BY H. L. D. MAHINDAPALA
Needling the South with provocative anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hate speech led the North all the way to Nandikadal. So why is C. V. Wigneswaran going down the same old path of divisive and destructive politics? What does he hope to gain when the mightiest collective forces of the Jaffna Tamils failed to divide the nation under various constitutional formulas by basing their strategy on anti-Sinhala-Buddhist extremism? Besides, his hate speech is loaded with toxic distortions of known realities which stand in the way of future reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. It is apparent that he is merely re-enacting the inflammatory role of Hanuman, who, in the Mahabaratha, set fire to the nation by gradually extending his flaming tail each time it ran out of fuel.
But Wigneswaran is not alone in propagating anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hate speech. He is, in fact, the latest avatar of a Jaffna-centric ideology that began with G. G. Ponnamabalam, the father of the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology, who first lit the fires of communal passions with his provocative attack on the Mahavamsa and the Sinhala-Buddhist history.
Competed with each other
It happened in June 1939 in Nawalapitiya and communal riots spread quickly to the neighbouring towns. Since then the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology used to sustain the mono-ethnic extremism of the North has never ceased. Projecting the image of the Sinhalese as the bogey man threatening the existence of Tamils has been an essential ingredient for the perpetuation and promotion of mono-ethnic extremism in the North. It has dominated the post-colonial period and dragged the nation through hell fires of death and destruction.
Ponnambalam’s anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology gathered momentum incrementally over the years and exploded in its most virulent form when the Tamil leadership officially declared war on May 14, 1976 at Vadukoddai and urged the Tamils to take up arms and never cease until they achieve Eelam.
What the Vellala elite who held the reins of power from feudal times did not realise was that they were handing over power for the first time to untried and untested youth who went berserk with the gun. Velupillai Prabhakaran was the first-born child of the Vadukoddai Resolution.
He is the ultimate manifestation of the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology bred by Ponnambalam. It was his ideology that led to the longest war with disastrous consequences, particularly to the Tamils.
Tamil leaders never deviated from the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology that sustained them in competitive electoral politics. They had nothing else to offer their electorate. They never offered alternative ideologies like socialism, liberalism, democratic humanism or pluralism.
The rainbow colours of a multi-cultural and pluralistic society never arched over the skies of Jaffna. From one end of the political spectrum to the other, Tamil leadership competed with each other promising to deliver more and more of mono-ethnic extremism demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists and nothing else. The Tamils who lived by the sword of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideology also died by it.
It was constructed, defined and set in motion when Ponnambalam began his campaign demanding 50% of power to be the equal of the majority Sinhala-Buddhists. Of course, he knew that there was no rational basis on which he could convince the British that a minority of 12% could demand 50% of power.
He had to construct a rationale to justify his disproportionate claim. So, he opted for the strategy of proving that the Tamils were equal, if not superior to the Sinhalese. Mark you, it was also a time when the British surveyors, archaeologists, and civil servants were digging into the past and discovering the glories of the ancient and medieval Sinhala-Buddhist history.
The unearthed discoveries were showering the Sinhalese with an aura of greatness. The grandeur emerging from the buried past was making the Sinhalese look like giants of a great civilisation.
The political implication was clear : if they could have built and governed a civilisation of such magnitude they could easily govern Sri Lanka without the British. The politics of Sinhala nationalism was resting on monumental history.
This placed the Tamils in a virtual vacuum. They had no history of comparable magnitude to base their arguments for such a grossly exaggerated claim of 50% of power to a minority of 12%.
In making his over-blown demand, totally out of proportion, Ponnambalam had to fight not only the political realities of the day but also the overwhelming presence of a past casting long shadows over the national scene. History was not on the side of the Tamils. Ever since then the Tamils have been labouring to rewrite history to fill in the blanks and deny the horrors staring in their face.
In Ponnambalam’s time, the biggest icon in their history that began in the 10th century was Sankili – a pathological killer of the Tamils and the first recorded ethnic cleanser of Muslims and Sinhalese from Jaffna.
On Christmas eve in 1544 he marched down to Mannar and massacred 600 Tamil Catholics, including pregnant women and children, who refused to recognise him as ‘the sole representative of the Tamils.’ The Tamil Catholics owed their allegiance to the King of Portugal. Since then the intolerant and inhuman Sankili culture of Tamils killing Tamils became a permanent feature in peninsular politics.
