A low key New Year to mirror troubled times

THE Sinhala and Hindu New Year on April 13 and 14 are annually celebrated on a grand scale by a majority of Sri Lankans — Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. But, this time around celebrations will be on a low key.


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Published: Tue 12 Apr 2005, 10:18 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:10 PM

Most people from the two communities are in no mood to celebrate as many have lost a family member, a relative or friend in the December 26 tsunami tragedy that hit the largely Sinhala Buddhist coast down South and the Tamil-dominated coast in the North-East. (In the East, it was the Muslims who were the most affected in terms of deaths as well as displaced).

In fact, the Gregorian calendar New Year on January 1 this year dawned without the usual crackers and fireworks that mark these festivities as a nation was in mourning.

A majority of the over million displaced people still live in refugee camps, temporary abodes like tents or among their relatives dampening any possible celebration this year. The New Year however will be marked with religious rites in temples and kovils. Culturally, the two main communities worship in the same Hindu temples. Though Buddhism is a non-theistic philosophy, popular Buddhism in Sri Lanka has seen many adherents worship in kovils.

Catholics from both Sinhala and Tamil communities usually visit their Buddhist and Hindu friends to celebrate with them over the New Year weekend but this year there would be little celebrations.

During this festive season, several politicians from the ruling party and even the chief opposition go on holidays overseas. In fact, some two-dozen lawmakers have already taken wings to several countries including Germany, Japan, Australia and Turkey on the so-called tsunami early warning system study tours sans any officials. The tragedy has helped them avail themselves of a free holiday.

The entire week ahead will be a dead week as far as official business is concerned. The proposed joint mechanism between the government and the LTTE to enable international assistance for reconstruction of six districts in the north-east hit by the tsunami disaster is yet to be finalised between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The government has ostensibly maintained that the delay for finalising the joint structure was because top leaders of the LTTE were on a prolonged tour of Europe. The LTTE however maintains that the JVP, a key ally in the ruling Freedom Alliance is the main obstacle.

So, on the one hand you have the LTTE not willing to sufficiently compromise and on the other you have the JVP against such a structure even though President Chandrika Kumaratunga who leads the governing Sri Lanka Freedom Party had agreed in principle to such a structure.

In fact, the first anniversary of the alliance government was marked early this month with little or nothing to brag about in terms of achievement. Granting jobs to thousands of unemployed Sinhala graduates appears to be the only achievement despite a string of promises. Kumaratunga dismissed the previous two-year old United National Front government in keeping with her presidential powers.

The President has the power to dissolve Parliament after it completes a year even though the government is technically on a six-year term. Even though the JVP has become a thorn in her flesh, Kumaratunga is unable to use this power she has so lavishly used before, as there is division even within her own SLFP.

Her loyalist Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera who has relentlessly worked against the UNF appears to be supportive of the JVP. It was he and a couple of others who were largely responsible for the marriage between the SLFP and the JVP.

Last week Kumaratunga bypassed Samaraweera and sacked the Editorial Director of the state-owned Lake House newspaper group and asked another of her trusted ministers Sarath Amunugama to run the newspaper group that, in recent times, was giving the JVP much coverage at the expense of reporting the government’s post-tsunami reconstruction work.

There is a section of the SLFP strongly committed to continuing the alliance with the JVP which is blocking the President who is keen to resolve the ethnic conflict.

Kumaratunga claims she has a mandate to do so given to her at the 1999 presidential election and a month ago said 80 per cent of the country (including the opposition UNF) supported a federal solution to the ethnic conflict. The LTTE pulled out of peace talks in April 2003 demanding an interim administration for the north and east as a condition to return to the negotiating table.

But the JVP says the April 2004 Freedom Alliance manifesto did not give her the authority to negotiate an interim administration for the country’s North and East.

But the immediate issue is not the interim administration but the joint mechanism for tsunami reconstruction in the affected districts of the North and East. This has been necessitated after the natural disaster that was not envisaged when the alliance came to power in April 2004 or for that matter when it was formed in January that year.

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