The common joke now-a-days in Tamil Nadu is that puligal (Tigers—short for Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) have been reduced to eligal (rats) because they (the LTTE) have to hide in holes in the ground to escape being hunted. Now, the LTTE has been irretrievably decimated much as the Nazis were after World War II.
But does the end of LTTE mean the end of the sixty one year human rights crisis of Sri Lanka? This crisis is the consequence of a festering wound from the past that had been originally inflicted by the tactics of the British imperialists when to administer their colony that Sri Lanka had become, they relied on the Tamils of Jaffna for the purpose, and also brought to the plantations in the south, indentured Tamil labourers from India to exploit the fields. This mischievous policy is the origin of the problem of Sri Lanka today.
The two communities grew thus apart during the colonial period because the Tamils had access to the British imperialist invaders, due to their earlier contacts with them on the Indian mainland. This gave the Tamils professional and educational advantages. The Sinhala majority upon getting independence in 1948 used their brute majority to try close the gap by undemocratic equalisation procedures and by denying power to the Tamils through a rigid unitary constitution that had no safeguards for the Tamil minority. This of course backfired, in fact has landed Sri Lanka onto a spiralling crisis resulting from insurgency.
But the wound is neither malignant nor terminally cancerous. There is a solution to the problem if we understand that Tamils and Sinhalas are one people. They are not ethnically, linguistically or religiously much different nor in any other way fundamentally antagonistic to each other. They have the same DNA structure. There is thus no ethnic difference between them. They all had originated from the Indian mainland and today speak sister languages, Sinhala and Tamil, with a large vocabulary in common with Sanskrit and Pali, both Indian languages. Their scripts have both evolved from the Brahmi script. Thus, there is no fundamental linguistic difference either. Their pre-dominant ways of worships, Hinduism and Buddhism, believe in the same distinguishing and fundamental theology of darshan, re-incarnation and karma. In fact, Buddhism began as a reform movement of Hinduism and these reforms have been absorbed by Hinduism. Hence, there is also fundamentally no religious difference between a Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil Hindu.
A word of praise for President Mahinda Rajapakse is in order for his resoluteness in going after the LTTE since 2007 and in not wilting under the pressure of busybody nations such as Norway and UK, to accomodate with the terrorist evil that LTTE signified. India must honour him with a Bharat Ratna for ending the gun-toting narcotics peddling murderous LTTE which brazenly killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. But Rajapakse’s present glory will be long lasting and adorn forever the history books only if he keeps his promise made to his nation in Sri Lanka’s Parliament while delivering his celebrated victory address on May 19, 2009.
He said: “ Protecting the Tamil speaking people of this country is my responsibility. That is my duty. All should live with equal rights. That is my aim. Similarly, it is necessary that political solutions should be brought closer to them faster than in any other country or government in the world would bring.”
Tamils are today haunted by memories of the past, long before Tamil militancy loomed large on the Sri Lankan horizon. The Tamils are at their most vulnerable at present both psychologically and physically, and socio-economically. Thus the Sinhala celebrations for the defeat of the LTTE menace should not turn jingoistic or tolerate incidents that reinforce Tamil fears and fuel Tamil resentment. The suspicions of the Tamils vis-à-vis the hidden intentions of the government and sections of the Sinhala polity, has to be laid to rest by the actions of the government starting now.
What is to be done for a harmonious Sri Lanka is known. It requires political will of the Sinhala establishment and a demonstrated sincerity of the Sri Lankan leaders, both Sinhala and Tamils, to implement known solutions. For example as the then President Chandrika Kumaratunge of Rajapakse’s party, had in 2002 proposed a new Constitutional scheme which the pro-LTTE parties had rejected. This scheme is just and fair. Recently, a Diaspora Group of 21 people visited Sri Lanka in late March this year at the invitation of the government, and submitted a detailed “road map” for implementing proposals for a solution over a 3-plus year period. President Rajapakse himself had commissioned experts two years ago to suggest constitutional amendments, which they did in great detail. Thus there is no dearth of concrete proposals for a political solution within an united Sri Lanka. President Rajapakse must be encouraged by India, US, China and Israel for an early adoption of one of these packages, all which centre on devolution of power regionally by constitutional amendments, thereby making the Sri Lankan Constitution less rigidly unitary and sectarian. Let us remember that India’s Constitution is also unitary but it has subsidiary federal provisions with safeguards which makes room for local aspiration by devolving power to linguistic regions.
The way out today therefore for us, consistent with India’s national security aims, is to urge in a soft friendly tone Sri Lanka to implement a devolved Constitution, and for India to assist liberally in reconstruction now that the LTTE insurgency menace has been decisively finished off. The US, China and Israel, nations which also helped Sri Lanka to fight the insurgency can contribute for the implementation of this solution, and hence must back India in this intervention to help Sri Lanka. Of all SAARC nations, Sri Lanka once renewed will be the closest to becoming a democratic developed nation because of its already high level in Quality of Life indices and in Human Development Index.
(The writer is former Union Law Minister.)