| Both GGP and SWRD had been glowingly referred to as "pocket Hitlers" by their admirers!
By Gam Vaesiya, Ontario, Canada
(January 15, Ontario, Canada , Sri Lanka Guardian) I was provoked to write this article by another article which appeared in the Sri Lanka Guardian entitled ,Presidential election 2010, and the next armed uprising in Sri Lanka by Trishantha Nanayakkara. The author takes up six principles for analysis, and seems to argue that clear conclusions as to how to prevent the next armed uprising could be drawn.
Political science is not at all a science
Unfortunately, the author assumes that the military uprisings of post-independent Sri Lanka are simple results of discrimination of specific groups by other groups or connected with his six principles. That is, a systemic cause is looked for, using some general principles. The possibility that certain elite individuals actually worked hard, over several decades to create the mayhem, because of their misguided beliefs, does not get captured into this type of analysis. Those who love grand analyses prefer to ignore simple truths and strive for grand-looking pseudo-truths.
It is such flawed, spacious logic that has been the basis of the political analyses of Lenins, Stalins, Mao Tse Dongs, Pol Pots and other theorists who started from general principles and decided that some specific things have to be done, if necessary by force, to put matters "right". This is like in thermodynamics, where we start from simple principles, and make specific conclusions. Unfortunately, politcal processes are more akin to complex adaptive systems close to the edge of chaos, if we use the language of the Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-mann.
In Sri Lanka too, we have had a surfeit of Golden brains (N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva et al), or Legal Eagles (G. G. Ponnambalam, S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike) as they were then called. They brought back, in the 1930s, two sets of general principles and attempted to apply them to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon.
The two themes of Sri Lankan politics that began in the 1930s
The two dominant veins of thought in the 1930s were Marxism and Nazi Nationalism.
Marxism adulated the working class, and wanted to put the workers in power by an armed uprising, dethroning the capitalist class. Colvin, Philip and N. M. Perera (the golden brains) came back from England, fired with ideas of organizing and polarizing the people of the country towards the militant path, planning a bloody battle against British imperialism and world capitalism. Philp Goonawardene was glowingly referred to as a local Stalin.
G. G. Ponnambalam (GGP) had made two visits to Nazi Germany, and was impressed by the power of Nationalism. He realized that Tamil nationalism was his key to overthrowing the Ramanathan clan who were there because the "highest caste" was endowed with political power by the Hindu form of divine right. Thus Ponnambalam began his attacks on the Sinhalese, their chronicle Mahavamsa, and roused the Tamils to a sense of strong communal identity that enable him to capture the leadership of the Tamils. In a speech in the State Council in 1934, Ponnambalam rejected the "Ceylonese" identity and claimed that he was a proud Dravidian. He actively laid the seeds of Tamil-Sinhala strife. The first communal riot occurred in Navalapitiya, after a a highly inflammatory speech by Ponnambalam (see the newspaper report in The Hindu Organ, June 12, 1939 and other newspapers of the time). Ponnambalam's excursions into Tamil nationalism were countered by SWRD who began to set up branches of the "Sinhala Maha Sabha".
Both GGP and SWRD had been glowingly referred to as "pocket Hitlers" by their admirers!
Much of this has been ably documented by historians like Dr. Jane Russell, an Oxford scholar.
The Marxist leaders applied their general theories (some what like what Thrishantha Nanayakkara does) and concluded that armed uprisings are needed. They began a process of civil confrontation which almost delayed the granting of independence to Sri Lanka (K. M. de Silva has discussed this in his Penguin edition on the History of Sri Lanka). Marxists, together with Bracegirdle frightened the leaders of Sri Lanka, including the Tamil leaders, who feared trade union chaos in the Tea estates. They reformulated the citizenship provisions for Indian workers by insisting on the requirement that only those who had seven years residence could become citizens. This was the opportunity for S. J. V. Chelvanayagam (SJVC) to declare that GGP was a traitor to the Tamil cause, and create the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) in 1949. This was long before any language flare ups, educational or other seemingly discriminatory programs or any issues of the sort that Thrishantha Nayakkara implicitly implies had come up. Significantly, although the upper-caste ITAK leaders attacked GGP for his support of the Indian citizenship act (drawn up mainly by Kandiah Vaidiyanathan), these upper caste Nanganthans and other politicians would not associate with the "coolie castes" of the tea estates.
