A hardline Nationalist’s sober suggestion

A welcome suggestion

The proposal made by Southern Province Governor Hemakumara Nanayakkara for a common commemoration day where ALL those who died during the 30 year war was remembered no doubt would be welcomed by moderates across the ethnic divide. The Governor was responding to a call by Northern Provincial Councillor M.K. Sivajilingam to commemorate “Great Heroes Day” or Mahaveerar Day, a practise followed by slain LTTE leader Prabhakaran to commemorate dead members of his outfit.

Nanayakkrara told journalists at a media briefing that all sides lost their loved ones during the war. “Whether it were soldiers, civilians or LTTE combatants, lives were lost and people can commemorate the dead”, the Governor said.

Coming from Nanayakkara, who was at one time a hard line nationalist, it is hoped, will have a sobering effect on those with a similar bent to look at things from a different perspective and be accommodating.

Sivajilingam’s bone of contention was that if the JVP has reserved a day in the year to commemorate their dead, why not for the LTTE. But as is always been pointed out, the LTTE is still a proscribed organisation while the ban against the JVP was lifted a long time ago with the outfit today even represented in parliament. But, now that the Governor has been forthright in this connection, it is worthwhile for the authorities to ponder on this question and be a bit more liberal. After all, not all the LTTE combatants were volunteers. A sizable segment among its cadres were conscripted and had to do the bidding of the leaders. Among the LTTE youth who were killed by the forces there would no doubt have been those who were similarly conscripted and sent to the battlefront as cannon fodder. A good many of them also died at the hands of the LTTE for straying from the path chosen for them. Hence there can be nothing wrong in permitting parents and relatives to commemorate their dead.

But there can be no question of marking the event under the tag “Mahaveerar” which implies the commemoration of Prabhakaran and his bloodthirsty band of terrorists. As stated by Minister D.M. Swaminathan; “If someone in your family has died, it is common to remember them. You can pray for their souls and that’s about it”. But the problem with persons like Sivajilingam is their desire to resurrect the memory of Prabhakaran under the guise of commemorating the dead. Here again is a parallel with the JVP whose “Martyrs Day” event is merely a cover to eulogise Rohana Wijeweera.

One could say that the JVP too, particularly during it second uprising, committed acts of barbarism. It not only killed, but even mutilated its victims who were tied to lamp posts. It went to extremes, where even Buddhists monks were beheaded. Countless number of innocent civilians, local government politicians, artistes and government ministers lost their lives at the hands of the outfit. The government too got into the act and paid the JVP with the same coin matching the barbarism it unleashed. Yet, it is today permitted to commemorate its “martyrs”, with all things forgotten. Perhaps Sivajilingam’s grouse may be based on this thinking.

Be that as it may, the present government did the right thing by toning down the war heroes commemoration event in the South. Instead, it has decided to have a commemoration of all the war victims, across the ethnic divide, on the lines suggested by the Southern Province Governor. Prior to that, the war heroes’ commemoration was used as a cover for the self aggrandizement of a few, while the real war heroes who fought it out on the battlefield were relegated to the background. The event also had all the ingredients of triumphalism where a particular ethnic group was made to feel a vanquished race. Hence the change in tone is to be welcomed. It will also assist in the reconciliation effort that is now being pursued in earnest.

Probe this planned bus strike

A section of the private bus operators are poised to strike, in protest against the proposed minimum fine hike to Rs. 2,500 and the 25,000 to be fined for specific road offences, it is reported. However President of the Private Bus Owners’ Association Gemunu Wijeratne said his Association has refused to join the strike since the fines have yet to be approved by parliament. The whole affair, on the face of it, appears to be a political battle between rival bus unions. It is well known that Gemunu Wijeratne is a sympathiser of the government and even contested the 2010 general election from the UNP, albeit unsuccessfully. The bus associations which are planning the strike are mostly based in the Southern Province from where the SLFP, or Joint Opposition, derives its support. Earlier too the battle between the two factions took on political overtones with Gemunu coming for some heavy flak from the rival unions. Hence the government should investigate if the unions planning the strike are backed by a political grouping and take appropriate action if that be the case. The travelling public, on no account, should be made to suffer due to political rivalry by private bus operators.