THE FRONTLINE INTERVIEW
(1999 January 06)
The interview given by the President Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga to the "Frontline" published in India
raises a number of questions. It reveals not only the thinking of Ms. Kumaratunga but also that of Mr. N. Ram,
one of the leading journalists in India. These journalists and intellectuals who come from abroad not only have
preconceived ideas but also help to form opinion in Sri Lanka itself. As many people have observed it is always
a case of A quoting B and C, B quoting C and A, and C quoting A and B. After few quotations certain expressions
and opinions become the standard. Also these worthies who visit this country very often meet with only members
of a certain lobby in Kolomba, whose views are in general in agreement with theirs. Occasionally, they interview
the others whom they have already categorised as extremists, Sinhala Chauvinists, Sinhala hard-liners etc. only
in order to pretend that they have given the other side of the story as well.
It is true that Sri Lanka is a small country and that Sinhala people are a tiny minority in the world population. However that is not the reason why the Sinhala people are being pushed around by the big countries. Even a small nation can produce giant leaders and the Sinhala culture in the past has produced such giants. Today due to the political party system the Sinhala people have been forced to select their leaders from a certain elite group which has produced the worst imitators in the former British empire. No wonder that the British considered Sri Lanka as their model colony and they even gave franchise to us before giving it to any other country in the empire, as they had faith in this elite group. This group of imitators cannot produce giant leaders and Sinhala people for the moment are saddled with pygmy men and women who act as their leaders.
Let us take a few examples from Mr. Ram's interview with Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga. When the President was asked what she thought to be the most significant achievements of her government, she said that one of the "great achievements is that, for the first time, the Sri Lankan Government has consciously and honestly accepted that Sri Lanka does not need to be a unitary state...........we have had consciously to do a lot of political work, canvassing and campaigning. Convince the Sinhala majority, especially about the political solution offered as a solution to the minority problem. And we have been able to do even that successfully in Sri Lanka. We were sincere enough ............. to go to the people constantly- village to village, area by area - convincing them. We had a huge programme, the Sudu Nelum movement, the White Lotus movement."
How does Ms. Kumaratunga know that the Sinhala majority is convinced that Sri Lanka does not need to be a unitary state, as envisaged in the G. L. - Neelan political package. The Sudu Nelum, Thavalam, NIPU headed by Dr. Keerawella and other such projects of the NGOs have been failures. The UNP, for whatever reason, is against a federal state and according to them Sri Lanka needs to be a unitary state. Ms. Kumaratunga probably does not know that there are many people in her own party who are against a federal state. A vote for the SLFP or the PA does not necessarily mean a vote for a federal state.
Having talked about the success of the Sudu Nelum, Ms. Kumaratunga goes on to say how convinced she was about the opinion of the Sinhala people on the so-called Sinhala only trap. This is what Ms. Kumaratunga, the student of politics had to say on this matter. "Being a student of politics ........ I was convinced beyond any doubt that we had to get out of both these traps (Sinhala only trap and the Eelam trap). I was convinced but my party wasn't convinced at all...They thought as all the Sinhala-based parties thought, including the Marxist parties. But I was so convinced of what the people thought because I had gone to the villages for twenty years before I became Prime Minister or President ....... I had talked about this ethnic issue especially during my (Sri Lanka ) Mahajana Party days and I was convinced that the people would respond."
What this student of politics tells us is that she was convinced that the people would respond to her policies on the so-called ethnic problem even during her Mahajana Party days. She could have tested this hypothesis by contesting the parliamentary elections as well as the presidential elections as a Mahajana Party candidate or as a candidate of the Bahujana Nidahas Party she formed with Dr. Rajitha Senaratne. When she returned from London, she was a member of the Bahujana Nidahas Party and if she had contested any of the elections as a member of that party with her policies on the so-called ethnic problem she could have easily gone back to London after the elections. What she did was to desert Dr. Senaratne and the others and join the SLFP whose policies were different to those of hers. This means that Ms. Kumaratunga joined the SLFP without agreeing with its policies. I thought only the political opportunists joined political parties without any consideration for their policies.
During this time the non-national lobby within the SLFP was looking for a leader and they were able to manoeuvre and make Ms. Kumaratunga the leader of the newly formed PA, with the intention of implementing the impending "political package" through the PA. Ms. Kumaratunga hijacked the SLFP and even without holding a party conference changed its policies. Even a Montessori student of politics knows that in Sri Lanka people do not vote at elections after studying the manifestos of each of the political parties. At the 1994 elections people wanted to get rid of the UNP and they thought that the SLFP would solve their pressing economic problems. The SLFP (PA) in 1994, could have won the elections even without Ms. Kumaratunga. However Ms. Kumaratunga without the SLFP, would not have become the Prime Minister and then the President.
