It is not always that a work of non-fiction, however current and relevant the title and topic be, goes into a second print within a year of its publication. It is also not always that public discourse ensues on the book, however elitist and academic it be, and the contents become the topic of a seminar. It is not always, again, that the author concerned takes time and effort to incorporate the valid among the suggestions made at the seminar in the ‘revised’ edition of the book within a year.
Colombo-based scholar-diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka’s Long War, Cold Peace: Sri Lanka’s North-South Crisis has all this and more. Every page of the book is replete with words of wisdom that reflect the author’s scholarship, authoritative academic background and painstaking preparations of a political scientist. Dr Jayatilleka’s early background as one from the global Left, who got frustrated by and with the local Left-leaning JVP militancy, and also possible excessive expectations from the Tamil-Left in Sri Lanka, too, stands out in the process.
This is both a plus and a minus in the book, as the author, the first Sinhala Minister in the short-lived government of Chief Minister Varadaraja Perumal of the once-unified North-Eastern Province, seems to be viewing the Tamil ethnic cause and violence through the combined prism of the Sinhala Left and the Tamil Left, apart from elements of humanism visible in strands of global Left of the past (as long as it did not hurt the host, be it the Soviet Union, China or Cuba). Yet, the book is not about any of these countries, or all of them. It is still all about Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue alone.
Jayatilleka has also used the occasion to review the roles played by international players over the past years. It includes India’s ‘Operation parippu’ as Sri Lankans are wont to call rather derisively but is the proud and responsible moment of ‘Operation Garland’ for India and Indians, and also the IPKF induction that followed what the author too claims was the forced signing of the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord (1987). Yet, he is all praise for the Accord and the Thirteenth Amendment, which he seems to acknowledge has enough in it, if implemented in full, to ensure that the ‘cold peace’ after the ‘long war’ does not remain so -- forever.
In the contemporary India-Sri Lanka context, Jayatilleka takes the reader back to the first post-war UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka, in May 2009. Unlike as was being argued in Sri Lanka after India voted for the US-sponsored motions in 2012 and 2013, and in Tamil Nadu following the Indian abstention this year, he points out how India took the principled position when it came to (not) compromising the sovereignty of a nation, and how the latest Indian decision had its roots in the 2009 resolution.
Needless to point out, the 2009 resolution, moved and passed by ‘friends of Sri Lanka’, was the basis for the latter setting up the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), to probe ‘war crimes’ and suggest remedies for this and larger issues of ethnic divide and plurality. In 2012 and 2013, the US resolutions stuck to this formulation, so India voted in favour. In 2014, the Anglo-American draft moved away from the known Indian position, and recommended an ‘independent probe’, which in India’s eyes, challenged Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
In ensuring as much in 2009, Dayan Jayatilleka, who was Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative (PR) for the UN in Geneva in the crucial 2007-09 period — he later did a stint as his nation’s Ambassador in Paris — explains how they could put together a non-aligned group of nations and strategised together to ensure the early defeat of a EU motion against Sri Lanka, pending since 2006 — and how this ‘collective diplomacy’ was given a go-by in 2012 and later. It may have been because of the fact that Sri Lanka was busy with the post-war situation back home in 2009, and politicians left policy-makers to do their job effectively, but in subsequent years, the country was preoccupied with international diplomacy. Needless to point out, the large contingent of the Sri Lankan political class and other hangers-on made news in Geneva in 2012, and for all the wrong reasons.
Though posted away in Paris at the time, Jayatilleka may have left a gap in the narration and his analysis of what many Sri Lankans at least feel was/is a political and diplomatic fiasco for no fault of the diplomat. There is also the other gap, where no mention is made of the fortnight-long ceasefire by Sri Lankan Government troops in the first half of May 2009, and the Indian role in making it possible — both of which have been forgotten since.
Ultra-nationalists and ‘Tamil separatists’
The story also needs to be told on what needs to done to ensure permanent peace in the country – not of the graveyard type but with equal rights, and equitable responsibilities, for the Tamils in the country? Thus far, the post-war ethnic discourse, as used to be the case through the war years, has revolved around the eternally uncompromising positions taken by the ‘ultra-nationalists’ of the Sinhala-Buddhist variety on the one hand, and ‘Tamil separatists’ of the Diaspora variety on the other.
Between the South and the North of the country lies the large middle ground, which has not been explored in socio-political and socio-economic terms, for identifying possible solutions. Such a course could help marginalise the extremists on either side of the ethnic divide, whose tunes alone the respective political leaderships continue to sing on the ground – and dance too.
Jayatilleka has flagged the themes for the new discourse that has eluded Sri Lanka thus far: “I think, we must rediscover, reflect on and revaluate the past, but not stay mired in it as we tend to do. We must look to the future. We are not only what we have been. We are not only what we were. We are what we can make of ourselves.” “So, while we talk about Asia, we are not really part of today’s Asia at all…We…must adopt our own version of the 21st century Asian model, which is one of meritocracy, multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism…We are really displaying an island mentality...the proverbial frog in the well…Our identity as Sri Lankans must include a strong commitment to equity and fair play… In the name of Sri Lankan identity, do we want to lower our standards…? Or, do we want to excel in Asia and the world once again…?
This part of the story remains to be told in greater detail — including for instance, how the ultra-nationalist Sinhala-Buddhist JVP during its militant avatar and the LTTE never ever targeted each other but were only using each other to create the political space to target their own people on the one hand, and the Sri Lankan State on the other — simultaneously yet separately. The two have since given political space to purportedly moderate faces in the even more influential JHU (no relation of the JVP) rather than the post-insurgency, ‘mainstreamed’ JVP, and also the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Dayan Jayatilleka’s pen is capable of telling that story, too, and also expand on his current theme of ‘re-discovering’ Sri Lanka’s place in the 21st century Asia — and the world.