FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Constituting a Continent of Trust
Posted:Jan 10, 2016
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Gopal Krishna Gandhi
 
By building trust between communities over the last year, Sri Lanka has shown itself to be large, larger than many a large country. As it moves into Constitution-making, all that makes for the federal spirit within a unitary system needs to be strengthened.
 
On the first anniversary of Sri Lanka’s government of national unity, we must recognise that the idea of a joint Sri Lanka Freedom Party-United National Party (SLFP-UNP) government, bringing two traditionally opposed parties together, was thought oxymoronic beyond description, a contradiction as absurd as a king coconut growing on a mango tree.
 
At the call of the pioneers of the experiment — Maithripala Sirisena, then a rebel Minister; Ranil Wickremesinghe, then leader of the Opposition; and Chandrika Kumaratunga, former President — the people of Sri Lanka withdrew the mandate given to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, drew reconciliation from the ambience of revenge; dialogue from division, peace from war; and indeed, at the cost of sounding platitudinous, life from death.
 
If there is one nation, aside from Afghanistan, where the phrases ‘war and peace’ and ‘life and death’ have been as real as the breath in our lungs, it is Sri Lanka. Countless people in Sri Lanka have lived and continue to live under the spectre of ethnic violence, have felt death’s cold hand, with many survivors carrying scars on, and shrapnel in, their limbs. Some of them will always be logjammed with peril.
 
An experiment with trust
Sri Lanka stood last year on nothing less than, nothing less dangerous than, a precipice. The players involved were taking a risk and no ordinary one at that. The issue was of course trust, plain simple trust. But the plain and the simple do not come plain and simple. If the players trusted too little, they would lose even before they started. If they trusted too much and the trust was betrayed, they could lose more than their political futures. When those who trust trust like these three did, they step beyond the politics of the predictable into the margent of the unknown, of a future that could either be a farce or a force. They acted in faith, those three, with their colleagues, and became a force, a force for change. Not the change that comes from modifying laws alone but one that comes from modifying relationships.
 
Trust is a strange thing. If it works, it is seen as noble; if it does not, it is seen as stupid. A politician, like a cricketer, can live with the image of a loser. However, he cannot live with the title of ‘a stupid person’. The Sri Lankan experimenters with trust took the risk of being called exactly that and worse. Simple Sri Lankans of all categories, linguistic, religious, political, coming from various occupations, chose, a year ago, carefully but unambiguously, to affirm the hypothesis of trust for the nation’s greatness. Not without courtesy, but with firmness, they held authoritarianism by the hand, took it to the out door and said to it: See you later.
 
The victory of the SLFP-UNP alliance pulled Sri Lanka back from the brink.
 
Back from the brink but to what exactly? The experimenters intended, clearly, through the huge step they had taken, not to bring the country back to the old hearths of mutual suspicions but to take it to a new threshold of continuing and incremental trust. ‘Incremental’ is the crucial word here.
 
There is a Tamil saying mullai mullaaldaan edukkuiyelum (a thorn can only be removed using a thorn). It is a fact that the insensitive thwarting of moderate Tamil Lankan leaders’ legitimate aspirations, decade after decade, by narrow ethno-linguistic nationalism, grew into the nightmare that ended with one of the world’s most sanguinary wars. The Ponnambalams and Chelvanayagams and Tiruchelvams were men of vision and equal perseverance.
 
Tamil aspirations are non-optional
If the Ponnambalamas and Chelvanayakams had not been disappointed, spurned, marginalised in the 1950s and 1960s, Velupillai Prabhakaran would not have been required by the cause of a ‘Tamil Lanka’. Sri Lanka does not have those great political leaders today, but we have in the Tamil leaders of Sri Lanka today, persons who have survived terror. The Tamil Sri Lankan who is a constitutionalist, a parliamentarian and a believer in a united and just Sri Lanka must not be disappointed, spurned. The old vicious cycle must not be repeated. An early and sincere meeting of Sri Lankan Tamil aspirations is non-optional, for there is a historical imperative to those. Sri Lanka must do all it can to prevent new disappointments, new spurnings, new marginalisations to lead to a revival of the Eelam goal which lurks in the Tamil Sri Lankan diaspora’s alienated mind.
 
A return of vengeful violence, in some new second coming, and its twin, hideous repression, would be disastrous. As Sri Lanka moves into Constitution-making, all that made the earlier Constitution vulnerable would have to be kept firmly out and all that makes for the federal spirit within a unitary system strengthened.
 
Here, the 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, much criticised in both countries, has in its long-term recommendations much which, through Sri Lanka’s 13A constitutional route, remains valuable. There cannot be a better anchor for the ship of Sri Lanka’s inclusive unity than that Indo-Lankan accord, even as there can be no truer friend of a united Sri Lanka than a reassured India.
 
Inclusivity, power-sharing, between the Centre and periphery, and the deepening of democracy are imperative. But this cannot be done patronisingly. The majority which confers rights on a minority remains dictatorial, an overlord. The majority which self-effaces everywhere except in the matter of seats in an elected house of representatives is democratic, is republican.
 
