Are the Jaffna Tamils “congenital idiots”? – Part II
Posted on September 2nd, 2009

H. L. D. Mahindapala

A few Sundays back I stopped in my tracks and re-read Prof. Kumar DavidƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s condemnation of the Tamils of Jaffna as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiotsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (July 26, 2009, Sunday Island). He was angry that the Tamils were accusing the Marxists of betraying the Tamils when in reality it was the Tamils of Jaffna who never responded positively to the Marxists who had stuck their necks out to champion their causes. Of course, as a committed Marxist Prof. David was labeling the Tamils as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiotsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ for not embracing Marxism as a liberating political force. But the idiocy of Jaffna Tamil politics (if I may borrow Prof. DavidƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s vocabulary) goes beyond the confines of Marxism. It covers a wider spectrum.

I am postponing a discussion on this aspect for the moment to agree with Prof. David wholeheartedly. I would not have dared to say so publicly because I would have been called a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-racistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ or a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. However, in private conversations with my Tamil friends in Melbourne I have said something to that effect in a broader sense, going beyond the narrow Marxist context. Now that Prof. David had described the Jaffna Tamil political class as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiotsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ IƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢m somewhat emboldened to say in public what I had said in private.

My point is that Jaffna Tamils had shown almost an inexhaustible capacity to produce engineers, doctors, academics, accountants, shopkeepers, businessmen, jewelers, bureaucrats, especially clerks, etc., but the Jaffna political culture failed to produce an enlightened political leadership that could rise above their ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-peninsularity of mindƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚, (p. 8 Communal Politicis uner the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931 -1947, Jane Russell quoting Leonard Woolf), and lead the people towards realistic and attainable political goals. Not since Ponnambalam Arunachalam left the Ceylon National Congress, rupturing hopes of communal harmony, has Jaffna produced a leader who has had the vision to accept co-existence in a multi-ethnic society as the most natural, viable and peaceful path for the welfare of all communities.

It is this ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-peninsularity of mindƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚, fixated immovably on casteism and communalism, that led them eventually and inexorably to the futile Vadukoddai War. Once the Vellahla ancien regime declared war they couldnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t back track. In 1976 Velupillai Prabhakaran was already looming in the background shooting at his targets indiscriminately. Once the old guard legitimized violence Prabhakaran got the licence to go on the rampage eliminating all his Tamil rivals. For the next 33 years he lived by the fire power of Vadukoddai violence until a part of his head was blown off when he was trying to cross the waters of the Nanthi Kadal lagoon in May 2009. IsnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t there a lesson in all this for the Jaffna Tamils? Or do they think that the past in which they invested all what they had and lost is irrelevant? IsnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t the decision of the Tamil diaspora to go back to the Vadukoddai Resolution a suicidal act to lead the Tamil people to another Nanthi Kadal once again? Have they given any thought to the possibility of losing the balance of Tamils left behind in Sri Lanka to Vadukoddai War II?

Of all the communities in Sri Lanka the Jaffna Tamils suffered most because of their leadersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ blind refusal to co-exist in a multi-ethnic society sharing the land in common with the other communities. Their suicidal political ambitions, arising from an exaggerated view of their self-importance and superiority, drove them to an end they never thought would come. With the whole world rejecting their claim for a separate state, only ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiocyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ would have led them to believe that they were all set to get their separate state. Only ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiocyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ would have made the Jaffna leadership believe that they can win the war by throwing under-aged children into the battlefield. Only those infected with ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiocyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ would rely solely on the single strategy of killing and destroying as a means of attaining their political goals, rejecting alternative paths of diplomacy and negotiations.. Only ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiotsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ would use Tamil civilians as human shields to prolong a war they had lost ever since the Army asserted it superiority in Mavil Aru. If Velupillai Chelvanayakam, the father of the Vadukoddai Resolution and his successor, Velupillai Prabhakaran, are the typical kind of leaders that Jaffna can produce do the people of Jaffna need any outside enemies? When Prabhakaran began shooting his own people ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the Tamil people who had sacrificed everything to protect him and all that was contained in the Vadukoddai Resolution ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t it confirm that the Jaffna leadership was not only idiotic but brutal as well?