The 1949 ITAK "Maradana" resolution had a key provison, calling for chasing out the invaders from the exclusive Tamil Homelands of the North and East. The Arasu Kadchi gave itself a sanitized cover by adopting the name "Federal Party" in Englsih, and indeed, some Colombo moderates actualy believed in Federalism. Federalism did have a great chance in the late 1940s and early 1950, as the Kandyans and some Southerners also favoured federalism. However, the ITAK did not take its political platform to the Kandyans or to the Southern groups. Instead it took it exclusively to the North, where its Tamil language publications, printed for the 1952 election did NOT talk of federalism. The ITAK pushed a deeply separatist program based on the exclusive right of the Tamils to the North and the East - in short, a form of Tamil Apartheid. This aspect of Tamil Nationalism has been well documented by Dr. Michael Roberts ( Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol.XXVII, no.1, April 2004). The Sinhalese and the Muslims were claimed to be the invaders of these regions. Their presence did not fit in with the ITAK objectives.
It is these beginnings that Trishantha Nanayakkara forgets. The Tamil elites of Colombo were wealthy, controlled the banks, import-export, the professions and the administrative system. They had no doubt that they can wrest the North and the East from the Ceylonese government if they pushed their plans intelligently. The first Tamil militant group,the Makkal Padai, was set up in the early 1960s in Trincomalee (ancient Gokanna), with the blessing of SJVC. The ITAK had already began to distribute wooden pistols at its "Sathyagrahas", and claim that the forces of law and order were despicable tools of the Sinahla government.
Meanwhile, the Marxists also had no doubt that soon enough they will capture power, by a process of trade union action as well as sharpening the militancy of the student population. They had tasted blood when they dethroned Dudley Senanayake.
They felt that SWRD was like the Mensheviks who were preceeded by the Bolsheviks who captured power. Thus we had our Golden Brains, and their trade unions, working hard to raise the militancy and workers. They were told that the forces of law and order were capitalist tools to be cut down with contempt.
The west Punishing Ceylon then, and Sri Lanka now.
The introduction of free health services, while family planning was still not publicized or practised, led to a significant post-independence bulge of youth populations. SWRD's socialist policies were "punished" by the west which diverted its capital towards the Malaysian peninsula and Singapore. Mincing lane lowered tea prices and began promoting South African teas. Western airlines and Cargo ships diverted their routes avoiding Colombo. The IMF explained that Sri Lanka must conform to the demands of the IMF or be punished. The socialist politics of the Sirima government further slowed down the creation of jobs, as everything had to pass through consumer-unfriendly and inefficient state-administered corporations. The rise of the JVP and the youth militancy of the Tamils could also be related to demographics as well as the stagnant character of socialist economies which were incapable of supporting the expensive welfare state created during the hay day of the free -market policies of D. S. Senanayake and Oliver Goonatilleke .
Current attempts to shut down our trade by withdrawing EU concessions or branding us with human rights violations are no different to what SWRD had to face, when he nationalized the foreign oil business, took over Trincomalee (the ancient port Gokanna) and talked of more socialism.
Planned political programs of militant action.
Theorists like Thrishantha Nanayakkkara do not allow for the fact that there were specific groups who, for ideological reasons, systematically worked to break down law and order.
These were people who either expected to bring about the socialist revolution, or found the "exclusive homelands" into reality.
When minority groups talk of "exclusive homelands", and when Marxist militants put the Colombo harbour on strike most of the year, reactions develop. Rightwing death squads came in to being. Sinhala Nationalist groups which are ready to take on the ITAK challenge and attack Tamils came into being. Thus the succession of race riots in the post-Senanayake era, and the increasing decline of law and order are directly related to the acts of misguided ideologues than to any acute discrimination levied on any ethnic or social group. One has to only look around the Indian subcontinent even today (not sixty years ago) to see stark discrimination of various social groups as well as women to realize that simple answers do not suffice.
The political turmoils of post-independent Ceylon were planned and foisted on the country, and once the "arsonists" do their job, the fire spreads.
