Can the minority get out of their rut? | Sunday Observer

Can the minority get out of their rut?

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike

Managing a democracy in normal times is bad enough. Managing it in times of crises can be a horripilating nightmare. Choices have to be made between confronting imperatives demanding urgent and unpalatable decisions and the popular will that would invariably opt for the comfortable and the least painful way out. The choices available for the drivers steering the wheel of state are risky either way. To begin with, no one likes the changing of gears which disturbs the settled position in the seat at a time when you are cruising smoothly on the surface of a flat road. Besides, it tends to build a kind of resentment against the driver who is doing his best to navigate his way forward through the bends and over the bumps. The driver who is at the wheel of the state is always trapped in this predicament. In reality he doesn’t have much choice. The choice available in trying to lie down at the end of the day is between a bed of thorns and porcupines.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the current driver in the seat. He has been driving the State since November 19, 2019. To arrive at his destination, he has decided to go down Dharmapala Mawatha. That is the meaning of November 19, 2019 – a date which is going to be as meaningful as ‘1956’. At no time in the post-independent period has the Sinhala-Buddhists decided to act collectively as a united political force as on November 19, 2019. There is, of course, ‘1956’. That was different. It was the year in which the colonial dam burst.

The natural flow of history was dammed for nearly five hundred years and the accumulated forces were rearing to break loose in 1956. It could not be contained any longer behind any wall. The increasing pressures of the critical mass of historical forces waiting to break through was too overbearing for any obsolete colonial dam to hold back.


Besides, by ‘1956’ the tsunamic waves of anti-colonialism had swept across Afro-Asian nations overthrowing Western institutions and values. On the surface there were the changes in the change of guard. On the surface the Brown Sahib replaced the White Sahib. But beneath that political façade were the grassroots forces sweeping away the cultural remnants of colonialism.

The waves were just not political. Overthrowing the alien cultural dominance that came with Western imperialism proved to be more difficult than just sending home the Western masters. At independence Sri Lanka was ruled by 6% of the English-speaking elite. Of this, the English-speaking Vellalas held a disproportionate share of jobs and power in the British bureaucracy. More than the class division it was the cultural division – the English-speaking kultur elite versus the Sinhala-speaking yakkos – that separated and alienated the people from the State.

So, by ‘1956’ the trends had developed and strengthened at all levels for the people to reclaim the nation they lost to the West. It was a historical inevitability. It was the momentous year in which the historical imbalances caused by alien rule were readjusted and restored to their legitimate place. It was the first flowering of the grassroots forces that were suppressed for nearly five hundred years of colonialism. It was the dawning of a new era for the people who understood it their way and expressed it in the very simple slogan: Apita thana dunna! (We were given our due place!) They were referring to the place their ancestors lost five hundred years ago.

I was there when the overjoyed masses swarmed into Parliament and occupied the well of the House. The feeling in the air of having regained the precious heritage that was lost for centuries was infectious. Overwhelmed, some even shed tears of joy. It was a moment to remember for the rest of the living days.

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who came from Oxford had the foresight to identify and go along with the irresistible and overwhelming forces of history and win. He was chosen by history to lead ‘1956’. Stephen Spender’s splendid lines in ‘’I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great’’ describe his stature most aptly:

“Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,

And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

He didn’t die when he was assassinated. Like all great historical figures, he was reborn in the memory of the people whom he served. To this day he lives as a determining force in the memory of the people who define and pursue their own destiny.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory on November 19, 2019 is a return to ‘1956’ but with new characteristics. If ‘1956’ was a clear rejection of colonialism – a movement that was defined, refined and led by self-sacrificing activists like Anagarika Dharmapala -- , ‘2019’ was an unequivocal rejection of fascist minoritarian politics threatening the majoritarian way of life inherited from the first steps taken by the nation-building pioneers who put their roots down firmly, unlike the other itinerant migrants, and opened the virgin land to make this ‘island a fit dwelling-place for men’ (Mahavamsa) – one of the finest political ideals of all mankind.

