“And you can’t get tough with them either, since you still need them; because however strong your armies, you’ll always need local support to occupy a new territory” – The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli
Understandably, the establishment of the Northern Provincial Council would end neither the ethnic polarization nor the political tussle of power-sharing between the South and the North in Sri Lanka. Perhaps, it could provide a fresh start for these issues. Democratic mechanism ensures the elite in the Northern region the political authority back in their hands; and to the Southern government, it is a great relief to have some men whose manners are known to it and who would say ‘no’ to arms. The context has now led the nationalist politicians of the two regions to develop a synergistic relationship between them, proving a major reality of the centralised unitary governance, with nominal power sharing under the 13th Amendment. And such relationship could be defined in terms of political coexistence or whatever, but it is a structural necessity of the function of political power in the two regions. More or less, this likely political synergy between the two sides is also expected by India which is responsible for the existing mechanism of power-sharing and its full implementation.
Moreover, the comprehensive electoral victory of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over the ruling UPFA and other political parties of Sinhalese in the North is proof for the strength of the Tamil ethno-nationalist politics, and its strategy of countering the Southern counterpart, Sinhalese ethno-religious and nationalist politics. For the Southern government, the lesson in the post-war elections in the North was a big one. It reminds us something that the father of modern Political Philosophy, Niccolò Machiavelli told in The Prince – to keep the occupied territories the ruler ‘always needs local support’. ‘However strong the armies’ they would not guarantee territorial occupation unless the people in the region are won by him.
The failure of one dimensional economic approach of the government to redress the ethnic animosity caused for massive loss of public support in the North. Also the community with memories of three decades long war atrocities used the elections to voice their grievances and express lack of faith in a majority’s state. Now the government has left with the option of using the constitutional provision of having the office of Governor appointed by the President to create a political balance. Whether the government would adamantly use that option or not will showcase how sensitive it is towards the ethnic issue, rather than political power.
The TNA, if it realistically and pragmatically finds synergy with the government, would demand for a Governor who understands the language and the culture of Tamil, and is also aware of civilian administration system. Second, the TNA would want the government to demilitarize the North. All these are much concerned issues which have brought international pressure on the government. In the long run, the full implementation of the 13th Amendment will take the centre stage of the political bargaining and perhaps they would discuss ways of increasing the regional autonomy in the North. These aims of the TNA seem quite realistic since they have won an absolute majority and the international context also favours them. And the Government is also in no position to reject such claims as it has got to work together with the TNA in order to lessen the possible threats of international interventions in future over the issues of alleged war crimes and human rights violations. So, political synergy between the two sides is imminent and much sought after by both of them.
It is clear that the ruling elites in the South and the North require each other’s assistance in guaranteeing themselves an uninterrupted hegemony – continuity of class, caste and religious interest in their own territories. The ultra nationalist forces in the Southern constituency could be the only obstacle on their way. Somehow, the interaction between the threats of external intervention and the audacity of ultra nationalists will further decide on the intensity on political synergy between the government and the TNA. If the traditional or moderate SLFP forces who would like to have some compromise fail to win over the ultra nationalists in the government it will deepen the political crisis within the UPFA as well. In all realistic calculations of power, at this moment, a pause to ideological nationalist propaganda in the South and readiness to work with the North only can perpetuate the regime’s survival and save it from international dangers mostly.
Conversely, the failure of the left politics in both the South and the North would see that the nationalist interests prevail oppressively over the lower class resistances, establishing more comprehensive neo-liberal bourgeoisie interests in the entire island. Politics in its crudest version as a struggle for power to further egoistic interests trampling the interests of the oppressed has gained a new leap forward in the South as the left has been swept out electorally; and in the North, the common people whose blood and sweat was enormously shed for a separate state are witnessing a struggle of high caste elites to defend their sway over Tamil nationalism and political power. In this scenario, it is likely that the class and hegemonic interests of the South and the North will be on par with each other, while average men and women are left in lurch.
First, the death of Prabhakaran who provided leadership for the subalterns in the North gave ample space for the conventional patriarchs in the North to revive the oppressive caste order and traditional social and political hierarchy in the North. Similarly, the war victory provided necessary ammunition for the ethno-religious nationalist in South to annihilate the democratic public sphere and the liberal and left space for politics in the South and then establish an undaunted hegemony of neo-monarchical rule. In a way the South and the North, in the absence of direct violence of the LTTE and the decline of the leftism and liberalism now have created a vacuum for politics of resistance, subaltern class interests and liberal political freedom.
