21 May, 2022


The Sri Lanka Freedom Party: The Moment Of Truth

By Dayapala Thiranagama

“I ask my countrymen, Honorable members of this House, to discard that mutual suspicion and mutual tearing of each other to pieces and to join each other in that constructive cooperation which I hope will enable us to reach that golden age” quoted by James Manor in Expedient Utopian: Bandaranaike and Ceylon (1989).

SWRD Bandaranaike’s words, during a State Council debate in August 1936 now find an echo in the sentiments of President Maithripala Sirisena in his quest to form a national government with the United National Party (UNP). During the presidential election campaign in January, as the common candidate, Sirisena often talked about his dislike of Sri Lanka’s polarized and divided political culture and his determination to practice consensual politics. In achieving this aspiration, President Sirisena will be taking aim at the ‘golden age’ invoked by SWRD Bandaranaike.

MaithripalaThis article therefore raises and reflects on two interrelated questions: the political viability of the ‘national’ government in view of the SLFP split in parliament and the national government’s political ability to survive particularly in its ambitious project of devolving power to the Tami community.

It is not unusual for politicians to appeal to consensus and unity even as they exploit divisions in society. Indeed, SWRD laid a strong foundation for the two party system that has defined the political landscape in the country since Independence. It is SWRD’s ideology and politics, which has entrenched a reservoir of rural voters in the South melded together with Buddhism and Sinhala nationalism.

In contrast, the ‘westernized’ UNP has been more accommodative of a cosmopolitan political culture within the party, which has encouraged hopes of reconciliation with the North and East in the country following their victory of the recent parliamentary elections.

As President Sirisena strives to make SWRD’s rhetoric a reality, he will have to directly challenge the bitter legacy of his own party’s history. He will have to carry an electoral voter base that has been nurtured with a developed suspicion of other minority communities into a consensus of support for devolution of power. The enormous difficulties and political risks that stand in President Sirisena’s way should not be underestimated. He will have to deconstruct the political DNA of his own party in order to give both the party and the country a new and viable future.

Of course, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has no monopoly over using Sinhala chauvinism and Buddhism for electoral gains but it has been a consistent culprit in using narrow nationalist propaganda in order to gain the electoral upper hand. It was the SLFP that introduced the Sinhala Only act in 1956. It cancelled the Bandaranaike –Chelvanayagam Pact in 1958, buckling under the pressure of Sinhala chauvinism and Buddhist activists. The SLFP also opposed the Dudley-Chelvanagam Pact signed in order to devolve power to the North and East in 1966, with the collaboration of the Sri Lankan Left. The SLFP also awarded the foremost place to Buddhism in the new 1972 constitution in collaboration with the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP). These are unsuitable and discriminatory laws to govern a democratic country like Sri Lanka, which has multi ethnic, and multi religious communities. After the defeat of the Liberation of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), it was the SLFP again under the Rajapaksa administration, which consistently refused reconciliation and the devolution of power. This terrible history has led to a great tragedy and countless dead bodies. If we trace the root causes for the deaths of the thousands of innocent Tamil civilians dying at Nandikaddal, it is hard not to find these unjust pieces of legislation guilty. If they did not wield the guns, they created pathology in Sri Lankan politics of Sinhala chauvinism, which is merely wounded but not defeated.

Divisive leadership battles and splits are not new to the SLFP, though previous crises centered around dynastic politics at the highest level rather than affecting grassroots members. There were efforts to form left wing factions within the party itself on at least two occasions in the 1970s and 80s, but such factional moves failed to harm the SLFP.

The current crisis facing the party, however, is unprecedented. A section of the SLFP has now joined the National government with the UNP, the SLPF’s former bitter rivals since its formation, under President Sirisena’s leadership. The rest of the party have refused to join the national government and are clearly waiting for the right moment to ambush the national government in parliament. They march under the banner of Sinhalese nationalism and fundamentalist Buddhism, arguing that the national government are endangering the territorial integrity and future safety of Sri Lanka. They are opposed to making any concessions to the Tamil community. This is a strategy that, at both the presidential election in January and the parliamentary elections in August, has delivered declining returns for them, and their leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, they are not political novices and are well aware of the continued potency of Sinhalese nationalism both inside parliament and outside of it. After all, this has been the backbone of the SLFP throughout its 64-year existence, and prior to that, the Sinhala Maha Saba formed in 1934 by SWRD. If they succeed, any hope for a settlement of the national question will fade away.

Maithri MahindaThere is also a personal incentive for some SLPF MPs to maintain the status quo. Some of them have amassed great personal wealth through corrupt deals and bribes and are now under investigation, though a number of MPs who have joined the national government are also being investigated.

