Sri Lanka Tamils: No Choice But To Join GotaGoGama, Stay Put Or Go Abroad
I wrote a public letter on 22 April 2022 to the IMF and the Indian government asking them not to support the Sri Lankan government with loans until there is transparency and accountability. My point was that the failed regime had robbed and milked the country so dry that more loans would mean they would rob more and leave us worse off. So, until we have a transparent and accountable regime, no loans please. I stand by that despite Mahinda Rajapaksa’s harangue against me in Parliament for doing what I did.
The IMF at least seemed to say on 23 April 2022 at the conclusion of the IMF Executive Board 2021 Article IV Consultation with Sri Lanka, leaving aside the fluff:
[IMF] Directors also called for a prudent management of the Colombo Port City project, and continued efforts to strengthen governance and fight corruption.
Very diplomatic language indeed against Port City mismanagement, calling for strengthening governance and fighting corruption!
However, as reported in The Hindustan Times, the statement included a lot of spin to not embarrass Sri Lanka: that the IMF had “fruitful technical discussions” with crisis-ridden Sri Lanka on its loan request. Fruitful as deliberately intended, can be interpreted in a multiplicity of ways. Perhaps the talks were fruitful in making friends with the Sri Lankan team. It was certainly not fruitful in getting Ali Sabry what he went all the way to Washington for.
The irony is that Ali Sabry was sent to negotiate with the IMF on strengthening governance and fighting corruption in exchange of the loan. While a member of the Election Commission, I am aware that Ali Sabry in a video recording I still possess threatened Muslim voters that they would get thrashed (he used the word Ambaanai) if they did not vote for Gotabaya Rajapaksa because however they vote he is going to win. I lodged a formal complaint, and the Election Commission suppressed my complaint.
It was the very same Ali Sabry who brought Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the Election Commission before the presidential election with a letter purporting to be from the US Embassy claiming that Rajapaksa had renounced his US Citizenship, whereas a subsequent letter purporting to be from the State Department said his renunciation was ongoing and no US official was to talk about it.
The IMF in negotiating strengthening governance and fighting corruption with Ali Sabry should know what he has done, and any talk with him on these matters is a charade. I hope they are being diplomatic in their silence rather than foolish.
While Ali Sabry asked for $3-4 billion as bridge financing, his spin was to talk about $500 million “being considered” from the World Bank. In reality actually only $10 million as World Bank’s emergency response package was on the table to be made immediately available for the purchase of essential medicines. These were funds shifted from our ongoing COVID-19 health preparedness project. Even the $10 million was therefore not new money. It would have come to us anyway for other needs for which it had already been assigned.
The IMF Mission Chief for Sri Lanka, Masahiro Nozaki was harder in his statement on 17 May 2022 (Colombo Page): “Because Sri Lanka’s debt is assessed as unsustainable, approval of IMF financing, including through a Rapid Financing Instrument, would require adequate assurances that debt sustainability will be restored”.
It may take six months for IMF money said Sabri (4 May 2022, Economy Next). Given the use of the word “may,” we may have to wait for next year! Only Ranil Wikremesinghe has been frank about what is to come.
So Sri Lanka will work with smaller amounts from the World Bank even as India helps with larger amounts to ease social tensions from lack of electricity, medicine, gas etc. India has foolishly released over $ 1 bn, a likely target for our robber rulers. Even as I write, 15,000 litres of kerosine have arrived from India for fishermen in the islands.
The people in the South Block may think themselves rather clever for the intrigues they indulge in in Sri Lanka, but are they not aware of the implications for the rule of law in India when their diplomats hobnob with criminals wanted for murder there, and help them electorally by implicitly projecting the kerosine as a gift from the wanted criminals?
