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Velupillai Prabhakaran and Sri Lankan Democracy

February 4, 2010

Velupillai  Prabhakaran, the LTTE chief, died fighting for the cause dear to his heart – Tamil Elam. His family –  including his three children were also killed in the fighting. His daughter and his two sons were found dead. The body of his wife was never found, or so we are told. There are many critics of Prabhakaran and some of these critics have this one criticism that Prabhakaran had many chances to join the democratic process of Sri Lanka and that it was his mistake not to give up the gun when he could. The fact is that were Prabhakaran to give up the gun and join the political process, he would have been eliminated by his detractors and political opponents – not to talk of the numerous enemies he had cultivated over the years.

Democracy in Sri Lanka has a flavor of its own. The way Mahinda Rajapakse has won the presidential election, and the way he has treated his political opponent, General Sarath Fonseka, it is clear that the game of politics in this emerald island is a shade different from what the world is used to. This is not democracy – this is the rule of the victor with the vanquished relegated to political oblivion, and worse, marginalized from the political landscape. General Fonseka was ensconced in a five star hotel along with some hundred well armed supporters during the counting of the elections. When the results started pouring in, it became clear that Mahinda Rajapakse would be the winner. Soon the security forces along with some Sri Lankan army commandos encircled the hotel. The General was a veritable prisoner in the hotel. He made it clear that were the army to storm the hotel his men would fight to the finish. Is this a political process or is it a farce? Those 12 army officers who had sided with General Foenseka have also been expelled from the army – for their political affiliation. It may be recalled that this is the same General Sarath Fonseka who was instrumental in defeating the LTTE during last year’s war in the north. He is a war hero and one who was feted by the government for his extraordinary courage and leadership in defeating the ‘invincible’ Tigers.

Democracy in Sri Lanka has been fragile at best and freedom of expression has always been targeted. Journalists have been at the receiving end as a matter of routine. The  Gazette, Montreal, has reported the plight on journalists as follows:

International media rights groups accused the Sri Lankan government on Saturday of unleashing attacks against journalists after a bitterly contested presidential election. The Paris-based Reporters without Borders asked President Mahinda Rajapakse to end arrests and what it called intimidation of journalists working for privately owned as well as foreign media.

“This wave of post-election violence could cast a lasting stain on the start of President Rajapakses second term and bodes ill for the political climate during the coming years,” said the watchdog, also known as Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF). It said a political reporter disappeared two days before the vote while another editor of an anti-government newspaper had been arrested.

RSF urged the government to deploy more police officers to the search for political reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been missing since January 24. His family has had no news of him since. The government has also ordered the expulsion of a Swiss reporter covering the elections.

After his defeat in the presidential election it therefore comes as no surprise that General Sarath Fonseka has been relegated to the sidelines and his future looks uncertain. The Sri Lankan government has given him the option of migrating to Australia along with his men. Stories that he was planning a coup remain unfounded, as had he any such intentions he would not have fought the elections in the first place. His only option now is to leave Sri Lanka. That is the political solution to a man who was such an integral part of the war efforts of the island nation that has seen violence and bloodshed for more than two decades. There is peace now. It is true that Mahinda Rajapakse gave the political leadership and took the initiative against the Tigers. In that his contribution can never be overlooked. His fortitude and his use of resources to fight the war to the finish was truly a memorable event in the history Sri Lanka, but to force his political opponent to seek refuge in a foreign land just because he lost the election is not democracy. The meaning of democracy should be to allow all to participate and the will of the people must prevail. A military leader who showed exemplary courage and fortitude should not be treated so shabbily, just because he stood up to the president and fought election against him. This is a wrong precedence and will send a very negative image of the nation that has so much to offer to the region and to the world.

If a military leader like Sarath Fonseka can be treated so shabbily, being a Sinhalese I can only shudder to think what fate would have been in store for men like Velupillai Prabhakaran, a Tamil and a man who had opposed the Sinhala dominated state for so long, had he joined the democratic political process. No wonder the man never seriously contemplated laying down the gun. The man lived by the bullet and died by it. He called himself a warrior and was totally committed to the cause he espoused – that of a separate state for the Tamils of northern Sri Lanka. He knew that the miniscule minority of 17% of Tamils would never be able to assert themselves in a country that had the Sinhalese as the overwhelming majority. Prabhakaran also understood that even among the Tamils, not all would vote for him as he had made many enemies within the Tamil population. All peace talks with the Sri Lankan government under the aegis of the UN or at the behest of the Indian government or the Norwegian mediators was always a ploy to buy time to regroup, rearm and become strong enough again so that he could fight the Sri Lankan army and hold sway over Tamil part of northern Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has also remarked that Prabhakaran dreamed of taking over the whole of Sri Lanka and become a self appointed president of the Sri Lankan republic, ruling from the capital Colombo. Prabhakaran had as his idol men like Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh. He saw the Sinhalese as oppressors and his Tamil brothers as victims. He tried very hard to realize his dream with the limited resources he had. But there is a limit to fighting. The last few days for him and his family must have been harrowing. They were cornered and had some Tamil civilians as shield against the advancing Sri Lankan army. He was a patient of diabetes and it must have been terrible for him to see his sons and daughter fall to Sinhalese army bullets. This war in Sri Lanka was a struggle that gave the people of Sri Lanka, both Tamils and Sinhalese nothing but blood and tears. Many a lives were lost needlessly. India was not left untouched either. We lost a prime minister to the LTTE attack. Prabhakaran may have chosen the path of violence to fulfil his dream of a Tamil Elam. With the death of Prabhakaran, there is peace and quiet in the island nation. But that should not mean that the problems of the Tamils are over. In fact, their problems have just begun. The newly appointed president would do well to address the problems of the Tamils in his second term before another disgruntled young man takes to the gun and walks away in the jungles of Vanni, with the only aim of fighting the Sinhalese majority government. There is a need for some kind of autonomy for the Tamil north. It would be well if democracy in Sri Lanka becomes mature enough where the victor does not force the vanquished to leave the country after taking him as a veritable prisoner. If democracy takes a real meaning in Sri Lanka, then that will help give voice to the smallest minority and that will in turn be a safety valve against any disgruntled elements taking extreme postures and resorting to unconstitutional means to achieve their political aims. Prabhakaran was a victim of his own never ending violence. Let there be no young men that fall into the same vicious circle of violence leading to more violence. Let there be real democracy which can only come if there is freedom of speech, as that will ensure peace in the beautiful emerald island we know as Sri Lanka.

Update 09.02.2010: It has been reported that General Sanath Fonseka, the other presidential candidate has been arrested on the charges of plotting to kill Mahinda Rajapakse and his family. He has been taken to an unknown destination. His wife has now called on India to help her, as she is afraid for her husbands welfare.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 4, 2010 8:19 pm

    I usually agree with your article content, but in this case I am sorry to say that I do not share your views.

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