Even by the undemanding standards of the South Asian region, the history of independent Sri Lanka is a story of missed opportunities. That the battle for the soul of the Tamil community is still being fought half a century after the island nation gained its independence is an adequate commentary on the failure of the majority Sinhalese and their leadership. The Seventies witnessed an explosion of ideological extremism, stoked apparently by external forces exploiting Cold War logic. Through political consensus the country managed to come to terms with the outbreak. That consensus was conspiceously lacking when the ethnic question erupted. For if only the wisdom and vision needed to mould a multiethnic, multiracial society had been demonstrated in the past two decades, today's golden jubilee celebrations would not be taking place in the shadow of militant Tamil violence, symbolized by the forced shifting of the venue from the historic Kandy to the capital Colombo. The right of a minority to a fair degree of freedom and the right of a majority not to be shackled by a minority have for centuries been difficult to reconcile. Way of striking the required balance, and achieved conciliation and peace. Where sections of a population have failed to show this tolerance and understanding, the society has suffered.
Much of the blame Sri Lanka's ethnic trauma of the past 15 years must rest on the Sinhalese leadership on both sides of the political spectrum. The ethnic panic that gripped the Tamil community in the early Eighties giving birth to militancy in a people considered docile till then --- was the result of the programmes unleashed by sections of the majority community. It is an indisputable reality that when it came to Tamil-bashing in this period, the Sinhalese majority could easily transcend the political barrier. But, more than the Sri Lanka Freedom Party of Ms. Chandika Kumaratunga's parents and others, it was the United National Party which fed the fires of chauvinism. The systematic targeting of the Tamil community drove it to desperation and into militancy. The voice of the Tamil moderates, loud and ready to be heard, was stifled through various acts of betrayal. In the past three years, the People's Alliance Government of Ms. Kumaratunga has been bravely attempting to find a solution through a combination of political and military initiatives. The verdict in the civic election held last week in the peninsula was an endorsement of Colombo's effort and a clear though enfeebled appeal for an end of the violence and killings that have bled the Tamil society.
The Colombo Government has been moving in several directions while continuing its military offensive. Its hard and painful decision to ban the country's most dreaded militant outfit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, will be received with sympathy and understanding in this country. Deciding to shut out the LTTE from the long-drawn process of finding a political solution to the ethnic problem was a difficult option. Through its betrayals, the fascist outfit has forfeited the Tamil community's trust and faith, though it will be no one's belief that the ban will spell the end of the Tigers. The Sri Lankan Government has appealed to Britain and some of the European nations to come down hard on LTTE sympathizers active in collecting money and procuring arms. The Colombo ban came after the Tigers gave one more demonstration of their notorious ability to breach security. But till an enduring solution to the ethnic problem is found through constitutional and legal safeguards for the just rights of the Tamil-c militancy will continue to have its appeal. With the moderate Tamil leadership coming back on stage through the local elections, it is now up to the leaders of the Sinhala majority to show the vision needed for securing ethnic peace so that the beautiful island nation can fulfil its potential.
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