Crooks and Communalists Everywhere
The Sinhalese polity is so badly gone that it is impossible not to spot crooks and communalists in the new government. From Bond Scam to everything bad, the perpetrators are ensconced in the new government. I do not think they are reformed. I cannot even believe they will ever be punished. The law will be used to let every crook escape. A good example is Sashi Weerawansa. She was sentenced yesterday (27th) for 2 years in prison for passport fraud. But she has applied for bail because she has appealed. I believe she will go unpunished. It is how our justice system works. The conviction shows that laws are applied. What follows usually leads to the criminal being let off. A classic example of that is Punchi Banda Jayasundara. Colombo Telegraph gives the full story of how Jayasundara and the AG were accused by Naganada Kodituwakku, the case was postponed umpteen times, and collapsed when Kondituwakku fled to the UK under death threats.
Despite the disqualification from holding office, in 2009, on invitation by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to P.B. Jayasundera to once again take up the post of Treasury Secretary, he submitted a fundamental rights petition protesting the original decision to the Supreme Court, which was heard by the newly appointed Chief Judge who overturned the previous decision and allowed Jayasundera to be reinstated as Secretary of the Treasury. That at least should have told the 6.9 million who voted for Gotabaya (who are perhaps blind to what happened in Mullivaikal) what they were really voting for.
Such is the law in Sri Lanka. It covers up all filth in the system and produces the seeming effect of everything being done lawfully. Our governments are masters at robbing and killing and then getting the judiciary to let them off as in the Trincomalee murders. Our new government will rob and kill and then get the judiciary to give them a clean bill of health. See how they are quickly compensating the crooked MPs whose houses were burnt down this month without even talking about the thousands of Tamils killed and whose houses were burnt and looted in 1983 and since.
Protesting against this obnoxious system is what the GotGoGama protesters are doing. This is what the new government is trying to thwart.
Tamils and GotaGoGama
As a Tamil I face questions on why Tamils are not participating in greater numbers in GotaGoGama. It is because of our innate feeling that the Sinhalese will never agree to Tamil aspirations – that they want us only until Gota goes.
There have been many efforts to effect a via media between Sinhalese and Tamils through a new constitutional arrangement going as far back as the BC Pact. They were all reneged, including Tissa Vitarana’s All Party Representative Committee (APRC). The Sinhalese participating were generally well-intentioned. In the end it turns out that communalists (who seem to be always in power) install well-intentioned people to engage in these peace exercises and thereby buy time to consolidate their communalist hold on the polity. Right now they need time to colonize the North-East completely. I suggest that Mahinda Rajapaksa used Tissa Vitarana. When people like Vitarana are so used, they cannot raise any objections lest the offices they hold (a minister in this case) are removed from them.
With GotaGoGama there is a claim that Tamils are now welcome in Sri Lanka, that those Tamis who participated were encouraged to sing the national anthem in Tamil, and that Buddhist monks who objected were asked to get lost. These claims are indeed true.
At the same time, I also hear that the JVP is running GotaGoGama and they are the ones presenting a kindly face to Tamils who turn up, and not the generality of Sinhalese. Apparently when faced with police attacks, the JVP-ers in Colombo as well as Trincomalee have been known to persuade Tamils to go to the back. This gets 2 spins – from the Rajapaksa side that the GotaGoGama leaders are anti-Tamil; and from the GotaGoGama leaders that they chased Tamils to the back fearing grievous charges from the police upon finding Tamil demonstrators who usually have no protection from the state.
Anglicans and Tamil Aspirations
I will hold off expressing an opinion on whether GotaGoGama is sympathetic to Tamil needs because in the Anglican Church our members are as liberal as they come; yet, I see suspicious signs that the Church is being forced to fall into the communalist pan-Sinhalese line that anything in Sri Lanka must be Sinhalese.
