Addressing Sundarji’s New Sri Lanka … and Thoughts for the Now

rajiva as nomadRajiva Wijesinha, courtesy of The Island, 5 May 2015, where the title is Sri Lanka: A new country

When I was last in Delhi, I was given a copy of a new book on Sri Lanka by an Indian journalist who had once interviewed me. I had noticed then a strong affection for this country, and one reason for this became clear as I read the book. Her grandparents had helped to set up the Chemical Factory in Paranthan in the fifties, and happy memories of those days had permeated the family consciousness. Her effort to trace information about those days is touchingly described, and makes clear that our governmental structures are destructive of institutional memory. That is another reason to have a Cabinet set up scientifically, with departments not being shuffled around (which is how papers get lost so easily, as we found in the Committee on Public Enterprises), but sadly that is yet another commitment that the present government has ignored in its relentless pursuit of only what it desires for itself. SRI LANKA FINAL COVER PDF-page-001

The writer’s affection for Sri Lanka comes through in the book, but she is also clear-sighted. I should note however that perhaps I say this because we share many views. She is for instance entirely supportive of the war we fought against the terrorist Tigers, and cannot understand how Sri Lanka was persecuted for that tremendous victory. But she is also critical of the manner in which the government failed to use the opportunities that had opened up for social development.

In her many interviews she records a general impression of satisfaction amongst the Tamil people that the war was over. They did not want a repetition, and horror stories of what the LTTE had inflicted on them are vividly expressed. She has also interviewed army personnel at length, and does full justice to their perspective.

But she is also harsh, for instance, on the absurdity of the forces running hotels, when what they should have been doing was handing over to the people of the area, or encouraging professionals to enter the field, and train local youngsters. Where this has happened, in private establishments, she describes the enthusiasm of former LTTE recruits for the opportunities that have opened up.

Reading her account I was reminded of the papers I had done for the forces during the many seminars to which I was invited, before my protest about Weliveriya put me beyond the pale. After efforts to persuade the forces to engage in the education and training that the Ministries responsible were neglecting, I also did one on business development. There I suggested that the forces, where they had resources, should have engaged in the classic transfer of ownership model. They could easily have worked together with local cooperatives, and initially run things, which would not have been resented if ownership had belonged to the local community. Instead the government managed to develop resentments which were unnecessary – given the positive outlook about the end of the conflict that the writer records so comprehensively.

In addition to her assessment of the post-conflict situation, there are vivid accounts of her visits to the North when Prabhakaran was in full control, and also during the last stages of the war. She has a fascinating interview with Karuna when he was initially a Minister, before the war ended, and his clear account of the situation that prompted him to come over to government makes one realize how sad it was that he was not consulted properly over Reconstruction. Though I found Basil Rajapaksa efficient in areas he understood, these were limited. His total incapacity to work with others who were equal to him – a tendency he shares with Ranil Wickremesinghe – was, I think, the main contributory factor to the tremendous unpopularity of government in the North, in the last few years.

Others she talked to include Jehan Perera, for whom I have always had a soft spot, since he was always willing to engage, unlike other Civil Society activists who were waiting, at the time I took over the Peace Secretariat in 2007, for the government to fail. They simply refused to attend the consulations I set up, whereas Jehan always came and expressed himself forcefully but positively. His balanced approach in the book reinforces my belief that the Government’s failure to use people like Jehan also contributed to the isolation that ensued.

Daya Master appears in two incarnations, in his role of government supporter after the war, and previously when he had been plucked from his school to interpret for Prabhakaran. There again one understands how opportunities were lost, since the government failed to build on articulate people like him who could have exposed the full horror of what the Tigers had done, while also making clear the need for swift action to restore livelihoods and dignity for the Tamil people who had suffered.

Padma Rao Sundarji does not preach, but her book would I think be invaluable reading for the current government, which seems as incoherent as the last about Reconciliation. I believe there is much goodwill, but little has been done in three months, and unless there is closer attention to actual physical needs, emotional agendas will dominate.

When I sent her the draft Reconciliation policy I had drafted, together with Sumanthiran and Eran and Jeevan Thiagaraja and Javid Yusuf, and some very enterprising youngsters, Chandrika Kumaratunga replied positively, but could not resist a pot shot at the former President. I found that sad, and it was sadder that evidently the programme her team is preparing contains no reference to the work of the LLRC Action Committee. There is no need to reinvent wheels, though obviously much more needs to be done. We were critical of the last government because it was so slow in doing what was obviously needed. I hope the present lot will not allow their own private agendas to stand in the way of concerted efforts at taking things forward. Reading this book might help them reach a more balanced view of the problems, and of what is now needed.

***  ***

NOTE: New Publications from Rajiva Wijesinha in Press

  • Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa Years Part 2 – Failure in Reconciliation (Godage, forthcoming)
  •          Reform, Rights and Good Governance (Godage, 2015)
  • English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? (Godage, forthcoming)
  • The Mango Tree: Inclusivity and Integrity in International Relations (Godage, forthcoming)

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY of WORKS by RAJIVA WIJESINHA

* Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa Years Part 1 – Success in War (Godage, 2016)

  • Triumph and Disaster: The Rajapaksa Years Part 2 – Failure in Reconciliation (Godage, 2016)
  • Reform, Rights and Good Governance (Godage, 2015)
  • Declining Sri Lanka (CUP Delhi, 2007)
  • The Current Crisis in Sri Lanka (Navrang)
  • Civil Strife in Sri Lanka (McCallum’s)
  • The Foundations of Modern Society (Foundation Books / CUP, India, 2004)
  • Political Principles and their Practice in Sri Lanka (Foundation Books / CUP, India, 2005)

 

 

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