High Commission of Sri Lanka in India

India - Sri lanka Relations
Address by President Rajapaksa at the Leadership Summit, October 13, 2007 PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Official Documents - India - Sri lanka Relations

Mr. Chairman,
Hon. Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests
It was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to address the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. I am honoured to join the long line of distinguished persons who have been here before me.  I note that among those who addressed the very first Summit and set the tone for it  was Sri Lanka's former Foreign Minister, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar a man of great talent, scholar of repute, diplomat without peer and a great humanitarian - yet another victim of a terrorist bullet. It is another form of the same bullet that took the life of Shri Rajiv Gandhi, at the height of his political career. These are stark reminders of the menace of terrorism confronting democracies like India and Sri Lanka. 
The initiative of the Hindustan Times in organizing this event is indeed commendable. As a print media leader with a tradition of commitment to truth and progress from colonial times to the present, the Hindustan Times remains a proud and courageous media icon of India today. This Summit is a creative and practical forum to reflect on the challenges for the future, so that the stakeholders can try and shape that future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is little doubt that India's successful experiment with democracy stands out in this respect. As important is India's embrace of the free markets, all underpinned by millennia of tradition.
When one considers India's potential in shaping the future one cannot ignore the seminal contributions India has made in the past as a cradle of civilization. What the future holds for India will never be far removed from that great past. The land that gave the world  the Bhagawat Geeta, the noble teachings of the Buddha,   that introduced the zero revolutionizing  scientific thought, that gave us the greatest practitioner of non-violence in modern times - Mahatma Gandhi, and led the way in defeating colonialism - such a land cannot be removed from its heritage despite the vast progress that it has achieved today.
The modern cities that change our perception of India, the exciting advances in technology, the daring spurt in industry the strides in medical research  the rapid spread of education all these have strong links with its past. Democracy, pluralism, tolerance and the rule of law, the timeless and enduring values that are the hallmarks of India past and present will continue into the future of India as well. As a fellow South Asian democracy Sri Lanka has an abiding interest in, and commitment to supporting and promoting such a dynamic and vibrant India that espouses those common values. 

From a Sri Lankan perspective one is inevitably drawn to reflect on the role of Buddhism in the fashioning of the Sri Lankan social and cultural traditions, as well as on the strong cultural and religious links that have been forged between our two nations through the span of the Buddhist era of two thousand five hundred and fifty one years. Our two countries also pride themselves in the rich heritage of religious and ethnic tolerance and the rich diversity of multi-cultural societies, despite the challenges of terrorism and security concerns. Today our common bonds are strengthened by our common trust in democracy.

Personally, Buddhism was my inspiration. I grew up in the city without losing my links with the village where most Sri Lankans live, as it is in India too. As the saying goes, the boy in me came out of the village but the village remained in the boy. In my own work today I am guided by the admonition of Arahat Mahinda son of India's greatest Emperor Dharmashoka who brought Buddhism to my country to King Devanampiyatissa in the 2nd century BC that a ruler is only a provisional custodian  of one's territory - a custodian of the land the environment and all living beings that is under one's care.
When we try to look at the India that can be it would be useful to look at the paths our two countries have taken since independence, with Sri Lanka too approaching its sixtieth anniversary of freedom in a few months from today. If we take the two key areas, the economy and governance one can see striking similarities in the economic domain and some important contrasts in that of governance. In fashioning our economies both countries initially adopted a system of State command and control of economic approaches. This gave the State the major role in defining and driving development. Economic liberalization took place in Sri Lanka in 1978 while India delayed its move to an open economy till much later, in 1990.
In the sphere of governance one sees an important divergence. Commenting on "India at sixty" Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said and (I quote) "The success of the Indian experiment in pursuing economic development, social and political empowerment within the framework of a secular and democratic Constitution with respect for the rule of law and for fundamental human rights has earned for our country a special place in the community of nations (unquote).
In Sri Lanka, which remains a vibrant democracy, we lacked the advantage of a Constitution drawn up by our own people in keeping with our own ideals of freedom and governance.  We began with a Constitution bestowed upon us by our former colonial ruler. The absence of a home-spun system of governance is something we are seeking to address today.
We find that India has evolved her own model of governance. This is a uniquely Indian approach which has led to India being universally applauded for its profoundly democratic and pluralist governance structure. In this largest of democracies in the last two decades India has continued to take measures to ensure that the benefits of this growth reach the many who are in need. Addressing this growth divide will remain the biggest challenge faced by India. The real form and content of the India that can be, will be defined and understood by how well  India can enable those millions of her citizens to share the fruits of growth.