In 2019 the minoritarianists were all out to rewrite the pages of history by devaluing and denigrating the very forces that opened the doors of the land and welcomed them when they too landed as migrants and had nowhere to go. But by 2019 they had grown to a point where they could change their character and take to aggressive politics challenging the very foundations on which they thrived. After they found their feet -- with the help of the majority, of course -- they decided to dislodge the majority and take over in the name of various imported theories and rights.

Minoritarian power, which included anti-Sinhala-Buddhist NGOs, had reached its peak. By 2019 they were ensconced in a position to dictate terms to the Yahapalanaya regime. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s 19th Amendment was the noose that was tightening round the neck of the nation. As if that is not enough, he sent his emissaries to UNHRC to promise his buddies in the West that he is prepared to do their bidding, even if it means sacrificing the heroes who saved the nation. Together with the arrogant minorities and his NGO partners he was lustily ringing the death knell of the Sinhala-Buddhists.

Proved his worth

The desperate Sinhala-Buddhist majority had no one to stand up for them. No saviour, no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel. They knew that Ranil Wickremesinghe and his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist gang had to be stopped. But who was going to do it? It was in these frightening circumstances that Gotabaya Rajapaksa emerged as the tried and tested man. He has proved his worth by leading the longest and the biggest military campaign from a commanding height. He was the power behind the forces that crushed the deadliest enemy – the invincible enemy -- of the nation with the bullet.

On November 19, 2019 he went to battle with the ballot in hand to fight the new enemy at home. His victory shocked the pundits by winning the unwinnable electoral battle. Conventional wisdom had concluded that no one can win without the minority votes. Gotabaya proved that he can win unwinnable battles both with the bullet and the ballot. Besides, earlier Field Marshall Fonseka failed to win with the ballot despite collecting the votes of the minority and the majority. Gotabaya won only with the votes of the majority. Gotabaya has rewritten the political textbooks by proving that it is possible to win without the minority votes – a force that was considered indispensable.

This should force the minorities to revisit their failed past and consider new strategies to negotiate their way into the future, if they want to have one with peace and security. They played their last card at Vadukoddai by declaring war against the majority and they failed. Failed miserably! Their last hope was in the ballot. After the failure of the Vadukoddai bullet it was considered to be their most indispensable weapon. But Gotabaya has disproved this theory. It means that the minority can push the majority only sometimes and that too only up to a point at all times, unless they get another Ranil Wickremesinghe to do their bidding. As usual he was self-sabotaging himself with his incalculable missteps. But why should the nation pay for his stupidity? He had to be stopped.

Rational basis

On November 19, 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa put a stop to it. The majority that backed him to the hilt signalled that enough is enough. On November 19, 2019, the majority declared in bold headlines that there are limits to minoritarianism. They went quietly to the polls and without throwing hand grenades told the minorities that the future is in peaceful coexistence, as they had done for centuries before, and not in identitarian violence that destroys them more than the majority. It was not a move by the majority to put the knee to the neck of the minorities and choke them. It was a predictable reaction to the minorities stepping over the limit with an unwarranted arrogance.

Another proven fact in the last election is that the majority is willing to place their trust in the Rajapaksa leadership. It is not because there is none in the horizon to give an alternative leadership. The decisive factor is in the quality of the leadership available in the political landscape. The future has to be negotiated with them. They are custodians of the future right now. There is no point in blaming the majority because they have proved their mettle with bullets and ballots. Our politically bankrupt pundits, as usual, are blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists. But how far can they go on blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists after the last election?

The poverty of the thinking of this gang is expressed in the inane statement of Prof Quadri Ismail who wrote: “There cannot be peace in Sri Lanka until the Sinhalese come to terms with their bloody history, and disavow majoritarianism.” -- A critique of (Tamil) Self-determination. (10/7/2013 - Groundview.) Why only the majority? How about the minority coming to terms with their bloody violence, and disavowing minoritarianism? No. That is not on.

Sacrifices must come only from the majority. They must keep on giving until there is nothing to give except, perhaps, their wives and daughters. Since all minoritarian gambits, including violence and international pressures, have failed the minorities should seriously consider their next move on a rational basis with the aim of securing the good of all concerned.

They must consider how they can rephrase their rhetoric and restructure their agenda to achieve peaceful co-existence as no space should be allotted ever for disproportionate power and territory for ethnic enclaves.