28 October, 2021


Uthuru Wasanthaya And Negenahira Navodaya: Analyzing The Development Discourse

By Sumith Chaaminda

Sumith Chaaminda

This paper was presented at the conference titled Reflections 2010: Managing Diversity, Reconciliation and Development, organized by the FLICT (Facilitating Initiatives for Social Cohesion and Transformation), during 1st to 2nd November at Galadari Hotel, Colombo


Various conceptual as well as political problems have emerged in relation to the two main development projects initiated by the current regime in Northern and Eastern provinces, named “Uthuru Wasanthaya” and “Negenahira Navodaya.” These two projects were initiated in the last phase of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), which ended with a landslide victory for the government. The political strategy behind these two development projects was not concealed from the outset, given that the government authorities have interpreted them as a part of their larger projects of integrating ethnic minorities into the state and development. Against the background of the end of thirty years of ethnic civil war, the current regime is compelled to win over minority people’s active or passive consent towards the state. In this sense, development is not only about people’s economic well being but also about political consolidation of state power.

The political orientation of development has been quite evident in various development initiatives in colonial and post-colonial Sri Lanka, at least since the 1930s. It is very important to study about the relationship between the state-led macro development projects and politics of ethno-nationalism in the country. The agricultural colonization projects in the dry zone initiated by the Sinhalese ruling bloc in its formative years has widely been criticized for its ethnic political bias[i]. Since the early 1960s, when the import substitution economic model was introduced with a great emphasis on state-owned industrialization and economic nationalization, the unequal distribution of economic wealth in ethnic lines became more significant[ii]; and this is one of the main criticisms made by Tamil nationalists against the post-colonial ruling power bloc. In this era, the postcolonial state became the main economic entrepreneur, whilst the patron-client relationships between politicians and voters were very influential in designing distribution patterns of state-owned resources. This state-centric model of capitalist development was claimed to be ethno-centric as well, given the background of Sinhalese-Buddhist hegemony within the state, which was consolidated after the historic political change in 1956[iii].

The ethno-nationalist politics of development did not end but took a new form since 1977 when neo-liberal open market policies were introduced by the UNP (United National Party) regime led by J.R Jayewardena. In this significant policy change, the state-led welfare model was replaced with a state-led neo-liberal model[iv]. However, even after neo-liberal reforms, the patronage of state elite remained a central aspect of capitalist development in Sri Lanka. It needs also to be kept in mind that Sinhalese-Buddhism continued to be hegemonic, especially within the politico-ideological sphere. Jayewardene invented a dual tactic by using Buddhist religious ideology and Sinhalese majoritarianism in order to win popular support, while championing neo-liberal policies in the economic sphere[v]. He tried to present himself as a righteous ruler who follows Buddhist principle of Dasa Raja Dharmaya (Ten Kingly Virtues advocated by Buddha)[vi]. Since Jayewardena’s inauguration, economic liberalization and politico-ideological patriotism have gone hand in hand throughout Sri Lankan political history during the last three decades.

Given the above background, the 2001 peace initiative of Ranil Wickremasinghe marked a significant change in the development of ethno-nationalist relations, in the sense that it identified economic development as a necessary condition of a peaceful solution for the ethnic conflict. During Norwegian facilitated peace process from 2001 to 2006, the political  undertaking of conflict resolution was articulated with economic reconstruction and development. Economic incentives and levers were used to resolve political disputes between the two parties in the conflict[vii]. However, this can also be read as an important juncture of Sri Lankan political history in terms of identifying distribution patterns of development as a solution as well as a cause of the protracted ethnic conflict.