If I may be allowed to look at the Sri Lanka that can be, it is evident that we too need to correct a growth imbalance that tends to confine development to certain politically advantaged areas of the country. In addressing this we find it necessary to overcome the current threat of terrorism that is consuming so much of our energies and resources as it would in any other society too that is faced with such a daunting challenge.
Yet, our hopes of success in more even economic growth can be seen in the new development program we have launched in the Eastern Province that has finally been liberated from the forces of terror. This important achievement can pave the way for a speedy political solution curtailing terrorist  fund raising abroad and their illicit trafficking networks demonstrating to them that the way forward is to join the democratic mainstream in good faith.
Lord Curzon, in his farewell speech in 1905 after seven years as British administrator of India, said, and (I quote) "The one great fault of Englishmen in India is that we do not sufficiently look ahead. We are so much involved in the toil of the day that we leave the morrow to take care of itself. (unquote). The topic of this address is an indication that India, from the time of Independence and 60 years later is not saddled with the weakness of our common colonial ruler  that of not looking ahead.  
The India that can be must be a regaining of all the greatness beginning with the Indus Valley civilization and surging beyond that into the challenging possibilities that lie ahead. The future must be a marshalling of the forces of social and economic change for India's benefit. One can see a rapid spread in education, with a rise in its quality, and much better access to health for all. There will be faster, cheaper and more widespread communications in a country that already has over 200 million mobile phones, with its inherent dynamic for change, much easier access to information that will help make democracy more meaningful and the further opening up of global markets to India together with more foreign investment.
The might of population healthy economic growth and other indicators apart the speed and dynamism of growth will bring much greater responsibilities on the India of the future responsibilities that will flow from her new status as an economic power house and an influential geo-political entity. These are responsibilities that go beyond that of a developing country. Yet, it is necessary to draw relevant lessons from the trends we have seen in the major powers that dominated the last century.
There is no doubt that all of us in the region look at India for a future strong economic leadership that will benefit not only India but also the other countries in the region. India must, whilst stabilizing itself as an economic power house help the neighbouring countries too to become economically stable.  When I participated in the last SAARC meeting, I proposed that our region must go for a common currency. I wish to re-iterate on this aspect of our economic stability. 

The very strength that will underline India's future would be best served by the strengthening of regional cooperation and bilateral relations. Let us bear in mind that we are now in the Asian Century. Prior to 1840 Asia was the economic heart of the world. Asia is regaining its rightful place today. Asia has given to the world the founders of all great religions. Asia must ensure, as it urges economically that it is looked up to for true leadership in this century and beyond with a moral dominance beyond comparison.
India now stands on the threshold of a unique position of leadership in the Asian Century.  With her strength in people and democracy, and her leadership in economy and technology in the region, South Asia will increasingly look to India to position herself for more dynamic leadership of SAARC. India's neighbours will look forward to the sharing of her progress with them and to alleviate their concerns about instability in the region.
As it was cogently put forth by a senior Indian diplomat, the challenge for Indian diplomacy in this era of growing Indian stature and prosperity is to demonstrate that India is not a threat but an opportunity for her neighbours and the region. It is also pertinent to note that India has a unique responsibility to ensure that the entire region maintains peace without any outbreak of regional wars.
If there is a key lesson to be drawn from the experience of the past 60 years, it is that the "home grown" approach that is seen in the unique model of governance in India has served the country well in facing up to many of the challenges before it at the time of Independence and later. And, it is with our own "home-grown" solution that we seek to face up to Sri Lanka's own issues of governance including the conflict affecting the north of the country. A conflict which has been exploited by separatist forces who, through the use of unmitigated terror, pose a threat to India too.   The Sri Lankan Government is facing up to this terrorist challenge with increasing success today.
It is necessary for me to repeat here that while my Government remains determined to fight terrorism, we are equally committed to seeking a negotiated and sustainable solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. If those who carry arms against the State are willing to enter a process of genuine negotiation towards a peaceful and democratic solution, the government and the people will reciprocate. In this, it would not be out of place to look forward to understanding and assistance from our regional neighbours and friends, especially those with whom we share the strongest bonds throughout history. We will see in such understanding and assistance the true signs of emerging greatness.
It will be to a mature and understanding India that her neighbours will look to for leadership in the region. It will be a leadership that draws its strength from the common bonds of culture and co-existence. 

