“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?”
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.
Preamble: Journals use Abstracts in order to provide readers with a distillation of the argument in an article. Where theoretical concepts are deployed, this presupposes that readers have some familiarity with the literature. Faced with the summary below, some readers of transcurrents may rush to the conclusion that this essay is featured by abstruse and esoteric nonsense.
After all, what does “transvaluation” connote? I derived the concept from SJ Tambiah’s Levelling Crowds. I understand it to refer to the re-working and transformation of pre-existing ideas and/or practices in meaningful ways that carry weight; and thereby sustain both continuity and change within the specified cultural/political arena. This is my interpretation of the term and it may well be challenged or refined by other scholars versed in the anthropological literature.
Having identified a problem area via one illustration, let me stress that this article is not replete with such academic terminology. It is mostly filled with empirical detail about the LTTE’s killing operation. This attention to detail encompasses cultural specifics.
Many of these particulars will be meaningful to those familiar with the Hindu faith and its devotional activity. Those nominally “Hindu” and all those from other faiths who are adamantly secular and/or materialist in orientation may be puzzled by the weight I attach to these specifics. Hopefully, this emphasis will pose a challenge to their mode of thinking.
Finally, let me stress that my essay expressly notes that it is presenting “a speculative argument that cannot be empirically substantiated” (p. 29 of full article). This may come as a shock to those readers, such as the blogger “Belle” commenting on one of my articles in http://www.groundviews.org recently, who seem to think that the social sciences should not indulge in surmise. Such a perception seems to believe that the world of scholarship should only deal with “facts” and definitive conclusions of the sort demonstrated in laboratories. This is a rigid schoolmaster’s view of the humanities or what, in academic jargon, will be read as a “positivist” form of thinking.
Dhanu & Sivarasan wait with Kokilavani on right
Kokilavani reads poem, while Dhanu –head in foreground–awaits her moment
Set within the context of the Sri Lankan Tamils’ liberation war dominated by the LTTE, this article clarifies the motivations behind Pirapāharan’s decision to eliminate Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 in order to pre-empt his election as Prime Minister. The details on the LTTE’s intricate killing operation under operational commander Sivarāsan sets the scene for a focus on facets of the attire adopted by suicide bomber Dhanu. Saffron-green outfit, kanagambaram in hair and sandalwood-pellet garland may have been directed by pragmatic reasoning. But circumstantial contentions also point towards cosmic reasoning. Taken together with the kill team’s preceding supplications to the god Ganapathi at a temple in Chennai, these indications suggest that Dhanu’s explosive transformation into ash was geared towards a transvaluation of self in the cycle of rebirth. Information on Hindu practices taken from the researches of Mines, Fuller and Tanaka amplify the significance of the details deployed during this operation as supplements to plastic explosives, ball-bearings and suicide vest.
transvaluation; enchantment; assassins; Hindu substances; Tantric encirclement
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.