Economic & Political
january 31, 2009
shorts, rubber slippers, singlets and
shirts” that the MahindaRajapaksa government recruited to help bolster security check-points (Samarasinghe 2008).
According to the Fund or Peace and
magazine, which together oversee the Failed State Index, Sri Lanka wasranked 20th
in 2008, in worse shape than perennially troubledstates like Liberia and Sierra Leone. Branding a country a ailedstate or one at risk o becoming a ailed state is problematicbecause a country must have ailed drastically on many ronts toqualiy or such an odious status. The Failed State Index thusutilises 12 indicators, taking the cumulated average to determinepropensity or ailure.Many reer to Max Weber’s classic
Politics as a Vocation
anddene a state as an entity that enjoys a monopoly on the legiti-mate use o orce. From this territorial standpoint Sri Lanka couldbe branded a ailure given that the state has not controlled all o its territory or 25 years; but doing so is spurious because by sucha standard numerous countries considered stable would have tobe considered ailures merely because paramilitary or non-democratic orces hold sway in certain areas. For example, nearly 160 o India’s over 600 districts are controlled by so-called Naxaliteelements, some o whom have introduced their own tax laws andcourts; and Kashmir and states in the north-east have long beenrestive and unstable. Yet India does not get branded a ailed state.This is mainly because by various other standards (i e, consolida-tion o democracy, economic growth, vulnerability to outsidepressures, and relative power capability in the international statesystem) India remains quite robust.Thus a state may be considered a ailure or likely to ail notbecause it does not indisputably control every inch o its territory but because the institutions that guarantee law and order anddispassionate, honest, and ecient governance cease to unction. As ormer
secretary general Boutros Boutros Ghali noted, “thecollapse o state institutions, especially the police and the judici-ary, with resulting paralysis o governance, a breakdown o lawand order, and general banditry and chaos” typically contributetowards state ailure. “Not only are the unctions o governmentsuspended, but its assets are destroyed or looted and experiencedocials are killed or fee the country”.
Sri Lanka does not ully t this description; it thereore cannot be branded a ailed stateusing these criteria. Yet it is a country that has ailed woeully in many areas,principally in how its most undamental state institutions (i e,legislature, judiciary, police, deence orces, bureaucracy, andpublic education) have undergone political decay.
Worse, thispolitical decay is mainly due to the calibrated illiberalism
suc-cessive governments engineered to marginalise, dominate, andsubjugate the island’s minority communities, so much so thatthe island is today better characterised as an “ethnocentricdemocracy” or “illiberal democracy”.
Indeed, the country may be best characterised as an “ethnocracy”.
When consideringthe baneul, even nearious, infuence Buddhist monks havehad on Sri Lanka’s politics and given how politicians o allstripes pander to these monks’ whims and ancies especially onethnic issues, it may just as well be branded a
What one can perhaps argue is that while Sri Lanka is not aailed state, it is a state that has degenerated because the islandhas retrogressed on nearly all important indicators representingsecularism, liberalism, pluralism, ethnic coexistence, and goodgovernance. The southern part o the country has seen a air de-gree o development, yet the act remains that rom especially the standpoints o governance and ethnic relations every suc-ceeding decade since independence has turned out worse thanthe previous decade. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh too haveailed to live up to their potential. However, these countriesgained independence amidst violent partition and civil war, werepredicted to disintegrate urther, and given little chance o suc-ceeding. From that standpoint, India and Bangladesh especially have done relatively well. Comparatively, Sri Lanka in the 1950s was placed in the same league as South Korea; and Lee Kwan Yew, in the early stages o Singapore’s independence, hoped hismarshy, mosquito-inested island could emulate Sri Lanka. Inthat sense, not only has Sri Lanka ailed as a potential exemplar,it is also poised to degenerate beyond the current majoritarianand ethnocentric dispensation towards dictatorship.
The high expectations or the island at the time o independencenotwithstanding, one o the very rst decisions Sri Lanka’s newleaders made was rooted in racism; and this pertained to notconerring citizenship on hundreds o thousands o Indian Tamilsborn and raised in the country (with many being ourth and thgeneration denizens). The British brought the Indian Tamils romsouth India to work as indentured labourers beginning in the1830s and by the time the country gained independence they were ully incorporated into the island’s tea estates. The letistand communist parties had campaigned on behal o these estatelabourers and consequently won most o their allegiance, whichthe conservative United National Party (
) ound problematic. Yet Indian Tamils were denied citizenship mainly becauseSinhalese Buddhist leaders eared that they threatened thedemographic advantage the upcountry Sinhalese had longenjoyed. The rhetoric and justications used make this amply clear.
Some Tamil politicians rom the north, infuenced by their retrograde casteist proclivities, supported the policy.
Theirony was that this, in turn, strengthened Sinhalese Buddhistrepresentation in the legislature and made it easier or Sinhaleseparliamentarians to eventually discriminate against Sri LankanTamils as well.Some like to argue that Sri Lanka would have avoided SinhaleseBuddhist ethnocentrism and the subsequent civil war hadD S Senanayake, the country’s rst prime minister, lived longer.They conveniently orget that it was D S Senanayake who oversawthe disenranchisement o Indian Tamils on demographic and ra-cial grounds even as he pursued Sinhalese colonisation o tradi-tionally Tamil areas in the north-east; and that there is no reasonto believe he would not have acted just as expeditiously as did hisson Dudley Senanayake and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (
) leaderS W R D Bandaranaike when trying to perpetuate political power.