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Ana Pararajasingham, Australia
The Failure of the Joint Mechanism: Lessons to be Learnt
22 July 2005
The President & the Chief Justice - Two Minds with but a
- "நான் பேச நினைப்பதெல்லாம் நீ பேச வேண்டும்"]
|The enormous resistance to the establishment of a Joint
Mechanism has demonstrated the attitude of the Sinhalese political
establishment to any kind of power sharing with the Tamil people.
Little wonder then that Canadian Liberal party parliamentarian, Hon.
Maria Minna, should, following her fact finding mission to Sri Lanka
in March 2005 say that
Similar sentiments were expressed by the spokesperson for the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples at the 61st Session of the UN Commission of Human Rights in Geneva in stating that
The President finally agreed to a Joint Mechanism (P-TOMS) only when she found herself subject to intense international pressure. But within days the agreement was rendered ineffective due to a judicial challenge ostensibly mounted by the JVP. It was obvious, however, that there was widespread support for this move across the Sinhala polity and it was not just confined to the JVP.
This is because members of her own party, the bureaucracy, the Buddhist priesthood and most importantly influential sections of the Sinhala-owned “national” media regarded the ‘joint mechanism’ to be incompatible with their notions of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
Underpinning this notion is a mindset that refuses to acknowledge the Island’s multi-national character. Instead, it is a mindset that subscribes to the view that the entire Island belongs to the Sinhalese and as such Sinhala hegemony must prevail. It is indeed a crude and cruel ideology that manifested itself in several anti-Tamil pogroms between 1956 and 1983; the Sinhala Only Act of 1956, the so called ‘standardisation schemes’ to limit Tamils entering universities from 1970 onwards and most tellingly in the abject indifference to the plight of the victims of tsunami in the North East of the Island.
Singling out the JVP and the various ‘patriotic’ groups, as the extremists harbouring this crude ideology is patently wrong, for the chauvinistic mindset is far more prevalent. According to Sinhalese social scientist Kumari Jayawardne by the 1930’s this mindset was very much in existence.
S W R D Bandaranaike, the present President’s father was the first to exploit this well entrenched chauvinism to bulldoze his way into power. He was certainly not the one to invent it. Much earlier than Bandaranaike, D S Senanayake, the ‘father’ of the modern Sinhala nation, had revealed his penchant for this particular brand of chauvinism when he proclaimed in 1939, in tones reminiscent of Hitler's "thousand year Reich"
Bandaranaike, however, having supped with the chauvinistic devil to further his political career found that he could not extricate himself. As a consequence, in 1957, he was forced to abrogate a pact that he entered into with the then Tamil leadership agreeing to limited autonomy.
Ever since Bandaranaike was swept into power on the back of Sinhala chauvinism, every Sinhala politician has embraced this chauvinism with glee. In this endeavour the support they received from the media, academics and of course the Buddhist clergy can only be described as monumental.
Even those Sinhala politicians who subscribed to lofty ideals of socialist brotherhood were not immune to the seductive appeal of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. Take for instance, the case of Dr Colvin R De Silva, socialist ideologue, who having warned in 1956 that Sinhala Only Bill may end up creating two countries (in a memorable quote attributed to him ‘One language two countries: Two Languages one country”), was to become the architect of the 1972 constitution which enshrined Sinhala supremacy constitutionally in unequivocal terms.
In August 1957, J R Jayawardne (who was to become Sri Lanka's head of state twenty years later) began his campaign against the then Prime Minister Bandaranaike, who had entered into a pact with the Tamil leader Chelvanayakam to devolve autonomy to the Tamil regions, by declaring:
In July 1981, Mrs Wimala Kanangara M.P and Minister for Rural Development declared in parliament
On 3rd February 1994, the Island newspaper quoted the Sri Lankan President D B Wijetunge saying,
On 5 May 1996, Vice Chancellor, Sri Lanka Vidyalankara University Ven. Walpola Rahula Thero told Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times
In September 1998, the President, Kumaratunge, revealed her own bias when she said in a television interview in South Africa,
Then there is the ‘liberal’ Dayan Jayatilleke who had this to say as recently as June 2005, when the question in everyone else’s mind was the joint mechanism
The late Sivaram (Taraki) in an article in the Veerakesari of 10th October 2004 highlighted the potency of this chauvinism by showing that even those Sinhalese who had once supported the Tamil cause were not immune to its opportunistic appeal. Sivaram drew attention to the doings of Tilak Karunaratne (now a founder member of the openly racist Sinhala Urumya), Dr Nalin de Silva of the Mathematics Department at Colombo University (now the Head of “Jathika Chinthanaya," which is based on the fundamentalism of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy) and Dayan Jayatileke, all of whom at some stage supported the Tamil cause.
All that has been outlined above demonstrates that this chauvinism is widespread and it brooks no accommodation. More worryingly, it is irrational. The irrationality inherent was well encapsulated in a paper on ‘Sinhala Nationalism’ by Professor Michael Roberts of the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Adelaide.
According to Roberts
The failure of the joint mechanism has made it blindingly obvious that the chauvinism is well and truly alive.
What was once said of the Bourbons that “They learn nothing and forget nothing” applies equally well to the Sinhala polity, which has learnt nothing from the twenty-year-old war or forgotten the crude chauvinism that lies at the root of the conflict that led to war.
It is important that the international community whose role is
crucial to bring about a political resolution takes this mindset
into account. Persisting in waving the ‘carrot’ of financial aid
alone is unlikely to persuade this polity to engage in negotiating
for a just solution. Instead, the ‘stick’ needs to be wielded as