The two main development projects analyzed by this paper emerged during a historic moment where the government achieved a sweeping victory over the militant Tamil nationalism led by the LTTE. Interestingly, development has got a new role to play within this new context, namely reconstructing the  life of the people in Northern and Eastern provinces, so that re-emergence of an armed movement like the LTTE can be prevented forever. At the same time, the war affected areas can also be identified as new spaces for the spread of free market activities, given that these areas have been touched minimally by economic liberalization. In this sense, these areas have been ‘liberated’ not only for state hegemony but also for the mainstream ideology of development, combined with neo-liberal economic pragmatism. It is very important to see whether this dominant approach of economic development would resolve the root causes of ethnic conflict or re-produce the dimensions of ethnic and other conflicts in the long run. As a contribution to this emerging research field, this paper examines some problems and drawbacks of the current development and reconstruction activities in the Northern and Eastern provinces.


The focus of this paper is not the economic, but the political aspect of the development. Exploration of politics of development is an emerging field of research in development scholarship. The political dimensions of antagonism, power and hegemony within mainstream development discourse were mainly emphasized by critical development studies scholars who were critical of the two strands of modernization theory- liberalism and Marxism. Both of the above trends were based on the assumption that postcolonial countries in the non-Western world were in a process of transformation from traditional to modern societies (Agnew, 1987). According to Marxism, the ‘advanced’ industrial countries show the backward countries the image of their future form of development. The basic assumption of modernization theory is that development with capitalist modernity should be externally introduced or supported in non-Western societies because they lack the internal dynamics, which are favorable for development.

The above approach was challenged by various new developments of social science, especially since ‘the theoretical revolution’ in the 1960s.DependencySchoolstarted a new debate on the capitalist underdevelopment in the peripheral countries, while postcolonial studies challenged the Euro-centric universalistic assumptions in modern social sciences including development studies. Some of the new themes in this debate are the role of political agents/actors in altering the status quo, importance of politics, power and ideology, and different articulations of democracy and development in peripheral social formations. As a result of this significant epistemological change, the attention was turned away from a mere economistic understanding towards a broader societal and political understanding of development. Participatory development and sustainable development became the central themes in development practices in peripheral countries; the Right to development was formally accepted by the UN Charter in 1986; development became an object of study among non-economists including anthropologists, political scientists and sociologists; Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of social capital that emphasized the significance of social relations and networks in economic development made a huge policy implication even within the World bank; Amartya Sen made a significant contribution towards transcending the disciplinary boundaries between politics and economics by articulating ‘development as a freedom’ (1999).

In the above mentioned trend of political understanding of development, Arturo Escobar’s thesis of post-development is very influential, especially among postcolonial scholars. Escobar argues that development should be considered as a discourse, which is not separated from political contest for hegemony[viii]. This hegemonic discourse emerged and was consolidated in the early post-World-War-Two period, as a result of problematization of poverty in under-developed countries (Escobar, 1995: 17-18). The construction of social identities, inclusion and exclusion of some communities, employing power over human bodies, fashioning and refashioning the body politics are among the main strategies and tactics of this development discourse. In development projects men and women are objectified, classified, and are given identities so that they can be subjected to mechanisms of governance. The hegemonic approach of developmentalism has had a tendency to marginalize indigenous social and cultural processes as well as local knowledge and experiences. He further argues that alternatives to development are needed other than development alternatives.

