CAN THE ANTI-MAHINDA CAMP THINK STRAIGHT?

Photo courtesy Sri Lanka Guardian

“Finally Gramsci…. If we say – as Gramsci did—that the task of the Italian working class is to fulfil the tasks of national unification that the Italian people had posed themselves since the time of Machiavelli, and in some way, to complete the historical project of the Risorgimento, we have a double order of reference.”- Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s)

A basic reason for the inability of the anti-Governmental forces, political and civil society, Oppositional and dissentient, to compete with the regime, still less supplant it, is the sheer inability to think straight. While it may be argued that the regime does not do so either, that chronic lapse is far more manifest in the interrelated realms of external and ethnic affairs, and much less so in the electoral heartland, the Sinhala majority areas. It must also be remembered that the government, especially one with a popular leadership, can by virtue of incumbency, afford lapses in thinking, while the Opposition, as an aspirant force, can ill afford such weakness.

The inability to think straight translates itself immediately and automatically into an inability to aim straight, politically speaking. This means an inability to hit the political target dead centre.

The absence of straight thinking on the part of the oppositional forces and dissenting elements also means that they fail to win the battle of ideas and arguments, thereby failing to persuade the mass of citizens, i.e. the electorate.

Simply put, the political perspective and ‘general line’ (as the old Marxists used to call it) of the anti-government camp is misplaced. Therefore it cannot hope to prevail.

Let us examine a few of the most serious errors of thinking of the political opposition and the dissenting or critical intelligentsia, and constructively suggest major rectifications of those errors.

A set of serious mistakes continue to be made as regards the Tamil (or ethnic) Question, which is at the heart of the larger problem of Sri Lankan nationhood. It is held that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is an anti-devolution dogmatist or fundamentalist and has been so throughout his political career. This omits two rather large facts, namely that the Eastern and Northern Provincial elections were held precisely under his Presidency and none other. It could be argued that these moves were to secure external support during the war or under external pressure after, but that would undermine the critique. Mahinda Rajapaksa toyed with the district as the unit of devolution during the war, notwithstanding the Indian factor, but was persuaded not to follow through, and chose instead to announce elections to the Eastern PC as the province was liberated, with no evidence of external pressure. As for the Northern election, there was certainly carrot and stick, but the stick was tapped only when there was a chance that 13A would be pruned.

The susceptibility to external realities shows that this Rajapaksa is a conservative pragmatist rather than a fundamentalist on devolution. His critics who seem quite as dogmatic, blinkered and fundamentalist in their blanket condemnation of him as he is accused of being of devolution, fail to acknowledge that it is precisely the defeat of the LTTE on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political watch that permitted the reopening of democratic space and the holding of PC elections in the North and East—which his predecessors were unable to do for a quarter of a century.

It is correctly held that the Government is responsible for the absence of progress in political dialogue with the TNA. This perception needs several caveats, though. The government is mainly responsible for the absence of dialogue but it is not solely responsible. The point I seek to make is best illustrated by the complete absence of serious, transparent political dialogue between the TNA and the Opposition. If there were, or were to be, the Government could be completely exposed for its intransigence and culpability.

Why is there no dialogue between the UNP and the TNA, or the JVP and the TNA? Why can’t there be an oppositional roundtable, which elaborates a solution to the issues of national reconciliation and integration? Why can’t there be at least bilateral talks on such issues which result in a joint statement?

If it is because such a dialogue will make the opposition a target of government propaganda, the question is: why should that matter? Is it because such criticism would be effective? If it is effective, why is that so? Is there something wrong with the profile of the TNA or that of the Opposition parties, which make them vulnerable to such criticism?

Is it that the TNA would be faulted in the North and East for a transparent dialogue with the centre-Right and Left Opposition parties? If so, are we to conclude that public opinion among the Tamils is quite so extreme?

If not, is it the case that the TNA suspects it cannot convince the parties of the opposition of the justice and legitimacy of its political demands? If the TNA’s demands are too expensive for the Opposition to be seen to accept, shouldn’t the TNA moderate those demands? If not, how does the TNA hope to carry centrist Sinhala opinion on these issues?

