Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Political Ideology in Sri Lanka: Anti-Tamil

by Brian Senewiratne, MA (Cantab), MB (Cantab) MD (Lond), FRCP(Lond) FRACP, Brisbane, Australia.

Recent revelations have confirmed that there may be several political parties in the Sinhala South, but only one ideology – being anti-Tamil. There is the right wing United National Party (UNP), the supposedly socialist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the so-called “Marxist” Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Marxists of yester-year, the  Lanka Sama Samaga Party (LSSP), the political party of not-so-clean-shaven men in yellow robes, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), and many more of their ilk. In reality they are all different names for one party policy – anti-Tamil. 

The only difference between these parties is the degree of their ‘anti-Tamilness.’ It extends from the extreme anti-Tamil chauvinism of the JHU based on a ‘pure’ Sinhala-Buddhist State, followed closely behind by the anti-Tamil JVP based on political opportunism which has replaced their Marxism, the ‘not-to-be-left-behind’ ex-Marxists in the LSSP, and the anti-Tamil stance of the two main Sinhala parties, the SLFP and the UNP. Every one of these parties, without exception, tries to outdo each other in their ‘anti-Tamilness’ to secure the electoral support of the Sinhala majority, which they hope will propel them to political power (the passport to mega-corruption in Sri Lanka).

This anti-Tamil game has been played since Independence, indeed well before that. While still under British rule, Sinhala politicians even decided to have a pan-Sinhalese Board of Ministers, excluding the Tamils despite the fact that they had some outstanding Tamil politicians supporting the Government, some even in it. The alarm bells should have rung then. Howeve,r there is no point in bells ringing if there are no ears open to hear them. The ears were shut, and these included those of the British, who were more interested in leaving the country in the hands of Sinhalese capitalists who would play ball with them. Safeguarding the interests of the Tamil people was as far from British thinking as was their land from Ceylon.    

It is this single factor, this obsessive anti-Tamil populism, that has prevented the building of a nation. After 57 years of Independence, Sri Lanka is still a State with two warring nations, a Sinhala nation and a Tamil nation. The country has been unable to emerge as a single nation thanks to the lack of vision, and of integrity, of a succession of Sinhala politicians. This has not been recognized by the international community because of a massive propaganda campaign mounted by successive Sri Lankan governments, especially in the last three decades. What exists is a Sinhala-Buddhist State that has effectively excluded the Tamils, who form some 18% of the population.

It is not possible to look at the future without looking at the past. I, therefore, make no apology for doing so.  In the run-up to Independence, two groups of anti-Tamil Sinhala chauvinists (Senanayake and Bandaranaike) sunk their minimal differences and combined to form the UNP. They then sucked in some ‘hopeful’ Tamils (who blindly hoped that a single nation was a possibility), to present a united front to the British. The British were not unaware of the ethnic tensions and serious Tamil fears of discrimination under Sinhala rule after they left, but were ‘happy to be bluffed.’ 

This charade of Sinhala-Tamil unity started falling apart within months of Independence when the anti-Tamilness of the Sinhala leadership showed its hand. In one of the first acts of Independent Ceylon, a million Plantation Tamils were disenfranchised and decitizenised in one of the worst acts of political savagery in modern times, indeed of any time. 

A few Tamils saw the writing on the wall and split from the UNP to form the (Tamil) Federal Party, recognising that a Federal Tamil State was necessary for co-existence with the Sinhalese.

Following the breakup of Senanayake’s UNP because of the personal ambitions of one man, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, the current President’s father, the Sinhala voter had a choice between a blatantly anti-Tamil SLFP under Bandaranaike and the equally anti-Tamil UNP under Senanayake. Political power has regularly oscillated between the UNP and the SLFP based, not on any material difference in policy, but on the degree of anti-Tamil measures on offer to the Sinhala majority.

As the anti-Tamil measures adopted by successive Sinhala ‘leaders’ came into effect, the numbers in the Tamil Federal Party swelled and the demand for a Federal Tamil State was replaced by a call for a separate Tamil State, Eelam. Eelam is effectively the creation of Sinhala politicians with no vision and no interest in nation-building.

The blatant anti-Tamil stance of the SLFP under Bandaranaike, his wife and daughter have been matched by a similar anti-Tamil stance by the UNP under Senanayake, Jayawardene and Wickremasinghe (all of them kinsmen).

Over the years, Tamil political parties have merely been suckers who have been conned into supporting one or other of the main Sinhala parties, which were trying to get into power, and then have been ignored once they did.