In the Sri Lankan context the political aspects of development have not been ignored completely  by social science studies, at least since the 1980s. Newton Gunasinghe and Sunil Bastian have explored how economic liberalization of the 80s and 90s went hand in hand with the widening tensions among the ethnic communities (Gunasinghe, 1996, Bastian, 1994). Serena Tennekoon analyzed the reinforcement of ethno-nationalist ideologies within the Mahaweli development project, re-initiated by the UNP regime which came into power in 1977 (Tennekoon, 1990). Darini Senanayake emphasizes the importance of substantive democracy in development practices, whilst Dhammika Herath analyzes the relevance of social capital as a development imperative in the war-torn areas of the country (Senanayake, 2003, Herath, 2008). Kalinga Tudor Silva has contributed to this scholarship by analyzing the inter-connectivity between armed conflict, displacement and poverty trends (Silva, 2003). Sunil and Nicola Bastian have analyzed the development and participation and their role in social reconciliation (Bastian and Bastian, 1996); James Brow has done an interesting anthropological study on the conflictual dynamics in a rural community produced by a development project in the village named Kukulewa in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka (Brow, 1990). Although all of the above mentioned studies have explored certain political dimensions of development in the Sri Lankan context, it is fair to say that the development as a political discourse is yet to be examined and analyzed. Hennayake’s analysis of the difference between official discourse of developmentalism and what she termed as indigenous discourse of development in Sri Lanka is useful but not sufficient in this regard. She argues that an indigenous discourse of development has emerged in postcolonial Sri Lanka and that this discourse is based on the idea that Sri Lanka had a developed past in the pre-colonial age; and these two contradictory versions of development have been articulated by hegemonic practices of politics. However, one can also argue that these two approaches are complementary rather than contradictory in any project of modernity. It is also debatable whether this ‘indigenous discourse’ has its roots in pre-colonial past or, as many postcolonial scholars suggest, whether it was retroactively produced by the postcolonial modernity itself. However, the relationship between state, ethno-nationalism and development as a political strategy has not been taken into account sufficiently in her analysis. Uthuru Wasanthaya and Negenahira Navodaya provide an important case to explore the political nature of development because these projects have emerged within a significant historic juncture, with the defeat of the LTTE and re-establishment and consolidation of the state power in Northern and Eastern provinces.


The articulation between development and post-war reconstruction is one of the main aspects of the current ideology of development in Northern and Eastern provinces. This makes sense within the context where government has defined the war itself as a humanitarian operation against terrorism. Against the background of rising international pressure on human rights issues, resettlement and reconstruction acquired a central space in the policy agenda of the government during the last phase of the war. In the present day dominant discourse of Sinhalese patriotism, Northern and Eastern development is defined merely as post-war resettlement, reconstruction and establishing normalcy in the lives of people. It has become common sense among Sinhalese nationalists that state-led development is necessary to prevent another uprising of Tamil militancy in Northern and Eastern provinces. This political strategic reasoning of development was there from the outset of these development projects, initiated when the government forces were fighting with the LTTE. Negenahira Navodaya was commenced soon after the government forces achieved a clear victory over LTTE in the Eastern battle ground, and Uthuru Wasanthaya came after the LTTE’s stronghold in Vanni was captured.

The government initiated Negenahira Navodaya as an accelerated three year project for restoring normalcy in the Eastern province soon after the LTTE was defeated in the area. This project was incorporated in ‘the Ten Year Horizon Development Framework 2006-2016 for Sri Lanka’, which was presented as the government’s main policy plan “Mahinda Chinchanaya.” This project is directly supervised by President’s office and the Ministry of Nation Building and Estate Infrastructure Development, while in the formulation of regional strategies a key role is to be played supposedly by local authorities like the newly elected provincial council, relevant District Secretaries and a wide spectrum of grass-root level communities in the province. “Negenahira Nawodaya” is financially supported by the state authorities at the national level, such as the  Department of National Planning, Ministry of Plan Implementation, Ministry of Highways, Department of External Resources, Department of Census and Statistics, Central Bank, Peace Secretariat, and international non-government organizations like Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), and United Nations (UN).

The objectives of the project are defined in a broader way; the key areas of intervention are resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), revitalization of  productive sectors and the regional economy, improvement of economic infrastructure, strengthening of social infrastructure and fostering social services, development of human settlements, and rebuilding the capacity of public institutions in the province. The main focus of attention is on infrastructure and livelihood development at the local level aimed at strengthening the region’s economic and social connectivity with national programmes, and improving social mobility and accessibility of development. The project is connected with other mainstream development initiatives of the current government such as Maga Neguma and Jathika Saviya under the umbrella of Gama Neguma and handled by the Ministry of Nation Building.