Surely if the TNA is able to convince the Opposition, that alone can outflank the regime and put more pressure on it to accept a reasonable settlement, or at least attenuate the Government’s apprehension of Southern vulnerability?

Looking at it the other way around, why is the Opposition failing to have an open, structured dialogue with the TNA? If it is the radioactivity of the TNA’s profile, then shouldn’t that radioactivity be sought to be removed by lobbying for adjustments in the TNA’s positions? If the problem is not with the TNA but with the vulnerability of the Oppositional parties to governmental propaganda, should those aspects or personalities that make the Opposition vulnerable be rectified or removed?

The absence of an open political dialogue between the TNA and either wing of the parliamentary opposition reveals that the problem of the absence of a political process does not reside solely with the Government, but is wider or lies deeper.

Given the domestic geopolitical realities of the island, the most significant of which are the uneven distribution of minorities and the overwhelming preponderance of one ethnic community, two political conclusions may be derived: (i) there can be no purely Northern or North-Eastern solution to the ethnic question; it has to be part of the reform of the state as a whole and (ii) ethnic reforms have to secure the consent of a moderate majority of the overwhelming majority on the island.

This brings us to the second problem with the thinking of the anti-government camp, with regard to the Tamil question. That is the ‘two nations theory’ namely the self-proclamation of the Tamil nationalists that the Tamils of Sri Lanka are a nation; that Sri Lanka is a bi-national or pluri-national society and should therefore be proclaimed such as a state/country; and that it should be recognised that the Tamils of Sri Lanka have the right of national self determination. (For a sophisticated liberal intellectual exposition, see for instance: ‘Realist Modernism in an age of Kulturkampf’ by Asanga Welikala, Groundviews.)

The danger of this political position is that it informs Tamil nationalism and pushes it to adopt or be vulnerable to unrealistic emotionalism. No state in Asia accepts such a position with regard to an ethnic minority within its borders, and with good reason which includes but is not limited to the history of colonial fragmentation and the fear of centrifugalism.

In the case of Sri Lanka the case of pluri-nationalism is patently absurd, because one ethnic group constitutes almost 75% of the island’s population, and according an equal status of nationhood to a far smaller formation is logically untenable. With such overwhelming preponderance of one community, how could the entity that is Sri Lanka be described as pluri-national or bi-national? Take for example the world order: it was described as bi-polar when there were two roughly equal superpowers, the USA and the USSR. It is described as multi-polar with the emergence of China and other Big Powers. It would not have been described as bi-polar, or containing two powers, if the two had been the USA on the one hand and Cuba or Vietnam on the other, nor would it be defined as multi-polar if the polarities were the USA , Pakistan and Sri Lanka! Where one ethnic group constitutes two thirds of the populace, the other communities are obviously ethnic minorities.

What makes the ‘two nations/pluri-national/self determination’ position doubly dangerous is that it blocks the Tamil community from achieving its fair and just place as Sri Lankans. If a community insists on defining itself as a distinct nation and being recognised as such; has until recently, supported (actively or tacitly) a secessionist war of long duration waged by a terrorist army; has yet to denounce that terrorist army and separatist terrorist enterprise; is sporadically given to praising the terrorist chieftain responsible for the assassination of several leaders of the country; and is located in a sensitive border area across which it has a huge populace of co-ethnics supportive of secession–then the majority community and indubitably the armed forces of the given state are bound to regard it as a potential or latent security threat.

On the other hand if the Tamil community, which manifestly constitutes an ethnic minority on the island, insists on being treated with dignity, integrated as equal citizens with no discrimination whatsoever, granted all rights and protection accorded to minorities according to UN declarations and universal norms, and deserving of an authentic measure of provincial autonomy and self-administration as contained in the bilateral accord between Sri Lanka and India, it would occupy the moral high ground and generate a broad resonance among the Sinhala majority.

