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I should begin by thanking Dr Ganesh Devy for giving us yet another fascinating and stimulating day. It was a wonderful experience to come today to the Adivasi Centre he has set up, and to participate in the exhibition of photographs of their ancestors that he has managed to bring together here, from archives of the colonial period in Cambridge and Leipzig. Those two names make clear the serious scholastic nature of the use made of those photographs, but it is more heartening to see the human reactions of people whose ties to their community are so important, when faced with these early records of their lifestyles.
I am not so sure that I should thank him for asking me suddenly to speak at this closing session at which he would like ideas exchanged about how we are to move forward, with regard to the work we have participated in over the last few days. I am not a linguist, and his work and yours in promoting the study of languages that might otherwise be lost is beyond my area of expertise. However, perhaps I might make some suggestions based on my understanding of the very human element he had helped us to share.
Though I must admit I was more fascinated by the old mosque at Champaner, one of India’s less well known heritage sites, I was involved on the way here in a discussion on the People’s Linguistic Survey, the first fruits of which were launched in Varodara yesterday. There were suggestions that the methodology employed might not have been precise, given the vast range of volunteers involved, and the impossibility, except possibly through an official census, of knowing exactly how many people spoke any language, and at what levels.
The principal credit for this must go to the Chairman, the Hon DEW Gunasekara, who chaired the Committee with inclusive dedication. But I think, as indicated by his suggestion that I be asked to represent him at this discussion, that he would also highlight the role of Liberal principles which I was able to bring to bear on the work and the attitudes of the Committee.
The first problem which we resolved was that of having to deal with a vast number of institutions, only a few of which had been covered each year in the past. The solution was obvious, and I could not understand, when I suggested that we divide into sub-committees, why no one seemed to have thought of it previously, when the work of the Committee had expanded. Perhaps the explanation lay in the objection of one of those members who had specialized in criticism in the past, that it was necessary for the Committee to function as a whole.
This article written in 2008 is being republished in the light of the Trilingual Initiative launched yesterday in the presence of former Indian President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam.
Chanaka Amaratunga and the 13th Amendment – a 50th birthday reflection – A lost opportunity
By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha President of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, 1987-2007
19 April 2008
Had he lived, Chanaka Amaratunga would have been 50 on April 19. He died a few months after his 38th birthday, in a state of some disappointment, having been denied in 2004 the nomination to Parliament that the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress had promised.
The failure to stick to his promise was one of the shadows that hung over Ashraff and, though he achieved significant status for his Muslim Congress in his lifetime, there is little doubt that his betrayal of Chanaka contributed to his failure to become a national leader. He tried to make amends through establishment of the National Unity Alliance in 2000, but he died before he could fulfil the promise of that new beginning.
It will never be known in the end precisely who was finally responsible for leaving Chanaka out. Ashraff said that President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had been opposed to him, she is supposed to have suggested that she had no great problem and that the final decision was Mr Ashraff’s. There was some fear clearly that he would vote with the opposition (there was talk that Anura Bandaranaike, then in the UNP, would be put forward for the Speaker post, and Mrs Kumaratunga was worried, unlike six years later, that he might be selected). More relevantly, his great friend Asitha Perera ruthlessly used his relationship to the Bandaranaikes, his willingness to become a Muslim, and – I am sorry to admit – my own belief in his loyalty to Chanaka, a loyalty Chanaka more sensibly had realized was subject to personal ambition, to insinuate himself into Parliament and then stick on like a limpet.
It was all a tragedy, but it was a tragedy more for Mrs Kumaratunga and Mr Ashraff, than initially it seemed to Chanaka. Listening recently to her Constitutional Adviser, Jayampathy Wickremeratne, proposing initiatives that she had obviously ignored, one was struck again by the sheer waste of her years in power. One must admire her courage in adversity, particularly the manner in which she blasted LTTE ambitions by dealing firmly with the Wickremesinghe government when it usurped her powers, and stopped the dreaded totalitarian Interim Self Governing Administration it had offered; her reintroduction of English medium will also remain a lasting legacy; but her failure to reform the Constitution and the structure of the State will ultimately determine her place in history. Chanaka in Parliament would have changed all that, by sheer force of conviction, by the trust the Tamils had in him, by his international reputation at that point.
Introduction by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the seminar to launch ‘The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka: History, Philosophy, Presentation’ in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka
Thirty years ago, to paraphrase the article Chanaka Amaratunga wrote to celebrate Liberalism Ten Years After, a political movement committed to the promotion of liberal values and the defence of the liberal democratic process was launched in Sri Lanka. This was the Council for Liberal Democracy, an explicit Liberalism being thought necessary because of the evolving political authoritarianism in Sri Lanka since 1970. A decisive event was the deprivation of the
civic rights of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Then the Referendum of December 1982 postponed elections for six years, which confirmed the necessity in Sri Lankan public affairs of Liberal values, a necessity made more urgent by the communal riots of July 1983.
