Colombo Telegraph

Detour Made At Nugegoda: A Mongrel Nationalism

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

A terminal response

As long as I breathe I hope. As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness.” – Leon Trotsky

‘Inaccuracy and irrelevance’ should not be dismissed as minor irritants in any public discussion. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka couples this erudite disdain to an assertion that my rejoinder to his redefinition of national identity was a ‘misplaced personalized critique.’ Dr. Jayatilleka is a politician and a political scientist. His indignation at my labeling him as ‘Mark Antony of Nugegoda’ is understandable. It was a grievous error on my part. Mark Antony eulogized the Conqueror of Gaul and dictator of Rome. He declared that he had come to bury him and not to praise him.

At Nugegoda Dr. Jayatilleka exhumed the fallen dictator, breathed life in to him, praised him and then urged that he be restored to the Senate. A reasonably impressive coalition of patricians and plebeians cheered and urged him on. It was in fact a great turning point. His rebuttal and explanation is explicit. The Nationalist Turn: A necessary detour? (Colombo Telegraph 9th March)

Necessary for whom?

Dr.DJ contends that in this case ‘the larger matter is the political dynamics of this island’.

How do we explain the political dynamics of this island? In order to avoid adversarial positioning on this complex and delicate subject it is best that we rely on Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka the political scientist and diplomat. “It is usually the case that the period after a war is one of profound ferment and productivity in the intellectual, artistic and policy realms. From WWII Europe to post Vietnam America, this has been so. Sri Lanka seems a sad exception. We have almost ceased to analyse and think. [Preface -Long War, Cold Peace 2013]

The nation has awoken at Nugegoda. It has begun to think! It has discovered new analytical skills! Dr. DJ himself has summoned his extraordinary powers of recall. He has discovered the expansionist Tamil aspirations of Tamilakam, the Tamil Land expressed by Ponnambalam Arunachalam in 1922 – the year that the League of Nations granted Britain the Palestine mandate.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka learnt of the brutal murder of Neelan Thiruchelvam while in a three wheeler heading towards the ICES for a weekly meeting with him to discuss the production of a multi volume collection of writings by his father.

Dr. Dayan J has regularly and repeatedly voiced his firm conviction that Lakshman Kadirgamar epitomized the true Tamil patriot.

Post Nugegoda he has shelved Neelan and Lakshman and brought out the bust of Ponnabalam Arunachalam from the Sinhala attic of antiquity. As Einstein suggests why bother to remember facts available in a directory. I shall therefore cite Kalana Senaratne from his review of Long War, Cold Piece. Jayatilleka correctly acknowledges that Sri Lanka “is the only homeland that the Sinhalese as a collective, have” (p. 365). But he also points out: “What we must prevent is the breakup of the country based on monopolistic ethnic ownership of the North-east… we cannot deny the Tamils right to co-ownership, and such recognition is the only means to prevent separate ownership” (p. 263). It is necessary to have a Sri Lanka “which remains unitary but contains an irreducible autonomous political space for the Tamil people of the North and East” (p. 265).

“While we belong to our particular ethno-national ones” (p. 23). The inability to build a truly Sri Lankan identity, Jayatilleka believes, is “the key, the most crucial problem” confronting Sri Lanka today (p. 429); with the “only pathway to build a successful Sri Lankan identity” being “equality of citizenship” – “the idea that Sri Lanka belongs equally to all of its citizens” (p. 432).

Now we come to the ‘Socratic-Hegelian’ dialectics of a thesis, an antithesis that could yield a synthesis. What is the thesis, the pre-existing starting point? It is the failure of Ivor Jennings who dismissed the Indian constitution as a document drafted by lawyers for lawyers.

Asanga Welikala in his “The Failure of Jennings’ Constitutional Experiment in Ceylon: How ‘Procedural Entrenchment’ led to Constitutional Revolution” describes the ‘Thesis – the starting point’ with a brilliance yet unmatched in contemporary constitutional discourse. He describes the now forgotten ‘Ministers draft constitution’ submitted to the British government before the arrival of the Soulbury committee.

“The Ministers’ Draft Constitution prepared on the basis of these principles was submitted to the British government in February 1944. It was in form an essentially Westminster-type scheme, but with certain limitations on legislative power. In respect of the minorities, the Ministers’ Draft envisaged two major devices. The first was a scheme of weighted representation for Tamil majority areas whereby in addition to the allocation of parliamentary seats on the basis of population, the Northern and Eastern Provinces would be allocated an additional number of seats in appreciation of their required representation and taking into account that the two provinces were sparsely populated. Secondly, the Ministers’ Draft envisaged a general limitation on the legislative power of the future Parliament whereby a constitutional prohibition against discriminatory legislation (by ordinary legislative procedure) would be emplaced against any attempted majoritarian excess.”

What was the Anti-thesis? Asanga Welikala again comes to my rescue.

“With the prospect of some form of more or less independent status under a democratic constitutional scheme modelled on Westminster rapidly becoming a possibility, Mr Ponnambalam was forceful in the articulation of the fears of the minorities that they would soon become swamped under a permanent domination of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. His main constitutional proposal, known as the ‘fifty-fifty’ scheme, providing for ‘balanced representation,’ was based on an analytical understanding of the socio-political structure of the country that was fundamentally different from the ‘mononational’ or ‘Ceylonese’ conception of national identity underpinning both the Ministers’ Draft as well as the Soulbury Commission’s recommendations. It was argued that political representation should be based on the communal heterogeneity of Ceylon’s society, and the notion that the people of Ceylon were a single entity was firmly resisted. In substance, Ponnambalam’s protoconsociational scheme would ensure one half of legislative membership for the minorities (and commensurate representation in the political executive), thereby preventing an in-built institutional majority for the Sinhalese community”.

The Soulbury Commission summed up the thesis and the anti-thesis. “…the relations of the minorities – the Ceylon Tamils, the Indian Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Europeans – with the Sinhalese majority present the most difficult of the many problems involved in the reform of the Constitution of Ceylon.”

What is the synthesis? My revered editor and Dayan’s father defined this synthesis in 1981 two years before the July Holocaust.

“Perhaps in the absence of a truly national and unifying pre-independence movement, Ceylonese nationalism, denied a natural birth, acquired mongrel features with the departure of the foreign ruler.

Inasmuch as it was against foreign domination and foreign symbols, this nationalism historically speaking, was normal. But when it focused on the Tamil minority, a community identified as the favoured child of colonial policies, it was racist.”

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