The post-independent era was convulsed by two violent mass movements : 1. communism in the South and 2. communalism in the North. Both claimed to be liberation movements. Both misled the youth to take up arms as a means to achieve their political ends. Both were initially founded and led by English-speaking, dogmatic and ageing intellectuals who handed over their leadership to naïve youth whose immature and self-destructive politics eventually destroyed them and their leaders. Both ideologies were short-sighted adventures in futility. Both ideologies injected into the post-colonial landscape belong to what the leading left-wing historian, Eric Hobsbawm, called ‘the age of extremes’.
Of course, the history of mankind has been written in pens dipped in oceans of blood throughout the ages. But the 20th century stands out as the worst among all the other ages. Estimating the ‘megadeaths’ in the 20th century Hobsbawm wrote, “more human beings had been killed or allowed to die by human decisions than ever before in history.” (p.12 — The Age of Extreme – 1914 -1991). Citing Z. Brezenski he put the figure of ‘megadeaths’ at 187 million.
The Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims living in the 20th century too had their share in it. They killed each other pursuing their separate political goals. But no political culture in Sri Lanka wallowed in crimes against humanity and war crimes as the Vellala regimes from feudal times. Mass scale Tamil violence began on Christmas eve of 1543 when Sankili of Jaffna marched down to Mannar and killed 600 Catholics who refused to give up their faith and swear loyalty to him. Prabhakaran came from the identical inhuman cult initiated by Sankili. The Jaffna political culture is noted for launching the first recorded genocidal massacres, ethnic cleansing, dehumanising laws and customs, brutal slavery, and fascist regimes that denied the Tamils their dignity and humanity.
The Tamil political tradition never produced a humane, democratic, liberal, pluralistic and tolerant culture in which the dignity of all the Tamils – just not that of the Vellalas – was given its due place. As Mudliyars and keepers of the laws and customs in the Jaffna feudatory, as subalterns in the colonies of the Portuguese, Dutch and British masters, and finally as the behind-the-throne minders of Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s de facto state, the Vellalas ruled Jaffna with an iron-fist since they landed in the Northern coastal belt in the 13th century.
Prabhakaran is the nightmare that came out of the Vellala dreams. When the Vellala leadership wrote the Vadukoddai Resolution urging the Tamil youth to take up arms and never cease until they achieve Eelam they wrote the licence for Prabhakaran to kill. Prabhakaran took to the killer cult of Sankili like a duck to water. Tamils killing Tamils was ingrained in the Vellala fascist culture. Following this killer cult, Prabhakaran turned his guns first on the Tamil political leaders who fathered him at Vadukoddai. S. C. Chandrahasan, son of the father of the Vadukoddai Resolution, wrote that Prabhakaran had killed more Tamils than the others put together. It was confirmed by V. Ananadasangaree, the veteran Tamil leader.
He began by killing Alfred Duraiyappah. The Vellalas were privately jubilant. They ganged up and hailed him as their ‘liberator’ because he was following in the footsteps of Sankili who laid down the doctrine of liquidating Tamils who refuse to obey ‘the sole representative of the Tamils’. Those owing loyalty to rivals (like the Portuguese King Philip) have no place in Tamil Eelam. Vellalaism and Prabhakaranism were pasted to each other like the bark to the trunk of the tree. They both needed each other. And they worked together in a symbiotic relationship.
TNA established a working relationship because the Vellalas saw Prabhakaran as their last hope. Prabhakaran was also the first-born son of the TNA’s Vadukoddai Resolution – the one and only manifesto of Vellala politics aimed at establishing Eelam. It declared war against ‘the Sinhala state’ and urged the Tamil youth never to cease their violence until they achieve Eelam. But the ageing Tamil leadership was not fit to engage in gruelling military exercises. Realising this disability, the Vellala specifically assigned the task of waging war to the Tamil youth. For the first time in the history of the Vellalas they handed over power to the non-Vellalas. They took a back seat giving all the backing needed to wage the war. The Vellalas kept one foot on the battlefield and the other in Parliament.
