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Thursday, 1 April 2010






Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Izeth and Devanesan opening batting for Terrorism’s second innings?

The greatest opening pairs have been made of batsmen who complement each other. ‘Complement’ is of course different from ‘compliment’, the latter is about mutual back-scratching. There are openers and those who compliment (as opposed to ‘complement’) one another tend to be third rate.


Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu are of the former kind. Sanath was naturally gifted, unorthodox and impatient; Marvan the natural ‘anchor’, technically correct, solid and patient. A class act in any form of the game. Kath Noble and Dayan Jayatilleka are of the latter kind. They compliment each other. Frequently. Embarrassingly.

I found however, that Dayan and Kath, despite their fascination with each other (and Dayan with himself), are still a notch higher in the quality scale to Izeth Hussain and Devanesan Nesiah. I am referring to a debate sparked by Nesiah’s comment on Sinhalese visiting post-conflict Jaffna, first published in www.groundviews.com and later in a daily under the title ‘Rebuilding Sri Lanka’.

In this piece, Nesiah, while admitting that he had not visited Jaffna after the end of the war, quotes someone he thinks is a ‘perceptive and sensitive Sri Lankan’, who, we are told believes that ‘the people of the North, especially in the Jaffna district, have developed a feeling of dissatisfaction, disaffection and contempt towards the people of the South, who post the end of the war are now engaging in pilgrimage and sightseeing related visits to the North in large numbers, and in the process totally disregarding the need for privacy, encroaching on meagre infrastructure resources and services of the district, causing significant negative impact on the environment/cleanliness and pollution in the area, and behaving in a manner unacceptable by the cultural and religious values of the Northerners.’

Speaking with nostalgia

Tissa Devendra, a former Government Agent, Jaffna, subsequently objected to Nesiah’s contention accusing him of extrapolating wildly on a comment from a dubious source. Devendra finds it troubling that Nesiah speaks with nostalgia about the situation in Jaffna the aftermath of the Tiger-friendly CFA being signed.

The post-war traces. File photo

Butts in Izeth. He is subtle; more like Marvan than like Sanath. He says he doesn’t want to get involved in the exchange between the two but does so nevertheless.

He defers in favour of Nesiah because a) he is a Tamil and therefore should know more about the Tamil psyche (he could have said ‘He is an Eelamist and therefore should know the Eelamist mindset’, that would have been more accurate!), and b) he (Nesiah), according to Izeth, is a person of ‘high moral integrity, exceptional intellectual competence, with the background of ethnic studies and of administrative and other experience that make him just the sort of person we need for national reconciliation’. Well, if ‘national reconciliation’ was about submitting to Eelamists, he, Izeth, would be spot on.

In 2003 or 2004 Nesiah told me, ‘I am amenable to a non-Eelam solution that is within the notion of a united Sri Lanka’. I ignored the subtle separatist/federalist push of the word ‘united’ and asked him if he could say this anywhere north of Vavuniya and he admitted he could not.

Then, around 2007, he praised (from the audience) the idea of ‘federalism’ at a panel discussion on conflict resolution organized by the South Asia Peace Institute at the JAIC Hilton.

He threw in the examples of India and the USA. I objected, pointing out that a lot of these examples are tossed around without pointing out to the realities of each situation, especially the centralizing tendencies of the relevant policies subsequent to constitutional enactment. Nesiah did not respond.

Nesiah, in his response to Devendra (published in ‘groundviews’) states that he had subsequently gone to Jaffna and Chavakachcheri. His ‘first hand observations’ include evidence of practical issues resulting from unprecedented numbers visiting the area. He does not say anything to support his earlier thesis about Tamil perceptions of a Sinhalese arrive wearing conqueror’s robe, or the encounter being one between victor and vanquished except for a slight nod towards the person he quoted in the original piece, viz ‘in the meantime there are ill effects such as those referred to by the person I cited’.


When Izeth is on strike he takes a massive swing called ‘triumphalism’. What began as one of many perceptions that some (maybe even just a few, let us not forget) Tamils had about Sinhalese visiting Jaffna, is now, all of a sudden, THE DOMINANT PERCEPTION. Then Izeth, true to form, executes a perfect ‘late-cut’:

The crucial point is this: the Tamils can be expected to have an inevitable predisposition to view the Sinhalese as conquerors as long as the latter don’t move, after having won the war, to try to win the peace. That will be possible only through a political solution, but neither the Government nor the Opposition is showing any sense of urgency about it.

What is peace and who determined it was/is co-terminous with a ‘political solution’ that takes ‘devolution’ as a non-negotiable (as both Izeth and Nesiah have argued ad nauseam)? Nesiah, in another debate (with Jolly Somasundram) again has taken the TNA’s point of view on post-LTTE Tamil concerns, i.e. a virtual resurrection of the Vadukkoddai Resolution.

What we have here is a deliberate and painstaking construction of a ‘Tamil perception’ regarding Sinhalese, arbitrarily pinning on the Sinhalese a non-existent ‘triumphalism’ and ‘racism’ while simultaneously painting Tamil (not LTTE) as ‘vanquished’. Nesiah’s opposition to the kind of reconciliation advocated by Somasundram is consistent with the Eelamist posturing he has been engaged in for the past several decades (more on the lines of Chelvanayakam’s ‘A little now more later’ because ‘the Sinhalese are not averse to giving as long as it takes place over a long period of time’). Somasundram rejects the kind of politics that led to the Vadukkoddai Resolution, possibly because he is aware of the kind of outcomes that can result.

There is nothing wrong in wanting a separate state. There is nothing wrong in promising (like the TULF did in 1977) Eelam or something close to it. The Tamil people overwhelmingly voted for the TULF in 1977. They voted on a dream. Fortunately for Nesiah, he was spared the ultimate anguish that thousands of Tamils had to suffer as a result.

The TNA has had to move back a few steps. Well, move back three decades and three years almost. They have had to reinvent themselves. They are no longer spokespersons for the LTTE. They are the TULF (New). They are doing their utmost to have over the Tamil community to a possible LTTE (New) a few years from now and bury the Eelam Dream (New) in a Nandikadaal (New) a few decades down the line. This is what Nesiah wants. Izeth Hussain is ideal foil for this new age Eelamist. Nesiah will keep the scoreboard ticking, Izeth will play sheet anchor.

The last paragraph in Somasundram’s article which sparked the debate (‘A turnaround challenge for NE Tamils’,) should be a warning to Nesiah who, contrary to Izeth, is quite a distance from being a man of ‘high moral integrity, exceptional intellectual competence, etc etc’:

‘NE Tamils, living in this country, have to decide what is best for them. Those living in foreign countries are not their role models or judges. It is left to NE Tamils to capitalize on this opportunity- never to be repeated- or blow it, leading to disastrous results. In the latter event, there will be no one to be their saviour.’

This is essentially a wish. Politicians seldom wave the flags called ‘Reality’ and ‘The Possible’ in the face of voters; they prefer ‘Dream’ and ‘Improbable’ which they will of course disguise using the colours of the earlier mentioned banners. One thing is certain. Twenty to thirty years down that destructive road, a Devanesan Nesiah will tell some Malinda Seneviratne that he cannot go beyond Vavuniya and repeat what he had just said. And an Izeth Hussain will keep the scoreboard of inter-ethnic disharmony ticking along with neat pseudo-intellectual glances, square-cuts and such.

Frankly, I don’t think that the ordinary people of this country are willing to walk that road again. If they are forced to, though, we will see another bloodbath no doubt, but will end up where we are today, with the Eelam Dream (New) joining its ancestor. Buried.




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