Talk at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, India – 29 October 2010

All this will contribute to reconciliation and the full inmcorporation of all our citizens in the body politic. So too we need to ensure structures that promote political influence for the minorities, not only with regard to decisions that affect them closely in areas in which they are predominant, but also with regard to national policies, since as we saw those affected them adversely in the past.

One way of achieving this last is through a Second Chamber weighted towards the regions, as with the American and Australian Senates and the Indian Rajya Sabha. Sadly, though the President has expressed his desire to establish such a body, the main Tamil opposition party does not seem interested. While it is all very well for them to say that they want other matters settled, the impression created is that they see no role for themselves or those they represent at the Centre. This is a dangerous attitude. It also suggests that they are still stuck in the mould of the politics of confrontation, since they showed themselves perfectly willing to get involved in national politics through support for the main opposition candidate in the Presidential election. Given his previous pronouncements about minorities, and indeed about Tamil politicians in India, the decision seemed perverse, explicable only in terms of a wholesale cynicism based on hostility to the incumbent President.

This is the sadder, in that they should also be working towards ensuring involvement in the national cabinet for representatives of the people whose interests they claim to uphold. Sadly, whilst the Muslims played their part in all cabinets after independence, Tamil politicians from the North withdrew after the divisive games played by their Sinhala brethren in 1956, and we did not have them, until the advent of Douglas Devananda, contribute to cabinet decisions. This we hope will change, with Tamil politicians from the North exercising influence on the lines of our two Foreign Ministers from the minorities, Mr Hameed from an area far from Colombo, and the brilliant Lakshman Kadirgamar who was from the capital’s multi-racial elite.

Ignoring national politics, except simply to oppose the incumbent President, suggests that there is little interest in a unified country. Thus demands for greater autonomy on the basis of abstract forms, rather than careful attention to the reasons for the initial demand for autonomy, contribute to the perception that this will turn into an end in itself. Given that this was the goal that grew in the imagination until it culminated in the intransigence of the LTTE, unwilling to settle for anything except a separate state, it is necessary for all stakeholders to think in terms of a wholistic solution to remaining problems, rather than remaining stuck in the mindset of one or two decades ago.

Unfortunately the approach of many of those in opposition now indicates a determination to oppose for the sake of opposing, to refuse to accept realities such as the immense popularity of the current government in all Provinces except the North, and the fact that all representatives of the minorities in Parliament support it with the exception of a couple of members of the main opposition party and the representatives of the former TNA. Ignored too are the swift solutions to many of the problems trumpeted forth last year, when it was claimed that the displaced would not be returned to their places of origin, that the former combatants would be kept indefinitely in custody, that continuing security threats would lead to an expanded army that would take over much land in the North. Interestingly enough, while responsible officials of the United Nations have congratulated us on what has been achieved, in what I think are the swiftest resettlement and rehabilitation programmes in the world, political critics have maintained a deafening silence about all this.

They go further, and make outrageous claims about violations of human rights, without providing any details to substantiate their claims. When we have been able to show that claims are false, they refuse to discuss the matter further, and instead come out with yet another generalization. At no stage do they look at evidence, for instance the records of the ICRC about the number of wounded they transferred, with the support of the Sri Lankan navy, right through the conflict, to hospitals run by government. The total of those transferred being around 14,000, with only about half of them wounded, the rest being bystanders, it is clear that figures for casualties are much less than those bandied about by purveyors of fraud.

What is the reason for all this? I suspect much of it has had to do with the fact that people who predict certain outcomes get quite cross when they are proved wrong. When they have been living on these predictions, it is even more difficult to accept evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately there is no way, given our very loose administrative structures in Sri Lanka, of ensuring transparency and accountability about the way in which money that should benefit the Sri Lankan people is spent on what is termed advocacy. When, as happened with the last British government, money is given to agencies which then say what that government wants to hear, but which is then claimed to come from independent witnesses, the possibility of retractions when the situation is actually different becomes remote.

Some of the incongruities that result can be seen in the responses to the candidacy of Sarath Fonseka for the Presidency. In preceding years he was excoriated for statements such as that Sri Lanka belonged essentially to the majority, and that the politicians of Tamilnadu were jokers. When we pointed out that these views were not those of government, it was claimed that an army commander was bound to be taken seriously, and to show that he was talking out of turn we should take appropriate action. This was absurd, because as the British realized in the case of Lord Kitchener, it is not easy to remove or even control a popular war hero – and unlike Kitchener, Sarath Fonseka actually did what was entrusted to him well.

The British were lucky to get rid of Kitchener when he drowned, though whether this was actually an accident has been doubted. Sri Lanka is not prone to such luck, nor would it wish for this. Rather, when Sarath Fonseka wanted to expand the army after the war, and made public pronouncements to this effect though government had made it clear it thought this unnecessary, he was promoted to another post in which such adventurism was not possible. Later, when that exalted position was used to try to slow down the pace of return, and this too was prevented, he resigned, expressing high dudgeon about these restrictions on his predilections.

Now Sarath Fonseka had a particular view of Sri Lanka, and how to ensure security, and though it may seem inappropriate for a pluralistic society, he is entitled to that. What is depressing is that many of those who claimed to believe in equity and equal rights for minorities, who claimed that Sri Lanka was being militarized, who alleged that he was responsible for attacks on media personnel, ended up supporting him for the Presidency. Cynicism could go no further, though it is also possible that the purpose was to continue with efforts to destabilize Sri Lanka. Fortunately, despite much media hype, the Sri Lankan people made it clear that they believed in civilized politics, and would have no truck with the hysterical declarations of what would happen to his opponents if Sarath Fonseka were elected.

Those threats too are now behind us and we have a stable government which can move swiftly on the reforms necessary to propel Sri Lanka into the 21st century. The government’s vision is inclusive and, unlike in previous years, it has shown itself able to move swiftly to redress injustices and inequalities in many areas. There is certainly much more to be done, but at least we can now be confident that terrorism has been eradicated from Sri Lanka and that the forces that tried to subvert democracy by toppling an elected government can no longer continue with their intrigues. Some of their more myopic supporters will continue with propaganda to further that goal, but even their funders will soon realize that there are better things to do with their money so as to actually help the people of Sri Lanka.