64 Race & Class 51(3)
organisers killed or imprisoned. In 1983 the Tigers killed thirteen soldiers in Jaffna and the government brought their bodies to Colombo and put them on display before an angry Sinhalese crowd and so provoked ‘the riots’ (pogroms really) that followed, culminating in the killing of Tamil prisoners in Welikada jail, awaiting trial under the PTA, by Sinhalese prisoners whose cells the guards forgot to lock!
That’s when the civil war began in earnest – with each side, the government and the guerrillas, ratcheting up the terror count, with the occasional pause for ‘talks’ or peace mediation, during which each side refurbished its forces and came out more intransigent than ever. The government now added an official military dimension to civil ethnic cleansing by letting loose its private armies to terrorise Tamils and drive them from their homes. Refugee camps were attacked, its inmates killed or driven out, Tamil plantation workers were forcibly taken from their houses and dumped hundreds of miles away by thugs in the pay of the Minister of Industries in trucks provided by him. (The state against its Tamils.)
The LTTE’s guerrilla struggle, likewise, had degenerated into ad hoc militarism with suicide bombings and assassinations. And politics went out of the window. The military tail had begun to wag the political dog – and instead of winning people to their cause, whether among the Sinhalese or their own people, the Tigers began to eliminate anyone who stood in their way, be it one of their own dissenters or the Indian prime minister – an act of self-defeat in that it alienated the Tamils of India. Two years later, 1993, they assassinated Sri Lanka’s President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The final self-defeat came in 2004 with the defection of Muralitharan, their military strategist and their second-in-command to the side of the Rajapakse government. And it was the inside information that he and his men provided on guerrilla positions and strategies that helped the government to finally overcome the Tigers. He is today the Minister of National Integration and a member of the Rajapakse government and held up as a symbol of the government’s goodwill towards the Tamils, and an indication of its intention to afford them some sort of regional government.
But the President’s own actions since the defeat of the Tigers and, more importantly, the political culture that his government, even more than all the previous governments, has created, belies any such democratic outcome. For what has evolved in sixty years of independence is an ethnocentric Sinhala-Buddhist polity reared on falsified history reinforced by feudal customs and myths, with a voting system that seals the ethnic majority in power for ever – while reducing the party system to a war between dynasties, flanked by monks and militias.
And within that polity the Rajapakse government or, rather, cabal (he has appointed two brothers to senior political posts) has instituted a regime of blanket censorship under cover of which it has conducted a ruthless war not just against the equally ruthless Tigers but against harmless Tamil civilians, a ‘war without witness’ someone termed it, while feeding the Sinhalese public with government-manufactured facts and seeing off any journalist who dared to