Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Politics and Governance

Ending the War, Envisioning the Peace

The eyes of the world are upon us. This means two things: Sri Lanka must not blink on the fundamentals, whatever the pressures brought to bear, while at one at the same time Sri Lanka must be open and flexible on that which is non-fundamental, tactical and secondary. We must be resolute and tough, steel-like on the issue of the Tigers and pluralist, liberal and moderate on the politics that comes after. The closure of the conflict, the construction of the new Sri Lanka and the transition from one to the other requires that rare combination of characteristics: steel and water; yin and yang.

We must be as hard on the Tigers as we are soft on the Tamils; as open on the Tamils as we are closed on the Tigers. But are we getting it right?

Rohana Wijeweera survived the 1971 insurgency and commenced a second bloodier one in 1986. Once he was killed, the JVP abandoned the path of armed struggle. The leaders of Peru’s Sendero Luminoso and the Kurdish PKK, Abimael Guzman and Abdullah Ocalan remain in captivity and both insurgencies have been rekindled.

The Angolan government forces killed the legendary leader of UNITA, Jonas Savimbi, and almost overnight, a decades-long insurgency drew to a close. In Chechnya, Russian forces and their local allies killed separatist leaders Djokar Dudayev and Shamil Basayev, and the brutal secessionist insurgency began to wither away. On the other hand, in 1982, the Israeli forces permitted the evacuation of the Palestinian leadership from Beirut to Tunisia. And most famously, the US forces took their eye off the ball in Tora Bora, which permitted the leaderships of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to slip across the border.

The lessons for Sri Lanka are very clear: while strict rules of engagement must be laid down which are in consonance with International Humanitarian Law (both because it is intrinsically right but also because there are powerful actors out to get us), nothing and no one must be permitted to prevent the Sri Lankan armed forces from destroying and decapitating the LTTE. Nothing must stand between Prabhakaran and the meting out of justice.

The Second Front
The pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora has emerged as a highly organized, mobilized and lavishly funded formation which has to be taken seriously as an adversary. Increasingly it is replacing the LTTE’s military force on the ground as the most important element in the separatist-terrorist cause. So far the mobilization reveals a political monopoly of the Tamil Tigers and open identification with that organization. The moderates, democrats or progressives have not emerged as a trend.

If this new threat to Sri Lanka is to be faced and defeated Sri Lanka has to change. It has to make a change similar to that which enabled us to come this far in the war, namely the coming together of the best, the most committed to the cause. However, since it is a vastly different battlefield, we must also change many things about the way we are; undo and learn quite a bit.

Pro-Tiger Tamil students, mainly from Canadian campuses are walking from Toronto to Chicago in order to get on the Oprah Winfrey show. Now that’s a pretty neat gimmick. They have a well designed website.   The Sinhala students who have the sophistication to pull something like this off are uninvolved in the struggle because they are alienated by the elements that tend to dominate equivalent networks, while those who are heavily involved in the “patriotic” struggle do not make the most Oprah-friendly material.

If we are to compete and win internationally, we have to catch up, and in order to catch up we have to transform from within. But what kind of transformation should it be?

This brings us to the heart of the matter: Sinhala and Tamil nationalism and Sri Lankan nationhood. The Sinhala hyper-nationalists like to brush aside Western criticism or even examples, by taking comfort in our Asian location, identity and values. However, the shortcomings of that ultra-nationalism is best revealed when we reflect on the fact that they choose to ignore the clear cut views of Asia’s Wise Old Men and most respected figures.  They have ignored the doctrine of modernization practiced by China, the Far East and ASEAN and India, so which Asia are they talking about and identifying with– an imaginary religious bloc that does not exist as an entity in Asian affairs, let alone world politics?

