An Assessment of the Rajapaksa Regime in late 2009: Brickbats and Plaudits

Michael Roberts, presented originally in Groundviews on 17th December 2009, the comments were enlightening and well-informed –rather in contrast with the acerbic carping directed at my more recent articles in that venue [so that some selections will soon be reproduced below, while a new section  at the end adds a limited bibliography that extends to the present day]

This is a disjointed exercise that does not claim comprehensiveness. That is impossible in a short essay, the more so because I write without ethnographic exposure to the experiential subjectivities of either the Tamil people in Sri Lanka or the poor people from every community struggling with the cost of living.

MR king 1 -www.youtubecom Pic from http://www.youtubecom

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse addresses to supporters as he attends an election rally in the Colombo suburb of Piliyandala on January 5, 2015. Gunmen shot and wounded three opposition activists who were preparing a stage for President Mahinda Rajapakse's chief rival on the final day of campaigning in Sri Lanka's election, police said. The men were hit in a drive-by shooting as they erected a podium for Maithripala Sirisena to address a rally in the southern town of Kahawatte, around 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the capital Colombo. AFP PHOTO / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI


Terrible Record: In a recent essay I have briefly annotated the government’s failure to prevent a series of killings and intimidations directed against media personnel and the widespread belief that elements in its sprawling establishment had a hand in many of these acts of injustice.[1]

In step with this record the Rajapaksa Regime has consolidated the long tradition of overcentralised decision-making and authoritarianism at the top that has been a feature of Sri Lanka’s so-called democratic institutions for many decades.[2] It is not surprising, therefore, that little or nothing has been done to initiate a genuine devolution of power in ways that would give the Tamil and Muslim peoples a goodly glass of political hope. All they have received so far is sweet words.

The All Parties Representative Committee has not secured any forward movement and the Leftist Ministers Tissa Vitharana and Dew Gunasekera seem to be holding on to barren sinecures. A great deal has been written on this line of failure in groundviews, transcurrents and in the local press, say, by Tisaranee Gunasekara and Shanie; so no further elaborations are required.

More recently, the International Crisis Group has set out some reasonable suggestions for administrative and constitutional reform that could go a long way towards improving the political climate in Sri Lanka. Take two of their pragmatic suggestions by way of example:

“develop with a sense of urgency a program of “language rights for all”, featuring: i) expanded incentives and training opportunities for government servants to learn Tamil and full provision wherever needed of Tamil translators, government signs, and forms in Tamil; ii)  expanded and improved instruction in Tamil for Sinhala-speaking students and in Sinhala for Tamil-speaking students …”[3]

The ICG!!! That name may well be a red-rag to a bull. But that is precisely why I have chosen such a non-tactical path: to underline the obduracy and myopia in some government circles.

When Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power in 1994-95, partly on the back of a peace platform, she promised to restore “dignity” to the Tamil Sri Lankans. Her intent was genuine, but her administrative bungling, her choice of aides and the contingencies of politics truly scuppered that intent.

Many politically conscious Tamils in Sri Lanka today have doubts about the Rajapakse Regime’s depth of intent in this sphere. Infrastructural gifts to the Tamil regions will not suffice. Without reaching out to Tamil hearts through meaningful acts of devolution the Rajapakses who won the war will lose the peace.

But let us not forget that triumph, namely, winning the war, and the contrast with the bumbling efforts of the governments during Eelam Wars II and III. This demands a step back in time.

2002-08: From Shaky Peace to Victory at War: Standing in 2002 I was among those who supported the peace efforts and the search for a modus vivendi that would arrest the cycle of war. This was informed by my belief that the government simply lacked the capacity to defeat the LTTE – a conviction that was not unjustified in terms of past history. The Achilles heel in this stance lay within the incisive point raised by Dayan Jayatilleka: how can one have any federal state or any consociation of nationalities when the territory hosts two armies and two navies? In brief, the situation spelt the likelihood of a return to war at any moment.