The wide, unbridgeable gulf between the Oppositional and dissident forces on the one hand and the bulk of the citizenry on the other—a gulf which enables the government to step in, manoeuvre and retain the support of the people—is exemplified in the views in the anti-regime camp that (a) there is a moral equivalence between the State and the Tigers and that the War was not between two morally unequal and incommensurable formations and (b) that things are worse today than they ever were in the country.

The irony is that while international civil society may hold or come round to the view that the Sri Lankan state was the equivalent of the Tigers if not worse, in no society anywhere in the world, and especially in the West, would the view be held that when it came to their own country, there was a moral equivalence between a legitimate democratic state and a suicide bombing terrorist enemy. Certainly, this position will never be accepted by the people of Sri Lanka. Still more surreal is the assertion that things are worse today than they have ever been in this country. (‘Realist Modernism in an Age of Kulturkampf’, Asanga Welikala, Groundviews.)

Certainly in several significant respects, this ‘declinist’ perspective is accurate, and I share it. Yet in the most significant respects it is not. What we have is not the peace we want, deserve or could easily enjoy. Yet a post-war present which is not punctuated by school-kids blown up on buses, commuters on trains and political leaders at election meetings, cannot be worse in general or as a whole, than a bloodbath which lasted thirty years. However culturally claustrophobic the present, it cannot be worse than a past in which the country was sundered and the majority of its citizens terrorised and humiliated. It is that larger existential truth and the failure of the regime’s critics to acknowledge it in order to transcend it that will return Mahinda Rajapaksa to presidential office. Of course President Rajapaksa’s third term will be at least as fraught as President Jayewardene’s second term. Be that as it may, if the silence of the Opposition and the intellectual denial and confusion of the dissident intelligentsia on the defining historic process and event of our lifetime, the war and its outcome, continue, it may entrench the regime, even ushering in a harsher successor and a darker age.

  • puniselva

    ”moral equivalence between a legitimate democratic state and a suicide bombing terrorist enemy”:

    Suicide bombing is horrendous. But inifinitely more horrendous is state terrorism on its own citizenry.
    Is there a comparison of moral equivalence at all?

  • puniselva

    ”Still more surreal is the assertion that things are worse today than they have ever been in this country”:

    The South is ruled by the govt elected by the people and the North is totally ruled by the army though the North began to be increasingly ruled by the army a few decades ago.

  • Fitzpatrick

    One was called and banned as terrorist group, the other claims to be ‘democratic’ when the democratic government stoops to the level of the terrorist then who is worse? The so called ‘democratic’ government !

  • Fitzpatrick

    Dayan take note and learn what Dharisha Bastians wrote on the FT.

    “Blaming Sri Lanka’s problems on the rest of the world, the Tiger rump and mercenaries seeking to destabilise the regime was the easier, less painful road””

    Only in your previous article on GV you stated as follows:

    “We have the Gang of Four of David Cameron, Samantha Power, Jayalalitha and Navi Pillay to thank for the prospective radicalization of the Rajapaksa regime and the darkening of the island’s prospect.”

    Time to stop blaming others and grow up (applies equally to Dayan and Sri Lanka)

  • Fitzpatrick

    Dharisha Bastians on 13/6/2014 FT.lk
    As it grapples with how to deal with the problem of “the investigation,” the Government propaganda machinery has also swung into high gear, to begin the process of discrediting the senior most UN staffer who will essentially run the investigation on behalf of the OHCHR. It has used this strategy of personalising its international battles several times before, to great effect domestically.The list of ‘individuals’ pursuing vicious agendas against Sri Lanka is extensive. Navi Pillay, the ‘Tamil Tigress’ in the UN, Louise Arbour, her predecessor with an axe to grind, Marzuki Darusman, the shadowy author of the Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka, former US Ambassador Patricia Butenis – instigator of conspiracy, David Miliband, former British Foreign Secretary and diaspora sympathiser, Gareth Evans, who co-chaired the international committee that conceptualised the Responsibility to Protect principle; these individuals have been cast in stone as Sri Lanka’s international enemies.
    In almost every case, the vicious personal attacks on individual ‘conspirators’ has had a counterproductive impact internationally. But the strategy persists, perhaps because in the Government universe, everything is local.