Nobel Prize winning economist Joe Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, author of ‘Globalization and its Discontents’ and “How to make Globalization work’, currently head of the expert panel on the Economic Crisis set up by Fr Miguel D’Escoto, President of the United Nations General Assembly, almost gushed last week that China had the most successful economy in the midst of the global economic downturn. While the architect of the Chinese economic miracle is undoubtedly Deng Hsiao Peng, it just be recognized that China retained as senior advisor on economic affairs, Former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew. One of the pioneers of the Asian economic miracle which has caused a fundamental shift of global power in favor of Asia, Lee Kwan Yew returned to the lessons of Sri Lanka in a speech earlier this month:

“Singapore’s multi-racial peoples will never be united if we had used Mandarin as our common language. All non-Chinese, 25% of Singaporeans will be disadvantaged. The result will be endless strife, as in Sri Lanka, where Singhalese was made the national language and the Tamil-speaking were marginalized. We made the right decision to use English as our common language. We also retained the teaching of mother tongues”. (17 March 2009, NTUC Auditorium)

The advice that Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed had for Sri Lanka is contained in the speech he delivered at the CIMA convention a few years ago, in which he argued for a ‘grand bargain’ or social trade-off, in which the majority must share political power with the minority while the minority must share economic wealth with the majority.

It is a positive sign that young Sri Lankans are already beginning to examine and re-examine Sinhala nationalism and matters of identity. In a seminal essay in the Midweek Island (‘Closing the Circle: Revisiting Amarasekara’, March 18th, 2009) re-evaluating Gunadasa Amarasekara on his 80th birthday, Peradeniya university’s Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi (formerly of the faculty at Cornell), produced a double-edged critique which deserves to be quoted in extenso:

“…But only a few of NGO operatives could be called authentic. Writing mainly in English, they could not really reach out to the monolingual masses. Therefore, some of them sound like highly paid parrots talking to themselves in an unknown tongue, living in comfortable cages.

Only a few among those intellectuals could deeply respond to or engage with literature and art produced by Sinhala- speaking people- to focus on my own native language group. The bilingual intellectuals associated with NGOs are more or less ignorant or cynical of Sinhala literary and works of art…Without genuine and authentic connections with vernacular cultural life, some important work by NGO intellectuals had very little impact on the masses. In addition, their failure to produce a sustained critique of LTTE violence during the last three decades even created a certain resentment of them among the masses…

…Many children of 1956 turned their own inabilities into a form of Jathika Chinthanaya. For example, those who do not know any language other than Sinhala elevated their monolingualism into a form of being “Jathika.” These days universities are full of those ‘national thinkers.’ …Those who claim that The Jataka Book is enough cannot read Derrida or Foucault and they cannot deal with such rigorous thought, so they disguise their inability as Jathika Chinthanaya. One cannot begin to describe how the sublimation of mediocrity has destroyed this country…

…An entire school of mediocre ‘thinkers,’ masquerading as national thinkers, (Jathika Chinthakayas) is constantly at work to rid our society of genuine conversation. In any institution; including the private sector, the people of average skills and knowledge are the most nationalist calling any innovative and energetic person “non-nationalist”. For these disciples of the Jathika Chinthana School, being productive and creative means being Western. Therefore, those who have done nothing substantial for the Sinhala nation are the most vocal defenders of it…

…For me, Sri Lanka’s true national quality has to be found in its rich diversity- not in an unbroken Sinhala- Buddhistness. There are many ways of being Sinhala and Sri Lankan. In addition, it is impossible to recover the pure Sinhala person who ‘got lost’ in a confluence of other cultures; that moment of past purity is a creation of the present and when we look behind the layers of time what me see is yet another meeting of many cultures, thought and modes of being. If there is any cultural ‘essence’, it is always in the making, shifting and shaping itself making it impossible to pin down the essence. For one thing, the essence is no longer the essence when we find it…

It is said that the ‘total military defeat of the LTTE’ is just a few weeks away. At least after that we need to remind ourselves that Sri Lanka is an extremely diverse country where multiple modes of thought or ‘Chinthanayas’ coexist, and there is no one ‘Chinthanaya’ or one basa”. Our generation has the challenge of finding the best ‘structures’ that simultaneously nourish many thoughts, many modes, many voices, and so on…”

With this essay Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, one of, if not the finest critical mind of the younger generation of Sri Lankans, has begun the conversation. He has also sketched the beginnings of a manifesto for postwar Sri Lanka.