The India that can be is that which will face up to the challenges of the world today and in future, where its ancient wisdom and its new knowledge will help to establish new parameters for progress. The people of India more numerous than anytime in history with better education in better conditions of heath and more prosperous than anytime in the past will have to show the world that Asia can play the lead in making poverty  history.  
This brings me to the key emerging issue of the day, global warming and climate change. India, a land stretching from glaciers to scorched plains, will have to take a lead in addressing the deadly consequences of climate change; a land that is sun-drenched for most of the year must show the rest of Asia and the world how the energy of the Sun can be harnessed to benefit governments and people with the advances in science and technology. Similarly, the resources in the vast ocean around our countries need to be fully harnessed, for which India, I am sure, can provide leadership.
I am aware of the problems that developing countries face today with the threat of Climate Change. As I said at the United Nations last month, our countries need time and support for change after such a long period of being left behind in the development race in the colonial and post-colonial periods. We in South Asia must deliver on economic development to improve the lives of the millions of our people; that priority needs to be understood. Yet, we cannot be blind to the needs of the Earth and the needs of future generations.
India of tomorrow will I hope take a wider view of growth that takes into account the future of our globe of its glaciers oceans forests and all of its living beings. With the resources of science, technology and wealth available to it we are encouraged that India is exploring investment in green development hugely expanding opportunities for employment and bringing more wealth to the people. Such a lead could well be the defining spirit of the Asian Century.
The India of the future, with her knowledge, technology and resources will be looked to for solving the problem of adequate basic food supply that is coming to the fore, due to prevailing styles of development and investment; while Bollywood will captivate the world, the land that in the 1960s gave the world its cultural ambassadors in the "sitar and the tabla" will be asked to establish new standards of culture, bringing a fusion of its rich past with a promising future.
Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It may seem strange to stress on the maturity of a nation so seeped in history. Yet, we are looking at a nation forged through the struggle for Independence, when at the stroke of that midnight hour, as the father of modern India said 60 years ago India awoke to life and freedom. What I imagine today is of a truly mature India that understands well the sensitivities and aspirations of other countries, societies and cultures.Such learned maturity will see India take others along with her to progress.
Of course, we as neighbours should also know how to handle this mature lady in our midst. The time for playful relationships, if any, are over. India's own maturity will call for similar responses from everyone who deals with her; especially from her neighbours who will always have the most to do with her.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The experiences of India and Sri Lanka in the six decades since Independence lead us to the mature understanding that generalized and solely theoretical experiences do not work in practice. My vision is of an India that can never be separated from my vision for Sri Lanka. I look forward to both India and Sri Lanka progressing as self-confident societies  acquiring the capacity to imagine and apply policies that are best suited  to the needs of our people  our region  and humanity.
In conclusion, I must say that from ages past, even before the dawn of history, India and Sri Lanka were linked with bonds that have lasted to this day. In the India that I can imagine I see this bond being forged even stronger in facing up to the many challenges that we shall meet, compelled by our common history and emerging future.
May the Triple Gem Bless you.

