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Journal of the Communist Party of Australia


The historical path of separatist politics in Sri Lanka

Statement by the JVP Party of Sri Lanka

An unresolved question remains to be faced by the Sri Lankan nation, of how to go forward at a time when LTTE (Tamil Tiger) terrorism has been defeated militarily. It is apparent that the Mahinda Rajapakse Government has no clear vision or roadmap to solve the national question, but waged a war which it was forced to take to the end in order to gain political mileage, and for the mere motive of clutching on to power.

The historical condition for the emergence of the national question, in the form of an armed terrorist front which took centre stage with lethal armed force during the last quarter of a century, is the proven incapability of Sri Lankan capitalism. To be precise, it is the failure and nature of the backward Sri Lankan capitalist class that has been subjected to colonisation and re-colonisation, and its unfinished bourgeois democratic tasks including the national question.

The present capitalist government is not even capable of identifying the power-hungry communalist programs of past Sri Lankan capitalist class rule. Even though since the war has finished the government has been in the habit of bragging about the military victory, by taking advantage of the relief of most of the Sinhala community, it is certain that the Mahinda Rajapakse Government is unable to come up with a genuine solution.

The intention of this piece of writing is to identify and discuss the historical and objective realities of the national question in Sri Lanka and its development into a separatist movement. Without complete and precise reading and understanding of the pathway separatism has taken in Sri Lanka, it is impossible to find a correct and just solution to the national question.

Even though the LTTE came to prominence as the terrorist military front of separatism about three decades ago by assassinating Mr Alfred Dureiappa, the Lord Mayor of Jaffna, a tendency towards separatism in Sri Lanka was in the making for more than a century. Therefore, to find a genuine solution to the national question of Sri Lanka without understanding its historical development is like groping to find something in the dark.

Capitalism created

Sri Lanka lost all the benefits it should have gained as a result of the creation of a capitalist system, since that system was superimposed from outside upon Sri Lanka. When the colonialists of the British Empire, upon which the sun would never set, implemented their imperial program, the creation of capitalism in Sri Lanka was an incidental part of it. Sri Lankan capitalism was weak and backward from its inception, since it was designed to meet the needs of British colonialist strategy and tactics.

Even though the British made plans to create a completely centralised multinational state in Sri Lanka on March 2nd 1815, that did not naturally pave the way to national assimilation. On the other hand, the divide-and-rule strategy which they implemented for ease of colonial control kept nationalities apart instead of bringing them together. Hence this environment was a blessing for those Tamil and Sinhalese bourgeois leaders who could use communalism to gain political power.

Nationalism is a political principle of bourgeois ideology, characterised by isolationism, xenophobia and the expression of enmity between nations. The seeds of nationalism lie in the special characteristics of the capitalist development. In reflecting the nature of the relationships between nations under capitalism, nationalism demonstrates two characteristics — the chauvinistic nationalism of a ruling nation distinguished by its contempt for other nations, and the provincial nationalism of the ruled nation which is identified by isolationism and xenophobia. (The Dictionary of Philosophy, Moscow)

Racially-based elections

In 1833 the British parliament decided, via constitutional changes, to elect the Legislative Assembly on the basis of racial percentages for the first time. This created the foundation for separatist ideology. Members who represented their racial groups used communalism as a tool to compete with each other. On the other hand, when transferring power to the native national bourgeoisie, the British consistently maintained that animosity. Instead of uniting and fighting against the British, Sri Lankan bourgeois leaders were trapped into nurturing separatism.

British education policy was exactly the same. The missionary teachers who came to Sri Lanka through American missions were sent by Governor Robert Browning only to Jaffna schools. Hence was created the inequality of education opportunities and the building of pressure from within the Sinhala people. By getting more education opportunities to enter government service, the Tamil people from Jaffna received more opportunities. This paved the way for racial hatred to be planted in the Sinhala mindset against Tamils.

This situation diverted the protest that should have been made against colonialists but which instead was directed against our own Tamil brothers and sisters. The British took a similar action after the 1912 railway strike to divert the protest away from them and recruited Tamil workers instead of from the Sinhala majority, which created disharmony in the labour movement. If unity had been created among all workers, the bourgeois communalist leaders would have been deprived of their selfish goals. The policy the British exercised when recruiting for jobs exacerbated the communalism further and delayed class unity.

