Colombo, Human Rights, Politics and Governance

Rajapaksrized Chauvinism in Flowery prose: Sri Lankan Diplomat’s outright humiliation of Sri Lankan Tamils

This article concerns an article entitled “Tamils must sell something Sinhalese will be willing to buy at affordable price”, by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, an eminent Sri Lankan scholar, who is currently the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva. The position occupied by Dr.Jayatilleka is one of the highest-ranking diplomatic postings, and many may concur that he has been rendering valuable services to his country since he was appointed to the high office. Dr. Jayatilleka is also a highly skilled writer and analyst, and his writings on Sri Lankan and international affairs published internationally have proven to be extremely insightful. In many of his contributions, notably to websites such as Groundviews and Transcurrents, Dr. Jayathilleka has made it clear that the views expressed in his writings are strictly his own. But given the high office he occupies in Sri Lankan diplomacy, his ‘personal’ views regarding Sri Lankan affairs (especially the ethnic question) carries added weight, and can certainly provide insights into the policies of the government he represents. If one is to compare his views on the ethnic question with those of President Rajapakse, Prof. R. Wijesinha (Head, Peace Secretariat) and Dr. P. Kohona (Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) for example, more convergences than divergences can be observed. In other words, he quintessentially represents the perfect diplomatic representative of the present government’s stance on the ethnic conflict. Dr. Jayathilleka will be hereinafter referred to as ‘the Ambassador’. 

As a Sri Lankan, and like a good few of my countrymen, I do have a high regard for the Ambassador. Yet, reading the article mentioned above, (available online at – accessed 5 February 2009) I was left in shock, disbelief and a deep sense of disgust. The Ambassador makes several remarks that any Sri Lankan Tamil political leader and/or activist, and any Sri Lankan (of any ethnic group or religious confession) for that matter, (who respects equality and justice to all citizens) should take into account extremely seriously. As a Sri Lankan diplomat, one can presume that the Ambassador’s personal views are guided by a deep understanding of the reality surrounding the Sri Lankan government’s recent military victories, and the Rajapakse administration’s perceptions and strategies for a political settlement once the LTTE is completely defeated. As a liberal-minded and ‘thinking’ Sinhalese, I take total offense against several remarks made by the Ambassador, which I may now proceed to explain. 

As the very title of the article indicates, it appears that the Ambassador is of the view that after a quarter-century of civil war, and over sixty-one years of uphill struggle against majoritarian politics, the Tamils should now give in, and accept the political leftovers thrown at them. The Ambassador notes that: 

‘The Sri Lankan side must be realistic enough to recognize that the political price for cooperation with India cannot but be the full implementation of the 13th amendment’. 

The 13th Constitutional Amendment, as it has been explained crystal-clearly by a large number of academics and political activists, is thoroughly insufficient to redress the political problems of Sri Lankan Tamils. It is as simple as that. Both the Ambassador, the Rajapakse administration and the Indian diplomatic machine must understand that reality. 

It is further noted that the recent military victories leave no space for Tamil nationalism, i.e. a federal solution to the Tamil question. Then, the Ambassador goes hors sujet: 

‘The inability of the old Federalism to stand up to armed separatism, indeed the continuum of Tamil federalism and separatism (Vadukkodai, the TULF), means that there is no life for the federalist project after the failure of the Tigers. It has to be recognized that not only has Tamil separatism failed, so have almost six decades of Tamil federalism’. 

Here, discerning readers will notice the venom of Sinhala nationalism going nuts. Federalism is THE miscarriage of post-1948 Sri Lankan politics, and the annual Independence Day celebrations held every year are a painful reminder of that loss of hope. It was something strongly requested, but it is common knowledge that Sinhala nationalist forces repeatedly blocked all routes to a federal settlement. Therefore, the Ambassador is talking about something that never existed in Sri Lankan politics. If a the idea of a federal solution was overpowered by separatist discourses, and since 1983,if those strongly upholding a federal solution maintained a pro-separatist stance, then that’s the consequence of blindfolded post-1948 Sinhala nationalism. It was the ultimate product of narrow-minded political leaders who played with Sinhala nationalist sentiments whenever a near-federal option was brought to limelight. Past failures, and the failure of the separatist movement (namely the LTTE) that we are witnessing today, should in no way mean that the federal idea is no longer valid. A federal solution is the only viable path ahead, and convincing the Sinhala nationalists, obtaining two-thirds majority in parliament to enact required constitutional reforms and implement a project of asymmetrical devolution to the northern and eastern provinces, with the delegation of substantial powers and prerogatives is the one and only way in which a consistent solution to the ethnic conflict can be elaborated. 

In today’s context, where Sinhala nationalist politicians such as Champika Ranawaka and Wimal Weerawansa have developed a strong Sinhala lobby against any further devolution beyond the 13th constitutional amendment, the ideas on a federal option expressed above may sound not so realistic, and rather utopian. It is clear enough that the Rajapakse regime is bound to bluntly reduce Sri Lankan Tamils to the position of ‘second class citizens’ (an interest strongly affirmed by the Army Commander during a recent visit to the United States). Concerning this situation, the government and its Sinhala nationalist allies must understand one crucial factor: as long as Colombo disagrees to extensive devolution, the Tamil nationalist struggle will continue, and every moderate Sri Lankan embracing liberal democratic values ought to support such a venture. 

