1 October, 2020

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RAGHAVAN’S REPUGNANCE & THE SANGHA AS RED HERRING

By Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

Suren Raghavan’s remarks amply demonstrate the gap between reality and the rhetoric of the expatriate Tamil intelligentsia. He calls the military victory of 2009 over the Tigers ‘repugnant’. That by itself reveals where he is coming from, so to speak, and that flawed perspective runs right through his analysis and observations.  ‘Repugnant’ for whom? For a majority of Sri Lankan citizens? For a majority of humanity as represented in the global inter-state system, most of whose members supported Sri Lanka? ‘Repugnant’ for Asia? ‘Repugnant’ for India, the world’s most populous democracy, a quasi-federal state with 70 million Tamils? ‘Repugnant’ for the USA? Repugnant for the radical Latin America states such the ALBA group? Certainly not, going by the Wikileaks cables, the testimony of Erich Solheim, the findings of the Norway study and actual political behaviour itself.

While congratulating Suren Raghavan on his spell at Oxford, I hope he sharpens his currently blunt skills at understanding the difference between a research question of primary importance from one of secondary importance. He criticizes my evaluation of the Norwegian evaluation of the failed peace process for not probing the role of the Buddhist clergy, the Sangha. I did not do so because it was not the Sangha — whatever one thinks of its role–that went to war against the Indian peacekeeping forces despite the Accord, or murdered Rajiv Gandhi or unilaterally reinitiated war in April 1995 against the liberal Chandrika administration (which Raghavan supported) or boycotted

Monks were attacked when there tried to sabotage a peace rally in Colombo

the Presidential elections of late 2005 or commenced ambushing Sri Lankan troops shortly after Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected (as a Wikileaks cable noted, ‘giving him no chance’)! As the Norwegian study quotes Chandrika, Suren’s one time political boss, the Tigers fooled her in 1995 and let her down badly, and she wasn’t going to be fooled again– and therefore insisted on greater guarantees before any ceasefire. In short, I did not focus on the Sangha because it was of entirely secondary relevance to the topic of the failed attempt at peacemaking by Norway. This is also why the scholars who undertook the NORAD study did not spend much time on the factor of the Sangha either.

Raghavan is using the Sangha as a red herring, to avoid the main reasons for the failure of succesive peace efforts — which I have drawn attention to– (i) the fanatical, totalitarian and fascistic character of the Tigers, and (ii) the failure of the Tamil community to marginalize or offset it as the South did with the JVP, even when there was a chance of doing so with the Accord and subsequent peace efforts (Premadasa, CBK, Ranil). The killing of Vijaya by the JVP had a much greater impact on the Southern consciousness than the killing of Sri Sabaratnam, Rajiv, Neelan, Rajani, Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran, Mrs. Yogeswaran, Sam Tambimuttu, Pathmanabha and Kethesh did on and within the Tamil community.

As a researcher, Raghavan has also got it wrong about K Pathmanabha, founder leader of the EPRLF. If he were my ‘political boss’, I could not have been the First Accused in the indictment in the Colombo High Courts on 14 counts under the Prevention of Terrorism act and the Emergency, while Pathmanabha was the 8th accused. If Raghavan is right, it should have been the other way around! Pathmanabha and I met (as Suresh Premachandran would confirm, since he was present) in 1978, years before he formed the EPRLF. At that time he was still with the EROS/GUES (General Union of Eelam Students). When we met again, he had founded the EPRLF that year, in 1981. Pathmanabha and I were political partners and comrades in arms. After a decade long partnership, I wrote him a letter (the version I sent chief Minister Perumal was published in the papers) and resigned from the North East Provincial Council (of which I was a Minister) in the first quarter of 1989, when it was clear that it had deviated from the right path and was heading for a needless clash and a crash.

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    Ambassador Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke (ADDJ) seems more irritated by my addressing him as mere ‘Dayan’. For a man who takes pride in broadcasting his credentials and sign as Dr. at his own writings, that must have cost a lot. I hope I can correct myself in this.

    ADDJ has displayed two things that he is always clever at

    1. Thanks to his Catholic education at St Peter’s and Aquinas College, he has a superior style of written English

    2. His unmatched ability to vilify and demonize anyone who questions him

    He masters both, totally hijacking my point of argument.