Even though the worst results of colonialism are borne by the colonial countries, in comparison with earlier historical social systems capitalism is progressive from the perspective of social development, yet the model of superimposed capitalism, built in Sri Lanka as a result of imperialist aims, inherited backward economic characteristics from its inception. By the removal of the provincial languages in Latin America, the colonists’ language became the common language. This solved their language question, which is a compulsory part of any national question, and fulfilled a massive task in their national assimilation process. In contrast, by the time the British withdrew from Sri Lanka, less than 10 per cent could speak the English language. This was a deliberate policy to prevent a common language being adopted in Sri Lanka, and so hinder national assimilation. This was reflected in the colonists’ action of giving English as a tool to a very limited minority in order to assist their administrative work.

Bourgeoisie divided

Due to this tactic of the imperialists the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie was divided. In 1919 the Ceylon National Congress, the first bourgeois organisation in Sri Lanka, tried to organise and unite the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie as a whole, mainly using the slogan of government constitutional changes. But in 1921, after a short period of three years, the All-Ceylon Tamil People Congress emerged. Later, part of the Tamil bourgeoisie broke away in 1944 under the leadership of G.G. Ponnambalam to become the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress. The result of this gradually developed disunity was that when establishing the United National Party in 1946, D.S. Senanayake was unable to get any Tamil bourgeois sections.

In this situation all bourgeois sections aiming at power resorted to instigating communalism. This led to the beginning of Tamil society’s bourgeois desire for separation. In 1948, by introducing a citizenship bill D.S. Senanayake made arrangement to disenfranchise the Tamil estate workers who had been forcibly employed from India’s Tamil Nadu in Sri Lanka’s tea plantation sector. This was done by the British because the then-existing Sri Lankan Asiatic socio-economic relations made obstacles for the tea plantation industry. On this basis in 1948, parallel to the Dravida Munnethra Kazagam (a movement in India which was fighting to create a Dravidian nation), the Federal Party was created under the leadership of Chelvanayagam.

English the state language

The protest to make Sinhala the state language, from people who were frustrated by the fact the state language is English was used by S.W.R.D. Bandaranayke to promise to make Sinhala the state language within 24 hours if given power. As a result there were communal clashes in the north instigated by the Federal Party. This went out of control to the extent of Sinhala-Tamil communal clashes and as a solution the agreement reached by Bandaranayke and Chelvanayagam was also an agreement that nurtured communalism separatism which divided the people along ethnic lines.

The frustration of English being the state language not only tormented Sinhala people but Tamils as well. But the chauvinist and short-sighted decision taken by the Sinhala bourgeois leaders, due to their hunger for power, added the sentiment that a great injustice had been committed against the Tamil people. This in turn became a gold mine to power-hungry Tamil bourgeois leaders who planted the seeds in the minds of the Tamil people that separation is a necessity in order to win power.

The capitalist economic crisis has made a deadly impact on the national question in Sri Lanka and made it more complex. On one side the economic crisis further develops the inequality between nationalities. Worsening unemployment, giving employment on the basis of national ratios, not broadening university education since admission was to be based on the same ratios; all these reasons will together worsen communalism and develop animosity between the nationalities.

Things were made even worse by the judicial system starting to work in Sinhala according to the Court Language Bill. The Federal Party took communalism to the centre stage against this with a movement to violate civil law and start a separate postal service. Parallel to this situation, a Sinhala communalist party was created (National Liberation Front) which worsened the national question.

Tamil labour imported

Since there were limitations arising from the then existing Asiatic mode of production, when the British imperialists first started coffee and tea manufacturing in Sri Lanka, they found difficulty in finding free labour and had to import tens of thousands of oppressed Tamil-speaking workers by force from South India. Due to extreme conditions while being transported like slaves, thousands died on the way. These Tamil workers spread around the Estate Sector of Sri Lanka, and also made a considerable impact on the unresolved national question. This community can be identified as one of the most deeply poverty-stricken communities within the Sri Lankan oppressed class, subject to severe exploitation. Also, the way was paved for instigating communalism in the Estate Sector in parallel to the North by not working together with the Lanka Estate Workers’ Congress when trying to find solutions to Tamil Estate workers’ problems at the time of the Sirima-Shastri Agreement (Sirima was the then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and Shastri the counterpart of India). The ill-treatment by the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie against these utterly oppressed Tamil Estate workers further fuelled the communal fire.

