Monday, April 12, 2010

Aiding and abetting to kill plurality in ‘patriotic’ Sri Lanka

by Kusal Perera - “I’m worried about an opponent who uses ‘nation building’ and ‘the military’ in the same sentence.” said George W. Bush Jnr. in Nov 06, 2000, referring to Al Gore and then to journalist Mickey Herskowitz, he said “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader, is to be seen as a Commander-in-Chief.”

So, the military has nothing to do with “nation building” and a great leader has to be seen as a Commander in Chief. This same logic of Bush would also explain that, “an Army Commander is no nation builder and also, a Commander in Chief, though seen a great leader would not necessarily build nations.”

Leaving any and all comparisons and such formal logic aside, we have had no great leaders and have not been building a nation, for citizens of this island known and named as Sri Lanka. “Nation building” is what we failed in, all through our past 62 years since independence from the British. We have failed in building a nation, where all citizens in their plurality – Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and any other – could honestly and proudly feel they own and share it equally. A nation State that treats all as equals and provides opportunities to all, irrespective of all diversity in this society.

Politically, we have been moving away from such grand socio-political stability in a democracy, required for economic growth and development. After six decades and plus, moving away from plurality in politics, we have ended up by alienating and polarising ethno – religious societies and depriving the minorities of their rightful representation in the legislature too.

One fundamental, or cardinal rule in establishing the legislature under the Soulbury Constitution was respecting the plurality of our society. Therefore a “Delimitation Commission” was established which had to create new electorates for the new parliament, that was going to be the first elected parliament of independent Ceylon. This Delimitation Commission was provided with guidelines by the State Council which gave the Order for electoral formulation in 1946. In its 41st Section the Order said, “in any area of a Province a substantial concentration of persons united by a community of interests, whether racial, religious, or otherwise but differing in one or more of these respects from the majority of the inhabitants of that area”, the Commission should create an electorate to ‘”render possible the representation of that interest”. It also empowered the Commission to create multi-member electorates where communal groups were so intermixed as to render the carving out of a separate electorate for them, impossible.

The democratic spirit of this State Council Order in 1946 which accepted the plurality of this society and arranged for its representation in the legislature, was politically killed by the Sinhala leadership in the first parliament itself. When geographically demarcated constituencies that respected ethno religious representation were being tampered with to return pro-Sinhala representation1 to parliament, there were still a spread of minority representation in parliament from other areas. Representation brought through multi member constituencies created in different parts of the country like in Colombo Central, Colombo South, Mutur, Batticoloa and Akurana, along with other single member seats also providing enough crowding of minority votes to elect minorities to parliament. Balangoda, Beruwala, Harispattuwa and Borella were some such single constituencies.

Colombo AGA division (now Divisional Secretariat area) that has over 57% non Sinhala population, previously returned mixed representatives to parliament from 04 constituencies – Colombo North, Central, South and Borella. The 02 constituencies, Central and South elected 05 MPs between them as multi member constituencies. This guaranteed a fair representation for Tamil and Muslim citizens in Colombo, when they had 03 to 04 elected MPs from a total of 07 elected MPs.

In a multi ethnic society, such plurality in representation was a necessary healthy arrangement for democratic political life. De-limitation Commissions that came thereafter too, also worked on the premise of the Order in Council of 1946, to maintain such plurality.

Meanwhile the other political advantage then was the presence of a sizeable representation of elected MPs from the Left political parties who stood for minority rights on uncompromising democratic principles. They were very vocal and actively against the 1948 Ceylon Citizenship Act and was so, when the Language Act of 1956 was brought to parliament that made Sinhala the only official language. The old Left leadership strengthened the voice of the minorities, both in and out of parliament, a political reality that is wholly and functionally absent now.

The official representation of minorities, Tamil and Muslim representation in both the governing and opposition parties then stood around 29% to 21%, starting from the first parliament that had 101 MPs through the 1960 parliament that had 157 MPs, to the National State Assembly after 1970 that had 168 elected representatives.

This was being gradually eroded through “Sinhalisation” of the State and the establishment of a social ideology for a Sinhala nation, contradicting the very principle that established this representative democracy with independence. A gradual reduction in representation of minorities from areas, predominantly Sinhala was in the making. There was also the creation of additional Sinhala constituencies in 1981 in the East, like Seruwila in Trincomalee and Ampara in Digamadulla.

The two mainstream political parties, also aided this process of dropping minority representation from other electorates, while fielding minority candidates in North and East, in an apparent bid to encroach on Tamil nationalistic representation. Electorates like Kadugannawa (1956 – C.Abdul Sameed Marikkar), Akurana (1970 – A.C.S. Hameed MP), Balangoda (1977 – M.L.M Aboosally MP) Harispattuwa (1977 – S.H. Abdul Cader MP) and Galagedara (1960 July – Abdul Jabaar MP) that once had minority MPs representing them, don’t even get minority nominations any more, within the PR system.