If the people voted for the PA, having being convinced of Ms. Kumaratunga's policies on a federal state, then there was no need for Sudu Nelum and Thavalam. The very fact that the government had to start a massive campaign to convince the people that Sri Lanka needs a federal constitution implies that the people were for a unitary state even after they had voted Ms. Kumaratunga into power. I can tell Ms. Kumaratunga that even after Sudu Nelum, Thavalam and NIPU people are for a unitary state. She can find this out for herself by holding constitutionally a referendum on this matter.
Ms. Kumaratunga, the student of politics, has failed on her assignment on Prabhakaran. She has not assessed him correctly. However the failure has been more due to the outdated theories of guerrilla leaders that she had learnt from Marxist gurus. She has told Mr. Ram that she had thought that a guerrilla leader had especially to depend on his people. Prabhakaran is not a fish in a sea of people but one who uses the people as a human shield. He does not depend on the people. He depends only on the arms supplied by the foreign countries. As such he is relatively independent of the masses. As Ms. Kumaratunga herself admits now, Prabhakaran has only a few supporters, which means that the question of weaning away the Tamils from Prabhakaran, with or without a package does not arise.
Now let us consider some of the statements made by the interviewer himself. The interviewers very often not only ask questions but also make statements, giving the impression that the interviewer is unbiased and objective. There are no unbiased and objective people in this world and the interviewers being humans are biased
Mr. Ram talks of a Sinhala only trap. Now what is wrong in making Sinhala the only official language in Sri Lanka after English has been so for about 150 years. Historically, culturally and population wise it should be so, but that should not prevent the Tamils from making their transactions with the government in Tamil. Mr. Ram who comes from India does not talk of a Hindi trap though the official language of India is Hindi. For the information of Mr. Ram and the others, it should be stated that the Sri Lankan born Tamil athlete Velu Pandeeshvari from Tamil Nadu, who participated in the recent South Asian Athletic meet held in Kolomba has said that the Tamil language has a better status in Sri Lanka than in India. She prefers to come back to Sri Lanka and compete for the country in which she was born!
The Tamil problem in Sri Lanka is not due to a so-called Sinhala only trap but due to Tamil racism, which was baptised and nurtured by the British. I have outlined the evolution of Tamil racism in "Prabhakaran, Ohuge Seeyala, Baappala ha Massinala", which has been translated into English as "An Introduction to Tamil Racism in Sri Lanka". Mr. Ram can find out that the problem did not start with the Sinhala Only bill in 1956, but originated more than a century ago. The "Sinhala only trap", like the other expressions coined by the Tamil racist lobby, will gain currency among them and very soon they will get willingly trapped in that term.
Mr. Ram says: " I have this assessment from people who are objective, Tamil moderates in particular. There was the high point of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of July 1957; I think the political package that came with the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987 was substantially a step forward." Now who are these objective people? Mr. Ram thinks that the Tamil Moderates are objective. But then what does one mean by a moderate? Can Mr. Ram or anybody else formulate criteria objectively in order to identify an objective person? How does one define objectivity in an objective way without appealing to any concepts created by the mind?
According to these "unbiased" journalists, the Tamil moderates are objective whereas the Sinhala hard-liners are not. These are only the subjective expressions of the Tamil racists. It is the propaganda machinery of Tamil racism which give these terms and expressions an "objectivity". The so-called moderates are not different from the LTTE with regard to the Thimpu conditions. Ms. Kumaratunga who hijacked the SLFP after coming back from London may not know, but the vast majority of the Sinhala people do not approve of the Thimpu conditions. If she is interested, she can find out this by holding a national referendum without resorting dubious opinion polls.
I do not want to comment at length on the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact or the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement at this stage. However I must remind Mr. Ram that the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987 was forced on the Sinhala people and the government of Sri Lanka by the Indian government. Mr. Ram may think of that as a step forward but the Sinhala people do not think so and it was a blunder of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi to force that agreement on the Sri Lankan government.
One last comment on the so-called war. Mr. Ram says that there have been "ups and downs". But Mr. Ram should know that there would not have been any "downs" from the point of view of the Sri Lankan army if not for the Indian intervention over Vadamaarachchi. The peace lobby financed by the NGOs also could have started another project to earn their living and/or to satisfy their egos if the Vadamaarachchi operation was allowed to accomplish its objective