Every cloud has a silver lining

Silver Lining“Every cloud has a silver lining”– The usage of this phrase came from the American Civil war, however today this phrase is one of hope and optimism – i.e. though the skies are dark, something good is still there. Originally, this phrase meant just the opposite, the “cloud” referred to be the plumes of smoke from the enemy artillery, and the “silver lining” was the glint of morning sun off the artillery in the background. Since many of the battles would start just before dawn, the soldiers were sometimes facing a confusing look at fog and smoke, in the predawn light. The veteran soldiers would tell the newcomers to “avoid the clouds with the silver lining,” and soon those novices would learn that “not every cloud has a silver lining” meaning they could head for the fog, which was doubly better as the haze was not from the artillery, and the fog itself offered some camouflage. When the soldiers came home from the war, they would sometimes use the phrase “not every cloud has a silver lining” to mean that there were sometimes unexpected good things; but through the course of usage by those not well-informed of its origins, the “not” was soon dropped from the phrase.

In Sri Lanka after the Civil War  –  War came to an end in May 2009 the land route A9 to the north was reopened that enabled many of the northerners displaced during the war to the south return to their homeland. Thereafter, the northerners living elsewhere visiting their roots were stirred by different impressions on them as the region rose from its ashes. At first the presence of a large contingent of security personnel implied normal life had not resumed and the impact witnessed on people who have come thru 30 years of war, in particular it was painful for the younger generations as the army they encountered in their daily life did not speak the same language. Naturally there was a desperate feeling of alienation creeping in with excess military personnel in what was a peaceful land prior to the civil war that dragged on for three decades.

Earlier in 1987 to resolve the ethnic conflict the Parliament as per the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord passed both the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987, establishing provincial councils. Further 1988 proclamations enabled the Northern and Eastern provinces to be administered as one and the North-East Province was born. The proclamations were meant to be a temporary measure until a referendum was held in the Eastern Province on a permanent merger between the two provinces. However, successive Sri Lankan presidents issued proclamations annually extending the life of the “temporary” entity without ever holding the referendum. All the rulers at the center never accepted the merger and bitterly opposed it. In 2006, after a long campaign against the merger, petitions were filed with the Supreme Court.

Governor Rule in the North – By the end of 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that the proclamations issued by the parliament were null and void and had no legal effect and thus the provinces were de-merged much to the disappointment of the northerners. When North-East Province was formally de-merged into the Northern and Eastern provinces on 1 January 2007, the State was able to sustain the momentum of their new development scheme at first appointed a senior Army personal as Governor  of the new Provincial Council and to erode the situation further in the north and delayed the elections of Northern Province Council. Without elected representatives and with militarized rule in effect made the center as the sole protector and provider. Oddly, rest of the provinces in the country had elected representatives who shared power with the center to govern their provinces.

Northern Provincial Council – “Every cloud has a silver lining” came true in the people of the north too that has given them hope and optimism. The silver line appeared after 2013 election of members to the newly formed Northern Provincial Council with a retired Supreme Court turned politician as Chief Minister. A prominent legal personality though new to politics made his mark in 2015, when he lashed out at the concentration of power within his political party. Opponents of Chief Minister was accrediting his failure to interact with the center to his administrative incompetence, but he batted on with a straight bat and never failed to express his frustration for being completely kept in the lurch and for the government’s failure to discuss matter related to the Province with the Council. Chief Minister and his men from ground zero brought up the marginalisation activities of the state and in the process neutralised the impact of the Northern Provincial Council which could have made a difference to the quality of life of the northern people under normal circumstances.

In the meantime people in north felt the southernisation by the presence of door to door salesmen from south with readymade clothing, kitchen items, wooden furniture and many household items including those selling electrical goods on hire-purchase at a scale never witnessed earlier. The local construction workers longing for work was maginalised by excess work force brought from outside that was visible at every construction site. The steady growth of reconstruction works without utilizing the local human resources was giving suspicions to the possibility of losing its distinct northern identity. On the other hand people acknowledged renovation of all places of worship that were neglected or damaged by the war, including renovation of old Buddhist shrines that were in the region.

