By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka
While it is desirable that a leader has an enlightened and transcendent vision for post-war nation-building, it is also understandable that a different kind of leader may engage in juggling and log-rolling at the same time. What is not helpful though is when there are conflicting signals, crossed wires and wild swerves on matters of the highest importance and sensitivity.
A contradiction embedded at the heart of the policy of the Sri Lankan state surfaced during the visit of India’s National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon. The surfacing took place not due to diligent delving by the Indian official but was exhibited in the response of the Sri Lankan state. That it has gone unremarked upon so far, says something about our political discourse.
What is that contradiction? On the one hand the Govt of Sri Lanka urges almost to the point of insistence that the Parliamentary Select Committee is the vehicle for deliberation on the future of the 13th amendment, and that therefore the Tamil National Alliance must participate in it. On the other hand it clearly indicates the intention to dilute the powers of the 13th amendment by modifying or removing the powers over the police and land which are currently vested in the 13th amendment.
Now the Government cannot have it both ways. If the Parliamentary Select Committee is meant to be a forum for comprehensive and inclusive deliberation on all aspects of a solution for the Tamil question, devolution and the 13th amendment, then the outcome cannot be prejudged and must remain open-ended. If on the other hand the Government’s declared policy objective is the removal of powers over police and land matters from the purview of the provincial councils, then there is no comprehensive deliberation that is forthcoming; given the parliamentary arithmetic and that of the PSC, the outcome is inevitable and predestined.
This contradiction is but the doorway that leads us to the larger one. Why should the TNA participate in a Parliamentary Select Committee in which the main component, the SLFP is committed to the truncation of the 13th amendment?
In short, the contradiction that is at the heart of the policy posture of the Sri Lankan state is that it is asking the TNA to participate in its declared objective of the dismemberment of the 13th amendment and is also asking India to persuade the TNA to do so.
How can we or anyone persuade the TNA leaders to do something that runs dramatically and fundamentally contrary to its interests, especially with its own radicals, the TPNF and the Diaspora are breathing down its neck?
Why should the Sri Lankan side seek to weaken the TNA by insisting on its participation in a PSC which is programmed to slice and dice the 13th amendment and dilute devolution rather than enhance it?
If the Sri Lankan side weakens the TNA leadership in a manner that benefits the Tamil radicals, it only undermines its own interests; weakens itself.
The blatant illogic of the policy of the Sri Lankan state can have one of three reasons or a combination of any of them.
Firstly, the absence of a strategic policy process which presupposes real debate over policy at the level of stakeholders within the state, and which would ensure strategic policy coherence.
Secondly, a multiplicity of agendas operating at different levels of the state and the assertion of a policy veto by this or that faction or personality.
Thirdly, oscillations akin to a volatile stock market in the absolute and relative strengths of the various factions within the power structure, and the resultant fluidity of the intra-state consensus.
In any rational reckoning, the adversary of the Sri Lankan state is the pro-secessionist Tamil Diaspora network, and the TNA is by contrast the entity that Colombo has to find a modus vivendi with, just as the elected government in Colombo is the power centre that the TNA has to find a modus vivendi with.
Of course this presupposes a rational reckoning which may not be a safe assumption. A possible answer to my question as to why the Sri Lankan side would wish to weaken its negotiating partner the TNA and strengthen the radicals outside (and within) its ranks, is that some elements within the power structure are pursing the Netanyahu strategy of weakening the moderates and thereby permitting the strengthening the radicals so as to claim that the state has no responsible peace partner. If we pursue this option and make such a claim ourselves, will we have any takers from Tokyo through Delhi to Pretoria and Washington DC?
Is there a rational way out of the dead-end that the state is painting itself into needlessly? It should be a mandatory exercise in education that all decision makers in the Sri Lankan state watch and actually listen to the important, extensive video interview given by TNA leader R Sampanthan to the Daily Mirror. The TNA leader is hardly the enemy. His party isn’t either. While spotting the doosra where he calls for ‘a share of sovereignty’ (utterly unacceptable in a unitary state), the Sri Lankan leadership must realise that he is a real partner for a peaceful Sri Lanka in which the preponderance of the Sinhala Buddhists is an accepted fact, where power can be shared through devolution and all can live in dignity and without domination. This is the roadmap to a post-war order in which fairness and freedom prevail. Such an order will be self-insulated against international pressure and interference.
The two experienced political leaders who can carry the contending communities, Mahinda Rajapaksa and R Sampanthan, must talk to each other as Mandela and de Klerk did.
By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka