Feature Article

Building up the case for war

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 30 September 2003, 02:11 GMT]
There is a steadily growing body of opinion among the Singhalese that Colombo’s dealings with the Liberation Tigers amount to nothing but a misguided policy of appeasement and plain treachery. The case for going to war with the Tigers again is being argued in different guises – its rhetorical veils are getting thinner as the ranks of those who oppose the peace process swell with each passing week.

The arguments are being invariably made in a manner calculated to provoke the deep-seated sense of Sinhala insecurity, described by some social scientists as the ‘Mahavamsa Mindset.’

Mr. V. Devaraj
The Mahavamsa is a Buddhist monastic history containing fear-laced descriptions of imperial Tamil armies conquering Sri Lanka in the ancient and medieval times.

Tamils see a familiar pattern in the growing litany for dumping the peace process. Governments in Colombo have in the past buckled under Sinhala pressure and pulled out of talks to devolve power to Tamils or have dumped tentative agreements on regional autonomy.

Opposition politicians, ideologues and propagandists are concentrating their efforts through public meetings, marches, pocket gatherings, posters, interviews and TV debates on one simple theme – that the current peace process is only helping the Tigers develop into a great immitigable military threat to the Sinhala nation.

Defence analysts and reporters in Colombo’s English and Sinhala press doggedly keep bringing up issues to prove that the Tigers are indeed using the peace to aggrandize their military power.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga insists that Sri Lanka is facing a grave national security threat because Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is bent on appeasing the Tigers and thereby letting them strengthen their armed forces and position these strategically to win Eelam War Four.

Writers and opinion makers who insist that Colombo is treacherously trying to ‘appease’ the Tigers labour to draw an implicit historical parallel with British/US policy towards German military power in the years leading up to World War II, apparently in the hope that it would strike a chord of sympathy with the main prosecutors of the global war on terror.

Earlier this month, ‘The Island,’ an English daily published from Colombo, carried the following statement by Theodore Roosevelt in its quotable quotes section on the op-ed page: “A really great people, proud and high spirited, would face all the disasters of war rather than purchase that base prosperity which is brought at the price of national honour.” All the quotable quotes for that day (6 September, 2003) were on the ‘folly of appeasement.’ The op-ed page also carried a letter from a reader titled “Appeasement par excellence,” which decried the Wickremesinghe government’s handling of the peace process.

The view almost cuts across the Sinhala political spectrum. At one extreme the Marxist Sinhala nationalist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna is aggressively campaigning among the Singhalese that the cease-fire agreement between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers should be torn up and that Norwegian mediation should be cancelled forthwith.


JVP foot march



The JVP castigates all actions by Colombo relating to the peace process on the grounds that these are ultimately meant to appease the Tigers and thereby divide the country.

JVP leaders state on public platforms and in Parliament that the peace process should be stopped at whatever the cost, even if it means going back to war, in order to prevent the break up of the unitary Sri Lankan state.

The JVP, true to its old Marxist credentials, adds another angle to the case for dumping the peace process. The party says that the Norway mediated talks between the Tigers and Colombo is an insidious pretext for “US imperialism” to enslave the Sri Lankan economy.

The slow but steady snowballing effect of the JVP’s relentless campaign was clear when Sri Lanka’s cricket star,Mr. Arjuna Ranatunga, MP, and several close allies of the President, such as former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka, MP, and Mr. Managala Samaraweera, MP, joined the ‘long march’ of the Patriotic National Front from Kandy to Colombo last Saturday.

And at the other end of the spectrum are the liberals who stoutly oppose the JVP’s politics but who argue that the Tamils of the northeast are suffering under unbearably oppressive conditions for which the LTTE is chiefly, if not solely, responsible.

They adduce instances of ceasefire and human rights violations allegedly by the LTTE to aver that the primary task and responsibility before the Sri Lankan state today is to free the Tamil people from the ‘clutches’ of the Tigers. India and the US led anti-terrorism coalition are frequently urged to act strongly in the matter.

Many Sinhala liberals and academics who actively promote this view in the media and public forums very articulately assert that the Tigers are denying the basic rights of Tamils in the northeast mainly because Colombo is sticking to a ‘lame policy of appeasement.’

Their position, however, does not find much favour among mainstream Tamil intelligentsia.

“When one looks at the logical implication of this assertion, it is inescapably clear that the sections of the Sinhala liberal intelligentsia are actually, though subtly, making a strong moral/legal case for the re-imposition of the state’s authority in all parts of the northeast. This can only mean one thing – war – if one takes into account the need to maintain the balance of forces and the fact that there is no way to radically restructure the Sri Lankan state,” said Mr. P. Devaraj, editor of the Sunday edition of the Virakesari, the Tamil newspaper with the largest circulation in Sri Lanka.

“And the fact is that all Sinhala liberals who support or advice Colombo’s negotiating strategy in the current peace process are acutely aware that it is well nigh impossible to amend Sri Lanka’s unitary constitution,” he pointed out.

“Any Tamil person with common sense will see through the sheer hypocrisy of these so called Sinhala liberals who are shedding tears for us now. What did they do when the Tamil people were denied even the right to life? When the army arrested and detained innocent Tamil children along with their parents under the PTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act]?" asked Mr. Aiyathurai Nadesan, a Tamil political columnist.

"Was there a murmur of protest from them when thousands of Tamils were driven out of their villages by the Sri Lanka army in order to settle Sinhala colonists there - many years before the rise of the Tigers - or when tens of thousands of Tamils were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and torture under the PTA and Emergency Regulations? It is like the wolf shedding tears that the goat is getting wet in the rain,” said Mr.Nadesan.


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