13 June, 2024


Ethnic Conflict: The Problem Is The People

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Today’s column is of an academic nature, where names are used it is for illustration, not to bestow praise or blame on an individual. If a reader thinks a name inappropriate, substitute another and read on. Though most examples are Sri Lankan the argument is general; it is true mutatis mutandis all over the world. The dynamic may be race, religion, language, caste, colour or tribe or any such separator of a society into identity groups. The key word is identity, charged by history and circumstance.

The view that I am rejecting is the “Good People Bad Politician” (GPBP) thesis. My argument pertains to democratic societies where governments are chosen by popular mandate. It cannot be extended to occupied territories and dictatorships where people are not the agent choosing governments. The thesis is summarised in an email I received recently from an old friend.

I quote: “My firm view is that all ethnic strife is created by politicians and not by the people – people are mere pawns in the game of power politics. In Lanka and India people of different communities and religions lived in harmony until politicians intervened to become ‘Champions’ and agitated communal tensions. In India Jinnah was responsible for the division of the country after Hindus and Muslims joined hands for independence – he even rejected Gandhi’s offer to head the Govt. of a unified India and select his own cabinet. Just see the end result! Can the problems between Indian and Pakistan and the Kashmir issue ever be solved? In Lanka SWRD called for ‘Sinhala Only’, the LTTE for ‘Eelam’ and politicians of both sides kept blowing flames of ethnic hatred”. End quote.

My reply contains the gist of my rejection. Quote: “I disagree with your thesis that the people are good on ethnic or communal issues and corrupted or misled by bad politicians. As a rule it is the opposite. Examples –

1, If in 1956 NM had said “Sinhala Only” and SWRD stood for the other viewpoint, NM would have been PM and SWRD a voice in the wilderness. People chose him who voiced what they wanted and rejected the other. Not the other way round.

2. The B-C Pact and the Dudley-Chelva Agreement were shelved because people did not want to give the said concession. If any leaders refused to oppose the pacts, somebody else would have, and there would have been a landslide to that side. SWRD capitulated to public demands; not the other way round.

3. After the 1983 riots there was a surge of Tamil youth to the Eelam concept; good or bad is beside the point. If Prabaharan did not take it up, Qbakaran or Rbakaran or some other guy would have voiced it. VP would have been side-lined and that guy become mass leader.

4. The Trump Base is not an ideology created by a person called Donald Trump. Certain strong feelings exist in sections of the US population. Whoever gives voice to it gets a mass following. The same goes for white supremacy, global radical-Islam and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.

There are deep prejudices among humans on race, religion and culture. Humans are inherently identity driven – except Marxists and truly religious ones. These feelings may have historical-moral justification or may not, but the “communal issue” is not simply a creation of some bad politician; that’s gross oversimplification. The role of the individual in history is limited; they fit into slots created by historical opportunities and social events”. End quote.

I may have, for argument’s sake, overstated my case and ignored the back and forth dialectic of interaction between masses and leders; but I think readers will get my point.

Gota may not be a racist – I don’t know him and his stance in a recent newspaper interview was refreshing. But unless he took the natural-security state line, pandered to the BBS and went along with the highly charged emotions of the Sinhala Buddhist 72%, he could not have won. More seriously he cannot retain the presidency except by playing that tune. This is a moral conundrum and a grave hazard. He is not a Lincoln, Gandhi or Rabin strong enough to defy history; and anyway see what happened to the three of them! Their fate proves my point.

Admittedly today’s column advances a pessimistic thesis. Its purpose is to prepare for a battle that must be fought on the territory of people’s consciousness; do not concede an inch to false culture, racist policies or reactionary ideology. The battle has to be joined with remorseless determination in books and media, schools and colleges, temples and mosques and in every conversation. It is a battle humanity cannot afford to lose.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    The main reason for seeking EP position was to nullify the crimes. These are on two dimensions; America initiated UNHRC resolution and local cases. In both dimension Ranil had played extensive cover up. In 2018, Old King and New King staged coup mainly to invalidate the local cases of Royal family. But the King had beyond local situations, international and specifically in America, too. So he took the risk and went on this, even opposing the other members of the Royal family. Ranil didn’t lose the election, but willingly handed over the parliament as he has no hope of pushing the sagging economy or he continue to dragging the UNHRC resolution.
    Ranil negotiated from Sampanthar the Secret Solution in lieu of International investigation. But, at some point, Tamils lost the faith on that deal. Further, the Diaspora community believes any useful outcome to come in only if International community enforces an investigation, which will open a path to IC to insist for a solution to Tamils. Until that Lankawe will standoff on its sovereignty and will not allow anybody to interfere. So the investigation has to precede anything else to anything to happen in Lankawe.
    Now the World famous war criminal, whom was called as Hitler by his friendly Ayatollahs is pretending like the most pious fellow, and even a higher soul than Buddha or Gandhi or Lincoln. Yesterday five Tamil boys were temporarily staying in Wattle was arrested saying planning to kill King and on the money to fly to a foreign country. What a sophisticated, well decorated LTTE revival story! Now they are not ready to let the embassy woman to go out of country, and at the end, they will arrest and make her to tell that it was the Swiss embassy who kidnapped and forced her to tell a fake story like that. Old King ran out of office in 4 years; I think is they keep doing like this, this guy will run away in two Years to China.

