Distorted history leads to unworkable solutions – Part II

“This demands a new perspective that rejects the mono-causal view of blaming only the Sinhala-Buddhists and accepts the multi-factorial imperatives, especially the over-determining singularity of the peninsular politics – namely, the Vellahla caste factor -- that warped Jaffna-centric politics until it climaxed in the violence of the Vadukoddai Resolution.”

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

(September 25, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian)
Now that Robert O’Blake is back in his home base after leaving Sri Lanka, he has fallen into what William Pfaff calls the “policy community and the newspaper editorial pages, with nothing original or questioning” the conventional wisdom recycled within it. This “policy community” consists of ex-diplomats like Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and think-alike Tweedledums and Tweedledees from academia, armed forces etc.

From time to time, they also invite handpicked guest speakers from crisis-ridden nations like Sri Lanka and project them as “independent experts” though in reality they are the ideological lackeys ever willing to confirm the prejudices, interests and agendas of their Western pay masters. There is a symbiotic relationship between the local NGOs and “policy community” in the US and Europe. They feed on each other. The “conventional wisdom” of this “policy community” on Sri Lanka has been conditioned mainly by their hired epigones in the anti-Sri Lankan NGO loop, circulating invariably in the diplomatic cocktail circus of Colombo.

The in-breeding common to these policy communities produce only sterile ideologies. Recently, Teresita Schaffer presided over a session run by United States Institute for Peace (USIP) which featured Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu (“Paki”) and Jehan Perera as “experts” on Sri Lanka -- two other political twins from the anti-Sri Lankan NGOs. Predictably, as stated by Pfaff, nothing original or serious questioning of the fundamentals came out of it.

This outcome is not surprising because Teresita Schaffer, who now heads the CSIS think-tank, was hand in glove with NGO hirelings headed by Neelan Tiruchelvam during her tenure as Ambassadress to Sri Lanka. Neelan exploited his Harvard connections to the maximum in promoting Tamil separatism, or a constitutional arrangement that would come close to it. He established the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), funded primarily by the American Ford Foundation, as the political base to market the agenda of the notorious Vadukoddai Resolution (May 14, 1976) that ended disastrously in Nanthi Kadal lagoon on May 18, 2009.

Unlike the political fathers of the Vadukoddai Resolution who appealed to the basic instincts of Tamil racism Neelan turned his political base at the ICES into a private research center to wrap his Jaffna-centric politics in sophisticated and fashionable ideologies and phraseologies which would appeal to his Western patrons like the Ford Foundation. In essence, ICES and allied NGOs packaged the north-south confrontations as a conflict between the majority Sinhala-Buddhists and the Tamil-speaking minorities which deviously and mendaciously included the Tamil-speaking Muslims and the Indian Tamils in the estates into that category.

This was a fallacious argument inflated to demonize the Sinhala-Buddhists as the majority pitted against all Tamil-speaking minorities. As the recorded history confirms, it is a conflict confined essentially to the north and the south. The Vadukoddai agenda did not inflame the eastern Muslims or the hill-country Indians. The other fallacy promoted by the ICES, headed by Neelan and Radhika Coomaraswamy, his successor, is that the north-south conflict was a phenomenon that arose from the mono-causal force of Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism that victimized and oppressed the Tamil-speaking minority. This enabled the ICES and allied NGOs to market victimology as their main ideology. Based on this fallacy they argued that the issues involved can be remedied only by restructuring the constitutional centre to devolve power to the “underdogs” of the north, if necessary at the expense of the other communities.

This is the political mythology that has dominated and exacerbated the Sri Lanka conflict. ICES, together with MARGA, MIRJE, CPA, Sarvodaya and National Peace Council etc., promoted this mono-causal theory partly because there was money in it and partly because they were committed to advance the political platform of the Vadukoddai Resolution. Neelan, for instance, openly shed all disguises of being an objective and independent head of an NGO and unashamedly became a card-carrying member of the Tamil National Alliance, which was the political arm of the LTTE. He even became a TNA MP.

Since the TNA was committed to the political agenda in the Vadukoddai Resolution the ICES turned into a mere sophisticated appendage of the ethnic extremism of the Vadukoddai agenda. For instance, ICES ignored the mono-ethnic imperatives of Jaffna-centric politics that exacerbated the north-south conflict and focused only on demonizing the Sinhala-Buddhist south. Other NGOs too followed the same pattern. An objective survey of the ideology of all the politicized NGOs will reveal that they never deviated one iota from the fundamentals laid down in the Vadukoddai Resolution. All their theories, analyses, research, recipes for peace, seminars, publications, etc., were designed, directly or indirectly, to buttress the political platform defined in the Vadukoddai Resolution.

