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Sunday, 24 August 2014

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'Creating harmony is paramount' - Prof. Rohan Gunaratna

Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, is an international terrorism expert and Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, which is one of the largest counter-terrorism research and training centres in the world. Prof. Gunaratna in a special lecture delivered under the title, "India under Modi: A turning point in Indo-Lanka relations" organised by the Sri Lanka Parliamentary Journalists' Association at the Parliamentary Complex on Wednesday, outlined the impact of new Indian Premier Modi's leadership on Indo-Lanka relations and the key initiatives to be adopted to take Sri Lanka forward in this post-conflict era.

Prof. Gunaratna said if we are to have a stable country, we should ensure harmony. The phase of fighting against terrorists is over. The phase of living in harmony and creating harmony is paramount. Creating harmony is not only the Government's duty. It is a duty of all such as media organisations, religious institutions, educational institutions and Parliament.

We should get to know each others' cultures, traditions and customs and pay respect but entertain no prejudice or suspicion. This is a new vision.

He said those who are campaigning on the basis of religion and ethnicity are the worst politicians in the country. We should end ethnic and religious politics. Because this is what has taken Sri Lanka back to 30 years. We have ended the byproduct of ethnic and religious politics, which is terrorism. Terrorism is the vicious byproduct of extremism. In future, if we are going to create a stable Sri Lanka, we should create educational, media and political structures where we don't encourage ethnic and religious politics. "I am an old boy of Ananda College, Colombo. I myself had constantly advocated that we need to have at least a small number of Tamil and Muslim students. I studied under a Tamil and a Muslim teacher. So I didn't have that prejudice. Because the prejudice leads to suspicion and suspicion in turn leads to anger. Anger leads to misunderstanding and then to protests and riots."

What is the TNA doing right now? They are speaking about Tamil nationalism. Some Sinhala political parties are also speaking about Sinhala nationalism. We have to get rid of harping on Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim nationalism.

This is a cancer in our society. Let us talk about Sri Lankan nationalism. My thinking is that we should not encourage any longer ethnic and religious politics. This is what had really destroyed our nation. Otherwise, we would have maintained the status of just being next to Japan. We cannot have political parties based on ethnicity and religion. It has destroyed our country. India is organized on the basis of ethno-linguistic states. But Sri Lanka is too small to do that. Sri Lankan model should be that everyone should be able to live anywhere preserving their own cultural and ethnic identity. The state itself should not play a role in encouraging those divisions.

We must understand that the biggest damage that the LTTE did in the last 30 years was not killing the people or destroying the physical infrastructure. The greatest damage that the LTTE did was spreading an ideology of prejudice and suspicion, not to trust Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. This was the message given by the LTTE. So we have to build harmony centres in every district and harmony clubs in every school. We should make the Tamils and Muslims feel that they are equal to the Sinhalese and there is no distinction between Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. If we can do that, we don't have to create separate regions for Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. We are a small country.

More than 50 percent of the Colombo population are Muslims and Tamils. He said it was a monumental mistake that the Sri Lankan Government made at the end of the war against terrorists by permitting those who have taken the oath of allegiance to Prabhakaran, to enter Parliament and use the political platform. Because their separatist ideas are still remain very much intact. My personal view is that anyone who has been a member of a terrorist group or from a terrorist family should not be allowed to come into mainstream politics.

It is a huge mistake. We should have a law in this country to prevent that. Moderate Tamil Leaders who were not involved in terrorist activities should be given the opportunity to engage in politics and enter Parliament. Today terrorist ideology is being spread only by a few political leaders. That is an offence. Sri Lankan Government should prosecute anyone who is spreading terrorist ideology. If anyone causes ethnic or religious prejudice among people, it will eventually lead to violence.

"To my knowledge there is no law in Sri Lanka that prevents anyone who was a member of a group that had engaged in terrorism from entering mainstream politics. Otherwise, I am sure, the JVP could also not have entered mainstream politics. But this is a law that Sri Lanka should reflect and debate in Parliament. Because that will be a deterrent to those engaged in violence. We have seen those engaged in terrorism have a certain ideology. If we give them a political platform, they will be able to influence the general population. The whole purpose that we got rid of one terrorist group is to ensure that their influence does not rebound."

