By S. Sivathasan –
Engaging his incisive powers of intellect with deadly effect, Jayaweera has brought forth a work to make a lasting impression on readers. The clarity with which his discernments are crafted, the passion with which his convictions are canvassed and the limpid style in which they are presented are strikingly remarkable. In ethnic relations, reaching back to millennia past and telescoping his mind to ages hence, the real as he sees it is painted with rare honesty. In not compromising with truth little quarter is shown to ruffling feathers, be it personalities or be it groups. In this overarching frame his book ‘Jaffna Exorcising The Past And Holding The Vision’ is set. In the months to follow when responses flood in, Jayaweera like Nehru will share the latter’s thought “Out of place everywhere at home nowhere”. While knowing it full well, he has not recoiled at writing the plain truth the explicit way.
It was to Jaffna that three of us, CAS recruits were sent for our cadetship in August 1965. It was our privilege to have had Mr. Jayaweera as our Mentor. The first encounter of 60 minutes with the GA was memorable. He took up 50 minutes for a lecture on ‘Values’. It was an article of faith with him even then. He wanted us to have it as a sheet anchor in our career. It is vividly seen that this principle permeates his work like a honeycomb. It appears that a benevolent destiny had brought him to Jaffna and the latter continues to hold him in her benign clasp. If the author’s thoughts on Jaffna are acted upon, her people can have a vision of hope.
Six Powerful Motors
The author saw six powerful motors as having driven the ethnic conflict. Primary among them was “the intransigence of the Sinhala leadership, its lack of a vision and its inability to make the compromises required for achieving an integrated Sri Lankan nation”. The country being unalterably multi ethnic and multi religious, it was incumbent on the part of the majority to integrate Sri Lanka’s diversity into an organic unity it is asserted. A frank avowal, which can please neither the Sinhala leadership nor the multitude.
The author makes an even more powerful statement. “What exalts any majority community, and endows it with a true greatness and moral authority, is its willingness to accord to all those other communities who lack the advantage of numbers, a status and a dignity equal to its own”. He proceeds to emphasise further “unless and until Sri Lanka can produce leaders who can realise that truth, and are willing to act on it, it will continue to be mired in conflict”. It appears that the country is sinking further into the mire. It is yet speculated when the bedrock will be reached to commence upward movement.
Rubbing in the above truths may be grating to the majority community. Tamils too are told a truth the plain way. It is highlighted by the author when he says “The second motor was the self- alienation of Tamil parties from the mainstream of national politics”. What was the logical next step? “They (Tamils) painted themselves into a corner and announced to the world that they did not “belong” within the larger Sri Lankan Family”. The steady slide which took irretrievable steps is well described by the author. It is incontestable to him though unpalatable to Tamils. Let nobody think this is tinted observation.
Writing in the same vein I myself have noted that parties apart, Tamils to a man harboured and nourished this infirmity. In an article of Feb 2010, titled ‘Culture of Self Exclusion’ I wrote “To a segment of Tamils in Sri Lanka, alienation from mainstream life has become a habit of thought. …Painting themselves into a corner and then complaining that they are cornered?” Not unfairly Jayaweera passes a harsh stricture on the Tamil leadership. “By vacating the arena of national politics and becoming an introverted ethnic caucus, the Tamil parties ceded the parties of the Sinhala South almost an exclusive claim.” Let us heed the advice of the Sangam poet, “Theethum nantrum pirar thara vaaraa”. “The bad and the good are not of the others’ making”.
As the author perceives the third motor is class stratification which had ossified into a rigid caste system. He faults the upper strata of Tamils for not having been sensitive to gross injustice widely prevalent across 50% of the population or more. Its long life of 1500 years was a further point of condemnation. What was surprising to him was that the upper crust, well endowed and advantageously placed had not been alive to what all that default would bring about. More notably it had not seen the simmer in the cauldron. Hyperbolically put, did not have its ears to the coming eruption or even have an inkling.
How is an author distinguished from the generality? He or she sees what others don’t see. The difference is as between the acute and the obtuse, of delving deep and busying with the surface. History shows that they compose the very avant garde of change and forward movement. The author with his heightened sense of justice plunged into a scholarly examination of the system and presents a fine treatment of the subject. It’s a mine for students. When Sinhala intransigence pollinated Tamil myopia, the virulent product was LTTE which threw up Prabhakaran – (words are mine. Jayaweera is known for refinement). Castigating the myopia of the upper class among Tamils, Jayaweera traces the fuel for ethnic eruption to underclass discontent.
The fourth was the upsurge of the underclass of non-persons, who perhaps were seeking a persona. The author says “the upsurge added a new dimension and character to the ethnic conflict, post-1983. What both sides Sinhala and Tamil needed was a vision and an awareness of the hidden social reality of Jaffna”.