  • Jack Point

    I don’t think Lee Kuan Yew is an advisor to China.

    As for the rest of your essay, you speak of utopian ideals, blissfully ignorant of the ground reality, there is no distinction between Tamil and Tiger.

  • “there is no distinction between Tamil and Tiger”

    Et tu Jack Point?

  • Jack Point


    no, not me and for a small like minded minority.

    But on the ground, in practice, as far as the state is concerned there is no real distinction. There will be some officials who will say there is but in practice there is little if any. This attitude is also reflected amongst a large number of the public-at-large.

  • Nicolai

    Yes of course it is getting much harder for the public at large particularly in Canada and elsewhere to see the distinction, when there are large demonstrations in downtown Toronto depicting Tamil protesters wearing Tiger Fatigues and waving Tiger flags. My Canadian friends just shake their heads in amazement.

    I would hate to think that only a minority of Tamils do not support the LTTE.

    I agree with the Author completely. Zero tolerance against the LTTE and its leaders. If the majority of the Tamils assume that is zero tolerance against them, then tough luck Jack(s)! The world is going to offer them very little sympathy. The same world is getting awfully tired of terrorist organizations and their support groups and it is cracking down, regardless of its success rate. The same applies to any other group that supports extremist terror organizations, such as Muslims who support Al Qaeda or the Irish who support the IRA.

  • this makes sense

  • worf

    Does Dayan actually think Sinhalese fascists, put into power by Tamil fascists, will do what more tame Sinhalese governments, facing peaceful protests from the Tamils, never did from the 1950s to the late 1970s? This was all well before Black July and the mainstream Tamil community ever seriously considered separatism or supported the LTTE.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    worf, if you think that the guys in power are fascists, you obviously do not know what fascism is– and you will not find anyone serious who agrees with you, ranging from Amnesty International to the US State Dept.

    The world of the 1950s to the 1970s was very different from the world of today, and so is the neighbourhood, starting with India’s power and influence. No Sinhala government will be able to ignore for long, the growing global consensus in favour of devolution.

  • Rajesh

    I think what is significant for critics of Dayan to observe is that behind the cover of defending the govt’s all-out military approach, beyond his vigorously stonewalling of external and internal humanitarian critics, and underlying his stubborn refusal to advocate a political solution to the conflict beyond what is presumed to be acceptable to the Sinhala polity, his recent writings appear to be directed at this ‘inner courtyard’ i.e. towards the govt hawks and the Sinhala polity rather than those that actually take umbrage and engage him on GV. If I can be presumptious enough to read between the lines, he is making a desperate plea to his superiors not to get carried away with success and to deal with devolution urgently (for purely instrumental reasons of appeasing the outside world if nothing else).

    Despite the fact that I vigorously disagree with much of what he says, I have respect for the style and substance of his writings. There is an ocean of difference between his measured polemics and the brash pyromaniacal rhetorics of his colleague Rajiva, who appears punch-drunk at his eloquence (has anyone read that ridiculously self-indulgent piece titled ‘London Kills Me’?) and whose sheer nastiness impresseses none other than the Sinhala-extreme-nationalist crowd.

    Coming back to DJ, most people who respond to his articles end up being those offended by all the above points that he couches his arguments in. But that is really a given, and is the pre-cursor to this main argument rather than the argument in itself. I am not trying to defend DJ at all (far from it), but am just trying to point out that the real issues that his articles seem to want to address go unaddressed because of his inability to call a spade a spade, and the delicacy with which he treats the culprits. As a result, the people he wants to talk to don’t respond and engage with him for they are too busy celebrating their imminent victory.

    At the end of Pontecorve’s ‘Battle of Algiers’, there is a brilliant moment of dialogue penned between the (apparently) victorious French officers as they step down the casbah. Having presumed to have defeated the Algerian patriots by blowing up their last secret cell, the French generals speak to one another with smug satisfaction and the fake magnanimity of the victor … ‘You know, we go back a long way, us and the Algerians, we’ll be friends again’.