Besides, during my brief visit to LTTE territory in November 2004 I discovered quite definitively that the LTTE was set on returning to war, a step that was delayed by the losses they suffered during the tsunami in late December, but one which they eventually made. We also know now that Pirapaharan reacted in rage when the Oslo Agreement was signed; and that Anton Balasingham, Thamil Chelvam and Karuna were in his bad books thereafter. Indeed, Baalsingham was sidelined, but that shift was carefully covered up by tales about his illness. Apart from the revelations provided by George Master, I recently gained further confirmation of this facet of history from a young Tamil of pro-Tiger disposition in Melbourne who possessed incredible information about the LTTE’s inner workings.

Helping the hawkish Rajapakse coalition to come to power was one aspect of the LTTE’s strategy of adhering to its dogmatic pursuit of Eelam by war and by diplomacy founded upon victory and/or stalemate secured by war. The ideology of the LTTE hardcore, including Pottu Amman and Castro, was quite set in its ways.

What they did not bargain for was the capacity of the Rajapakse brothers, with Gothabaya to the fore, in coordinating military activity across the branches of armed action and in expanding the resources needed for war on a phenomenal scale.[4] Nor did they know that a few of the top brass in the army, including General Sarath Fonseka, had built up the skills and endurance of the infantry regiments during the period of peace.[5]

These skills materially assisted the new strategies of warfare and new tactics engineered by Sarath Fonseka with the help of such thinkers as Brigadier Prasanna Silva and a whole battery of junior officers. Tammita-Delgoda’s essays on the subject of the infantry role in the final battles should be compulsory reading for those who push pens without any inkling about the character of the Eelam War IV.[6] For those of us familiar with the hierarchical nature of Sri Lankan society, the decentralised decision-making and action-taking methods established by Fonseka are as incredible as revolutionary.

Such an emphasis does not displace the importance of a critical factor in securing the total defeat of the LTTE: namely, the superiority in numbers and machinery available to the Sri Lankan armed forces, not least the availability of satellite technology and numerous UAVs that improved the precision of artillery fire and aerial bombing. In overview, the victory in 2008-09 may not quite match that of the Viet Minh in 1954 or the Viet Cong in the 1970s, but it is not far short of these moments in modern military history when framed against the organisational and fighting capacities of the LTTE.

That triumph brought much kudos to the Rajapakse Regime in the eyes of many Sri Lankans. The week after the final battle may have seen a display of triumphalism in the streets of Sri Lanka that latter-day puritans have viewed with sanctimonious distaste;[7] but these expressions were no more than the displays that bubbled over when VE Day was announced at the end of WWII or when the Free French under De Gaulle marched into Paris.[8] My own reading while in Sri Lanka in May 2009 was that the overwhelming sentiment among Sri Lankans of all classes was one of relief. Nor were the joyous expressions purely Sinhalese. Rumour held that the Muslims of Kathankdudy expressed their delight in unrestrained fashion.

Adroit Foreign Policy: Central to the success in Eelam War IV was the Rajapakse Regime’s ability to sustain an enormous increase in its military stock through arrangements with Pakistan, China and India in particular. In countering the sustained campaign in Western capitals to undermine its war efforts in early 2009 the government drew on the mutuality of interest it possessed with big powers Russia and China in providing no oxygen to separatist forces within their respective territories.

The government also cultivated the friendship of Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Iran. Indeed, Iran has been a major player in the Sri Lankan arena for some time through substantial investments in such projects as the US$450 million Uma Oya hydroelectric project and the US$750 million upgrade of Sri Lanka’s only oil refinery at Sapugaskanda.[9]

China’s capital investments in Sri Lanka have been even greater, even monumental. Such major infrastructural projects as the Hambantota Port Development Project (US$ 1 billion), Norochcholai Coal Power Plant Project (US$ 85.5 million) and the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway (US$248.2 million) are being funded by China. Thus, China’s aid to Sri Lanka grew five-fold between 2006 and 2008, “replacing Japan as Sri Lanka’s largest donor.”[10] The depth of friendship was underlined by the fact that between them the two Rajapakse brothers made eight visits to China in recent years.

