Partition Wins When Polity Denies Meaningful Power Sharing

By Dr. A.R.M.Imtiyaz
[Department of Political Science, Temple University , USA]

“It is now crystal clear that the Sinhala leaders will never put forward a just resolution to the Tamil national question. Therefore, we are not prepared to place our trust in the impossible and walk along the same old futile path…. We therefore ask the international community and the countries of the world that respect justice to recognize our freedom struggle.” This is the key sections of the annual Heroes’ Day statement delivered by the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V. Pirapaharan.

The Sinhalese ruling class in Colombo may simply consider this as a regular political joke of Tamil militancy. However, serious Sri Lanka watchers would agree that such a statement represents not only the Tamil disappointments and distrust, but also it effectively exposes duplicity of five decades old southern Sinhalese politics, which categorically refused to do meaningful political business with the Tamil moderates. Thus statement is strong in its message and accurate in its agendas.

The Tamil Tigers unquestionably are the deadly elements of the Sri Lanka society. Whether the Tamils Tigers are freedom fighters as they claim themselves or deadly terrorists as the Sri Lanka governments describe, history will answer it. My point is here is that the birth of Tamil Tiger movement has roots in Sri Lanka ’s history. In my understanding, they are the byproduct of five decades’ old failed politics and policies of the Sinhalese political class. There was not an overnight decision among the ordinary Tamils to approve the agendas of the Tamil Tigers: the failure of Sri Lankan polity to meet the demands of the Tamil moderates was a key foundation for the origin of the Tamil extremism in Sri Lanka . Instead of listening to the Tamil leaders and accommodating their reasonable demands, the Sinhalese ruling leaders of the time assaulted and stoned the Tamils and their leaders, and even hired the Sinhalese to become butchers to kill innocent Tamils and moderate leaders. One needs to realize that successive government since 1956 controlled by the Sinhalese miserably failed to engage the Tamil moderates such as the Federal Party (FP). The FP sought a comprehensive solution without jeopardizing the unity of Sri Lanka . However, Sinhalese collective, competitive chauvinism turned blind eyes to the Tamil moderates. Sadly, the choice of the Sinhala political class to use violence effectively scratched the Tamil trust in the political system and encouraged some Tamils to adopt violence.

Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe, a former Premier of Sri Lanka and considered as an agent of neo-colonialists by the Sinhala chauvinists, during his visit to the United States echoed this truth. He rightly pointed that “the Tamils tried peaceful protests which soon degenerated into violence. With the underlying grievances being unattended the stage was set for terrorists groups to emerge (“Our Approach for a Better Tomorrow Free from Terrorism,”Daily News, July 25, 2002.) This helps us to understand the birth of Tamil violent movements, particularly the Tamil Tigers in the end of 1970. The Sinhalese ruling leaders, however, did not freeze their narrow minded ethnic outbidding policies. They incessantly formulated what I call emotional policies to win the sympathy of the Sinhalese, and continually treat the Tamils inhumanely and refused to offer what political scientists call “consocational democracy” to ease ethnic tensions.

What is more ironic is that in Sri Lanka, even after 25 years of conflict, after victimizing thousands of Sri Lankans, mostly the Tamils, the Sinhalese political class still refusing to recognize that minorities, including the Muslims, have legitimate grievances that require reasonable political solution. In fact, they are deliberately refusing to understand the problems of the minorities; because they hate to challenge the kind of political culture they created to outbid their opponents. To consolidate this narrow political culture, they utilize 5th century Mahavamsa, which plays key role in the formation of Sinhala elite mobilization. According to Mahavamsa, Sinhalese people are the preservers of Buddhism and the entire island is the sacred home of the Sinhalese and of Buddhism.