    Surely this isn’t too far from the truth of what is happening with regards to the fake discussion on post-victory devolution. The hawks and extremists who hold sway in the circles of power can swagger around, making tongue in cheek promises, pretending to agree with DJ’s ideas, and affectating a cock-sure posture of great magnanimity towards the cowed and devastated Tamil population. They can pretend that Sinhala nationalism was never about denying Tamils their place in the country, and that the war was only about defeating the terrorists. They can pretend that the JHUs and the Wimals of this world will change their colours and not oppose a future devolution of any measure whatsoever. They can pretend that Lasantha’s murder, Tissainayagam’s detention, hundreds of abductions, etc were just unfortunate transitory by-products of an otherwise necessary and successful military strategy that will disappear over time.

    Do we believe this? Do you, Dayan?

  • The Titular Republic

    “We must be resolute and tough, steel-like on the issue of the Tigers and pluralist, liberal and moderate on the politics that comes after.”

    Shouldn’t the “pluralist, liberal and moderate” politics be a fundamental part of fighting the totalitarian Tigers, much of whose support originates from the lack of liberty and plurality in politics and other spheres of life?

  • Dayan Jayatilleka


    Nope, I don’t. Never did.

    Titular Republic,

    Should, but since it isn’t possible, it should come after – and i think it can due to external and internal electoral realities. By the way, I don’t believe that “much of (the Tigers’) support originates from the lack of liberty and plurality in politics and other spheres of life”. The Nazis arose against the backdrop of the liberal Weimar Republic; the terrorism in Indian Kashmir, Colombia and the Philippines operates against a backdrop of democracy.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Dear Jack Point,

    I try not to speak or write out of ignorance. Apropos Lee Kwan Yew:

    “Singapore’s senior minister, Lee Kuan Yew, has a blunt message for Taiwan…Lee spoke in an interview on May 26 with the REVIEW’s Phil Revzin, Michael Vatikiotis, David Plott and Ben Dolven…Here lies the danger for the rest of Asia, says veteran leader Lee Kuan Yew. In an interview with the Review, Singapore’s senior minister, a former adviser to Beijing, delivers a strong message to Taipei, Beijing and Washington.”

    – Far Eastern Economic Review
    June 8, 2000

  • The Titular Republic

    The Nazis arose from (among others):

    1) Versailles
    2) The economic crises of 1929-1932
    3) Plotting by conservatives eg Papen
    4) Fear of communism
    5) Long standing prejudices against democracy (read the Open Society and its Enemies Vol 2, Karl Popper) to understand how far back this goes.

    So what then is the main cause for support of

    1) The LTTE
    2) Tamil nationalism

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Titular Republic,

    You are merely proving my point. There were several reasons such as those listed by you and more, for the rise of Nazism. Wilhelm Reich investigated the social psychological background. Others like Barrington Moore went further back and researched the thwarting of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Germany. However, the operative point is that whatever the factors involved, however many other forces were responsible ( eg for the humlilaition of German nationalism by the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles), the Nazi fascist challenge had to be destroyed militarily, until it was buried in the rubble of Berlin. The rest was irrelevant until AFTER the war, when the Allies decided not to make the same mistakes as were made after World War 1. While thw war was on, no one wasted time trying to debate, still less address, the reasons. This is true also of the war of Secession waged by the Southern Confederacy. The disquisitions, the guilt trips and reparations can come later.

