Thursday, December 25, 2008

The myth that holding elections are inherently good and 'godly'

Kashmiri Muslim protesters shout pro-freedom and anti-election slogans outside a polling station in Barsoo, some 28 kilometers (17 miles) north of Srinagar, India, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. Government soldiers opened fire on hundreds of stone-throwing Muslims protesting against elections in Indian Kashmir on Saturday, killing two people and seriously wounding another, police said. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

To hold elections is a noble thing. To oppose the holding of elections is undemocratic. This is what we are used to hearing. This is what we were told when the Eastern Provincial Council Elections were held. The same thing is being said in Kashmir with the recent Legislative assembly polls there. The Hindu today has an editorial titled 'Democracy triumphs' praising the inherent goodness of elections:

In the event, the people of J&K have left no doubt that they see in India’s democracy, however imperfect, the best means to address the multiple problems they face. From the outset, this newspaper has editorially argued that free and fair elections would do more to defuse the crisis than the regrettable practice of seeking backdoor deals with forces claiming to represent the State’s people... India’s exemplary Election Commission, Governor N.N. Vohra, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, the State government’s officials and, above all, the people of Jammu and Kashmir deserve unreserved applause for enabling democracy to triumph amidst the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

The turn out was surprisingly very high: On the first count, voter turnout in the 87 Assembly constituencies rose dramatically from 43 per cent in 2002 to around 62 per cent — slightly higher than the national average, which hovers around 60 per cent. Without dispute, the most heartening signal came from the Kashmir Valley, where voter turnout was 55 per cent compared with 29.5 per cent in 2002. Even in Srinagar, the heartland of J&K’s Islamist-led secessionist movement, voter turnout quadrupled from a pathetic 5.06 per cent in 2002 to 21 per cent in 2008.

This has according to the Indian express has shocked the moderate secessionists to reconsider their options. See article here.

Here comes the other side of the story. An article on the Wall Street Journal reports as follows:

But many voters who lined up at the polls Saturday in south Kashmir, for example, also turned out at anti-Indian protest marches weeks earlier. In the town of Tral, 20-year-old student Manzur Ahmad said that he was voting for an incumbent candidate because, in recent years, the lawmaker had managed to curb the harassment of local youths by government forces. "We vote because this makes our lives easier - but this doesn't mean we don't want freedom," he said.

So much for the Hindu editorial claiming that the turn out was an acceptance of Indian democracy. Further the article reports,

In the village of Samboora, residents said that Indian Army troops went from house to house on Saturday morning, rounding up families and taking them to a polling station. As a reporter drove into the village Saturday afternoon, an army vehicle with several soldiers stopped by the walled compound of Ghulam Mohammad, pulling the 59-year-old retiree onto the road. Seeing a foreign reporter, the soldiers jumped into their vehicle and quickly drove off. "They asked me why I'm not voting, and I said that's because I don't like any of the candidates," Mr. Mohammad said moments later. "They said, if I don't vote, I'll be sorry later."

I am grateful to Kafila for pointing me to this piece.

I argued in earlier posts (here and here) that the Eastern Local government and provincial council elections cannot be considered 'good' on their own and that the turn out at the Eastern provincial council elections (despite the enormous ballot stuffing) cannot be considered an acceptance of TMVP's or Mahinda's scheme. People vote for a multitude of reasons. The Kashmir example i hope illustrates this more clearly.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Majoritarianism wins with the acquiescence of the Minorities' ?

The following extract is from Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda's October article to the EPW (Economic and Political Weekly) dated 25 October 2008. A full version of the article is available from tamilnation here.

"I believed for quite some time that ethnic majoritarianism is a political condition that the political leaders of the majority community impose by means of coercion on the ethnic minorities. It accords an unequal, at best second class, status to the minorities. Minorities do not accept majoritarianism and they resist it. That is why ethnic conflicts flare up. Observing how the Tamil and Muslim political parties in Sri Lanka have come to accept the second class and unequal status with great pleasure, I changed, realising that my understanding of majoritarianism was an incomplete one.

I now know that ethnic majoritarianism is not necessarily coercive. It has a strong element of consent of the minorities, or at least their political leaders. Majoritarianism is completed when the political representatives of the minorities accept, with happiness and even in intense competition with each other, the condition of inequality. They do so in exchange of other benefits which are usually couched in the respectable language of “development assistance to our community”.

That is what the 25 years of civil war has done to the minority rights project in Sri Lanka."

The part italicised is my own emphasis from the original. It is a very short article and the excerpt above comes at the tail end of the article.

I am unable to agree with the professor's analysis (which is not detailed possibly because he was constrained by space) and hence my disagreement with his 'new conclusion' about majoritarianism. Prof Uyangoda's reference to the minorities accepting a second class status is possibly a conclusion resulting from his analysis of Karuna's, Douglas's and possibly Thondaman's politics.

I do not think the minority ever willingly gives into majoritarianism. I do not think that they give it up with 'great pleasure'. The fact that the minorities 'give up' is essentially related and directly linked to coercive majoritarianism. The Prof seems to tag this 'giving up' as unconnected with coercive majoritarianism. Its a victory of one over the other, where the victorious picks the new leaders of the minority. I would say Thondaman, Karuna and Douglas are all examples of this. The fact that these political parties have given up does not mean that the entire community has given up. These political parties have 'given up' because they were unable to survive in their attempts to resist coercive majoritarianism. The petty agendas of these political parties and their leaders cannot be taken as a give up by a minority. I can understand a war weary population seeking out developmental assistance - an assistance which is reliant on the resources the majority has almost exclusive control over. Hence destruction, starvation and hunger is a tool of coercive majoritarianism. War wearediness can also result because of the leaders of the minority struggle lacking startegic political vision as in the case of LTTE. The dillema of minority politics in Sri Lanka is not because it has given it up with 'great pleasure' as Prof Uyangoda calls it. It is because 1) coercive majoritarianism having been able to cleverly stick to the fundamentals of majoritarian democracy (having periodic elections) has succeeded or appears to have succeeded in winning over minority politics both by the use of tools associated with majoritarian democracy (again elections and numbers) and through the use of arms and 2) because minority politics lacks imagination and flexibility.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

India: Secular politics feeding Muslim Fundamentalism?