Separation may not be desirable solution for the Sri Lanka ’s ethnic civil war which killed more than 75,000 people out of the island’s 19 millions. In other words, separation may trigger further instability. But when a particular community continuously being denied their rights and share, and became prisoners of the majority/dominant community, then there must be a solution to arrest unhealthy political situation and to give justice to the marginalized. However, desire for a partition could be challenged if the ruling elites show real willingness to think and act beyond the ethnic emotions, and commitments to share the powers with the minorities. That is to say, their must be an effective power sharing mechanisms with the Tamil ethnic political movements both at center and region. This would more likely undermine the agendas of the separatist movements provided there is a domestic and international political willingness to implement the agreement.

Moreover, it is irrational to demand a particular community to forcefully cohabit with the majority. Also, when there is no space for political accommodation and citizenship for the minorities who claim geographical domination in a certain areas of the country, separation is highly likely. Pirapakaran, who thinks that “uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism” would never deliver justice to the Tamils, seem now strongly believe that an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam can deliver peace and justice to the Tamils. Pirapakaran and its elusive Tamil Tiger cadres may have their own political aims and programs as other political parties or organization share in a democratic political structure, but what is truth is that the Sinhalese polity totally disappointed the minorities, particularly the Tamils.

Therefore, when they say “the uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam,” it is highly demonstrating their frustration both with the impartial delivery of democratic system and the Sinhalese ruling elites. In point of fact, this is serious political development and should be taken seriously, because such a call for partition generally arises out of deep disappointment on the delivery of political leaders.

The best alternative to the partition is, as I mentioned above, serious political package. It would probably provide a political space to cohabit with other groups, while maintaining their own identity and values. The basic logic of unity is acceptance. When we prepare to accept choices made by others regardless their ethnic/religious identity, we not only win their trust, but also their loyalty to the common goals. On the other hand, polity may trigger violence and instability when we shove our preferences on others. Unity and peace among the different groups, by and large, occur when there is a sprit for respect, self-determination, and freedom, in other words, tensions between the different ethnic groups can be disappeared when the state offer the space for the minorities to build their lost trust, and to uphold their citizenship through the political autonomy.

If there is a resistance from the Sinhalese polity for a power-sharing, in that case, the final but undesirable option for the Tamils is partition. The demand of separation becomes strong when a power-sharing arrangement is not possible. The world recognizes that if the people do not want to co-habit in the same polity then, partition should not be automatically neglected as a solution. This might be one way to manage Tamils’ demands for political space since 1977. However, partition would not win the blessings of the global community, particularity New Delhi and Washington would refuse to go along with it for the reasons best known to them.

But is it fair enough to turn blind eyes, while the sections of the human community continually suffer both militarily and humanitarianly in the chunk of the war torn North-East? How are we human enough to tolerate blood and dead of the Tamils at the hands of oppressive Sinhalese forces who even snub to offer minimum power sharing such as Tsunami pact? Do Tamils continually need to bleed for the desires of corrupt and selfish or bad leaders of Sri Lanka ?

If the global community thinks partition is not desirable, then they need to exert tough leverage on the Sri Lanka ruling elites to firmly improve the human rights of the minorities of Sri Lanka , by giving political space for a power sharing democracy. Sri Lanka continue to bleed and remain to be home of deadly but motivated Tamil suicide bombers if there is no outside (effective and honest) pressures. Such a vacuum may further frustrate Sri Lanka , and help to reserve permanent seat in the failed state club. Both the global community and Sinhalese ruling elites would have to share the responsibilities, if such an outcome occurs beyond our expectations.

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  1. Very well analysed!

    It is unfortunate that the International Community does not want to see the truth – their eyes are closed to light (and truth) – like the Owl.

    The Tamils have suffered enough – the lies uttered and the prevalent corruption of the Politicians in power in Sri Lanka should be very clear to any dumb fool of the IC.

    If the Sinhalese had compromised and cooperated with the Federal Party in the fifties, how prosperous would Sri lanka be today – it would have been paradise.

    Not only are the Sinhala politician ruining the country, but taking along with them all the others – in their path to doom.