  • Suren Raghavan

    Dr Jayathilake is either the most misunderstood individual in contemporary SL politics or the master strategist at turning his political conviction at very crucial point. He writes:
    ‘’With this essay Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, one of, if not the finest critical mind of the younger generation of Sri Lankans, has begun the conversation. He has also sketched the beginnings of a manifesto for postwar Sri Lanka” …
    It is such a dreadful reality of Sri Lankan politics that individuals like Dr DJ thinks it is now that the conversation starts…
    For the majority of moderate Thamils and even those like Dr. Thiruchelvam and Kadirgamar who were close to or part of the Colombo regime, the present predicament is the intransigent position of the Sinhalas not wanting to enter the bargaining politics. (Watch Kadir- the most beloved Demala for the nationalists of the south, explaining this, at a live interview with the write on SLRC). The entire formation of the Terror Polity of the northern Thamilar is a by product of the institutionally and socially structured Pre-and Post Chinthanaya politics of the south. (Read ‘’the emergency of 1956 by Vittachchi and recent analysis of De Votta) Prof. Seneviratne in his ‘’the works of the King (1999) gives a vivid social analysis how Sinhala Buddhism (which in real is not Theravada but a Protestant Buddhism) cross fertilized the narrow nationalist political agenda. This is further discoursed by the in-depth analysis of Prof. Ananda Abeyseka (2002).
    Late Kadir said: In the six decades of post independent politics have we not witnessed the ding-dong positions of the Sinhalas towards the power sharing issue. ..
    So it is not a new beginning and as what Dr DJ is worried is, this may not be a new end either.
    But if realpolitik is all about compromising and wining the rights step-by-step, and living with the politics of negotiationg one’s nationalism, then I am sure the Diaspora students whom Dr DJ refers to will be more than happy to lead a new beginning. But do individuals like Dr DJ is willing and able to cross the walls of Chinthanaya presently guarded by Athuraliya, Wimal and Champika?. Then I assume there could be a beginning of a new beginning.

  • rajivmw

    Suren Raghavan my old friend! You are right that Sinhala chauvinism begat Tamil extremism. But today, it is Tamil extremism that is fuelling Sinhala nationalism. We need to break this cycle. We can consign Athuraliya, Wimal and Champika into the dustbin of history not long after we dump Prabhakaran there.

  • Suren Raghavan

    Dear Rajivmw,
    Are you Rajiv Weerasingha of Beliattha? The most humane writer in the ad industry or Rajiv Wijetunge also (formerly) of the ad industry but now the country director for UPS? In any case your point is taken.
    The scares in the social and political memories of our nations cannot be erased easily. Structural and physical violence against the Thamilar culminating in 1983, and then the Thamil terror politics created the tigerish damages from Aranthalawa, Anuradhapura and the Daladawa. The Sinhalas will keep the records like in the Mahavamsa: even after centuries, page after page of future school text books will polish the narrative. (The most cosmopolitan English weekend Sunday Times serializes the Mahavamsa even today emphasizing the Cholar invasions. for whose sake?) Yes we have to know our history. But what we do with the history and what do learn from it? After all we know history is a text which has multiple meaning to multiple actors. They create identities and hegemonies. (David Howarth 2009)
    But the question is who are the WE you refer to? In conflict resolution and post conflict democratization there is no history where the minority nation led the resolution on its own. Even if a minority had the ruling powers like in South Africa. Democracy begins with the majority. Even though the majoritarian democracy could turn to a dangerous tyranny (like ours).
    I am with you. There are a large number of personnel who should find their place in the dustbins. But should not that process begin with the Sinhalas? It is now politically very sexy thing to say the days of the LTTE are numbered. Pundits from Geneva to Gangodawila have prophesized a post Praba prosperity politics in Sri Lanka. They even have designed a la carte menu for the ‘’Morning after the Victory”
    But where is the blue print to resurrect the decomposed democracy in Sri Lanka? I hope you have not become that naive to believe that the democracy to Thamils begins by appointing V. Muraleetharan as Minister for National Integrations. There are others who say we could do that nation building after Prabaharan, should be only reminded of our Pre Independent history, because the same ‘’baila” was sung when the Ramanathan brothers articulated the question in 1930s.
    In any case it is great to touch base after such long time I am at [email protected] drop a line

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    What an intellectual difference between Rajesh and Raghavan! And what a literary difference!