Today the 13th Amendment itself is irrelevant. It was enacted to facilitate the terrorist groups like LTTE to enter mainstream politics which the LTTE didn't do. But the EPRLF, EROS, PLOTE and TELO entered into the mainstream politics. The Indian model should never be imposed on Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan model should be a homegrown one. The Indian model is such that it has divided India into ethno-linguistic states. That is not conducive to us, because we are a very small country. We can't divide this country based on ethnic and religious grounds. Indian model is good for India. We should have our homegrown solution. We should not copy India. India is a great power. But we have our own history and a great pride. So we should develop our own model. I believe this is the best time for us to reflect on these aspects.

I believe if it is not for India's cooperation, Sri Lanka could have never dismantled the LTTE in May, 2009.

In the terminal phase of the fight against the LTTE, we saw India didn't intervene to stop Sri Lanka's military advance to defeat the LTTE. That was India's contribution at that time. Because New Delhi was very much influenced by the politics in Tamil Nadu. But the intelligent politicians of India and the bureaucracy didn't not intervene.

That is why the LTTE could be defeated, because the Indian bureaucracy knows that the LTTE is a long term threat not only to the stability and security of Sri Lanka but also to India.

In fact, Modi is the first Indian Leader to be a Prime Minister who was born in post-independent India. All the other Leaders who came to power were born before the Independence. So Modi is a true son of independent India. He is not looking at issues merely through political and a security lens. He has a third eye which is the economic lens. Sri Lankan political Leaders also should do that.

"I believe India will move towards harmony and prosperity under Prime Minister Modi. He advocates regionalism. In fact, he is the first Indian Leader who is truly committed to regionalism. The other Indian Leaders didn't, because the LTTE killed the last of the strongest Indian Leader Rajiv Gandhi, the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru. The successive Indian Leaders were weak and we have seen the India's position. Sri Lanka should be mindful of three things. One is superpower politics. Second is geopolitics and third is domestic politics in Tamil Nadu. In the past, India's attitude towards Sri Lanka was driven by these three considerations."Modi is a different leader. He invited the South Asian leaders. He first visited Bhutan and Nepal. He will visit Sri Lanka as well. He is going to visit all the countries in the region. He is not going to have the same suspicion the other Indian Leaders had on Pakistan and China.

I believe he is the best Leader to resolve the geopolitical and geo-strategic disputes that have aggravated and the friendship that could have existed in SAARC. If the regional Leaders can cooperate, the SAARC under Modi will change into a powerhouse. We have the potential to do that. European Union and ASEAN have become a powerhouse. So SAARC can do so. I hope the other Leaders of this region will cooperate with him.

He has a third eye. He is not looking at the world through security and political lens. He is looking at the world through economic lens. This is what our political parties should also do.

With Modi coming to power he has made a very important statement that India's future foreign policy will not be governed by Tamil Nadu politics. The political compulsion in Tamil Nadu will not influence the foreign policy of India. Modi is a very strong Indian Leader. How should Sri Lanka conduct itself in terms of foreign policy? We have pursued a policy of friendship to all and enmity to none. This policy should continue. But Sri Lanka should establish a special relationship with India specially under Modi. Why is that so important? Traditionally Sri Lanka's friendship to defeat the LTTE in the first phase was with the West. But this ended in great tragedy for Sri Lanka, because India itself was under the Soviet influence. Today we have to conduct our foreign policy in a very intelligent way.

Part of that is not only strengthening relationship with New Delhi but building equally a friendly relationship with Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu is as important as New Delhi. Some Sri Lankans including some of our leaders are very happy that Prime Minister Modi has kept Tamil Nadu in its place. But it is important for us to rebuild our relationship with DMK and AIADMK, two main parties in South India. In addition, we should also rebuild our relationship with smaller political organizations that have had a very negative perception on Sri Lanka.

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