The current crisis within the SLFP will be decisive because it goes to the very heart of the SLFP’s ideological and political base and it is hard to see how a compromise could be reached. Waiting in the wings, ready to exploit any opportunity is Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is pretending to be leaving politics but is more likely buying time to regroup and eventually defeat the National Government and/or create an ungovernable situation in the country. In the meantime, the National Government also faces the complexities of bringing together two formerly rival parties under one coalition. What challenges and benefits this brings remains to unfold.

Without meticulous planning the road to reconciliation will struggle to overcome the numerous roadblocks and obstacles in its way. If the SLFP is genuine about the devolution of power it has to confront its own history of Sinhala chauvinism squarely and openly. The enlightened parts of the party should seize this opportunity to examine their own history, accept responsibility and start the process of reconciliation within the country. There has been no shortage in Sri Lanka of politicians and leaders willing to make deadly decisions resulting in the deaths of their own citizens. What we need now are politicians willing to make decisions that allow the country to live, grow and flourish. This involves changing themselves and politics. They have an unparalleled opportunity, given the damage that the Rajapaksa camp has done to the cause of Sinhalese nationalism. Its Achilles heel was corruption, the stealing of state resources, fraud and intimidation. The Rajapaksa camp’s ‘patriotism’ became confined to the amassing of wealth for their families earned in the most corrupt ways. As a result, the depth and size of the popular support they could command has dwindled. In this way, the SLPF has the chance to become an enlightened party of democratic governance. They stand at the crossroads and must choose to show the courage they have long demanded from the ordinary people of this country.

When innocents were dying, caught between the Tamil Tigers and Government troops, they were abandoned by everyone. Sinhalese politicians failed to see them as civilians who needed protection, choosing to play into LTTE propaganda and caricaturing them as part of the LTTE itself. The children, women and men, young and old alike died in their thousands could rely on no one but themselves. No one was there to protect them – not the LTTE, the TNA or the international community. We owe them justice.

There are also clear and widening signs of fissures within the political leadership in the Tamil community, between separatists and the TNA. Those arguing for a more hardline political response were rejected by voters who instead endorsed the moderate leadership represented by the TNA in the parliamentary elections in August. This gives the government an opportunity to make real progress – which it must make haste in doing before political discontents or the ‘opposition of events’ destabilizes it.

When the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam Agreement was cancelled in 1958 the government was embroiled with other issues apart from the opposition mounted by the Sinhala chauvinist forces. For example the government at the time was struggling to resolve the issues created by the Paddy Land Act. It was rather difficult for SWRD to maintain a firm commitment towards what he believed to be justifiable approach to answering the needs and aspirations of the Tamil community at the time. President Sirisena’s unprecedented advantage is that the UNP is on his side today. The UNP vehemently opposed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam agreement.

It is very unlikely that the Rajapaksa faction and his allies in the United Peoples Alliance (UPFA) will be supporting the National government’s efforts to reconciliation and devolution of power. They still represent the old SLFP with its most virulent kind of anti-Tamil and narrow nationalistic key electoral support base in the Southern constituency. This kind of narrow nationalism is often associated with anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist sentiments of the SLFP’s notion of SWRD’s ‘the common man’. This notion of the ‘common man ’ was ethnically limiting and was confined only to the South. Many Rajapaksa supporters continued to play on these ideas during the recent Presidential election and the Parliamentary election to defend the authoritarian and the corrupt Rajapaksa regime against any political pact with the UNP. They will be using the same notion against the national government to mount a challenge in coming weeks and months. This is likely to take the form of a paranoid politics, in the shape of foreign conspiracies against Sri Lanka. Racist ideologues will use such potent narratives to obscure the critical issues of accountability and reconciliation.

It will be a testing time for President Sirisena’s resolve and firmness – already tested and found wanting when he decided to give the nomination to Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the general election, much to the disappointment of many of his supporters.