Many see the ongoing efforts at making the Church of Ceylon the Anglican Province of Sri Lanka as carrying forward that communalist theme. Moratuwa-Galle as proposed will be a new diocese. Accordingly, the two existing dioceses, the proposed new diocese and the Archbishop of the Province will all 4 be Sinhalese. Tamil space will be highly restricted because all the money is in Colombo. The church with no good reason except for having an archbishop has set the church on a path against Tamil aspirations for devolved government. Like in all communalist projects, even as power is concentrated in Sinhalese hands, it is said by the leaders of the Church that we Tamils can have our own bishops and join the Church of South India! That is like what the communalists say – if you do not like to accept our hegemony, go home to India. The truth is that a church finance committee study concluded that Jaffna and Batticaloa do not have the money to sustain a bishop. Already we see the CSI is selling off properties and priests not being paid their pensions. From the rich Colombo Diocese (a good part of whose money was contributed by Tamils), we have to move to the Jaffna Diocese of the CSI that cannot pay pensions. The church seems to encourage Tamil Eelam as if getting rid of an inconvenient nuisance in its Tamil members.
Returning to the point, will the GotaGOGama folk support Tamil aspirations when even the Anglican Church does not understand them? No Christian clergymen, RC or Non-RC, has spoken up for disappeared Tamil priests. My former parish priest, Fr. Gnanakarunyan, is bitter that when he was arrested and tortured under the PTA, the liberal Anglican Church kept quiet.
When Gotabaya promised impunity for killer-soldiers and seemed to be gaining electoral ground, the opposition SJB also joined the bandwagon. Ranil Wickremesinghe who took on the liberal mantle by supporting women’s rights, sabotaged devolution by passing a flawed Provincial Council Bill that cannot be implemented, and then dragged his feet over correcting the mistakes. This prevented Provincial Councils from functioning and put us Tamils under centre-appointed governors.
Ranil Wickremesinghe and Devolution
At present the Northern Governor is threatening to dissolve the Jaffna Municipal Council because it will not allow the Jaffna vihara effectively to take over the Ariyakulam pond for the use of Buddhist pilgrims. Such dissolution would be totally illegal, but the Governor is in correspondence with the Election Commission for how the dissolution may be effected. That is how much power we Tamils have. As in 2000 when Chandrika Kumaratunga attempted constitutional Reform, Ranil sabotaged it. He has consistently been against Tamil aspirations but manages a liberal visage.
The youth in GotaGoGama want Ranil also to go. Let me extract from my Article in The Sunday Observer (17 Sept. 2000):
In July 1983, a second batch of Tamil political prisoners had just been massacred at Welikade, bringing the total murdered in prison in 2 days to 53. President JR Jayewardene was very upset that he was being seen by the whole world as a murderer. Sinha Ratnatunga, a senior journalist, describes the cabinet discussion that followed on 27 July 1983 (Politics of Terrorism: The Sri Lanka Experience, Belconnen, Aust: 1988, p. 30). JR wanted the remaining prisoners transferred to Jaffna for their safety. And Ranil Wickremesinghe, joined by Lalith Athulathmudali, protested saying “the Sinhalese would be further infuriated”! It seems he would rather have seen the remaining prisoners also massacred.
Most revealing of his mindset is the Ceylon Daily News article of August 12, 1983, where, after inspecting the gutted Tamil factories from the riots,
he blames the SLFP for wiping out Sinhalese businessmen and handing over all business to non-Sinhalese. He specially mentions Indians and Ceylon Tamils in the retail trade. Like the prison massacre, he whitewashes the episode by saying that the Tamils having their establishments burnt down is nothing compared to what the SLFP had done to “the Sinhala entrepreneur by the Bandaranaikes since 1956.” Given the immediate background of the riots, he was seemingly trying to get credit for wiping out Tamil businesses and thereby righting what he projected as a wrong done to Sinhalese traders by the Bandaranaikes. Keep in mind that, appearing in The Daily News [when he was a minister], these news items were not to sully his name but to promote him. He was acting the Sinhalese hero and what he was saying and doing was meant to be complimentary.
