Key Issues in the North-South Divide in Lanka: Then …. and NOW

Chandre-Dharma-wardanaChandre Dharmawardana, an unmodified version of an article that appeaered in The Island, 20 August 2015, with the title “Self-determination’ or ‘mutual-interdependence’? TNA Victory in North and UNF Victory in South

The people of Sri Lanka have spoken, both on Jan. 08, and now on August 17. The North has backed the TNA while the South has supported the UNF and the UPFA with a simple  majority to the UNF. The country has apparently returned to the politics of the 1960s, with the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) holding the balance of power.

However, if the TNA lends a constructive hand, there is now a prospect of a governing party and a strong Opposition unlike during the previous decade. Furthermore, given the TNA leadership’s ‘war crimes’ campaign against the leaders of the previous government, a better understanding should exist between the new UNF and the TNA. In fact, if the UPFA had come back to power, Jaffna and Colombo would have been on a collision course.2b-Chelva hustings Chelva campaigning in the north

3a- Galle Face Satyagraha 05.06.1956 (3)--  Chelva and ITAK pursue satyagraha at Galle Face Green in 1956

Although Chelvanayagam and his colleagues embraced the idea of ‘Arasu’ and ‘self-determination for the Tamils’ as early as the Maradana meeting in 1949, they became a force only after 1956. Yet, Chelvanayagam seriously attempted to find a ratio imperandi as seen from the Banda-Chelva pact and the Dudley-Chelva accords. However, the rank and file and the leaders could not overcome their own mistrust of each other. The B-C pact was rejected by the fire-brand nationalists in the North like Mr. V Navaratnam and his colleagues who organized hartals. Chelva’s attempt to appease Navaratnam and others by claiming that he is following a “bit-by-bit” approach backfired. The Nationalists in the South, like KMP Rajaratna, and political monks mounted strong  opposition to the B-C pact and the pact was abrogated.

 BC Pact Banda and Chelva shake hands in confirmation of the BC Pact–

5a--Bu_monk_berates_PM A Buddhist monk castigates Prime Minsiter Bandaranaike outside his house

A golden opportunity presented itself when C. P. de Silva led the SLFP in 1960, when there was a hung Parliament. Silva had agreed to implement the B-C pact days before he was to meet Sir Oliver, in trying to form a coalition government with the support of the FP. Dudley had declined to accept the FP offer as he anticipated the same opposition that SWRD had to face. Sir Oliver, wanting a stable government for at least two years, asked Chelvanayagam if the Federal Party (FP or ITAK) would back CP de Silva at least for two years. If the latter had agreed to do so, a remarkable political alliance between the SLFP and the FP leaders could have resulted. Two years of co-habitation under an utterly honest and competent leader like C. P. de Silva, a mathematician and civil servant turned politician would have been a rare treat for Ceylon. However, it was not to be. Chelva refused to back Silva for two years.

CP plusOliver had to call a new election, and Mrs. Banadaranaike came to power with a very strong “sympathy” vote. The previous accommodations with Chelvanayagam had become irrelevant with its large majority, and with Chelva declining to back the SLFP for two years. The story is now embellished to claim that Oliver did not appoint C. P. de Silva “because of his caste”. However, in fairness to Oliver, it should be recorded that Oliver did offer to appoint C. P. de Silva as the PM, if the FP would back him for long enough.

Today, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe echo the political configuration of the C. P. de Silva-Dudley-Chelva era. They are unavoidably confronted with the so-called national question. One major difficulty is the great mistrust of many Sri Lankans regarding the attitude of the present leaders during the hey day of the LTTE. That of course includes the UNP leaders, as well as the TNA leaders who were even dubbed the “Tiger Appointed Agents”. Whenever  the war-crimes issue is raised, there is a feeling in the South that  the TNA is also indirectly “guilty” of the crimes of the LTTE.

The other difficulty is the TNA’s continued call for ‘self determination for the Tamils’, based on the concept of ‘exclusive Tamil homeland’. The concept of ‘self-determination’ is actually alien to South Asian cultures. It is a part of political ideology forged in the West, idolizing the individualism of the Pilgrim Fathers and the American West. Marxist writers have also added their bit by twisting Lenin into this mould though the Indian Marxists and Sri Lanka’s Karalasingham did not.

The Thesavalami law found in Jaffna is instructive from the point of view of the ‘self-determination’ doctrine. Thesavalami and its variants are found in the Malabar coast and in many Asian cultures. This requires that a land owner cannot determine the ‘fate’ of his own piece of land without consulting and obtaining the consensus of his neighbours. The principle here is not ‘self-determination’ but ‘mutual inter-dependence’. While this is partly a rule to keep the land within a ‘caste’ or an ‘elite’ group, the principle behind it was that individual rights had to accommodate group rights. In fact, even today, Asian societies replaces individual rights’ by the concept of ‘duty’ to the family, clan, community and culture and even self-sacrifice. The latter was used by the Tigers in their ‘suicide-thyagyam’ doctrine. This strikingly contrasts with modern western interpretations of ‘human rights’ that ignore ‘duty’ and emphasise the ‘individual’.