Prabhakaran emerged as Sankili’s avatar in the 20th century. History didn’t repeat itself as a farce the second time in Jaffna. Prabhakaran went all out to outdo Sankili. To drive the Muslims out of Jaffna Sankili threw pig’s head into Muslim wells. Prabhakaran, on the contrary, forced them out with a gun pointed to their heads. His megalomania drove him to crush any form of dissent. He feared his own people. He slaughtered Neelan Tiruchelvam, Amirthalingam, Uma Maheswaran, etc., etc., the cream of Tamil leadership, all because he feared them. S. C. Chandrahasan, son of the father of separatism, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, and V. Anandasangaree, the President of TULF, are on record saying that Prabhakaran had killed more Tamils than others put together.
With a monstrous history of a bloody past, where the Tamils were deprived of their basic human rights under the Vellalas, the Tamils were desperately in need of a facelift to make them look good, a defence that would make them look respectable in the eyes of the world. Not having one, Ponnambalam in his time discovered that attack is the best form of defence.
It was in this setting that Ponnambalam came out swinging against the Mahavamsa and the history of the Sinhala-Buddhists.
His strategy was to downgrade Sinhala-Buddhist history in order to prove the superiority of Tamil history. The most popular phrase was to condemn the Sinhala-Buddhists as racist bigots obsessed with the Mahavamsa mentality. It became the pop phrase even among the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist Sinhala intellectuals to denigrate those who defended the historical heritage that made Sri Lanka great. The Mahavamsa mentality was a phrase used frequently to demean anything and everything that restored to the Sinhala people, the heritage they lost under nearly 500 years of colonialism.
The Mahavamsa mentality was also blamed for resisting the divisive politics of the Tamils claiming 50% for just 12%. But none of the intellectuals dared to speak of ‘Jaffna jingoism’ leaping from one extremism to another until it pushed the Tamil people like lemmings over the cliff to their self-destruction.
Claim of ‘50-50’
Ponnamabalam’s strategy was to attack the past and the present of the Sinhalese for him to advance his claim of ‘50-50’ – a mathematical formula that runs counter to all known democratic principles of governance. Except in authoritarian regimes all institutions – from the state to non-governmental institutions — are run on majoritarian consensus with, of course, guarantees to minority rights. But Ponnambalam could not wage a frontal attack on the established and universally accepted principles of democracy.
So, he resorted to two deviant tactics: 1. He attacked the past of the Sinhalese to downgrade its value as a legitimate force to inherit power. 2. Downgrade the Sinhalese as a majority that discriminates against the minority. The Soulbury Commissioners listened to him on this issue of discrimination and dismissed it as hogwash.
The attack on Sinhala-Buddhism was not an issue canvassed at the Commission. However, it became the main political tool used by the Tamil extremists in the public domain to make the Sinhalese the bogeyman – the cause of all evils of the Tamils. It still rides in peninsula politics bedevilling national politics.
From the time of G. G. Ponnambalam in the thirties to C. V. Wigneswaran, this has been the consistent theme propagated to downgrade not only the Sinhalese, their main target, but also the low-caste Tamils of Jaffna, regional Tamils in Batticaloa and the ‘Indian coolies’ in the central hills and even the Tamil-speaking Muslims. Jaffna-centric arrogance and intransigence have been two of the perverse strands that run through peninsular politics.
It is most regrettable that Wigneswaran continues to harp on the racial superiority of the Tamils in the post-Nazi era. He knows that it has bred and continues to breed racial hatred with all its tragic consequences. Of course, he has the right to praise his language and culture. What is unacceptable is when he uses it to devalue Sinhala-Buddhism.
His attempt to place Jaffna Tamils at a level far superior to Sinhalese by condemning their history is not only unhistorical but also provocative playing into the hands of extremists on both sides. It is also counter-productive and it has not led them anywhere except to Nandikdal.
What is worse, it is a hollow claim not worthy of a man who sat as a judge in the Supreme Court. He repeats that the Tamils (meaning, of course, the high-caste Vellalas) are great because he speaks Tamil, the oldest language in the world. His other tack is to denigrate the Mahavamsa and Sinhala-Buddhist history because it is the Ponnambalam-Wigneswaran way of making Tamils look superior to the Sinhalese.
But both are cheap political tactics that had worsened the North -South inter-ethnic relations.
Take, for instance, his claim to be superior because he speaks Tamil, the oldest language in the world, as opposed to the Sinhala language which he says came into being around 5th century. But this is a silly boast of a vacant mind. No one denies the antiquity and the greatness of the Tamil language and its culture.
But how can he claim to be great by parroting a language created by another country, another nation? The greatness belongs to the Tamils of S. India who created it and invested it with all its richness.