As stated earlier, Jaffna-centric politics, unlike that of the other minority communities, was focused primarily on grabbing (1) power and (2) territory. The political mythology contained in the Vadukoddai Resolution was woven to achieve these two objectives. This is the main reason why it failed to grab the imagination of the other Tamil-speaking communities which had no interest in going along with the Jaffna-centric agenda. Norman Uphoff of Cornell University, a political scientist, “who did many years of extensive field research in conflict areas in Lanka,” confirms this when he says: “Sinhalese politicians were blinded by their own ethnic prejudices and perceptions, themselves seeing the conflict much as LTTE has defined it, as an ethnic struggle rather than a blatant attempt by a minority to seize political power and territory.” (quoted by Prof. Asoka Bandarage – p.16, The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka, Terrorism ethnicity, political economy,).

Teresita Schaffer, like the other diplomats, had swallowed this political mythology unquestioningly. It is an ideology that determines the thinking of the US and Western policy-makers. With her head buried in the Tamil political mythology Schaffer has gone to the extreme position of advocating “confederalism” as her most favoured solution to the Sri Lankan conflict. It is a one-eyed solution promoted by think-tanks in distant Washington without taking into consideration the viability and acceptability among the people in Sri Lanka who, ultimately, will have to bear the human costs of dismantling or weakening the centre with various formulas of devolution of power while the American and NGO pundits go to sip their cocktails in the next seminar.

To begin with, a mono-causal interpretation of complex north-south relations is totally unrealistic and irrelevant to either understand or work out a fair solution to all the majority and minority communities. Applying an asymmetrical and partisan solution according to the demands of one community in the north is not going to solve the related complex problems arising from appeasing the mono-ethnic extremism of the north. Any future formula for peace must take into consideration the political failures of the asymmetrical recipes prescribed in the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and the failed Ceasefire Agreement of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Any one-sided formula to appease the mono-ethnic extremism of the north, particularly in the post-Prabhakaran era, would have a disastrous impact and bedevil the lives of all the other communities.

The underlying cause for the failures of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and the Ceasefire Agreement has been this mono-causal view demanding a mono-ethnic solution. For a fair and balanced solution to emerge the public discourse must shift further away from the false ideologies promoted by “policy communities” abroad and their henchaiyas in the local NGOs. A radical departure from the conventional wisdom of the failed past is vital because the mono-causal view that informs the policy-makers must necessarily lead them to the cul-de-sac of a mono-ethnic solution to solve a multi-ethnic problem. There is, therefore, an urgent need to revisit the dynamics of the north-south conflict and work out a solution that would be applicable and acceptable to all the communities.

This demands a new perspective that rejects the mono-causal view of blaming only the Sinhala-Buddhists and accepts the multi-factorial imperatives, especially the over-determining singularity of the peninsular politics – namely, the Vellahla caste factor -- that warped Jaffna-centric politics until it climaxed in the violence of the Vadukoddai Resolution. When the Vellahla leadership of the north passed the Vadukoddai Resolution, which abandoned the parliamentary process and insisted on a military solution, it was based primarily on the mono-causal dogma

As the need for a multi-factorial analysis is commonsense there is no need to argue this point. However, an apposite quote from Leszek Kolakowski, one of the most pragmatic and even prophetic political theorists of the West, would help to reinforce it. He wrote: ”All kinds of circumstances contribute to the formation of a world-view….and all phenomena are due to an inexhaustible multiplicity of causes.” (Quoted in the New York Review of Books – September 24, 2009).

Consequently, those who fall for the mono-causal theory of blaming the only the Sinhala-Buddhist with its corollary of exonerating the Tamils of the north must revisit the Vadukoddai Resolution and question its political myths and geographical concoctions to evade the pitfalls of the past and arrive at a balanced view of the bloody events that ended in Nanthi Kadal. As long as the US, or any other, policy-makers are stuck in this “conventional wisdom” of accepting the mono-causal political myths, without questioning the basics on which they are formulated, they will continue to miss the underlying historical dynamics that led to the 33-year-old Vadukoddai War declared on May 14, 1976 by the mono-ethnic extremists of the north.

Previous Part: The return of the Ugly Americans to Sri Lanka – Part I

To be continued…
-Sri Lanka Guardian