Leaders such as Sampanthan, Sumanthiran and Ponnambalam had no qualms about paying pooja, on bended knees, to Prabhakaran because the Vellalas accepted him as the leader of the front that would take the alternative route to Eelam. It was also the route endorsed by them in the Vadkoddai Resolution. They were committed to it. They knew in their heart of heart that Prabhakaran was running the Vellala state which they could not establish. The Eelam idealised in the Vadukoddai Resolution, the ultimate manifesto of Vellalaism, had to be defended, protected and strengthened because it was the nearest they got to Eelam. However, in their hidden agenda Prabhakaran was going to be the temporary custodian of the de facto state. Eventually, it was to be the state of the Vellalas, by the Vellalas for the Vellalas.
So, they financed it, weaponised it, internationalised it, legitimised it, lobbied for it while the hard work on the ground was left to the brain-washed poor youth who were recruited, sometimes forcibly, to fight in a futile battle. They white-washed him as their ‘liberator’. They theorised and justified his obscene barbarism. All because they had a stake in it. The Vellalas had put in all their resources, skills, and energies into it. They were not going to make a state for the Tamils, running from the Northern tip right down to the South-Eastern corner. If there was going to be a state it was going to be for the Vellalas – the force that dominated Jaffna throughout its history.
Of course, the entire military operation was in the hands of Prabhakaran but the hidden agenda of the Vellala elite, both at home and abroad, was to take over at various political, economic and administrative levels. Besides, Prabhakaran could not have lasted as long as he did without the solid backing of the Vellalas.
The Vellala political ambitions were dependent solely on the Tamil youth. They were hoping to ride on the backs of the youth into the seats of power. The initial successes of the killing machine of Prabhakaran raised hope of the Vellalas to Himalayan heights.
They pinned all their hopes on Prabhakaran to deliver their elusive Eelam. In the end Prabhakaran ran out of heroes to fight for him. They were all running away to Canada.
Prabhakaran’s heroism was in recruiting forcibly Tamil babies to kill Tamil elders. Jaffna, in short, was a land without heroes. Jaffna, which boasts of a great and glorious past, was in a sandy strip, unable to prove its claim of being a great maker of history. The sad state of the Jaffnaite mind was reflected in the memorable line of Bertolt Brecht: “Unhappy is a land that breeds no hero”.
Heroes are found only in the lands where they make history. A land without a notable history cannot produce heroes. A land that denies the people their right to walk in sunlight can produce only darkness. A land that commits crimes against their own people on a mass scale can produce only mass killers. Sankilis and Prabhakarans are the natural products of the killer culture. These lands are left with only mass murderers as heroes. Unhappy is the land that is forced to worship mass murderers as heroes. Such lands are doomed to wind up in futile ends like Nandikadal.
Initially, however, they were buoyed by the military successes. They saw, for the first time, a hero emerging in a battle fought for the Tamils. Prabhakaran was going to be the 20th century Elara who was going to defeat Dutugemunu.
The Tamils dwarfed by monumental legacies left behind by the Sinhala pioneers of history were hanging on to bits and pieces of history that signified their miniscule role rather than their superiority. With Prabhakaran, however, the Vellalas were going to rewrite history with a victory that would wipe out the bleeding memories of a crushing defeat. But it was not destined to happen. Consequently, the Tamils are left with only cardboard heroes like C. V. Wigneswaran and Gajendran Ponnambalam. Or pseudo-leaders like R. Sampanthan who is now parading as a defiant giant ready to take on those who come against the TNA. Now he is boasting that no one can intimidate him or ban his party.
He is a liar. He was not only intimated by the leader of the Tamil de facto state but made to crawl even to get nomination. In the Sinhala state he had the legal right to contest exercising his free will. But in his Tamil state he lost all his rights to even contest elections without the permission of the Tamil Pol Pot.
Of course, in the Tamil state his party was not banned. True! But why should anyone ban a party that is ever willing to toe the line? Like all other Tamils he discovered that there is a thing called dignity only in the Sinhala state and not in his Tamil Eelam. The de facto state is generally dismissed as an aberration that does not belong to the mainstream. The focus is still on the democratically elected, multi-ethnic, pluralistic state which is demonised as an anti-minority, racist instrumentality that had discriminated and denied the minorities, in particular the Tamils, their rights.