The aforesaid on caste is the briefest on the author’s sojourn. To sensitively appreciate how hard the caste shoe pinches I never wore one. However I have always been soft enough to get a feel of it. I therefore wish to express my reservation by suggesting that no revolt was seen as in France, Russia or China even in microscopic form. Secondly, ethnic suppression submerged the caste undertones of the upsurge and even deflected it. If I never took much interest in an in depth study of caste it was for the reason – no social transformation without exponential economic growth. If Sri Lanka replicates Singapore, the rigours of caste will erode in one century and vanish in the next is my understanding.
The author writes quite rightly that after 1966, the caste issue has ceased to be an important factor. He attributes four factors for erosion of caste. Free education together with caste blind Missionary education; modernising power of the media; process of Sanskritisation ie a way by which people of “low caste” move upward and their social origins are not known. Collective trauma being the other. To these must be added the levelling influence of public transport both bus and train, which blasted through caste. The metamorphosis of land and asset ownership is the most revolutionary visible change in the last three decades. Cash nexus the great leveler has brought about this change quietly, peacefully and most unobtrusively.
The fifth motor that compounded the conflict was the LTTE’s and the leader’s lack of understanding of geopolitical immutables as outlined with severe frankness by the author. With razor sharp arguments he establishes how India’s unity and separatism in Sri Lanka cannot co-exist. While conceding that Prabhakaran may be a brilliant guerilla leader, he was not described as a military strategist or commander. The arguments are hard to rebut.
The sixth motor for the protracted war is seen as India’s involvement which in 1987 turned into intervention. The author puts it cryptically. “Having fanned the flame of discontent into a horrendous conflagration, it was outrageously hypocritical for India to send a Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to put out the fire.
India on the Horizon
The author has made a long foray into the six motors. To him they are the central affirmation of the memoirs. Four of them were well primed. To me two hummed in reluctant mode. In the post conflict phase they require to be stilled and new ones installed. Jayaweera thinks President Rajapakse has the ability to find the ways to open a new era. However a vision both idealistic and long range is indispensable for a leader. What is more, the prime mover having a higher vision must transform the peoples’ consciousness. Whatever the author’s wish and hope, he is not given to the ethereal. His last para in the book is soaked in realism. I fast forward it for the reader to perceive midway that the author possessed of a higher vision is not merely attached to it staunchly but has a firm grip on reality. Without mincing words he states clearly,
“However, I must also confess, that given the elements that comprise Mahinda Rajapaksa’s consciousness, such a transformation in the southern consciousness is not likely to happen. What is more likely is that Rajapakse will stoke the southern supremacist consciousness and lead the country in a downward spiral into a deeper and wider conflict. Rather than promote a transformation of consciousness leading to reconciliation and a new beginning, he might generate circumstances that will suck India into the conflict again. If that happens, we might witness an outcome which successive governments in Colombo had fought a horrific thirty years war to avoid – namely, the eventual partition of Sri Lanka.”
The above reading is essential for a good glimpse of Jayaweera’s writing and to appreciate his discernments and his judgment.
Assuming Office as GA Jaffna
Following on the trauma of ’56 and ’58 came the much publicized timeline of January 1961, for the full implementation of ‘Sinhala Only’. With one intemperate command from the SP, “hammer them out and clear the way” and action that followed, North East was galvanized into revolt. In April 1961, the continuing sathyagraha was stamped out in blood. Nissanka Wijeyaratne who was GA then was comfortable on the path of belligerence. January 1964 became the final timeline for Sinhala implementation. Came August 1963 and talk was around in Jaffna that one Jayaweera was the new GA Jaffna.
Why he? Speculation was that he was a stern administrator. Rumour had it that he was handpicked by Srimavo, Prime Minister and her Permanent Secretary NQ Dias. What for? To ram Sinhala down the Tamil throat. It was in this charged atmosphere that the new GA assumed office, unruffled and confident. From August 1963, times were challenging for the new incumbent. Contrary to expectations and forecasts, Jaffna and the country saw no explosion but a situation defused. Wherein lies the clue? In the book authored by Jayaweera.
Early in his book he recounts major experiences where his idealism triumphed as he had eschewed humdrum approaches and hackneyed paths. They are a lesson as much for a student of politics as for a student of public administration. His strategy was not to do as told but to canvass mighty powers that be for society’s good. In this thinking, he was very much at variance with Dias whose idea was that the GA and Jayaweera at that will be a pliant tool to implement state policy without demur. He even wanted the GA to be unrelenting towards Tamil demands. Such ideas seemed untenable to the GA to whom Dias was an archetypal ultranationalist.
The first non-executable instruction he encountered was from NQ Dias who wanted the GA to show aggression towards the Tamil parties and to visit confrontation upon them. This was to be the approach to “establish government’s absolute ascendancy”. Jayaweera’s conviction was “ascendancy of understanding”. What he had decided upon were: “Continuous Consultation”, “Compromise” and “Conciliation”.