The Northern peninsula cannot in effect demand self-determination without the accord of those North of them (i. e. India) and those south of them (the Sinhala majority). The sensitivities of other neighbours, viz the Western powers, and the East, represented by China are also vital to the equation. This concept was already embodied in the power of the four ‘Guardian deities’ of Sri Lanka. These were God Saman representing the Sinhala hinterland, God Vishnu (Upulvan) representing India, Skandha (Iskander, i. e., Alexander) representing the power of the Hellenic West and the Persian empire, while Vibheeshana represented all the other powers linked to the legends of Ravana. Thus the “guardian deities” reflected the international power structure as visualized by the writers of the early chronicles.

Leaving aside the cultural antecedents, a more populous North will have to get its water from the Southern hills. The taxes levied in the South and the economies of the Western, Southern and hill provinces have always sustained the North. This was true even under the LTTE where the ‘government servants’ were paid salaries by the state which also provided food to that part of the country during three decades of hostilities. There is strong dependance rather than “independence’ on each other.

Clearly, the TNA and the UNF have to re-think their politics within the concept of ‘mutual inter-dependance’ instead of ‘self-determination’ for ‘exclusive’ Tamil homelands. Sri Lanka is the homeland of everyone, with no exclusive living apart (apartheid) possible. Can our new leaders rise to the occasion and exploit a rare juncture in history for the common good?

Chandre Dharmawardana,  Canada

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  • Tamil National Alliance – Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi  – Parliamentary Election Manifesto – 2015,
  • Ahilan Kadirgamar: “Defeat of Divisive Politics,” The Hindu, 19 August 2015,
  • Shenali Waduge:  Rejected MPs should have no place in the National List … and the MPs who did Best,” 20 August 2015,
  • MA Sumanthiran: This victory is a victory for soft power. This victory is a victory for our future”The Tamil National Alliance has achieved a resounding victory at the 2015 General Election, successfully overcoming the challenges and fierce opposition it faced.

    For the second time this year, the Tamil People have shown a clear intention to strengthen the hand of the Tamil National Alliance. They have done so keeping intact the goal of their long term political struggle, and with hope that their lives will be restored. Our People’s clear recognition of the crucial nature of this election, and their overwhelming response in casting their vote and thus ensuring the victory of the Tamil National Alliance, once again reflects to the world the great political wisdom of the Tamil People. Let me take this opportunity to first humbly express my heartfelt thanks to all those who voted for us.

    Let me also express my heartfelt thanks to all the people of my native Jaffna who placed their trust in me and cast the 58,043 preferential votes I received from the Jaffna electoral division. This victory is just the beginning for us.

    My humble and affectionate thanks to all the Provincial Council Members and Local Council Members of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi who stood by me and gave of their time and energy, working tirelessly for my victory, expecting nothing in return. I will need your continued help and cooperation in the future as well.

    This victory also belongs to the youth who campaigned for me, going from door to door, introducing me to people who did not know about me, and clarifying the doubts and questions concerning my political stance. Their clear thinking and political understanding gives me great hope for the future of Tamil politics. I am also aware of youth who have a part in this victory by way of their work via facebook. My thanks to you as well.

    I see my victory as the victory of my politics. I had decided that if I contested and lost this election, I would withdraw from the political arena. The People have chosen me despite the overwhelming false allegations and propaganda that targeted me. This strongly reflects their faith and dedication to my political stance – the politics of soft power. This victory is a victory for soft power. This victory is a victory for our future. This victory is the victory of our youth.

    The Tamil People cannot experience any more loss. We cannot continue to lose our youth in devastating numbers in the future. Now is the time to move forwards, with dignity, towards what has been achieved as a result of our suffering. Emotional speeches and empty rhetoric will only weaken us politically and will never result in a solution dawning.

    I bow to the decree of the Tamil People. I will serve according to the mandate given.  I will work tirelessly to reach a solution to the National problem and at the same time make a concrete contribution towards solving the day to day problems of our People, and strengthening our youth.

    Your participation as a People does not end with your vote. You play an important role in providing me with direction and in strengthening our politics.
    Let us decide our destiny.

    1. A. Sumanthiran

    (Member of Parliament for the District of Jaffna)

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One response to “Key Issues in the North-South Divide in Lanka: Then …. and NOW

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