    Can someone tell me what is the difference between what the state media is doing and what Dayan stated on 4/6 on GV as follows.

    We have the Gang of Four of David Cameron, Samantha Power, Jayalalitha and Navi Pillay to thank for the prospective radicalization of the Rajapaksa regime and the darkening of the island’s prospect.

    So Dayan and the state media are on the same page?

    • alex f

      yes Dayan does sound an awful lot like the state propaganda machine, but to be fair he is far more eloquent. Some of the interviews by sri lankan officials are hysterical – reminds me of Comical Ali (google it for those who are too young to remember – priceless). I suppose if Dayan stays true to his position, once the IC is off Sri Lanka’s back then he should be lobbying for his supposedly liberal ideals again .. although given the long period before the IC came into play he never did, I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

    • Dev

      Thanks for highlighting and comparing the state media and Dayan, interesting take !

  • alex f

    DJ is stuck in a rut. The basis of his argument is that the Sinhala majority on Sri Lanka won’t accept other nations having any claims on any part of the island. Thus, all solutions need the Tamils to give up their heritage, history and culture and be ‘good minorities’, learning Sinhala and ideally being Buddhist. That is unfair of course as DJ claims that other than majoritiarianism he does envisage a ‘liberal sri lanka’ – obviously majoritarian liberalism is only something that Sri Lankans can come up with!
    The Tamils have inalienable rights. The Rajapakse’s fought the LTTE with vast international support, which was provided on the basis that (i) significant devolutions i.e. 13A++ would be delivered post war and (ii) the international community are now shocked by the Tamil massacres they are now complicit in by supporting Rajapakse. Sri Lanka is on its way to being a case study and a world example.
    The one thing that the international community has now come to realise (something Tamils knew for sometime) is that a majoritarian Sri Lanka will always attack (politically or physically)DJ i the Tamil nation, and giving into the DJ formula of forcing the Tamils to be a minority in a majoritarian, single nation, Sri Lanka will result in further instability / a huge military establishment (ala Pakistan, something else Dayan recommends), neither of which is palatable or good for, human rights, development or growth. Based on this formula Sri Lanka will forever be suckling on the IMF’s teat.
    Thus the only obstacle to a reasonable, and lasting solution based on significant autonomy / separation, is the baying mob of the Sinhala nationalists / majoritarians. DJ, ignores that the IC is used to dealing with hardline nationalist majorities. The Serbians, the Indonesians and others have eventually kow-towed to the IC. The Serbians handing over their own war-criminals to the Hague. The Rajapakse’s fate was written the day they choose to ignore international law and massacre over 75,000 civilians – they are going to jail.
    And a word on the opposition. Given the Sinhala nationalist fervour in the South, the only role the opposition will have is to take over once the IC has done their job of removing Rajapakse. The opposition will not win without IC help and any votes that they get will be by being as hardline as Rajapakse (which is DJ”s point on the strength of SInhala nationalism). The opposition will then have to quietly hand the Rajapakse’s over to the ICC and the have the unenviable job of quelling sinhala nationalism in the South, with a programme no doubt spelt out by the IC. I believe that exercise of restraining Sinhala nationalism will be easier if the Tamil question is off the table (either through autonomy or a separate state but not a continuation of the genocide please). Serbia is again a good case study of addressing ethnic nationalist majorities.
    However, it is not all bad. The Serbians today are en route to EU accession and the country is enjoying the prosperity that comes from embracing the liberal world order. That future can be Sri Lanka’s too (with or without the Tamils being part of it).
    The biggest favour DJ can do now for a unified Sri Lanka, is to lobby his hardline Sinhala buddies to agree to a deal with substantial autonomy today – i.e. 13A++ now, and begin the path of genuine reconciliation. For on the route they are going of recommending militarisation and oppression, the future for Tamils may well be separation.

