Monday, May 18, 2009

Book review | Sri Lanka, a dangerous interlude

In Sri Lanka for once the guns have fallen silent. Celebrations have begun in the tear drop island, wrecked by decades of hostility, bloodshed and violence. Hard to believe but Prabhakaran - the man, who led a ruthless movement for a separate homeland for Tamils -- is dead.

And it was not an easy trounce if one goes by Apratim Mukarji’s Sri Lanka: A dangerous interlude. The book traces the events in Sri Lanka since June 2000, a time when Sri Lankan government almost lost the Jaffna Peninsula.

If the author is to be believed, the struggle prolonged because both the LTTE and the government were interested in pushing their agendas.

“The various initiatives undertaken by the two sides failed because both sides used them to advance their respective agendas,” says Mukarji, who was stationed in Colombo as the foreign correspondent of the Hindustan Times from 1990-96.

The book deals extensively with the intimate relationship between the issues involving the deadlocked peace dialogue and Sri Lankan politics – a factor, which according to the author, complicates, rather than facilitates the peace process.

In a lucid and concise introductory chapter, the author presents the basic framework of his analysis and arguments, enabling the reader to grasp the essence of the book with relative ease. In fact, the introductory note is one the best chapters in the book!

The very first chapter Frozen Peace Melting, analyzes as to why all the serious efforts made for peace failed. The ceasefire agreement, that lasted an incredible three years, only meant that war had been frozen. The narration is good. Most of the chapters are tightly scripted and to the point.

The book serves as an ideal backgrounder on Sri Lanka’s struggle for peace and that’s that. It has nothing new to offer. Much of the book is compiled from news reports and analysis. The author hardly gives his opinions. Even if he does, they are summed up in two to three lines.

For instance, in the chapter titled, Sri Lanka and India, he has grabbed every expert’s opinion on whether India should play a direct role in Lankan peace talks. The only thing missing is what he thinks. This is how he sums up: “…Without venturing into hypothetical situations and keeping in view the experiences of earlier misadventure, the contours of an Indian response to the potentially grave Sri Lankan ethnic issue could be discerned…”

I would have expected the author to tell me what kind of help India should offer to Sri Lanka as a concerned neighbour, what course India-Sri Lanka relation would take in the coming years.

Nowhere in the book, has the author talked about an all out war situation, the future of LTTE and its dreaded leader Prabhakaran.

There are quite a bit of repetitions in the book. For example, the author has already told about US role in Sri Lanka in chapter Frozen Peace Melting (pg 22 – 27), yet he repeats it in chapter Is LTTE a Liberation Movement (Pg 88).

Much has been talked about Norway’s role as a facilitator in the introductory chapter; it is discussed again in chapter Sri Lanka and India.

All in all, an interesting read, but with the curtains down on war in Sri Lanka it remains to be seen how many readers would want to grab it.


Debjani D. Baruah said...

Iyer, I somehow feel that the book won't have many takers, considering the fact that the war in Sri Lanka is over.

K. Pathmanabhan said...

I have read the book too and believe me, it's just another scrap written on Sri Lankan peace process...Why can't these writers think of something better...And I quite agree with you that the entire book is compiled from Newspaper reports and analysis. Tks,
K. Pathmanabhan, Toronto