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Minority Report: Sri Lankas Tamil Question

A Response to Profs Kumar David & Laksiri Fernando | by Dr Dayan Jayatilleka The multitude of orkers and peasants!"annot allo the dismemberment of the nation!# $ Antonio %rams"i &'('() %rams"i*s strate+y follo s from his "on"ept,-uite ori+inal in .ar/ism0 of the orkin+ "lass as part of the nation# 1ri" 2obsba m &3%rams"i and Politi"al Theory*)

& April '40 56'70 8olombo0 9ri Lanka %uardian) :ntervenin+ in the debate on Tamil nationhood and self$determination Prof Kumar David a""uses me of abandonin+ my youthful Leninism &39elf$Determination as a 5'$8 8on"ept$Justi"e ;i+nes aran and Dr Jayatilleka use outdated "ate+ories*0 Kumar David0 9unday :sland0 April '4th 56'7)< : debated Prof Kumar David on the same -uestion e/a"tly three and a half de"ades a+o in the Lanka %uardian< : as t enty t o< :n the latter half of my fifties : am far too old0 and the 9ri Lankan "risis has +one on for far too lon+0 at the "ost of at least one bli+hted +eneration0 to permit myself the indul+en"e of e/istential e/periments and adventures ith ideolo+i"al prisms0 tattered maps and rusted eapons< To me0 ideolo+y0 Leninist or other ise0 has little to do ith my pra"ti"e as a politi"al s"ientist0 analyst and 3publi" intelle"tual*< : try my poor best to +et at the fundamentals0 the essen"e and the real dynami"s of thin+s< Lenin matters as a politi"al thinker and pra"titioner of +enius< To me0 as a politi"al s"ientist orkin+ in the 5'st "entury and in the +lobal south0 %rams"i matters even more< 9ri Lanka*s abidin+ problem and the drivin+ for"e of its de"ades$lon+ "risis hi"h antedated0 produ"ed and survived the ar0 is the relationship bet een the t o ma=or "ommunities that share the island0 one lo"ated almost entirely in its 9outhern t o thirds0 the other in its >orth$

1ast< That*s a polite ay of puttin+ it< There is another< The story,the lon+ narrative, of this pla"e is one of the "oe/isten"e and "ontention of t o tribes strivin+ to share this island< :t is the story of the "omple/ and shiftin+ relations of po er bet een these t o "olle"tives ith their distin"tive identities< ?ne may flip it around< The story of the island is that of the relationship that the t o "ommunities have tried to establish ith this pla"e and ea"h other< ;ho ields po er over the island@ :s there or should there be irredu"ible politi"al leadership for one and irredu"ible politi"al spa"e for the other@ 2o many po er "entres should or "an the island "ontain and should these be e-ual or in a hierar"hy@ ;hat is the relationship bet een the island and the rest of the orld0 be+innin+ ith its nei+hbourhood@ ;hat is the relationship bet een the main "ommunities on the island and the rest of the orld@ ;hat should be the "hara"ter of the state0 hi"h mediates all these relationships, those bet een the "onstituent "omponents of the island*s popula"e as ell as bet een them and the orld@ Those are the real -uestions< Prof Kumar David has deleted the term and "on"ept 3minority* from his le/i"on< 2e has also deleted the term 3nationality*< >ational minorities and minority nationalities do not seem to e/ist0 in his rendition< The impli"ation is that all ethni" +roups are at e-ual sta+es of development herever they are and hi"hever the so"iety they are in< There are no minorities or nationalities hi"h have not yet evolved and perhaps never ill evolve to the sta+e of nationhood< For him0 it is suffi"ient for hatever ethni" +roup of hi"hever siAe and proportion0 to per"eive itself as a nation0 for it to possess the ri+ht of self determination up to and in"ludin+ the ri+ht of se"ession< ?f "ourse Prof David leaves to the dis"retion of this or that ethni" +roup or politi"al leadership to a"tually e/er"ise that ri+ht up to the point of se"ession< ;hat he does insist on is that the ri+ht be re"o+nised< To apply this to the Tamils of 9ri Lanka and to say that Justi"e ;i+nes aran*s T o >ations "laim is almost impe""ably Leninist0 is a travesty, be"ause Lenin did not and "ould not deal ith the issue of the national -uestion as it emer+es at the periphery of the orld system0 espe"ially0 but not e/"lusively in the post$"olonial orld< Lenin dealt superbly ith the >ational and 8olonial Buestions0 i<e< those -uestions of ethni"ity ithin the imperialist states su"h as Tsarist Russia0 as ell as those of nations fi+htin+ to emer+e as su"h a+ainst "olonial and semi$"olonial oppression< 9ri Lanka is not an imperialist formation nor is it an auto"ra"y< Thus it is not in the least similar to TAarist Russia< :t is a post"olonial state0 a "onstitutional republi" and a &barely) fun"tionin+ demo"ra"y< The problem of ethni"ity and "olle"tive identities in 9ri Lanka and the independent states of the +lobal 9outh is a post$Leninist problem<

