Reconciliation and the role of India

Reconciliation and the role of India

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

At the Observatory Research Foundation

Delhi, December 13th 2013

I must admit to being deeply worried about the current state of relations between India and Sri Lanka. I contrast this with the excellent situation that obtained in 2009, when India was the chief component of the protective barrier against efforts to stop us eradicating terrorism from our shores. One might have thought that this was a goal the whole world would have supported, but sadly this is not an ideal world and countries will naturally put their own self interest first. Fortunately, not only did India’s interests coincide with our own at that stage, but given the terrible toll terrorism funded by external sources was taking on both our countries, I think it is also true to say that we worked in accordance with the highest moral perspectives.

But the aim we shared then, of eradicating terrorism on our shores, went hand in hand with another commitment, which was the promotion of pluralism in Sri Lanka. This again is a moral goal, but it also has a practical dimension, in that the full incorporation of the Tamil people in the body politic in Sri Lanka would have reduced the potential for future terrorism.

Sadly Sri Lanka has not pursued the Reconciliation process with the commitment it requires. Given its urgency I believe we should try to understand the reasons for this, and try to overcome them. In this process India has a significant role to play.

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Moving forward after the recent Provincial Council election results

The results of the recent Provincial Council elections represent both an Opportunity and a Threat. For the government it also made clear both its Strengths and its Weaknesses. Whether however government is willing to, or capable of, making the sort of SWOT analysis that will enable it to go down to history as one that brought peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka remains doubtful.

The Opportunity presented was by the Northern Province. Though the TNA swept the poll, the voters have expressed a marked preference for the moderates amongst them. The choice of Justice Wigneswaran, which was welcomed by pluralists in the South, turns out to have been entirely justified, given how overwhelmingly he topped the preferential vote.

It is true that, during the campaign, he engaged in rhetoric that seemed to suggest sympathy for terrorism. But, as I told a friend who seemed unduly worried about this, having gone out on a limb as it were in approbation of the Wigneswaran candidature, such rhetoric cannot be avoided in such elections. DBS Jeyaraj, the most perceptive of Tamil journalists, had pointed out the possible danger of this, given that Wigneswaran had been nominated against the wishes, not only of extremists, but also of those in Jaffna who would have preferred a man of the area.

Jeyaraj, I think understandably, worried about whether Wigneswaran would become a victim of his own rhetoric, something that has happened to so many politicians in Sri Lanka, including sadly Mr Bandaranaike and Mr Chelvanayakam. But the reason I remain optimistic about Wigneswaran is that, even while he was breathing fire on the campaign trail, he was enunciating a very moderate and sensible point of view internationally, as in the brave interview he gave to the ‘Hindu’. In that he made it clear that excessive interference by politicians from Tamilnadu was not at all helpful.

His forthrightness there is the more to be admired because the bane of Tamil politics has been the tendency to be influenced by outside factors. As I told the British Foreign Office in 2009 (before the Ministry of External Affairs became paranoid about me, and inhibited such contact), they had every reason to tell us to talk to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. This we ourselves needed and wanted to do. But to preach to us about talking to the TGTE was outrageous, and indicative of their own selfish electoral interests rather than the concerns of Sri Lankan Tamils. Even Mr Sambandan, who is I think a good man, but weak, has tended to follow foreign advice, with disastrous consequences, as I believe happened when he advocated support for Sarath Fonseka in the 2010 Presidential election. I don’t think Mr Wigneswaran, though he will be forthright in pushing for rights and equitable benefits for the people of the North, will make that sort of mistake. Continue reading