“Negenahira Navodaya” was supplemented with “Uthuru Wasanthaya”, which was initiated while the government forces were  advancing in the Northern war front in Vanni. Similar to “Negenahira Navodaya”, the three main aspects of security, resettlement and infrastructure were taken as key themes in Uthuru Wasanthaya as well. The priority areas of this project were identified as infrastructure development including road development, uplifting transport system, developing hospitals, repairing and reconstructing irrigation systems, electricity, water supply and sanitation, agriculture, livestock development, inland fisheries, improving Jaffna University and developing the level of livelihood through education, sports and cultural affairs. The articulation of development with ‘war against terrorism’ ideology and humanitarianism was very clear in the above mentioned project plan. The simultaneous progress of military operations in the North and development defined as a humanitarian mission is elaborated quite well in the following quotation from a popular news paper:

Steps will be taken to launch presently identified programmes concerning Humanitarian development activities first, and then proceed for completion of such programmes in the districts of Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi which are yet to be cleared. The humanitarian development activities planned to be launched are to uplift the living conditions of the people in these un-cleared districts who have been living under difficult circumstances for more than two decades without basic necessities of life. (Daily Mirror, 10.05.2008, 6)


Another example of the political-development connection in the current regime’s strategic thinking is the initiation of a new NGO with former LTTE leader Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP as its head to rehabilitate and resettle the displaced persons in the Northern and Eastern provinces[ix].


In the ideological sphere, development is being celebrated as a necessary consequence of the government’s victory over LTTE. As some scholars have previously explored, ideological celebration of development had been a significant part of postcolonial Sinhalese nationalism. Interestingly, the two main development projects in Northern and Eastern provinces have become an unalienable part of the celebration of the victory of war. The government announced the development plan for the Eastern province in early July, 2007 when the capturing of former LTTE stronghold Thoppigala was officially celebrated. This ideological articulation of victory of war cum development was finely manifested in the following report from a leading government news paper:

Country celebrates Negenahira Navodaya today

The prestigious national event Negenahira Navodaya (Eastern Resurgence) will be held this morning at the Independence Square, Colombo with President Mahinda Rajapakse presiding as commander-in-chief of the Armed forces.

The National ceremony will mark the comprehensive victory and the liberation of the East from the LTTE and facilitate sans any racial, religious or political bias, the Armed Froces who had contributed to this humanitarian effort, sources said. Symbolizing the triumphant completion of the operations, the Armed Forces Chiefs will present a ‘Parchment’ Sannasa at this ceremony to President Rajapakse, who will thereafter address the Nation and proclaim the rapid “Eastern Development’ programme officially. (Daily News, 19.07.2007 1)

The above quotation implies how the official celebration of the Eastern war victory and declaration of the development plan was ideologically articulated. Interestingly, the Eastern development project was announced at the presence of Armed Forces Chiefs as a humanitarian effort after the victory. The term “Negenahira Navodaya” has been used not only as the title of this particular development project but also as an ideological representation of the victory of war. This is one among so many other instances of using the development rhetoric in ceremonial pronouncements of state nationalism.


The above mentioned ideological demonstration was not without its effects. “Negenahira Navodaya” project has been going hand in hand with militarization and various other techniques of governmental force. For instance, within the process of Eastern development, certain strategic areas like Sampur were carved up into high security zones. There is wide spread criticism about the continuous practice of appropriation of minority owned lands for the purpose of development or security. Another crucial issue regarding resettlement in the Northern Province is the contradictory statements made by Cabinet Ministers about resettling people in high security zones. In July 2010, TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran in communication with the President has inquired whether people would not be resettled in high security zones as the Media Minister announced in government’s official news briefing[xi]. The TNA has mentioned in its report submitted to the parliament that people in areas like Valikamam, Thiru Murikandy, Santhapuram, Keppapulavu and Sannar are not able to resettle in their homes because of the presence of high security zones in these areas for over a decade. Even one year after the end of war, thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are still living in camps under thorough security checks. Thousands of other people who are identified by security forces as having links with the LTTE are living in separate camps.