    • 2

      Prof. Kumar David,

      Re: Ethnic Conflict: The Main Reason IsThe People.

      Some clarification:

      The main reason is the People who are imbeciles and nuts.

  • 2

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  • 10

    It all starts with our politicians, who use nationalism and religion, to set the majority against all others, to suit their agenda, get the votes, and show who they will support if they win. Unfortunately, these devious tactics only hinder the progress in the country, does not unite it, and leaves behind disgruntled voters, who look only for someone who will treat all the same. They also want to live in safety and security. Something the present regime has failed to do last time. Opening the offices of Buddhist extremists sends the minority the wrong signal.
    We can have no hope they will change their ways.

  • 8

    Prez Gota is a Master Planner, what we see as ripple effect today will soon transform into tidal waves, already today one terrorist from East planning to harm the Prez is in the CID/Police net….Gota’s “mission impossible”, which will be much more thrilling than that of Tom Cruise’s will unfold soon…see you at MC & Savoy Cinemas

    • 8


      Re the alleged plot to harm the President, Don’t be in a hurry. There were 5 who were arrested somewhere close to the Airport – 4 Tamils and a Muslim from the East who, apparently could not answer the questions asked in Sinhala . The Tamils were released and the Muslim remanded.

      Seems like a convenient Distraction in the wake of the Swiss Embassy drama.

  • 6

    Exactly ! And the other side of it is , ” Good politicians are not coming from
    bad people.” No argument about it . People choose leaders that suit them so
    the future is quite predictable . north and East and then the South and their
    voices . And as for your take on Gandhi and Jinnah , we have to dig a little
    deeper to see a bigger picture ! We need to remember that there was no India
    before 1492 , it was anything but India .It was Hindustan for Persians and
    also the Abysenia at the time , now is Ethiopia and an Israel is now sitting
    that was not there before 1948 ! Disappearances and creations continue
    to date . Where’s Yugoslavia ? The story of East Timor ? South Sudan ? More
    countries are carved out of existing ones ! And what about Jinnah losing
    part of Pakistan , Bangladesh freeing from Pakistan just in 25 years of its
    independence ?

  • 0

    This so called Ethnic problem is very political. What people asking is better life for them,their families and children. So bust the politicians and treat the People.
    India also has to say yes to the 13th amendment. Because Western desire to dismantle India, to exploit India are not neglected. They know Tamilnadu is the Central point for that. TNA is also working to the west and to their agents. LTTE rump writing here may be getting funds from the west.

  • 2

    Sunil, with all due respect, the reason I say that “Sorry Lankans voted to screw the minority” is, in my opinion it is obvious , from the result margins, and heavy voting, even without Easter Carnage , GR would have got enough to cross the line.All the anti minority tactics were already in play and Ganasara would have been anyway released. The same results would have been achieved by different means , escalating the racial hatred and violence which is our usual ” Modus Operandi”. So Easter played a role but, was not the deciding factor. If true, the next question in my mind is , was it necessary at all???????

    • 1

      Hello chiv,
      Thank you for taking the trouble to respond.
      It is not easy to determine the drivers.
      I hold the view that it is the gross mismanagement by the UNP government that led previous UNP supporters to switch sides.
      Voting in the North and East is indicative of the overwhelming response to the calls made by the leaders of minorities.
      All we can do is to wait and see how Gota would run the country.
      Thanks again.

  • 1

    Blame goes to the way DEMOCRACY is practiced in various countries in the world
    In order to get elected the politicians bring in religious & racial differences to get elected
    The correct word for the Democracy in most countries is ‘Majocracy’

  • 1

    Prof. Kumar David,

    A wonderful article. I spent an hour writing out a response in terms of a trichotomy of people in Sri Lanka.
    1. Those who are politically conscious, and are very responsible in what they do. Some are in full-time politics, others active at times when they see a possibility of contributing.
    2. Highly intelligent politicians, who play politics, and bring ruin on us all.
    3. What you call “the people”. They only think that they know and do things. They included all those Alternative Candidates, who just didn’t realise the harm that they were doing. Also, those whose political actions (mainly voting) are driven by irrational considerations. Lastly those wh just don’t care. This third category is obviously the largest.
    For each category, I had added names, many of which would obviously be disputed. I’ll try to return to this later in the day.

    • 1

      Oh, and having written it all, I somehow lost it all.
      Chance, not malignant Fate or benevolent Deities have much to do with what happens, I guess.

  • 2

    LKY provided the answer. When 75 % Chinese wanted Chinese to be official language , the intelligent LKY made, Chinese, Malay , Tamil n English to be official languages n moron SWRD succumbs to again 75 % Buddhist n made Sinhalese as official language.
    Singapore moved from third world to first world.
    Sri Lanka moved from third world to pariah state.

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