At the present moment the national government has the numbers in parliament and a political and moral mandate from the country to create the consensual politics SWRD originally called for. If President Sirisena can build on this great achievement to offer devolution to the Tamil community and make real progress towards reconciliation, he can heal a deep wrong done to the Tamil community by the forces of Sinhala chauvinism from all parties. In doing that, President Sirisena will undo what other leaders failed to do and develop a party that is truly fit to govern a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “The time is always right, to do the right thing”, but the moments of great possibility for lasting change do not always present themselves. In posing a challenge to his party that threatens its very past and existence, President Sirisena might yet save its future – and it will be Sri Lanka who will benefit.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    It is difficult for the ruling supremacists to cover up atrocities committed for a long time . The easy way for reconciliation would have been soon after the victory over LTTE. The problem got worse even after several reports and the whole world denounced the affairs, no attempt is made by the supreme power perhaps still thinking of continuing with the annihilation of Tamil race from Sri Lanka. Otherwise at least some kind of workshop conducted for reconciliation process in the areas of the extremist chauvinists to make them understand the importance of reconciliation with the help of UN specialists on the subject! Instead of further dragging on, if you have a genuine reason for reconciliation you can always do it without losing your power. You will be even more popular once you have done this and brought the Country like any other multiracial developing Country in the neighborhood.

    • 10

      Dayapala Thiranagama,

      You are expecting the impossible from the Sinhalese politicians in power: From D S senanayake to Sirisena and Ranil are all Sinhala Buddhist racists, as their history shows without doubt.

      The late Lee Kwan Yew, an astute statesman of Asia said that SWRD was a racist after meeting him. He said after 2009, it was ethnic cleansing of Tamils.

      Sirisena promised a special court for Vithiya’s rape and murder case not too long ago. What happened to it?

      Mahavamsa has sowed the seeds for the Sinhalese people’s hatred towards Tamils. Who can change that mind set?

      Mahavamsa is the holy text of the Sinhala Buddhist majority and I am sure most Sinhalese believe in it, and its racism.

      We will wait and see if the international community has the will, or the heart to ensure justice to Tamils.

      • 4

        Dear Thiru,
        “Mahavamsa has sowed the seeds for the Sinhalese people’s hatred towards Tamils. Who can change that mind set?”

        You are 100% correct. But the it applies to the Tamils or any other ethnicity as the enlightened one explained, no person can change the way things are, not even himself.
        Secondly, not all Buddhists are Singhalese. The word Sinhalese is just a word (Nama) or label for identity.
        A Buddhist a is an individual who walks the ‘Eightfold Path’ with the true understanding of the ‘Four Noble Truths’.
        May you be wise enough to realize the ultimate goal of all true ‘Buddhists’ soon. Metta!

  • 10

    It was exactly twenty years ago, ( 22nd Sept 1995 ) twenty one young students were killed and hundreds injured by bombs dropped by Srilankan Airforce on Nagarkovil Maha Vidyalayam. This took place under Chandrika’s rule, daughter of two Prime Ministers destroyed our country. Will she apologise for this and other bombings that killed civilians in North and East ?

    There were no bombings in South by Chandrika but her mother killed thousands of youths rebelled in 1970s. Will Chandrika extend her apologies to the families of these youths as well?

  • 5

    Wonderful iece of writing.
    Will this be translated and posted in Sinhala media?
    PLEASE do so.

  • 0

    Dayapala Thiranagama [Edited out]

    • 3

      I don’t need to read what was edited out. I know. Obviously this racist B
      hates the writer, Dayapala Thiranagama, because he is advocating reconciliation. Moota hena gahanne oney.

  • 6

    An excellent unbiased article and most timely!
    Sengodan. M

  • 2

    Writer is lack of political vision and legacy British colonial domination over 150 years.

    I think this person who was born very recently not yet realized gravity of Colonial rule and plundering our national wealth by UK-white man rule by Anglo-Saxon political system. That colonial rule was the ruthless suppressed of majority Sinhalese nation.
    Well known fact that system of British colonialism which uproot human quest of freedom in sense had been cultivated by forcefully imposed unsustainable system “divide and rule” policy that not accepted idea of justice for majority people of Sinhalese.

    British system of governances was politically, economically and socially has been sustainable for only leaders of UNP not for the majority of Sinhalese People. Its reflects order without freedom of democracy , development without prosperity of people of our land after UNP being power 1948 that immediately after Independence.

    We-Our nation remain backwardness and poverty of majority of Sinhalese people under UNP new colonial rule of political governances since 1948 to 1956.Yet democracy and justice fairness for Sinhalese people cannot be secure or sustain under UNP leadership of without a democratic framework of order to keep the development and democracy.

    The born of SLFP was not personal or by an accident incident, but it was historical necessity of evolutionary process of outcome colonial political development. Therefore SLFP was not personal gain of SWRD of 6th generation of Tamil blood stream of decedent of House of Banadarake family nepotism..

    It was historical demanded by necessity of majority Sinhalese people. Now today leaders of SLFP rise above the urgency of day to day events can achieve this political balance under M. Sirisena and CBK’s SLFP politics?