For his part0 Prof Laksiri Fernando & ho shares an ideolo+i"al affinity ith Prof Kumar David in that they ereCare Trotskyists) presents the follo in+ as a solutionD EAlthou+h : "annot read the mind of the 8hief .inister0 as far as : "an understand0 he raises a valid -uestion of e-uality bet een the ethni" "ommunities!?ne ay of resolvin+ the national -uestion and endin+ the "onfrontation is to re"o+niAe the 9inhalese0 the Tamils and the .uslims as e-ual 3"ultural nations* "onstitutin+ the demo"rati" 3politi"al nation* of 9ri Lanka< There is no -uestion that the formulations in the :ndo$9ri Lanka A""ord are useful prin"iples in brid+in+ the understandin+ bet een the "ommunities if they are properly a"ted upon< 2o ever0 they are not enou+h!1-uality here does not mean -uantitative e-uality but -ualitative e-uality<# &3Re"o+nition of 9inhalese0 Tamils and .uslims as 1-ual 8ultural >ations .i+ht Fe A 9olution*0 Laksiri Fernando0 8olombo Tele+raph0 April '50 56'7) There is a "ase to be made for devolution and a sustainable measure of autonomy0 but Profs David and Fernando are not makin+ it< :ndeed the "laims of Tamil nationhood0 e-ual &"ultural) nations0 and the ri+ht of self$determination ork in pre"isely the opposite dire"tion< The "ommunities that inhabit the island are not e-ual in siAe< ?ne of them amount to almost three fourths of the population< The other by definition0 doesn*t "ome any here "lose< That is a reality< The one that is mu"h smaller has a hu+e "ommunity of "o$ethni"s a"ross a narro strip of ater< That is also a reality< ;hile all "itiAens of 9ri Lanka must be e-ual & hi"h they are not0 hile the "onstitution embeds hierar"hy) and all "itiAens and "ommunities must be free from dis"rimination as individuals and "olle"tives0 it is neither desirable nor possible to render ma=orities and minorities e-ual0 in "on"eptual or le+al terms< Demo+raphi" realities mirrored by ele"toral demo"ra"y reinfor"e the unevenness that prevails in any so"iety< This unevenness "annot be i+nored or flattened< The ori+inal sin of Tamil nationalism has been to re=e"t the inevitable unevenness that ele"toral demo"ra"y refle"ts0 and to insist on an unattainable and artifi"ial e-uality< Thus the slo+an of 3G6DG6* hi"h is on a "ontinuum ith that of the "laim of nationhood e-ual to that of the 9inhalese0 -uite irrespe"tive of the demo+raphi" and thus the ele"toral realities< ;hile the 9inhalese must not be permitted to oppress the Tamils or the .uslims0 and all su"h oppression should be resistedH hile all "itiAens of the "ountry must possess e-uality of ri+hts irrespe"tive of identity0 it is -uite another thin+ to insist on the e-uation of the "ommunities as "olle"tives0 in terms of politi"al po er, hi"h is the hub of the "all for G6DG6 or the "laim of T o >ations en=oyin+ the ri+ht of self$determination< Fy insistin+ on the e-ual status of that hi"h "annot be e-ualised0 Profs Kumar David and Laksiri Fernando transpose to the realm of inter$ethni" relations0 the error denoun"ed by 1n+els as Evul+ar0 petty bour+eois e+alitarianism#< ?f "ourse the matter does not end there0 as it ould if one*s unit of analysis ere to be the nation and nothin+ else< Fut if e shift to the lar+er unit of analysis0 the orld system0 the lands"ape and the "onsiderations under+o "han+e< The strate+y of Tamil nationalism is to harness the e/ternal , the demo+raphi" ei+ht and spread of the Tamils outside the island,to