Prof. DavidƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s friend, Prof. Sivaguru Ganesan asks a pointed question that goes to the heart of the moral crisis in the Jaffna political culture: “How could a community, so educated, numerate, literate and much internationalised, have put up with this degree of brutality and lack of vision in its leading representative?ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ A similar question was raised by Prof. Rajan Hoole in the mid-nineties when he asked: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-How could such an evil monster come out of the womb of Jaffna?ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (I am quoting from memory.) The Tamil intellectuals are baffled. They cannot comprehend or come to terms with Vadukoddai violence that militarized and brutalized Jaffna society. How could the Jaffna leadership that accused the Sri Lankan government of turning a blind eye to the riots of 1983 kill more Tamils than all the other forces put together, as stated by S. C. Chandrahasan and V. Anandsangaree.

Prof. David attributes the distortions that misdirected the peninsular political class to the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-socio-economic underdevelopment and cultural peculiaritiesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ of Jaffna. As an ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-unrepentant MarxistsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ he explains ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-the 60 year non-relationship between the Tamil people and left politicsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ in predictable Marxist terminology, which has some relevance more than validity even in Marxist terms. He says: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The reason why a left ideology could not put down deep roots and either link up with the southern left or grow its own indigenous left tradition was the same; the social soil was not fertile. The deleterious effects of caste and the hidebound social ethos were supplemented by the absence of a modern working class. The backwardness of capitalist production denied Jaffna a proletariat, and more generally, a modern ethos.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

In classical Marxist terms this argument is wonky because there wasnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t much of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-a modern working classƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ in the south. Bala Tampoe was leading the white collar workers in the mercantile sector and I. J. Wickrema was leading the clerks in the Government Clerical Service Union. These were two most powerful centres of trade union power held by the Trotskyites. If you leave the harbour workers and the workers of the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills out there wasnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t a working class of any significance to lead a revolution. In short, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-a modern working classƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚, arising from a solid industrial base with a revolutionary potential, was no where in sight.

Besides, capitalist production was not much in evidence in the south either. It was basically a plantation economy with a sprinkling of the compradore middle-men dominating the export-import economy locked into the old colonial enterprises located in the city of Colombo. The plantocracy was the ruling elite because those who had money invested in land and not in industries. If there was a working class it was found only in the plantations and that class too was dominated by ethnic forces rather than by Marxist theories. In fact, it can be argued that Marxist leaders, who emerged as the alternative political force to the Senanayakes and the Bandaranaikes in the colonial and post-colonial periods, were not only overshadowed but ultimately buried by identity ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ politics which the gurus of Prof. David embraced eventually in their twilight years.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Unfolding events in Sri Lanka proved that ethnicity stood Marxism on its head. The cultural dynamics embedded in ethnicity were the forces that were driving politics more than the imported and rootless theories of Marx. The Sri Lankan crisis can be understood best in the cultural context than in any other theoretical construct. It was primarily a clash of cultures. It was a clash between the closed, rigid and cruel culture of the north and the open, flexible and liberal culture of south. Prof. David admits this partially. He says that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-the (Jaffna) social soil was not fertile. The deleterious effects of caste and the hidebound social ethos were supplemented by the absence of a modern working class.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ However, he gets it wrong when he mixes ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-the deleterious effects of the casteƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ with ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-the absence of a working class.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ The fact remains that with or without the working class ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-the deleterious effects of the casteƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ had distorted and perverted the Jaffna political culture beyond redemption. Only violence could dismantle the entrenched Vellahla caste. The Vadukoddai violence, as it worked out, was targeting the south as well as the north ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the north suffocating under the oppressive pressures of traditional casteism.

It is most significant that Chelvanayakam launched his racist political movement, Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (the Tamil State Party) ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ to carve out a separate state for the Tamils from the GCSU Head office in Maradana on December 18, 1949. Mark you, he did not choose Jaffna but he chose the GCSU Head Office in Colombo, to launch his campaign for the mono-ethnic state. The left too was wooing assiduously and relentlessly the government servants in the public service which, incidentally, was the only growth industry under colonial rule. In the grand theory of the Marxists the GCSU was to be a part of the vanguard that was to lead the revolution. But it was Chelvanayakam who won the day. He chose the GCSU because the Vellahla vanguard of Jaffna communalism was in the public service. He assessed correctly and astutely that they were going to be the carriers of his communal message and also the driving force of communal politics. The Vellahlas were not only the domineering force in Jaffna but also dominant factor in the public service.

