The secessionist wind has stilled in Sri Lanka. With the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran and the top leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the country can look forward to a future of peace and development.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
There are, however, roadblocks on the road to peace and tranquillity. To enjoy the fruits of military victory, it is important that Colombo consider Sri Lankan Tamils as partners in progress and not merely throw some crumbs at them. There are political and constitutional constraints that make this process difficult, if not impossible in the short term.
At the moment, the ability of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to deliver a credible political package to the Tamils is severely limited. That is if he wants to do so in the first place. He has his armed forces and a chauvinist Buddhist and Sinhala establishment to contend with. In general, the mood of ordinary Sri Lankans too is against “giving in” to the Tamils.
Any viable solution to the Tamil problem will require substantial devolution of powers to Tamil majority areas in the north-east of the country. That might not be easy. Politically, federalism finds little favour in Sri Lanka. At the same time, in 2006 the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka had ruled against the administration of the northern and eastern provinces as a single unit. This was a key demand, and its denial at the hands of the judiciary is viewed as going against Tamil interests. On the Sinhalese side, any “unification” of the eastern and northern provinces, even if Rajapaksa were to try it, is considered suspect.
India, too, has had similar problems, in Assam, Punjab and elsewhere. But the country was fortunate to have an escape route in the form of regional parties that provided a safety valve for these problems. In Sri Lanka, Prabhakaran ensured that Tamils did not have this space. Sinhalese chauvinists such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna also contributed to this process.
As a result, there is likely to be a period of confusion in Sri Lanka for a while. But given the period of Tamil grievances built over the last seven decades or so, the problem requires serious attention on the part of the Sri Lankan government. Unless that is done, the Tamil problem has the potential to resurface in the years to come.
For its part, India needs to convince and press Colombo towards a political resolution of the problem. The problem should be resolved in a manner that Sri Lanka has no fears about its territorial integrity.
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