For democracy in Sri Lanka

Posted on June 10, 2010 | View 592

No peace dividend without that

New Delhi must press upon visiting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapksa the importance of not just honouring his own past commitments on devolving political power to the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka but also of rapidly dispensing with the war-time regime of curtailed democratic rights including freedom of the press in the island nation.

Democracy is desirable not just as a political virtue in its own right, but also as the surest way of realising the peace dividend that the people of Sri Lanka expect their new government, led by Mr Rajapaksa, to deliver. The civil war of three decades has stunted Sri Lanka's economic progress, aborting the potential of the most developed human resources in South Asia.

To realise that potential now, Sri Lanka needs to invest in physical infrastructure, build market institutions that mesh with their global counterparts, renew its appeal as a great tourism destination and set in motion the processes that can produce a viable business process outsourcing industry, drawing on the country's sizeable population of educated people who are fluent in English. India is of immediate, significant relevance on all these counts.

New Delhi must make it clear that the flows of capital, knowhow and tourists would depend on a favourable political climate in the country. And that, in turn, depends on creating a democratic culture that allows market institutions to work and respects the rights of the island nation's minorities.
Indian politicians, particularly those from Tamil Nadu, should refrain from behaving as if the Lankan Tamils were a domestic concern. The Tigers' exit paves for a Sri Lankan Tamil political grouping that would resolutely champion the Tamils' political and cultural rights but stop short of demanding a separate state. Any unjust peace wrought by brutal force tends to turn brittle, very fast.

So, it would be in the interest of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, as whose champion Mr Rajapaksa has emerged, to eschew triumphal contempt for past commitments on political devolution for a pragmatic approach to building a democratic, inclusive polity.

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