The plight of the Tamil civilians has been pathetic. They have been subjected to mass murder, bombing with a total destruction of their property, rape, arrest and detention without charge or trial, “disappearances,” torture – in fact every human rights violation that has filled the publications of internationally credible human rights organizations for the past three decades. Even the former UN Secretary General has expressed concern at what has been done to the Tamil people. Yet, the world has done nothing other than to arm the Sri Lankan Government to bomb and kill its own people.

With a succession of General Elections in the recent past, I have repeatedly pointed out that Sri Lankan Elections are to elect a Sinhala Parliament – the Tamils being no more than spectators, if that.

The country now faces a Presidential Election to elect a Sinhala President. It is not an issue for the Tamils although they are nearly a fifth of the population. The two leading Sinhala candidates – Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, the SLFP nominee, and ex-Prime Minister Ranil Wckremasinghe, the UNP nominee, are as anti-Tamil as each other.

Rajapakse’s anti-Tamil stance has been obvious, made even more so after he signed a pact with the anti-Tamil extremists in the JVP and JHU. The blatant anti-Tamil acts of the out-going President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the leader of Rajapakse’s party, are too well known to be detailed here. Her 12 year rule has been described as the worst the country has ever had. If her nominee, Rajapakse, succeeds her in next week’s ballot, it will be more of the same, perhaps worse.   

From the other side of the Sinhala political divide, Wickremasinghe’s anti-Tamil stance,  has recently been clearly exposed by two UNP stalwarts. Naveen Dissanayake, the son of a former UNP Presidential hopeful, has recently boasted that it was the UNP which engineered a split in the Tamil Tigers by ‘arranging’ for the renegade Tiger commander Karuna to break away from the Tigers. The report claims that this had the full support of Wickremasinghe who had signed a Peace Pact with the Tigers and was supposedly negotiating with them.

The sordid details are interesting, but of little importance. One of Wickremasinghe’s nominated MPs, a Muslim from the volatile East, ‘arranged’ the split in the Tamil Tiger camp by offering various rewards to a Tiger leader from the East to break ranks. The MP has left the country for greener pastures, so has the family of the renegade, now luxuriating in a house in Malaysia, generously provided by the Sri Lankan government using tax-payers’ money. What has been left behind is a complete mess in the East, the new ‘killing fields’ of Sri Lanka. In effect a match was tossed into a tinder box, which was the ethnically volatile East. The ethnic flames may well be uncontrollable, even with the unlikely possibility of the introduction of an international peace-enforcing force. Such are the irresponsible acts of Sri Lankan ‘leaders.’ Small wonder the country is in a mess. With leaders such as this, who needs enemies?

Dissanayake goes on to explain Wickremasinghe’s strategy to deal with the Tigers – to get the Americans and the Indians to fight the Tigers should the war restart. Apparently this was arranged with George Bush and Sonia Gandhi when Wickremasinghe was Prime Minister, despite his peace pact and on-going peace negotiations with the Tigers. Presumably, inviting the Indians to take the oil tank facility in Trincomalee on the Eastern seaboard, was part of Wickremasinghe’s ‘strategy.’ The Indians can now be invited to defend their property, in the process killing even more Tamils than they did when Rajiv Gandhi marched his troops into Northern Sri Lanka at the invitation of Wickremasinghe’s kinsman, the then President J.R.Jayawardena. The actors are different, but the games are the same.

Dissanayake’s claims were confirmed by Milinda Moragoda, a close confidante of Wickremasinghe, who was a member of the UNP government’s negotiating team for talks with the Tigers between September 2002 and March 2003. If evidence of Sinhala duplicity is needed, there it is in full measure.

What amazes me, a Sinhalese, with no political barrow to push, or reward to gain, is that the Tamils, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, still feel that it is possible for the Tamil people to negotiate with the Sinhala government of whatever political complexion, to enable them to live in equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth. As I have said, the Sinhala political parties, irrespective of their label, have in effect one political ideology – of being totally and shamelessly anti-Tamil. This anti-Tamil outfit has now put forward two Presidential candidates who are two sides of the same coin. ‘Heads” the Sinhalese win, ‘Tails’ the Tamils lose.

If anti-Tamil candidates are all that the Sinhala polity can come up with, and the inevitable outcome, an anti-Tamil President and a Sinhala State of which he is the President, then there can be no alternative to the establishment of a separate Tamil State, Eelam. It confounds me that the Tamils, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, and the international community, cannot see this stark reality. This article is written in the hope that they will. A remote possibility, since there are none as blind as those who will not see.