There is an interesting debate going in the media around the world regarding the source and question of Islamic Fundmentalism in India. This is from an opinion piece that appears in the Hindu today:

"Muslim fundamentalism has also been helped by India’s “secular” political establishment which, barring the Left, has not only made no effort to develop a progressive Muslim leadership but actively prevented it from taking root. Instead, it has relied on a class of Muslim “leaders” whose own political interest lies in keeping the community backward-looking.

By mobilising Muslims around issues that have nothing to do with their daily lives they have landed the community in a situation where it finds itself a target of Hindu fundamentalists, on the one hand, and susceptible to faith-based militant Islamist elements on the other
While the Congress is the chief culprit in this respect, it is not alone in propping up self-serving Muslim leaders.

The fact is that it is hard to name any progressive Muslim leader in any of the secular parties. Over the years, the only change that has been noticed is that instead of “mullahs” with long beards we now have suave English-speaking Muslim leaders to match the “modern” face of Hindutva. Their language and worldview, however, remain unashamedly sectarian".
I see a very valid point in the analysis. It is a difficult point to articulate given that those articulating may be accused of playing into the hands of Hindutva's 'appeasing the minorities' argument. The piece actually exempts the Left parties from this but I remember reading a chapter from Partha Chattergee's "Politics of the Governed" where he argues using a case study relating to the issue of modernising Madarassa education in Left governed West Bengal that the Left parties may also be accused of the same. Shabana Azmi (the acclaimed actress and social activist) makes a similar point in a TV interview available here on youtube.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reflecting on the Mumbai attacks

When a disaster (natural or man made) takes place there is a period of uncertainty that follows – a period of confusion where people are at a loss in terms of how they should respond to the disaster at an individual level and in a collective sense; at a personal level and as a political society. The period provides for what is described as a clean slate during which new things can be written and the ideological masters who wait for the window of opportunity to arrive, seek to write hastily on the clean slate. This is the theme of the book that I bought recently when I was in Madrid, titled ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. (I have a habit of buying some book whenever I am abroad - my idea of collecting souvenirs)


I have moved to a new place and one of the negatives of the new place is that my new landlady unlike my old one doesn’t have cable TV. I terribly miss my NDTV. I don’t mind NDTV though it’s no different from your typical News Channel (where sometimes or rather most of the time entertainment/cricket news is bigger than the politics). But it is definitely better than our own News First. Be that as it may, I was at my former landlady’s place yesterday and was watching NDTV’s ‘Big Fight” (a Saturday political talk show kind of) which was last night an extended show for two hours dedicated to discussing the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. The show was titled: “Fight against terror: How can we win?” Vikram who moderates the show is a fairly decent anchor. Yesterday when I got there around 7.30 half way into the show I saw Vikram almost being hysterical. He was asking why enough money is not being spent on providing the proper ammunition and armory for the police and India’s National Security Guard and he was demanding for a proper research and statistics on how much the Government spends on defence. Shekar Gupta, the editor in chief of Indian Express, whom I have followed and found to be a respectable journalist was sane enough to calm him down and say that there is enough and more money being spent and that the real question was where the money was going. There was a strategic studies expert from the centre for policy research who was making the point that urban guerilla warfare was on its rise and that the Indian police force wasn’t trained and equipped enough to handle it. There was an academic attached to a hindutva think tank saying that there is a clean slate that has been created by the disaster for the future and that we should start writing on it. Vikram suggested what he would write first: call for a non partisan support for more training, equipment for the police and the army. At this stage BJP’s Arun Shourie (one of BJP’s very pro-RSS idealogues) was introduced and Vikarm asked whether he would agree with him. Shourie asked Vikram how dare he asks him that question when the media was the one that was running down the police. He was referring to NDTV and other media coverage and Vikram’s own big fight programme on the fake police encounters in Delhi and elsewhere recently. Vikram almost agreed with him and didn’t have much of a response. The fear had gripped Vikram so much that he probably started suspecting the need for scrutiny over law enforcement agencies and Shourie had the sway. NDTV continued to play scenes from the funerals of the police officers who had died fighting the terrorists at Mumbai Taj hotel. At 8 in the news room Vikram had a candle lighted in front of him and his correspondents from different parts on India were seen joining him. The height of emotion that NDTV sought to display quite dramatically was a bit too much for me, I left. This morning reading the Sunday Times I was disgusted to read in the “Obituary/Appreciation” page of the paper a reader from Banadaragama suggesting that we should build a temple for the soldiers who have died in what he called ‘defending our 2500 year old civilization’. The patriotism reflected at my faculty gates at university with a banner carrying the Sri Lankan flag crossed with a Buddhist flag along with photographs of Army soldiers and the Bodhi pooja held at the University all make me wonder what kind of a society we are. Why not a Bodhi pooja for all people who have died in the war so far – the innocent civilians – would that be unpatriotic? And what kind of a war is this? Between two civilizations? What was the Buddhist flag doing on the banner? The president is being iconised by the state media to an extent where it won’t be surprising if there are calls to build a temple for him.


I am quite confident that because of the enormity and diversity of the politics of that country, in the long run saner minds will prevail in India. But for a Muslim in India it’s going to be tougher to be not doubted as being ‘anti-National’. The fall out of the Mumbai attacks which follow the one in Bangalore and Delhi ones will show the Congress Government as week in the face of terror. BJP brought in the draconic Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) as a response primarily to the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. The Congress government repealed the act. (I think now there is a law called the National Security Act) The attacks have largely targeted the urban middle class in the past (the Mumbai attacks possibly stand out) which is increasingly now moving towards the BJP. Ashish Nandy India’s topmost political scientist shows us how all religious extremism and riots have occurred and center themselves in the urban areas and not in the rural areas. People like the BJP Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (the one who is responsible for the 2002 riots against Muslims in the state) who are seen to be good for business and tough with terror will benefit. But because of the fact that BJP will never be able to form a Government of its own they will never be able to pursue their agenda at a level they would like to and hence my opening statement in this paragraph.


