Something is rotten in the state of Sri Lanka
D.B.S. Jeyaraj, 12 June 2005
must be frustrating indeed for the International community and other
proponents of the Post - Tsunami Operational Management Structure to see
the tragi - comic drama unfolding before their eyes right now. Their
brainchild conceived in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster is on the
verge of a forced abortion. The carefully constructed mechanism aiming
to contain the Tigers in rehabilitation and reconstruction may never
see the light of day given the powerful ultra - Sinhala opposition to
The international community that
abetted Colombo in prosecuting a war with the LTTE realised at the
turn of the twentieth century that the
Sri Lankan forces were incapable of achieving a military solution
against the LTTE. The series of defeats suffered in the Wanni during
Operation Unceasing waves, the successful military strikes in the
peninsula including the
fall of Elephant Pass,
the siege of Jaffna, the
defeat of the States much flaunted counter - offensive Operation
Agnikheela etc demonstrated that a military victory was beyond the
wildest imagination of Colombo.
It was then that
the Western nations and Japan began actively promoting the peace process.
Earlier it was lukewarm support on the one hand while bankrolling South
Asias longest war on the other. It was decided that the only way out was
to promote a political settlement during the course of which the Tigers
would be "contained" in a state of non - combat.
It was perceived that the longer the Tigers kept away from fighting the
greater their chances of dissipation, dissension and decay. It was
correctly surmised that internal revolts and defections will occur.
These were partly proved right in the form of Vinayagamoorthy
Unfortunately for the "west" the xenophobic
chauvinists were unable to realise that the peace process was being
mooted and promoted for their own good. The idea was not to split
Sri Lanka but to ensure the fractured Islands unity, sovereignty and
territorial integrity albeit in a federal system. The west was also
prepared to let the LTTE enjoy some "extra - Constitutional" power in
The main idea was to keep the Tigers quiet and away from the
battlefront. The West was ready to tolerate many human rights
violations including the killing of political dissidents and
conscription of minors by the Tigers as long as they did not start
fighting with the Sri Lankan state.
Of course some token protests were raised
but they were for the most part - token.
inspects Sri Lanka artillery at the war front
Unfortunately the West never comprehended or
anticipated the extent of anti - Tamil feelings in the
Sinhala supremacist psyche.
They miscalculated the inherent hegemonistic
attitude of the Sinhala majority (Mahajathiya) towards the
minority (Sulujathiya) communities. They rushed in like
angels who had burnt their wings like India feared to
The end result was continuous cries of
opposition to the West's well - meaning efforts by the
Sinhala hawks. An active conspiracy theory was floated and
believed that Oslo was the catspaw of sinister forces out to
dismember tiny Sri Lanka.
The bitter irony for the west was
that the conspiracy if at all in the peace process was
to weaken the Tigers gradually and do away with the
separatist threat gradually.
Given the prevailing conditions and their
own constraints in discussing a federal solution the
LTTE came out
with its Internal - Self Government Authority proposal.
Even before it was discussed the knives were out. The chief
culprits in this were President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga and her trusted foreign minister Lakshman
whipped up a campaign against the ISGA and used it as a
stratagem to condemn the Ranil Wickremasinghe regime.
The JVP, Buddhist fronts etc joined the
shamelessly exploiting the situation to her advantage
Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament and held elections. She
joined forces with the Sinhala "National Socialist " JVP.
The bogeyman was Wickremasinghe who was accused of selling
out to the Tigers.
They won but without an absolute
majority. Worse still for Kumaratunga she found herself a
captive of the JVP that had got 39 seats, four ministerial
and four deputy - ministerial posts. Despite the reins of
office being in her hands Kumaratunga found herself
completely shackled when it came to the ethnic crisis. The
JVP was against Norwegian involvement, against devolution
and against having anything to do with the Tigers. If
Kumaratunga thought the lure and spoils of office would have
mellowed the JVP she found the national socialists as firm
as ever on the Tigers. In a sense the
JVP was being honest to its policies, election manifesto
and voters. This resulted in a deadly stalemate on the
The Tigers were losing patience fast. By December last
year the LTTE had decided on some firm action. It was
decided to declare a withdrawal from the ceasefire by Feb
23rd 2005. The announcement to that effect was to be made on
Jan 14th. There would be no immediate recourse to war but
the LTTE would be keenly watching the situation. If that
situation had come to pass a full - fledged war would have
been inevitable by April - May this year.
Then came the
tsunami disaster. North - eastern coasts were devastated
as in the case of the South - west. Given the extent of
suffering caused a return to war by either party was out of
the question. On the other hand the natural calamity
provided a humanitarian opportunity for resumption of
dialogue. There was no need to talk of federalism or
devolution or the ISGA proposal of the LTTE. Instead both
parties could talk about providing relief and rehabilitation
to the afflicted people. Moreover both sides could forge a
common mechanism to address those needs and concerns
speedily and effectively. If this did materialise then that
could pave the way for further talks on more substantive
In order to encourage this move the
international community pledged a very generous aid package
but with one big string attached. Both Colombo and
Kilinochchi should forge some joint mechanism for the money
to be delivered on time and as pledged. In fairness to her
Kumaratunga too recognized immediately the merits of this
move. Thereafter she actively promoted such a venture. The
LTTE too responded positively. Yet the pace of discussions
on what was an urgent humanitarian project was dismally
slow. Despite the tardy progress the project reached
finality. And then the excreta collided with the oscillator.
