Grievances And Governance
the frequency with which Sri Lanka's leaders have turned a new leaf and
made a fresh beginning, their book of life must be a weighty tome
indeed. Last Tuesday, addressing the nation on its 55th independence
anniversary, the President pledged to turn yet another new leaf and
urged the government to do likewise (making two leaves in all).
turn we new leaves ever so briskly, we risk drowning in our own mixed
metaphors and rhetoric. Even as the government explores all avenues and
leaves no stone unturned in its quest for peace, everyone knows that its
actions, which surely speak louder than words, indicate the contrary.
When it comes to statesmanship, it is not the public verbiage that
brings home the bacon: it is the deals made in the drawing rooms of the
rich and powerful over a whisky-and-splash.
Presidential platitudes aside, we need to look long and hard at the
ever-narrowing options available to the UNF government even as the
opportunity of peace slips inexorably from its grasp. For even if we do
not, the LTTE will: of that we can be sure.
the recent storm in a teacup over the import of broadcast equipment by
the LTTE shows, there is a formidable element among the body politic and
civil society alike, that is willing enthusiastically to throw spanners
in the works. Led by President Kumaratunga, the Sinhala right wing is
irked that the equipment was imported legally, and a broadcast license
fact that it was imported duty-free in the Norwegian diplomatic bag, as
it were, has annoyed many. No doubt it would have pleased these seekers
of righteousness no end if the Tigers had smuggled the equipment in, as
they have for the past 20 years and continued to broadcast illegally (as
also they have, for the past 20 years). What is more, Kumaratunga would
have it that the LTTE should have paid several million rupees in customs
duty: not a pleasant thought for the peasants of the north and east from
whom the LTTE would have extorted that money, to pay into the
it or not, we have only the LTTE to deal with in negotiating a deal on
peace. Everyone knows the Tigers are a bunch of bloodthirsty murderers,
albeit murderers masquerading behind a cause. Inasmuch as that is our
perception of them, that happens also to be their perception of us (take
for example the cold-blooded murder of Kumar Ponnambalam, the trail of
blood from which led right up to the doormat of President's House;
nevertheless, there has been no delivery of justice). The fact is that
following the international ban on the LTTE, the Tigers are starved for
funds. Where then, will they find the money to buy bread, sew cloth and
pay the rent (to say nothing of radio license fees and customs duty)?
From the peasants, of course.
has been a great hue and cry about the illegal taxes levied by the LTTE.
Despicable! But what alternative revenue stream is available to the
Tigers? None. Neither can the government legitimately fund the Tigers
(e.g., as administrators of the north and east) until and unless the
organisation is legitimised, not only in Sri Lanka, but across the
world. Until such time as that happens, and we are months (if not years)
away from that, the Tigers have no option but to raise dirty money.
the political bickering and wavering now in progress about every aspect
of the peace process, the message we are sending to the LTTE is clearly
that it is most unlikely that the Sinhalese (to say nothing of the
Muslims) will come close to the much hoped-for 'southern consensus.'
This being so, the Tigers would be foolish not to arm, train and be in
is the hidden message in Kumaratunga's independence day speech. She
urged the government (read Ranil Wickremesinghe) to disclose its agenda.
"All the stakeholders in government and parliament, as much as all
our peoples, must be kept informed of the policy framework the
government wishes to employ to achieve peace."
nice as this sounds, it is only a device to distance herself from the
government, reserving the right to throw brickbats at the "policy
framework the government wishes to employ" no sooner it is
announced. Instead, what Kumaratunga might have done well to offer, was
to engage fully with the government to develop a joint agenda for peace.
That she has signally failed to do.
since independence, successive governments have convincingly blotched
their copy books, and in style. 'Sinhala Only,' the 'Sri' number plate,
poya holidays, labour liberties, land reform... and the list goes on, of
the sins of omission and commission. Each one of these blunders has
turned the clock back on progress, both social and economic. Each has in
turn led to worse government and increased public discontent. The net
effect has been two youth uprisings and one separatist insurgency.
casus belli of the Tamils is not just about grievances relating to
racial intolerance; it is about an aspiration to good government. It is
far from likely that the LTTE will deliver a government that is any
better than the one in Colombo, but that is not to say that the Tamils
must be content with the Colombo government any more than that JVP was.
cut poor figures in this country, and have been, almost to a man (and
woman) responsible for looting the people's wealth ever since
independence. Ranil Wickremesinghe's pathetic acquiescence last
fortnight to the Rs. 7 million handout to the Ashraff family is one
example of the looting of which we speak; so was Chandrika Kumaratunga's
expenditure of upwards of a billion rupees on luxury vehicles for
crisis that led to the Tamil separatist movement transcends mere
discriminatory grievances: it is at least as much to do with the
frustration of being governed by a bunch of self-serving gluttons at the
centre. No connection with central government would make sense to the
Tamils unless that government could be trusted not to exploit the people
and enrich itself. After all, isn't that what everyone's so upset about
the Tigers are doing to their own people right now, through illegal
duties and taxes?
Kumaratunga has exhorted Ranil Wickremesinghe to discuss core issues.
Well, what could be closer to the core than the crisis of confidence
there is in the governance she and Wickremesinghe offer, whether jointly