Against this background of securitized development, it is fair to say that tension between different ethnic communities can be developed, rather than being reduced. One of the recent instances for rising ethnic tension, strengthened by the development-reconstruction project is news published in many Tamil media about the government’s plan to establish military settlements in areas like Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Vavuniya[xii]. It was also claimed that old Tamil villages in these areas are to be removed and some IDPs are settled in new Sinhala and military settlements. However, the Defense Secretary has completely ignored the above news and told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) that security forces have not occupied any private land in the North and that the government has no plan to set up Sinhala or military settlements in these areas[xiii]. But he has acknowledged that there are some problems in relation to the high security zones in Palali and Kankasanthurai. The most crucial thing is that, in his evidence before the LLRC, the Defense Secretary has tried to justify maintaining substantial military presence in the North even after the end of the war.

Another important aspect of militarization of development is the wider presence of military personnel in development and reconstruction activities both in Northern and Eastern provinces. The involvement of military forces in these activities has become unavoidable because of the government’s reluctance to allow NGOs to work in these areas. Ruki Fernando reports a striking experience in relation to the people’s response to the military presence in development and reconstruction activities: I could very well empathize with what one elderly gentleman in Mulangavil told me; “it looks as if it’s their (military) land and we are strangers, while the truth is they are occupying our land[xiv].”

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) report in 2007 has criticized the active involvement and incorporation of the military personnel in civil activities in Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka (Daily Mirror, 16.08.2007, p1). As it further observes, “due to the inclusion of military commanders in the reconstruction of the East, NGOs and community based organizations were extremely reluctant to voice their opinions freely, particularly at monthly meetings with Government officials” (Ibid).

The military is also involved in economic activities like setting up tea shops mainly along the A9 road (Ibid). Some of these tea shops named Janaavanhalas are more popular among Southern Sinhalese who are traveling in Northern and Eastern provinces as local tourists. Traveling in Northern religious and natural sites has become the new trend among Southern Sinhalese and they are mostly visiting Buddhist religious sites in Hindu majority areas in the North. The government has recently celebrated Vesak, a Buddhist religious festival, in Hindu populated Jaffna. This implies that militarized development and hegemonic ethno-nationalism are going hand in hand.


Development as a discourse emerged through the problematizing of particular aspects of life so that those aspects were identified as objects of scientific inquiry. There is no need to say that this process is neither natural nor power neutral. Development discourse has been fashioned and re-fashioned in different contexts in so many different ways, according to the prevailing power relations in the given context. This study leads to explore how at the last phase of the thirty years of ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka, certain aspects of social life in Northern and Eastern provinces were objectified and identified as development problems. It argues that the emerging discourse of Northern and Eastern development is as political as is economic, in the sense that this discourse is depended on the prevailing balance of forces, politico-military as well as ideological relations at the particular historic conjuncture of Rajapakse regime’s victory against the LTTE.

It is important to explore how this newly emerged development discourse has produced new forms of power and control over the bodies of men and women in this area. This study further argues that state-led development projects can deploy new strategies of social exclusion, marginalization, and control by subjecting ethnic minorities to the state and to the dominant ideology of nationalism.


Although the dominant Sinhalese ideologues in the current regime advocate indigenous models for political solutions and non-Western forms of development, interestingly enough, the development approach of the regime has been clearly framed by the westernized modernized thinking of development as a unilinear process from a traditional to modern capitalist society. Hence, capitalization, commercialization and construction of material infrastructure of economic growth are taken as indicators of the journey towards development. This dominant model of development has taken an ethno-nationalist and militarized fashion against a particular historical juncture and within a specific socio-political context in post-war Sri Lanka.