    • Fitzpatrick

      Wonderful ! I suggested this before but you were too modest but I urge you again to consider a longer write up. Would be a welcome change to reading the same regurgitated stuff over and over again !

      • alex f

        Lol! Thanks very much. Will certainly give it some thought, but may not be in the immediate future. I think there are a lot of texts on the liberal world order – I am simply keen on its application to Sri Lanka for the benefit of all its nations.

  • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews

    Posted on behalf of Asanga Welikala:

    While not expressly framed as such, Dayan’s present piece is in
    important ways a response to my recently published review of his book.
    I welcome his constructive attitude to the critique, although I still
    think he repeats in this response the methodological and substantive
    flaws that I highlighted in relation to the book. The issues raised
    and counterclaims deserve a more sustained engagement between us, but
    for reasons of other pressing matters that I hope Dayan will
    appreciate, I am unable to do so at the present moment. I would like
    however to state some brief responses and clarifications, as below. I
    will do so by reproducing a selection of Dayan’s comments, together
    with my responses to them. The issues I do not address here will have
    wait for another day.

    Let me begin with a positive point of absolute agreement between us.
    He says that, “Given the domestic geopolitical realities of the
    island, the most significant of which are the uneven distribution of
    minorities and the overwhelming preponderance of one ethnic community,
    two political conclusions may be derived: (i) there can be no purely
    Northern or North-Eastern solution to the ethnic question; it has to
    be part of the reform of the state as a whole and (ii) ethnic reforms
    have to secure the consent of a moderate majority of the overwhelming
    majority on the island.”

    I am in complete agreement with this observation and hence the reason
    why I attempted to argue at length that the prospects for reform are
    in large measure a challenge that is within the Sinhala-Buddhist
    national space in a recent article on Groundviews. This is broadly the
    approach of analytical realism that I believe we share, but
    nonetheless it seems to lead us to radically different conclusions.

    Dayan then says the following: “This brings us to the second problem
    with the thinking of the anti-government camp, with regard to the
    Tamil question. That is the ‘two nations theory’ namely the
    self-proclamation of the Tamil nationalists that the Tamils of Sri
    Lanka are a nation; that Sri Lanka is a bi-national or pluri-national
    society and should therefore be proclaimed such as a state/country;
    and that it should be recognised that the Tamils of Sri Lanka have the
    right of national self determination.”

    My response to this:

    (a) my perspective on the competing constitutional claims that are at
    play within the politics of the island is not dependent on my
    membership of the present ‘anti-government camp’ but rather an
    understanding that derives from a longer historical assessment of the
    Sri Lankan state. This is a state that has congenitally and
    pathologically been unable to reflect and represent the fundamental
    pluralism of the polity upon which it is based, calling into question
    its ‘democratic’ character. It is democratic only in the thin,
    procedural, sense in which majoritarianism is everything; it is and
    has never been able to reflect a more substantively deeper democracy
    that is required of a state in a pluralistic polity.

    (b) the assertion of nationhood is for any group to make insofar as it
    is plausible; it is not dependent on whether someone outside that
    group thinks it is absurd or unacceptable. Nonetheless, there are
    objective and subjective ways of assessing the claim in political and
    constitutional theory, but the criteria that Dayan produces – in
    previous writing, in the present piece, and in the book – are
    insufficient and inadequate by themselves to deny the nationality
    claim of Sri Lankan Tamils. There are, as I have said more than once,
    serious defects in the Tamil claim. These have to be debated. But
    starting with the assumption that it must be denied by the application
    of a skewed realism or a monolithic concept of nation-statehood is in
    my view not the most enterprising or fruitful way of engaging in
    historical, political or constitutional debate.