Fourteenth Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Official Documents - India - Sri lanka Relations

Forging a Radical Centre : A Response to Extremism and Intolerance”


14th Lal Bahadur  Shastri Memorial Lecture

Delivered by

Hon. Mangala Samaraweera

 Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka


18th January 2007, New Delhi


The Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign affairs of Sri Lanka, delivered the fourteenth Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture on 'Forging a Radical Center: A Response to Extremism and Intolerance'   on 18th January 2007 at the National Museum Auditorium, New Delhi.  Mr. Anil K Shastri, Trustee, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Memorial Trust chaired the event.  Hon. A.H.M. Fowzie was also present at the lecture.  The text of the lecture is as follows:


Distinguished Guests

Ladies & Gentlemen


 It is indeed a privilege to be invited to deliver this year’s Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture. I wish to thank Mr. Anil Shastri and the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Memorial Trust for giving me this opportunity. Today’s theme is, “Forging a Radical Centre: A Response to Extremism and Intolerance” because I believe it aptly reflects the philosophy of the late Prime Minister Shastri and is very relevant in today’s socio-political climate.


When researching the life of Lal Bahadur Shastri, what I found remarkable was the resoluteness and the strength of his convictions in his political vision despite his simplicity which almost bordered on invisibility. Like Mahatma Gandhi, whose fearless stance on non-violence revolutionized the thinking of the early twentieth century, Lal Bahadur Shastri too was committed to the path of Ahimsa and non-violence. However, unlike the Mahatma, Shastriji was a practicing politician and what I find remarkable was his continued commitment to the Gandhian principles, even in the turbulent and expedient world of ‘real politick.’


Lal Bahadur Shastri’s simplicity was not a weakness or lack of vision. Rather, it was an, integral element of his unique, moderate, centrist style of governance that sprang from Shastri’s personality, resoluteness and the courage of his convictions. He was indeed a ‘Radical Centrist’ by example, vehemently and vigorously committed to ahimsa, tolerance and moderation. Hence, the topic of today’s lecture.


The achievements of Lal Bahadur Shastri and his fellow leaders in the Indian independence struggle are all the more remarkable because they formed their political philosophy at a time when the world was being torn between the competing ideologies of fascism and communism. In an era where revolutions, regional wars and armed conflicts was the norm, the Indian independence struggle’s adoption of the Gandhian approach of non-violent civil disobedience and democracy as the means to achieve freedom was indeed a radical affirmation of centrist values.


With regard to my own country, an important milestone in Indo-Sri Lanka relations was the successful negotiation and conclusion of the Sirima-Shastri Pact signed by Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri and Madame Sirimavo Bandaranaike. This was an important step in addressing the issue of stateless persons of Indian origin that had been an irritant in Indo-Sri Lanka bilateral relations. Even today, the Sirima-Shastri pact has significant symbolism. It reflects the statesmanship of our leaders as well as the moderation and resilience that always underlies Indo-Sri Lanka relations. It is also an example of the spirit of flexibility and mutual accommodation needed when dealing with difficult bi-lateral issues.


It was just a few years ago, after the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late eighties, that there was new hope that the world would be freed from destructively clashing ideologies. However, in the early years of the twenty first century, it is apparent that there continues to exist sharp divides of political visions and economic approaches. On the one hand, we are experiencing a largely intolerant reaffirmation of ethnic, nationalistic and religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, the idea of the state commanding the sectors of the economy as well as the blind belief in the virtues of the free market, have proven to be greatly misplaced. I believe today, the global challenge is to forge a centrist alternative that is radically committed to resolving the ill consequences of those failed and negative extremes. In doing so, Shastriji’s philosophy and lifework remains as a beacon of light.


Ladies & Gentlemen, I personally am not against globalization.  But we do have to be cognizant of certain well founded reservations. In 1998, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, at the 7th International Conference on the Future of Asia, in his inimitable style posed the question, “So what is there beyond globalism and globalization? There could be total oppression of the weak by the strong as capitalism runs riot. Or, there could be a world democracy where the resources of the world are combined with human ingenuity to create the greatest human civilization ever.”


There are many who claim that in every country across the world, globalization, spurred by the rise of international corporations, has made the poor poorer while the rich have gotten richer. According to Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, during the last ten years, the world’s total income has increased by an average of 2.5% per year.  Yet the number of poor has increased by 100 million. The top 1% of the world earns as much as the bottom 57%. This disparity keeps increasing. It would be difficult, and indeed imprudent, to delink this growing chasm from civil unrest, which we see happening across the globe on a daily basis.


