On Sri Lanka’s National Question – Part 2

By P. Sivakumar, October 27, 2017 

In the first part of this article (http://sangam.org/sri-lankas-national-question/) I discussed about a section of the Sinhalese who are unable to differentiate between Federalism and Separatism. However, there are also enough of well-educated Sinhalese who know the difference very well but still oppose it. Their argument is that Ethno-federalism (federalism along ethnic lines like in India) will lead to separation in the future. They also have a fear that, since Sri Lanka’s Tamil speaking North & East is separated only by a narrow strip of water from Tamil Nadu where 80 million Tamils live, a separate Tamil region in Sri Lanka may amalgamate with Tamil Nadu some day in the future to form a Tamil country where the Sinhalese will become a minority and get pushed to the south. It is a symptom that most Sinhalese suffer, ‘a majority with a minority complex’ and this kind of fear Psychosis was instilled in the minds of the Sinhalese by none other than the Mahavamsa. In the Dutugemunu story, it says he felt that he could not stretch himself because of the Tamils to the North and the deep sea to the South. It is a kind of unfounded fear or suspicion that many of them (Sinhalese) suffer irrespective of their status/background (both educated and uneducated). They do not realize that, if such a thing did not happen in the past (not even during the time of a separate Tamil Jaffna kingdom in the North), why should they fear that it will happen in the future?

In Sri Lanka the Buddhist monks are considered almost like Gods because the saffron robe that the monk wears is highly respected by the Sinhala-Buddhist society. The Sinhalese Ultra-Nationalist Opposition against any solution to the minorities is always mobilized either by the opposition party in parliament or by some small Sinhala Racist political parties (who cannot get even 10% votes in the election) using Buddhist monks as well as ethno-religious symbols in their public campaigns to arouse the emotion of the Sinhala-Buddhist masses and successfully oppose anything that the government proposes to solve the never ending national crisis.  They appeal to the deep-seated fears of the majority community about how its future is threatened by the minorities (if they are granted federalism) and political parties who seek minority votes to win elections. They even threaten the members of parliament who support the government proposals that the Buddhist monks will not participate/perform in any of their (future) funeral rites and rituals. The Sinhalese are also brainwashed right from birth to believe the myth that the whole of Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country and the Tamils are invaders who do not belong to Sri Lanka.

Neither the UNP, nor the SLFP, the two major political parties representing the Sinhalese, seem to have any capacity to ignore, resist or combat the politics of these small Sinhalese ultra-nationalist racist groups (including Buddhist monks). They are Scared of being branded as traitors to the majority Sinhalese-Buddhist nation? They are scared of losing the next election? How are they going to counter the Anti-federal constitution propaganda? Even if the Yahapalana government decides to ignore all the opposition (very doubtful) from the Sinhala-Buddhist Pseudo-Patriots/Ultra-nationalist Racists, the Buddhist Maha Sanga including the Mahanayake Theros, and the Rajapakshes including the Joint Opposition, still an all island referendum is a MUST to pass the new constitution which will almost certainly be shot down by the Sinhala majority because they are being brainwashed to believe that Federalism or Devolution of power is nothing but Separation.

Under such circumstances, will the Sinhala leadership genuinely solve the burning national question or will the Sri Lankan Tamils get cheated as usual? Even when Dr Colvin R. De Silva (a Marxist and a leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party) who once professed the famous dictum “one language two nations, two languages one nation” became the architect (as Minister of Constitutional Affairs) of the infamous 1972 Unitary Constitution in Sri Lanka that was enacted without the participation or mandate of Sri Lankan Tamils, how can we trust the other Sinhala leaders? Our Tamil leaders must be naïve if they still believe that the Sinhala leadership (whoever it may be) will solve this problem by creating a federal system. The TNA (Sambandan and Co.) are only fooling themselves if they believe that the present regime will solve the Tamil National question. The TNA should NEVER accept the new constitution if there is no proper Devolution of power (federalism) for the Tamils. The minorities elected this President to see a change in Sri Lanka. Will the Yahapalana government also repeat the same thing that all the previous regimes did? Like what happened to all the pacts and promises that every Sri Lankan governments had with the Tamils in the past, will MS & RW’s new constitution to solve the Tamil National question also will come to an end with a failure? If so, the Tamils will definitely lose their patience and look for alternatives such as civic uprising in Sri Lanka and abroad (Pongu Tamil, Ezhuka Tamil, etc.) calling for a UN sponsored referendum for the North and East? If that is the case, all the Tamil politicians and the entire Tamil community (tens of thousands) should rise and protest. What the Sri Lankan government and the whole world (especially UN and the International community) should know is that the Tamil speaking people of North & East Sri Lanka have already given their mandate by voting overwhelmingly for an Independent Tamil State in Sri Lanka in the 1977 general election.

Finally, someone has commented that Britain is fully responsible for Tamils’ loss of sovereignty and their rights. It is true that the British should be blamed for uniting the Tamil North to the Sinhala South without the consent of the people. At the same time, we should not forget the fact that it was the Upcountry (Kandyan) Sinhalese who on two different occasions suggested that Sri Lanka should have a federal structure divided into three areas: the north/east, south/west, and the central, which our Tamil leaders rejected. Even at independence, our Tamil leaders did not talk about a federal system. The noble idea of a plural society of unitary Sri Lankan state where all would live together as one nation forgetting their differences was precisely what the British hoped for and what was assured by the local inheritors of power as that would usher on this land of serendipity after 1948. The first constitution of independent Ceylon was specifically intended to achieve this but unfortunately it became a total failure. The mass of Sri Lankans, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims could not abandon their traditional value system and accept the one tailored by the British even though it was retained till today by their collaborators.

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