    1. I do not ‘Blaming Buddhism’ or regard the Sangha as a ‘Red Herring’. That is ADDJ’s imagination and skillfully attempting to push me into the ‘enemy of the state’ category. Instead, here and elsewhere, I have clearly argued for the fact that without the support and active involvement, of the Maha Sangha nothing in SL politics could change. This is factual and historic. Will remain same in the future too. Even when JRJ introduced all his anti-Buddhist Singapore dreams under the open economic mantras, he did that with the help of the powerful Sangha who blessed his ‘ Darmista Samaya’ abstract /empty slogan. LTTE understood this well, used negatively and mobilized a strategy that will empower a Sangha militancy. Anuradhapura, Arathalawa and finally bombing the Dalada were such operations. LTTE wanted the Sangha to influence the SL to continue the war. The basic reason why Ranil will never become a ‘national‘leader (except in the opposition which also under severe threat), is that he does not believe in the role of Sangha in Sinhala society. He may locationally visit the Gangaramma in Colombo 2, but his politics has no room/ role for the power of the Sangha

    2. I do not have any haltered (Repugnance?) towards the Sinhala community at individual or collective level. Thought I am a victim of the repeated anti- Tamil violence in the south, which had only forced me to understand the Sinhala society in depth and Sangha in particular.

    3. Yes, it was a repugnant military victory in 2009. Not because the SLA managed to wipe off the entire LTTE men and machinery. But it did not regard the lives of the Tamils who are also citizens of the island. There is no parallel to the number of bombs the SLF dropped, and number of bullets fired within such short period within a narrow strip of land. No government in in the past had that audacity to kill disregards its own citizens. If one is to argue that Tamils are victims of a war started by the LTTE, Then again the state had failed to protect its people. It is repugnant became after two years of such victory, there is no treatment for the root political cause of this entire post independent crisis in SL. Instead, there is a permanent hegemonizing of one clang against other. There is recentralization for private and family benefits. Power is centripetal now than ever. This honorable ADDJ is a supporter /defender and paid servant of such regime. Regime that allows a notorious anti-social like Mervin Silva to behave like the Devadaththa of Kelaniya

    4. ADDJ seems to live in post positivist world when it comes to social science research. He still demands primary and secondary categorization. We have passed that paradigm. It is now post Newtonian sociology in postmodern context. The dichotomy between what is primary what is secondary has escaped the meta narrative structure

    5. ADDJ , quick to demonizes but fails to recognize. The humiliating defeated of Congress at the last State election in Tamil Nadu ( while it won handsomely in West Bengal and Kerala) shows that the way the war ended has created new dynamics that will not easily diminished

    6. Finally, I am aware that in Lanka there is a tradition when it comes to discuss the nuances of Buddhism or Sangha. A tradition that will demonize, chase away, or even physically eliminate the questioner instead of taking the argument clearly and engage analytically. If not we have no reason why the scholarship of Gananatha, Malalgoda, Tambiah, SL Senevirathne, Ananda Abeysekara, Deegalle Mahinda, and many like are more valued amongst others who research on Sinhala Buddhism than in Lanka. While my achievements are much lesser compared to these giants I may inevitably stand in that long queue because I am Raghavan. The ‘other’: whom this state and its defenders like ADDJ wish to see defeated if not eliminated.

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      What on earth makes Suren Raghavan think that I mind him or anyone calling me Dayan? After all, the Sri Lankan papers refer in their captions to me by my first name. On what basis or evidence can he make that silly assertion?

      So he admits and reiterates that for him, it was “a repugnant military victory in 2009”. And the reason? Allegedly the SL did not care about Tamil civilian casualties. Now, for a researcher at Oxford, Suren Raghavan must do very much better. A Wikileaks cable republished on this very website reveals that Ambassador Pat Butenis reported to her bosses in Washington DC that ‘ many objective observers ‘ confirm that the Sri Lankan armed forces could have finished off the LTTE and the war ‘far more quickly’ if it had not been for the concern over Tamil civilian casualties! Please see below:
      http://colombotelegraph.com/2011/11/15/wikileaks-outside-neutral-observers-agree-gsl-could-have-finished-off-ltte-more-quickly-butenis/

      WikiLeaks: Outside neutral observers agree GSL could have finished off LTTE more quickly – Butenis
      Posted by Colombo Telegraph ⋅ November 15, 2011 ⋅ 7 Comments
      Filed Under Democracy, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Human Rights, Patricia A. Butenis, Sri Lankans in WikiLeaks, State Department’s recent report to Congress on incidents, US embassy cables on Sri Lanka, War Crimes, War crimes LTTE
      By Colombo Telegraph –

      “Most outside, neutral observers privately agree that the GSL could have finished off the LTTE more quickly if they had been willing to risk a higher level of civilian casualties.” the US Ambassador to Colombo wrote to Washington.

      A leaked US unclassified diplomatic cable discussed the post-war challenges in Sri Lanka. The Colombo Telegraph found the cable from WikiLeaks database. The cable was written on October 30, 2009 by the US Ambassador to Colombo Patricia A. Butenis.