Of course our Government is quite happy with the Mumbai attacks. Its simple message to India: “You fight your war on terror and we will fight ours. Please take care of your business and don’t interfere in ours. Hope the attacks will shut Tamil Nadu’s voice. Deepest sympathies. Good Luck”.

As Bush prepares to leave office and to get back to shooting ducks at his Texas Ranch his writing on the clean slate after 9/11, of the war on terror, that brands all ‘sorts’ of terrorist projects together and fight them all will continue to devastate us world over for a long period of time, as preparations are underway for the Obama presidency.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Co-Artists of the President rally for more war

Sri Lankan, (sorry i would rather call them) Sinhala artists held a demonstration on Thursday to show what the Daily Mirror decided to call their 'disapproval' of the take of the Tamil Nadu Cinema 'Kollywood' artists regarding the persuction of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Here are some hilarious comments from some of our artists

Malini Fonseka- “I wish they will visit Sri Lanka and see the truth for themselves; that Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims all live together in tolerant and peaceful communities.”- Oh really??!! Which country is this Malini? Sri Lanka?

Geetha Kumarasinghe-"All Sri Lankans, regardless of race or religion, will stand as one united force, against inequality, and support our troops" - Whose troops Geetha? We know that you want to destory the Tigers only. We are prepared to take the burden that we will have to be inconvenienced in this pursuit. Get displaced; homes razed to the ground and even get killed. Thats ok. These are our troops. We will welcome them with open hands when they come to liberate us. Brilliant.

Perfect state of denial.

I have had the chance to listen to some of the speeches made at the different rallies that Tamil Nadu Cinema personalities have had so far. I do concede that they have enagaged in a bit of exaggeration here and there. But there were saner voices like that of Director Cheran's speech at the Rameswaram rally. But none of their statements or speeches were as widely sweeping in effect as some of the statements quoted above from our lovely artists from Sri Lanka. Of course the lovely president himself was their former colleague.

Groundviews has an article on the same subject here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rajiva Wijesinghe's personal blog

Finally somebody decided to give Rajiva Wijesinghe some proper whacking. The best line for me was this one: "The Sri Lankan government should know that in this country (UK) we use the very long held principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'.

He uses the SCOPP website like his personal blog. His daily work involves searching the interent and if there is anyone writing in English who has said anything even lightly suggestive of bringing the government to direpute he would have a lengthy response. Quite jobless. Understandbly - the Govt is waging a war. Its a secretariat that defends the govts war effort. Of course Rajiva will have a strong rebuttal - the war is for peace. Good.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

War and Peace: Learning from Einstein

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" - Albert Einstein.

The Government and the LTTE will agree with Einstein on the subject of negotiating for peace. Both sides would say we have tried it out with them enough and hence trying it again would be insanity.

The Government and the LTTE will disagree with Einstein however respectively on the subject of waging war for peace and waging war to create a separate state. Both sides will keep trying out the war strategy. For them this cant be insanity. How can it be? You will be considered unpatriotic on both sides if you say it.

Hence, Einstein you are not very helpful. I am sorry, I am frustrated.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

CJ: Demerger judgment sought to recognise cultural differences

The CJ speaking at the opening of the Kalmunai High Court Complex has according to the Sunday Times observed on his North East Demerger judgment as follows: "The landmark judgment on the de-merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces was given taking into consideration not any political reasons, but differences in culture and traditions in the two provinces".

Now i thought the judgment was given because the decision taken by JR Jayawardena to merge the two provinces through an amendment made to a law using the powers under emergency was ultra vires the powers of the President (that he exceeded the authority and powers given to the president).

So the above reasoning was just legal veneering over the actual reason which the CJ has inadvertently now disclosed: the cultural differences. The CJ said this is not a political reasoning. By all means it is a political consideration. Who is he decide, with respect, that cultural differences exist between the Eastern Tamils and the Northern Tamils. I am not saying there are none but is this what the court does?

And if i may with respect post this question to the Hon Chief Justice. The Tamil people in this country obviously have 'cultural differences' with the Sinhala people. So applying your logic Mr Chief Justice may we de-merge them from the rest of the country, because they have 'cultural differences'? So do you approve the claim for a separate state Mr Chief Justice?

See related post on this blog here.

Displacement in the Vanni

Photo courtesy:

People from Killinochchi are getting displaced and are moving towards interior Mullaitivu - Tharumapuram, Puthukudiyiruppu etc. I listened to BBC Tamil service's daily programme day before yesterday which reported that people have to pay between 10,000-15,000 rupees to hire vehicles - mostly lorries - to get displaced with their belongings. Those who cant are leaving their belongings behind, carrying with them whatever they can.

The BBC interviewer in the course of interviewing a resident from Killinochchi, now stuck at the Killinochi hospital, asked as to why people are not going to Vavuniya. His reply was simply that there is no road that will take him to Vavuniya. I also wonder whether any road be safe enough to travel towards Vavuniya even if there was an accessible one. The interviewee also noted that there is no public transport system functioning between Vavuniya and Killinochi. Earlier when the A9 used to be open public transport within LTTE controlled areas were given by the LTTE's 'Thamileala Transport Board'. That is obviously not possible now. So much for the call of the Government asking people to come to Vavuniya. Where is this humanitarian corridor? A Thinakkural news item quotes the Commissioner for Essential Services admitting that the efforts to bring the people to Vavuniya was a failure. He is reported to have said that it might have been because the LTTE did not allow them to or because people thought it fit to remain in Vanni.

A representative from the World Food Programme was also interviewed. He had said that the food that was recently brought with the 'permission' of the Government can last only for about a week. Imalada Sugumar the GA from Mullaitivu noted that the availability of liquid money has become an issue of concern.