But in the case of the Indian bourgeois Bohra who were supported by imperialist coffers, Sinhala communalism made not the slightest impact. While State Sector workers’ right to citizenship was disenfranchised, the capitalist rulers were eager to award honorary citizenships to Indian bourgeois Bohras. It was unambiguous that the communalism was not relevant for the mates of their own class who contributed hundreds of thousands of rupees to their party funds.


Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake gave in to the Tamil communalist demands of Chelvanayagam and formed a government with them, due to the inability to form a strong United National Party government. It was clearly evident that the crisis of the bourgeoisie gave stimulation to the Sinhala and Tamil communalism. There was strong opposition from Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the old left movement to the agreement. Even though the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Agreement was abandoned due to that opposition, the old left movement’s giving in to communalism was a great tragedy. Hence, the Tamil people’s trust in the left was shattered.

In 1972, a serious injustice was committed against Tamil people by inclusions in the government constitution giving the Sinhala language and Buddhism special privileges, distribution of employment opportunities according to national ratio, standardisation of education paved the way to instigate communalism and provided a powerful stimulus to Tamil bourgeois leaders who were working to nurture separatist expectations. This was the situation, which opened a passage to Tamil bourgeois leaders to go to the extent of a separate state via the well known 1972 Wadukkudei (a suburb in the Tamil populated northern part of Sri Lanka) Convention of the Tamil United Liberation Front.

Tamil youth

The situation became grave when the United People’s Alliance Government started suppression against Tamil youth who were peacefully protesting against the injustice which had fallen upon them by the standardisation of education. Having to bear the consequences of the injustice and suppression at the same time destroyed the faith in democracy of the young Tamil generation. Another reason for that frustration was that even though the Tamil bourgeois leaders instigated communalism to achieve power, they did not do anything for Tamil people when they were elected to parliament. This dire situation registered a feeling in the Tamil youth that is fruitless for Tamil bourgeois leaders to be using democratic means to solve the problem, and there is no space for them in democracy.

If there was the slightest hope in democracy in the Tamil society, even that slightest faith was diminished, due to the anti-democratic behaviour displayed by the J.R. Jayawardene Government which came to power in 1977, in rigging the 1981 Development Council Election and setting ablaze the Jaffna Library.

The disastrous outcome of this series of misdemeanours was the communal riots against the Tamil people of 1983, called Black July. These were organised by the then ruling party, the United National Party, under the leadership of President J.R. Jayawardene who undemocratically extended the second term of parliament for another six years without holding elections, by using a discriminatory referendum, and his henchmen. The organised massacre of the Tamil people, looting and confiscating their properties and valuables in broad daylight, made the Tamil people feel that they were not secure in the south. It forced the majority of the Tamil people to the extreme of separatism and made them think that there was no alternative but to launch an armed movement for separation. Considerable numbers of Tamil youth fell into the hands of the different armed movements. Hence this created willing cadre and human suicide bombers for the LTTE.

Imperialist agenda

This situation was linked with the political agenda of the imperialists. As we know, the national question does not exist in isolation from other socio-economic and political problems. It is a part of the entire body of socio-economic and political body. For this reason the national question in Sri Lanka cannot be considered in abstract from other problems. The national question in Sri Lanka constitutes its present complexity due to its multilateral connections and relations. The universal relationship of phenomena and inter-attribution is the distinct nature of the material world. V.I. Lenin stressed that in order to truly identify something you have to study all its parts and relations. To study the world as a unit of continuous relations, to search out the universal connections of everything is an extremely important task of dialectical materialism.

