Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Srilankan crisis, one without easy answers

I have been reading about the Srilankan issue and each article seems to peel off a new layer from the issue making it more and more difficult to identify the issue with any one problem. One aspect of the issue is whether the Rajapaksha government was right in going after the LTTE.

Yes and no depending on which side you are viewing the issue from. Yes - if you believe that if a terrorist group causes bloodshed and massacre and runs a parallel administration which is beyond the writ of the state, a government has the right to do whatever it takes to cleanse the group. No – if you believe that before going after any outfit which has political demands (which the LTTE had) a government should be sure that it has exhausted all political means.

Whether the Rajapaksha government was disposed to solving the LTTE issue politically is debatable. Being a right wing party, it probably wasn’t. But past regimes had tried out political options and they had not yielded any results. My belief is Prabhakaran, like any underground revolutionary, had lost interest in the cause of the movement and wanted to continue its pretence to hold on to power. Many had understood that and LTTE had lost popular sympathy.

From what I have read so far, no one is shedding tears for Prabhakaran except some political outfits. Of course, killing Prabhakaran’s son was inhuman but even those castigating the government for it aren’t questioning the logic of the murder: that the son would have been the representative face of the LTTE and could have followed his father’s footsteps in future. So, for all the brauhaha, neither Prbhakaran's nor his son's death forms the core of the issue.

What people are baying for Rajapaksha’s blood is that in the last days of the war the government had caused Tamil civilian casualties while trying to wipe out the LTTE. This is the issue. There are a few things about this issue one has to consider. Once the government went after the LTTE there were bound to be some casualties. The civilians killed were taken hostages by the very outfit – the LTTE – which claimed to represent their interest. Should the government have withdrawn when it became clear it could not cleanse the LTTE without killing noncombatant civilians in the process? If it had withdrawn, the LTTE problem would have been left half-solved. There are no easy answers to these questions.

The social aspect of the Lankan Tamil issue is equally muddled. Some months back a friend of mine was in Srilanka and he said while he was in a bus and some passengers were talking in Tamil, the bus conductor forbade them to. This means there is an unaccommodating attitude towards Tamils in at least some parts of Srilanka. And it is much more dangerous than a government’s indifference, or even hostility, towards a community.

In India, successive governments have been variously disposed to minority communities, but what has secured their position in the society is that there is no sustained social hostility towards them. Not that there has never been but it did not continue. And it’s partly because India is a land of contrary voices, one where all opinions are contested. The media have played a great role in making it so. I don’t know how independent Srilankan media are but they surely have a role to play to make sure people don’t lose sight of the Tamil plight.

But it’s not going to be easy. My friend also noticed that Srilanka has a thriving market economy. Anything is available but at a high price, so the lower income groups have it really difficult. Why this is relevant here is that, typically, in a market economy a government finds it easy to make people indifferent to the plight of the marginalized by anesthetizing them with prosperity. The effect of this anesthesia can be in fact so strong on people that they readily believe what the government tells them to; the government’s rhetoric becomes the belief of the common man; the government becomes the nation and a threat to the government is perceived as a threat to the nation and its wellbeing. It is not to say that development is bad but it should not be devoid of social concerns.

But how will they address social concerns? Tamils, as is apparent, are linguistically and culturally different from Sinhalese. And this is going to obstruct social integration. So probably assigning the Tamil community a separate place and devolution of power are going to be considered. But if you go by India's Kashmir example, devolution doesn't necessary help. Problems continue to stalk Kashmir spilling onto the rest of India.

So the path of reconstruction and rehabilitation is going to be difficult and one without any easy solutions; but probably constant international gaze will ensure Srilanka will at least try to look like it's doing something. But will a constant international scrutiny push Srilanka closer to safer sanctuaries - China - who can help thwart international pressure leading to a new power imbalance in Asia?

1 comment:

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