By Lankamithra –
“Political dictatorship and social hopelessness create the desperation that fuels religious extremism” ~ Benazir Bhutto
Is Sri Lanka ready to elect a Tamil or a Muslim as President? If qualified, they should not hesitate
London is now home to more than 8.6 million people, the highest the city’s population has been since 1939. What’s more, 44% of London now consists of black and ethnic minorities, compared to only 28.9% in 2001. That’s according to the Greater London Authority, which serves the London mayor’s office. Islam is London’s second largest religion. 38% of England’s Muslims live in London, where they represent 12.4% of the population (Source: Wikipedia). Yet London elected Sadiq Khan, a Muslim as its Mayor. In voting registers, London has an overwhelming majority of Anglo Saxon whites. England customarily is, when it was a dominant colonial power, considered in the 19th and 20th centuries as a predominant member of the ‘whites only’ club in the international sphere. Britain’s cruel and merciless treatment of her subject people, especially in India, has been chronicled for future generations to read and judge. Great Britain may have secured somewhat an enviable station in the journey of man since his departure from the ancient caves into civilization. Yet that same history, I hope, would not hesitate to pen the appalling atrocities the British Raj committed on the innocent Indian civilians on numerous occasions. As far back as 1930, Winston Churchill hit headlines when he said about a famous Indian, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: “It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor“. That nation, whose one-time leader was Churchill himself, has come a long way from that snobbish, patronizing and condescending conduct and embraced a more humble, egalitarian and realistic attitude towards its own minorities.
Let us look at the demographics in the United States of America (USA):
A country whose voting population was 74% White, voted an African-American (Black) from a community that consists of mere 13% as President. These two examples, USA and London are two extreme cases where a minority leader has been elected to the highest office by voting populations which are overwhelmingly white.
Now compare the demographics in London and the USA to those of Sri Lanka, and specifically in the context of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population: Sinhalese 74.9%, Sri Lankan Tamil 11.2%, Sri Lankan Moors 9.2%, Indian Tamil 4.2%, others 0.5%. Total Tamil population is 11.2+4.2=15.4%. Is Sri Lanka ready to elect a Tamil as President?
I doubt it.
However, in this analysis, one must bear in mind that comparison is between Sri Lanka that got universal suffrage in 1931 while both USA and London in particular and England in general, have been enjoying universal suffrage for more than one and half centuries, from the early parts of the 19th century. Sinhalese Buddhists dominate the demographics in Sri Lanka. Nearly 70% of its population is made up of them. Their mindset has been conditioned by the stories of the Mahawamsa and its sequels. Reverend Mahanama Thero who is considered to be the original chronicler of the Mahawamsa dovetailed its divergent events and produced a product that was exceedingly palatable to the King of the time did not show much economy for the grandiose achievements of the Sinhalese race. This quality of all historians is not limited to one race. As is repeatedly told, history belongs to the victor, not the vanquished. That mindset has prevented a majority of Sinhalese Buddhists from accommodation of minorities as co-equals in society. However much the fundamental principles of Buddhism enunciate equality as a noble and necessary principle for the very survival of humanity, parochial demands on egotistical and self-enriching goals have surpassed all such nobility and ethnic accommodation. As is seen worldwide, ethnic cleansing and genocide have been put into practice as a necessary condition of statecraft. Some African countries, Cambodia in the 1970s, Stalin in the early part of the 20th century and Bosnian War in the latter part of the last century all stand witness to mindless devastation of human values and principles of Buddhism, the sacred teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha.
On the other hand, apart from an attitudinal adjustment that is essential for becoming a reality, Sri Lanka’s political structures are not equipped with the necessary wherewithal for emergence of a Tamil or a Muslim as a single leader in the land. If one remembers the numerous outrages shown by the Balakaayas and Senaas and ensuing destruction to civilian property and life of Tamils and Muslims in the last few years, one really needs not go all the way back to 1958, 1977 and 1983 riots bordering on pogrom-style executions, to believe that such a dream of a Tamil or a Muslim becoming the political Head in Sri Lanka is an impossibility.
It is indeed an indictment on the warped mindset of the majority Sinhalese. Lack of accommodation on the part of the Sinhalese, both leadership and the ordinary folks, is a serious setback for the continuing story of Lankans. A mindset set in a hazy historical background which consists of unfounded arguments about ‘Aryan’ heritage though most of the current Sinhalese population seems to have originated from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and other ‘southern’ Indian States, failing to produce any archeological evidence of having migrated from ‘Bangalidesa’, modern Orissa State, is bogged down in archaic stories of glory and glamor. Whilst not trying belittling the great architectural and irrigation wonders such as Samadhi Budu Pilimaya, Aukana Buddha statue, Resvehera, Sigiriya and giant man-made tanks like Kala Wewa, Parakrama Samudra and Minneriya Wewa, it is indeed shameful that the mind that created such historical edifices has also indulged in gross violation of human rights of its Northern and Eastern counterparts.
The Sinhalese Buddhist farmer wakes up with the morning dawn and break of the first rays of the sun, the grass under his feet still damp with the virgin dew, treks the gravel- covered grassland that leads from his home towards the bus stand located almost one kilometer away. His day is not promising. He has to travel some kilometers by bus to reach his prospective benefactor, the money lender of the village, a Mudalali of Tamil origin. That Tamil Mudalali has no care or regard for his ancestors, Ponnambalam Ramanathan or Arunachalam or for that matter, Amirthalingam or even Prabhakaran; his day’s goal is to meet the day’s lending target. The farmer’s target is to borrow some money for his fertilizer and seed paddy. Material needs are a greater equalizer in the arena of human relationships. The money that the farmer borrows and the Mudalali lends has no creed, caste or faith. It has only exchangeable value.
In such an unkind real world, a majority of Sri Lankan voters and some select sets of chauvinistic leaders on all sides, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim, are engaged in a dangerous and wicked game. This sinful adventure which is mistakenly called patriotism is taking us nowhere. It is intrinsically sinful and profoundly ominous. The so-called national heroes have spoilt and desecrated the collective Sinhalese Buddhist mindset and exploited an uneducated and uninformed populace. On the same vein, ruthless and murderous terrorists such as Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman have taken the other segment of our population for a gigantic ride and left a legacy of murder, treachery and social barrenness.
It is seemingly impossible to reconcile these three segments of our people. Although Muslims living among the Sinhalese are much more amenable to mix with the majority, historically, other than those who live in Colombo and other urban centers, Tamils have shown a gloomy hesitancy to do so. One cannot help but empathize with both fringes, for they seem to be more misled by their own inglorious past than harboring anger and mutual vengeance.
When Kadiresan finds himself affronted by a Sinhalese army officer in his own neighborhood in Point Pedro, he wonders whether it is worth living subjugated to the whims and fancies of a soldier of the Sinhalese army. The security forces are so much polarized today it is almost impossible to find a Tamil officer above the rank of Major. Militarily the war has been won and the guns have fallen silent. But embers of hatred seem to be burning in both hearths. In such a socio- political backdrop, it would be futile even to attempt to imagine a Sri Lanka led by a Tamil or a Muslim political leader. Yet it must be stated without any ambiguity that, if a candidate with the right education qualification is found, Sri Lanka as a nation should not hesitate to elect him or her as our President. Not to do so would be cardinal sin.
The writer is available at firstname.lastname@example.org