    On going SLFP-MS,CBK ally with UNP-RW working which is totally different interest of Masses of People.
    Its serve for the key interest of US and Indian hegemony by encouraging Tamil Eealm global agenda by SLFP MS+ CBK joint hand with UNP-RW.

    Deal with democracy and development questions and task we need Three levels has been discard by current the very SLFP leadership MS+ CBK by allied with UNP-RW !

    1 Regional Level of Global politics.

    2 Nature of Sinhalese civilization, its roots of its culture.

    3 Arrangement of secular democracy and distribution of power unitary
    state not by the so-called Federal state demand by TNA and LTTE.
    To be partition for future Eealm rough state in Indian Ocean,
    that run by US and Indian pro- puppet regime in Colombo center by
    hegemonic power politics.

    Take noted that 100 million Tamil in many parts of world ,that including 75 millions in Tamil Nadu state in India. They want historical approach ongoing international order and seek moral and material support from USA UK and certain EU nations active reshaping world political agenda for Tamil Eealm regime in Indian Ocean.

    Well sounded that Unfortunately SLFP rank and file has been infiltrated and penetrated by US-CIA and Indian -RAW, hence leadership of SLFP that top of corrupted politicians has been brought over by and large for position of power US and Indian-RAW of SLFP leaders of MS+ CBK.

    This called “National Government” of by manipulation of UNP version of “good governances and rule of law” say the easier, it is to distill a so-called workable consensus by US and Indian Delhi regime of BJP-RSS Hindu Empire.

    SWRD and CBK,+ MS are for Federal state is an idea of reactionary nature state that concept of encouraging Tamil Eealm by Tamil decadent of Tamil blood of sixth generation DNA was diagnosing of founded SLFP-leadership. This has nothing to do with consensual politics of social contract of social classes by M.Sirisena.
    Tamil political class in North that want Tamil democracy type of backwardness of system of feudal authority rule by base on LTTE oriented gun rule regime in North. By suppress poor Tamil of the ignorant and uneducated Tamil masses, whom under the rule by upper class of Vella cast leadership in TNA and Diasporas in Western world.

    The UNP-RW, MS and CBK of SLFP balance between legitimacy and power of democracy is extremely complex. The Federal state and devolution the smaller the geographic area to which Tamils it applies and more coherent Tamil culture conviction are essentially by the limited to capability of democracy. Its likely to generate new conflict and war by Tamil Eealm by order.

    In our time SLFP the quest for Sri lanka that order and the system of democracy will require relating the whole democratic perceptions of society and its ruling classes of neo-liberals has been betray national interest by and large by UNP-RW>

    Whose realities have largely self-contained Tamil Eealm agenda; the mystery of Tamil Eealm to be overcome is one of the People must share how LTTE war tone politics of divergent of 30 historic expediencies and valued democracy can shaped into secular democracy order not that by current leaderships of SLFP CBK & MS.

  • 2

    qUOTE ” Chandrika will not apologise for the Nargakovil deaths” – Excuse Me…ON THAT DAY SHE WAS IN A STATE OF INTOXICATION as such she did not know.

  • 5

    An excellent and an unbiased.article, which every Singhalese must read and ponder.
    Whether the reconciliation that the author is expecting is very unlikely in the near future. There is absolutely no sign of it in the present climate.

    • 0

      Unbiased?…my foot! does he say a word about Tamil racism?
      would have been better if it had come via Tamil net.

  • 3

    The SLFP has always had a positive side and a negative side and has been constantly vacillating between the two which trend a Marxist may describe as typical of the petit bourgeois the class base of the SLFP. At the moment the positive side seems to have taken the upper hand. Let us all hope that it will remain so and even get further strengthened over the next 10 years!
    If that could be achieved most of our major problems would be solved.
    Sengodan. M

  • 0

    look like an article written[Edited out]

  • 3

    Thank you CT for posting the above.
    It would be great if the patriotic intellectuals and politicians listed below give their honest views on the above article by Mr.Dayapala Thiranagama :
    1.Dr.Dayan Jayatilleke ( son of Mervin De Silva )
    2. Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka ( qualified electrical engineer from Moratuwa University )
    3. Mr. Gomin Dayasiri ( a leading lawyer and a columnist in the newspapers )
    4. Ven Rathna Thero
    5. Dr. Vasudeva Nananyakara
    6. Prof Tissa Vitharane
    7. Mr.Anura Kumara Dissanayake
    8. Mr. Vinaygamoorthy Muralitharan
    9. Dr. Dinesh Gunawardne
    10. Mr . DEW. Gunasekera
    11. Mr.V. Anandasangari
    12 Mr.Rajiva Sena rate
    13. Mr. Karu Jeyasooriya
    My strong view is that if they don’t respond to the above article by Mr.Thirnagama, they are doing disservice to Mother Lanka.

