The Editorial in a Sri Lankan web journal (not the Colombo Telegraph) claimed to have discovered the country’s “dark underbelly on the 14th anniversary of the LTTE leader’s death”; it grieved that the “pervasive culture of deceit poisons every interaction” in society, resulting in multiple “crises”, which belied “hopes” that the “(e)limination of his [Prabhakaran’s] terror factory…celebrated by the country…would mark the beginning of a new era where social justice and human rights would prevail.”
Of course, most Malayaha and Ceylon Tamils, Muslims and Christians saw the “underbelly” somewhat earlier.
The vast majority of genuine Sinhalese people understandably believed the smooth talk of their nationalist Sinhalese intelligentsia, who alleged the following:
a) Tamil nationalism and its cutting edge, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), are the font of almost all difficulties facing the Sinhalese people; and
b) eliminating the LTTE and crushing the Tamils’ challenge would usher in an era of prosperity and splendour.
“Finish Prabhaharan and everything will be fine with the state of Sri Lanka” was the thinking among the political class, as Dharmaratnam Sivaram (Taraki) too had observed in 1996.
We discussed how the democratic content of national movements, led by non-State controlling elites, in the Dominion of India fundamentally transformed the ramshackle unitary State inherited from colonialism into the largest federated democracy in the world. We also outlined how the respective State controlling elite blocked similar progressive national forces and prevented the same transition to democracy in the Dominions of Pakistan and Ceylon.
The promised prosperity and splendour the Sinhalese people hunger for is not visible even on the horizon after the LTTE’s destruction 14 long years ago. The country in fact has gone from bad to worse by most accounts.
Ceylon/Sri Lanka’s political class framed the civil war as an inter-State war against a foreign enemy; as then President Jayawardene famously quipped, “during wars, laws are silent”. To suspend the normal operation of laws and accountability by the political class during civil wars is invariably disastrous; Latin American countries discovered the tragic fact during the so-called anti-communist military campaigns in the second half of the 20th Century and most of them have yet to recover. During civil wars of long duration, of more than five years, the perversion of legal and political institutions seeps deeper into society and becomes systemic.
The very process of militarily eliminating the LTTE over the four-decade (1979-2009) long civil war in Sri Lanka has crushed the anticipated war dividends to pulp. Unsurprisingly the Editorial dismissed 18 May 2009 as “a facade of false triumph”. If the Struggle (Aragalaya) by sections of the Sinhalese middle classes is anything to go by, the coin seems to be dropping.
Everywhere and always the job description of members of the pollical class requires habitual deception. Sri Lanka is no exception; so, it’s ludicrous to fault the country’s politicians for purveying their well-known stock in trade: “credibility gap”. The Sinhalese intelligentsia is responsible for actively narrowing the “gap”; but they either uncritically echoed and amplified it or acquiesced by their silence and thereby helped to spread the “culture of deceit” across society.
A culture of deceit
The long civil war of course is not the sole cause of the culture of deceit; rather, the major contributors arguably are the nationalist Sinhalese historians. Following their mentor-historians’ lead in northern India, Sinhalese counterparts invented an ancient history for the 1833 political formation named Ceylon by chronologically aligning fragments drawn from histories of historical nations; what’s worse, more often than not they presented myths as truths. The inventions sailed through pushed along by tailwinds of State power.
The Tamil intelligentsia confronted the nationalist historiography without the benefit of State patronage. While some historians succumbed to flights of fancy, the majority compensated for the lack of official backing by increasing the accuracy and ensuring veracity of their writings.
The nationalist Sinhalese historians are of course entitled to construct history from their perspective. By the same token, they ought to take responsibility for the outcome: imbibing myth as truth blunted the cognitive capacity to distinguish between fiction and fact – a cognition deficit – among a majority of Sinhalese people; for instance, the Ayurvedic Department reportedly registered Dhammika Bandara’s Kali Peniya (Syrup) to treat Covid-19; close behind the Peniya was King Ravana’s mythical concoction. A further instance of the cognition deficit at the level of national policy is the order to farmers to shift literally overnight to organic farming.