  2. While agreeing to you whole heartedly I should point out separate Ealm still will not work. Tamil is a State Language now In Sri Lanka. District basis of Uni Admission is not there any more. (District basis never ments only for Tamils. We in Colombo and Kandy sufferd from it too.) More Tamils are living in Colombo and rest of the SL. You are right Sinhala elight class failed not only Tamils and Muslims but us too. Mahinda Rajapaksha does not belong to that elite class and he was a good a human rights lawyer for south. Yet Prabhakaran did not give him any chance. He started attacking just after Mr came to power culminating in Suicide bombing of Fonseka etc. So at least now either LTTE has to start the war or give MR a chance. What ever you say we still support MR. He is a better leader than any others before him. We want to push him for a Maximum devolution for Tamils and Muslims. (Including direct foreign aid to State Ealam and State of Islamic East.) MR can do this. LTTE should stop killing moderate Tamils and Army. When they (LTTE) continue that few extremists in the south get upper hand. That’s what LTTE does best. LTTE and Extremists in the south are same bed fellows unfortunately.

  3. Successive Sinhalese governments, right from the earliest days of independence, succeeded in cheating the Tamil leaders by giving them false hopes especially during election time.

    Whenever the party that controls the government at any particular time agree to give any concession to Tamils, the opposition party went on a protest march effectively nullifying the effort. Both major Sinhalese political parties took turns to do the same thing as every thing was pre-planned between them.

    Pirabaharan is the only Tamil leader who refused to acquiesce to the tactics employed by the array of Sinhalese leaders

  4. As the national leader of North East tamils the conclusion arrived by his speech on 27th at heroe’s day is the most obvious conclusion the tamil community can agree upon. It is easy for the sinhala friends to call this decision foolish but when confronted with un yeilding sinhala polity of SLFP and UNP that reigned the country since independance it would be the most reasonable decision to have made after long expected solution. The sinhala polity has not yet come up with a solution acceptable to all the minority communities and they never will come with any solution even though they talk about it for the past several years. The only desire of the sinhala man is to keep tamils under their strangle hold and thrust down a solution that tamils can never accept. The only way the sinhala leaders can undo the damage already done is to come up with a powersharing formula immediately to govern the country with minority communities involved in the governance without any further delay.

  5. The members of GoSL is made out of all communities according to the PR system. It’s not a Sinhalese govt. You talk about Mahavamsa. Can you people try to demand a piece of land from the USA saying that you have been there for a quite a long time. All these things happen in SL because the mejority of the Sinhala Buddhists are always trying to get out from mad sinister world for good. Instead of trying to devide this peaceful land, the tear drop, into tiny little peaces for the sake of a few who wish to rule & dictate a certain part of the people in SL, shall we all make promise to hold hands of each other from all the three communities, like in the past, and try to build the country to its past GLORY. Now is the time. It’s not too late. We are a bunch of people who like to stand for peace not for piece.

  6. Quite right Dr Imtiyaz. If the International Community is against separation, they should bring pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that a power sharing arrangement is put in place. It is not that the GOSL is not aware of this, they just do not want to share power with the Tamils.

  7. Well done Dr Imtiyaz, all along the tamils have been crying out aloud exactly what you have stated. the difference is a non-tamil (although we tamils consider the muslims as tamil speaking) elite has come out and spoken the truth.

    As for the comment by “a Sinhalese” – I admire your courage, however you will need to find the facts and the root cause of any deadly activities by the LTTE. Have a look at the history of tamils of SL. Were there any suicide bombing prior to the mid/late eighties? Why and why not? ask your self the questions? I suppose the article it self defines this. Further, GOSL is the only country in the world that bombs it’s own citizens via jets. Is this how MR wants to be given a chance? FYI the hawkish Army chief SF, did deserve what he got as he gave. Can I ask the question of what was the reaction of yours for the cold blooded killing of the tamil intellectuals, politicians etc at HSZ in SL? So, what chance should be given to whom, to kill more tamils? No way mate, enough is enough! No more suffering of our tamil brothers and sisters of SL. Last, have you ever asked the question why there are so many tamils in the south of SL? It is simply because what your Sinhala Chavunistic Government is inhumanely performing in NE of SL, such as indescriminate bombing, and non supply of essetil fodd items to it’s own citizens. Unfortunately my dear sinhala brother, it is about time that we tamils take our own matters into our own hands. I’m sorry to say this but we are left with no choice.