All these events and the growing authoritarianism of President J R Jayewardene led CLD activists to conclude that an ideological party of principle, committed to the promotion of Liberalism, needed to be formed – though I should mention that I was the only one at the time to disagree, since I thought we were more suited to being a think-tank than a party. Anyway, on 19th January 1987 the Liberal Party was formed and was recognized the following year. In 1986 The Liberal Review was founded as the first political journal committed to Liberalism. The Liberal Party’s Sinhala newspaperLiberal Nidahasa took liberal politics, even if to a limited degree, to those outside the English speaking urbanized class. Seminars both in Sinhala and in English, publications in both languages and the public statements and positions of the Liberal Party, introduced a distinctly novel politics to this country.
Liberals was not then inactive but if the progress of Liberalism is to be judged by the degree to which it is part of the political establishment, it cannot make many claims. The Liberal party has had minimal representation in Parliament and its membership is limited. But it would be misleading to judge its contribution by the level of its involvement in the political mainstream.
The real contribution of Liberalism lies in the realm of ideas. I need only draw your attention to the news today that the Cabinet Spokesman has mentioned the commitment of the government to introducing a second chamber. This was advocated by us a quarter of a century ago, and was condemned by all other parties at the time. But because we have made the case consistently and thoughtfully, taking into account objections but showing how beneficial such an institution should be, the idea has now won general acceptance, and indeed was part of the manifesto of the President in 2010.
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation is now public. It has been generally welcomed, and the exceptions that prove the rule sadly confirm the distinction between those who seek reconciliation and those who have other motives in the extraordinary campaign that has been conducted against Sri Lanka over the last two years.
The vast majority of local and international observers have welcomed the Report, though many have noted that a positive report will serve little purpose if its recommendations are not implemented. This is an understandable caveat, for Sri Lanka has not always acted as swiftly as it should, and it has also often failed to publicize its actions. This latter shortcoming is unfortunate, not just because it allows critics to claim that nothing is being done, but more seriously because it prevents the analysis both by government and by concerned persons with no axe to grind of achievements, and thus, as importantly, understanding of deficiencies that need to be corrected.
This inadequacy has been startlingly illustrated by the failure to work coherently enough on the interim recommendations submitted by the Commission. Initially these were not adequately publicized. This was not because of any commitment to confidentiality, since they were soon enough readily known by anyone who was interested, but simply because government did not seem to realize the importance of the recommendations and of, not only acting, but being seen to act. Though a committee was set up to ensure implementation, the lack of transparency in this regard, and what can only be described as a concomitant absence of any sense of urgency, allowed for the feeling that government was not really serious. The views of the Commission, that many current problems might have been avoided had their recommendations been implemented coherently, is quite understandable.
I say this with a slight but not overwhelming sense of guilt because one of my functions, as Adviser on Reconciliation, was supposed to be to ‘Monitor and report to HE the President on progress with regard to the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, and promote appropriate activities for this purpose through the relevant Ministries.’ In mitigation I can plead that, though my appointment was made in January 2011, my terms of reference were only received in May. And I finally received an office only in October, with one operational staffer in December. I have no budget for work, though since December I have been supplied with fuel for visits to the North.
Why such incoherence? Whilst I have no illusions about the slowness with which government moves, in general, and find this culpable, I should also note that the more vociferous members of the international community, those who now criticize the LLRC Report, were not really concerned with reconciliation, as opposed to their own sometimes agendas. With a stunning ignorance of history, and exemplars such as South Africa and Chile where the country moved forward without bruising animosities, they confused reconciliation with retribution. Even more absurdly, they thought it was the democratically elected government that should be punished, not terrorists or those who hijacked power and used it brutally as the Pinochet government in Chile or the apartheid regime in South Africa, both of which were allowed to go away quietly as it were.
What is the reason for this? On the one hand there were countries such as Britain and other European states that were worried about the electoral power of the Tamil diaspora, and assumed that its more vociferous members were decisive factors. Fortunately that populist perspective has now diminished, and perhaps one of the most heartening developments in recent months has been the impression Britain has given of wanting to move on, instead of dwelling in the unprincipled wickedness of the Miliband years.
But, conversely, the United States of America seems to have got more intense, as was exemplified by its efforts to suborn military personnel to give evidence against the Sri Lankan state. The recent efforts of its political affairs officer to pressurize government with regard to Sarath Fonseka, whom earlier the Americans had fingered as a possible war crimes suspect, is only explicable in terms of a sense of guilt about the garden path up which he was led.
I should note that one should not of course generalize about the Americans. Even more than other countries, they seem to suffer from schizophrenia with regard to foreign policy, as was exemplified by the positive approach of their Defence Attache in Colombo, who was promptly rebuked for his pains. But, in addition to the endemic tussle between foreign affairs and defence perspectives, America also suffers from a strange combination of ruthless self interest, as their performances in Iraq and Pakistan over the years have shown, and a desire to be seen as decent guys. For Sri Lanka this has led to astonishing levels of persecution since, as one forthright Republican observer put it, the bleeding hearts had to keep quiet about Guantanamo and everything else they had shouted about before, so they transferred their attention to Sri Lanka.
