Sri Lanka needs a solution to the ethnic question, home-grown or otherwise, to accommodate the just demands and aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people within the framework of the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, said here on Sunday.
“We do not want a solution imposed from outside. But there must be a solution. It does not matter whether it’s a home grown solution or whether you have been influenced by ideas from abroad,” he said. “But you must have a solution when the problem has been of such long standing. This is something we eagerly look forward to in the present situation in Sri Lanka.” While emphasising the need for an enduring political solution, Mr. Ram cited a famous statement attributed to the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is white or black as long as it catches mice.”
Speaking on ‘India and Sri Lanka: The Emerging Future’ at a meeting organised by the Sri Lanka-India Society in Colombo, he asserted that there was a new opportunity to work out a Sinhala political consensus. Mr. Ram said that if a common minimum programme could be worked out by the two big parties – the SLFP and the UNP – on the scope and content of devolution in Tamil areas in the North and the East, then, it would be a genuine breakthrough. “I am personally confident that Sri Lanka will get there,” he said.
Drawing a parallel with the Indian experience in managing the hopes and aspirations of diverse peoples, he said that the Indian Constitution does not mention the word “federal” anywhere. “Today States [in the Indian Union] are extremely strong. With single party rule becoming virtually extinct at the Centre in India, States have become more demanding, more assertive, often irrepressible, and more resourceful. Some kind of rebalancing has taken place and we journalists call it political federalism,” he said.
TNA, a credible and leading force
After the recent local body elections, the Tamil National Alliance has emerged not just as a credible force, but as the leading force, he commented, adding that he looked forward to the structured dialogue mechanism that had been put in place. “The President [of Sri Lanka] and the others did a commendable job, reaching out to the TNA, recognising their credibility and the expectations are very, very high when they resume their talks [with the government]… This is a matter of supreme national importance and anyone who underestimates this will be making a grievous mistake,” he said.
Reviewing India-Sri Lanka relations, Mr. Ram commented that it was a matter of great satisfaction that in both countries post-1993, “the process of building tension-free and contention-free bilateral relations on the basis of close consultation and complete political trust, with a strong economic, cultural, and people-to-people content had won support across political divides and become consistent government policy virtually regardless of the party or leader in power.” He noted that the solidity and strength of the high-level political relationship were tested during the final stage of the military operations in the North and during the end game played out in the Wanni in 2008-2009 but “fringe elements in India advocating the secessionist cause” found that they could not derail the relationship.
Speaking about the India-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987, Mr. Ram observed that “if that Accord, controversial and divisive in its time, has substantive content, values, and lessons to communicate to us today” and “that conceptual framework for the resolution of Sri Lanka’s principal national question is more or less the working model for those who are seeking to resolve it within the island state’s unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.”
The Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ashok K. Kantha, said that there is expectation in India that the Sri Lankan leadership, which put an end to the armed conflict, would work towards a genuine political settlement and facilitate national reconciliation. “As we seek a comprehensive all-round engagement with Sri Lanka, as we seek to upgrade our ties with Sri Lanka, in all its dimensions, whether economic, political, security, cultural, intellectual, academic, at the same time, it is important that some of the concerns and apprehensions [expressed during the debate on Sri Lanka in the Indian parliament] must be addressed,” he said. “A strong, united and prosperous Sri Lanka is in India’s interest,” he added
The relationship between the two countries was being strengthened by “robust, multi-dimensional linkages,” he said and cited the examples of economic and security linkages between India and Sri Lanka.
Mr. Kantha said that the security interests of India and Sri Lanka were also intertwined. “We have sought to upgrade our defence engagement in the recent past, especially after the conclusion of the armed conflict,” he added.