Diaspora : PP. Devraj


After nearly three decades of strife and violence, it’s time the islanders buried the hatchet

The relentless onslaught launched by the Sri Lankan army against the LTTE with an array of weaponry and backed by strong airpower has undoubtedly achieved considerable success with the Tigers now being confined to a much smaller area than they held earlier. In order to push through their objective of decimating the LTTE and its military machinery, the army and the political establishment appear to be determined not to give any quarter or spare any means in carrying the advantage to the finish. Official news received from the conflict zone is quite often contradictory and deceptive. The barrage of propaganda makes its difficult to discern and make an assessment of the real situation.

However, there is news filtering through individuals and various other sources which indicate that the beleaguered civilian population trapped within the conflict zone is undergoing untold suffering. Deaths suffered through crossfire and bombing are daily occurrences. Thousands have been injured. There are shortages of food and medicine. People are pushed hither and thither and indeed a macabre drama is being played out in the region. 

TAMIL DIASPORA: Devraj with Dato’ Veerasingam at a GOPIO conference in Malaysia in 2007

Appeals of the international community to have an immediate ceasefire and end the suffering of the civilian population have not had much impact. Although India has already expressed concern about the suffering of the civilian population it has so far been able only to provide food and medicines and there are questions as to whether even these supplies have reached the people for whom it was intended. 

Since it is clear that the government has no intention of stopping the war till the final defeat of the LTTE. What happens after this is achieved and the Sri Lankan army captures the entire area now under control of LTTE?

Will there be an attempt at greater majoritarian domination and increase in discrimination against the minorities or is there a possibility for a change of attitude and for new policies to be set in motion that will meet the concerns of minorities and start a move towards establishing a just society. 

There are economic, social and political realities that will have to be recognised. These realities will make it difficult for the government to pursue policies it had followed in the past. There are indications that the government is interested in adopting a new approach.

In his independence day speech President Rajapakse extended an open invitation to the Tamil diaspora to return to the motherland which they had left in the past decades due to the war and requested their support to build the war torn North. For the president's call to have any meaning a political package that will be attractive to the Tamil minority has to be put forward and democratic governance established. Does the president's call to the Tamil expatriate community indicate that he has the intention to workout new political package? Maybe he wants to consider favourably the recommendations of the All Party Representative Conference (APRC).

Although the majority community forms over 70 per cent of the country's population the ability of the minority communities to influence election results cannot be underestimated. The distribution of minorities in several districts makes it necessary for the major political parties to take this into the electoral calculations There are attempt to minimise minority influence through the change of the electoral system. To do this it is necessary to have two-thirds majority in Parliament which is not there for the ruling party. 

Although the ruling party is hopeful that its military victory over the LTTE will help its political ­fortunes it may be mistaken in this thinking

Government political leaders have repeatedly said that they were only against the LTTE but not against Tamils. They have recognised that Tamils have real grievances and these should be resolved. They do not like to be seen as oppressive majoritarian leaders. Sri Lanka has already acquired a negative international image. There is a desire to change this image.

Even though its advice was not heeded by the Sri Lankan government the international community has repeatedly emphasised the need for observance of human rights, democratic governance and rule of law. The demonstration in Tamil Nadu and India's continued appeal to the Sri Lankan government to fully implement the 13th amendment to the constitution cannot be ignored.
Although the ruling party is hopeful that its military victory over the LTTE will help its political fortunes it may be mistaken in this thinking. It is useful to draw some lessons from history. 
In 1956 S.W.R.D. Bandaranayke swept to power on the wave of a popular ‘Sinhala Only’ slogan. However, very soon internal dissension set in and by the 1960s this wave subsided and the UNP came to power. In 1970 Sirimavo Bandaranayake won the elections with a resounding majority. Her position appeared to be unchallengeable but in 1977 she lost to the UNP which got an unprecedented three-fourths majority.

In case the UNP is able to increase its vote base, minority votes will become significant and there may be a turn of events. The APRC has formulated a set of proposals which are to be released soon. In its report the APRC has addressed the concerns of all minority communities including the PIO community. 

The APRC document can well form the basis of new discussions aimed at State Reforms that would ensure the rights of all communities.

In the background of the need to get international support and that of India for its future development, Sri Lanka might now be in a more co-operative frame of mind to pay heed to the friendly advice of the international community.

The PIO community, because of its geographic location, has been able to work with both the SLFP and UNP. This community can play a useful role.

All these factors give some hope that a fresh approach can be developed to introduce constitutional and institutional reforms that will help create peace and harmony among communities in Sri Lanka..

March 2009

click here to enlarge

 >> Cover Story
 >> From the Editor
 >> NRI-PIO Section
 >> Mail From Reader
NRI Investments
 >> NRI Investment
 >> Banking