The intellectuals are still stuck in this rut. They have not stopped to test their accusations/theories/assumptions against the known facts. The first test they should run is to compare the two states and consider how the citizens of both have fared in their two cultures.
History has afforded two chunks of politics to test the values which governed the two states. The first chunk of history began on February 4, 1948 and it has run for 72 years. Simultaneously, there was a parallel state established in the North which can be dated arbitrarily to begin from May 14, 1976 – the date on which the Tamil leadership declared war to establish their Eelam.
And they did in fact run a de facto state. The Tamil state was established to provide the Tamils a state exclusively for the benefit of the Tamils. It was to be a state that would eliminate discrimination and other injustices faced by the Tamils in ‘the Sinhala state’ and provide them security and welfare denied by the Sinhalese. Most of all, it was going to be a state that would give the Tamils dignity, respect and honour which have been denied to them by ‘the Sinhala state.’
So, the time has come for the political activists and critics to evaluate the two states and determine how the Tamils/minorities have fared in both states. One way of testing the veracity of the accusations levelled against ‘the Sinhala state’ is to compare the values and practices of the Tamil state established for the Tamils with the values and practices of ‘the Sinhala state.’ As the list is rather long, it is best that the accusations be narrowed down to one or two issues.
Accordingly, the main issue would be to consider how the Tamils had fared in the Tamil state. One cannot expect to see dramatic changes either in their living conditions, or great leaps in their quality of life, particularly under the trying circumstances of a long-drawn battle against terrorism. But since the main objective was to provide conditions that would improve, either quantitatively or qualitatively, some of the basic conditions that would make Tamils feel better than those in the ‘Sinhala state’, what changes did the Tamil state introduce to make a difference to the Tamils in the Tamil state?
For instance, the Sinhala state was accused of denying the dignity of the Tamils. So, did the dignity of the Tamils increase measurably in the Tamil state? The Sinhala state was accused of endangering the security of the Tamils. Did the Tamil state, on the contrary, provide greater security to the Tamils, particularly their children? The Tamil state slaughtered the cream of the Tamil leadership. Were the Tamil leaders safe in ‘the Sinhala state’ or in the Tamil state?
Take also the examples of Sampanthan and Sumanthiram. They lost their freedoms in the Tamil state. They had to toe the line laid down by the Tamil state. Their security was in danger. It is the Sinhala state that had to give them security.
The liberal democratic space in the Sinhala state enhanced the dignity of the Tamil MPs. They could question and challenge the authority of the Sinhala state in the media, Parliament and courts. Even though they were lawyers they did not have the right nor the liberty to challenge Tamil authorities in any space in the Tamil state. They earned their bread and butter only by practising in the courts of the Sinhala state. What justice did the Tamils get in the Tamil state?
20th Century Elara
Why didn’t C. V. Wigneswaran practise law in his Tamil state? Why couldn’t Tamil academics teach in the Jaffna University? Why were they hunted down and eliminated from the Tamil state? So in comparison which state gave the Tamils the better deal? At every stage, at every level the Tamils were better off in ‘the Sinhala state’ than in their Tamil state.
Yes, ‘the Sinhala state’ sometimes committed grievous excesses. But always there was space for correction.
The Sinhalese went out of the way to give G.. G. Ponnambalam 45 percent when he demanded 50 percent. Which majority gave a minority of 12 percent a 45 percent share of power? Is that discrimination? If the Tamils had taken that offer they would have been dancing nagasalam on the streets of Jaffna today. They could have avoided going down the road to Nandikadal. They make the mistakes. They act like ‘congenital idiots’ and they blame the Sinhalese. It is time they realised that there is no future in blaming the majority for the stupidity of the minority. It is time they revisited their asinine past and face the new realities.
But it is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future. Not as long as the Tamils continue to build monuments to heroes who dragged their children forcibly to die in a futile battle.
H. L. D. MAHINDAPALA