I have two questions based on the ICG report on women’s insecurity in the North and East:
1. The ICG is critical of the government for not doing enough to address the security concerns of women in the North and East, who face a “desperate lack of security”. How do you view this?
As yet another exampe of the tendentious nature on the ICG’s interventions on Sri Lanka. You may be remember the desperate efforts made by the ICG head, Gareth Evans, his sidekick in Colombo Alan Keenan and the latter’s old mate Rama Mani to suggest that Sri Lanka was a situation ripe for the doctrine of Responsibiity to Protect to be applied. Gareth declared that there had been ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka and, when I asked what he meant he asked Alan Keenan to explain (clearly
he had no idea what was meant by the speech he unthinkingly delivered). Alan said – this was in 2007 – that he was referring to what the LTTE had done to the Muslims in 1990. But the speech would have led one to believe that they were referring to what had happened recently with government responsibility.
I think we have to be very careful about what is happening now given that ICES, which was the chosen instrument for R2P, with Radhika Coomaraswamy and her protege Rama Mani pushing it is now going through yet another upheaval, the purpose of which is to
install another Radhika protege Ambika Satkunanathan in the Director’s chair. Even worse than Rama Mani. Ambika had direct LTTE connections, which I brought up with the UN where she worked. They said she had got over them, it seemed to be seen as simply a youthful love affair with an LTTE representative, but I still thought that it was wrong of the UN to have her in an influential position during the conflict. Now if Radhika – who has fallen out with the guy she claimed was responsible for the financial mess, and she only signed the cheques he put in front of her – succeeds in getting her way, we might have even more problems to face in the future, with ICG again leading the way with misleading claims.
I am most grateful to the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, and the other organizations involved in this conference, for inviting me to this momentous occasion. It was an honour to be present at the launch of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, and I must congratulate Dr Ganesh Devy, your founder, on so successfully pushing through this initiative, a landmark venture after the pioneering work of Grierson nearly a century ago. The ready collaboration you have received from the Sahitya Academy and the Central Institute of Indian Languages is a reflection of the deep commitment of your country, and its official and unofficial academic institutions, to expanding the boundaries of learning.
I am sorry that we are not so advanced in Sri Lanka. Indeed it was sad that my collection of short stories, written originally in English and Sinhala and Tamil by Sri Lankans, appeared not in Sri Lanka, for we have no similar public service oriented publishing house, but in India. I am grateful to the National Book Trust for taking on the book, and now getting ready a companion volume of poetry. In one sense however I should be thankful that the book had originally to appear in India in English, for this meant that it would be translated into all your national languages. And hence the deep satisfaction yesterday at being able to present Dr Devy, at the Chotro Conference yesterday on ‘Imagining the Intantible: Language, Literature and the Arts of the Indigenous’ with the Gujerati version of those Sri Lankan stories. I look forward now to the Tamil version, whereas in Sri Lanka, where we do not have enough translators, such an initiative would not have been easy.
What I like to think of as that trilingual publication, for the material was originally in three languages though I published English versions initially, is in line with recent policy developments in Sri Lanka. These have been laid out, I hope inspiringly, in our President’s budget speech last year. He dwells at length there on the trilingualism that he hopes to introduce into Sri Lanka, in a programme that will be launched on January 21st. That initiative will I hope fast forward, if not trilingualism in general, at least bilingualism in a significant mass of our people, to break free from the monolingual straitjacket in which absurd policies on the part of successive governments has confined us.
Sri Lanka has recently emerged from a long struggle against terrorism, and is deeply conscious that measures must be taken to prevent terrorism being revived. Given what all our people suffered, we must ensure security for them, and we therefore make no apologies for maintaining the security apparatus at the appropriate levels. This is especially vital in a context in which external threats continue, supported sadly by politicians in foreign countries who are concerned about winning votes and therefore continue to pander to those who funded terrorism in the past.
At the same time, we know that prevention is much better than cure, and that the terrorism that troubled us for so long might have been avoided had successive governments not been insensitive to the problems of those who turned against the state and even took up arms against it. After all, the principal proponents of conflict in the problems many societies have faced in recent years are those who feel alienated from the state because of deprivation. Measures to alleviate such deprivation are therefore not only a moral compulsion for governments that derive their authority from the people, they are also essential from a practical point of view.
Based on this obvious truth, I believe education has to focus on two distinct priorities. The first is to promote equity, by ensuring that quality education is available to all, and in particular to those who are, or who feel themselves, deprived. The second is to ensure that the privileged are aware of the advantages of an equitable society in which opportunities are available to all.