By Malinda Seneviratne
Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara’s recent comments on Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran contained valid observations, old news delivered as though it was new, half-truths and some uncalled for insults. Wigneswaran’s response was, in contrast, quite sober though not unproblematic.
In Jayasekera’s opinion, Wigneswaran is ‘nothing but a bhoothya’. An evil ghost instigating disharmony between the Sinhalese and Tamils, to be precise. He took issue with what he considers racist remarks by Wigneswaran which, he claims, is making it difficult for the Government to sell the idea of devolution to the Sinhalese. He also said that Wigneswaran is cosy with the LTTE (meaning probably what’s left of it and of course its sympathizers) and ‘NGOs’.
It’s a strange statement for several reasons. The TNA was the principle apologist for the LTTE in the democratic political space. Wigneswaran is a member of that political coalition. Jayasekara is not making any startling revelations, therefore. The comment on NGOs is vague. It’s a silly generalization. There’s nothing wrong with NGOs per se; you’ve got to name names and explain what’s so pernicious about them that warrants a reference that sounds dismissive. However, it’s the question of ethnic harmony that’s problematic.
Jayasekera, on the one hand says, ‘he (Wigneswaran) is trying to convey a message to the international community, saying that power devolution is not an option for Sri Lanka because of the Sinhala people’. In other words, Wigneswaran contends that the Sinhalese are opposed to power devolution. Jayasekera then acknowledges that the idea of devolution has not been embraced by the Sinhalese. In other words, it has to be sold to the Sinhalese. He is in fact endorsing Wigneswaran’s position and ironically also the position of devolution-fixated NGOs, but contends that Wigneswaran’s racism is scuttling well-meaning efforts. So, in effect, the two are on the same page with regard to devolution, but are at odds when it comes to the best way to get to destinations they both prefer.
Wigneswaran, for his part, has said that the ‘Tamil people’s issues’ cannot be solved by chasing him away. He claimed that even if he was ‘banished’ his successor would say the same thing. He adds the reason, ‘as we always speak the truth’.
He is correct. Absolutely. On this issue, let me qualify. What is ‘this issue’? Let’s discuss it.
The issue is that the Sinhalese are opposed not to devolution per se but to the kind of devolution that Tamil chauvinists have been touting for almost a century now, beginning with Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s communalism, G.G. Ponnambalam’s 50-50, the Batakotte Resolution, the Thimpu Principles and the various other separatist proposals, either in the form of Eelam or those following the Chelvanayagam Principle (a little now, more later).
The ‘Tamil issue’ won’t go away as long as Tamil politicians consider it their political bread and butter to whip up communalism even to the point of conflating politically aspirations so grand that they are politically inexpedient. Wigneswaran’s predecessors talked that talk, he talks it, and his successors will continue to talk it as long as it serves narrow political objectives. To such proposals, the Sinhalese will object, this is true. Wigneswaran is correct. When he says ‘the Sinhalese are not interested in devolution,’ he is correct. The Sinhalese have no reason whatsoever to agree to the kind of devolution that Wigneswaran proposes, his predecessors have proposed and his political/ideological successors would in all probability propose.
And why should they?
There’s absolutely nothing in all the Tamil ‘grievances’ pertaining to discrimination that cannot be resolved in ways other than devolution of power. The claim of traditional/historical homelands is a load of balderdash, unsupported by any kind of evidence. There are no archaeological props, there’s no subaltern history and even the literary kind of ‘evidence’ is at best weak and easily debunked. But we need not go into all that. Just the fact that the ‘Tamil Homeland Map’ is essentially a pick off a set of lines arbitrarily drawn by the British is enough to pinch that part of the ‘truth-claim’ which the likes of Wigneswaran trot out now and again. Add the fact that they blur the truth with ‘multi-ethnic’ talk but indulge in navel and toe gazing when asked about numbers and percentages and it’s actually pretty sad. Throw in the fact that almost half the Tamil population live outside the ‘homelands’ and the bottom falls out of the argument. ‘Issues’ are reduced to slow implementation of the Language Act, nothing more and nothing less. Want to tell the Sinhalese that you need devolution to sort out that little tumor and you are bound to run into ‘Are you kidding?’
The uncomfortable truth that confronts Jayasekara and others touting devolution along Eelamist lines is not that they are getting tripped by the racist statements issued by the likes of Wigmeswaran but the sheer mismatch between grievance and solution.
Sure there are ghosts. Evil ones. There’s the evil ghost of misrepresentation, the evil ghost of exaggeration, the evil ghost of painting fiction as fact and myth as history, the evil ghost of silence on demographic realities, the evil ghost of a flawed colonial map, and the evil ghost of bullying Sinhalese into thinking that submitting to Tamil chauvinism is equal to ‘a solution that satisfies all communities’.
Too many ghosts. Way too many. No wonder people are not buying it. Wigneswaran is not a ghost. He’s a politician who, like his predecessors, is puppeteering with such specters. Jayasekara seems to have been mesmerized. The principle ‘issue’ of both is that it’s a very hard sell as far as the Sinhalese are concerned. It serves Wigneswaran’s political purposes, but wrecks Jayasekara’s. That’s why the latter rants and the former is smug.