China’s stake in developing Hambantota port is clearly part of a grand design serving its interests in maintaining its arterial highway for essential supplies of oil and other goods. India has expressed concern about this process. But one does not need to be taken in by the one-eyed fear-mongering peddled by some Indian dilettantes such as Brahma Chellaney.[11] Nor should we pay much attention to Robert Kaplan’s one-sided opinion that “the biggest takeaway fact about the Sri Lankan war that’s over now is that the Chinese won” – a claim supported by a colour-drawing of Hambantota port in its modernised scale.[12]

India too has substantial investments in Sri Lanka and had a strategic interest in preventing a separatist state in Sri Lanka. Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan government’s success in straddling the tight rope between Indian and China in recent times was no mean diplomatic achievement.

Hambantota as Growth Pole: Hambantota District in the extreme south eastern corner of the island is from where the Rajapakse clan hail. The creation of a modern artificial harbour is not the only major project they have sponsored within this area. A new airport estimated to cost US$210 million has just been inaugurated.[13]

There is also to be a new cricket stadium. Sri Lanka already has a few too many cricket stadiums, nine now with that in Hambantota; but cricket is at the centre of sporting patriotism in the island because it is a new ‘religion’ and the only game in which our sportsmen can match the international best. Such a venue will undoubtedly boost the game in this neglected outback area and discover new Jayasuriyas over the long run.[14]

What we see then is a multi-stranded endeavour by the Rajapakses to develop their own patch of territory. In doing so they are also catering to the Ruhuna sentiments within Sinhalese imagination.[15] The venerable Pali and Sinhala texts say that it was this area in which the Sinhala hero-figure, Dutugämunu, was nurtured prior to military campaigns that evicted Tamil invaders and unified the island under one umbrella in the second century BCE. Mahinda Rajapakse is cast as a new Dutugämunu by his followers and the money invested within his home-ground may well be regarded as legitimate attention to hearth and kin.

Sceptics may cavil at the motives inspiring this regional focus. Such queries about their motivations notwithstanding, the Rajapakses have accidentally pressed forward with a master-stroke that will be of immense benefit to Sri Lanka. For over 100 years since 1850, and especially since Colombo port was developed as a modern harbour by the 1880s, Sri Lanka has been weighed down by the metropolitan hegemony of Colombo and its environs. Since that moment, the metropolis functioned as the island’s principal ideological manufactory, its modular display of symbolic life-styles and a magnet that has induced internal migration from outlying arenas to its hub of opportunities.[16] Ruhuna-folk and Tamils from the Jaffna Peninsula have been important elements in this process of internal ‘colonisation’.

The Vaddukoddai Resolution of Eelam in 1976 and the war that followed challenged this spatial hegemony. The comprehensive defeat of the LTTE in 2009 threatens to restore the imbalance. But, in my view, the programmes centred upon Hambantota District will even the keel somewhat. That is to say, the Hambantota locality will soon develop a capacity to function as a growth pole and a counterpoint to Colombo’s dominance. This probability will be of immense benefit to Sri Lanka’s political economy.

A Third Growth Pole: Sri Lanka’s rulers in the immediate future should not stop there. Indeed, from this moment on they should proceed to develop the North-East as a third growth pole, with the axis constituted by Point Pedro-Trincomalee-Jaffna town as the central trunk and Kankesanturai, Palaly and Velvittatturai as adjunct limbs.

Point Pedro? This port was important in the coastal trade in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It housed a shipbuilding centre in the mid-twentieth century. Together with VVT it provided the Tiger personnel, mostly Karaiayar, whose maritime capacities gave the LTTE an edge over the other Tamil fighting groups. It is time for Sri Lankans to restore Point Pedro’s potential as part of a north-eastern axial growth centre. The Rajapakse Regime has made an excellent start in this direction by lining up one Indian and one Chinese company in US$ 430 million deal to reconstruct the Northern railway line from Omanthai to Kankesanthurai next week.[17] Here, then, is another balancing act that carefully nurtures both regional giants, a measure that will also be of great benefit to the northern Tamils. However, that alone is not adequate: such a focus must be expanded in the same manner as the drive to build up the south-eastern corner of the island.