All over the North and East without any discrimination life for the tamil people has been always on the wheels. Of course its for their liberation one way or the other. So we should'nt be complaining. My staying in Clombo which was registered last week in a census exercise was also according to the government a census of those who had got displaced from the north. And yes whatever you say about how my eastern bretheren being different they are not being discrminated. They are queuing up to register today. And yes in this the Government does accept the North and East are from the same mould.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"A trade off on my dignity"

This blogger is quoted in a news item that appeared on The Economist available on their website here.

"THE police served them toffee and sweet drinks as they queued up to register at designated centres in Colombo. But for many of the thousands of Tamil civilians obliged to turn up, this was scant consolation for a violation of their rights. Guru, a 23-year-old law student from Jaffna, called the toffee “a trade-off on my dignity”. The orders to register were given on September 20th by police with loudhailers moving slowly along the streets of Colombo’s Tamil areas, which have recently been receiving swarms of civilians fleeing the intensifying war in the north.

The government labelled the exercise a “census”, to determine whether there had been a change in the ethnic balance of the Western province, where the capital is located. It is increasingly edgy about attacks in the capital by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. For 25 years the Tigers, who have a history of terrorist atrocities, have been fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island. But Tamil civilians fear the real objective is to weed out anybody suspected of Tiger links. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa says the war is entering its final stages. And the president’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the defence secretary, maintains that stringent security measures are an “inconvenience” that the minority Tamil community will have to endure."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Victor Ivan lends his intellect to the 'Victor'

The joyous mood of victory has caught up with everyone and this time it is Victor Ivan who thinks it’s prudent to lend his intellect to the victor.

He wrote a piece for Ravaya about two weeks back saying that its good for the Tamil people that the LTTE will get defeated. Kumar David responded in the Sunday Island and a translation of Victor’s piece also appeared. Gamini Viyangoda also had responded. I have not read any of these pieces in detail. This weeks Sunday Island (28 September) carries a response by Victor to Kumar. This is a response primarily to this piece of Victor’s.

The crux of Victor’s argument seems to be the following: It is naked power that operates in any war. It is the same naked power that the security forces and the LTTE are unleashing against each other in competitive fashion. And when the LTTE is defeated when the war is over freedom will be restored to the Tamil people though nothing new to them might be “offered”.

Now I do not quarrel with the fact that LTTE uses naked power. Naked power, Victor defines quoting Bernard Russel is, as being the loyalty enforced through the infusion of fear disregarding all traditional beliefs and social approval under a situation when two or more fanatical creeds are contending for governance and when all traditional beliefs have decayed. I agree with this.

However my quarrel starts here. The issue is this: whether the Tamils like it or not through a bloody system of killings and counter killings ‘they’ remain the only option for the Tamil people for a just solution to the problem. This is because it is power and hard power that politicians in the South take notice of and they are the only ones who have it. Now that is what is under a threat of destruction. Victor thinks this is desirable. Of course he might ask the question is it worth risking the lives of Tamils for a ‘just’ solution? The following is a response to that.

Destruction of one naked power will lead to ‘no war’. That’s very simplistic. The naked power that is sought to be destructed was a response to the naked power exercised by those who are ‘winning’ now. Victor thinks that the naked power that was unleashed on the Tamil people will stop once the naked power that responded to this ‘original’ naked power is destroyed. The original naked power is still there and its roots are in majoritarianism. Has this changed? No. That might not be visible militarily once the responsive naked power is destroyed. But this ‘original’ naked power will continued to be exercised politically and this will lead eventually to the annihilation of the Tamil people or to their assimilation in a grand ‘Sri Lankan society’. Of course Victor makes a value judgment as to which naked power is better to live under. His choice: The original majoritarian naked power. That can’t be for me. Hence I agree with Kumar. The only option is for the LTTE to be reformed.

Here are a some excerpts from Victor and my comments on them:

Then in the absence of an armed rival group to fight the security forces, the need does not arise for physical suppression, maintenance of high security zones and for the security forces to get involved in the management of day to day matters. Along with the cessation of war assassinations, disappearances, abductions and arrests will cease.

The problem is the word 'absence' here. When will one be satisfied with finality that there is now an 'absence' of the armed rival group? It is predicted that the weeding out process will continue for a long time and my prediction is that the final result of the weeding out might be the total annihilation of the Tamil people.

Victor also seems to have completely subscribed to the now popular notion that once the armed rival group is gone the ethnic conflict will be gone. We will have a rosy Sri Lanka.

(After the defeat of the armed rival group) the democratic outlets which were hitherto closed will gradually be opened. The freedom of expression will be restored. They will get an opportunity to carefully review the issues pertaining to their struggle and assess the reasons that led to the defeat of the Tamil struggle, comprehend the true rights that they should fight for and the right course of action to be adopted etc.

And then what Mr Ivan? What do you think the right course of action will be? What are the ‘true’ rights that the Tamils should fight for? How should they ‘struggle’? Another armed movement? Or Parliamentary politics? Or Provincial council politics? Tell us which one? Or is it the option that the Tamil people become slowly assimilated with the 'Sri Lankan' society? But you are the one who is quite sure that there will be nothing new offered to the Tamil people? So where does this comment come from Victor?

Victor says the LTTE was never serious about internal self determination. Sad. And probably true. But is that an excuse for the South not working on a solution? Of course he does think that there will not be anything new offered to the Tamil people. That can’t be helped according to Victor probably. That’s your fate he seems to tell people like me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

White Van Abduction Legalised

I am reporting on this because the English print media has either got it wrong or didn't understand the proceedings in the Supreme Court (Daily Mirror) Or they have chosen not to report on it (Island - probably wasnt important enough for them). I think the flawed reportage or non reportage is deliberate because they probably believe or fear that such reporting will or will be considered as undermining the war.

The Supreme Court heard a case filed by Thondaman's party (the Ceylon Workers Congress) which is part of the Mahinda Rajapaksha Government yesterday, regarding the abduction of one of their trade union officials. The person had been abducted by a white van and becuase of the political influence CWC yields its party leaders were able to trace the person to the custody of the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID). The facts were not disputed by the State represented by the Attorney General's Department (Mr. Palitha Fernando, the Additional Solicitor General appeared). This is probably the first case and will be the only case where somebody who had been abducted had the courgae to go to courts to file a case. The reason is obvious because the person belonged to a political party in alliance with the Government. The CWC is to be commended for bringing it to courts and not pushing it under the carpet to save the reputation of the Government.

