To understand contemporary national politics and its complex combinations and permutations it is imperative that any student of politics must first get a firm grasp of the two political cultures that divide the North and the South. The gap is much wider than the Palk Strait that separates us from India, thankfully.
For instance, the Tamils have never tasted equality, dignity, liberty, justice and peace under any of the Tamil rulers starting from the time of Sankili who went down to Mannar and massacred 600 innocent Tamil Catholics on the eve of Christmas 1544 to Velupillai Prabhakaran (2009) who massacred 600 Sri Lankan policemen who surrendered to him. The Tamils got their first taste of these cherished liberal values only under what they called ‘the Sinhala state’, or ‘Sinhala-dominated state’ – two terms used interchangeably to label it as a racist state.
From the time of the rise of oriental despotic rulers in the 14th century in Jaffna – Marx defined Asiatic kings who had centralised control of water in hydraulic societies as ‘despotic rulers’ — and the subsequent rise of Vellala sub-rulers under the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial masters, to the final rise of Prabhakaran, the average, grassroots Jaffna Tamil (I am excluding the Vellalas, the oppressive subalterns of the colonial rulers) never had the political or social space to experience dignity, equality, liberty, justice and peace in Jaffna.
The Dutch who legalised slavery in 1707 by codifying the customary law in the Tesawalamai, with the consent and advice of the Vellala mudliyars, laid the legal foundation for the exploitation of the Tamils as slaves. The Vellalas treated slaves as subhuman people.
The rest, of course, is the history of Tamil tyranny that denied Tamils their basic rights to be human. In some cases, they were even refused the right to walk like all other human beings in the sunlight in case the low-caste despicables polluted the pure eyes of the Vellalas.
The last mission of even distinguished Sir. Ponnambalam Ramanathan was to the Colonial Office in London in the late twenties (he died on November 26, 1930) to lobby the colonial masters to preserve and enforce Vellala casteism as a means of maintaining law and order.
The classic characteristics of a Jaffna Tamil despotic ruler was demonstrated amply in our time by Velupillai Prabhakaran – the ‘Thalaivar’ (leader) who forcibly abducted under-aged Tamil children to fight in his futile war. He fought a brutal war committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Nevertheless, Tamils have no qualms about hailing him as their hero though they know that he has killed more Tamils than any other force. He began his war by first decimating the Tamils at the top layer. His first victim was mild-mannered, gentle Alfred Duraiyappah, the Mayor of Jaffna, and the best of the Tamil leadership and ended by killing the innocent Tamils at the lower level – i.e., the mass of Tamils who were fleeing from him into the safe hands of the Security Forces in the final days of the LTTE.
Prabhakaran’s greatest achievement was in refining the killing machine of the Tamils into one of the deadliest weapons in the 33-year-old battle against terrorism.
In the 20th-21st centuries Prabhakaran’s Pol Potist regime demonstrated convincingly that he had inherited the traditional and incurable Tamil despotism from his tyrannical ancestors. In every step he took he displayed his inability to use power for the good of the Tamil people.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga offered him all the power he needed to rule the North and the East without elections for ten years. Ranil Wickremesinghe offered him practically all what he wanted with international guarantees. Rajiv Gandhi offered him the Chief Ministership.
He rejected them all. His ambition to be the sole representative of the Tamils was a pathological obsession with him. Together with his ingrained intransigence, he was bent on using power to glorify himself and not the people whom he promised to liberate.
The eventual cause that led to his fall was his failure to understand how to use power even to save himself. He knew how to enforce brutal power but not to govern democratically or peacefully. He knew how to kill Tamils but not to save them. He had all the chances and the power to end the blood-letting in the last stages.
But he insisted on fighting knowing the human cost, particularly to the helpless Tamils sandwiched in between the retreating Tigers and the advancing Security Forces. He knew and relied only on one methodology : terror. If he won he could have maintained his grip on power only through brutal force because he neither had the mental makeup nor the skills and the capacity to govern as a democratic leader.
Prabhakaran relied and survived, like his predecessors, essentially on fascist terror. Tamil leaders have proved from the beginning that they cannot be trusted with power to deliver their own people with even a modicum of dignity, equality, justice and peace.