Modernisation through Infrastrutural Development: In extending my plaudits to those governmental projects directed to infrastructural development, clearly, my position is functionalist and economistic. The yardstick is that of political economy with a spatial emphasis.

This stance is conditioned by my study of modern Sri Lankan history. The transformation of Sri Lanka was made possible by the roads and railways built by the British. They carried out these changes in their own interest. It facilitated the appropriation of surplus from the island towards the mother-country and its imperial projects. It also deepened the implantation of a proletarian class.

But the process also enabled the growth of an indigenous bourgeoisie and its adjunct stratum of “middle classes.” That is, social mobility was fostered. So, too, was the health of the general population improved considerably; while the near-eradication of malaria from the 1940s consolidated these improvements.

This mode of evaluation can be highlighted by focusing on the subject of rural electrification. As an urban lad I never had to face up to the problems of studying by oil lamp or living in semi-darkness. A glimpse of Chinese peasant life through a recent French-Canadian documentary on the Yangtze did provide me with a dim understanding of the difficulties faced by rural folk in backward areas. Placed thus in context, the Rajapakse Regime’s major improvements in the island’s power supplies must be regarded as a boon, albeit one that will favour entrepreneurs and politicians more than they do the ordinary man.

This programme, in turn, dovetails with the rapid improvements in the island’s road network begun in the previous dispensation and now taken into higher gears by the Rajapakses. The fly-overs at Nugegoda and Dehiwala junctions are but one sign of the extraordinary improvements in the roads in most parts of the island which I experienced in April-May and which several friends have also commented upon.

All such projects in China, India, Sri Lanka and much of Asia, of course, are lubricated by “commissions” and involve the “perquisites of office.” Where there is some sort of democratic process, they interlace with patronage networks that can deliver votes. So, there is self-advantage for governing elites in pressing forward with modernisation. Both wallet and vote-bank bulge. Such outcomes have one plus attached to them: the projects do not remain on paper, but are implemented. There are fringe benefits for the users of electricity and travellers on road and rail; and perhaps even a reduction of consumer prices.

MR + Prince-- President Rajapaksa and Prince Salman the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia — Pic from asiantribune

A Major Caution: All this modernisation is well and good. But such “goodies’ will not win Tamil hearts and minds. There is a deep sense of embitterment throbbing within the hearts of many Tamils, including those who have been hostile to the LTTE. Infrastructure does little to change such profound sentiments. Without meaningful acts of devolution that restore their dignity and sense of full citizenship, their Sri Lankan-ness will not be regenerated. In such an event, the Rajapakses who won the war will undermine the potential benefits.

Early in 2009 Rohan Gunaratna pressed the same message: “The Government must make Tamils feel that they have the same rights and privileges of Sinhalese and the Muslims. The Government must commence a process of reconciliation with those Tamils and offer an amnesty and reintegrate LTTE surrendees. Similarly Government must develop the North and the East and build a super-highway between Jaffna and Colombo. …In this conflict Muslims have suffered as much as Sinhalese and Tamils. However, if we are to remain a united Sri Lanka we must identify ourselves as Sri Lankans. We must think and act as Sri Lankans. To forge such an identity, there must be a visionary leadership.[18]

His refrain is not markedly different from that of the International Crisis Group. The Rajapakse Regime will do well to imbibe these thoughts and implement programmes in these fields in the same energetic manner that has been displayed on the infrastructural front.


[1] “The Rajapakse Regime and the Fourth Estate,” in press.

[2] See four chapters on “The Asokan Persona,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994 and “Some Pillars for Lanka’s Future,” Frontline, 6-19 June 2009, vol.26/12.

[3] ICG, “Sri Lanka: Sinhala Nationalism and the Elusive Southern Consensus,” 7 Nov. 2009,

[4] Rohan Gunaratna in Asian Tribune, 18 April 2009.

[5] Tammita-Delgoda, “Sri Lanka. The Last Phase in Eelam War IV,” Manekshaw Paper No. 13, 2009, New Delhi, Centre for Land Warfare Studies.

[6] Tammita-Delgoda ibid [also serialised in the Sunday Island, for four weeks prior to 6 Sept 2009].

