were warnings against commemorating the war-dead among the Tamils, issued by the military and not the police? Why has not the government organized official events to commemorate all the / riot/war / insurgency dead in this country? If the government can publicly celebrate victory, why can’t the Tamils publicly commemorate the innocent victims of war?
Why should almost 7000 acres of land that was commandeered for reasons of war 25 years back from their owners, be not returned to the rightful owners, four years after the war ended? What is the moral justification for acquiring these lands? Will this help with reconciliation or win the hearts and minds of the Tamils? How will these acquisitions prevent the recurrence of war? Do you understand that the Tamils will not want a war in their midst for the next thousand years? You have to know what the Tamils think, better and trust their good sense. They have learned more lessons the hard way than you and your government have learned.
- “It is the people in the North and the East who would and should feel this most. Today, in the north and east of the country, there are twelve political parties carrying out their activities freely.”
How freely? What choices do the war-affected have? What sort of individuals and political formations has your government promoted in the north and east? What sort of individuals would come forward to contest elections in the north and east, considering the political climate? You have embraced ex-LTTE’rs –both big and small-, but have not yet reached out for the hearts, minds and souls of the Tamils. You have not trusted them and they are yet unable to trust you yet, despite your laudable efforts on the IDP, resettlement, rehabilitation and infra-structure development fronts. It is for you t6o identify the missing piece.
- “Prabhakaran and his cohorts destroyed the erudite society that could build the culture of the Tamil people of the north.”
What has your government done to encourage the remaining erudite and the cultured Tamils to lead the Tamils in the north and east? How can we expect you to do this in the north and east, when you are orchestrating and promoting the entry of scum and the lumpen into Sinhala and Tamil politics?
*“The time has come for the people of the north to have a good understanding of the honesty of those who claim to speak on their behalf.”
Please remember that this caution will also apply to those you have promoted and continue to promote as the leaders of the Tamils in the north and east.
- “I understand well and recall the hearts and minds of the people of the north and east. History shows that in the Presidential Election of 1982 the Tamil people of the north defeated Ponnambalam who stood for a separate state and elected Kobbekaduwa who was from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.”
The vote for Hector Kobbekaduwa was a vote against the high handedness of JRJ and the UNP. The voting at the 1982 Presidential Elections was as follows in north and east:
Jaffna: Total voters- 493,705 Voted- 218,003
SLFP – 77,300 UNP -44,980 ACTC- 87, 263
Vanni: Total voters- 119,093 Voted- 70,739
SLFP-23, 221 UNP -32,834 ACTC- 11,521
Batticaloa: Total voters- 172,480 Voted- 120,076
SLFP- 21,688 UNP- 48,094 ACTC- 47,095
Trincomalee: Total voters- 133,646 Voted- 70,739
SLFP- 31,700 UNP- 32,834 ACTC- 11,521.
Kumar Ponnambalam had the largest share of votes in Jaffna, although he basked in the glory of his late father and had no vote base there.
You have failed also to mention how the Tamils voted when Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge was a presidential candidate for the first time in 1994:
Jaffna: Total voters- 596,366 Voted- 14,716
SLFP – 16,934 UNP- 341
Vanni: Total Voters- 184,090 Voted- 40,053
SLFP- 33,585 UNP- 4493
Batticaloa: Total voters- 201,897 Voted- 168,443
SLFP – 144,725 UNP 14,812
Trincomalee: Total voters- 184,090 Voted- 106,480
SLFP- 75,242 UNP- 26,860
The above results are self explanatory. Tamils have been ready to vote for candidates of national parties, irrespective of the token candidatures of Tamils. The overwhelming Tamil vote for Chandrika Kumaratunge was for the promise she represented for the Tamils. The UNP caricatured her dressed and adorned as a Tamil, to draw the Sinhala vote. However, this did not work. She won 66% of the votes cast.
There is a lesson for you in this. The Sinhala people are wiser and more ethical than they are portrayed to be by fringe Sinhala political parties.
- “I believe that the feeling that we should all live together in a single country is once again emerging in the hearts of the Tamil people.”
That feeling was always there among the overwhelming number of Tamils. Unfortunately, they were driven to consider other options, when forced to feel they were unwanted in their Mother Land. Yes, they want to yet live in a single country, but as equal citizens in every way and with rights to manage their political affairs internally, in areas where they predominate, to a reasonable extent. They also want to share power at the centre, to commiserate with their numbers. They do not want to be victims of state terrorism, Tamil terrorism or Sinhala chauvinism and majoritarianism, ever gain.
The big question is what are you and your government doing to meet Tamil and other minority expectations in terms of their role and place in the national politics and life.
- “Before me today I see brave sons and daughters of Sri Lanka who are ready to sacrifice their lives for our Motherland.”
There would have been more Tamil and Muslim sons and daughters of Sri Lanka, in front of you, ready to sacrifice their lives too for the Motherland, if you had made 18th May, the National Commemoration and Remembrance Day, instead of a Victory Day. I think there is a big lesson for you and your government to learn on what national reconciliation means.
- “It is with great pride that I recall that through thousands of years past there were hundreds of thousands of brave people ready to sacrifice their lives for the Motherland.”
These brave people included Tamils who fought in Dutu Gemunu’s army, Sempakaperumal alias Sappumal Kumaraya, Tamils who fought against the Portuguese invaders and the thousands of Tamils who refused to bow down to the LTTE, any longer. Please also do not forget the Tamil leaders who were in the fore front, demanding independence for Sri Lanka.
- “It said “Never did we know what fear was. Never were we bothered about life, but for our land”.”
However, dastardly the LTTE was, it should also be remembered that many thousands of young Tamils knew no fear, did not bother about life and sacrificed their lives for its cause, because they loved the part of this Mother Land that they believed was theirs to live as proud citizens. It was a fallback position on account of their being marginalized and brutalized in the larger Mother Land of Sri Lanka. If this fundamental is not understood, there can never be reconciliation in this land.
I end this response repeating some lines from Prof. Niranjan Mahesan’s recent poem:
“With the end of the Fascist, the new dawn we toasted;
With strength of Leadership, of a new plan we boasted.
Now what can we show, for all that gore?
Food for thought Mr. President!