Prabhakaran ran a quasi-state with an army, navy, air force, police and courts but he never gave them any dignity, justice, equality, liberty or peace. Dissident Tamils and those who were perceived to be a threat to the Tamil state were hunted and killed. Those who survived had to find refuge either abroad or in ‘the Sinhala state’ they had vilified.
Douglas Devananda, the leader of the EPDP, was one of the lucky ones who survived 13 successive attacks on him. Clearly, the available evidence points to the undeniable fact that the Tamils are not fit to rule themselves, though they clamour for a separate state.
Their history of running states in feudal and modern periods have proved that they were not motivated by the ideals of giving their people dignity, liberty, equality, justice and peace. Their sole objective has been to acquire power and use it to keep their own people under the heel of the ruling elite with brutal force.
Prabhakaran was driven, slowly but surely, to his self-made end by his increasing arrogance, intransigence and ignorance. He dug his own grave in believing that he was invincible. Tamil triumphalism reached stratospheric heights with each killing or massacre perpetrated by Prabhakaran.
They believed that every death of a Sinhalese – or even a dissident Tamil — was another step forward towards Eelam. As recorded in the Yalpana Vaipave Malai the Tamil regimes have survived on mass massacres of Tamils, ethnic cleansing of Muslim and Sinhalese minorities, legalised slavery of imported Malabaris and brutal fascist force. Ethnic cleansing and mass massacres entered the history books for the first time through Tamil tyranny.
So, when the Indian government presses the GOSL to grant dignity to the Tamils etc., they have to go for a reality check and consider seriously whether there is any justification in their demand. It is time that the South Bloc in Delhi learnt some Sri Lankan history before writing press communiques to their Foreign Minister.
The latest press communique reveals that they do not know the basics of SL politics. Their foreign policy is based on the political pap fed to them by the Tamil lobby. Besides, inter-state diplomatic manoeuvres cannot resolve complex differences, or maintain harmonious relations if the dominant party seeks to dictate terms on the lies of one single community bent on achieving their ‘aspirations’ at the expense of all other communities. In any case, it is superfluous for India to preach to Sri Lanka on how to treat its minorities when the minorities have been given the highest degree of recognition, respect, and dignity only in the 73-years of independence.
Recognition of minorities
No Tamil migrant in the diaspora can boast of a place higher than what they had and have in Sri Lanka. Which Tamil can boast of a star representing them in the American flag? Which English currency will recognise Tamil as an official language? Why do Tamil undergraduates pay for their degree abroad – including Tamil Nadu, the only homeland of Tamils — while the Tamils in Sri Lanka get free education from kindergarten to university? The Tamils of the estates, as elsewhere, get the best of medical treatment free at the Nuwara Eliya public hospital in the Tamil language (I was once a patient in it) which no Tamil in America and Australia can get. Donald Trump and the Republicans have been raving and ranting against free medical and educational facilities even for the Americans, let alone the Mexicans and the Asians.
So, the Indian government has to specify, instead of repeating the propaganda of the Tamil lobby, in what respects the Tamils of Jaffna have been denied dignity, equality, peace and justice. Has the GOSL been unable and unwilling to go along with India too to satisfy the ‘grievances’ and ‘aspirations’ of the Tamils? Didn’t they sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord to satisfy India’s ‘grievances’ and ‘aspirations’ too in addition to those of the Tamils? Besides, at the end of the day, the GOSL has to sell to the Sri Lankans the demands of India to find a final solution.
The Government has to tell the Sri Lankans that we have to give the Tamils what they demand because of this, this and this. In doing so the Indian government also must evaluate how the Tamil state of Prabhakaran and the previous regimes delivered dignity, equality, peace and justice to the Tamil people and prove that the Tamils were better off under their Tamil regimes than under ‘the Sinhala state’.
The Indian government must prove to the Sri Lankan people that Sri Lanka has (1) treated the Tamils worse than Prabhakaran’s state and (2) that the GOSL has denied the Tamils their dignity, equality, peace and justice which they had under Tamil regimes. It is in the interests of India to give a valid rationale on the basis of the treatment received by the Tamils at the hands of the GOSL and any Tamil state that had given the Tamils a better deal than the GOSL.
The historic switch to liberal politics from semi-feudal, semi-capitalist, fully-fledged colonial period took place in the third decade of the 20th century. It was the decade that Ceylon, as it was known then, was granted universal franchise. It was the first path-breaking step in the modernising and democratisation of Sri Lankan political landscape. After that it was one leap after another into the evolution of constitutions, economic reforms, revision of antiquated laws and creation of new bureaucratic structures to build one of the best democratic welfare states in the developing world.