Arundhati Roy, one of the most outspoken and outstanding commentators today noted that civil unrest does not only mean marches, demonstrations and protests against globalization. Unfortunately, it also means a desperate downward spiral into crime and chaos and all kinds of despair and disillusionment. As we know from history and from events unraveling before our eyes, these gradually become a fertile breeding ground for terrible things – cultural nationalism, religious bigotry, fascism, and of course terrorism. Hence, the growth of intolerance and extremism that we face today.


As extremists from every part of the political spectrum – the evangelical right, the revolutionary left, fundamentalist zealots and separatist megalomaniacs monopolize the global media which thrives on sensationalism, many may wonder if moderation and tolerance are becoming bygone values of a distant and more civilized era. The loud and violent sounds of extremism make better news than the democratic pronouncements of the silent majority. The tyranny of the ‘few’ as opposed to the silence of the ‘majority’ is perhaps the biggest challenge many of our democracies have to face today.


Ladies & Gentlemen, this is why a ‘radical centre’ is needed to stop this slide towards open ended polarization and extremism. A vigorous reiteration of liberal values is the need of the hour. The ‘Centre’ should be home to a radical commitment to liberalism. The need is for a new political culture based on reviving the value systems drawn from Lord Buddha’s middle path to Gandhi’s path of non-violence, from Nehru to Martin Luther King, from Nelson Mandela to Bill Clinton; the liberal centre must strike back. Moderates all over, like brothers in arms must unite and stand up for a liberal ideology.


As I see it, the root causes of extremism are either economic, religious or socio-political in nature. Economic stereotypes have been thrust upon the developing countries under the guise of globalization. Many of the developed countries have reached the post-modern state of capitalism after several centuries of economic evolution and costly trials and errors, both in terms of human and social development. However, in many developing countries like ours, this form of capitalism is being thrust upon us without the slow learning curve the developed countries enjoyed in their evolution. This is why it is important that each country must evolve its own form of market economics if it is to get the most cost effective results.


As envisioned by Aristotle in his treatise ‘Politics’ in 350 B.C., the “middling element,” was the substance that bridged the chasm between the rich and the poor. It is more relevant to us than ever before in this first decade of the 21st century. The middling element that Aristotle wrote about was what Lal Bahadur Shastri practiced. In his case, it included the strengthening of agriculture and the upliftment of the rural poor.


Neo-liberalism which has brought much confusion and confrontation in developing countries must be replaced by a renewal of the principles of consensual democracy that looks beyond the adversarial politics of the left and the right. As Anthony Giddens states in his book ‘The Third Way’, “a society where the market has free play may create large economic inequalities.” And in doing so, it has been proven in many countries that a pro-poor, pro-growth approach to economics is a more successful model in meeting the demands of a developing nation. In fact, both the Indian and Sri Lankan electorates endorsed such policies in the general elections held in the two countries in 2004. Since then, India has averaged a growth rate between 8% - 9% while Sri Lanka, despite its continuing struggle against terrorism recorded a growth rate of 7.5% in 2006.


The American Declaration of Independence in many ways is an example of classic liberalism as it views life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the key objective of a Government. Such a philosophical stance of course implies that politicians must essentially concern themselves in providing the means necessary for each individual’s vision of happiness.


However, in countries like ours, where there still is a large underprivileged class, such facilitation should be combined with provisions for the State to look after the weak and the poor with an effective social safety net. This is necessary in order to ensure that the free market does not become ‘gravitational fall’ for those unable to survive the test of the fittest.


In some instances, ignorance or the lack of knowledge about issues make people take extreme hard line positions.  When I was the Minister of Telecommunications in Sri Lanka, a strategic decision was taken in 1994 to convert the state owned telephone corporation into a partnership with the private sector. There was strong opposition to this move by almost all the trade unions. When analyzing the reasons for this opposition, it was obvious that the primary reason was lack of knowledge about the proposed changes. Most of the employees did not understand what the changes meant and were opposed to it, primarily based on hearsay and misinformation provided by parties with a paucity of knowledge, and a bounty of vested interests.