The heart and head of Jaffna was in the public service. R. W. Crossette-Thambiah confirmed this when he wrote: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The Jaffna man who is a strong individualist still hanker after the security of a public service run by the State.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ ( p.112 ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Jane Russell) The high value placed on the permanent and a pensionable public servant was expressed in several poplar sayings. One said: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The father reaped the harvest in Jaffna while the son shone in Colombo.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ Crossette-Thambiah said: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-There is a saying among the old people of Jaffna: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Even if you have to rear chicken, do it in the government service.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (Ibid). Besides, in the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-onion and chillie ball economy of JaffnaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ the earnings of Tamil public servants went a long way to sustain and enrich Jaffna. It is also known that the dowry of a public servant was guaranteed and its quantum rose with the rank in the public service.

Apart from these factors, the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-craze for clerkshipƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ among the Jaffna Tamils (p.72 ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” A. J. WilsonƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s biography of Chelvanayakam) had a political element as well. Getting a foothold in the administration was another way of getting the ear of those in power and wielding power through the bureaucracy. The institutional mechanism that controls and manages power is the bureaucracy. I remember K. C. Nithiyanandan, a leader in the GCSU, telling me:: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚You Sinhalese govern but we rule.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ He meant that having powerful base in the administration is more important than having power in the political center.

The primary objectives of the major Jaffna Tamil political movements were to grab (1) power at the center (including the administration) and (2) territory. Wielding power at the center meant grabbing a greater share of the national cake. The Jaffna Tamils wielded an undue share of powering the British colonial administration. For instance, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-(F)rom 1900 to 1931 the Northern and Eastern Provinces had received almost 50% of the total government expenditure on major irrigation works. After 1931, (when D. S. Senanayake became the Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation) their share of the total fell to 19% and of minor works they received 12 ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚½.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (p.170 ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Jane Russell).

Redressing the historical imbalances of society ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” particularly a nation emerging from 500 years of colonialism — was a prime necessity. Under colonial patronage minoritarianism ruled the roost. When the balance was restored they cried ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-discriminationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. The cry of discrimination was first raised by G. G. Ponnambalam when he went before the Soulbury Commission in 1945 ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” long before S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike came into power (1956) ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and the independent commissioners dismissed it as stuff and nonsense. They also dismissed the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-rapaciousƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ cry for 50% of power at the center to 12% of Jaffna Tamils who, for the sake of political convenience, tried to rope in the other minorities who did not want to be a part of it.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The Tamils putting forward more and more rapacious demandsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (Bandaranaike – p.240, Jane Russell) could not be tolerated by any just society. When the balance was restored the Tamils cried ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-discriminationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. The sole objective of the struggles of the Vellahala high command, ruling Jaffna, was to preserve their feudal and colonial privileges, power and positions. Any loss of any one of these was decried as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-discriminationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. Can the loss of these feudal and colonial privileges or the rejection of their ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-rapacious demandsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ be categorized as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-discriminationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚? But that is the sob story of the Jaffna Tamils.

The Sri Lankan crisis began with the cry of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-discriminationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ before the Jaffna Tamil shifted to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-aspirationsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚. Any objective analysis must examine critically the myths of discrimination on an ethnic basis. The Tamil propagandists succeeded because the cry of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-discriminationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ was a simple and effective story to market. Whether it was an act of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-discriminationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ by the majority or whether it was a case of the minority playing the politics of Oliver Twist there was no necessity for any enlightened leadership to go down the violent path of the Vadukoddai Resolution. The Tamil political leadership was boxed inside the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-peninsularity of their mindsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ that they failed to think outside it. They became ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-congenital idiotsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚, to quote Prof. David. They missed all the opportunities that came their way ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” all which will be dealt in the next article.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ PS: Please note that I am using Prof. DavidƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s telling phrase only to describe the Jaffna Tamil political caste/class which dragged the Tamils, under false promises, into Nanthi Kadal. As individuals the Jaffna Tamil is a splendid specimen of generosity, kindness, and loving care. I know this for certain because I am married to one from Madagal.

————————–To be continued.

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