The Weekend Express of 9 Sept. 2000 gives the letter of December 1999 to Ranil by 5 “eminent” UNP academics, Professors S.A. Kulasooriya, G.H. Peiris, D.T.B. Tennekoon, J.S.H.Q. Perera and K.M. de Silva, who were totally against any devolution of powers to the Tamil regions. They write to Ranil advising him strategically to cooperate with the President [Kumaratunga] in passing the new constitution. In their view, the President is not serious about the constitution and when the UNP offers to cooperate and the constitution moves forward, she would get into trouble with the Sinhalese-Buddhist electorate while the UNP would gain Tamil votes. And it was on this advice that Ranil agreed to cooperate and when he found that the bill was really going through Parliament, he [panicked and] withdrew his support.
Are there then truly liberal Sinhalese? If there are, they are useless for not speaking up.
Why Most Tamils do not join GotaGoGama
Very recently a UNP leader asked a TNA leader why the Tamils will not join the GotaGoGama protests to make it take its hold in all 25 districts. The TNA leader had replied, paraphrasing him, “When we were together in the Yahapalanaya period, we urged you to settle Tamil grievances. You did nothing. You now want us to ease the country’s finances by getting diaspora Tamils to invest. But we have nothing to show them to encourage a common future in Sri Lanka. We will be blasted if we urge investments here by Tamils abroad.”
The JVP is calling back its cadre abroad to return. And they are returning. When the OLs finish on 5 June, the country will be down to its knees, but without Tamil participation.
Abandoning Sri Lanka?
Today many families are opting to go abroad by any illegal means. I enjoyed a YouTube musical production: “Woman, Let’s go to Australia.” The husband wants to migrate to Australia illegally. The wife tells him to stay on and live happily with relations. So they stay. I identified with the wife until at the end I saw it was a production by Customs and Border Protection – Australia.
If we set aside our emotions, we must admit that those of us who migrated abroad are “doing well.” A young engineer whom I knew as a boy at Colombo Hindu College thanked his father for going illegally to Canada. He says he would never have entered a good professional programme in the university here, but there all of them are in the best professional schools. There our people get into parliament whereas here we are unlikely to be elected outside the North and East. Even in the North-East we have no PC Elections to contest.
A woman who returned to Sri Lanka is swearing at the locals after her land was sold to her once and then again to others. Relations of mine are in the same plight. She finds a gang of people doing this.
She swears that all the good people have gone and even many priests here are thieves. She is a Roman Catholic who discovered that the priests were stealing. She then began sponsoring Anglican children because her grandmother was Anglican, and discovered that the funds she sent were never used as she intended, and one girl she sponsored already had a second sponsor. Her numerous complaints to Jaffna’s Anglican Archdeacon then were never replied.
If the Bishop of Colombo is interested in a clean-up, I can get him her emails to the then Archdeacon. Bishop Dushantha Rodrigo supposedly told Panini Edirisinhe regarding illegal elections at St. Thomas’ that if he hands over a job to a priest who mismanages the task, he can do nothing about it. In that case, do we want a Bishop? Is that attitude not what gives priests a free hand to mismanage and embezzle funds in the name of the Church?
If I set aside my ideological bent to be politically correct, I need to admit that a lot of what the Roman Catholic Christian lady says about people left behind in Sri Lanka is true. It is true of the Sinhalese too, judging by the horrid people they elect.
People who decry going abroad point out that there are murders, drug addictions, and exogamous marriages when we migrate. But then a lot more of it is true here. There are many murders and robberies in Jaffna, much more than I have seen among Tamils abroad. Indeed, exogamy in children is easier to handle there than here because here it goes with the idea of abandoning your community and consorting with the enemy. Marrying into other communities is not seen as betraying one’s own community as marrying a Sinhalese is.
We need to rethink who we really are, and where we truly belong. I was sure we belong here but no longer so. My children are in the US after an upbringing here. I am wondering whether to encourage them to come back or to put their all into making life there a success. From there they are able to help people here. But here, will they become part of the problem?
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