[2] It was in 1930s that D.S. Senanayake who was to be the first Prime Minister in independent Sri Lanka took the initiation to develop new agricultural settlements in the dry zone of the North-Eastern and Eastern provinces. This project has been largely criticized for its contribution in sharpening ethnic tensions by making new Singhalese settlements in Tamil and Muslim areas where Tamil ethno-nationalists used to identify as their “traditional homelands” (Peebles, 1990).

[2] Sumanasiri Liyanage identifies this as import substitution regime of accumulation (Sumanasiri in Lukshman, eds, 1997).

[3] “When examining the causes, consequences and dynamics of Sri Lanka’s conflict, it is clear that economic development is implicated in several ways. First, access to key socio-economic resources such as education, employment (particularly in the state sector), and regional development has been a central political issue. Tamil concerns about discrimination and Singhalese perceptions of the relative advantages enjoyed by Tamils can be seen as instrumental in the rise of communal politics” (Sriskandarajh, 2002).      

[4] Liyanage, Sumanasiri (1997), in Lukshman, W.D. (eds), Dilemmas of Development –Fifty Years of Economic Change in Sri Lanka, Colombo: Sri Lanka Association of Economists.

[5] Read Kemper, 1990: 187-204.

[6] For instance, he performed many ideological practices that fascinated popular Sinhalese-Buddhist consciousness like compiling the Historic myth of Sinhalese as Mahavamsa, Nuthana Yugaya, promising to establish a Dharmishta (righteous) society, sponsoring Buddhist religious ceremonies which entail lighting 84,000 oil lamps, planting nine samplings of sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura (Sri Maha Bodhiya) in the administrative capitals of nine provinces of the country, establishing the Department of Buddhist affairs, symbolically reinitiating Vap Magula ceremony etc (Kemper, 1990).

[7] Sriskandarajah, 2003, pp 21-22

[8] “It was rather the result of the establishment of a set of relations among these elements, institutions, and practices and of the systematization of these relations to form a whole. And the development discourse was constituted not by the array of possible objects under its domain but by the way in which it was able to form systematically the objects of which it spoke, to group them and arrange them in certain ways, and to give them a unity of their own. To understand development as discourse, one must look not at the elements themselves but at the system of relations established among them. It is this system that allows the systematic creation of objects, concepts, and strategies; it determines what can be thought and said. These relations – established between institutions, socio-economic processes, forms of knowledge, technological factors and so on- define the conditions under which objects, concepts, theories, and strategies can be incorporated into the discourse” (Farzana, pp 40-41).

[9] According to Pathmanathan, this new NGO known as NEDRO is aimed at boosting economic development and bringing about an economic renaissance in the war-torn areas (Daily Mirror, 10th July 2010: 9).

[10] David Rampton prefers the term ‘securitization of development’ “to the manner in which, development has increasingly become a form of control over the conduct of populations considered within the terms of the discourse, as marginal or threatening to the socio-economic and political fabric of an increasingly globalized world” (Rampton, David, 2007, Development, Humanitarianism and the Spectre of Colonization in the Eastern Province, a paper presented in International Seminar in Geneva on 22nd September 2007)

[11] The Media Minister had told in the government’s official news briefing for the press that people in the North would not be resettled in high security zones. See also, C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Desktop\transCurrents TNA MP Sumanthiran writes to President about High Security Zones and military cantonments.htm

[12] This news was published in Lanka News Web and then adapted in many Tamil websites and news papers. This was mentioned in the letter dated 17th July 2010 written by the TNA MP Mr. Sumanthiran to the President as well. See also,  http://www.tamilnational.com/news-flash/1624-plan-to-resettle-idps-in-the-midst-of-army-and-sinhala-settlements-.html


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Latest comments

  • 0

    Very articulate.I must read again and again.

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy

  • 0

    press release

  • 0

    was a function held to launch the northern development programme similar to the eastern development one please?

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