    (c) it might be noticed that I have always used ‘multinational’ and/or
    ‘bi-national’ as descriptive terms, whereas I have always used
    ‘plurinational’ as a normative term. This is significant in that the
    latter is an aspiration, whereas the former is a fact with which
    political and constitutional analysis has to contend, because quite
    apart from the Tigers and their abhorrent politics and violence, this
    is a nationality claim that a community has asserted democratically
    for virtually the whole of the post-independence period. Dayan’s way
    of addressing this is to deny it. Mine is not. Theoretically, his way
    is much easier; mine is far more challenging, but we have to deal with
    these difficult questions sooner rather than later. Moreover, my
    description of the sociology of the Sri Lankan polity as multinational
    and/or bi-national does not necessarily entail a personal subscription
    to the ethnonational claims that are at play. It rather means that, as
    a realist (or more accurately, a ‘functional normativist’), I
    acknowledge that these have to be taken seriously even though we do
    not necessarily subscribe to them. Dayan’s realism of course does not
    acknowledge this as a reality that must be constructively addressed,
    but as an extravagant impertinence on the part of Tamils.

    (d) as I have observed elsewhere, Dayan uses the phrase “the Tamils of
    Sri Lanka have the right of national self determination” here in
    exactly the same grandiloquent and self-aggrandising way that Tamil
    nationalist rhetoric (including that of the Tigers) has used it. I
    have always maintained that I regard these terms as tenets of a
    political morality the normative and structural extents and limits of
    which are entirely to be negotiated in a constitutional conversation
    between and within the peoples of our island. They are not terms with
    fixed, concrete, precise meanings, and there is very little use in
    regarding them as explosive terms with which to conduct polemical
    attacks on each other. It is ironic that an emerging legal scholar
    must make this point to a credentialed political scientist, for I have
    always thought that the conceptual imagination of the latter is by
    training and instinct far wider than that of the former. I am as
    committed as anyone is to the ideal of a single Sri Lankan state. My
    argument is that this is entirely possible while acknowledging
    internal pluralism including national pluralism.

    Dayan then says, “The danger of this political position is that it
    informs Tamil nationalism and pushes it to adopt or be vulnerable to
    unrealistic emotionalism. No state in Asia accepts such a position
    with regard to an ethnic minority within its borders, and with good
    reason which includes but is not limited to the history of colonial
    fragmentation and the fear of centrifugalism.”

    My (partial) response:

    (a) Tamil nationalism is perfectly capable of unrealistic emotionalism
    without the help of liberal constitutionalism of the sort that I
    promote.

    (b) The second sentence seems plausible at first glance, but only on a
    very thin, selective, and self-serving reading of politics and
    constitutionalism in such places as India and Indonesia, and even
    China. Just as much as a state does not have to call itself a
    federation in order to practice federalism, there is no need for a
    state to call itself plurinational in order to practice policies of
    accommodation that afford the recognition, representation and autonomy
    that sub-state nations demand of the state. I am baffled how it seems
    to be the case that Dayan’s understanding of these issues seems to
    completely disregard massive literatures on these countries and the
    ways they deal with multinationalism within their borders that every
    other comparative and area specialist scholar seems to take as a
    given. Even Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution manages to say the following
    in its Article 3: ‘The State is where multi-National races reside’!

    Lastly, Dayan makes a claim of surpassing ignorance that I wish he
    never did when he says that, “In the case of Sri Lanka the case of
    pluri-nationalism is patently absurd, because one ethnic group
    constitutes almost 75% of the island’s population, and according an
    equal status of nationhood to a far smaller formation is logically
    untenable. With such overwhelming preponderance of one community, how
    could the entity that is Sri Lanka be described as pluri-national or
    bi-national?” He then goes on to substantiate this claim with exactly
    the same kind of asinine analogy from international relations that I
    have previously said makes the argument in his book more unpersuasive
    than it should be.

    There is a book to be written as to why this is complete nonsense, but
    suffice it here to say one thing. There is nothing ‘patently absurd’
    about this. Every plurinational state is dominated by a large majority
    nation. That is a fact, a given, a reality, and as can be seen from
    basic statistics, this is even more pronounced than in Sri Lanka in
    the three most advanced plurinational states in the world.