With the recent electoral debacle, the UNP has once again found its house in disarray as it faces a dilemma of incarnating a more nationalistically oriented leadership by replacing a libertarian bourgeoisie leadership to prevent possible political oblivion. The People’s Liberation Front (JVP) which supported the war with reservations now has realised that its strategy requires a new dose of theoretical reading of Marxism sans nationalism to survive a populist neo-monarchical regime and its political cunning and deceit to seduce so-called people, the oppressed masses, who ultimately refused to elect them into power. The JVP’s sole agenda of welfare politics, without much recourse to nationalism, as a strategy in particular and leftist slogans in general have not been much heard by the people who are more nationalist than the JVP. At some instances sections of ordinary people have braved the bullets of the government military in demanding clean water, higher salaries etc. Nevertheless, at elections the same people of the South have approved what the regime is doing since it brought peace, meaning ‘the absence of the LTTE’s violence’ for them.
The major problem, at least theoretically, that emanates from the new developments of hegemonic peace and neo-liberal practices of exploitation is the survival of the Republic called Sri Lanka as the social and political space of the ordinary men and women. Some foreign observers and academics have seen premonition that the new developments would end the life of the democratic republic and bring another oppressive form of rule dominated by neo-monarchical interests of a few people. However, the regime has also pre-emptively attacked such claims through sporadic Provincial Council elections throughout the country and many other elections on time or much ahead of the schedule at times.
However much the democratic character of those elections has been questioned at various corners, they are the only signs of a functional democracy in the country causing much damaged to the opposition on the other hand. The victory of the TNA in the North has not in any way surprised the regime or proved as a balancer against its survival since a synergistic model with overlapping class and power interests for domination of the oppressed in the two regions would inevitably be worked out by them. It is therefore now useful to voice for the class interests of the oppressed and subaltern communities rather than harping the tunes of ethnic reconciliation under nationalist regimes in both the South and the North.
In the post-war period, the government in the South has been externally much pressurised by the regional hegemony of India, the West’s major powers and the world trade and political organizations. These powers want the government to create necessary conditions for domestic peace contingent for the function of market economy and its latest anti-people reforms. The average masses that keep enjoying peace even in hunger have been made antagonised against each other’s culture by the nationalist ideologues. These ordinary people led by ultra nationalist forces still may use violence and perpetuate vengeance against their brethren while the upper layers of class society have increasingly found common grounds like elite political power, market interests and investments, and comforts in consumerist culture. The identity politics of this island, with its most atrocious manifestation of ethnic violence have always been exploited by the ruling elites of the two communities.
In a way, the major implication of emerging political synergy in the North and the South is for the left organizations of the country, the revival of their strategies. In an era of fast growing privatization, attack on welfare, endless environmental destruction, plunder of natural resources, corruption, nepotism, violence on women and strengthening of caste and patriarchal values, the left has enough issues to tackle today. Unfortunately, if the so-called left thinks that still there is some space for nationalist sentiments for them to exploit – using anti Indian slogans, or demanding the abolishment of the 13th Amendment etc. – in their agendas that will be the end for their political survival, a process already in place and has to be stopped with corrective measures and application of correct theories. On the other hand, the creation of ethnic harmony and national reconciliation is still the onus of ordinary people whose voice is relentlessly and blatantly silenced by bogey of nationalist jingoism.
The electoral victory of the TNA in the North has surfaced new political possibilities in the war-torn country with a majoritarian government. The dominance of nationalist political power in the South has quite been shaken by this victory. However, the possibilities such that the within the existing framework of power sharing the Provincial Council has to work closely with a government which in turn has required its assistance to counter possible external interventions in the aftermath of the war and its tragedies which are still unaccountable by the parties to the war. The likely synergy between the two governments of the North and the South has much implication for the fate of the Tamil national claims for autonomy and other constitutional powers. As both the left politics and liberal space in the South have also deteriorated alarmingly, the average public requires newer interventions of rather ‘enlightened liberal-left force’ which can ideologically counter the nationalist in both the South and the North, and which could create resistance against the neo-liberal exploitative practices in the state. In this scenario, both the JVP and the UNP have got to rework on their old strategies and find avenues to attract the public and take them for the struggle of anti-democratic practices engulfing every aspect of the political and social fabric of the country.