A Call to Ban Race-based Political Parties

Dilrook Kannangara

Who is a racist? A racist is a racially prejudiced person. In the olden days racism helped save races and cultures from erosion. But it is an impediment to development, openness and human integration today. Dwelling in the past successes of racism and seeking refuge in racism, however innocently done, still leads to conflict as the whole world demands integration beyond petty racial demarcations. Although an individual’s racism can cause a lot of hardships to others, racist politics can cause humongous amount of misery to everyone. Racist politics is one such collective effort to assert racism and is very dangerous. Analysing racist politics is a tricky subject as racism is a mental condition. Just like any mental condition, a racist would see others as racists as he peeps through his race-coloured spectacles. Many would be surprised to find out the width and breadth of racist politics in Sri Lanka.

The foregoing analysis is only a logical analysis of race-based politics in Sri Lanka and the writer do not intend to label anyone as a racist. However, understanding racist politics will equip Sri Lankans to better interpret demands stemming from racist political elements. Also the evolvement of race-based political entities is another very interesting subject that can help understand the evil journey of some rabid racist political, militant and social groups.

Before Ceylon gained Independence, its politics took a race-based isolationist approach. This was due to the political setting put in place in Sri Lanka by the British which was race-based. As a result political entities like Sinhala Maha Sabha, All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and All Ceylon Muslim League were born. Except for the ACTC, all other groups withered into larger multi-ethnic political groups. The ACTC continued its Tamil racist identity which was its only attraction to its voters. In 1949 Ilankai Tamil Arsu Katchi (ITAK - Lanka Tamil State Party) was formed by a politician who was not even born in Sri Lanka to exploit this racist politics market! As the name suggests, it was a party for the Tamils only and had no regard whatsoever for the others. In its conduct it was much more ferocious than the ACTC.

While the Sinhalese, Muslims, Upcountry Tamils and North-East Tamils living outside the North-East amicably integrated into national political groups, Tamils in the North-East were cursed with racist political forces. The United National Party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Ceylon Workers Congress, communist parties, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna had no racist connotation whatsoever and attracted people of all races and talked about the worries of all races. As all political parties tend to champion the interests of its voters these parties worked to satisfy the needs of their voters. But unlike the ITAK, they never intended to serve a chosen race and its racial needs.

This made these southern parties move further away from racist politics as time passed. In direct contrast the Tamil racist political evolution that started with the AC-Tamil-C and succeeded by the I-Tamil-AK continued it’s descend into racism further. In the 1970s Tamil United Front (TUF) was formed and soon the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was formed and was extremely successful at the 1977 General Election. By this time the stage was set for a politico-military onslaught by the ultra-racist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. Soon the Tamil ULF went under giving rise to the LT-Tamil-E as the de facto sole representative of Tamils.

This ultra-racist group and its aggressive sectionist approach resulted in a surge of racism in Sri Lanka that was never seen before. Sinhale Maha Sammatha Bumiputera Pakshaya, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Sihala Urumaya, Sri Lanka Muslim Katchi, Muslim United Liberation Front, Tamil Elam Liberation Organisation (TELO), Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Elam (PLOTE) were formed. Of these except for SL-Muslim-C, Tamil-ELO and PLO-Tamil-E, all others gave away to other political parties without racial connotations and disappeared.

However few other parties like Upcountry Peoples’ Front, Sri Lanka Progressive Front, National Unity Alliance, Elam Peoples’ Democratic Party, Jathika Hela Urumaya and Elam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front also came into being that had no racist connotations whatsoever. Of course heaps of other immaterial political entities were also formed but they had no impact on the nation.

Due to racist currents that were created mainly by pro-LT-Tamil-E forces, some non-racist parties were compelled to adopt protectionist strategies that were of racist in nature. But these quickly gave away to lasting multi-ethnic politics.

Recently two more racist parties were formed namely the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Tamilelamakkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP).

So what is the bottom-line today?