When the case was taken up before the Chief Justice's bench (the other two judges sitting with him were Justices Shiranee Tilakawerdena and Justice Sripavan) the Chief Justice in the course of the proceedings refused to condemn the mode of 'arrest'. He chasticised the petitioner's counsel, blaming him for bringing a case for 'international news consumption'. He said that the court can do nothing to give directives regarding the use of white vans as there were too many of them in the country!! He made unintelligible assertions in open court like for instance that Sri Lanka has the largest van population in the country and that it would not be possible to restrict the import or usage of white vans into the country etc!! (He was laughing when he said this and to my disgust a majority of the members of the bar and most of the public present laughed with him) Clearly what was being asked was for a delcaration that the police had violated the petitioners fundamental right by engaging in a mode of arrest that was blatantly unlawful and unconstitutional. The CJ also said that what was important was whether one was able to find the person who was abducted and hence it was an affirmative in this case there shouldnt be an issue. The counsel protested saying that this was possible because the petitioner belonged to a political party. The CJ was dismissive in his response. The CJ thought that a receipt being issued after arrest through the local police station should be satisfying. In his order at the end of the hearing he included the above 'condition' for 'arrests' being made using white vans nd also went on to say that since torture was not being alleged in custody that violation of article 13 of the constitution was not at stake. The conusel for the petitioner protested and said that they didnt say that. The CJ queried in response as to whether they are assuming torture was being inflicted. Surely the CJ was assuming that torture was not being inflicted!! The fomer assumption is more closer to the truth than the latter for anyone who knows anything about the TID.

What the Supreme Court has essentially done is legalise the use of white vans for 'arresting' a person on the condition that a receipt be issued after the abduction is carried out. This is probably the most absurdest of all sorts of 'justice' that this Supreme Court has meted out. And hence the white van abductions can now proceed with glee!!

The CJ was worried that the case was being brought beofre him for international news consumption. (I dont think the international media is that interested in what is happening in this country. For a start not even the national media is bothered). But irrespective of what has been said in the brackets above, surely if the international community didnt know this before the decision has confirmed that even the third organ of Government - the judiciary in this country is incapable of protecting the interests of its minority populations. Now thats the message that the CJ has clearly given for international news consumption.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Arundhathi Roy on Azad for Kashmir

I read Arundhati Roy's piece on the situation in Kashmir titled "Azadi: Its the only thing the Kashmiri wants: Denial is delusion" as usual she has a terrific piece. (Azadi means freedom) It can be read here. You might have to register to read it. Its free though.

Here are some excerpts and my comments:

For somebody like myself, who is not Muslim, that interpretation of freedom is hard—if not impossible—to understand. I asked a young woman whether freedom for Kashmir would not mean less freedom for her, as a woman. She shrugged and said, "What kind of freedom do we have now? The freedom to be raped by Indian soldiers?" Her reply silenced me.

I have recently heard from some and had certain conversations about the issue of minority tamils (Tamils from the lower castes). While i think the issue is a serious one that deserves meritorious consideration i believe that those who raise it have mischievous intentions. (for example when Malinda Seneviratne raises it) Reading Arundadhi's comment above, its an apt response to all those who raise questions about whether freedom or autonomy for Tamils will resolve the 'other' issues. The bigger issue weighs down. 'What kind of freedom do we have now', irrespective of whether i am from a higher caste or a lower caste as a tamil, or whether you are a man or a woman as a Kashmiri, is a persuasive response.

I post this following paragraph without much comment. It has a lot of comparison to the anxiety of what a 'free' or autonomous tamil speaking territory would turn out to be:

Arguments that spring from love are also fraught with danger. It is for the people of Kashmir to agree or disagree with the Islamic project (which is as contested, in equally complex ways, all over the world by Muslims as Hindutva is contested by Hindus).Perhaps now that the threat of violence has receded and there is some space in which to debate views and air ideas, it is time for those who are part of the struggle to outline a vision for what kind of society they are fighting for. Perhaps it is time to offer people something more than martyrs, slogans and vague generalisations. Those who wish to turn to the Quran for guidance will no doubt find guidance there. But what of those who do not wish to do that, or for whom the Quran does not make place? Do the Hindus of Jammu and other minorities also have the right to self-determination? Will the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, many of them in terrible poverty, have the right to return? Will they be paid reparations for the terrible losses they have suffered? Or will a free Kashmir do to its minorities what India has done to Kashmiris for 61 years? What will happen to homosexuals and adulterers and blasphemers? What of thieves and lafangas and writers who do not agree with the "complete social and moral code"? Will we be put to death as we are in Saudi Arabia? Will the cycle of death, repression and bloodshed continue? History offers many models for Kashmir's thinkers and intellectuals and politicians to study. What will the Kashmir of their dreams look like? Algeria? Iran? South Africa? Switzerland? Pakistan?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

ST's advice to UNP on how to be politically sexy!!

Today's (24 August) Sunday Times Editorial on the provincial council elections has this offer of advice to the UNP:

By putting forward Maj-Gen. (Ret.) Janaka Perera, the UNP was able to negate the Government's accusation that the UNP was an anti-national party. But some UNP leaders still keep harping on a political solution with the LTTE, something that is not only not sexy with the vast majority of the Sinhalese electorate, but also sounds hollow in the backdrop of Security Forces advances. It will be time for the UNP to re-think this line if it is to mount some challenge to the Rajapaksa administration which seems to be able get the mileage it wants despite all the odds otherwise stacked against it.

