Ethnic Knots Today: The How

Javid Yusuf, in Island, August 2020, and also PRESSREADER where the title is “Resolving the Ethnic Conflict-  making a difficult task that much more difficult”

One of the most complex problems faced by the country after independence has been the “ethnic conflict” that resulted in a civil war that consumed the country for over three decades.  Although the conflict was not between two ethnicities (the Sinhalese and Tamils) but in reality between the State and the Tamil community, the label “ethnic conflict” has become the common parlance used to describe the events around this long drawn out conflict. Basically it has been an attempt by the Tamil politicians to persuade successive Governments to restructure the State so as to address Tamil concerns.

While the Tamil politicians tried to achieve this objective through negotiations the LTTE and other similar groups tried to do so through the use of arms at huge cost to the country as a whole but also to the Tamil people.

While attempts have been made by different Governments to address the causes of the conflict,  due to diverse reasons it has not been possible to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to the people at large. While the complex nature of the conflict has contributed to such failures, it has often been made more difficult by indiscreet remarks made by individual politicians particularly from the North that has given a handle to those who are not committed to a resolution of the problem. to undermine such efforts.

Similarly, those in the South fail to or ignore the changing political landscape in the North that can make resolution of the problem that much more difficult.

Unfortunately, many of the hardliners in the South refuse to realise that negotiating with their hardline counterparts in the North is that much more difficult than with the more moderate elements. That explains why they gloat  over the weakening of the Tamil National Alliance as a result of the inroads made by other political formations such as the Tamil Peoples Council led by C.V. Vigneswaran and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress led by Gajan Ponnambalam at the recent Parliamentary Elections both of whom have more radical positions than the TNA.

This column on May 13,2018 highlighted the flexibility shown by the TNA as follows: “The Leader of the Tamil National Alliance Mr. R. Sambandan speaking in  Parliament on the occasion of the debate on the President’s Statement of Government Policy last week drew the attention of the House to  the importance of the Constitution Reform process. In the course of his address he emphasized the importance of finding a solution to what is commonly called the Ethnic Problem through this Reform process.

He highlighted two essential features of such a solution. The first being that such a solution must ensure an undivided and indivisible country and the second that such a solution must be acceptable to all sections of the Sri Lankan people. This of course is not the first time that the TNA Leader has made this statement. He has repeated this statement both publicly and privately many times during the past three years and insisted that such a solution must be approved by the people at a referendum

He has gone even further to explicitly state that no solution must be adopted behind the backs of the Sinhala people and agreed to inclusion of clauses in the Constitution that safeguard against secession.”

The column went on to point out that “In recent years and more so during the Constitutional Assembly proceedings during the last Parliament, Sambandan has repeatedly admitted that the LTTE’s resort to arms was a mistake and has expressed the hope that the Tamil community will not traverse that path again. “

One  example of indiscreet statements that make the task of resolving the ethnic problem more difficult was the statement of Vijaykala Maheswaran, who called for the revival of the LTTE as a way of resolving the concerns of the Tamil people, while holding a State Minister’s post in the last Government.

Last week former Supreme Court Judge C. V. Vigneswaran in his maiden speech in Parliament made some remarks which seemed to rile some Parliamentarians. From newspaper reports it was not immediately clear what the Tamil People’s Council Parliamentarian had actually said.

Some reports say that he had said that Tamil was the oldest language in the world while other reports said that he had described the North East as the traditional homelands of the Tamil people. Another report claimed that he had said that the Tamil people had the right of self determination.

Many of the Parliamentarians, both from the Government and the Opposition, who took offence at Vigneswaran’s speech wanted it expunged from the Hansard. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene refused to do so stating that every Member of Parliament had the right to express his opinion and that it was up to those who dispute it to counter those views by their own arguments.

The Speaker’s ruling would have given Parliamentarians the correct message that the August Assembly was indeed a platform for the clash of ideas and opinions and not a forum to stifle discussion.

Be that as it may it is not clear why Vigneswaran had to say what he said.  Indeed Vigneswaran who served with great acceptance in the Judiciary with his   experience and  exposure has the potential to contribute to the resolution of the ethnic problem in the days to come with a more moderate and  constructive approach.

It is important that any future attempt to resolve the ethnic conflict builds on the TNA’s  commitment to a United, Undivided and Indivisible Sri Lanka which was probably the biggest achievement of the Constitutional Reform process in the last Parliament. Otherwise it will be another lost opportunity which will result in one of many  unresolved problems that will be passed on to future generations. (

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I am overstretched and took time to insert this piece. I encourage critical commentary –inspitred hopefully by some of the comments and/or Essay in response to the article by Welikala and De Silva-Wijeyeratne …viz = “The Rajpaksa Reshaping of the Sri Lankan Polity”  …………………….. …………. ……... Michael Roberts


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