While people in areas outside the North-East are completely represented by non-racist political parties people in the North-East are represented partly by race-based parties. Residual race-based political parties today include Tamil-NA, AC-Tamil-C, PLO-Tamil-E, SL-Muslim-C, Tamileela-MVP and Tamil-ULF. While some of these parties follow an aggressive approach the others are relatively ‘moderate’ in their conduct. However, all these parties without exception demand race-based-geographical demarcations. It is immaterial whether they demand a separate nation, a federal state, a confederated state or a united state as Sri Lankans need none of these to live in harmony! Therefore the false idea of ‘moderates’ must be expelled as there cannot be any moderation between unitary Sri Lanka and Tamil Elam as much as there cannot be any middle path between right and wrong/good and evil. Also they all talk about racially-biased-grievances and aspirations. Why can’t they talk about aspirations and grievances of all Sri Lankans like other parties? And why can’t they talk about grievances of Sri Lanka – the nation itself?

However, race-based political groups have their defences. They try to make-out racism out of other human endeavours such as nationalism, sport, economics, public education, public welfare and virtually anything as they wear race-coloured spectacles! They have invented such terms as “the Sinhala government”, “Sinhala nationalism”, “Muslim expansionism”, “Tamil homelands”, etc. However, none of these terms are valid for anyone who doesn’t wear race-coloured spectacles. Very strangely, do these racists ever call the British government “the Anglo Saxon White English government” or the Canadian government “the Anglo Saxon White government”? No. Why do they remove their race-coloured spectacles when approaching foreigners? It is because they cannot exploit race and racist politics to extort anything from the British and Canadian societies.

Their grievances and aspirations are ridiculous. Some of them demand that their racial aspirations be met. For instance “Tamil aspirations and Tamil grievances” have taken the centre stage of Sri Lankan politics lately. Why should Sri Lanka and 90% of its population who are not Tamils be bothered about Tamil aspirations and Tamil grievances? Then why not Sinhala aspirations and grievances? Muslim aspirations and grievances? Upcountry Tamils’ aspirations and grievances? Malay’s aspirations and grievances? The list would never end. Changing the national identity, it’s Constitution, its unitary status and anything else is racist in itself. Racist politics would have overtaken the nation if they succeed in spreading their racist fever to the nation. There are no Sinhala racist political parties at the moment but if racial enclaves are to be set-up, pretty soon a Sinhala United Liberation Front will emerge from the North-East and gradually take over national politics. The government should stop entertaining these racist aspirations and grievances and start looking into the forgotten aspirations and grievances of Sri Lanka as a nation. Only then there can be a lasting solution.

To arrest the situation in the long run, a strict ban on racial/racist political parties and racial politics must be imposed. It is heartening to note that the call to ban racial/racist politics is gathering momentum.

There is a clearly visible pattern in LTTE’s (which is the most rabid racist group in the country) barbaric elimination process. It clearly targeted those who worked tirelessly for inter-racial unity. In fact most LTTE top targets were powerful anti-communalists including A Duraiappa, D Kobbekaduwa, N Thiruchelvam, L Kadirgaman, T Maheswaran and J Fernandopulle. On the other hand some “moderates” still revolves around racial federalism. This is a very sad development that can distance people of different races. Race must be restricted to cultural endeavours only. In all other endeavours race should be a taboo and a non-consideration. This will compel racists to look for avenues in other countries and would leave Sri Lanka in peace.

Another effective step is to sustain a number of Tamil paramilitary groups that can not only challenge the LTTE’s claims of a “Sinhala Army”, but also give the necessary variety to those fighting the LTTE. The only practical way to overcome the notion of the Sinhala majority army is to empower Tamil paramilitary groups. It is a fact that elite commandoes of the LRRP are also Tamils. These are steps in the right direction that can iron-out petty differences among us.

It is ridiculous to think that the race one is born to is the best in the world, the dominant or the most illustrious. Time would come in the near future when earthlings will have to transcend even all the national boundaries and unite to protect the world and who knows there would be an episode in cosmic life that calls for the unity of all living beings in the universe. But it should not surprise me if racist politicians of Sri Lanka continue to search for racial enclaves even at that time. The government should consider banning all race-based political parties. Sri Lankans always stood by one another irrespective of race and Lankan politics must follow suit.

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