Sri Lanka’s past 74 years of political history since independence in 1948 is marked with rules by eighteen Prime Ministers and by seven Presidents from 1978 after the late J.R. Jayawardene introduced the powerful executive system of government which has now grown like a banyan tree with roots and branches encompassing the Rajapakshes’ family and pedigrees. The Presidential powers have been growing unchecked and unhindered, assuming dictatorial tendencies spreading its tentacles over the judicial functions while controlling the legislature and executive.
It is an undeniable fact that the political victories and fortunes of south political leaders have been founded and built at the expense of minorities particularly the Tamils with an agenda of marginalization of Tamils which was later expanded to Buddhisization, Sinhalization and militarization.
The process of Sinhalization and Buddhisization was initiated with the first Act of marginalization which was carried out against the upcountry Tamils [Tamils of Indian origin brought by the British to work in the Coffee and Tea plantations] immediately after the independence in 1948 when the first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake launched the agenda of colonization of Sinhalese in the North and East of Sri Lanka which are the Tamils’ traditional and historical homelands. The voting rights and citizenship rights of the upcountry plantation workers were snatched from them with quick ;legislation like the Indo-Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 thereby reducing the parliamentary strength of Tamils and creating a category of ‘Stateless Persons’.
Dudley Senanayake. son of D.S. Senanayake succeeded as Prime Minister after D.S. Senanayake’s death in 1952. Dudely Senanayake’s early death in 1953 brought the Bandaranayake’s Family into the limelight of politics.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake’s rule marked the devastating and turning point in Sri Lankas’ history which hoisted the flags of communalism, racism and majoritarianism in Sri Lanka as handy political weapons to score political victories focussing on promotion of parochial interests while forsaking national interests particularly the ethnic peace and unity.
The stepping stone was S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike’s SINHALA ONLY ACT OF 1956 which inaugurated the now entrenched culture of racism, chauvinism and inclusiveness leading to the polarization of communities thereby a wall of racial divide was built between the Sinhalese and Tamils which is now embedded since then with mistrust, suspicion and inner feelings of hostility and hatred have been allowed and encouraged to grow willy-nilly. The 1958 communal riots marked the emergence of communal politics and policies for political gains by all political parties though pretending to be national minded. S.W.R.D Bandaranayake owes the dubious distinction and credit for the entry of Buddhist Clergy into politics which was prohibited by the Lord Buddha for the sake of peace and to uphold ‘PANCHA SEELA’ principles which renounce violence and hatred among human beings and against one another. The Buddhist monks are ordained to preach love and peace while renouncing worldly desires and pleasures including politics,
Ironically with the assassination of S.W.R.D, Bandaranayake by a Buddhist Monk in 1958 like the mythical character of Frankenstein, a mythical monster was created like in the west with a culture of violence which permeated the peaceful citizens of Sri Lanka including killings along with the culture of political assassinations in Asia. This assassination also provided the opening for women to enter into politics when S. W. R. D. Bandaranayake’s wife Srimavo Bandaranayake was thrusted into the Premiership who continued to rule from 1972 to 1977.
Sirimavo was the crucial defining turning point to change this course of political history of Sri Lanka which sealed for ever the co-existence and goodwill which existed between the Sinhalese and Tamils. The inevitable feelings of separation and segregation were rooted in Sri Lanka leading to the rise and growth of militancy among Tamil youths who sought to seek justice through any means.
An unforgivable and heartbreaking act of cultural genocide was committed by Sirimavo Bandaranayake’s Government when the Tamil Research Conference in Jaffna which was in progress was violently disrupted and ended by the Police in January 1974 leading to the death of seven spectators due to the high-handed acts of Police at the Jaffna esplanade grounds. This history-creating event glorified the culture of violence by the state and prompted the Tamil militants to justify resorting to meeting the violence with violence to secure their rights to live with dignity and security for the threatened Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka by the Sinhala majoritarian Governments employing their Sinhala majority security forces.