How to avoid armed uprisings and ensure peace
If Sri Lanka it to not to have another armed uprising, we need national integration rather than devolution. We need economic prosperity and good governance. Sri Lanka is small enough to fit snugly into the small space between New York and Boston, or between Paris and Lyon leaving more than 70km to spare. Now, would one talk of devolution of the NY-Boston area into Hispanic, Jewish and WASP regions to ensure that there are "exclusive ethnic homelands" in there? Would we demand that Yiddish, Spanish and English be made official languages of equal standing in those areas? It is in fact such grotesque demands that the TNA, and its predecessor the TULF at Vaddukkoddei (Batakotte) demanded, for the last three decades. It is the essense of the 13th amendment forced on Sri Lanka by the Indians. However, today Tamil is legislated to be a full official language. It extensively used in Sri Lanka, irrespective of the fact that there are a fewer percentage of Tamils in Sri Lanka than there are Hispanics in many parts of USA where only English is allowed.
So, what will ensure that there will not be another armed racist uprising in Sri Lanka? It is national integration and economic growth. It is to be seen in a system of fast trains (like the Lyon-Paris TGV) which will make Jaffna only 1.5 hours away from Colombo. It is to be seen in making our society multi-ethnic and multi-cultural in the same sense that Colombo is already a tapestry of diverse peoples who live in harmony, in spite of the grave provocations put on it by the LTTE. Thus, fast train systems and modern communications will provide a technological fix to the old canker of communal division that has threatened to split the country apart - a very small country that can fit between Boston and NY!
What about language? Sinhala and Tamil have the same grammatical structure bestowed on both by Panini. The words of the two languages share a large common lexicon due to the importance of Sanskrit cognates occurring in both languages. Consider a Tamil person speaking Tamil on a cell phone from Jaffna to some one in Colombo who understands only Sinhalese. As far as cell-phone conversations and text messages go, following I. A. Richards of Oxford, we could probably identify the basic words and set up an elementary look-up table and translation scheme so that the Tamil-Sinhala words are automatically translated. The present author has talked to engineers at ICTA in Colombo who feel that this is emminently feasible. Of course, we are not talking of translating poetry. This sort of thing is already available on Internet browsers, even for languagesfar more complex than Sinhala or Tamil. Thus, there are trivial technological solutions to the divisive language politics that has eroded Sri Lanka for decades.
The 2010 presidential election
The TNA is the remnant of the racist growth which began with the communal politics of GGP. It is made up of extremely reactionary upper-caste Tamil leaders who have little to with the ordinary Tamils. These leaders remained silent, or secretly celebrated when Amirthalingam, Cangaratnam, Thiruchelvam, Kadirgamar and others were assassinated, and when distinguished Tamil school principals or Kururals were liquidated by the LTTE. Their election to parliament was deemed to be illegal by the EU observers but they continued as LTTE-proxy "parliamentarians". They have run to the Tamil Diaspora and to Tamil Nadu for political support, and have never attempted to take their political case to the country at large. In fact, they are a cabal of rich racist Tamils who believe in the Tamil apartheid concept of "exclusive homelands". The UNP has also shed its rural roots and become a cabal of rich Colombo elites with narrow mercantile interests. The Thambi-ayiahs of the Cargo Boat dispatch company, the Maharajas and Paskaralingams have a lot in common with the current rump of the UNP led by Ranil Wickremasinghe, Jayalath Jaywardena and others.
The JVP, by a remarkable act of the Hegelian dialectic inverses itself and becomes the "street boys" of the UNP-TNA combine. It is this heterogeneous group of business plus erstwhile leftists that JRJ would have labeled "naxalites", that Thrishantha Nanayakkara believes will provide us with a peaceful future. Sarath Fonseka, the leader of this motley gang is going to be a President who will satisfy the political aspirations of all these groups, clean up corruption, raise wages, solve all problems! Fonseka is the proverbial Kokath Thailaya or snake oil that will do wonders.
The political naivety of this candidacy, with its vishvaasaneeya venasa is unbelievable.
Surely, after the successful end of thirty years of war, what the country wants is NOT CHANGE, but consolidation and stability. In most other post-war situations, military rule continues for several years. In Sri Lanka, owing to preset parliamentary elections due this year, it is inevitable that we need to face the hustings. The only sensible choice before voters is to not to change the pilot in midstream. The voters can give the incumbent president a resounding confirmation, so that the forces of Racism and Marxism that began their debut in the 1930s can be finally put to rest.