The miseducation of history did not spare successive generations of Sinhalese intelligentsia either. Most of them internalised the misconceptions; so, they become apoplectic at the barest mention of Tamil Buddhism. They invariably look the other way when one brings up the subject of the Tamil caste of Tank Builders (Kulangkatti), who constructed and maintained the ancient irrigation works; once, a Sinhalese “intellectual” tangentially asserted (to us) that they have become a Sinhalese caste.
The cognition deficit has made the Sinhalese in general and their intelligentsia vulnerable to manipulation by the political class.
We recollect an instance of manipulation in the early 1990s. When President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s commander Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa was “mopping up” (a caring imagery, that) in the east and readying to sally up north, we ran into a Norway-returned Sinhalese peacenik who busily promoted Co-Existence between ethnics in Sri Lanka. We suggested the civil war is reducing his hopes to hardly more than a mirage. The co-existencer disagreed; and he parroted the political class’ insinuation, that the President needs a military victory over the LTTE in order to strengthen his sword arm, reinforce his pro-peace credentials and beat back opposition from the nationalist Sinhalese (they seemingly made his nose twitch) who opposed peace overtures.
In other words, Premadasa had to first spill copious Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim (Home Guard) blood, generate innumerable widows and orphans and cause widespread destruction of property in order to boost his political standing and then, and only then, he may be able to sue for peace.
Of course, the dystopian twist seemed entirely beyond the ken of the co-existencer; and his cognition deficit limited his grasp of elementary realpolitik, that the nationalist Sinhalese forces, emboldened by a military victory, will fight tooth and nail against any move to concede to Tamils at the negotiating table what was won on the battlefield.
After then President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s army rolled into the Jaffna peninsula in 1995, the peace council’s Sinhalese peace monger enthusiastically explained: “many prominent members of the local human rights and intellectual community have been given official positions within the PA governmental system. Therefore, ironical though it does sound, the human rights NGOs have to be given their share of ‘credit’ for the governmental victory in Jaffna.” 
His cognition deficit and that of assorted peace mongers who zealously shared in the “victory” then and later in 2009 made them – peace, conflict resolution and policy alternative “specialists” – anticipate the government’s invitation to craft a political settlement. Needless to add, they seemed to not grasp the psychology impelling a Victor’s Justice; the invitation predictably never came.
Another case (there are many) of a cognition deficit is the strident critique by a self-proclaimed political “realist” in the first flush of triumph in May, 2009. In the following month, he accused “collaborators, the appeasers and the fence-sitters” for not rising to support the ostensibly anti-LTTE military campaign when the country faced allegedly an “existential threat”; and he declared, they “all forfeit the chance to place their values, ideas and programs as the leading ones of the social order that follows the great test.”
The people have experienced at first-hand the “values, ideas and programs” that the Victors, who he and his ilk resolutely backed, imposed during the past 14 years. The people now also know where the “existential threat” is actually coming from and, to put it mildly, they are no longer impressed by the “great test”.
The country is trapped in the tunnel of May 2009 “victory” with no light at the end. No purpose is served by inventing scape-goats, whether it’s President Ranil Wickremasinghe or the famous 225, for the parlous state of the economy or the festering national conflict. They are largely prisoners of institutions, laws and practices that the nationalist Sinhalese intelligentsia actively helped to build or passively brought about to the detriment of the country.
The fumbling political “realist” is hardly different from an acolyte of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The latter confidently made the ahistorical assertion that Rajapaksa’s 2019 election victory is “the reaction of a down trodden, persecuted, humiliated majority community…used as a doormat by the minority communities”. This perspective has been a justification for the systematic marginalisation of sections of the population that dislocated the economy and society over the past more than seven decades.
Those who misconstrue the past cannot construe a sound future.
 Perera, Jehan, ‘Why the PA succeeded where the UNP failed’, The Island, Colombo, 10/Dec/95.
*Dr Sachithanandam Sathananthan is an independent scholar who read Political Economy for the Ph.D. degree at the University of Cambridge. He was Assistant Director, International Studies at the Marga Institute, Visiting Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University School of International Studies and has taught World History at Karachi University’s Institute of Business Administration. He is an award-winning filmmaker and may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org