Understanding the history of our time | Sunday Observer

Understanding the history of our time

15 March, 2020

The last 72 years can be categorized as one of the most remarkable periods in our long history. It is a period in which we have marched through some of the most traumatic socio-political events imaginable. We have come through the 20th century into the 21st as a wounded but not a defeated soldier. We have limped home to tell a tale of heroic proportions. The devastating tsunami that swept us into one of the overwhelming tragic natural disasters is a typical example we faced in the post-independent era. The man-made tsunamis too hit us from various points of the compass. Some came from abroad. Some were manufactured at home.

The man-made tragedies were the worst. Of the 72 years the Northern region was held under the gun of the Tamil leader for 33 years (From the Vadukoddai Declaration of War on May 14, 1976 to its end in Nandikadal on May 19, 2009). Velupillai Prabhakaran, the first child born of the Vadukoddai Resolution, promised liberation to the Tamils and gave the nation a spell of unprecedented violence.

Obsessed with extreme ideologies of liberation the Sinhala and Tamil youth embarked on political violence promising instant solutions to knotty problems coming out of semi-feudal, semi-colonial and semi-capitalist complexities. The task before them was beyond their limited capacities. They believed mistakenly that the power they derived from the guns and bombs was sufficient to solve their problems and that of the nation. But both boomeranged and destroyed them. A profound truth established in the post-independent era is that violence of the North, South and the East was not a viable means of solving the crises arising out of grievances and aspirations of any community. The misguided youth in the South and the North who promised liberation in the two regions failed to deliver even the basic rights. They were pursuing suicidal politics and ended up as pathetic victims of their own deadly cult. Revolutionary justice promising political liberation in the South and the Vadukoddai violence promising ethnic liberation spawned only death, destruction and despair.

Terrorists can survive only by increasing violence to sustain their fascist grip to generate more violence. In time they become prisoners of the violent forces they created to live off terror. The biggest man-made disasters that plagued the nation in the post-independent years came from those who promised ‘liberation.’ It was the most deceptive and misleading mantra of our time.

The first to take up arms promising liberation was the JVP – a bunch of lumpen fascists (disguised as Marxists) who knew how to kill but not to live or to let live. The cult of death – i.e, suicide and killing -- was glorified as the way to attain political nirvana. The fascist culture of Sinhala ‘liberationists’ was picked up by the Tamil youth of the North who enlarged the cult of death into a way of life for the Tamils.

In the North the cult of death was elevated to holy heights, and was glorified as a religious ritual performed to attain elusive Eelam. Suicidal brigades were paraded as the way to the future. Northern violence reached despicable depths when under-aged schoolchildren were forcibly recruited and thrown into a futile war.

The obscenity was not in desperate Prabhakaran sacrificing other people’s children to save his life – a cowardly act for any leader -- but in Tamil intellectuals and the pro-Tamil NGO pundits white-washing and glorifying it as a voluntary commitment of the self-sacrificing Tamils to achieve ‘Tamil aspirations.’ It was a propaganda exercise to legitimise the fascist tyranny of Prabhakaran.

The third wave of terror was unleashed by the multi-millionaire Muslim extremists. They targeted the Christian churches filled mainly with Tamils. In the history of the Muslims the most brutal attacks faced by them were launched by the Tamil regimes. It goes back to the time of Sankilli who introduced ethnic cleansing for the first time into national politics by expelling the Muslims and the Sinhalese from Jaffna. The ideological battle against the Muslims was launched by Sir. Ponnambalam Ramanthan who propounded the theory that the Muslims were not descendants of Arabs but Tamils who had embraced Islam. The finishing touches to Sankilli-Ramanathan combination was given by Prabhakaran who revived the ingrained hatred against Muslims by ethnically cleansing them from the North in 1995 and later slaughtering the innocent civilians praying at Kattankuddy in the East. He was reviving the Sankilli cult of killing the Muslims with the sole aim of ethnically cleansing the North and the East for Tamils only.