    In the United Kingdom, there are 53.5 million people in England, 5.3
    million in Scotland, 3.1 million in Wales and 1.8 million in Northern
    Ireland. So the majority nation here is 84% of the total population.

    In Canada, the population of Quebec is only 8 million out of a total
    population of 33.5 million. Thus the sub-state nation is only 24% of
    the total.

    In Spain, Catalonia has a population of 7.5 million, the Basque
    Country just over 2 million, out of a total population of 47 million,
    which makes the most nationalist of the two regions of Spain together
    only 20% of the total.

    If Dayan’s logic were adopted in any of these cases, then there would
    be no such thing as a plurinational state. What is noteworthy is that
    these countries have the constitutional imagination and the maturity
    to deal with their minority nations in ways that suit their own
    circumstances and with a rich understanding of the requirements of
    liberal democracy. They have not been limited by conceptual
    straightjackets of any kind in addressing these issues and in the
    process have advanced our common understanding of how to deal with
    these problems. I prefer therefore to draw my comparative lessons from
    these experiences rather than the habitual nay-saying that is Dayan’s
    contribution to this issue.

    • alex f

      To begin with Asanga, is always so much clearer and more logical than most, and in particular when contrasted to Dayan. So again great piece and thank you. I think, as you may expect, where we diverge is the idea of ‘realism’ and the need to get the consent of the Sinhala majority. From a moral perspective I am not sure that’s right – campaigns in Catalonia, Quebec and Scotland were at odds with their majorities, and yet are based on the rights of those nations. Secondly, I disagree on this point of the ‘realism’ of the Sinhala majority. As I noted in my comment above, The world liberal order has encountered nationalistic majorities before and there are economic and political tools available to ensure those extremist nations (on a global liberal spectrum) do fall in line, so I disagree that in sri lanka one has to have a solution within the confines of what the extremist SInhala majority are willing to concede. In any case, if that is the case it is unclear how Dayan (or Asanga) can deliver their majoritarian liberal (or in the case of Asanga, pluri-national) visions in any case? Both seem to respond, that Sri Lanka needs more time and space to reform to those visions – which echoes of the present Rajapakse line. So is Rajapakse really a Sri Lankan liberal in disguise?

    • Kumaravadivel Guruparan

      Asanga, Sorry to intervene in this. Just a clarificatory question. If i have understood you right, it is your analytical realist approach that leads you to a) treat seriously the Tamil claim to nationhood/self-determination and b) accept that the national question can’t be solved unless a moderate majority agrees to a solution. But the latter, it appears to me is (also) tied to your commitment – as you call it – to the “ideal” of a single Sri Lankan state. This ‘ideal’ – please correct me if i am wrong – cannot be functional normativism right?. Hence (B) above, drawn from your realist perspective is further reinforced by your commitment to the ideal of a single Sri Lankan state. But is it also possible that this commitment to the ideal might have also influenced your realist conclusion as well. Thanks.

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      A long reply by Asanga, to which I have three substantive yet short points to make in response.

      1. Contrary to Asanga’s position that the majoritarian character calls seriously into question the very definition of Sri Lanka as democratic (except in the thin sense), I hold that the majoritarianism is a byproduct of precisely that democratic character and is one of the complex problems that Sri Lanka’s democracy faces. Ironically, this is precisely why the Tamil elite was opposed to universal franchise. The Soulbury commissioners recognized the problems and complexities that majority-minority relations introduced into the actual working out of democracy, but did not question either the desirability of electoral multiparty democracy or the definition of Sri Lanka as democratic. The history of the evolution of liberalism and democracy (not identical but eventually convergent phenomena ) in the west, in which 1848 was a nodal point, demonstrates that ethno-nationalism, linguistic nationalism, and religious majoritarianism were often accompaniments which were shed much later. The new democracies of former eastern Europe continue to be troubled by such questions, which have not prevented their membership of the EU. Going by Asanga’s criteria, there would be very few ‘thick’ democracies on the planet!