People welcomed few projects being started here and there in the region funded by local and northern diaspora entrepreneurs. The few projects that got going provided employment to local workforce, but many of these ventures failed to get approval from the authorities. Mainly due to delays in getting approval by over cautious authorities, who either due to restrictions imposed by the center or in other occasions dictated otherwise by the security personnel. If all these projects had got off the ground would have given the necessary thrust to develop the region and more investments would have flowed in to the region. The suspicious security personnel ever present did not encourage these efforts; instead many hotels and other resorts were built and operated by them using public funds and facilities to meet the inflow of tourist both from other provinces and overseas. Some projects that were refused approval were undertaken by poachers of information with or without proper approvals. At the same time peasant southern farmers with the immense military power behind them gained access to very productive plots of land in the peninsula and the mainland. All this were taking place while the owners were delayed access to settle in their land due to demining activities undertaken by the army, much detested by land owners. Then it was obvious that these activities received state patronage and clearly disregarded the collective confidence of an already insecure northern people.

Thereafter, naturally the northern population felt uneasy with the events in particular to see many new Buddhist places of worship mushrooming out at various locations in the province. The whole maneuver fragmented and disconnected the homogeneous nature of the northern community. Similar activities were patronized by the state in the Eastern Province after signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka act in 1987.

This time however events were taking place without addressing the grievances of the people who were exhausted by the war. This step motherly treatment by the state on the minority people have led to external interference with an eye on acquiring resources and securing strategic advantages in the north province. The modernised rehabilitation of mass scale infrastructure development of the region, with improved roads, electricity and IT that routed profits elsewhere, brought rapid supply of goods and services. It was followed by banks and finance companies. The response of the economically crushed northerners to this far too rapid and cruel flood of enticement is financial indebtedness, such as for instance parents having to secure a loan from newly mushroomed financial companies to purchase TVs seen for the first time by their children. Few did welcome this exchange of dignity for expediency, while the majority was reduced to spectators of their own decline. Struggling for economic stability with no financial resources and denied of political space, northerners helplessly watched as these military, socio-cultural, political and economic currents overtake their struggle for daily existence to grab the polity and resources that are theirs by right. This made the north a land of contradiction; comprising a subdued, remnant people and powerful ambitious security forces, in search of wealth and leisure; similar to the situation of another oppressed community living for centuries hidden cleverly in the hills.

“National Government” – This was the direct result of bad rule by the State that catered mostly to a small but economically and politically powerful group of people, while the rest remained crushed and nursing the losses and damages incurred by the war.   In the best interest of a reconciled and integrated Sri Lanka, there was clearly only one option left that was for the moderates in the country to come to their senses and shift the country towards restoration of democracy by the majority inclusive of the peace time disturbed minorities. A wind of change started to blow in the country by middle of 2014 and gathered phase by the end of the year. The civil society grabbed the opportunity and joining hands with the moderate politicians of all colour and shades influenced the voters to use their vote wisely.  The weary voters did right and a new President was duly elected at the 2015 Presidential Elections in Jauary2015, and at the  General Election that followed in August 2015 a ‘National Government’ was elected to rule the country.

The voters on realizing the absence of governance by those in power with limited narrow vision rejected rulers by voting them out. Because the rulers had failed to direct its primary energy to enhance those deprived most; converting a conflict manageable with the end of the war through compassionate common sense into a complex crisis in peace time. For the vulnerable to receive primary attention, those politicos at center and at the periphery are compelled to review their respective exclusive strategies and come up with a common programme. For both at the center and at provincial level this will mean a shift away from any and all shades of nationalistic chauvinism; that had caused the conflict in the first place and now continue to obstruct any collaboration. The rehabilitation must be undertaken professionally with in direct consultation with the concerned communities. If implemented beyond the maneuverings of politicians such programme can be navigated to become viable investments for future economic growth. The new National Government who inherited a bad system of governance is working hard to go along this new path of consultation, but there are forces in the system still lagging behind, a point made clear by the cultured Chief Minister of Northern Province.