[7] Suwendrini Perera, ?? in The Age, 12 Nov. 2009

[8] Knowledge derived from my assiduous reading of past London Illustrated News in the library of St. Aloysius College, Galle, when I was schoolboy 1948 onwards.

[9] Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe, “Sri Lanka – The New Great Game,” Island, 1 Oct. 2009.

[10] De Silva-Ranasinghe Ibid.

[11] Chellaney, “China fuels Sri Lanka’s War,”

[12] Michael Totten, “A Conversation with Robert D. Kaplan,” archives/2009/07/a-conversation.php.

[13] W. Liyanarachchi, “Southern Airport Project gets off the Ground,” Daily News, 26 Nov. 2009. Michael Hardy’s critical review of the project is bedevilled by internal contradictions (“Hambantota Airport fuelled by Politics,” Sunday Leader, 29 Nov. 2009).

[14] Already the left-handed paceman Suranga Lakmal, who now plays for the Tamil Union, has broken into the top 40 pool of players. He is the first youngster from this district to come into prominence.

[15] Note C. A. Chandraprema, Ruhuna: A Study of the History, Society and Ideology of Southern Sri Lanka, Colombo, Bharat Publishers, 1989.

[16] Roberts, “The Two Faces of the Port City: Colombo in Modern Times,” in Frank Broeze (ed.), Brides of the Ocean: Port Cities of Asia, 1500 to Modern Times, Sydney, Allen and Unwin. 1989, pp. 173-87.

[17] Irangika Range, “Northern Railway Line Reconstruction expedited,” Island, 26 Nov. 2009.

[18] Interview with Manjula Fernando, “LTTE loses both Skill and Will,” Daily News, 22 March 2009. Also see M. Roberts, “The Needs of the Hour,” in, 1 April 2009 and R. Gunaratna, “Ending the Sri Lankan Conflict,” Sections/ frmNewsDetailView.aspx?ARTID=45444.

   SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY inserted October 2015

De Silva, K. M. 1996 Reaping the Whirlwind, Penguin.

De Silva-Wijeyeratne, Roshan 20 “Buddhism, the Asokan Persona and the Galactic Polity,” Social Analysis 51: 56-78.

Fernando, Basil 2009 “Ashokan Persona and the Rooster Coop,” Lanka Guardian,

Ionescu, Ghita 1969 “Eastern Europe,” in G. Ionescu & E. Gellner (eds.) Populism. Its Meanings and National Characteristics, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, pp. 97-121..

Jupp, James 1978 Sri Lanka — Third World Democracy, Frank Cass and Company, Limited, London.

Roberts, Michael 1978 “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to Accommodation,” Modern Asian Studies, 12: 353-76 [reprinted in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, 1994].

Roberts, Michael 1984 ” ‘Caste Feudalism’ in Sri Lanka? A Critique through the Asokan Persona and European Contrasts”, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 18: 189-217 [reprintedin Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, pp. 73-88].

Roberts, Michael 1994a Exploring Confrontation. Sri Lanka: Politics, Culture and History Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Roberts, Michael 1994b “The Asokan Persona as a Cultural Disposition,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 57-72.

Roberts, Michael 1994c, “The Asokan Persona and its Reproduction in Modern Times,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 73-88.

Roberts, Michael 1994d “Four Twentieth Century Texts and the Asokan Persona,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 57-72.

Roberts, Michael 1994f “The 1956 Generations: After and Before,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 297-314.

Roberts, Michael 2009a “The Rajapaksa Regime: Brickbats, Plaudits,” 17 December 2009,

Roberts, Michael 2009b “The Rajapaksa Regime and the Fourth Estate,” 9 December 2009,

Roberts, Michael 2010b “Hitler, Nationalism and Sacrifice: Koenigsberg and Beyond… towards the Tamil Tigers,” 19 March 2010, in

Roberts, Michael 2010b ‘Challenges Today: Weevils of the Mind,” 26 May 2010,

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Populist Politics and the Sooriyawewa & Premadasa Stadiums,” 26 September 2011,

Roberts, Michael 2012Populism and Sinhala-Kingship in the Rajapaksa Regime’s Political Pitch,” 29 January 2012, … since republished in Asanga Welikala (ed.) Reforming Sri Lankan Presidentialism, Colombo, Globe Printing Works, chap 17.642-55.

