The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

6th, Octomber 1996




'RAW, IPKF, causing all the trouble'

The secret midnight discussions to end the Satan Peramuna's bus strike during the 1988-89 period ended without success. These are the final tapes of the discussions to end the strike . Next week we will begin publication of tapes on how the former State Minister of Information, A.J. Ranasinghe brokered a deal between the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa and opposition leader, Sirimavo Bandaranaike about the formation of a strong national government to prevent a JVP take over.

Conversation 1

Conversation between S. D. Bandaranayake and A. J Ranasinghe

SDB: How was your discussion last night?

AJR: That went on till 11.30 pm. I explained everything to them. Their main demands are for two thirds and the Minister says the demands have been given. They say no. President says it is a dispute. He told them to get back to work. He would talk about their demands.

He said he will come from Mahiyangana personally for talks. So I went last evening at 7 pm with Rukman and others of the center.

They said they can't go back to work. Then I said it won't work. No government will allow that. We must come to a compromise.

We can't solve this without your support. So I gave up and came back. They must be thinking they can show their power and take over the government.

I don't believe they are anxious about a settlement.

I said I am not a minister. I am only a State Minister for Information.

SDB: The problem here is the IPKF?

AJR: But they said not to talk about that. Let the government worry about that.

SDB: But you will have to see about that too. Once that is settled, they will come to an agreement.

AJR: I too was for a settlement.

SDB: So what I say is that we can settle this issue.

AJR: I can do it but it is not my job.

SDB: I saw your name in the paper that you can do it.

AJR: Yes, I can settle it.

SDB: Irrespective of what these trade unionists say, the government should settle this problem forthwith, and meet this challenge.

AJR: Yes, the government is trying.

SDB: Let us put these other things aside, like Janasaviyva and things and settle this.

AJR: They have given in writing, I have got it, Jayanath Amarasinghe and ..... have signed. Their main issue is,

1. That the allowance of Rs. 45, due from 1982, should be paid with arrears.

2. The Rs. 180/- allowance approved by the 1988/89 budget be given immediately.

These are the two major demands. 3. That the minimum salary of all workers be Rs. 2500/- and that all SLTB workers be given an increase of Rs. 500/- A few odd things like these.

Then they wanted these demands submitted to the president. Also that the minister of information should discuss with the joint trade unions of the Sri Lanka Ekasth Peramuna.

SDB: Yes, I saw that in the news paper.

AJR: So I am ready. These people refused twice to go back to work, because of these things. Even to work on protest they refused. I told them, you better just go, sign the register, and just wait in your depots, even try a go slow.

SDB: Don't you now, as a matter of fact, in 1956, in SWRD's era, I myself was the president of the union I would appeal to you to use your good offices and settle this because, RAW and IPKF are behind all this oppositions.

AJR: Yes, I know, I know it well, they are laughing the Raw and IPKF are behind everything now.

SDB: Yes, they are behind all this oppositions, so why don't you...............(unclear)

AJR: So why can't you tell Mr. B, to come and settle this, their side no ?

SDB: No, the government can very easily settle this.

AJR: Yes, the president said he would give those two.

SDB: So why doesn't the president summon these people personally?

AJR: He is at Mahiyangana.

SDB: No, no, let him come to Colombo.

Conversation 2

Conversation between M.H. Mohamed and A. J Ranasinghe

AJR: What was the position?

MH: The cabinet was very clear on that. Anyway what has happened now?

AJR: I don't know. I just came. I thought they would have contacted you.

MH: They spoke to me yesterday. I told what's to be done, that's all.

AJR: I think Wijeyapala Mendis is determined not to give the demands.

MH: He does not want to give.

AJR: But you agree the demands should be given.

MH: Yes, the Cabinet paper is very clear.

AJR: They are asking for their rights, which they have got, the 180 and 140. That's correct no?

MH: Yes, that's correct.