With a mind predisposed towards the above approaches, he arranged for the first District Coordinating Committee (DCC) meeting in August 1963, the apex quarterly conference in a district. At this meeting all MPPs, all heads of departments and of institutions are present. In Jaffna, parliamentarians included such heavy weights as GG Ponnambalam, SJV Chelvanayakam, EMV Naganathan and A Amirthalingam among 7 others. In the pages is a vivid account of confrontation coming from politicians and how it was met through a show of accommodation. Yet much more was needed for a good transition. I saw it at the first Special District Agricultural Committee meeting I attended in July 1965. The occasion was the visit of CP de Silva, MD Banda and M. Tiruchelvam, all with important portfolios. This conference conducted in the most exemplary manner was chaired by GA Mr. Jayaweera. Stormy years in the district were superseded by peaceful times and he had a hand in this transformation.
How did this change come about? GA knew that Tamils were already battered and their psyche bruised. Fraying their raw nerve was impending replacement of Tamil by Sinhala. GA had his eye on the pragmatic. But practical difficulties apart, was the grave moral issue assailing him. How will a citizen not knowing a language other than his feel when it is thrust on him? Seeking to resolve the issues that lay behind the impasse that was blown up at the first DCC meeting, he marshalled all arguments, made bold to meet the Prime Minister, to have a language policy particular to Jaffna District and to implement it. What was it? In Jaffna District, while Sinhala Only remained on paper, what is implemented will be Reasonable Use of Tamil. PM endorsed it and wished that no fanfare be made of it. The pages have to be read to know how deftly the issue was navigated.
At Temple Trees, the important yet informal meeting took place among the three – Prime Minister, NQ Dias and GA Jaffna. Jayaweera outlined the three problems. Impracticality of implementation in October 1963. The wisdom and morality of implementation in Jaffna. How to handle people’s protest. GA’s presentation was for 30 minutes at the end of which a converted PM ruled “As a trial and limiting the experiment to Jaffna District and not publicizing it, she will go along with GA’s proposal.” She emphasized there will be no official change in government policy. No written confirmation of the discussion. Turning to NQ Dias PM said “Why don’t we let him handle it his way?”
A Kural comes to mind. “Cogent presentation wins the day”. Prime Minister convinced about the correctness of the stance authorized the GA to change course. The endorsement meant that in Jaffna District he could handle the implementation of Sinhala only and Reasonable use of Tamil as he deemed fit.
What NQ Dias Foresaw
Jayaweera devotes quite some space to Dias on account of his pivotal position in the politico-administrative set up in the period 1960 – 65. Dias an architect of SWRD victory in 1956 was drawn into the citadel of power in 1960. He had commendable insight into how events would unfold. In the early sixties he said that within 25 years Tamil protest will become an armed rebellion. The upper crust will lose its control over the Tamil people. Dias wanted the GA to prevent future unrest.
He foresaw India stoking an uprising while Tamil Nadu will be an illicit arms supplier. Dias developed a forward policy. Ceylon to veer from India and forge new alliances. Seek out China as a countervailing power against India. Changes in naval strategy were necessary in this context. A chain of military camps stretching from Mannar in the west to Karainagar and Pt. Pedro in the North, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee in the east was planned as a grand strategy and built. Not to arouse suspicion and to ward off protests they were purported to check illicit immigration and smuggling. In the wars that followed they proved their use.
The author points out that within two decades, events began to unfold exactly as he had foreseen. He adds, had it not been for the chain of garrisons, the SL army would not have had the platforms from which to launch counter strikes. The outcome of the war might even have been different. Having said that he does not fail to make a candid statement.
Dias would have been truly great had he aborted the Tamil uprising by removing the factors that were fueling it, than assume it to be inevitable and prepare militarily to combat it, which was what he did.
What Neville Jayaweera Foresees
A change in the power structure of the Tamil entity and of Jaffna society, with the underclass becoming more assertive.
The two classes in the Tamil Diaspora, upper and under which are fused now may in the long term , coupled with geo-politics involving Tamil Nadu constitute a threat to Colombo, no less formidable than the threat the LTTE posed.
Dr. Navaneetham Pillay’s report will further isolate Sri Lanka internationally and drive the Rajapaksa government to cosy up to countries with an abysmal Human Rights record in the hope of finding company in distress.
Given the indestructibility of majoritarian politics in Sri Lanka, it is more likely that discrimination will be entrenched against the Tamils, even when constitution making is undertaken.
To build a nation, raising of national consciousness alone works. The problem of nation building is reduced to a constitutional issue. Unitary or federal does not build a nation as he sees it.
Harold Laski as I have read has faith, not in the exact mechanism of the laws but in the inner spirit of government.
The core of Nevillle Jayaweera’s book, was written fifty years ago. The scholarly Appendix is very much a part of the book. A product of much reflection, it is complemented by the Prologue and Epilogue 1&2 reaching down to end 2013. A masterly Preface by Susil Sirivardana and a scholarly Foreword by Michael Roberts introduce the work of 263 pages appropriately. The work provides an enlightening experience even as it makes delectable reading.