The resilience of the elected state to withstand the demonic and the destructive forces that assaulted the democratic centre is in itself a remarkable achievement. ‘The Sinhala state’ even fought their longest battle against terrorism within a democratic framework.
The Tamils fought led by a Tamil tyrant who was unrestrained by democratic norms – and lost. The absolute obscenity of Tamil political culture is that they not only denied religious freedom to others they even denied religious freedom to their own Hindus to worship their common God/gods in Hindu kovils. That is intolerance and dehumanising Vellala supremacy at its abominable height. Herein lies the fundamental difference between the two political cultures of the North and the South. The South has been open, liberal and democratic. The North closed its cadjan curtain to keep the outside world out and to rule it with the iron-fisted ideology of Vellala supremacy.
The South welcomed and embraced practically all the new waves and cults that were sweeping the globe – from Marxism to born again Christian cults and religious extremists linked to Wahabists, Hussein, and Gaddaffi. With all its imperfections the Southern institutions maintained the essence of democratic and liberal values that respected and gave dignity and space to multi-cultural, multi-ethnic entities.
The North was fiercely committed to mono-ethnic, mono-cultural supremacy in the name of minority rights. The South was the home base which baked the cake for all multi-ethnic talent to shine abroad, as stated famously by Lakshman Kadiragamar, the brilliant Tamil liberal who was brutally killed by the Tamil Pol Pot. In contrast to him, the other Tamil leader, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, refused to buy a house in Colombo fearing that his children will be corrupted by the open, liberal and cosmopolitan culture of the South which produced the best of Tamils, from Kadiragamar to Neelan Tiruchelvam.
He bought an estate in the hills not to protect and promote the welfare of the Indian Tamils but to exploit them for his profit. Jane Russell in her study of communalism (Communalism Under the Donoughmore Constitution – 1931 – 47) described this condition as ‘the peninsularity of the Jaffna mind’ (p. 8). The Tamils came down and colonised the South as government servants (example: Wellawattam), professionals, businessmen generally made it the base to extract the maximum for their benefit. As the old adage goes, the Jaffna Tamil son shone in Colombo while the father gathered the harvest in the North!
While protecting, defending and developing the core values of the majority the Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie, the driving force of the nation, either corrected after making the initial mistakes or worked jointly with all communities to maintain a fine political balance to regain and restore harmony in inter-ethnic relations. Maintaining that fine balance was the prime necessity in the post-colonial era. There were, of course, some missteps that could have been handled differently. But the ambience for political reconciliation was worsened by the lumpen Marxists, partisan intellectuals hired by the NGOs, and extreme communalists whose counter-productive and disruptive politics threatened to destabilise and reduce Sri Lanka into a failed nation.
As against these forces, the resilience of the Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie to recover, rise and stabilise the nation from time to time has been a remarkable feat. The latest was the historic electoral victories of the two Rajapaksa brothers. In the end the major inter-ethnic issues have been contained (temporarily) to a tolerable level. It is the minorities who ran berserk with violence that paid the highest price for their blood-thirsty politics.
The creative, innovative, resilient, and revolutionary achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie are themes for future sociological researches to explore for post-graduates aspiring to add PhDs to the tail-end of their names. They will discover that from international cricket to winning unwinnable battles the record has been glorious. But the greatest of them all is in maintaining a democratic welfare state against all adversities. The victory belongs to the vilified and demonised the Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie.
Marxists and NGOs
The Marxists, the NGOs, the hired hacks in academia riding in the bandwagon of NGOs, and the Tamil lobbies have been in the forefront of demonising the Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie as ‘chauvinists’, ‘racists’, ‘majoritarianists’, ‘reactionaries’, or with slogans coined by the Marxists like Dudley-ge bud-de masala-vadai, etc.
The Marxist intellectuals and their political allies who led the front against the Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie failed to move the masses with their revolutionary theories the way Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie moved the nation to create non-violent social revolutions on historic scales. No single Marxists could draw the milling crowds that lined up day and night for Dudley Senanayake lying in state.
