Political violence in Sri Lanka - Part five


By Lionel Bopage

(August 08, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Post-colonial political violence in Sri Lanka is a manifestation of birth pangs of the transitions that are necessary in the move to a better Sri Lanka where equitable and participative politics will prevail. This violence is the result of a process of decolonisation; a result of a war of succession; a war about the refusal of those in control to share or transfer power; a war about rectifying the injustices imposed by colonialism and the post-1948 bourgeois ruling elites.

The overwhelming majority of people wish for an end to the political violence. What is needed for this is a political movement that could unite people on the basis of a democratic socialist policy platform that would reject all special privileges for any one communit y and discard all forms of chauvinism. Therefore, building a social-democratic opposition is necessary to exert pressure on the major parties to resolve internal conflicts through political and democratic means.

Equitable distribution of the results of economic development and participatory democracy are essential for the society to progress. While recognising specific problems people in Sri Lanka face due to the current conflict, the challenges they face due to capitalist globalisation also need to be recognised and addressed. If solutions to these problems and challenges cannot be found internally, external forces could interfere for their own benefit and interest. However, the cultural change Sri Lanka needs to go through is alien to its political traditions.

Whoever values humanity, peace, democracy, freedom and liberty needs to rise up and show that they oppose the repressive political culture in Sri Lanka. All people who value equality and equity need to exert pressure on the state to negotiate towards a meaningful and just
power sharing arrangement. Power sharing will weaken the forces of national subjugation and separation. However, it can only succeed when strong leaderships exist. Also, this requires treating the other with dignity and respect in the process of negotiation. That is the only way to ensure security and dignity of all the people in Sri Lanka. Such a solution will last much longer than any military victory, which by its very nature can only be temporary.

Ensuring the aspirations of the marginalised are met, requires a paradigm shift in the attitudes and thinking of the majority to a critical, inclusive and constructivist mode towards the marginalised in the society. The marginalised in turn need to invent the characteristics of a new society that would assist in materialising their aspirations. Sinhala and Tamil expatriates that helped perpetuate this conflict could now make a positive contribution to its resolution by

engaging in dialogue within their community and with other communities. The diaspora needs to become active drivers of this paradigm shift by changing their role from advocates of political violence to constructively creating this reality through their interactions with each other.

If peaceful coexistence through power sharing is not achievable, the current conflict is likely to continue. Even if the Government and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces manage to weaken, defeat or eliminate the LTTE militarily without a just political solution based on genuine and fair power sharing arrangements granting equity and equality to non-Sinhala people of the island, the secessionist tendencies and movements could re-emerge. The outcome of such a scenario would be that 'the Government was winning the war while losing peace and the future'. A way out of this possible adverse outcome is the implementation of a federal constitutional framework that strengthens democracy and good governance and provides regional autonomy to the Tamil and Muslim peoples. Such radical political reforms, in the long term, will rid peoples’ fears, mistrusts and humiliations of the other, and provide much needed space to reflect on the way forward.

As the Buddha aptly preached in the Chakkavatti Sihanada Sutra:

‘... money not being given to the poor, poverty flourished; because poverty flourished, theft flourished; because theft flourished, weaponry flourished; because weaponry flourished, murder flourished; because murder flourished, these beings' vitality decreased, as did their beauty...’ (Collins S 1998).


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Lionel Bopage attributes political violence in Sri Lanka to the use of repressive measures by Sri Lanka’s political establishment to deny access to political power to those outside the establishment. He argues that nationality, language, religion and caste have been manipulated to establish and maintain political power by the ruling elite. He goes on to argue that the left failed to counter this blatant chauvinism and instead engaged in opportunistic ethnic politics of their own to gain parliamentary power. In doing so the left has debased itself.

It is in this context that he traces the insurrection led by the radicalised Southern (Sinhalese) and Northern (Tamil) youth. He points to the significant fact that political violence was absent until 1956. He argues that political violence was the result of a deliberate attempt by the bourgeoisie to capture and keep power. He is critical of Indian involvement in the island’s affairs (particularly in the context of political violence due to internal conflicts); he is of the view that Indian involvement was driven by its strategic economic and political interests and not by humanitarian reasons. He cites examples like: India’s assistance to the Sri Lankan state to combat the 1971 JVP insurrection predominantly by Sinhalese in the south, it’s arming of the Tamil militants in the early 1980s and the deployment of its forces in the late 1980s to suppress the very group that it had armed.

He attributes the Indian intervention to the new wave of political violence in the North by the Tamil youth and in the South by the Sinhala youth. He acknowledges that the LTTE had by then become a conventional force and that successive wars launched against the LTTE instead of weakening it, had only further strengthened it. However, the recent capture of almost all the territory that was under control of the LTTE is a significant military victory to the state, a significant military setback to the LTTE, and a major political blow to its separatist goal. He concludes that if peaceful coexistence through power sharing is not achievable, the current conflict is likely to continue with the possibility of secessionist tendencies and movements re- emerging. A way out of this is the implementation of a federal constitutional framework that strengthens democracy and good governance and provides regional autonomy to the Tamil and Muslim peoples. Such radical political reforms, in the long term, will rid peoples’ fears, mistrusts and humiliations of the other, and provide much needed space to reflect on the way forward.


Opportunism of the left -Part Four

Radicalisation of Youth -Part Three

Anti- capitalist radicalisation and Political Violence -Part Two

Complexity of the conflict -Part One

-Sri Lanka Guardian
jean-pierre said...

Ex Maxists and neo-marxists continue to write their usual political harangues and hackneyed wisdom. Give me one li9ne of new thinking in this. It was a waste of time reading it.