Inclusion is about more than tolerance, accommodation. It is even more than respect. It is about a celebration of the other, pride in the other. Politics becomes, then, a matter of culture, civilisational culture. Why should more Sinhala Sri Lankans not see and share the wisdom of Colvin de Silva’s famous all-time utterance, “One language, two countries; two languages, one country”? And N.M. Perera’s equally famous scoffing at the idea of “one superior race”?
 
Ethnic fairness is not a one-way street
But ethnic fairness is never a one-way street alone. Nelson Mandela said famously, “I am against White racism”. There was no big deal to that. But he also added the very next moment, “I am also against Black racism”. That was a big deal, a very big deal. If the Sri Lankan Tamil were to say, “I am against Sinhala racism,” there would be no big deal. But if he were also to say …and I am against Tamil racism,” a huge difference would be made to trust and trusting.
 
The Sri Lankan Muslim and the Sri Lankan Christian also need reassurances of trust, as does the plantation Tamil, especially the Tamil tea-plucker, whom Professor Suryanarayana has characterised as Sri Lanka’s ‘Cinderella’, and, I must add, the unaffiliated Sri Lankan dissenter and the independent Sri Lankan iconoclast as well. The transition in Tamil Sri Lankan positions from constitutional reform via constitutional means to separatism via violent means to an Eelam via terrorism was thought irreversible. That has changed. Negotiated change is now back on the table. It must not slumber there. Vengeance is waiting to see how reform fares. Not just Sri Lanka but the whole of South Asia and in fact liberalism and pluralism everywhere require the success of the Government of National Unity’s endeavours, for this opportunity, if lost, is unlikely ever to come again.
 
I believe the opportunity has not come only to be lost. This island is not Serendib for nothing. An island is a small continent, a continent only a large island. Let no one think of Sri Lanka as a small island. In what it has done over the last year and more for building trust between communities and political groups, in cutting egos and trimming pride, it has shown itself to be large, larger than many a large country, including India. An island of discord for decades, Sri Lanka has become an island of hope and must become a continent of trust.
 
(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University. This article is from a keynote address delivered at an event to mark the completion of the first year of the Government of National Unity, in Colombo on January 8.)
 
The Hindu, January 11, 2016
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
The first India-China strategic dialogue is to be held on February 22, 2017. This dialogue was proposed during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in August last year and it was propagated as a new mechanism for a more comprehensive dialogue between the two countries. 
 
read-more
The Islamic State (IS)  and its ideological affiliates  in Pakistan have claimed responsibility for this attack and threatened that this is only the beginning of such an anti-Sufi /Shia  campaign to exterminate the apostate – or ‘non-believer’ writes C Uday Bhaskar for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
spotlight image India has vital interests in the Middle East and going by the spurt in political engagements since May 2014, the region is a top priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi writes Md. Muddassir Quamar for South Asia Monitor
 
read-more
The recent violence that took place in Nagaland against the 33 per cent reservation given to women is not only sad, but it would certainly hurt the holistic development of the entire State. The recent violence that took place in Nagaland against the 33 per cent reservation given to women is not only sad, but it would certainly
 
read-more
Society for Policy Studies in association with India Habitat Centre invites you to a lecture in the Changing Asia Series by Dr.Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President and Chief Executive, Centre for Policy Research on Asia: Hope for the Future or Prisoner of the Past?    ...
 
read-more
spotlight image Earlier this week, just after United States President Donald Trump’s top adviser on national security resigned in controversy, a European intelligence official asked a reporter the question on everyone’s mind: “I was hoping you could tell me what’s going on over there [in the US].”
 
read-more
It is high time that Taiwan differentiated its position from Beijing’s claim on South China Sea, writes Namrata Hasija for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
At the moment, Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari is able to stop the violence by pushing the Islamists to the vast Sambisa forests of the Borno State At the moment, Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari is able to stop the violence by pushing the Islamists to the vast Sambisa forests of the Borno State
 
read-more
Every year during the budget, many defence and strategic experts start clamouring for a higher budgetary allocation for the defence sector and this year was no different. The allocation of Rs 2.74 lakh crore (excluding defence pensions) is being perceived as “too less”. Every year during the budget, many defence and
 
read-more
Column-image

India remians the inflexible bête-noir for Pakistan, yet there are few books by Indian authors that have sought to interpret the prodigal neighbour in a holistic, informed and empathetic manner.

 
Column-image

The line that Mortimer Durand drew across a small map in 1893 has bled the Pashtun heart ever since. More than a century later both sides of that line remain restless. But the mystery behind what actually happened on 12 November 1893 has never ...

 
Column-image

What went wrong for the West in Afghanistan? Why couldn't a global coalition led by the world's preeminent military and economic power defeat "a bunch of farmers in plastic sandals on dirt bikes" in a conflict that outlasted b...

 
Column-image

What will be Pakistan's fate? Acts of commission or omission by itself, in/by neighbours, and superpowers far and near have led the nuclear-armed country at a strategic Asian crossroads to emerge as a serious regional and global concern whi...

 
Column-image

Some South African generals, allied with the British forces, sought segregation from the enlisted men, all blacks, after being taken prisoners of war. The surprised German commander told them firmly that they would have to share the same quarte...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive