Ken Dharmapala’s Pessimistic Evaluation of the Sri Lankan Situation–2016 and Now

Michael Roberts

Mark Salter’s feisty “Comments” placed recently in the Thuppahi Item conveying Padma Rao Sundarji’s Q and A Session with Erik Solheim sustains the combative stance he has adopted in previous Colombo Telegraph interventions.[1] I rarely engage in the verbal fisticuffs that are the standard pattern in blog commentary. Most bloggers hide behind pseudonyms and their physical location in the world is not self-evident. Nor does the format enable citations and bibliographical listings that may sustain an argument.[2]

Yesterday, however, in once again reading the sixty-four (64) comments that were inserted way back in time in response to my article of 5th April 2016 about “Attempts to Rescue Piräpaharan et al in 2009,” I came across a set of comments by Ken Dharmapala that I deem pertinent to our reflections today – as they were, indeed,  pertinent then in 2016.

 “SINHA-LE” agitations of yesteryear pertinent to Dharmapala’s critical thrust

I do not know Dharmapala or where he resides, but applaud his readiness to use his own name (an assumption here). As noted below, I have reservations about one or two of his evaluations (see fn. 4 and 5), but consider the reconciliatory ecumenical position he has taken to be exemplary. There is more to his commentary however. He also essays a pessimistic forecast about Sri Lanka’s immediate future that will provoke reflection…. And perhaps even draw some comments. His first NOTE was directed at my article and the comments of “jansee” on 7th April 2016. His second NOTE was a response to the serial blogger “jansee”s remarks on his own (Ken’s) extended comment —so “jansee” is partially encompassed by the ‘fare’ below.

Read. Reflect. ….. And perhaps even respond.

ONE: Comment from Ken Dharmapala, dated 6 April 2016[3]

This is an excellent article, with extensive and verifiable notes to support what the writer says. Dr Roberts is an academic and therefore this level of rigour is to be expected.

The sad part of this sorry tale is how the Tamil masses were duped in the ambitions of Tamil elite. On the one hand, we have the Tamil Diaspora, largely a bourgeoisie professional class who used the pretext of July 1983 pogrom to gain residency in greener pastures.[4] On the other, we have the languishing Tamil working classes and impoverished farmers and fisher-folk who were shanghaied and brainwashed into becoming the foot-soldiers of the LTTE[5] – and paid the price with their lives.

The Tamil elite, in the safety of their adopted countries, used the Tamil lower castes/classes living in the North and the East to “fight” for a separate state, so as to boost the egoistic racism of the Tamil elite.

This is not to say that Tamils, in general, had (and still have) [no] grievances. The foremost among them is the subtle, and undefined, lack of acceptance of Tamils (as much as Muslims) as equal citizens by the “Sinhala-Buddhists” – an appropriate name for the ethno-religious nationalism of the Sinhala-Buddhist communalists. This is by far the most important grievance and much more than any material disadvantage the Tamils suffer in Sri Lanka.

The war was fought on two fronts – on the ground using hapless Tamils and, on the outside, in the international propaganda domain. The ground war was lost but the propaganda war is still raging, spearheaded by the Tamil Diaspora.

Winning the international propaganda war is where the Rajapakse Brothers failed. And, which is being mishandled by the inept UNP-Ranil government.

As long as the International Propaganda War continues to be waged in Washington, London, Sydney and Toronto and ably assisted by the likes of the communalist Chief Minister Wigneswaran, there will be no resolution to the “Tamil Problem” in Sri Lanka and no sustainable peace.

It is time for all the good, peace-loving Tamils living in Sri Lanka and their counterparts among the Sinhalese and Muslims to work out a solution to communal issues and focus of economic and social development. The Tamil Diaspora should not have a say in such deliberations.

TWO: Response from “jansee,” dated 7th April 2016


Thanks for trying to straighten the dog’s tail. More of wishful thinking, don’t you think so? If as much as people have half-a-brain, then crooks won’t be rulers. This is an endless game. You see, before UN, there was this League of Nations. You know for what – to prevent further wars and creating an understanding among nations. This happened after the devastating effects of WW1. This did not stop WW2 and then came the UN.

It has become a trite for men to choose hoodlums, blame him for the next 4 or 5 years and then again choose him and then go on grumbling about him for next 5 years. In short, the masses are donkeys who are not capable of even understanding what is democracy and this ignorance are tapped by rogues to rule over them. For you to invest your hope that suddenly tomorrow people will wake up to their senses is foolhardy. Even in “educated” USA, Trump’s rhetoric has ignited people in a way that makes many wonder whether any sense will prevail. We do hope laws are there to govern society and its conduct but with scant or nil regard to laws these days, it is now merely a tool to put the pants of someone on fire. Gods are mere eunuchs in the scheme of goons.