In order to dispel the myths about the evils of this partnership as preached by some union leaders, we made a decision to send a direct mailing to every employee, their spouses and to every other stakeholder.  The mailing explained the benefits of public/private partnership and helped stakeholders properly understand the issues. All employees were made shareholders of the new company.  Thereafter the process went through smoothly and the telecom sector in Sri Lanka emerged to become one of the most successful enterprises in our country where consumers, investors and stakeholders have benefited greatly. Tele-density in Sri Lanka which was 0.7 in 1994 has now reached 19.2.  The telecom partnerships are now the two top companies in the Colombo Stock Exchange in terms of market capitalization and profitability. This to me is a clear example of how the power of reason can win over the politics of economic extremism.


Ladies & Gentlemen, our contemporary world is distorted by covert and overt hatred. Modern crusaders of intolerance, like their predecessors from the middle ages, are wreaking havoc and destruction in different parts of the world. Extremists that deliberately misinterpret religious teachings and values have begun to spread their gospel of fear and intolerance to many corners of the world.


Adding fuel to this fire are various non-state entities, who under the pretext of bringing development to the poor and the underprivileged are engaged, in the process of converting the most vulnerable segments of society with financial and economic enticements. Exploiting poverty and ignorance, these new missionaries have become front organizations for induced mass scale conversions.


However, when responding to this threat, no Government in a modern, democratic society can try to counter this challenge by imposing anti-conversion legislation which will only serve to fuel further tensions. Those who engage in mass conversions should also understand that freedom to pursue ones religious beliefs, no matter how different they may be, is a fundamental right of all human beings. The state must remain aloof from interfering in the right of personal beliefs and must follow a policy of secularism, as India, to her credit, has done very successfully since independence.


With the rise of crime and corruption levels, which in many cases is the direct result of growing economic disparity, even ordinary people may see extreme measures as the only solution to society’s ills. Citizens, being made helpless and frustrated by ever increasing levels of crime and violence ask for the return of capital punishment. Many politicians, wishing to be seen in tune with populist sentiment, do not dare state that capital punishment is not the answer to crime and violence. Sri Lanka has had a virtual moratorium on capital punishment for decades.


There has been no evidence that indicates that capital punishment reduces crime or violence in any country. Rather, successful investigation and fair and swift judicial process, remains the most effective deterrent. Countries where the rule of law and independence of the judiciary and the police are not firmly established are open to manipulation of the law by those in power. The weak and the ordinary go to the gallows while the powerful and well connected go scot-free.


It is in the face of such feelings of helplessness, that even good, decent and honest people begin to believe that extremism and intolerance might provide solutions to their problems. The recent execution of Saddam Hussein can be taken as an example. Regardless of the cruel and despotic nature of his rule, the question remains whether his execution will ultimately contribute to the healing process the people of Iraq so desperately require. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the world go blind,”


The biggest challenge of our post-modern world is the scourge of terrorism. Those who have had to face the sorrows of terrorism in any part of the world must join hands in defeating this menace. Like poverty, terrorism anywhere is a threat to humanity everywhere. It must be fought vigorously and fearlessly. That it should be defeated if democracies are to survive, is beyond question. However, the debatable question is, how does one defeat terrorism?


Sometimes, Governments grappling with the scourge of terrorism respond to terrorist atrocities with equal amounts of brutality and violence.  They seem to forget that democratically elected Governments must be above reproach at all times. Elected leaders do not have the option of resorting to terror tactics even when fighting some of the deadliest terrorists in the world. In fact, as Mr. Jaswant Singh wrote in his latest book, ‘A Call to Honor’, “the vital imperative of remaining ‘civilized’ is to avoid at all costs, the trap of becoming ‘terrorists’ to fight the terrorist. Our fight against terrorists must not convert us into a clone of their methods: unseeing, uncaring and totally unmindful of our civilizational and human norms.”


Despite the challenge of having to battle one of the most ruthless terror machines in the world for three decades, Sri Lanka is constantly aware of the obligations to respect the rule of law and the need to address the grievances of the affected minorities. That is why we remain committed to a negotiated settlement to our ethnic question.


