By Thambu Kanagasabai –
The recent news feature in Colombo Telegraph spotlighted the Sinhala-Buddhist mentality of the President Maithripala Sirisena. To be precise, he is only following the footsteps of all his predecessors right from the first Prime Minister DS Senanayake in 1948, who without any delay targeted the Tamils in the East with Sinhalese colonisation and then killed the Indian Tamils’ representation in Parliament with two legislations.
This process has been faithfully followed and executed by the succeeding Prime Ministers and Presidents.
For recapitulation, the acts and deeds of the Sinhalese leaders are summarised as follows, which are featured with breach of pledges, pacts and betrayals.
The pledge given to Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in 1921 was the first breach when James Peiris and EJ Samarawickrema promised a seat from the Western Provincial to Arunachalam and then dishonoured it. This was also the first historical betrayal which sowed the seeds of Tamil nationalism and the starting point for the communal drift and mistrust. No wonder Arunachalam fired the first salvo of ‘Tamil land’ or Tamil Aham when he inaugurated the ‘Tamil Mahajana Sabhai’ Jaffna in August 1921.
JR Jayewardene proposed the “Sinhala Only” idea in 1944 before the Soulbury Commission which was rejected. JR thus pioneered the Sinhala Language domination as a communal politician.
DS Senanayake initiated colonisation schemes in the Gal Oya region in 1948 and his speech on that occasion to the settlers bares the naked Sinhalisation agenda. “One day the whole country will look up to you. You men and woman who will carry the Island’s destiny on your shoulders. One day the country will look up to you as the last bastion of the Sinhala.”
DS then targeted the Indians Tamils to ensure their non-entity in Sri Lanka’s politics and passed the Ceylon Citizenship Act in 1948 and Indian and Pakistan Resident’s Act in 1949. The toiling Indian Tamils were sacrificed to ensure Sinhalese domination in Parliament.
Then came SWRD Bandaranaike whose lust to become the Prime Minister propelled him to resort to communal politics. He used the ‘Sinhala language to attain this objective and was in a hurry to pass the’ Sinhala Only Act in June 1956, thus feeding the polarization and widening the rift between Sinhalese and Tamils. His efforts to satisfy the Tamils also ended in fiasco when Sinhala chauvinists killed the Banda- Chelva Pact in 1958. It was an irony of fate that SWRD who opened the gates of politics to Buddhist priests, who are prohibited to indulge in it according to Buddhist principles, was killed by a Buddhist Monk, like a ‘Frankenstein’. For his part, JR led the famous Kandy March to whip up opposition to kill the Pact in which he succeeded by harping on communalism.
Dudley Senanayake a gentleman by nature sought to solve the Tamils’ grievances by entering into an agreement with SJV Chelvanayakam who was then spearheading non-violent agitations in the North and East. The agreement called the Dudley-Chelva Pact made in 1965 suffered the similar fate of death inflicted by die-hard Buddhist monks and opposition parties. Even Chelva was let down and humiliated by this broken pledge. Buddhist-Sinhala domination was thus sustained and allowed to reign over reason and justice.
S.J.V. then prophetically commented ‘Only god can save the Tamils’. So far no god has got his message and one can only hope for it in the future.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the first world’s first woman Prime Minister on her part introduced the standardization formula in 1971 which reduced the deserving Tamil students’ admissions to Universities and also passed the legislation enforcing Sinhala only to be used in the courts. She also enshrined Buddhism as the foremost religion to be protected and preserved with provisions to this effect in the 1972 Constitution. She also removed Section 29(2) of the Soulbury Constitution which was the only safeguard to protect the rights and interests of the minorities.
JR Jayawardene dubbed as the “Fox of Asia” introduced the 1978 Constitution creating the Presidential executive system of governance like that of France. He engineered the communal riots in 1983 and enjoyed it for five days, justifying it as a natural public reaction of the Sinhalese majority. He staged various peace talks ensuring their failures, but finally caved into signing the limping Indo-Ceylon Accord, which is now functioning at the mercy of centre.
Ranasinghe Premadasa cleverly joined hands with the LTTE to send back the IPKF who were their common enemies. Various round of peace talks as with LTTE usually ended in failure.
Chandrika Bandaranaike on her part evinced her desire to solve the problems of Tamils by presenting a devolution package with wider powers. As usual the UNP led by Ranil killed this package by organizing protests spearheaded by monks. The net result ended in a “war for peace” declared by Chandrika in 1995 while the Tamils were left in limbo.
