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Minister Kadirgamar's Baby Talk
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar has turned to the usual responses of the cornered - squeal, bluster and verbal abuse.
The rock, ofcourse, is Velupillai Pirabaharan, representing, as he does, the indomitable determination of a people to live in equality and in freedom. The hard place is the stand taken by the international community - a stand which was spelt out by UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Peter Hain on 23 November 2000:
Minister Kadirgamar objects to the international community 'prescribing remedies for our problem'. He would prefer to cherry pick from the statements made by UK Minister Peter Hain. He welcomes the statement that 'a Tamil Kingdom constitutionally split from the rest of the island will not receive recognition by Europe, the USA or indeed India'. But Minister Kadirgamar objects to the recognition given to the 'principle of self determination' and objects to the people of Tamil Eelam being given 'control over most if not all the key policies affecting (their) daily life'.
He declares, with almost viceregal disdain:
On the one hand, Sri Lanka goes with a begging bowl to the international community (in Paris) to bolster an economy which is in ruins, with run away inflation, and interest rates at 28%, so that it may continue to prosecute its genocidal war against the people of Tamil Eelam. On the other hand, Minister Kadirgamar does 'not welcome' statements made by that same international community as to how the war may be ended. Minister Kadirgamar would rather receive a blank cheque - in silence.
Leave it to us, he says. Do not 'infringe on our right to resolve our own problem', he adds. He tells the international community: do not disturb the 'domestic scene'. The Kadirgamar story line is simple, if somewhat disingenuous :"We are well meaning 'moderates', but there are these rabid Sinhala Buddhist extremists, who must be managed. We need to be allowed the space and time to do that, without interventions from outside'.
The story line is, ofcourse, an old line - as old as the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka.
For instance, in 1985, at a tea break during the Thimpu Talks in Bhutan, H.W.Jayawardene Q.C. who led the Sri Lanka delegation, sidled up to one of the Tamil delegates and said in an earnest voice: "You know our difficulty. We would like to go further - but we can offer nothing more than District Councils because Mrs.Bandaranaike will create a rumpus, if we do."
That H.W.Jayawardene said this in 1985, after decades of broken pacts and evasive proposals, was surprising enough. That Minister Kadirgamar should suggest the same 15 years later, defies reason. The 'domestic scene' to which Minister Kadirgamar alludes is simply a euphemism for the constituency which all Sinhala political leaders (without exception) have carefully cultivated and nurtured during the past several decades. It is the constituency to which Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake went on bended knees a few months ago:
It is the constituency to which Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga made her nakedly racist appeal in May 2000:
It is the constituency to which President Kumaratunga appealed when she stage managed her infamous victory ceremony after the Sinhala armed forces conquered (Yapa Patuna) Jaffna in 1995. The Sri Lanka state controlled Daily News reported triumphantly on 6 December 1995:
Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism forms the bed rock on which President Kumaratunga built and continues to build her political advancement - and this is something about which the international community is well informed.
The international community is also well informed of the continuing collapse of the democratic process in the island of Sri Lanka:
The international community is also well informed of the continuing desertions from the Sri Lanka armed forces and the harsh reality of soldiers' coffins without soldiers' bodies:
Given the deteriorating economy, the increasing army desertions, the collapsing democracy, the continuing erosion of press freedom, the horrendous human rights record, Minister Kadirgamar knows that the stand taken by the international community (as expressed by UK Minister Peter Hain) reflects the international community's increasing reluctance to accept at face value, President Kumaratunga's continued protestations that she and her Government's approach to the conflict, remains 'their best bet' for 'peace and stability' in the island of Sri Lanka. The international community may also be mindful of the spill over effects in the Indian region, of a continuing, unresolved conflict in the island of Sri Lanka.
And, hence Minister Kadirgamar's bluster. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Minister Kadirgamar, seeks to extricate himself by engaging in some real politick of his own. He seeks succor from India and suggests that the stand of the 'international community' has 'upset neighbouring countries.'