  8. Dr. A.R.M.Imtiyaz’s article is very welcome; as the title of the article says “Partition Wins When Polity Denies Meaningful Power Sharing”.

    However Dr. A.R.M.Imtiyaz’s analysis of the situation, that the present conflict is due to the majority Sinhala elites refusing to share power with the minorities (such as the Tamils and Muslims), while there is some truth in it, is not quite right.

    That is, it is not accurate to portray the Tamils as a minority who are demanding a share of power. It is because of the inaccurate portrayal, here and elsewhere, that people like Lasi from New Zealand (above post) think “Can you people try to demand a piece of land from the USA saying that you have been there for a quite a long time” or A Sinhalese (above post) think that if a degree of power is devolved then there are no more problems etc.

    While the Tamils are numerically a minority, they have nevertheless always since time immemorial played a part in the affairs of the island Lanka; either from the base of the Tamil kingdom(s) or from within the Sinhala kingdom(s) itself – the last ‘King of the Sinhalese’ was a Tamil!

    Thus the Tamils are not asking for a share of power, but as Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz correctly points out, the post independence ‘Mahavamsa mentatilty’ has been the major mobilizing factor with the Sinhala politicians; first with the Sinhala elites and then those who were not quite the same class but who rose up like MR.
    The Tamils wish to escape/get away from the oppression of the ‘Mahavamsa mentatilty’ that sees only the Sinhala-Buddhists as the rightful inhabitants and preservers of entire island that is the sacred home of the Sinhala-Buddhists. A mentality that is enshrined in Sri Lanka’s constitution.
    Despite the rich history of Tamil Sinhala relations of the past, the neo-Mahavamsa mentality marginalized the Tamils as people, and not only in terms of power.
    The Tamils do not wish to be regarded as second class citizens in their own country; and not least because the Tamils played a very significant part in making Ceylon independent for all Ceylonese.

    The Mahavamsa mentality, with its periodic bloody outbursts, is not likely to change in the foreseeable future; therefore the Tamils have no choice but divorce.

    Since real Buddhism has been rejected in favour of ‘Sinhala-Buddhism’ I can see no genuine reason for the Tamils not going their separate way, as has also been in the past. More than the denial of power sharing there is the denial of basic human dignity and the uncertainty of not knowing when the next Sinhala politician will play the bloody ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ card in order to gain power and perks.

  9. The number of lively rejoinders to Dr Imtiaz’s article is testimony of its acceptance by readers. I hope GoSL and advisors thereto will understand the depth of the comments “Partition wins when the Polity denies meaningful power sharing” As I write this – about 2 hours ago – there was an attempt in elite Dharmapala Mwa/Cbo 7 on the life of the Defence Secy – brother of the President. These are all painful indications of
    frustration at the obstinacy and/or the lack of intellectual capacity to settle the National Question. The Writer says ” the roots of the birth LTTE could be traced to Sinhala chauvinism” I will go further and say the LTTE is the total creation of Sinhala supremacism and intolerance. The Tamil man in Jaffna, by nature, is a peaceful man to whom throwing a stone – leave alone a bomb or grenade, is well outside his mettle. So what or who made them what some of them turned out to be? Perhaps the answer lies in the thoughts of John F. Kennedy “Those who make peaceful reform impossible make violent revolution inevitable”