The western imperialists move towards separatism under the guise of minority Tamil rights, plus India’s necessity to deal with the armed front of separatism, as well as feed them, were not only due to the economic aspects but also to the natural resources of Sri Lanka, and its strategically important geo­political position. Prior to the fall of the world socialist camp, the national question of Sri Lanka was exposed to pressure of the world’s main contradiction between the imperialist camp and the socialist camp.

There was strong objection from India to the pro-United States political program implemented by J.R. Jayawardene, the leader of the United National Party Government which came to power in 1977 (on the other hand since 1950 pressure from the North and South Indian Tamil Movements was upon Tamil bourgeois leaders). For this reason the Indian Government adopted into their strategic programme the tactic of harbouring Tamil terrorism, by arming and providing military training on Indian soil to various military groups including the LTTE, in order to pressure the pro-western United National Party in Sri Lanka. This tactical approach appeared to be a contradictory move to the Indian strategic program which doesn’t accept any kind of separate Tamil state within Sri Lankan territory that could have a negative impact on Tamil Nadu in India. India wanted to control the Tamil military movement according to their strategy but not allow them to stand on their own.

The 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution was the result of pressure placed upon the Sri Lankan Government by the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Ghandi. In an era of changing contradictions of the world and the region, India, by following a foreign policy similar to the line of United States of America, is at present trying to force upon Sri Lanka a devolution of power that even goes beyond the 13th Amendment.

It is true that the historical incapability of the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie, the physical and material incapability of the backward and underdeveloped capitalism, and the communalism germinated by hunger for power of the capitalist class created the national question. Also, from the capitalist governments there was no vision or strategy even when this question was emerging as an armed separatist front of terrorism.

Separatism legitimised

From the All Party Conference of December 21, 1983 to the Thimpu talks and the Delhi talks in 1987 until the signing of the Indo-Lanka Agreement, what happened was that instead of finding a solution by genuinely understanding the national question, by constitutional amendments and round table discussions, communalism and separatism were legitimised. Not only the 13th Amendment and the government Constitution, both defeated amidst mass protest in 2000, but also the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals, the Post-Tsunami Relief Operation Management (PTOMs), and the so-called Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 all ignored the real problems and legitimised the separatism.

President Mahinda Rajapakse had to work towards ending the war since the Geneva Talks and the proposals of Devolution of Power put together by Dr. Tissa Vitharana (a present government minister) were yet to be taken on the centre stage. On one hand it is clear that the separatism was accepted. On the other hand President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government has deliberately ignored the genuine challenge of winning the trust of Tamil people when defeating the LTTE militarily. It could have been brought to a closure without inflicting upon on Tamil people unprecedented suffering and destruction if the government, instead of chasing the war to fulfil its political aims, had identified the problem and fought only to defeat separatist terrorism.

The government should have taken more effective and meaningful action in regards to the people who were rescued from the Tigers’ jackboot. It will not surprise to see the emergence of many Prabhakarans in an environment where at the end of the war, the menace of provincial political leaders celebrating war victory further damages Tamil people’s mentality. The poor condition of the Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camps also contributes to the above-mentioned situation. Furthermore, the government hasn’t allowed other political parties to enter the IDP camps two months since the defeat of the LTTE.

Injustices not solved

Even though the military front of separatism has been defeated, no meaningful and effective steps have been taken to prepare the Tamil people’s mindset to unite under one nation. The injustices committed by bourgeois communalist politics have not been solved. Due to the incapacity of the capitalist system, the government has not done anything about the isolation and physical necessities of the Tamil people, nor the attitude inscribed in their minds by Tamil communalist leaders, that what fell on them is only because they are Tamils. They are denied of equal rights and democracy.

It is certain that the democracy which doesn’t exist in the South will never be delivered in the North. It is also certain that this capitalist government will not give democracy or rigwhts to the Tamil people.

Because of this the question is not over. Today, instead of an armed front there now exists a strengthening separatist front. The imperialist forces and India will definitely join hands with the expectations of political separatism to achieve their regional goals. The Rajapakse Government will bow down to separatism due to pressure from imperialism, and also not clearly knowing any other solution. This will confront the question in another form. Therefore, to find a solution it is imperative to understand the historical development we have raised in this letter.

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