Despite having to respond to a brutal war, thrust upon us by an intransigent and murderous terrorist group, the solution is in how we gently nudge, or entice if you will, these extreme elements to move towards moderation and democratic methods without compromising our own integrity. The need today is how to find a durable and lasting peace without a craven surrender to a terrorist group.


There are those who think that the middle path is a philosophy of weakness and impotence. It may be seen as a recipe from bleeding heart liberals trying to find excuses for a situation where anything goes and where the rule of law doesn’t exist. The Radical Centre as envisaged must not shy away from reasserting society’s belief in the rule of law. 


The middle path of the radical centre must be based on the courage of convictions based on the principals of decency, freedom and the rule of law. It must be a philosophy based on bringing the socio-economic extremists fearlessly and vigorously into a radically committed centre where the rule of law shall prevail. In doing so, it should engage civil society as its ally. At the same time, the radical centre must ready, whenever the need arises, to reassert society’s belief in the rule of law with armed strength to protect the sovereignty of the nation.


Yet another personal example of how the rule of law played an important role in implementing a centrist vision occurred in 2001 when I was the Minister of Urban Development and Housing. I took a policy decision to clean up all the illegal and unauthorized structures which were not only an eyesore but a hazard to commuters in the centre of our capital city, Colombo. Hundreds, if not thousands of unauthorized businesses and some illegal dens of vice had sprouted making the sidewalks almost non-existent. Our policy was to remove every one of these illegal structures without any favoritism.


However, despite the illegality of the structures, this proposal was met with much opposition, even from my own parliamentary colleagues. Many of them accused me that I was going ahead with it only because my constituents were not affected by it. At this juncture, I went back to my own electorate, far to the South of Colombo, and made sure that all unauthorized and illegal structures were removed in my hometown of Matara.  Many of these structures belonged to people who had supported me in the general election. Having completed that, my Ministry officials returned to Colombo and were able to remove the structures without much opposition. Subsequently, all bona fide businesses that were torn down were offered alternative locations while the slum dwellers were provided with alternate housing. The lesson to be drawn is that the rule of law, when applied to all fairly, can be a potent tool in development and progress.


I am of the opinion that the only way to resolve the conflict situation in Sri Lanka, or for that matter any of the myriad of other similar situations around the world, to a sustainable peace, is by developing the concept and practice of a “Radical Centre”. This would entail the creation of a centrist middle way where dissenting voices and opinions from every part of the political spectrum would have a place within a democratic framework through the decentralization of governance and the devolution of power to all stakeholders. It would be a place where the years of deep mistrust would lose their sting within a non-violent, democratic system where pluralism and secularism flourishes. The radical centre should be a place where the intolerant find that those they hate are in fact, quite similar to themselves and have the same dreams and aspirations as well as fears and concerns.


In conclusion, Ladies & Gentlemen, I would re-emphasize my firm belief that a return to centrist values is the only possible path to ensure the survival of democracy whose credentials are tested today by the forces of anarchy and extremism. If we continue in our present path where even good people in desperation begin to feel that the only answer to extremism is more extremism, democracy as we know it today may surely be doomed to be confined to the pages of history as yet another tried, tested and failed political system.


Despite its shortcomings, the world has yet to come up with a political system which can successfully replace democracy accompanied by the non-violent resolution of disputes. That is why many of us in this room, will in just a few days from now, be enthusiastically reaffirming the resurgence of a worldwide mood in favor of the Gandhian approach to conflict resolution when we participate in the forthcoming commemoration of hundred years of the launching of the Satyagraha movement. Democracy, therefore, must be protected at all costs. The more powerful democracies must come to the help of the less privileged democracies in their struggle against extremism. While nurturing and encouraging new democracies, it is equally important to help existing, long established democracies to survive.


While right thinking Governments across the world must unite to protect democracy, the right thinking people of the world must also break their silence; the tyranny of the few can only be defeated if the silent majority wakes up from their somnambulist stupor to say enough is enough. The slogan of our times should be ‘Moderates of the World Unite!’


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