Hatred of the ‘other’ was an incurable part of the peninsula’s Tamil political culture which turned Jaffna into a closed society, preventing the winds of change that took the rest of the nation into modernity. The Tamil supremacists manufactured a separatist ideology, fired with bitter hatred of the ‘other,’ including their own low-castes who they despised.

Their ideology was tailored to reject all possibilities of co-existence with the multicultural, multi-ethnic, democratic, liberal and open society of the South. The Jaffna-centric politics veered incrementally and intransigently, starting from the 50-50 politics of G. G. Ponnambalam in the last decades of the British period, towards explosive ethno-religious extremism which culminated in enthroning and hero-worshipping the ruthless war-monger Prabhakaran. Senior Tamil leaders branded him as the biggest killer of Tamils.

At the same time, they were overawed by his unrestrained and unlimited power to kill. The more he killed the more they worshipped him. Eventually, they deified their killer as ‘Surya Devan.’

The three violent waves of the post-1948 period – the JVP, LTTE and millionaire Muslim terrorists – that lashed the democratic centre has proved the resilient power of the embedded democratic DNA in the political culture of the South. Though the centre has been pushed to the brink of collapse from time to time it always bounced back triumphing over inimical fascist forces that attacked it. The violence of the Left and the Right in the South and the violence of the North (Tamils) and the East (Muslims) have failed repeatedly to destroy the democratic framework that remained intact within its broad parameters. It was not easy for democracy to survive in the environment that turned violent in the late fifties and escalated in the seventies. For one thing, the democratic centre was not concretized by a thriving economy. Nor were the walls of the legislature, executive and judiciary solid enough to withstand the penetrating imperfections. The triumph of the democratic mainstream against all these odds demonstrates the inner strength of the grassroot Sinhala-Buddhist culture that did not collapse under the massive attacks of the brutal fascists of the North and the South.

On the contrary, the Northern political culture collapsed almost overnight and surrendered totally to a fascist regime that denied the Tamils their basic rights to maintain their dignity, or their human rights. The Tamil leaders found their dignity only when they had the freedom to act on their own free will in Parliament at Jayewardenepura and not at the feet of Prabhakaran.

To the ever-lasting credit of the South it must be recorded that they fought a brutal 33-year-old war against terrorism within a democratic framework while the North fought under the unrestrained and overwhelming power of a one-man regime without being hampered by any of the legal and moral shackles that tied the hands of the Southern democracy. The militant power of the Tamils reached its peak under Prabhakaran. They had a committed diaspora willing to finance Tamil violence against the Sinhalese, Muslims, dissident Tamils and even Indians like Rajiv Gandhi. They had the ear and the sympathy of the ignorant Westerners who believed in the fictions of victimology marketed by the Tamils and their fellow-travellers. The Tamil intellectuals were working overtime to manufacture theories and fictions to justify Tamil violence even though they knew that it was going against the security and the interests of the beleaguered Tamil people. Despite all these factors running in its favour the Tamils lost the war confirming the theory that in a contest between democracy and tyranny, democracy has won consistently.

The violence that emerged from all three communities, with each turning against the other, makes all three ethno-religious groups guilty of violating human rights. No one can point a holier-than-thou finger at the other. However, of the three communities it is the Sinhala-Buddhists that have proved their commitment to the democratic framework steadfastly. Maintaining and rescuing the democratic infrastructure, however feeble it may be, for all communities to benefit, has been an outstanding achievement of the Sinhala-Buddhists. The alternatives that surfaced to challenge the Sinhala-Buddhist mainstream were led by the Marxists (JVP type), Prabhakaranists and the Zaharanists. What chances were there for any shade of democracy to survive under these authoritarian and violent fascists? The power and the glory of the Sinhala-Buddhist culture manifested itself in all its splendour when it defended, sustained and won repeatedly against the enemies of its multicultural, multi-ethnic rainbow society.