Whether the Tamil diaspora has a say in SL politics or should stop poking their nose will largely depend on how SL will manage itself. The past has been horrendous. As it is, it does not inspire that there will be any resolution any time sooner. We will have to look at alternatives in an objective manner. It is close to 70 years now. If at all, it is now worse than before and even the present leaders are sending confusing messages that insult our intelligence. It has come to an extent that foreign intervention keeps on knocking on the door. What more, did the conclusion of the war resolve the outstanding issues? It will be wishful thinking that the Sinhalese and Tamils will ever either compromise or concede anything. This nonsense has gone on for far too long and it has to be through foreign intervention to allow the parties to go their separate ways.

THREE: Response from Ken Dharmapala, dated 6 April 2016


I too believe that Eelam will come into existence in not too distant a future. A combination of factors will lead to this.

One is the obduracy of the Sinhala-Buddhist extremists – a middle and lower middle class grouping that came to existence and prominence out of Bandaranaike’s 1956 so-called social revolution and currently spearheaded by the Rajapakse family.

Two is the persistence of the Tamil Diaspora to lobby western governments with exaggerated and sometimes plainly untruthful claims of government’s wrong doing.

Three is the cunning machinations of Tamil politicians like Wigneswaran.

Four is the geopolitical interests of great powers in creating an Eelam for their own strategic interests – like US interest in breaking up Serbia and making Kosovo independent and reinforcing Camp Bondsteel in the process.

Yes, Eelam may become a reality in a couple of decades. But that reality will be a curse for both the Tamils and the Sinhalese – with constant bickering, skirmishes, ill-will, and greatly enhancing enmity between people.

Yes, sure enough, there will be a kind of euphoria among the Tamil Diaspora and some Tamil politicians in the short term. But it will undoubtedly be a curse for the future generations.

Enmities between people can run for centuries. We have seen what happened in Bosnia and around the world where wholesale massacres occur because people cannot settle their differences amicably.

The only solution for Sri Lanka is to dilute language based nationalism and embrace the more inclusive identity of Sri Lankan nationality. If we cannot do this now, future generations will suffer untold miseries.

We are smearing our hands now with the blood of the future generations.


1See Salter 2016a and 2016b.

2 = In fact, one blogger named “Plato” (a regular contributor to this debate) went onto make fun of the fact that I had a “long list of bibliography and 57 footnotes” alongside a charge that I had been “hired by the Rajapaksa to camouflage their role in the Eelam War.” This is but a small sample of the type of bar-room verbal brawling that occurs on some web-sites. Anonymity promotes verbal assassinations.

3 = Dharmapala appears to be responding to a previous comment from “jansee” which assailed the author Roberts and began with the line “It is easy to punch holes into the ‘remarkable’ story enacted by this hoodlum. [namely, Roberts]”

 4= I consider this generalization to be a misrepresentation on Dharmapala’s part. Yes, both immediately and for years thereafter, Some of the SL Tamils deployed the events of 1983 as springboard to migrate to desired destinations. But the violence of July 1983 was a horrible set of events and alienated several generations of Tamils, while rendering Sri Lanka into a pariah country in many eyes.

 5 = In my reading, this appraisal by Dharmapala is overdrawn. All the militant Tamil forces n the 1980s had a considerable body of popular support. This was bolstered and expanded by the LTTE via its successes on the battlefront in the 1990s and its efficient propaganda activities. The ABC’s documentary of 1999, viz. “Tiger at the Gates” is one item of evidence in support of my assertion. The second reposes in my experiences and memories during a week-long visit to Jaffna and Kilinochchi in late November 2004. The third basis arises from the reading of the situation in the northern Vanni by Anoma Rajakaruna (personal communication) who visited the area regularly in the period 2002-06.  Finally, I refer to Muralidhar Reddy’s firm opinion that the Tamil civilians who left their homes and moved east and north had no reason to trust the government of Sri Lanka and in fact abided by the LTTE. Again, albeit speculatively, I suggest that the liberation war marshaled by the Tigers enabled some elements of the depressed castes as well as the significant number (roughly 10 percent according to the 1981 census) of “Indian Tamils” newly resident in the Vanni to advance their circumstances and acquire a sense of self-worth within and through the LTTE.


Readers are advised to visit this article for pictorial images that are vital for a comprehension of the last stages of the war and the international efforts to participate in KP’ s efforts to save the LTTE leadership as these efforts fell into the LTTEs strategic plan of generating “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” — as spelt out in early 2009 (?) by the Political commissar Pulidevan: ‘“Just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died in Sri Lanka the world would be forced to step in” (quoted in Harrison 2012: 63)..

Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1999 Sri Lanka: Tigers at the Gate,” Episode 39 in Series 8, comp. by Mark Corcoran, 25 June 1999,

Balachandran, P. K. 2015 “PK Balachandran on Overt and Covert Paths in Indian and American Policies towards the Sri Lankan War, 2008-09”, 16 September 2015,

Bavinck, Ben 2011 “Pirapaharan as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91” http://thuppahi.wordpress. com/2011/11/01/as uncompromising killer prone to vengeance: testimonies from the Jaffna heartland, 1989-91

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009 “The Battle for the Vanni Pocket,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, Vol. 35/2, pp. 17-19,

Hull, C. Bryson 2009 “Sri Lanka opens eye in the sky on war zone,” 20 April 2009,

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009a “Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone,” 23 April 2009,

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009d “An Escape from Hellhole,” 2009/04/25/stories/2009042558390100.html.