If you are to win an election you need to put forward not a seasoned politician but a former military general. That is the mantra of winning an election. But they lost right? How the ST's reference that putting forward Janaka Perera makes UNP not an anti national party. Ho ho!! This is how we define being patriotic and nationalistic. Even the media tows the MR line on this. And then ST laments UNP partymen still talking about a political solution. Bravo!! UNP dropped the federalism slogan to be politically appealing and now is being advised to drop the slogan for the need for a political solution as well. And this coming from a media organisation like the Times!! We are irreparably doomed!!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

'Burning memories'

The burning of the Jaffna Public Library was probably one among the first of increasing acts of violence against the Tamils in this country that peaked in July 83 and a memory of July 83 much talked in its 25th anniversary should also include a reflection of this important incident in the history of the ethnic conflict. This is a small note from my experiences with the Jaffna Public library.


'Burning memories' is the title of a 49 minute documentary that Someetharan of Jaffna/Batticaloa has produced on the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. Sommetharan in the past worked for North East Herald, Thinakkural Jaffna and studied visual media in Chennai. He had apparently worked on the documentary for three years. The documentary is available in multiple languages including Tamil and English. The production according to a review published in the Kalachuvadu (Kalachuvadu is a left leaning social, literary, political magazine published from Tamil Nadu. Read the review here) is to be welcomed for its efforts but regrets that the documentary does not provide enough scientific analysis of the incident. It notes that it is frequently repeated in the documentary that 97,000 books were burnt in the incident but does not provide an analysis of the kind of books/manuscripts were burnt and the nature of the irreparable loss. The review also notes that mostly 'moderates' have been interviewed and that given the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka that Someetharan has engaged in ceratin level of self censorship. I haven't seen the documentary yet. I am looking forward to watching it. The criticism aside I am very happy that somebody is using the medium of visual media to document incidents in the history of the conflict. A 'documentary' culture is pretty much non existent in Sri Lanka and this production should be welcomed.

More information re the documentary can be found here:


I was born 4 years after the library was burnt in 1981 and i very well remember the blackened library that stood in front of the Jaffna Central College until efforts to refurbish it started taking place after CBK came (more on this in the next section).

I was back home in Jaffna last June and i went to the Public Library twice when i was there. I like the spacious library a lot - i have always enjoyed the peace that comes with the vacuum that adjoins spacious tall buildings. I used it a lot during the final few months in the lead up to my Advanced Level exams. The library now does not have a lot of books. A few thousands possibly. The first time i tried to go to the library when i was there this time i was stopped at an army centry point and i was asked to surrender my NIC and to collect it on the way back. I know that this can be a dangerous thing to do and turned back. The area is a 'high security zone' (this phrase is misleading any part of Jaffna can become a high security zone whenever the military wants it to be) and apparently there was some top military brass having a meeting somewhere close by. The other time i took the Vembadi road which has become one way now. Have to take a lengthy road back to return.

The significance of the Jaffna Public library burning is to be understood by the weight that the Jaffna people attach to education. As has been widely commented on, education was one of the key areas that the peninsula's economic base rested on. There is a statue of Godess Saraswathi that is still found at the entrance to the library. She is regarded as the Goddess of Education in Hindu religious belief. Users of the library have to remove footwear before entering the library. This might be possibly to keep the floor which is white tiled clean. But i cant help thinking that it is also in a a sense a show of respect to the place. In the second sentence in this paragraph i use the word 'was' in the past tense. Jaffna no more enjoys a pride of place as an educationally advanced district. It is one of the seven out of the eight districts in the North and East which 'enjoy' the disadvantaged district status. Most of our students rely on the district quota and the disadvantaged quota for access to university education. One of the main causes for the conflict was standardisation. Today the Jaffna community seeks standardisation in the form of quotas and would be happy if the district quota is increased. The decline of standards in education in Jaffna is a direct resultant of the war and the burning of the library symbolically kick started the decline.


I also remember the politics behind the effort to refurbish and restore the Public Library. I identify with those who stood for the burnt library to stand as a memory of a part of history that should not be forgotten. That never happened. They could have constructed a new one if they wanted. CBK was adamant and wanted to force this act of benevolence down the Tamil peoples throat while she was waging a war for peace. I also recall the debates about the act of opening the refurbished library. I agree with those who felt that there should be no opening ceremony as such. I couldn't appreciate any extravagance associated with opening the library to public use again. The Jaffna Municipal Council is the proprietor of the library and the Mayor wanted to open it. Some were opposed to this for a really ugly reason - that he belonged to a lower caste. Anadasangaree at that time head of the entire TULF also wanted to open it himself. The LTTE also got involved and the scene became uglier. Anadasangaree's website provides a statement of the UTHR here which gives a brief of the incidents that took place: I went through this link after i typed up this post and find that my views on the whole issue mostly resemble that of the LTTE. This is entirely coincidental.
The library was later opened for public use without anybody opening it.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My interpretation of the Eastern Provincial Council Elections

I have in the past on this blog written about the Local Government Elections in the East questioning its purpose and motive. I decried in that post about how calling for elections have come to be understood as inherently good. Nothing short what is called ‘electrocracy’. The Govt needed the ballot box to justify what it was doing in the East. Now it has become clear that the LG elections were held by the Govt to check how much of a hold its partner the TMVP has in the East. Being assured by the results they decided to call for the elections.

No Election Manifesto
It was an election campaign where the TMVP did not have an election manifesto. Where they did not embark on detailed campaigning. The arms were there. Having them was enough to scare the people. You didn’t have to use them. It would have been unimaginable what would have happened if they had lost. I am not denying that they attracted considerable popular support. Ill come back in this post for the possible reasons for this popular support.

There was no election manifesto probably because MR’s ‘East is rising’ programme was acceptable to the TMVP. This despite the concerns expressed by various groups (Muslim Civil society organisations, SLMC, reports such as those of the International Crisis Group and of course the TNA) that the programme was nothing but a plan to manipulate the demographics of the Eastern Programme in the name of environmental safe havens (Champika Ranawakka is our Minister of Environment) and discovery missions to find relics of Buddhist heritage in the East. Of course you build a bridge and lay a road here and there as part of the programme. Even building bridges and roads can be used to cater to the main objective of changing demographics. This is nothing but a discontinued programme that has been resurrected.

