Mahinda, Liberator or Conqueror ?

By: Dushy Ranetunge in London

(April 09, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) It will be written in the great book, that as the new century dawned, a “demala” king Velu, ruled in the North from his capital in Kilinochchi. It will be written that many kings and queens of Lanka, tried in vain to defeat the “demala” king, but failed, until Mahinda, from the ancient Kingdom of Magama ascended to the throne of Lanka, and after assembling his “yodhayas”, one Gothabaya among them, raised a huge army and battled in the East on the banks of the Mahaveli and then to the North, where he defeated the “Demala?s” and drove them to the sea;- well a patch of beach. It will be written in the great book, that the “demala” king hid among the civilians on the beach, to save his bacon.

The story is almost identical to that which occurred in 161BC, between Dutu Gemunu and Elara. Both, Dutu Gemunu and Mahinda are from Magama, both mobilised huge armies, both had a Gothabaya, both first battled in the East and then the North. Both have had to appease the population, Gemunu by building a tomb for Elara and Ruvanvelisaya and Mahinda having to initiate massive reconstruction projects.

The only difference is that 70 year old Elara was a brave warrior who wanted to save his people and came out and challenged for single combat outside his capital, while King Velu, ran away from his capital and hid among his people on the beach, using the people as a human shield.

There is great historical significance in present events in Sri Lanka, which few Sri Lankans appreciate. Most Sinhala nationalists like to think that the island was united for most of history under a central Sinhalese authority. It was not.

Before the present day Mahinda militarily united Sri Lanka in 2009, the British King George III of the House of Hanover militarily united it in 1815. That unity lasted for about 150 years before starting to come apart.

Before that Parakramabahu I of Polonnaruva united Sri Lanka around 1160 AD. The great Parakramabahu?s unity did not last even 100 years.

From 1215 to 1619, there was a kingdom in Jaffna, longer than the life of the United States of America. It was briefly annexed by Bhuvanekabahu VI, also known as Sapumal Kumaraya in 1450 but lost control of it by 1467.

Rev Phillipus Baldeaus who lived and preached in the Kingdom of Jaffnapattnum has written extensively about it and his publication in 1672 has a map of the Kingdom.

It is quite extraordinary that what is happening on the island today is a mere repeating of history, which has been played out so many times on the island.

Unfortunately, no one has over the years has come up with a winning formula to politically consolidate the unity achieved militarily.

If we are to focus out and look at global developments in democracy and governance over the last 200 years, the present developments in Sri Lanka are an anomaly, Rajapakse and his supporters are swimming upstream.

It is this anomaly, which attracts criticism of the Sri Lankan regime, particularly in the Western Democracies.

The global trend, dictates in favour of the Northerners getting their political space in the North(not the one the Sinhalese, drunk with nationalism at present have in mind). From Hong Kong to London, substantial devolved governance is on the cards and the level of devolution is increasingly not controlled by force of arms of the centre or the majority, but by the aspirations of the citizens of the unit of devolution.

In Quebec, Czechoslovakia, and Scotland, referendums have been held or speculated, on separation. This is the future, whether the Sinhalese like it or not.

Unlike Rajapakse and his supporters, senior Sri Lankan diplomats are tuned to global trends and acknowledge that the Northerners always had and have the moral high ground in respect of their cause. Hence the international sympathy for the Tamil cause (not LTTE).

What the Southerners have is a mere window of opportunity.

War on Terror, so skilfully exploited by the Sri Lankan state is the trade wind that has carried the Sri Lankan galleon thus far, and what is disturbing is that the Sri Lankan authorities lost in a whirlwind of nationalism, may fail to position Sri Lanka, to exploit the new changing winds.

The War on Terror phenomena ensures that India and the Western powers can be managed at tolerable levels, to eliminate the scourge of LTTE terrorism, but the moral high ground of the Tamil cause always remains, only temporarily eclipsed by War on Terror.

Globally, as the War on Terror phenomena fades as we move into this century, the ability of the Sri Lankan state to manage the calls for increased autonomy and devolved governance will diminish.

Today, unity of the island is enforced via the barrel of artillery and the level of militarisation is at its pinnacle with civilian power and rights severely curtailed. To maintain the status quo at the present level, Sri Lanka will have to maintain a Burma style militaristic regime. This is unrealistic and unlikely and will eventually meet with civilian unrest.

A more realistic trajectory is a fading of militarism and a gradual restoring of civilian rights and powers over the next few years. Already all military procurements have ceased. Economic circumstances will not allow it.

These developments would be encouraged by the international community including India, which will be uncomfortable with a militarised Sri Lanka. This is a process that will gradually increase democracy in Sri Lanka up to a point where its citizens will, like in other democracies be able to determine the level of devolution and yes, even the unthinkable at present.

The days that ethnic majorities controlled the political aspirations of minorities via legislative or physical control at the barrel of artillery will rapidly diminish within this century.

The state can justify a military response to terrorism. It cannot justify a military or a police response to the aspirations of a community if demanded politically.

Military power as a means to control or contain internal political aspirations/disputes would increasingly be viewed globally as being expensive, counterproductive, increasing local and regional risk and leading to political and economic destabilisation.