Roberts, Michael 2014 Ideological Cancers within the Sinhala Universe: Roadblocks in the Path of Reconciliation,” 5 October 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2015 People Inbetween: Ethnic and Class Prejudices in British Ceylon”  3 August 2015,

Thiranagama, Dayapala 2012 “Ending the Exile and Back to Roots: Fears, Challenges and Hopes,” 2 January 2012,

Welikala, Asanga 2015aReforming Sri Lanka’s Political Order: Challenges,”  2 September 2015,

Welikala, Asanga 2015bThe Challenge of Unity and Diversity in Sri Lanka Today,” 2 September 2015,


niranjan6 years ago

Michael Roberts,

Thank You for the interesting article. I agree with you about the development that is taking place in Hambantota and elsewhere in the island. It is a good thing. But I cannot see the North developing in the same way as the South. The biggest obstalce to Northern development is Southern racism. Some people in the South including certain Colombo elites that I have spoken to are of the opinion that Tamil people are not a part of Sri Lanka and that they belong in India. Now with an attitude like that how on earth can the North be developed. I think the next Sri Lankan Government(whoever wins the Presidential and Parliamentary election) needs to address Sinhala racism urgently now that the LTTE is no more. All communities and language groups (this includes those who use English as their first language) must be made to feel that this country belongs to all of them. The majority community including teachers (both at school and university) has a big part to play in this. The notion that Sri Lanka belongs to the “Sinhalese only” is a fallacy. This notion still exists (at state level and in sections of the public) and is a barrier to ethnic reconciliation.

SomewhatDisgusted 6 years ago

Dear Niranjan,

“ll communities and language groups(this includes those who use English as their first language) must be made to feel that this country belongs to all of them.”

I agree completely but please keep in mind that the racism displayed by some Sinhalese is similar to the racism displayed by some Tamils in claiming exclusive Tamil homelands etc. as evidenced by the tremendous death and destruction that its pursuit entailed. The point is not for your observation to degenerate into an exercise in apportioning blame but to note that at the moment, we have two groups of people who are actively undermining our efforts to form a plural society. Both of these types of mentalities must be defeated if we are to ever succeed as they create a mutually reinforcing cycle of insanity.

jayathilaka 6 years ago

it is a great plight that even after three insurrections in 1971 ,1989 in south and and a long dragged war for about 30 years from 1972-2008.the leaders in sri lanka has not taken seriously the situation .instead they are repeating the same mistake .instead of addressing the burning issues of the people they are trying to capitaze on war victories to win their narrow political gains.  The need of the hour is to focuss on restoring democracy, supplying the basic needs for the IDPs and to find solutions to current issues such as umempoyment ,housing etc,etc in north and south but unfortunately things are not happening in that direction. but vise-versa. people never asked for a prsidential election ahead of two years but politicians have forced an unprecidented election on people. leaving aside all the other important issues.

In Your Face 6 years ago


“The majority community must show the way simply because they are the majority. If the majority community is tolerant the minorities will also follow suit.”

We are not children. Please don’t patronize us Tamils in this manner. The Sinhalese (or any other group for that matter) does not need to set the moral standard for us.

I am not a Sinhalese, but I damn well see a great deal of pluralism in Sri-Lanka. Man, what the heck’s gotten into you? Not only do you stereotype all Sinhala Buddhists, but then you go ahead and stereotype ALL Tamils. There are many Tamils like me who love Sri-Lanka. Get it straight!