Chandrika also caused the demise of the OSLO declaration, which was acceptable to the LTTE and also the Tsunami Funds Management Plan with the LTTE. The LTTE’s Interim Self – Government Proposal also met the same fate during Chandrika’s Presidency.
All the above scuttling actions were motivated due to the sole aim and intention of maintaining and ensuring the Sinhala – Buddhist reign and supremacy in Sri Lanka. Mahinda succeeded Chandrika who bettered others in feigning peace with Tamils while initiating time passing peace talks with LTTE. He found India and some other countries as allies to conduct an “Elimination of LTTE” war, using the US slogan of “war against terror”. He succeeded and positioned the Tamils as a conquered race to live under subjugation forever. He accelerated the Sinhala – Buddhism and Militarisation programs in the North and East unhindered and unstoppable by a feeble opposition from Tamil leaders. This process is proceeding with no brakes or disruptions.
Mahinda lost the Presidential elections due to the majority votes of Tamils and Muslims who were waiting for the opportunity to destroy his unbridled ambition to serve as a life term President after the due changes he made in the 18th Amendment, which is now curtailed by a 19th Amendment introduced by Maithri.
President Maithripala Sirisena: 2015 – to date
Maithri served as a loyal SLFP party member who was also a close pal of Mahinda, even acting as the Defense minister in-charge during the final phase of the war in May 2009 when Mahinda was out of the island. The looming question is whether he can be indicted for complicity for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed under his nose while serving Mahinda.
Leaving this issue for the future, the question is what are the expectations of Tamils from him? No answer seems to be visible from him or from his quarters. He won the Presidential election due to the minority votes – Tamils and Muslims who wanted to get rid of Mahinda. Even the Tamil National Alliance extended its support at the last-minute to Maithri.
However, for his part Maithri neither made any reference to the Tamils’ problems nor any public statement as to his ideas about a political settlement. The TNA also wisely avoided making any pacts with Maithri as “once bitten twice shy” weighed in their decision. Since Maithri has not promised anything for the TNA or Tamils, the question of betrayal does not arise with him for the time being.
However, Maithri will remain and continue to remain as another typical Sinhalese politician with an eye on his post and future. He has already indicated his stand on the following issues which are hostile to Tamils while underscoring the Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy:
1. No withdrawal or reduction of the Army in the North. About 160, 000 soldiers are living among 700,000 civilians; thus keeping the Tamils under Army surveillance and control.
2. No complete handing back of the lands to Tamil civilians. Out of 6200 acres seized by the Army in the North, only 400 acres have been returned to civilians so far.
3. No conferring of powers and/or allowing the Northern and Eastern Provincial Council to function with their powers over land and police.
4. No stopping of the illegal seizure of lands belonging to civilians by over-zealous monks who build Viharas and erect Buddha statues when there are only a few Sinhalese living around.
5. Refused to hold an Independent International Investigation into war crimes etc.
6. No halt to future Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas.
7. No speedy re-settlements of the thousands of displaced Tamil civilians. Lack of urgency and enthusiasm and a cavalier attitude towards the suffering Tamils.
8. No proposals to solve the 60 year old ethnic problem have been laid out so far.
9. No commitment to release the Tamil political prisoners languishing in jails for more than 20 years. Now they are dubbed as convicted criminals under the legal system with no prospects for release.
10. No investigation or information as to the fate of 90,000 disappeared Tamils.
11. Appointing alleged war criminals and conferring them with titles and ranks: E.g.: Jagath Dias and Sarath Fonseka.
The Tamils can only continue to live at the mercy and dispensation of Sinhala governments unless and until the international community acts to bring about a just and durable political solution. It is the hope that political sanity and not political senility prevail in Sri Lanka from now on for its unity and prosperity.
A recent news feature in Colombo media saying “President appears to be promoting the Sinhala- Buddhist supremacy” citing the Lion flag hoisted near him without the signs representing Tamils and Muslims is not a matter of surprise. This is just another piece of the confirmation of the hold and sway of Sinhala-Buddhist doctrine with Sinhala leaders.
Maithiri’s backtracking of a promise to hold a war victim’s ‘Remembrance Day’ and switching to ‘War Heroes Day Celebrations’ on May 19th showed his true colours. Besides, his speech was devoted to praising the soldiers with no mention of consolation to the Tamil victims of war, or to the orphans and widows.
To sum up, Tamils can expect neither justice nor good governance, solace or political settlement under any Sri Lankan government, not to mention the lack of upholding the law to enforce accountability for the perpetrators of war crimes etc.