Though the Marxists demonised the Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie the irony is that they ended up in embracing the very forces they hated and vilified. Where does this leave the Kumari Jayawardenas, Jayadeva Uyangodas, the odd ball Kumar David and our political scientist Dayan Jayatilleke? Those who could march with armed Dharmapalas could swing the nation to act as a monolithic force while those who worshipped Gramsci and Che Guevara have to creep into the bourgeois camps to find their daily bread and some butter.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Independence Day speech assumes an in-depth meaning and a great political significance in the background of the last two elections which signify the rise of the new Sinhala-Buddhist bourgeoisie who were in the forefront of the political campaigns.
These two elections mark the powerful rise of the Sinhala-Buddhists once again under the leadership of the Rajapaksas. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa defined it precisely and neatly when he reminded the nation: “I am a Sinhala-Buddhist leader and I will never hesitate to state so. I govern this country according to Buddhist teachings. Within the Buddhist philosophic tradition of peaceful coexistence which gives the respect to all religions and ethnicities, every person in this country irrespective of their ethnic or religious identification has the right to enjoy the freedom as equals under the nation’s legal framework.”
These are resounding words that go deep into the heart and soul of the Sinhala-Buddhists. These are bold and daring statements which no other head of state had made before. Though every single Sinhala-Buddhist leader knew that he was the representative of the Sinhala-Buddhists no one dared to claim that title, fearing that it would alienate the minorities.
The odd thing in Sri Lankan politics is that every other minority entity had the right to come out in the name of their ethnic community except the Sinhala-Buddhists. Not even S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the leader who spearheaded the first nationalist wave in 1956, ever dared to claim to be the leader of the Sinhala-Buddhists though he headed the Sinhala Maha Sabha.
The Rajapaksas came at a time when the Sinhala-Buddhists had no leader. The Tamils had India to fall back and the Diaspora manipulating the West. The Muslims boasted that they had the whole of the Arabic bloc to back them.
The majority had Sinhala leaders who went to Geneva, joined hands with the West, and moved resolutions against the nation, agreeing to roast the Sinhala-Buddhist soldiers who fought and liberated the Tamils from their fascist tyrant. It is the alienated, isolated, deserted and humiliated Sinhala-Buddhists who rallied behind the Rajapaksas and President Gotabaya paid his due respect to the Sinhala-Buddhists who trusted him and elected him.
Dignity, equality and justice
But he went out of the way to emphasise that he was also the President who would protect the minorities and their rights as framed in the Constitution. In other words, he was not going to abandon the Asokan ideal of a Buddhist state which is to make the ‘land fit for all’, as stated in the Mahavamsa.
That is from the domestic angle. There is a foreign dimension to it also. The President’s speech is also a studied and guarded response to India’s demand that the Tamil should be treated with dignity, equality, justice and peace. Read as a whole he is telling India that it has been the Sinhala-Buddhist tradition to protect the rights of the minorities.
What he said about the minorities needs repeating. He said : “Within the Buddhist philosophic tradition of peaceful coexistence which gives the respect to all religions and ethnicities, every person in this country irrespective of their ethnic or religious identification has the right to enjoy the freedom as equals under the nation’s legal framework.”
In other words, he was telling India, quite diplomatically, don’t come to teach grandmothers how to suck eggs. He is saying that we have been giving protection to the persecuted minorities throughout our history and we are not going to deviate now.
He also took a swipe at the ‘traitors’ in the Opposition. He pinpointed the ‘traitorous elements (who) always band together and seek to marshal domestic and foreign forces against the leadership that upholds the indigenous way of life and the country’s sovereignty.’
True to his past record, the failed leader of these forces, Ranil Wickremesinghe, did not attend the Independence Day parade. He attends it only when he is holding high office to bask in the power and glory of state ceremonies. So, he went out of his way to hold his own Independence Day ceremony. He went to garland the statue of grand old D. S. Senanayake, the Father of the Nation.
This is where things went wrong for him, according to some Right-wing cynics. When he was about to garland the statue ‘DS’ had stopped him. Shocked by this Ranil nearly fell off the ladder.
Then wagging a finger ‘DS’ asked him: “Did I get independence for you to go to Geneva and betray the nation and the soldiers who fought to save the nation?”
Ranil was flummoxed. He didn’t have a ready answer. In his confusion he had stuttered, according to UNP sources, and mumbled: “I didn’t go to Geneva. I must find out who did it. I will appoint a committee and let you know the answer when I come next time.”
H. L. D. MAHINDAPALA