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Tuesday, 16 August 2011






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Government Gazette

Understanding Tamil politics

Although the Local Government elections held in July confirmed the ruling party’s firm hold on the Sri Lankan electorate, the government, no doubt noticed the cloudy situation created by the majority of the Tamil areas returning TNA candidates. Some political analyst however drew solace from the results stating that the results were a testimony of the free and fair nature of the elections and that they also proved the exuberant nature of the Sri Lankan democracy. Yet those analysts, however objectively optimistic they are, could not hide the reality that the majority of the Tamils, after a bloody 35 year war of separatism that wrecked their lives should still vote for a party that justified and fanned the separatist ideology.

Tamil vote

Former Jaffna Mayor Sarojini Yogeswaran

In Tamil areas the UPFA received a 25 percent of the vote but the UNP, as usual, proved their position as a political force of no significance in that area. While the performance of the UNP could be explained by how they fared countrywide, the question is, could the government be satisfied with the vote it had been able to garner for all the good work it had accomplished in those areas? The government rescued the beleaguered, demined the mined areas and resettled providing basics, rehabilitated the youth, reconstructed the infrastructure and most of all restored democracy in the North.

All that gigantic salvaging tasks in a relatively short time of two years and hence the political reward it achieved for all that work needs close scrutiny. It is not that the ruling party cannot lose elections but the irony here is that the loss was to the political party that was in some way responsible for enacting all that world wind for 35 years. Do the people in Jaffna remember that the last elected Jaffna Mayor Sarojini Yogeswaran was assassinated by the LTTE in 1998? How then, do we analyze this position and decipher the factors that motivate the Tamil vote?

Social order

One learned analyst while admitting that the results appeared familiar recalled that they are synonymous with the results of the 1977 election where the UNP dominated the South while the TNA held the North. He, however, fails to reason out beyond that because the paradox here is that the situation in 1977, was far different from the situation in 2011. In 1977, there was a simmering political animosity between Mrs. Gandhi and the Jayewardene government but today the relations are most cordial. In 1977 the LTTE showed promise but today it is history. More importantly, today most of those ‘grievances’ that were said to be the causes of all that mayhem and polarization of 1977 have been affectively addressed. How then, do we get the Tamil community to assimilate into mainstream?

Local Government elections held in Jaffna upholds democratic rights.
Picture by Nissanka Wijeratne

The most probable explanation for this paradoxical situation was presented by Sebastian Rasalingam writing to the Lanka Guardian from Toronto, Canada. According to him the average Tamil man considers the hierarchy in the caste - based Tamil society as important as being a member of the Tamil community and hence any outside intrusion in to that oligarchy is considered as a threat to the well-being of his community. “Ask the wife of any upper class Periya Dorai and she will tell you that the Tamil servants are better than the Sinhalese servants. Indeed most working class Tamils are ‘Low Caste’ Tamil conforming to the Manu Dharma in obeying the upper classes with a bowed head even when it is not in their interest. This is the ‘slave mentality’ or depressed caste/class mentality (DCM). The namptiri Brahmins (elite) have taught us that it is all due to our past ‘Karma’. Unfortunately, the Pillai class Catholic Bishops too have acquiesced to this conspiracy against humanity,” maintains Mr. Rasalingam.

Language Bill

Further according to Rasaligam the acronyms TNA and TULF should more appropriately stand for Thamil Naptiri Alliance and Thamil United Landlord’s Front but the average Tamil patronizes these two organizations with this structured social order in the name of ‘protecting the interest of his community’. He recalls how the progressive legislation was blocked by the ITAK (present TNA) leadership from 1949 latching on to political radicalization based on language and Tamil nationalism. Education had been the privilege of the Vellala caste in the Jaffna peninsular and it was the SWRD government that commenced 15 schools back in 1957 to cater to the educational needs of the ordinary Tamil student.

Come to think of it, why should Chelvanayagam oppose the 1956 Language Bill as it was that Bill that gave the average Tamil student the right to receive his education in his mother tongue for the first time in the known history of Sri Lanka. Up to then, 1956, only six percent of the Sri Lankan population was conversant in English and that should mean that the majority of the Tamils as well as the Sinhalese received no education at the time.

It is a fact that the caste structure runs deep in the Tamil society and thus Tamil psyche takes that social order for granted. Therefore, any attempt to introduce progressive reforms that may run contrary to those deep-seated norms could easily be interpreted as being ‘discriminatory’ towards Tamil ethos. This is quite evident when you analyze the recent history of Tamil politics in Sri Lanka as right from the introduction of the universal franchise in 1931, through Swabasha education to free education, all the progressive reforms were ostracized as ‘discriminatory’ and therefore were opposed by the Tamil elite leadership.

Rasalingam therefore suggest that in resettling the displaced Tamils, the government should have introduced land reforms in those areas first as a way of liberating the ordinary Tamils from the clutches of their ‘saviours’.

Rasalingam could be right; we need some new thinking to make the members of the Ceylon Tamil community feel that they are Sri Lankans first.



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