Wigneswaran, or any Tamil in Jaffna, has nothing to do with it. The Wigneswarans are nothing but mediocre parrots trained to repeat the language that came out of the creative genius of Tamils of S. India. The imitative Jaffna mediocrities had not contributed anything great to the glory of the Tamil language or its culture. So, when Wigneswaran talks of his greatness because he speaks the Tamil language he is fooling himself and not impressing the world. Everyone knows that he is trying to shine in borrowed feathers. Wigneswaran and his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist extremists are pretending that they are the Einsteinian giants of Tamil culture. The more he opens his mouth to boast about his greatness because he speaks Tamil the more he exposes his mediocrity.
The Sinhalese, on the other hand, minted a new language of their own rejecting the dominant classical languages of their time. Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil were already established vehicles for all religious, social and intellectual use. The strength of the Sinhala language is that it never surrendered to these overwhelming linguistic forces of its time.
Rejecting all these languages the Sinhalese created their own linguistic medium for inter-personal communication and expression of their spiritual and philosophical thoughts.
If the Tamils came first, and if their language was superior, and if they were the geniuses they claim to be how come they failed to make their language the lingua franca of the nation? Why did the Sinhala language and the Sinhalese triumph over the Tamil geniuses? How did the young Sinhalese beat the old Tamil settlers? Repeating ad nauseam that Tamil language is great because it is one of the oldest doesn’t make it great because of its age. Languages that came later have delivered greater achievements for the advancement of mankind.
The Sinhalese, for their part, have proved that it is their language that has served them more than any other language that came with the migrants. Besides, if Wigneswaran wants to prove that his Jaffna culture is great then he has to match it with the achievements of the Sinhalese and not bask in the glory of S. India. It is because he can’t that he keeps on attacking the Mahavamsa – a classic that is the envy of the culturally bankrupt Tamils of Jaffna.
Incidentally, if he rejects the Mahavamsa then he has to reject the Tamil historical record, Yalpana Vaipava Malai, written by poet Mylvakanam, in 1736 for the benefit of the Dutch Governor, Jan Maccaras. In his own twisted way, Mylvakanam acknowledges Vijaya and his Sinhala followers as one of the original founders of the nation.
As I know it, Wigneswaran is a clueless political speculator who is hanging on to his obsessions with Tamil greatness mainly because he has no other viable political ideology to make his mark in politics. Sometime back when he was challenging everyone to debate with him on this issue I accepted his challenge.
Great defender of Tamils
Then he backtracked. He asked me to present to him my arguments for him to check with academic authorities before agreeing to debate. I asked him whether he, as a prosecuting lawyer, went to court and asked the defence lawyer to reveal his case to him before going to trial. That is Wigneswaran, the great defender of Tamils who does not know whether he is coming or going.
Obviously, he is not sure of his case. Now he is asking for a commission to investigate and adjudicate on what happened in history. He does not know his own Tamil history. He is still learning. He is playing the Tamil card purely to score points over his political competitors in Jaffna.
He relies entirely on one argument: he is great, the Tamils of Jaffna are great – nay superior to the Sinhalese! – because of the Tamil language. If Wigneswaran claims greatness on a borrowed language shouldn’t the Sinhalese be placed on a far superior scale of greatness for having created a new language and with it given the world a new culture and a new civilisation? What have the Jaffna Tamils done in their sterile settlement since the 10th century that can match the achievements of the Sinhalese?
What is more, the Tamils who boast of their great history is yet to produce an authoritative history of Jaffna. The first task of Jaffna University, established in 1972, should have been to produce a scholarly study of its past. More so, because history has been abused to mislead people into Nandikadal.
But it has not done so to this day. Giants of historiography in the stature of Prof. Kingsley de Silva have not yet graced the halls of learning in the Jaffna University.
K. Indrapala, the first professor of history of Jaffna, had to leave the University in a hurry because his original thesis on which he obtained his doctorate, was rejected by the politically hostile forces that proclaimed the Tamils were the original settlers ‘from the dawn of time.’ Indrapala said the Malabaris who migrated from S. India decided to remain as permanent settlers only in the 10th century.
The intellectual level of Wigneswaran makes it obvious that the future of reconciliation and even peace is at great risk. If the political thinking of the Tamils is to remain at Wigneswaran’s level we can certainly look forward to another bloody Nandikadal.
If Wigneswaran’s thinking came from a cheap politician trying to win the most number of preferential votes one could turn a blind eye, though repugnant.
But when Wigneswaran fails to distinguish between fact and fiction a serious question arises: How on earth did he pass judgment, fairly and objectively, in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka? Considering the way he is handling the available evidence before us all, shouldn’t there be a commission appointed to review his judgments?