  • Nicolai

    They spell differently.
    Raghavan: Thamil and Prabaharan
    Rajesh: Tamil and I speculate Prabhakaran

    Humour aside, that implies quite a difference.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Raghavan objects to my view that the conversation starts now, and asserts that it started much before; years if not decades ago. That is typically silly of the man. How on earth can a conversation on the shape of postwar Sri Lanka start before the end of the war was on the horizon, as it is arguably is now? Rajesh has understood what the conversation is all about, thus his superb ( if not exactly apposite, due to its colonial setting) deployment of the closing scnes of gillo pontecorvo’s movie.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Raghavan writes: “Late Kadir said: In the six decades of post independent politics have we not witnessed the ding-dong positions of the Sinhalas towards the power sharing issue. ..”. Now, the late Kadir, as Raghavan calls him, was a maestro of the use of the English language and I am sure he said no such thing as ” ding-dong positions of the Sinhalas”.

    Raghavan urges us all to “Read ‘’the emergency of 1956 by Vittachchi and recent analysis of De Votta) Prof. Seneviratne in his ‘’the works of the King (1999)”. Well, it is diffucult to do so because Tarzie ( Uncle tarzie to me) wrote no such book and could not have because there was no such emergency in 56. He did write a famous book on “Emergency ’58”. And my respected friend Prof HL Seneviratne did not write a book on “the Works of the King”, but on “The Work of Kings” ( in which he is kind enough to make a positive reference to me in the company of the late Regi Siriwardene).

  • Suren Raghavan

    H E Dr DJ
    I am not amused by the way you continue to attack me on secondary issues but surprised you still decide to avoid the key points of the debate.
    Yes Prof. HLS makes a reference to HE Dr DJ on the 202 page. Footnote, last line. While making 114 references to Angaaraika in the main text. If we are to go by the references made, then the judgement is open.
    H E DJ, I am a Mahavidyala guy. Not ashamed of that past. It is better to be a searching and learning Mahavidyala guy than to be a sold-out intellect. (of Aquinas College?)
    Anyway leave these typo mistakes (of mine). The debate is not about proof reading English text. Unless you tell me that this forum is open only to those studied at St Joseph College
    This is about politics of our motherland. While for some , debating Sri Lanka has turned as the business of survival and international portfolio building , for us it is our life, the present and the future.
    Again: Where is the blue print for democracy in which the nation rights of Thamilar will be constitutionalized? After all according your government it is only three weeks to go. That is the question to which an answer is demanded by the Thamil nation.
    On Kadir: I did the interview. Not you. So how could you be sure more than me? This shows your hegemony even in approaching an open text. SLRC – ‘’Cross Roads with Suren” interview series programme number 23 in the special programme unit. If you want refer.

    lets discuss politics to detect where we went wrong and how our two nations could correct the past and move forward. Because while the contemporary political history of SL is blood soaked it is the bourgeoisie thugrism from Gangodawila to Geneva which prevents any meaningful discussion now.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    If Raghavan is right and I either had something against “Mahavidyalaya guys” or thought this forum open only to those who studied at St Joseph’s College, I would hardly be the admirer of Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi’s that I am, now would I?

    I find it impossible to debate or discuss with anyone such as Raghavan, whose writing I find incoherent and incomprehensible. Mahavidyalayas have nothing do with it: ask Amarakeerthi.

  • suren raghavan

    Y E Dr DJ,
    Thank you. I believe we can agree at least to disagree.
    I could only say ”incoherent and incomprehensible” my writing as much as your past and present politics. Let the future historians of politics of Lanka pass that judgement.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    My politics are very clear:
    At least since 1987 ( for over two decades) I have supported the total defeat and destruction of the Tigers and any leadership that would fight against them, just as I support the full implementation of the 13th amendment.

    I also opposed the Pol Potist uprising of the JVP and supported the effort to suppress that insurrection.

    Before the collapse of global socialism in the late 1980s, I supported a socialist revolution through the joint efforts of the Sinhala and Tamil radical Left.

    After the collapse of global socialism I supported the closest available approximation on a continuum of values, whether it is social democracy, patriotic populism or the defense of national sovereignty.

    Very clear, very simple, very logical, very rational.