AJR: Now I will go and tell that you also told. If it is necessary you can come there no?

MH: Yes, I will come there. I am coming there tomorrow, to Gam Udawa.

AJR: I came from Gam Udawa here.

MH: How did you come, by car or..........

AJR: By car, yes by car.

AJR: I will come with my family. I will tell PM that you said it is correct, that they must give, and that is your view.

MH: Yes, it is my view.

AJR: Your view, and you are the Cabinet minister no?

MH: Yes, that is correct.

AJR: And you have given the correct view.

MH: What's that bomb or something. What happened?

AJR: Ah, there was a blast there. We left at about ten, and at about 12 this has happened. Some people are injured, one fellow died. I think, This is what I heard in the morning. We were there, it was beautiful, more than 5 lakhs of people. My God, you must, you can't believe your eyes. Some small bomb I think. I heard in the morning at my circuit bungalow.

MH: You can't help it, you must settle this once and for all.

AJR: You can't go on like this. I think they don't like this.

MH: They don't like it, they don't like it. See these mad fellows no? They don't like to carry on. Their ideas that, they have got a plan, I think.

AJR: I see, that's the thing.

MH: They have got a plan, I think.

AJR: The President told me that his best friend is Mr. Mohamad. I told him also about you. And he said, get him, get him, he wanted you to tell the truth. Then those fellows will see stars. OK Sir, thank you.

MH: Thank you.

Racism: the evil elite of Jaffna

The entry of Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam (Jr) into this debate is desirable because he represents, more than any of his contemporaries competing to be "the sole representative of the Tamils", that long line of politics which pursued communalism and casteism as the be-all and end-all of Jaffna politics.

All said and done, G.G. Ponnambalam (Snr) was a formidable force in Jaffna politics until the arrival of his arch rival , S.J.V. Chelvanayakam on the political scene. Both were of course like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Both peddled communalism and thrived on casteism. Both were committed to exact the maximum from the South. Their politics had no redeeming features. Their communalism attacked the bogey of the South and casteism attacked their own people. The rivalry of the Tamil leadership was not on basic ideological differences but on a clash of inflated egos.

The importance of Mr. Ponnambalam (Jr.) lies in the fact the he symbolizes the ingrained communal politics of Jaffna. Like all his predecessors he follows the rabid racist line. Whether the Jaffna leadership emerges from Cambridge, Oxford or Harvard they all follow the identical racist line. They use the sophisticated argument of western academics and intellectuals essentially to convince the world that the ultimate goal of liberalism is to enthrone Tamil racism in one corner of Sri Lanka.

They disguise the racism and the caste fascism of the Jaffna "priviligentia' as the deserving cause of an "oppressed minority". When their hypocritical mark is removed they reveal themselves as the only naked oppressors of their own people. The tragedy of the Jaffna elite is that in their struggle for leadership they could not escape the atavistic pull of racism. One of these tragic figures is Sir P. Arunachalam who, despite all his liberal and broad perspectives was sucked in by the gravitational pull of Tamil communalism in his last days.

Their communalism increased in virulence when this 12 per cent minority developed a "Majority complex." It was Ponnambalam (Snr) who gave a concrete shape and expression to this "Majority complex" of a minority when he demanded "balanced representation" or "50 - 50" which is the appropriate mathematical equation for balanced representation. This cry not only deepened the communal divide but also drew the battle lines for the future.

The fifty-fifty demand was essentially a colonial legacy based of the arrogant belief that the Tamils were in reality a majority and not a minority. Up until 1920 the Tamils had near parity of status in the Legislative Council. Though a minority their numbers in the Council were almost as the same as the Sinhalese. Besides, the "preferential treatment and concessions" granted by the British to the Tamils of Jaffna made them feel that they were as important, if not more important, than the majority or any other community.