The world will frown upon states, which use the military or police power as a strategy to contain internal political aspirations and demand that political intervention be used, as its far more successful and less costly.

Unity and nationhood, has to be won over, and can never be enforced. In other societies the racists like the KKK in the United States or the BNP, NF in the United Kingdom are outside the government and marginalised, but in Sri Lanka they are in bed with the government, a cancer within the majority community and within the government.

Gothabaya speaks of the cancer of Tamil nationalism, which has to be overcome to win the war, but to win the peace, the more potent cancer of Sinhala nationalism will need to be cut out of society. This would be the more difficult task and without it the days of Mahinda?s unity, achieved at great cost to the nation are numbered.

Its Mahinda?s choice, if he wants to be a conqueror like those before him, whose enforced unity will disintegrate within a few years like George III and Parakramabahu I, or take bold initiatives to assault the ingrained prejudices of the majority community, empower all the citizens with wide powers of devolution, and be a liberator to all our peoples, breaking the cycle of history and setting Lanka on an unprecedented path of unity, prosperity and political stability.
-Sri Lanka Guardian
jean-pierre said...

This writer has to take a lesson in history, or he/she is just parodying? We have this sentence:
"From 1215 to 1619, there was a kingdom in Jaffna, longer than the life of the United States of America." It is also longer in Time than the State of existence of India which has only existed since 1947. So the Jaffna Kindom has more historical validity than "India"?

Reductio ad absurdum

Those who want to go back to the "three kingdoms" that existed at the time of the portuguese conquest, or at the time of the British conquest of Sri Lanka, are similar to people who ask that Britain be handed back to the Romans.
We HAVE TO ACCEPT THE PRESENT SITUATION, AND BUILD A MULTI CULTURAL SOCIETY, AND NOT A MULTI-STATE SYSTEM BASED ON ETHNIC ENCLAVES, CALLING IT FEDERALISM OR DEVOLUTION OR WHAT EVER. I am a Tamil who lives in Mt. Lavinia and I have no appetite for this "Traditional Homelands" bullshit. I live where I live, and have no wish to move to some ethnic federated state or Tamil kingdom.

Peace4-all said...

What a beautiful article. Well thought and realistic

Dayaa said...

Cheer's to the writer. This is exactly to expect in Srilanka within a short period from now.

The GO of Srilanka should, if their motive is sincere in finding the solution to this un ending problem, should by this time be ready with a set of proposals.
But they are only interested in ending ( ?) the war militarily, because, in this manner lot of benefits to the govt as follows:
a. By giving the nation a prolonged war and saying the war is almost won, they try to win the elections.
b. By continuing the war, procurements for the Military will be continuing, and obviously commissions are accuring to the purchasers.
c. The Military also directly benefits since, we know, that certain banned items to the LTTE, are being released at the check posts by taking bribes.

a. Our economy is stagnant because of the heavy expenditure on Military
b. The Govt cannot instill its credibility in the International arena because there are no international personnel at the war zone to report impartially
c. Most of the young sinhalese have been educated to say that all tamils are LTTE's or sympathisers

So now Mahinda should be prepared whether his name should be in history books as that of a hero who saved Srilanka or who brought about a split country at the cost of human lives.

Kusal Epa said...

There were periods of rule by Tamil kings in the past which of course were illegal because most of the time the rules were invaders from South India. And it does not justify a present day separate kingdom. Besides when the British came only a small part of Jaffna peninsula had Tamil rule but the Tamils claim whole of North and East provinces as part of their kingdom!

Asithri said...

Obviously this writer lacks a proper understanding of Sri Lanka's history and sadly has only shown crass naivety.

For instance...

The writer fails to reckon in the "Tamil Nadu" factor into his/her analysis and has conveniently avoided the fact that any "Tamil kingdom" in Sri Lanka was actually an extension of the then existing Tamil kingdom in south India, in the vast south Indian state today known as Tamil Nadu (Tamil translated into English = "Tamil Nation" the home to 70 Million Tamils) and that any "Tamil kingdom" in Sri Lanka was created not by purchasing real estate, but through brutal, genocidal persecution of the majority Sinhels of the island.

S/he has conveniently hidden the fact that Sinhela kingdoms were originally formed in the northern most parts of the island (starting about 500 BC) and it was due to these successive brutal invasions by the Tamil/Chola armies from south India that Sinhela kingdoms had to be moved to the south and hence why majority Sinhelas are today concentrated there.

As such...

If s/he wants to tout "Tamil kingdoms" as a justification for Tamils wanting "special devolution" in Sri Lanka (as opposed to Tamils should agree to live in Sri Lanka as "Sri Lankans" given that they have every freedom and right that any other Sri Lankan has today), then I suggest we must go back in history to analyze that justification but way beyond the 1215 to 1619 period s/he has conveniently grabbed at, to further his/her cockamamie theory.

OaO Asithri

Unknown said...

What an absurd argument by Dushy Ranetunge about the Tamil Kingdom ! The average Tamil in Lanka wants to integrate into mainstream life there.
Some in the Tamil Diaspora wants Ealam & also some interested parties. Ealam means war forever, with the
general population in Ealam turned into slaves, and
leaving the country wide open to foreign interference. We can see what separation has done to India & Pakistan ! Let's be pragmatic & build a united Lanka.