By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The Ramayana is one of the great works of world literature. In no other work of great literature has the island of Lanka, a character from it, and events taking place on it, have been immortalized. While we are obviously in the realm of myth and legend, there is no way in which the Ramayana would make such an abiding impact on the psyche of India if it did not have some foundation in experience, i.e. in actual fact. As in the case of the Iliad and the Odyssey, it couldn’t have been entirely woven out of whole cloth.
One thing the Ramayana narrative makes clear that a land link between India and Lanka was of decisive and devastating strategic consequence for the island of Lanka. Or if one wishes to err on the side of conservatism, it makes clear that a land link could have a decisive and devastating strategic impact on the neighboring island. Imagine what the impact on the island’s destiny and autonomous cultural and civilizational character—including its linguistic, ethnic and religious character– would have been, had such a land link been a permanent feature.
To move from literature to secular history, the Romans and the British made it clear that the building of roadways was an essential part of annexation and empire building. What is true of imperialisms gone by is true of contemporary regional sub-imperialisms.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has discussed a highway linking India and Sri Lanka, and more accurately Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, in his meeting with Indian Minister of Highways Nitin Gadkari. The PM has also invited India to build highways in Sri Lanka’s North and East, linking Mannar and Vavuniya, and Mannar and Trincomalee.
DS Senayaka used the British connection – and the contentious Citizenship acts–to balance off India and minimize Indian influence on the island. SWRD and Sirimavo Bandaranaike sought to dilute Indian influence by immersing Sri Lankan in Afro-Asianism and the Non Aligned Movement. JR Jayewardene played North India off against Tamil secessionism and Tamil Nadu. Premadasa played Tamil secessionism against Indian expansionism/annexationism. Lakshman Kadirgamar and then Mahinda Rajapaksa strove to “Look East”, and used China to balance off India and the US.
What was common to all of Sri Lanka’s leaders was to rightly regard as the worst case scenario, a nexus between India, Tamil nadu and Sri Lanka’s Tamil North. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has overturned all that.
He has openly called for Sri Lanka’s economy to be linked with five South Indian states Indian states including Tamil nadu, and he is giving India a large foothold in Trincomalee and the island’s North in general, through highway building and economic projects. He is also hell-bent on signing ETCA which will allow greater penetration of the whole Sri Lankan economy by India.
I have not heard of nor can I think of a worse act of treachery by any Sri Lankan leader nor indeed any leader anywhere in the world today, and possibly during my lifetime (apart from perhaps Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam).
I am not naïve enough or perfidious enough, not to link politics with strategy. I have no doubt that future Wikileaks type material will confirm the joint Western imperialist and regional sub-imperialist interference in the ‘regime change’ of January 2015. Already the voluminous material available regarding other countries over decades, show that the same playbook was used.
Many years ago the Chinese used to denounce this strategy, calling it “peaceful evolution”. It is in play currently in Venezuela, having been successfully used in Brazil. It is even being tested in Hong Kong and St. Petersburg.
In January 2015 in Sri Lanka, the voting patterns in the North and East were absurdly skewed, with percentages recorded that were far higher than at the elections for the semi-autonomous provincial councils in the region—which were emotionally far closer to the Tamil people than a presidential election.
It is outrageously naïve to think that an anomalous spike in the voting percentages in a permeable strategically sensitive periphery/border area only 18 miles away from the ethnic kin-state of Tamil Nadu, had no relationship with the strategic intentions of our neighbor.
It is also naïve to think that the strategic salience of the island, which has been very seriously and explicitly laid out in Robert Kaplan’s “Monsoon” was not acted upon. His basic point was that a tectonic shift had taken place and that the Indian Ocean region had become/was becoming the center of the world as it were, and that Sri Lanka was the center of the Indian Ocean region. He also focused on the dangers posed to the US by China’s gains made by supporting the Sri Lankan state in the war and the inroads made by China in Hambantota.
The project for the new Constitution must be seen from the point of view of both political economy and strategy. The breakup of states at the hands of the West and the creation of ethnic statelets through ethnic federalization which eventually leads to secession, is well known and documented. Marxists such as Samir Amin and James Petras have written repeatedly and at length on this. Iraqi Kurdistan is only the latest ongoing example. What is sought in Sri Lanka falls into that category.
The project for a new Sri Lankan constitution resulting in a weak, centrifugal state, is the ‘superstructure’ or ‘cap’ on the strategic penetration and annexationism being sought by the hegemonic powers and implemented by their local puppet.
Ranil’s Indianization and neo-colonization project has to be recognized as such, fought and defeated, if necessary by a reprise of Hartal 1953. May Day 2017 at Galle Face Green marks a beginning!