Running the Eastern PC – Capacity issues
In an interview that Pillayan gave as soon as it was announced that he will be the CM all he could say was that he will try to find employment for all those who asked from him at the elections. So much for his plans to develop the East. I suspect that there will be a huge issue with regard to capacity when it comes to running the council. Provincial councils elsewhere in general have experienced this even where they have been run by age old parties experienced in organisational stuff. Passing statutes (that is how laws passed by PCs are known) and getting through the know how of that is pretty complicated in the tough job of understanding what your competence is vis a vis the reserved list and the national list. There have been very few statues that have been passed by Provincial councils in Sri Lanka. It doesn’t need much elaboration as to how PCs are already suffocated from any actual powers. (for eg the Central Government can pass a law on any subject under the guise of making national policies). This issue of capacity will be exploited well by Basil Rajapaksha. The Asian Tribune reports that three capable people have been recruited by Pillaiyan (including Dr Vickneswaran former Secretary to Varatharaja Perumal when he was CM for the North East, also formerly with the EPDP and now has his own party. He is a capable man with a PhD in Engineering) I am surprised that these people accepted Pillaiyan’s invitation but happy that they will probably be able to resist any big time incursions from Basil). I wonder how land issues will be handled. Land is largely a subject belonging to the Central Govt but since the ruling party in both CG and the PC are the same one wonders how this will work. Especially the Muslim-Tamil land issues. Pillayan has already said that he doesn’t want police powers. (probably because he has his own!!)

About the CM himself.
It was easy for the Govt that it was Pillayan and not Karuna. (That’s probably why they packaged him off to London). Karuna’s baggage is well known. Not many people know who Pillaiyan is or what his past was about. He was probably third or fourth down the order in the Easter Tiger hierarchy. So for the South to accept him wasn’t that hard.

As a Tamil I am worried about the damage that these elections have brought about on Tamil-Muslim relations. Hisbullah’s campaign that they need a Muslim Chief Minister and the way he craftily handled the allocation of nominations within the UPFA has produced more Muslim PC members than Tamil (almost double the number of Tamil PC members).

TMVP’s popular support
And finally on the popular support for TMVP in the East. Pillaiyan despite the enormous ballot stuffing probably did attract a lot of Tamil voters and I suspect most of them youngsters. Whether this was because he was the only ‘electable’ Tamil candidate (someone with a chance of winning and not allowing a Muslim to become CM) or whether it was because the people identify with the regionalist sentiments that TMVP stands for is a matter of debate. My hunch is that it is the former. I would find it difficult to see how the Tamils could have voted for a party which despite its regionalistic sentiments could join hands with what is perceived as the common ‘enemy’ – The Southern Sinhala Buddhist Chauvanistic bloc. (Consider the good relationships between the JHU and the TMVP). And hence the vote for Pillaiyan. That was sad. I would have preferred Hakeem as CM!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

To be in Government should not be the only objective of Political Parties

Tridip Suhrud a Social Scientist from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India is a columnist with the Inidian Express. Today's column ( is a criticism of the way the Congress party works in India. A criticism that doing politics is not just about being in the government. The criticism is valid for all parties in India and Sri Lanka which are caught up in an era where colaition governments have become the norm - an era where dubious, 'unholy' alliances are forged to be able to 'govern'. I have found it disgusting when our parliamentarians cross over and provide justification that they are doing it so that they can serve the people. Meaning that is the be all and end all of doing politics and 'serving the people'. Looking at the present Mahinda Government it is a soup of political parties and it would be futile for anyone to figure out a government position on any social issue. Though there is seldom anything new in this article I like the way he theortises his take on the subject with which i agree in its entirety.

On the need for differentiating the goals of a political party as opposed to the functions of a Government
"The government.. (has its)..unique ways of solving issues, it also ha(s) its limits and restraints. He [Nehru] warned that mere power of the government was not enough. The government cannot, by its very nature, raise fundamental issues facing a society and a nation. The role of the Congress was, he said, to remain within politics — not necessarily within government — and raise and confront fundamental issues. Because, in politics one looks to the advantage of the moment. But an action that was informed by deeper understanding of the political realm would be framed differently. The action must be right in itself, whether it leads to an immediate advantage or not".

"The ability of the Congress to discern the difference between forms of governance, political action and the larger role of occupying the political space has frayed. It sees itself as a body whose role should be to occupy the position of governance. It is true that one of the moving forces for a political party is the will to power. But to consider governmental power as an end in itself can be dangerous for a political organisation. It gives primacy to governance over the political thereby restricting the role of the political organisation. The party thus becomes an instrument of governance and not of confronting fundamental issues and setting the terms of political debate".

Critiquing the tendency to look at politics as something that has to be 'managed'
"The party is seen as a bureaucratic organisation. It sees politics and even elections essentially as a managerial problem, or worse a technocratic problem. Politics as a management exercise gives centrality to the ‘expert’ and not to the polis. It, in fact, shuts out the voice of the people or the ordinary, primary member of the party as ‘noise’ in the system. A managerial exercise is also an affirmation of the hierarchy. It also validates back-room politics as real politics. It thinks of acquisitions and mergers as robust forms of political alignment. Gujarat is a classic case in point. The Congress believed that by aligning itself with the rebels within the BJP it could defeat Modi. It surrendered to the new allies, allowing them to dictate even the choice of party candidates".

Friday, March 07, 2008

Our CJ's blabbering!!

There are many reasons to dislike our Chief Justice: For example his disconnected jurisprudence intervening in cases where he thinks fit without giving us reasons why he did it in this case and not the other one. His judgment finding the need for removal of permanent check points which is no lesser a national security issue than the Muttur High Security Zone case wherein he warned the petitioners not to bring politically charged matters of that nature to court is a classic example. Wasn't the issue of permanent check point also a politically charged case involving an issue of National Security? He has converted the court to a mediation board or a Panchayat sort of where he tries to bring cases that come to him to a 'settlement'. In the interests of speedier justice we are told.

