Feb 04 (The National) PERALIYA, Sri Lanka- Sixty-five years after Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain, the spring in the step of the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his supporters has turned to something of a swagger.
The recent history of the island, known as India's teardrop because of its shape and location off the southern tip of the subcontinent, helps to explain the self-satisfaction.
The deadly tsunami of 2004, when an estimated 40,000 Sri Lankans died, is not forgotten. But closer, now, to loyal minds is the defeat four-and-a-half years later of the Tamil Tigers, ending nearly three decades of bloody civil war.
Sri Lanka claims this made it the "the first country to eradicate terrorism" on its own soil. The president preaches harmony, presenting his country as a model of growing stability.
There is another view, equally robust, that acknowledges the strides made while lamenting that human rights have been trampled in the process.
While western critics are routinely dismissed by government supporters as hypocritical meddlers, even some moderate Sri Lankans question the methods used to maintain a flawed peace. They also express dismay at rampant nepotism they detect in the profusion of relatives and friends of the president in positions of power or influence.
Moreover, rising tension between elements of the large Buddhist majority and Muslims challenges cosy notions of a post-conflict era based on one-nation values.
And last month's impeachment of the chief justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, for alleged financial and judicial impropriety, reinforced suspicions that modern Sri Lanka is prepared to resort to undemocratic and irregular solutions to inconvenient problems.
Could it be that the truth lies somewhere between the polarised positions?
The government insists its hard-won battle to crush violent Tamil insurgency in northern and eastern areas had been followed by "genuine" action to implement recommendations from an ambitiously titled Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation committee.
One minister complained that remnants of the Tamil Tigers, including "sections of the diaspora supporting LTTE (Tamil Tiger) terrorism", seize on any opportunity to damage Sir Lanka's image.
On community relations, ministers pledge in public utterances at least to combat the abuse of any religious groups.
A government committee is to investigate an alleged "hate campaign" against Muslims, who represent less than 10 per cent of the population of 20 million.
Mainstream Buddhist leaders distance themselves from monks who demonstrated last month with placards denigrating Islam in the northwestern town of Kuliyapitiya, besieged a Muslim-owned shop in Maharagama, 44 kilometres away, and posted offensive material on the internet.
Whatever the president's concerns on religious intolerance, his government is markedly less conciliatory when discussing the impeachment and human rights.
A delegation from the International Bar Association's human rights institute was refused entry last week on a mission to assess the country's rule of law relating to the insurgency. The external affairs ministry said it planned activity "of an intrusive nature to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka".
Mr Rajapaksa was dismissive of a US delegation's similar visit: "People come and go. No doubt they may work to an agenda."
The pro-government Daily News trumpeted a declaration by the International Council of Jurists, currently under Indian chairmanship, that the chief justice's impeachment was "absolutely in accordance with the prevalent Sri Lankan laws" - a view sharply at odds with hostile reaction from the UN, Commonwealth, EU and the island's own supreme court.
Opponents suspect a link with a series of judgments against the government. But the president says Ms Bandaranayake's impeachment and removal from office was "good for the country".