Right Attitude Matters at all times for Rulers!

Emperor Ashoka witnessing after Kalinga war the ‘Hell on Earth’ – the battle ground littered with limbs and tatters of flesh in blood and the sufferings of his people.

Right attitude matters in life, more so in politics. Sri Lanka had many past rulers who made life miserable for the ruled with their wrong attitudes, led them to the ‘Hell on Earth’ in 2009, similar to what Emperor Ashoka witnessed after the Kalinga war.

For these rulers were responsible for sewing fear in the minds of the people as early as the 1950s, feeding them with wrong attitude on devolution of powers to minorities. Thereby people feared devolving powers to regions would result in dividing the small island nation. A ploy used by past leaders against their opponents including those from the minority communities to deny their fundermental rights.

Worst situation occurred in 1981, then ruler, as Head of State with full executive powers and his party UNP were the beneficiaries of this ploy to beat their opponents SLFP at the Parliamentary elections with large size majority. The same approach was adopted by them, at the District Development Council (DDC) elections held countrywide that year. It was plain sailing for the ruling UNP, which swept all the 18 Sinhala majority districts, where it was a lackluster election since the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) boycotted it.

Thus the main focus for the UNP turned to Jaffna, where the real drama was enacted where the leader of the UNP, as the President made a mistake of going against all advise to let his party  contest DDC Elections in Jaffna, the heartlands of the Tamils. He wanted through that election demonstrate to the people in the south, that majority of the Tamils did not approve the separate state which the TULF was demanding. He was encouraged after a team of ministers led by the Prime Minister were given a tumultuous welcome in Jaffna. He was of the impression that UNP would be able to gain a foothold in Jaffna if they contested.

What the President did not know was, that it was customary for Jaffna Tamils to receive any southern politicians, more so on this occasion a team headed by the popular Prime Minister himself, who as a politician of that generation practiced Buddha dharma was of the view the ethnic issue should be with the right attitude of peaceful co-existence with the minorities, accustomed in his Colombo Electorate and his successful partnership as Deputy to the only TULF minister ever in 1965.

Unfortunately, President considered DDCs and the university admissions’ standardization as concessions granted to the Tamils and wanted to earn back some political capital out of it for his party, whereas he only succeeded in showing just the reverse, for the TULF had accepted the DDCs and were prepared to contest the elections, in pursuance of one of the points agreed to in 1965 known as the Dudley-Chelva pact. Thus this ploy backfired on the leader of UNP, an illegitimate claimant to power without any formal or legal right to claim it as their own for themselves in an established region of TULF, the sole representatives by the Tamils.

However, burning of Jaffna Public Library took place on the night of May 31 to June 1, 1981, by an organized mob from south went on a rampage, preceded with the rigging of elections that failed. On that same day considerable parts of Jaffna town,including many business  establishments were burned down as mobs rampaged without any hindrance. The TULF headquarters, office of ‘Eelanaadu’, the Tamil daily and many cultural and religious figures were also destroyed days prior to the infamous Jaffna DDC elections.

When counting concluded past midnight, it was seen that voters gave an overwhelming victory to the TULF. Yet with missing ballot boxes, results could not be declared as more atrocities committed came to light. A later date was fixed for it with the idea of searching for the missing ones. The search was futile and in spite of all this as per the results all 10 seats in the Development Council went to the TULF  and a former Senator was elected as Chairman.

The Chairman with the reputation of a typical Jaffna man’s defiance in the face of insolent might remained gave it a chance for two years and frustrated with its impotence threw it away in July 1983, as the structure stood to foil the onslaught and the sinister effort ended in a fiasco. It only goes to prove that right attitude matters in politics as much as elsewhere in life.

Thus wrong attitudes from rulers against minority Tamils led to many discrimination being committed to them, the Tamil youths began reacting against the state at the cost of many life of Tamils. It began when a member of the SLFP Member of Parliament and Mayor of Jaffna, was murdered in 1975. Later one of the leading UNP candidate and former Tamil Congress MP was shot dead days before the DDC Election. All this led to the escalation of the conflict to a bloody brutal civil-war that lasted three decades is today all history, but the causes of conflict still remains with more war issues left unresolved.

Whereas the civil-war could have been easily avoided, with the right attitude from the government in 1987 when India, as a friendly neighbour intervened to resolve the conflict with the introduction of the Indo-Lanka Pact, with devolution of power to the provinces  and North and East provinces as one unit, accepted since 1965 as the the homeland of the Tamils.

Further to maintain peace, India provided its forces, referred as the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF). However, due to absence of the right attitude, even though the Provincial Council System was incorporated into the constitution by the 13th Amendment, it was never drafted nor debated properly in parliament and to date remain a half backed system.

The Provincial Council was formed in 1988; but the accord required a referendum to be held by 31 December 1988 in the Eastern Province to decide whether the merger should be permanent. Crucially, the accord allowed the President to postpone the referendum at his discretion.

Elections in the newly merged North Eastern Province were scheduled for 19 November 1988, at a time the IPKF were occupying the provinces backed paramilitary groups led by  Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), it won the rigged election; nominated the first Chief Minister, who assumed office on 10 December 1988. But as a supposed instrument of devolution it disappointed EPRLF and the Tamils.

On 1 March 1990, just as the IPKF were preparing to withdraw from Sri Lanka, the Chief Minister moved a motion in the North-East Provincial Council with declaration of independence. The President reacted promptly by dissolving the provincial council and imposing direct rule on the province.

Earlier, the merger was bitterly opposed by Sri Lankan nationalists. Who on 14 July 2006, filed separate petitions with the Supreme Court requesting a separate Provincial Council for the East. The Supreme Court ruled that the proclamations issued by President were null and void and had no legal effect. 

Thus the North Eastern Province was formally de-merged on 1 January 2007 and the demerged provinces were ruled directly from Colombo until May 2008 when elections were held for the demerged Eastern Provincial Council. Thereafter, the first Northern Provincial Council elections took place in 2013, with ITAK securing a majority of votes appointed its 1st Chief Minister.

With the civil-war prolonging, incurred heavy loss of lives and severe damage to properties; resulted in pushing back the economy of the country by five decades. Then government forces, with the positive interference from many friendly nations, silenced the guns on 18 May 2009 with heavy loss of lives. Though war ended, real peace eluded the people for over a decade. It only goes to prove that right attitude matters in politics as much as elsewhere in life.

If right attitude had prevailed among the leaders from days of independence in 1948, the country could have avoided the three decades of civil-war and a decade of negative peace; and that would have enabled the nation made up of  provinces with devolved powers to re-build the island nation back to prosperity. Instead another decade has passed with negative peace! Now once paradise is shackled with many problems is reeling heavily in debts; while struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. In this scenario the President with right attitude has to think out of the box to resolve all issues of the nation!