A hard-hitting autopsy of post-war Sri Lanka (Review)

Book: Long War, Cold Peace: Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka; Author: Dayan Jayatilleka; Publisher: Vijitha Yapa Publications, Pages 508; Price: SL Rs.1,490.

In Sri Lanka, where President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s regime seems determined to undo key aspects of a 1987 pact with India touching upon the critical area of devolution of power, one would need courage - and deep political conviction - to write the book Dayan Jayatilleka has written. The so-called Tamil nationalists might dub him a closet man of the Sri Lankan state for having served it faithfully in his previous capacity as Colombo`s envoy to the UN in Geneva at the height of the war. But that exposure probably only redoubled his understanding of what is good for Sri Lanka, where the Tamil Tigers` rout in 2009 hasn`t led, unfortunately, to a comprehensive peace most people would have desired.

What kind of a political framework is good for Sri Lanka? The debate rages on. There are many shades of opinion across the island nation, across its ethnic and religious divide. Should Sri Lanka be a Sinhalese/Buddhist-dominated society politically, even if it claims not to be one? Should it not be a land where different religions and ethnic groups enjoy equal rights -- and respect one another? Is provincial autonomy a stepping stone to separation? Can the bloodied ethnic war of over a quarter century be expected to heal wounds dramatically, now that the Tigers are history? Can those Tamils, who served as the LTTE`s political arm be trusted to play a role in mainstream Sri Lanka? Can the situation improve? Will the wounds heal? If yes, when?

A political activist-turned-academic-turned-political scientist, Dayan, as most of us have known him, brings together some of his powerful published writings with fresh candor to answer a string of questions related to the now vanquished LTTE, the war it waged, the counter war, and the politics of the Rajapaksa regime. It is important, he says, to learn the lessons of the conflict to prevent a recurrence. Sadly, as a nation, he says, "we have almost ceased to analyse, to think".

The good thing about the book is that it does not follow a chronological order to relate the Sri Lanka agony - from 1983, the earlier period, the post-war scenario, the international dimension et al. Dayan is loud and clear. We know where he stands. A Marxist not at home with Sri Lanka`s (fragmented) Left, he laments that his country never had a Congress party or a "political leadership (read Nehru) that was westernized in cultural terms, modernist, while not being pro-Western in political terms".

Historically, Dayan tells us, this is the best time to effect a political reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamils, "for a moderate compromise". Unlike a section of his compatriots, Dayan underlines the importance of paying heed to Sri Lanka`s friends, "local and foreign". Having won the war, Colombo can still lose the peace, he warns, if it fails to show generosity, flexibility, enlightenment and wisdom.

Having dealt with 193 countries in Geneva, he knows what the world wants: that Sri Lankan Tamils deserve and require equal rights. Dayan is all for a "full (even) if graduated implementation" of the India-backed 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution that would ensure "the fullest possible devolution of powers" to provinces -- and to Tamils. "Long War, Cold Peace" could not have come out at a better time. Not everyone will agree with his autopsy. But no one will be able to ignore it. Read it, now!

IANS

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