Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rajapaksa – All’s fine but nothing’s right

By Kusal Perera - The Sunday Leader

Last week saw the issue of war crimes committed in Sri Lanka hitting international headlines, despite the Sri Lankan government’s effort in answering them with its own “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) that sat down to hear major actors interpret the 30 year war.

Two heavy weights in Bernard Goonetilleke and Austin Fernando, before and after the powerful Defence Secretary of this Rajapaksa regime hit headlines in a seemingly organised manner, giving their opinions on the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) of 2002.

This heavy triumvirate was set to prove the longest held cease fire between the GoSL and the Tamil Tigers from 2002 February was a futile effort in making peace. They pictured the Norwegians and also the International community as pro Tiger interventionists and Norwegian facilitation as over stepping to push the government into awkward situations. Austin Fernando in particular who claimed “My Belly is White” 02 years ago was all strength to this Rajapaksa strategy, answering the Chairman of LLRC, the good old pal of President Rajapaksa, he is. They thus threw open the issue of going to war as the only option, which Gota took time to prove as successful, with a supposed “zero civilian casualty” approach.

This laboured position and arguments for war brought forth by the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa at the LLRC hearing, in claiming it was a humanitarian operation is what the 57 US Congressmen and the most surprising and latest entry into the fray, the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang State of Malaysia, Prof P. Ramasamy challenged up front and without hesitations. The Congressmen who signed a letter addressed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 09 August 2010, opened their letter raising 02 issues.

They made it abundantly clear, they don’t believe the LLRC is a sincere attempt by the government for seeking peace and reconciliation. Their first concern was on alleged war crimes committed and then secondly, the post conflict situation. They therefore want an independent, international investigation, ruling out the LLRC thus. "We believe that Sri Lanka’s past efforts to investigate severe human rights abuses through Commissions of Inquiry – even when supplemented by an international element such as the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) – have not been successful and do not inspire confidence that the current national mechanism would be any more successful, transparent or credible."

Adding to that US Congressional call for war crimes investigations, Deputy General Secretary of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) of Malaysia, Prof Ramasamy, also hits out hard at how the same issues are handled. He minces no words accusing the Indian leaders, PM Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Minister Chiddambaram, of war crimes committed in Sri Lanka, for their supportive role in the war. Ramasamy is also calling for a total boycott of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s family business for cheating and misleading the SL Tamil civilians who were caught in the war.

The DAP in Malaysia, is no ethnic political party as the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) is. MIC was established to support Indian independence and thereafter to carve out a role for Indians in independent Malaysia with around 2.1 million Indians. Much different to the MIC, the DAP that came into politics with the independence of Malaysia, campaigning for a secular Malaysia for all Malaysians, was firmly grounded on Social Democracy since its founding in 1966 and is a member of the Socialist International (SI). It is therefore clear that its stand on the Sri Lankan conflict, quite different to the MIC, is based on its commitment to democratic principles, rather than on a Tamil bias.

Being the second largest Opposition party in the Malaysian parliament with 29 elected Members, DAP has considerable influence across ethnicities, in a country that runs on a federal constitution. Therefore Ramasamy as Deputy CM in one of the most influential States, the Penang State, making a public call for investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka, tying up the Indian ruling hierarchy as well, provides both Tamil Nadu Dravidian politics and the Tamil Diaspora with new vigour, while also pushing the pro Tiger Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora into a quandary.

The SL Tamil Diaspora caught in this Malaysian created dichotomy can not afford to hurt the feelings of the Indian ruling elite, wanting a buffer as strength to pressure the Rsajapaksa regime, leaving aside the role of the Indian government as a discomforting ally. Most in Tamil politics, even within SL, wish to cajole Delhi to see if Rajapaksa can be influenced to accommodate Tamil political aspirations in post conflict SL, where Tamil politics on its own strength have almost no role, in deciding national politics.

Rajapaksa has created fissures in every political platform, including that of the Tamil Diaspora. He has with him the most elite of the known international Tamil Tiger leaders, Selvarajah Pathmanathan, better known as “KP”, carving out a strong niche in the Tamil Diaspora in support of him. He has all the Tamil groups except the whole TNA, firmly tied to his North – East development projects funded by India, China, Japan and the US. He is enjoying the personal clashes within the UNP, consciously promoting Wickramasinghe, while keeping watch for possible cross overs. He has pushed the JVP into a tight corner, leaving them to defend a war hero, who is being gradually discredited.

What more would Rajapaksa want, with the media now under control and backing the Rajapaksa regime on its politics ? Politically, this media provides all what this regime wants. For the media therefore Gota is many day’s priority and Gota is “Sri Lanka”. The caption therefore is “Sri Lanka defends war conduct”. For this media, the tragedy of those Tamil civilians in Vavuniya who lost their beloved sons, fathers and husbands and testified in front of the LLRC, was no priority. They are not “Sri Lankan” as Gota is and they don’t get many centimetres to cover their plight in the war.

The Rajapaksa regime with all such local consumption, has not gained any substantial political advantage in terms of national reconciliation and peace, despite the war being declared over an year and 03 months ago. It is in that context the Malaysian call for war crimes investigations, adds on to its woes. The DPA in Malaysia has put Rajapaksa and Delhi on the same bloc as responsible for large scale deaths of civilians. Ramasamy’s media release says, "The serious violation of human rights leading to killings of thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka was not confined to the actions of the Sri Lankan security forces above……..such an untold violence would not have taken place without the concurrence of the political leaders in India, both at the national and state level."

His is a call that draws Malaysian businessmen, accused for white washing the Rajapaksa regime seeking mere profits. This call for business boycott that targets Tamil businessmen both in Malaysia and Tamil Nadu is one, the Rajapaksa regime would be sensitive about.

It would also give strength to the pro Tamil campaign, the Tamil Nadu government is presently trying to suppress. EAM Secretary Rao’s visit to Chennai in providing Karunanidhi some legitimacy to speak on the SL Tamil polity, would thus be seen as washing each others dirty linen. The DAP decision to have their own Committee to investigate SL war crimes would now be an addition to the advisory panel of UN SG Ban Ki-moon, studying the SL conflict. DAP campaign with the Committee of Inquiry, would certainly galvanise TN sentiments and parts of the Diaspora around it. That would keep the Rajapaksa regime on toes and India ruffled. Malaysia can not be called imperialist, Western, or even pro American by Sinhala extremists nor ignored by Delhi diplomacy. This certainly is a headache, Rajapaksa would not have accounted for.

© The Sunday Leader

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