Above all, as pointed out by Prof. K.M. De Silva, even Governor Manning and an enlightened leader like Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam never accepted that the Tamils were a minority community. Their parity of status under colonial times led them to believe that they were on par with the majority community and this misplaced belief, which was shattered with the coming of constitutional changes that introduced the universal franchise in 1931 was to have a serious consequence in subsequent politics.

This majority complex inherited from unfair and unjust imbalances imposed by a colonial administration, is documented by Prof. K.M. De Silva, in his second article on The Ceylon National Congress in Disarray published in The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, (Vol II No.2 July-December 1972). Prof. De Silva's research illustrates the misplaced belief in Tamil superiority . "Arunachalam's use of the term "minorities' in his speeches before his departure from the Congress in 1921.... did not include the Tamils which is not surprising since Arunachalam shared the prevailing opinion that the Tamils were not a minority but were one of two majority communities (p 115)...... There was besides the fact that the Tamils were regarded, not least by Manning himself, as a majority community." (P 107),

Is it surprising therefore that they should revive this concept of a "Majority Community" by insisting on fifty fifty? The fifty-fifty demand was basically a political move to retain their colonial status of a minority placed on equal footing with the majority in the Legislature and the administration. That it was unfair, unrealistic and quite disproportionate to their numbers or even the numbers of all the minorities put together - never occurred to the arrogant leadership of the Tamils. In the guise of pleading for a minority or minorities (T.B Jayah the Muslim leader did not want to have bar of fifty-fifty) Ponnambalam (Snr) was bent on regaining their colonial supremacy through fifty-fifty.

Their superiority complex was also derived from being the "administrative overclass" (TIME , August 5, 1966 - p.49) installed by the British. In the early decades of this century, says Prof. S. Arasaratnam there were over 10,000 Tamil public servants in the British administration. I remember K .C Nithyanada, the dynamic trade union leader telling me one day "You Sinhalese govern but it is we Tamils who rule." He meant that the Tamils have a dominant place in the administration to rule whoever governs the country - and he wasn't far wrong either.

At the slightest sign of accommodation with the south rival Tamil parties were waiting in the wings to exploit it as capitulation to their enemies in the south. Even nominal north south accommodation did, in fact, swing the Jaffna electorate to extreme positions as seen in the breakaway of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam from Ponnambalam (Snr).

Their clash of egos exploiting Tamil chauvinism resulted in pushing the Jaffna electorate to a more extreme form of fifty-fifty. Ponnambalam (Snr) fifty-fifty was power sharing at the center. Chelvanayakam, representing the typical Tamil hubris dragged Jaffna deeper into the mire of racism by creating his Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi.

So the internal dynamics of Jaffna, spinning on personal rivalry and demanding the maximum from the south led them at each successive stage, to rabid Tamil racism. The following passage from Robert N. Kearny illustrates this: "The Tamil Congress emerged from the 1947 election as the only successful party in the Ceylon Tamil areas of the north. Within two years the Tamil Congress had allied itself with the U.N.P Government and acquiesced in legislation excluding most Indian Tamils from Ceylonese citizenship and the franchise .(Mr. Ponnambalam (Jr) please note). In protest against Tamil Congress association with the UNP government a group of Ceylon Tamil M.Ps abandoned the Tamil Congress and founded the Federal Party (or, in Tamil the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi). The Federal Party appeared more adamant and unyielding than the Tamil Congress in its determination to maintain the separate existence of the Tamil community and to resist the perceived threat of Sinhalese domination..." (p 457, Chapter XIII in Collective Identities: Nationalism and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka edited by Michael Roberts)

All these point to the salient fact there were two strands of communalism one in the north which originated long before the south even dreamt of it and the other in the south which came in the wake of 1956 and clashed with the established northern communal forces. The outstanding feature of the pro Sinhala Buddhist cultural wave that began in the colonial times is that it was never directed against the Tamils. All scholars from Prof A. J. Wilson to Prof. S Arasaratnam agree that Sinhala-Buddhism arose and developed as an anti-Western and anti-colonial force and not as an anti-Tamil force.