The Ambassador’s digression into Tamil progressivism and leftist discourses simply does not make any sense at all. All that would have been absolutely timely five decades ago, and it’s unarguably way too late. Today, Sri Lankan Tamils are a displaced community, who have to deal with internal displacement, political refuge, poverty, sexual exploitation of women, underage girls and boys by the Sri Lankan state military forces, harassment, violence, death, bloodshed and trauma. Needless to put all the blame on the LTTE, as the LTTE came to being precisely due to Colombo’s foul and overtly anti Tamil policies. If anyone is to be accused for Tamil separatist violence, do accuse those (Sinhala) ‘national leaders’ who transformed energetic, dynamic and ambitious young men from northern Sri Lanka into cruel murderers and suicide bombers. 

The Ambassador is bold enough to affirm that ‘…Tamils must recognize the extent of the defeat sustained’. The defeat sustained is that of the armed struggle for a separate state, and not of the Tamil nationalist cause and the Tamil struggle for self-determination. These two will not be defeated nor undermined by any Sinhala chauvinist forces, and are strong enough to prevail against Sinhala majoritarian politics. As long as the need be, these two forces will thrive, and pose a major challenge to successive Sri Lankan governments with nationalist agendas.  

It is also noted that the Sri Lankan state has ‘not yet beaten the soft power of Tamil separatism’. The method of doing so is then explained, and will hopefully provide food for thought to those in power:

‘The only way in which the Sri Lankan state can beat the soft power of the Tamil separatist cause is by repairing its international profile as a law-governed model pluralist democracy, restructuring itself so as to offer the Tamils a political space regarded as fair by the bulk of the Tamil community as well as the outside world, especially India, while restoring economic growth throughout the island and for all social classes’. 

Now that sounds like a very meaningful, positive hope-inspiring sentence. But the obvious problem is that this is all but an old and heavily outdated tape Sri Lankans have heard long enough. Despite military successes, the Rajapakse administration has been one of the most corrupt, violent and dictatorial, with little regard for the management of public finances, human rights and equality. The Ambassador is suggesting strategies for dealing with ‘soft Tamil nationalism’ to such a government, a perpetrator of cold-blooded crimes against anyone opposed to it. It is extremely unlikely that the current administration will implement the type of policies the Ambassador mentions. Therefore, the proposition quoted above is a most deplorably unconvincing argument, and will not impress any moderate thinking Sri Lankans. 

The Ambassador most shamelessly affirms that Tamils should remain as second-class citizens in post-2009 Sri Lanka. This is bound to be the destiny of Tamils. No Sir, This is definitely not on, and I call for massive opposition and condemnation of the following remark:

‘…Tamil political leaders [must] identify the political space actually open to them; understand its contours and boundaries’. 

This, together with the Ambassador’s constant insistence on the 13th amendment, further demonstrate his (and the Rajapakse administration’s) project to reduce Tamils into a category of second class citizens in their own land, and deny them the right for self-determination, and the right to manage their affairs with dignity. This shows that the Tamils cannot count on the Rajapakse administration, and that the present-day Sri Lankan government only stands for the Sinhalese (and more precisely Sinhala Buddhist) community. The Muslims are trapped in between, and given the specificity of their sub-culture, and factors including the lack of linguistic barriers (i.e. being equally proficient in Tamil and Sinhala)does not come across as a challenge (similar to Tamil nationalism) to the Sinhala nationalist enterprise of te MR administration. 

The article is surely among the writings of the good Ambassador that has been most vehemently criticized. The large number of comments (some of them quite lengthy) published as of 7 February 2009 provides ample proof of the contempt it has generated among Sri Lankans of all ethnic and religious groups. I may conclude with a reference to the Ambassador’s last paragraph, which hints at all remaining Tamil political leaders to take the road Karuna and Pillyan took. It is noted that: 

‘If they (Tamil politicians in post-2009 Sri Lankan parliamentary politics) opt wisely to form a coalition with Mahinda Rajapakse, they can neutralize and even outweigh the influence of the Sinhala hard-line parties, ensure the full implementation of the 13th amendment, prevent any unjust legislation, push for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and accelerate the economic development of their areas’. 

Discerning readers may be inclined to confuse this with the ending of a Grimm’s fairy tale. That say’s it all. This is an invitation to all Tamil politicians to pay lip service to the current Colombo administration, and in the common parlance of many Tamils, be ‘puppets’ of the government, and keep their mouths shut about Tamils and self-determination. However, the good Ambassador is very well placed to make such a plea, as this is what he has been doing best all through his successful career. In the name of pluralism, diversity and equality to all Sri Lankans, let us hope there will be strong men and women among Tamil political leaders who will regard this remark for what it is. Concerning the Ambassador, the article surely received much appreciation from the Colombo, and as a Sri Lankan embracing the diversity of my land, I wish the good Ambassador the same wish I have to those heroic leaders currently reigning over Sri Lanka: 

Hitanta nidahasa liyanta kiyanta nidahasa 
Baninta nidahasa ethi rata mé uttama rata
Baila kiya pudademu ape sweiri sirilaka 
Nivan dakithva apagé jananayaka kela!
(Nanda Malini, Pavana)