    Dr Imtiaz offers various theories in this regard as do many well-meaning Lankan patriotic academics and men of learning. But these words of wisdom are contemptously thrown away by the leaders of the majority. And now we have an entity, to use Amirthalingam’s words in expressing his dissappointment at the failure of the Sinhala leadership to accomodate the moderate Tamil endeavour at power sharing – in an interview to Hindu sometime before he died – about Tamil militancy said “We cannot control, they (goSL) cannot control and neither anyone (meaning the Govt of India) can control” The Sinhala polity turned a blind-eye to peaceful Tamil protests at Galle Face in 1956 and unleashed the Dogs of War on Thanthai Chelva and others. This scene was re-created a fortnight ago in Parliament when Tamil TNA MP’s, with their black-bands were ignored for several days, while they were – in true Gandhian style protesting the deliberately imposed starvation (my description) in Jaffna. As Bob Dylan sang “When will we ever learn?”

    Whether Sri Lanka will remain single or divided will depend upon the majority learning, at least even now, to share meangingful power with the Tamils of the North-East. The only instrument that was there as a starting point – the merged N-E Province, was dismantiled by a Pan-Sinhala 5-bench Court of Judges. There would have been much credibility to this Court if they had in them one or two Tamil judges as well – but that was not to be. Worse, even a distinguished Tamil PC who came in play an “interventionist” role – as allowed in law – was rudely ordered not to talk. There was no mention of the little he spoke in the judgement. So as far as the Tamils of Sri Lanka are concerned there is little hope either in Parliament or in the Legislature.

    Nonetheless, let good men like Dr Imtiaz go on making their pleas.
    it is not only the Tamils who are made to suffer. Thousanbds of Muslims in the
    Mutur area recently were denied refuge in several schools and ordered not to be given food by the ex-militaryman now functioning as GA in the area. That is Justice a-la-Lanka to the national minorities in Sri Lanka today.

  10. Well said Prof. Imtiyaz. When hated is the root of the problem, it seeks only promote and protect itself. As we saw over the decades, Sinhala elite reshape itself to promte its agenda better and better. While never seeking a sincere solution to the age-old hated and injustice. So we have it today, a bloody country. Amazing, the mircale of birth, mircale of life, and the scared mircale of death at rippen old age. All for what? To live in freedom liberty and happiness, to say the least. But humans in SL, just losing their lives all over. I sincerely hope for a new mind to arise within us for everlasting peace.

  11. Well said Dr. Imtiyaz, if political accomodation is not made, seperation is not far behind.
    The UN’s Human Rights declaration also includes that the soverignity of the individual supercedes the soverignity of the state. Thus the Tamils can decide who will govern them and not be dictated by the US, India or even the Singhalese. After so much blood has been spilt can both communities live in peace with each other? Not likely and may I ask why on earth do the Singhalese want this marriage?
    Is it possible they want the dowry (land) without the bride? Is that why they are bombing to frighten the bride to run away to India as refugees?
    Just asking.

  12. Dr.Imtiyaz is an academic.He should have the freedom to share his analysis with all right thinking people. I hope he will not he discouraged by the negative comments of a few sadists. To attract such venomous comments from a few evil minded people, he should have written something sensible.

  13. Bravo Dr.Imtiyaz..hats off to you and your article.first of all we are Srilankan,each and every citizen must respect by human dignity,but what is happening in srilanka calling the man as his birth communitiny
    in a communal way you tamil,he is muslim so,for what who create this.
    every southern politico is having the same trump card for their future prospects.when the srilankan realise that he is tamil speaking srilankan,he is singalease then there no problem,but a singalease born
    in the pavement without knowing his father even thinks he is majority community.that way the treatment.
    most of the people try to defend Mr.Mahinda Rajapaksa and white wash his dirty communal face,he too nothing better than others ,according to tamils he is the worst leader who ruled the country after indipendant.
    Jaffna people is begging for food while they are having money,this way of the tamils dont want to live under this type of inhuman way ,it is better die for freedom.the tamils or the tamilspeaking people have no other option ..better divorce

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