J.R. Jayawardene’s rule from 1978 to 1989 as the first executive President under a new constitution was stained with dark memories for the Tamils as he masterminded and organized the communal riots in 1977 which opened the exodus and displacement of Tamils living in the South. J.R.Jayawardene vowed ‘WAR FOR WAR’ or ‘PEACE FOR PEACE’ and another uncivilized cultural genocide was committed in 1981 when a group of ministers led by late Gamini while staying in Jaffna designed the burning of the prestigious Jaffna public library when more than 90,000 books and rare manuscripts were reduced to ashes. Undoubtedly this genocidal crime opened the choice of violent paths for the whole Tamils particularly the youths to seek justice by any means.
President Chandrika Kumaratunge signaled conciliation and good will at first by propagating ‘A Union of Regions in Sri Lanka to solve the ethnic problem but she also succumbed to the pressure from the Sinhala extremists and Buddhist Clergy including opposition leader Ranil, the then leader of the opposition who tore the INTERIM PEACE PROPOSAL “IPP’ in Parliament opposing the devolution package.
Ranil Wickramasinghe’s period as Prime Minister from 2015 to 2019 brought fresh hopes at the beginning of his rule when the UNHRC passed the 30/1 of 2015 Resolution on accountability, justice and reconciliation. Even Ranil’s OSLO ACCORD of 2002 met with early death with most of its provisions unimplemented.
Mahinda Rajapakshe was the President from 2009 to 2014. As customary and usual he kindled hopes of a just political settlement when he among others promised the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. However, as is always, he abandoned his undertakings and adopted the chauvinistic agenda and policy to soothe the south.
Mahinda’s rule marked the commissions of atrocious genocidal crimes. His launching of genocidal war in 2006 which lasted for three years was conducted and directed by his brother Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakshe. This genocidal war brought the end of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] and also the hope of a just and permanent political settlement recognizing the Tamils’ right of self- determination.
President Gotabaya Rajapakshe won the election in December 2019 riding on the wave of popularity after the defeat of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] in his war after allegedly committing one of the worst genocides of this century when more than 70,000 civilians were cut down with more than 65,000 disappeared still fully unaccounted for. He campaigned for the Sinhala-Buddhist votes and won as a President to protect the Sinhala-Buddhists and Buddhism thereby efficiently shutting out the victimized Tamils’ sufferings and grievances, their voices and all of their political, economic, social and cultural concerns. In other words, he is a torch bearer and epitome of Sinhala Buddhists though occasionally declaring on public platforms to serve as a President for all citizens while his actions belie and speak otherwise. An opportunistic and wavering Foreign Minister G.L Pieris has been employed to appeal and pacify the concerns and warnings of Western Governments and human rights organizations with on the spot compromising promises without any sincere commitments to implement them.
Currently a merry-go-round is in action and circling in the form of all party conferences and face to face talks with Tamil National Alliance [TNA] to temper and cool the threatening postures of UN, UNHRC and World Bank. However these attempts are like an ostrich burying its head into the sand and thinking that the whole world is in darkness.
The genocidal victims and genocidal crimes allegedly committed by Sri Lankan Governments since 1948 remain unheard and unhealed as cancerous sore wounds and the UNHRC, UN Security Council and International Community must not falter or fail in their obligations and duties to act under the provisions of UN, UNHRC and Security Council Charters to uphold accountability and justice for the genocidal victims when most of them are crying on the streets for more than three years. It is hoped that no further delay will be made to exacerbate the simmering anger and anguish of Tamil war victims. Another feature of the Sri Lankan Governments is to hold all party conferences to tide over a nagging national problem. The said conferences are conducted with much pomp and fanfare but habitually ending as a damp squib without any follow-up and concrete action. So far about six all party conferences have been held since 1977 and one is currently underway convened by the President to discuss the country’s prevailing economic crisis. A party leader Udaya Gammanpola [PHU] correctly stated that “The all-party conference is yet another attempt to fool the public ”. Undoubtedly this statement is also applicable to all the all-party conferences held so far and to any future all party conferences which might be held.
Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM London, Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.