  • 3

    Thiranagama keeps on blaming Sinhala chauvinists and politicians for the present ethnic problem in Sri Lanka forgetting the fact that there is a long history to this. The history of Sinhala race is written with blood spilled to protect them from south Indian invaders. It is the south Indian invaders who ruined the great civilization based on advance hydraulic system in the north central part of Sri Lanka although some try to put the blame on malaria. These invaders from south India killed millions of Sinhala people and destroyed cities and villages. Based on highly reliable information from a Sinhala family lived in Jaffna even in 50s there were Tamil politicians who said in political rallies that they cannot sleep peacefully until the last Sinhalese is wiped out from Sri Lanka. Even before LTTE came into existence the Sinhalese who lived in Jaffna were chased out. Also look at the way Tamil Nadu politicians are trying to interfere with domestic affairs of Sri Lanka. So there is every reason for Sinhala people to worry about threat from Tamils and their aspirations. Judging from the past events this is a real fear and not an imaginary one as some people try to portray. So do not brand all the people or politicians who try to safeguard the interests of Sinhala race as racists.

    It is possible to question the policies of the governments that ruled the country since independence but most of them were geared to address the distorted situations created by the colonial rulers which were highly unfavorable to majority Sinhalese. For example, at the time of independence a large proportion of grade 1 schools were in Jaffna. In the medical college about 80%, in engineering faculty about 75%, in science faculty about 65% were Tamils. Only in the Arts stream majority was Sinhalese. The Civil Service was dominated by Tamils. The situation in Sri Lanka at the time of independence was similar to the situation prevailed in South Africa under the minority White rule. Certainly the changes in South Africa affected the white minority but no one consider that as discrimination.

    I hope I am not wrong if I say that Tamils do discriminate their own low caste Tamils. Has the Tamil politicians who mostly come from high caste done anything to stop such discrimination like not allowing a low caste person even to drink water from a well that belong to a high caste person.

    When talking about the grievances of Tamils and devolution of power as a solution very often people think mainly about Tamils in the North and east. Out of the total Tamil population what percentage live there. What about the Tamils who are scattered all over Sri Lanka. One tragic situation is very little attention is paid to the Tamils who live in the central part of Sri Lanka. Their condition is much worse than the condition of Tamils in the North and East but their contribution to the Sri Lankan economy is much higher. Tamil politicians from North do not care two hoots for Tamils in the central part because they are the descendants of Tamils brought by British as indentured labor and they are from low castes. The Tamils in estates, particularly the youth who are not keen to work in plantations, are asking for land. Suppose if the government propose to settle these Tamils from estates in Vanni I wonder what will be the reaction of the Tamils in the north.

    Thiranagama is talking about devolution of power as a solution but the question is whether the devolution of power will benefit the Tamils scattered all over Sri Lanka and particularly those live in central part and mostly employed in tea plantations.

  • 1

    I don’t know whether Dayapala is a Sinhalese or not. But he surely seem to have forgotten or does not know about the sinhalese and their recent history.

    Under the British rule,it was the Sinhalese who fought the Britsh while the Tamils collaborated with them,(this is not to discount a few Tamils who worked towards freedom in the latter parts)learnt their language and served them.
    The Sinahalese/Buddhists who had to pay a heavy price for their opposition to the British had every right to rejoice their indepedence give the rightful place to their language and religion.
    Tamils on the other hand who served the British in thier languge and enjoyed all the benefits were reluctant to share pie with Sinhales and wanted it divided 50/50 and instead of waiting for the euphoia of the new found freedom to die down and work towards a peaceful solution they chose to quarrel from day one, keeping seperation deep in thier minds.

    The undeniable fact is that their demands back then have all been met and presently what they have are a whole new set of demands but conveniently joined to their long struggle.
    Reconcilliation, about which the Tamil politician are harping on now, is just a facade and they are in no mood for that with west/India with their full weight behind them.

  • 0

    Thank you, Mr. Thiranagama, for being a voice of reason and decency and providing a politically objective analysis.
    Unfortunately, the vast majority of the “opinion-shapers” of this country will seek to undermine what you have to say with all kinds of irrelevancies and downright lies, as some have already done in the comments that precede mine.
    I hope, however, that you and other people of conscience in this country do not give up the good fight but keep making their voices heard.
    Simply put, that is the only hope for the survival of Sri Lanka as a civilized and civil nation.

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