In 1956, when the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi, led by the Gandhian, S.J.V.Chelvanayagam demanded a federal constitution, the Sinhala majority castigated the demand as 'separation'. Forty four years later, the self evident political reality is that President Kumaratunga and her Sinhala Buddhist constituency continue to resist a genuine federal structure for the island of Sri Lanka.
Unable to contain the ensuing struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for equality and freedom, Sri Lanka seeks to enlist New Delhi's support by suggesting that a genuine federal structure, is a threat not simply to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka but to that of India as well. Sinhala chauvinism seeks to gloss over the political reality that it was the refusal to establish a genuine federal structure that resulted in the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam.
In 1985, at the Thimpu Talks, the blundering Romesh Bhandari (India's then Foreign Secretary in a Congress dispensation) when confronted with the Tamil demand for self determination, responded: "How can we support that - if we do, we will have to concede that India is a multi national state". Fifteen years later, and thousands of deaths later, Minister Kadirgamar, would have New Delhi bail Sri Lanka out by making the same blunder that Romesh Bhandari had made.
The unity of India will not be secured by urging New Delhi to follow the same path that was tread by Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism for the past several decades in the island of Sri Lanka, with such disastrous results. Minister Kadirgamar would have New Delhi ignore the vision that was articulated on behalf of the Tamil delegation at Thimpu in August 1985:
Today, President Kumaratunga's real fear is not that the LTTE will not agree to anything short of an independent Tamil Eelam. Her real fear is that the LTTE may well agree to a settlement of the conflict within the broad framework suggested by the international community.
And so Sinhala chauvinism which resisted federalism for more than four decades now resists the prospect of federalism plus Velupillai Pirabaharan with even greater vehemence, because they know that in Velupillai Pirabaharan, the Tamil people have a leader who will not compromise the right of his people to equality and freedom.
Minister Kadirgamar repeats the mantra 'territorial integrity', 'territorial integrity', 'territorial integrity', at every turn and in this way seeks to avoid facing up to the issue of negotiating structures within which two peoples may live in equality and in freedom.
In this day and age, in an increasingly small world, territorial boundaries have become increasingly porous. Stability clearly lies in securing structures where different peoples may voluntarily associate with each other in equality and in freedom. And if this be perceived by some as an unrealistic 'idealism', the European Union (established albeit, after two World Wars) may help to focus our minds and our hearts - and serve as a pointer.
Minister Kadirgamar who views UK Minister Peter Hain's suggestions as 'very academic' may hopefully find the views expressed by a non academic, Velupillai Pirabaharan, more acceptable:
Be that all as it may, the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka will not be resolved by debates in cyberspace, or for that matter by simple minded appeals to reason elsewhere. Neither will the conflict be resolved by public posturing of the type displayed by Minister Kadirgamar. Some ten years ago, Sathasivam Krishnakumar was in a reflective mood in London. He said in Tamil:
The bottom line which the Tamil people understand only too well, is that Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism will not agree to a genuine federal structure unless it concluded that if it did not, it may no longer be able to prevent an independent Tamil Eelam from coming into existence.
Minister Kadirgamar may want to re visit the words of Tamil Eelam Leader, Velupillai Pirabaharan, in a BBC interview in September 1994, before the beginning of the previous round of talks with the Chandrika government:
So long as the Sinhala people believe that a military solution remains an option should talks fail, so long as they believe that they can conquer the Tamil homeland and rule a people against their will, through quislings and collaborators, so long will they fail to see the need to talk to the Tamil people on equal terms.
It is encouraging to note that Minister Kadirgamar recognises that the LTTE are not babies. Encouraging, because this is undoubtedly a step forward from the remarks made by Sri Lanka Deputy Defence Minister, Ranjan Wijeratne, some 10 years ago:
And perhaps, the time has also come for Minister Kadirgamar to stop the baby talk about 'fighting and talking' at the same time - and get on with the serious business of negotiating a secure and just peace. He may also find it helpful to attend to the words of Walter Kemp from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe:
After all, the LTTE are not babies.