True, it got out of hand in the aftermath of 1956. But the redeeming quality was symbolized in the utopian character of S. W. R. D Bandaranaike. His intellectual stature, far exceeding that of the misguided Marxists, was in recognizing the powerful undercurrent of Sinhala Buddhist cultural forces surging to find a political outlet. Eventually, he became its shining symbol.

Simultaneously he recognized the parallel forces running in the north and when it got twisted in the days of the State Council he did not hesitate to blast the "outrageous demands" of the Tamils. His life-long battle was to balance the two competing forces and though he failed in his initial attempts, no credit is given to him for taking the initiative to assuage and allay the perceptions of fear by the Tamil communalists.

Beginning from S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike to his daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Sinhala leadership has showed a genuine willingness to resolve the north-south conflict. The fact that the earlier leaders failed does not mean that the Sinhala leadership was as intransigent as the Tamil communalists. The critics particularly those in the foreign-funded NGO circuit highlight only the failures and not the initiatives of the Sinhala leadership who had risked their lives. both political and personal in trying to resolve the differences.

Here they resort to denigrating Sinhala Buddhism as the main factor and not extreme Tamil racism. There are three critical stages in the rising trajectory of Tamil racism which negate the accusations against Sinhala Buddhists. First was when the Tamils asked for a special seat in the Western Province in 1920 for Sir P. Arunachalam. In a detailed analysis of this issue Prof. K. M. de Silva points out that the Sinhala leadership went out of their way to offer the seat to Sir P. Arunachalam despite the initial bungling but he turned it down and sadly retired into communal politics .

The second was when Ponnambalam (Snr) was raving and ranting about fifty-fifty. The Sinhala Board of Ministers offered a ratio of 57 to 43. I asked again, which majority of 75% had ever offered 43% to 25% of the population in any other part of the world?

As Prof. Arasaratnam states it was "a tactical blunder" on the part of the Tamils to have rejected that offer and the issue could have been settled in the times which were so tumultuous had the Tamil leadership been more realistic and genuine in seeking a solution without letting their egos and racism ride high. With each phase the Tamil chauvinists have been raising their stakes, demanding more and more. There was no way of appeasing their increasing demands. And by the time Chelvanayakam took to the politics of "Separate State" (Federal or otherwise) the communal climate had changed radically in the south.

The north-south conflict had entered the critical third stage where the Tamils had gone to such extremes that they could not retreat from it. By this time the "outrageous demands" of the Tamils were rousing the worst fears of the south. Besides, the crumbling ancient regime in the north was desperate. They were deliberately opting out of the democratic framework to embrace violence .

Prof. A. J. Wilson describes this tactic graphically when he wrote: ".A second tactic is to destabilize the internal political situation. Political murders, acts of sabotage, and inflammatory and provocative speeches are the established forms and these have been tried. The Sinhalese masses and their lower-level ethnic leadership are needled by such acts and urge their rank and file to take retaliatory action. Nothing is more satisfying to Tamil militants (p 301 Sri Lanka and its future: Sinhalese versus Tamils).

As shown by Prof. Wilson the Tamil manipulators would not hesitate to kill their own mother and father to gain political mileage. Chilling isn't it?

However, for obvious political reasons it is only the Sinhala Buddhists who are portrayed as provocateurs of communal violence. The interplay of the two communal strands and in particular, the provocative nature and instigation of Tamil chauvinism has been either underplayed or ignored, because neither could reap the benefit of political sympathy from the gullible international community. These crimes of the Tamil leadership committed against their own people are unforgivable.

Only a Gabrial Garcia Marquez could depict the horrors bred by the evil elite of Jaffna. Mr Ponnambalam (Jr) who is a direct descendant of this evil elite that showed no mercy to their own people could be a character walking out of the pages of Marquez - the undisputed master of comic horrors in S. American decadence.

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