The Sinhala-Buddhists in the mainstream political culture, stunned the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist pundits, and proved once again on November 19 that they can wield their power collectively and express their political will unambiguously through a chosen leader.

When the Sinhala-Buddhist mainstream lined up behind Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a single file on election day they elected him as their alternative to the Prabhakarans, Wijeweeras, Zaharans, or the local forces that were steering the nation away from its roots. The Sinhala-Buddhists placed their trust in him as the only force that could save the nation from falling into a bottomless precipice.

The power of the ballot won by Gota at the polls is greater than the power of the bullet he won at Nandikadal. The affirmation of the Sinhala-Buddhist commitment to the democratic way of life was never expressed with such clarity before. Once again, they have rejected the fascist megalomaniacs as a necessary means to make our way into the future. Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands out as the crowning symbol of that traditional grassroots forces that acted collectively each time the nation was imperilled by the dark, inimical forces. Though he comes from a background of military barracks Gota has defined his political personality as a force that belongs to the liberal and democratic tradition of the Sinhala-Buddhists. Prabhakaran’s militarism defines the Tamil culture that has utter contempt for liberalism, democracy, multiculturalism, humanism, pluralism and democratic tolerance to co-exist with the ‘other.’ As a descendant of Sankilli he was driven by only one overwhelming ideology: survive at any cost on subhuman brutalities.

This is his second victory. He scored his first when the Sri Lankan forces crushed the Tamil Pol Pot and restored the right of R. Sampanthan to walk this earth with dignity – a dignity that was denied to him by his Tamil leader. The victory at Nandikadal was a triumph for the Sinhala-Buddhist culture that restored the right of the Tamil children to go to school without fear of being abducted on their way, or for Wigneswaran to make nominations for the coming election on his own free will without begging for consent on his bended knee from his ‘Thalaivar.’

The Tamil war-mongers who declared war against the Sinhalese too were taught that their violence can only take them as far as Nandikadal. ‘Gota’s War’ ended the unstoppable violence of the Tamil war-mongers who refused to accept peace deals that came with international guarantees, mark you!

The two victories make Gota a unique political figure. The electoral map defined by Gota’s victory befuddled the psephologists and theoretical pundits who were reading their own partisan minds and not the subterranean political forces moving at the grassroots level. His victory has confirmed once again that the Sinhala-Buddhist culture has rejected (1) violence (2) anti-democratic Pol Pots of all communities and (3) the so-called liberals who were re-writing constitutions to please their Western masters. These liberals failed because they were trying to teach Sinhala-Buddhist grandmothers how to suck eggs at the polling booths.

After the polls the fear-mongering foreign media and their NGO feeders who were bewildered by the victory of Gota went berserk screaming that the Rajapaksas have returned to impose their family rule and/or the ‘white van’ culture. The path taken by Gotabaya so far has taken the winds out of the sails of the fear-mongering hawkers in the media and diplomatic (Swiss and American) provocateurs. His detractors know that they have failed to demonize him by raising the threadbare Rajapaksa bogey. They continue to present him as a negative force. But he stands in the eyes of those who elected him as a messianic figure chosen to defend the democratic Sinhala-Buddhist culture that safeguarded the nation down the ages.

He is now entrenched as the decisive force picked by the Invisible Hand that moves history. He remains in the centre between chaos and order. His will has the power to clear the path to the future. He has risen as a force of the traditional past indicating unambiguously that there is no alternative to the democratic, liberal Sinhala-Buddhist culture. The alternative for all communities is to surrender to weird reincarnations of a Wijeweera, a Prabhakaran or a Zaharan.

The democratic Sinhala-Buddhist culture has been the beacon that lit the dark seas for Sri Lankan ships to come home. Gota, who has inherited this culture, is not the type to betray the nation that has chosen him.

So far, he has won two great victories. He is now standing on his third battlefield. It will also be his toughest. All hopes hang on him because there is no alternative to him. He has to win the coming battles because the alternative is not what the nation can endure any more.