Michael Roberts 6 years ago

TO ALL Your comments are appreciated –not so much for the compliments, but because of (a) the interplay between each other; and (b) the spirit of constructive engagement animating your reactions; and (c) the realisation that my principal weight is on what is best for the people of the country in the immediate future as well as long-run –rather than, say, espousing a political position that one is committed to in ways that play to those in the same gallery. They also do NOT betray sort of the nit-picking criticism attempted by BELLE in the previous essay on the Rajapakse regime: criticisms that display a simple-minded schoolmistress view of history that rejects cautious vocabulary that underlines the interpretative and inferential dimension of our trade, that is, of the social sciences in general. Michael

Michael-for–NIRANJAN 1

I could not agree with you more re the problem posed by Sinhala chauvinism. In fact I have made “THE SINHALA MIND-SET” my opening pitch in the new website: This essay only tackled one facet of the situation because I wished to highlight that facet without clouding the reading with too much. I also suggest that you look at the three pamphlets which are part of my contribution to the Marga Monograph Series on A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation and Reconciliation, which appeared between 2001-03 and are available for next to nothing in Colombo. The point is that, among several issues, these explore the historical legends and the power thye exercise on Sinhalese thinking. I will soon post three summaries of these articles in THUPPAHI. you may also like to look at the relevant essays in the more recent anthology, Confrontations in Sri Lanka (Colombo: Vijitha Yapa, 2009). Michael

Your comment on “southern racism” gains in weight from the fact that you speak as Sinhalese and that you reveal the prejudices of people you have interacted with. As against that I recently had an email from a person whose opinion I value which said: “The mindset of the average citizen in Colombo, suburbs or in villages is not chauvinist. Not racial. More national. I have travelled around in the non LTTE areas, and also as a doctor get to discretely question patients on their hopes and aspirations. Nothing anti Tamil. A lot of them, Sinhalese and Muslim were anti LTTE.”The rhetoric and forces that brought the Rajapakses to power in 2005 would seem to weigh in favour of your conclusion. Motifs from the 1956 era were powerful ingredients in their propaganda. And who can neglect the Dutugemunu imagery on display in recent times?. The problem lies in the fact that voting patterns are directed by a multitude of factors and isolating one factor is problematic.Finally, I note that “In Your Face” is on the spot in questioning your emphasis on the absence of “pluralism” in Lanka. Just take in some of the key festivals at Munneswaram or Kataragama; look at the composition of the cricket teams over the last ten years; think of the Christian congregations in Colombo, Kandy … … Thus, some facets of intermixing and cross-fertilisation are firmly in place while our society also promotes Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim extremisms. A paradox of our times

It would seem that our electoral processes actually deepen chauvinism because they encourage populism. In other words we have a Catch 22 situation: our species of democracy encourages extremism. As Professor Arasaratnam noted long ago (1960s?) the two poles feed off each other

SO, I am pointing to a different reading based on personal experiences. Thus, I am raising the perennial, knotty issue of the methodology and basis for generalisation. The ISSUE IS: how deep and how widespread is Sinhala chauviism.


Less is known about Tamil extremism because little research had been done in this field for the 1940s to 1970s. But note the the firebrand rhetoric of V. Navaratnam in the 1960s and the federal Party offshoot known as Pulip Padai (Army of Tigers) in the early 1960s. One of those involved in the latter was the clerk Rajaratnam who had some ideological influence on young Prabhakaran and whose daughter was DHANU.

That said, the main responsibility for the widening of the chasm should be cast on the majority community and its leaders with due recognition of the structural factors that also assisted this process.

As my last remark in “Niranjan 2” indicates, I agree with your point that it took two to tango. Arasaratnam put it pithily [I think this was either in his article in the book edited by Philip Mason in 1967 viz india and Ceylon Unity in Diversity or in that edited by me Collective Identities  ( Marga 1979].

Michael Roberts • 6 years ago




Filed under accountability, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, cricket for amity, democratic measures, devolution, governance, growth pole, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, island economy, language policies, life stories, modernity & modernization, Muslims in Lanka, plural society, politIcal discourse, power politics, power sharing, Presidential elections, press freedom, racist thinking, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, rehabilitation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, social justice, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, TNA, truth as casualty of war, vengeance, world events & processes

2 responses to “An Assessment of the Rajapaksa Regime in late 2009: Brickbats and Plaudits

  1. Pingback: Hardline Ethnic Mind-Sets: Jane Russell’s Findings and Reflections | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Pingback: Sri Lanka’s Economic Prospects reviewed by the Governor of Central Bank | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply