The Rajpal Abeynayake Column           By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Educating Rocca - now at a Centre near you!
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ad mitted, that "discrimination against Tamils spurred militancy in Sri Lanka'', according to dispatches from the US.

"Whatever the causes, the result is the LTTE'', he has told scholars at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre. But the Prime Minister also told the US press that the US government's cutting off of the international flow of funds after Sptember 11 forced the LTTE to "sue for peace.''

He also said that "affirmative action programs'' that were intended for the upliftment of the Sinhala community alienated the Tamils.

'Affirmative action' is distinctly of American coinage. They say now in the US that "there could have been reverse discrimination caused to the whites as a result of affirmative action programmes in favour of the blacks." Affirmative action for blacks consisted of granting certain quotas for instance, in education and in employment for people who are of Afro-American descent who had been discriminated against since the days of slavery in the early epoch of the American union.

Can there be affirmative action in favour of a majority? The Sinhalese are a majority, and there can be no affirmative action in favour of the Sinhalese unless the Sinhalese themselves were the community that was underprivileged - - or in the status of minority, in a technical sense.

Apparently, then, going on the PM's rationalization, the Sinhala only policy constituted of affirmative action - and policies of standardization consisted of "affirmative action'' on behalf of the Sinhalese. It is difficult to fathom what really weighed on the Premier's mind when he spoke to the Woodrow Wilson scholars. But he did say that "whatever the causes the result was the LTTE.''

But this juxtaposed with his assertion that " the LTTE sued for peace when its funds were cut-off due to US action after September 11'' somehow places his two explanations about the conflict and its resolution at certain odds. Scholars or not, Americans whether of the Woodrow Wilson Centre or outside it, must be confused.

If the LTTE was the result of "discrimination resulting from affirmative action'' the LTTE should have received the support of the international community. But no, the LTTE is "suing for peace'' because the US cut off funds for its sustenance after September 11.

If there is "reverse discrimination'' in America caused these days to whites due to "affirmative action'' for the blacks, should that justify a white uprising against the minority blacks in America? If the question sounds odd, it is odd because of the simple reason that it is hard to turn "affirmative action'' on the flip side.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has turned "affirmative action'' on the flip side. He has said that affirmative action on behalf of the majority enraged the Tamils, driving them to war - indeed to a campaign of terror.

Why a campaign of terror? Because Ranil Wickremesinghe himself says so, when he concedes that America withdrew the LTTE's sources of sustenance after September 11 which is the day that marks one of the world's worst acts of terror.

One can redress the grievances of a minority with affirmative action. But, the majority can demand that its own rightful place be reinstated, as it happened in apartheid South Africa. Dismantling apartheid in South Africa was certainly not characterized anywhere as a case of "affirmative action.'' Redressing the grievances of the Sinhala majority after a long period of oppression and relative discrimination by a colonial power, was similarly not "affirmative action''. Affirmative action implies that the natural order of merit is tampered with for a good cause.

For example this happens when blacks in the US are reserved quotas in the job market. But no such natural order of merit was tampered when the rights of the Sinhala majority were restored to them after independence, for example by ensuring that the Sinhalese had proper representation in the administrative service, proportionate to their numbers. These comments are written immediately after news dispatches were received from Washington this week.
Other interested observers will no doubt, with time, provide more analytical insights into the PM's latest explanations about Sri Lanka's crisis.

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