“For forms of government let fools contest; Whate’er is best administer’d is best,” Alexander Pope
I stand between Jolly Somasundaram, my colleague in Trincomalee and Devanessan Nesiah, my colleague in the RRAN, as they cross swords in the Island on the issue of “Turnaround Challenge to NE Tamils”. The bone of contention appears to be the choice of the TNA for support at the last Presidential Election (PE). Jolly thinks that they ought to have sided Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) while Deva stands by their choice of Sarath Fonseka (SF). Obviously the choice could not have been motivated by emotional attachment. It was a preference for the better of the two options. Jolly sent me a draft of his article before publication. I asked him, “Why MR?” and he replied, “The known devil is safer than the unknown. At least we know his weaknesses. Who knows whether the unknown devil would throw us into the fire from the frying pan?”
One’s academic trajectories and journeys are invariably subject to vagaries and contingencies. The events and researches leading to my interest in “communal violence” and “zealotry” in the 1990s, and thereafter to what I have called ‘sacrificial devotion” (embracing the topics of “terrorism,” suicide bombers and Tamil Tigers), were shaped by such contingencies. Since my web site will present some short essays on both these topics in the course of this month, let me detail some moments during my research work that resulted in the journeys that produced such outcomes.
In a recent intervention in the web-site http://www.transcurrents.com (10 Feb. 2010), Lakruwan de Silva has conjectured that caste rivalry between the Govigama and Karāva contributed in a secondary manner towards the rift between the Rajapakse clan and General Fonseka. In his broad survey of caste undercurrents in the history of the Sinhalese, he also refers to the Kara-Govi rivalry that surfaced during the contest for the “Educated Ceylonese Seat” in the Legislative Council in British times in December 1911. In serendipitous coincidence a gentleman named Nadesan recently alluded to this famous occasion when the Govigama elite of that day is said to have backed Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s candidature and helped him defeat Dr. Marcus Fernando for this coveted post.
Let me begin by clarifying the background to this contest. A coalition of Ceylonese activists from the Burgher, SL Tamil and Sinhalese communities had begun to exert pressure on the British rulers from circa 1906 seeking devolution of power. The British authorities responded in miserly fashion in 1910 with the Crewe-Macullum reforms conceding a modicum of expansion in the advisory Legislative Council and introducing the electoral principle for the “Burgher Seat” and the newly-created “Educated Ceylonese Seat;” while still maintaining the existing nominated seats.
Members of the Orient Club, circa 1907 Amadoris Mendis & the Senanayakes in relaxed mood, latter photo courtesy of Kumari Jayawardena
When I visited Jaffna recently, like all those returning home after years away I too sensed feelings of nostalgia welling up inside. This was my first visit in six years, and almost 25 since I had last lived in Jaffna, as an 11-year-old. The opening lines are by A E Manoharan, the Tamil pop star and baila singer who took Jaffna by storm in the 1970s – a time when, in my mind, Manoharan was more popular than the youthful leaders of the militant movements who would emerge soon enough. I have vague memories of going to an open-air Manoharan concert, sitting on the bicycle bar as one of my relatives rode us to where we could hear the loudspeakers. Incidentally, Manoharan composed “Ilangai enpathu”, with its reference to the palmyra fruit, two decades before rights activist Rajani Thiranagama and her colleagues would write The Broken Palmyra, for which she would be murdered.
PREAMBLE from Michael Roberts:Anura Gunasekera’s essay is truly important and is inserted here because some threads mesh with contentions I have presented earlier. When in Sri Lanka in May 2009 I penned an article “Some pillars for Lanka’s future” in response to a request from an Indian periodical which addressed the import of President Rajapakse’s version of patriotism. I repeat it here as Preamble to Gunasekera’s intervention largely because it also represents a questioning of the position adopted by the head of state albeit in a less direct manner than Gunasekera. This questioning, and for that matter Gunasekera’s telling commentary, is in line with my opening essay SINHALA MIND SET which stands as frontispiece to my web-site.
PRUDENT TWO-POINT PROGRAM FOR PRAGMATIC TAMIL POLITICS
by Dayan Jayatilleka
Courtesy of http://www.transcurrents.com, where it appeared first on 13 Dec. 2009 and continues to excite comments. It is repeated here because it is as cogent as pertinent and serves as a means of reflection.
“For their part, Tamil leaders have not yet made anticipated conciliatory gestures that might ease government concerns and foster a genuine dialogue”- Sri Lanka: Re-charting US Strategy after the War, US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Dec 7, 2009
Sri Lanka is a work in progress, a jigsaw puzzle that we have never been able to complete because the pieces haven’t been fitted together correctly.
REVIEW of CONFRONTATIONS in SRI LANKA: SINHALESE, LTTE & OTHERS
Amended and abbreviated version or article in Frontline, Vol. 26, No. 20, 26 Sept 2009
Michael Roberts’s latest book assembles thirteen of his recent academic essays on the cultural and ideological roots of the majority Sinhala and minority Tamil nationalisms in Sri Lanka. It includes a study of the pogrom against the Muslims in 1915 and a remarkably detailed analysis of the projects of Anagārika Dharmapāla (1864-1933), a staunch Sinhala Buddhist who launched a full-throated campaign against British rule and Christian missionaries.
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.