The last parliament elected at the 2004 April elections therefore provided only a 16% minority representation, from all political parties. Worst is, for the first time in parliamentary history it had an extreme Sinhala representation with the JHU fielding Buddhist monks and returning 09 of them as MPs. Their first attempt at getting elected gave them only a single MP from the national list in year 2000, when Champika Ranawaka forced their party president Senior Attorney at law and respected politician but a Christian, S.L. Gunasekara to back out not only from being nominated, but from their political party as well.

This parliamentary election on April 08, has basically returned a parliament that is ideologically Sinhala Buddhist, not only with a much reduced minority representation, but with a dominant Sinhala representation from constituencies that usually allow better minority representation, like from Colombo, Kalutara and Kandy districts.

This 2010 parliamentary election left Kalutara district without its Muslim representative for Beruwala and Bandaragama Muslims. It left Colombo district Muslims with only 01 MP, when they usually have 03 MPs and Tamil representation has also dropped from 02 to 01 in Colombo. Kandy district results that would have to wait re-polling in Nawalapitiya, is also speculated to have a reduced minority representation this time.

On the flip side, especially from the UPFA the ruling party, had a more robust Sinhala representation from Colombo. The list is heavy on the top with those who are extreme Sinhala nationalist in their approach to war and power sharing. The usually minority accommodating UNF(P) was also left without their Muslim representation and a reduced Tamil representation to one in Colombo. The sad part of it all is the unusually weak Tamil voice in a parliament that once saw a very respectable Tamil leader, Appapillai Amirthalingam as the Opposition Leader.

This is no accident in a low polling election. This is conscious accommodation of Sinhala dominance in power politics with the Rajapaksa regime compromising with Sinhala extremism for its dynastic survival. With Sinhala extremism used to mobilise the Sinhala South for a war that not only decided the fate of the once formidable LTTE but also the future of the Rajapaksa regime, it brutally concluded the war leaving a human tragedy in addition to the unsolved political conflict. It is now extending its political dominance to the legislature in the absence of war and an armed conflict.

The necessity to have such political power over the State was always evident in the Western Province with the emergence of Hela Urumaya politics. With a growing trade and commerce capital in and around Colombo after the economy was opened up in 1978, the Sinhala business community felt the need to control that business that also had Tamil and Muslim business presence. The 1983 pogrom on Tamil people in Colombo and Kandy was precisely that. Targeting of Tamil businessmen like K. Gunaratnam and setting fire and looting most groceries and boutiques of Tamil people, was proof.

Concentration of “Sinhala Veera Vidhana” cells in Colombo among the Sinhala trader community and the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), also a terrorising outfit politically related to the Hela Urumaya getting foot holds in Colombo, was apparently the extended politics of the 1983 July pogrom. That was conscious mobilising of the Sinhala trader community against Tamil business.

That was evident in 2004 April elections, when JHU fielded Buddhist monks as their candidates. It was only in the commercial hub of Colombo and its periphery where the Sinhala trader community is in competition to establish their dominance that JHU managed to secure 07 of their 09 MPs. Even in districts where over 90% Sinhala Buddhists vote, like in Moneragala, Hambantota and Anuradhapura, they failed miserably.

Political power in this centralised State is where the wealth is accumulated, in the Western Province (WP) and not in the rural constituencies. It’s in the WP where the Sinhala power bloc has now taken hold with its Sinhala trader community. After the war, in this first parliamentary elections, that Sinhala dominance is now evident in the legislature with its own Sinhala calling.

The Cabinet of Ministers that would endorse the politics of the Rajapaksa regime, would thus reflect the Sinhala character of the newly elected parliament and in turn the politics of the Sinhala trader community. This regime would therefore need more than a heavy push to even make it glance at the minority issues. Especially the unsolved Tamil issues.

‘Success’ has many fathers wrote one time Secretary of Defence, Austin Fernando in his very revealing public record on the 2002 cease fire agreement and its peace initiative, titled “My Belly is White”. Yet this success with Sinhala dominance would have only one father in a regime that would not allow any sharing of credit for its pursuit of war and its final victory. Its the Rajapaksa regime that now fathers this Sinhala political campaign for supremacy, waiting to be tested on its ability to hold this as a single Nation, leave alone developing it as a democratic, Nation State with equal space for all.


1. Both the 1948 Indo-Ceylon Citizenship Act which turned plantation sector Tamil people into nonentities and the changing of demographic pattern in the East through large scale agri schemes in favour of large Sinhala settlements, provided for more Sinhala MPs in parliament. e.g. 07 Tamil MPs elected to the first parliament in 1947 from N’eliya, Maskeliya, Kotagala, Nawalapitiya, Badulla, Bandarawela and Aluthnuwara electorates were replaced by 07 Sinhala MPs at the next general election in 1952.

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