But what propelled me to write this post is the speech that he delivered at the opening of the Consumer Court. The Chief Justice is quoted to have made the following 'observation':

“Now teachers are on sick leave. During our school days we were given six cuts for malingering. Now I am waiting for those teachers to come before me. I will give them a suitable punishment”

While it is wrong i believe for a Chief Justice to comment out of court in such a degrading manner the action being taken by the Teacher's union (The merits or demerits of the teachers action is irrelevant here) what is worrying is the Chief Justice's comment that he is 'waiting fr the matter to come to court'. Now a judge is supposed to hear a case and based on the arguments placed before him arrive at a judgment taking into consideration the interests of the parties and the society as a whole. Here is a Chief Justice (not some low court judge) who has already formed an opinion and is waiting to deliver that opinion on the parties involved in the case. What kind of justice is this? He has to the teachers effectively shut the doors of the supreme court not only on this issue but possible on any other issue they might bring. In legal academic jargon this is known as 'ex post facto rationalisation'.

As far as i know Judges of Superior courts all around the world usually tend to have a prepared speech (This is to avoid any 'slip of the tongue' mistakes) when they accept invitations to speak out of court. They go for selected occasions usually to deliver memorial orations. This is i would argue in the interests of the impartiality of the position they hold and a matter of public confidence in the duties that they carry out. Our Chief Justice like a politician is known to go for all sorts of functions for the stage and the garland. (there are those who seriously think that he might run for public office after he steps down :-). He is known to make very populist speeches. In this speech he condemns the privatisation of gas, argues for protectionism (wants to stop foreign imports. He's worried about tinned fish) all populist matters that you will expect politicians and not a Chief Justice to take on. (I am also a critique of him appearing on Buddhist TV. Agreed this is not a secular country. But shouldn't we expect that the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice at least be secular as a matter of tradition.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dayan's Politico-Academic Veneer

The Hon Dayan Jayatilleke is quite a well known academic / politician turned diplomat - our Ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Mr.Jayatilleke's past is diverse to say the least: Among other roles he was a former supporter of the EPRLF and the Tamil Self Determination movement (The Late Kethesh Loganathan i understand had taken him in the 80s to Jaffna to lecture to the EPRLF cadres probably on Marxism) , a former Minister of Fisheries in Varadharajah Perumal's short lived North East Provincial Government, a former Advisor to President Premadasa and a former academic at the University of Colombo. The British Foreign Secretary David Milband released a message on the eve of Sri Lanka's 60th Independence day celebrations in which the Foreign Secretary called for an end to violence and regretted the abrogation of the CFA. Mr. Jayatilleke has responded to this statement in an article appearing in yesterday's (13 February) Island. You can read the article here Let me give you some extracts from this article and leave it to to you to judge their content.

Dayan's description of the war being waged by the Mahinda regime as a bourgeois democratic revolution (Wonder when Marxists started supporting and being an agent of bourgeois democratic revolutions!!):

Sri Lanka is fighting a war to prevent separation, to unite the country, to maintain it as a single territory, to make the writ of the state run from West to East, North to South of our little island. This is a struggle undertaken by many societies at an earlier stage of their history. It is part of what is known as the bourgeois democratic revolution, i.e. those tasks undertaken or completed by the rising bourgeois class of those nations. In the global South, this task of national unification often comes up against the opposition of the Western powers (as it did in China). This seems to be the case in present day Sri Lanka too. In such historical situations, the tasks of national unification combine with the struggle to win or defend national independence and sovereignty

Justification for a majoritarian nationalist project:
Sometimes the task of national unification takes a particularly enlightened ultilingual, multi-religious character, but in many, even most cases, the struggle requires the mobilization of the peasantry and the nationalist intelligentsia and therefore takes a majoritarian nationalist, even religio-nationalist, character.

Warning to the West similar To Bush's "Either you are with us or with the enemey" comment.
If any country takes a stand that is tilted against us or is ambivalent in this most fundamental of struggles, then we must recognize that there exists an incompatibility of interests between those countries and ours. Such states are not firm friends or staunch allies. It should be made clear to them that their stand today directly influences the role they will or will not have in influencing the post-war, post-conflict order in Sri Lanka. Those who stand against us, who threaten or attempt to intimidate us; those who vacillate and temporize during this war, have forfeited the chance to play a role in the peace. They must be limited to a strictly diplomatic presence. There are on the other hand, states that have uncritically supported us during this war, or have voiced their misgivings and advice in private. They are the ones with whom we have a basic identity of interests. These are our friends, allies and partners. They are the extended family to which we truly belong.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Local Government Elections in the Eastern Province: Empowering the people?

This is reproduced from a comment i made to Sanjana's article on groundviews:

For whom are these elections being held? Can Local Government of Provincial Council Elections empower the people of the East to usher in the development that the region requires? The answer is a plain no. Both the Local Government and the Provincial Council systems do not have the legal competency (powers) or the finances to undertake development work leave alone taking care of basic or local needs. The public administration system (GA's and AGA's) managed by the Central Government run the show when it comes to the basic day to day needs of the people. The ‘Big’ Ministries and the ‘Big’ Ministers at the Centre and in this case the Ministry of Nation Building (one of those five which comes under the President) are responsible for the so far announced development projects for the East. These are being done (if at all if they are being implemented) with almost zero consultation with the elected representatives from the East. Mr. Basil Rajapaksha is in full control. DBS Jeyeraj in a post on his website dated Oct 20, 2007, candidly explains how these projects could be used and are being used to promote Sinhala colonisation in the East. So are the LG representatives going to be of use? Are we naive to think that democratic elections should not be questioned for their purpose? That’s the first question – would the Local Government representatives be used or would they be of use within the present framework of governance? The second is the one that a lot of people are raising will it be of value balanced with the blood that is being and going to be shed in electing these representatives?

The UPFA is teaming up with TMVP for the polls. Without Govt support the TMVP cannot exist. So the TMVP has no choice but to accept UPFA as an electoral partner to gain legitimacy. So even there given that TMVP will sweep the polls the govt is going to have full control. A self-serving election for the Government this will be.