      Many believed the Government of Sri Lanka could have minimized those casualties had it allowed for some sort of negotiated surrender by the LTTE once the GSL had surrounded remaining LTTE fighters
      Under the subject of “Sri Lanka Scenesetter” the Ambassador Butenis wrote “ Final months of the war were brutal, inflicting heavy damage on all sides, both military and civilian. Estimates of the number of dead and wounded vary widely, but outside observers agree that the civilian toll was high. Many believed the Government of Sri Lanka could have minimized those casualties had it allowed for some sort of negotiated surrender by the LTTE once the GSL had surrounded remaining LTTE fighters. It is not clear, however, whether greater effort in that direction by GSL would have been successful.” “The LTTE seemed intent on holding out very end, forcibly recruiting civilians as young as 12 to continue the fight, and using their own civilians as human shields even when it appeared defeat was inevitable. In the last days and weeks of the conflict, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate between civilians and LTTE combatants. Most outside, neutral observers privately agree that the GSL could have finished off the LTTE more quickly if they had been willing to risk a higher level of civilian casualties. The State Department’s recent report to Congress on incidents during the final stage of the war makes clear that significant numbers of civilian dead and wounded were caused by both sides in the final months of the war.” she further wrote.

      Related news – WikiLeaks: Don’t push Sri Lanka towards Burma-like isolation – American Ambassador Butenis

      Below we give the relevant part of the cable.

      VZCZCXRO4345
      PP RUEHBI
      DE RUEHLM #0999/01 3030802
      ZNR UUUUU ZZH
      P 300802Z OCT 09
      FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
      TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0700
      INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 1995
      RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 9031
      RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 7269
      RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 5192
      RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3419
      RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 5144
      RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 0679
      RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4255
      RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 9594
      RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6888
      RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 1353
      RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
      RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3802
      RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
      RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
      RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
      UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000999

      SIPDIS

      DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB; H (pass to SFRC staff)

      E.O. 12958: N/A
      TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
      SUBJECT: Sri Lanka Scenesetter

      ¶1. (SBU) Sri Lanka stands at a pivotal point in its modern history.
      The end of the long secessionist war with the LTTE opens up
      opportunities for national reconciliation, political reform,
      economic renewal, and international re-engagement. The question is
      whether the Sri Lankan leadership has the vision, determination, and
      courage to seize the opportunity. The Sri Lankans value their
      realtions with the United States. Our challenge is strongly to
      encourage the Sri Lankan government to embrace reconciliation,
      accountability, and respect for human rights, while trying not to
      push the country towards Burma-like isolation from the West.

      Aftermath of the Conflict
      ————————-

      ¶2. (SBU) The final months of the war were brutal, inflicting heavy
      damage on all sides, both military and civilian. Estimates of the
      number of dead and wounded vary widely, but outside observers agree
      that the civilian toll was high. Many believed the Government of
      Sri Lanka (GSL) could have minimized those casualties had it allowed
      for some sort of negotiated surrender by the LTTE once the GSL had
      surrounded remaining LTTE fighters. It is not clear, however,
      whether greater effort in that direction by the GSL would have been
      successful. The LTTE seemed intent on holding out to the very end,
      forcibly recruiting civilians as young as 12 to continue the fight,
      and using their own civilians as human shields even when it appeared
      defeat was inevitable. In the last days and weeks of the conflict,
      it became increasingly difficult to differentiate between civilians
      and LTTE combatants. Most outside, neutral observers privately
      agree that the GSL could have finished off the LTTE more quickly if
      they had been willing to risk a higher level of civilian casualties.
      The State Department’s recent report to Congress on incidents
      during the final stage of the war makes clear that significant
      numbers of civilian dead and wounded were caused by both sides in
      the final months of the war.

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    Removed by the moderator

  • 1
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    Mr Casie Chetty,
    Pl. discuss the subject matter. We don’t need personal attacks on writers. For sure you know Mahinda Rajapakse and his family is corrupt. Have you been able to correct them? This is a social forum where we try to lean from each other. not attack them personally
    you should write on the matter discussed if you are able

  • 0
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    The air force boasted of 25,000 bombing missions.The army, millions of bullets,shells & rockets and the navy, thousands of shells.
    Use of more destructive missiles were limited by resources – physical and financial, and not by humane considerations.Use of much more missiles like US does/did was thus limited.
    There was no ‘humane’ considerations which limited the offensive against the LTTE as evidenced by the shelling and bombing of even well identified hospitals, and the mass of humanity – LTTE & civilians on the narrow strip of land on the final few days. All sites of strikes were showed by the shell/bomb craters in satellite imagery which was in most media. The doctors who testified to the savagery of the shelling were compelled to recant their statements to foreign media, on pain of what would have “happened” to them, subsequently.

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