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009g “Multiple Displacements, Total Loss of Identity,” The Hindu, 27 May 2009,

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009e “Final Assault. A first-hand account of the war and the civilians’ plight as Eelam War almost comes to a close,” Frontline, 26/11, May 23-June 5, 2009,

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009f “Final Hours. An eye-witness account of the last 70 hours of Eelam War IV,” Frontline, 26/12, 6-19 June 2009,

Roberts, Michael 1978 ‘Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to Accommodation,’ Modern Asian Studies, 12: 353-76.

Roberts, Michael 2009a “Some Pillars for Lanka’s Future,” Frontline, 19 June 2009, 26: 24-27.

Roberts, Michael 2009b “Sinhala Mindset,” 9 Dec. 2009,

Roberts, Michael 2012 ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa: Cakravarti Imagery and Populist Processes,’ 28 January 2012,

Roberts, Michael 2013 “Sinhalaness and Its reproduction, 1232-1818,” in Asanga Welikala (ed.) The Republic at Forty

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Ideological Cancers within the Sinhala Universe: Roadblocks in the Path of Reconciliation,” 13 May 2014,

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Attempts to Rescue Pirapāharan et al In 2009,” 5 April 2016, […. an article that was initially sent to Groudnviews but not accepted –reasons unspecified]… This essay was also presented under a modified title in Thuppahi… with more pictorial images than the col-Tel version. 

Roberts, Michael 2017  “The National Anthem as Spearhead in Steps towards Reconciliation,” 24 January 2017,

Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War. Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, London: Hurst & Company.

Salter, Mark 2016a “Confusion Reigns: Roberts on the War’s Final Stages,” 12 April 2016,

Salter, Mark 2016b “Messing Up on Mahinda: Michael Roberts On Eelam War IV,” 9 November 2016,

Sundarji, Padma Rao 2017 “Solheim and Sri Lanka: Q and A Today,” 21 August 2017,

Weeraratna, Senaka 2017  “A Rejection of Reconciliation via-Namo/Namo: Weeraratna’s Hardline Siinhala Majoritarian Statement,” 29 Janaury 2017,






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7 responses to “Ken Dharmapala’s Pessimistic Evaluation of the Sri Lankan Situation–2016 and Now

  1. Michael Roberts describes my recent comments on his blog as ‘feisty’. Hardly more so that many of his interventions, I would note. And in my case at least, the tone of my responses to him is engendered partially by the dismissive one-liners Roberts has consistently deployed thus far with respect to my book on the Sri Lankan conflict – ‘Solheim hagiography’ etc : partially by his own frequently combative tone in dealing with those who view things differently.

    From my perspective, however, perhaps the most troubling aspect of Robert’s online writings remains his continued failure – or is it simply unwillingness? – to engage directly with a single argument or proposition that I’ve advanced in response to his writings – on this site or earlier in the columns of Colombo Telegraph. Roberts says he is concerned that blogger’s hiding their true identity hinders genuine debate – yet as he points out, I myself make no attempt to do this. And the fact that, as he points out, the blog format doesn’t facilitate ‘citations and bibliographical listings is frankly a poor argument for failing to respond substantively – or at all – to interventions elicited precisely by Robert’s own online writings on the Sri Lankan conflict and its aftermath.

    All in all, one could be forgiven for concluding that Robert’s professed ‘rare engagement’ in online debate simply doesn’t extend to substantive challenges to his own writings. A conclusion that, if correct, no extensive biliography or set of footnotes profferred in his own writings can address.

    • I have been travelling and had to cope with illness. Also busy on various tasks. I will be penning several essays in due course — do not worry. But do aid me and readers by summarizing your argument and point to where precisely you have presented that argument -both for my benefit and for new readers.

      • You ask for sources for my arguments against and/or objections to your views on a number of issues, notably the war’s final stages Two are listed in your own bibliography above:

        Salter, Mark 2016a “Confusion Reigns: Roberts on the War’s Final Stages,” 12 April 2016,

        Salter, Mark 2016b “Messing Up on Mahinda: Michael Roberts On Eelam War IV,” 9 November 2016,

        Readers wishing to read these in tandem with the articles of yours to which they are a response can easily find the relevant links in my own pieces.

        Additional sources of relevance are the comments I earlier added to the present blog thread (see above). My broader reading of the war in general, and its final stages in particular is set out in the book – or ‘hagiography’ as you describe it – also included in the bibliography above, viz.

        Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War. Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, London: Hurst & Company.

        I trust this provides you with sufficent material on the basis of which to fashion a (long-awaited) response.

  2. Rajan Hoole

    I appreciate the spirit in which Dharmapala’s Comment 3 was made. But I think Eelam is only one among the several possible outcomes (not one that I welcome) of the ongoing institutional degradation of Sri Lanka, especially in the area of justice.

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