      2. On the question of pluri-nationalism, the vehemence verging on incivility, of Asanga’s counter-assertion functions as does the cloud of ink released by a squid. It serves to cover a sleight of hand. He re-brands states which have chosen to define themselves officially as unitary, as federal. He conflates states that do not define themselves as pluri-national, with those that do. He chooses to omit from his list those many states that have territorially-based ethno-national questions and refuse to redefine themselves either as federal or pluri-national, but limit themselves to non-federal forms of autonomy. In fact his typology either has no such states and solutions ( non federal provincial/regional/local autonomy) or these are conveniently classified as de facto federal and de-facto plurinational. He drops my point about the distinction between Asia and Europe–a most basic distinction of formation and strategy, for any reader of Lenin, Trotsky and certainly Gramsci. He seems ignorant of the debate on federalism at the dawn of liberation in South Africa and the reasons for the decisions against it by Nelson Mandela. He fails to take on board my point about the geopolitical specificities of Sri Lanka and therefore departs from the insights of Montesquieu and his own preferred Edmund Burke. He eschews the approach of historical realism which takes account of a protracted war and a decisive victory (in short he fails to understand how wars change things).He writes as if federal India and unitary China have not decidedly set their faces against any self-definition as multinational. He ignores the decidedly non-ethnic critique of federalism which Karl Marx and those of the Marxian school such as Prof James Petras and Samir Amin continue to make. He and those of his school of thought, ignore the example of a pluralism which accommodates diversity and difference within the notion of a single, united rainbow nation, which does not recognize multinationalism/bi-nationalism. In short, Asanga is conceptually confused or afflicted by unintended intellectual dishonesty.

      3) As a student of politics I know of only two endgames for politicio-historical processes and problems: the ballot or the bullet. (Egypt and Iraq continue to prove this). Therefore I concentrate on the realities of the dynamics of democratic politics and those of power and its balances, national, regional and global. Asanga’s discourse seems to address neither reality and thus strictly limits the utility of this debate.

      • alex f

        DJ’s responses miss the following points and forgive my brevity but not all of us do this sort of thing for our primary livelihood.

        i) Yes there are democracies around that are not liberal, but they are not ideal, and include many countries verging on the label of ‘failed state’. Zimbabwe, Syria and a host of other nations are on paper democracies. There are also those that are democracies and not failed states, but their illiberal nature is often unexplored or only arises when conflicts with the government arise – e.g. Turkey, Russia, Argentina. As for the Eastern European states by signing up to the EU accession programme they are tying themselves to various dictates from Brussels, including the human rights oversight, something domestic nationalists have rallied against since the EU’s inception. The issue is, what other type of democracy other than a liberal democracy can accommodate sizeable minorities within their borders in a manner that is acceptable within the universal human rights that these minorities enjoy.

        ii) The second more important point which DJ ignores in Sri Lanka, is the Tamils are not a minority. Sri Lanka isn’t a Buddhist state to which other peoples recently migrated. It is an island that is the historical homeland of a people with homogenous language, culture and religions. Thus, there is no reason for the Tamils to accept a solution that deems them simply a minority, and worse a minority in an ‘illiberal’ democracy. DJ would basically ensure the Tamils are the equivalent of the Roma of Romania or the Kurds of Turkey. That is why his views, whilst he claims he is more liberal are infact on the same spectrum as the Rajapakses’ and their ilk.

        iii)As to his study of politics he is wrong. In the modern day there are three end-games for these processes and Sri Lanka has already seen the third implemented. The third is of course external intervention. It is the only solution that can restructure the Sri Lankan state into one that accommodates Tamils, and we have already seen one attempt at such an intervention with the 13A. This time round the solution may have to go further.

  • Fitzpatrick

    Interesting that Dayan is yet to fully respond to the questions/challenges raised by many including me in this article, previous article and the review by Asanga.