redress the balan"e or0 as is in"reasin+ly the "ase0 to seek politi"al e/it< :t ould seem from Tamil politi"al behaviour0 that embedded in the Tamil psy"he is the notion that if the Tamils of the >orth and 1ast "annot live as politi"ally e-ual ith the 9inhalese on the island ,$they ould prefer to live in a separate and independent politi"al formation< To this intent and purpose0 they supported and sustained a "ruel ar a+ed by a barbari" militia0 and they no seek to attain the same aim throu+h appeals to and manipulation of e/ternal institutions and po ers< This strivin+ is -uite distin"t from a stru++le for e-uality in a "ivi" sense0 hi"h "an be perfe"tly satisfied by a "ombination of the ele"toral and the le+al0 usin+ the dis"ourse of minority ri+hts &rather than national self determination) and a "ombination of the strate+ies of the 8ivil Ri+hts .ovement of the I9 and the 8atholi"s of >orthern :reland< ;hi"h is the more important reality , the internal or the e/ternal,and hi"h ill prove the more important reality in the future@ That remains to be seen and ill depend not only on military po er but politi"al and e"onomi" po er< The 9ri Lankan politi"al elite does have politi"al ill0 hi"h is hy it on the ar< 2o ever0 it is blinkered0 obtuse and inept in the realms of orld politi"s0 strate+y and +rand strate+y< Therefore havin+ on the military "ontestation0 hi"h both levera+ed and tilted the balan"e in favour of the island*s internal realities0 it is losin+ the politi"al0 diplomati"0 ideolo+i"al and le+al "ontestation< The out"ome of this defeat ill shift the balan"e in the dire"tion of determination by e/ternal realities< To return to Prof Laksiri Fernando*s ur+in+ of the re"o+nition of e-ual "ultural nations0 : find %odfrey %unatilleke*s formulations of 'G years a+o far more "onvin"in+ if far less 3politi"ally "orre"t*< 2e ritesD E:n the modern 9ri Lankan "onte/t the "onditions have to be su"h that ea"h ethni" and "ultural identity ill find its proportional ei+ht and presen"e in our so"iety< 1a"h ill need to re"o+nise and a""ept this "onfi+uration!The modus vivendi that is implied here redefines e-uality ithin a frame ork hi"h re"o+nises the reality of "olle"tive identities and the differen"e in the relative ei+ht and presen"e of these identities hen they enter into any partnership<# This is from the "on"ludin+ se+ment of the finest sin+le pie"e of ritin+ : have read on the ethni" issue and 9ri Lankan politi"sD %odfrey %oonetilleke*s 3The :deolo+ies and Realities of the 1thni" 8onfli"t, A Postfa"e* &in 39ri LankaD 8olle"tive :dentities Revisited Jol ::* ed< .i"hael Roberts0 .ar+a :nstitute0 '((K0 pp<4L4$75()< The essay*s 8on"lusion0 pertinently entitled 31-uality0 Proportionality and 1-uity in a .ultiethni" 9o"iety*0 anti"ipates and ans ers the very problems raised by ;i+nes aran0 Kumar David0 Laksiri Fernando and myself<