Many years ago former TULF Parliamentarian S.
Kathiravetpillai made an apt comment about the nature of
things in Sri Lanka. Comparing Sri Lanka to the apartheid
South Africa state prevailing at that time Kathiravetpliilai
"Racism in South Africa is skin deep;
Racism in Sri Lanka is soul deep".
Even the West may have never bargained for
the reaction to the so called P- Toms or Joint mechanism. Of
course the objection was to giving powers to the terrorist
LTTE but the underlying thoughts were fundamentally racist.
After decades of exercising hegemonistic control over the
Tamils the hard - liners were in no mood to accommodate
sharing power even in a tsunam relief project.
The Amarapura Mahanayake in an interview
used the word "demallu" (Tamils) openly and inter-
changeably when referring to the LTTE.
Now the Sinhala chauvinist supremacists
have won the first battle. They have succeeded in
pressurising Kumaratunga to backtrack on the JM for the
She has promised that she will not sign the document
without consulting the Mahanayakes. She has also
guaranteed that the JM will not threaten the unity,
sovereignity or territorial integrity of the Country.
This was no concession as the project
never did harm those in any way. In fact the
Joint Mechanism strengthened those further. But the
worst however is yet to come. The JVP has threatened a
pull - out from the Government on June 16th if
Kumaratunga does not pull back from the project by June
15th. Kumaratunga however seems equally determined and
has declared that she would quit rather than go back on
the Joint mechanism but then politics is the art of the
possible and many turns and twists are possible in the
Whatever the final outcome of this
unholy struggle one fact has been proved conclusively.
The original sin in this garden of Eden was
Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian racism. Sri Lanka's
slow path to decline and destruction began with the
Sinhala - Buddhist chauvinist policies of the post -
Independence era. The fundamental and major problem
standing in the way of a united, undivided Sri Lanka has
been majoritarian hegemonism and unwiilingness to
recognize the inherent rights of the other minorities or
nationalities living in the island. Other problems
emanating from other communities are minor or lesser in
nature when compared to this.
From the time
peace process began I have been interacting with
several western diplomats and journalists. They would
continuously harp on the LTTE factor and project it as
the biggest stumbling block to lasting peace. While
agreeing that the LTTE does pose a problem, I would
argue that the greater problem would be the Sinhala
chauvinists. The activities of the Tigers would give
them a pretext but historically the majority mindset
will not allow any tangible rights to the Tamils I would
I would also point out past history and
elites were either unwilling or unable to withstand
opposition on these issues and will be cowed down by
the chauvinist forces. The response on most counts would
be polite disbelief. The naked exhibition of aggressive
Sinhala Buddhist consciousness against the proposed
joint mechanism may have demonstrated what is rotten in
the state of Sri Lanka.
Let there be no mistake
about it. The rise of Sinhala - Buddhist chauvinism is
the bane of modern Sri Lanka. From the days of the
Buddhist Commission to the present times of a joint
mechanism this underlying current is visibly present.
From Anagarika Dharmapala to Omalpe
Sobitha there are Buddhist champions ever ready to
deprive Tamils. There are excuses always and the jargon
used appears to be reasonable and just on the surface
but the vicious communalism is always there. Now the
brutality and violence of the
is depicted as the reason justifying opposition to the
joint mechanism. But then these same forces attacked
SJV Chelvanayagam and
Appapillai Amirthalingam as extremists too.
The rise of the religious right is a dangerous
phenomenon in South Asia. India is fortunate that there
are vast numbers of intellectuals, political leaders and
opinion makers who are prepared to combat this Hindu
Chauvinsm openly and vigorously. In Sri Lanka there are
very few members of the Sinhala Buddhist ethnicity who
are prepared to do so. Unless and until a new breed
emerges from the Sinhala - Buddhist entity to challenge
this hegemonistic school of thought, forget about Tamils
or Muslims, there is no hope for the Sinhala people in
the modern world if these arch - reactionaries continue
Let us not forget that for four and a
half years (1966 - 70) we had our week - ends on Poya
and pre - poya day. It has been said of the French
Bourbons that they learnt nothing and forgot nothing.
The same could be said of the Sinhala - Buddhist
If the International community does
really want a genuine, just, honourable and durable
peace in Sri Lanka it must address itself to this
The problem lies there. It does not
matter whether the LTTE is really prepared to abandon
Tamil Eelam or not at this juncture. What matters is
that the Tigers have a very legitimate and valid reason
to decline direct talks on a lasting settlement. If the
Sinhala majority is not ready to share power on a
limited enterprise like the joint mechanism what chances
are there then that a scheme of devolution or federalism
will be accepted? Against that backdrop the LTTE cannot
be faulted if it does not come to the negotiating table.
One only hopes and prays that the LTTE will not resort
The recent demonstrations against the
Joint mechanism and the JVP stance are a firm wake - up
call to the International community. Something is rotten
in the state of Sri Lanka. It is time to take note of
what is really wrong in Sri Lanka. The root cause of the
problem needs to be addressed.
victims of the tsunami have waited too long for relief and redress. They
cannot be expected to languish in refugee camps while the majoritarian
chauvinists whip themselves into a frenzy. How are these innocent victims of a
natural disaster going to receive the pledged international aid? We cannot wait
for a joint mechanism to be forged in a society that is soul deep in racism.
Desperate situations require desperate
remedies. The suffering people should get help as soon
as possible. Time is of the essence.