Sri Lanka Guardian Essays - Page 3

Sri Lanka: Costs of Sinhala Hegemony

6 mins read

The Government should have reduced expenditure at a time of severe economic crisis that we undergo presently rather than raising it further while the public suffers from high inflation rates. If benefits were to be given to the penurious needy some other expenditure should have been cut down. Because inflation would not come down as the Central Bank was continuing to print money to meet expenses. A fortnight ago it printed Rs.30 billion according to reports. Unless the Government cuts down expenditure, including Capital expenditure, we would not be able to reduce the inflation rates and stabilize the economy. Of course reasons have been given for the increase in expenditure. But increase in expenditure would further increase the inflation rates.

In addition to public administration, a notable increase can be observed in the expenditure assigned for the President, for Defense, education and health.

The defense allocation has been increased and a sum of Rs. 212,808 million has been allocated to the Ministry of Public Security. A sum of only Rs.138,560 million has been allocated for agriculture in contrast. Such are the priorities.

It appears we are not going to tarnish our reputation as the 14th largest Army in the World. Why does our small Country need such a large Army? Generally a Country would focus on the process of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) after a War. These are essential to restore sustainable peace in a post-war scenario. We should have reduced our Army personnel as soon as the war was over or at least a few years later. We have today 331,000 Army personnel officially as opposed to Britain’s 90000. This number is to be further reduced by Britain soon. The DDR is one of the significant aspects of the process of post-war peace-building. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) is a process that contributes to security and stability in a post-war recovery context by removing weapons from the hands of combatants, taking the combatants out of military structures and helping them to integrate socially and economically into society by finding civilian livelihoods for them. But those who fought the war are still in our Armed Forces. Some of them are still working in the combat areas. It is high time they are taken out of the North and East and reintegrated into the civil society.

After thirteen years since the end of the war why is the Military being allowed to occupy our Peoples’ lands and buildings, our forests and shores?

In most of the cases world over, this process has been implemented with the assistance of foreign governments and international or regional institutions. However, the circumstances under which the Government of Sri Lanka happened to take over the sole responsibility for implementing the DDR process have raised serious concerns both at the local and international level. The findings of a recent study show that the DDR process was not fully implemented in a broad manner in the Sri Lankan context, but only served as a continuation of the military victory over the LTTE. In particular, not much attention was paid to disarming and demobilizing the armed groups, and the so-called DDR process took place in Sri Lanka without international assistance and supervision. One would think that the Sri Lankan powers that be had a purpose in keeping out international assistance and supervision. I would surmise it is to keep the North and East under the Military boot.

This coupled together with the expenditure for the armed forces in the Amendment Bill show that there has not been any changes in the psyche of the powers that be in Sri Lanka even after the aragalaya. Thoughts of Sinhala hegemony still reigns heavily in their minds.

All the talk about an All Party Government becomes a mockery in the light of such continuous military spending. Therefore the clarion call to unity is an empty shell. The Government under the present President wants to continue to spend large amounts of money to maintain our 14th largest Army. It has no intention of forging any form of reconciliation with the minorities.

And whom is the Government expecting a war with? Against India? Against China? Against America? Or even against Maldive Islands? No ! They expect an attack from us poor Tamils of the North and East! Because the government believes that the Tamil people will not continue to endure against the Sri Lankan state’s continued oppression and genocide. That is why the Sri Lankan Government preferred to conduct the so-called DDR process without international assistance and supervision. They want the presence of the Military permanently in the North and East.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is due to many factors. One major factor was the war and the money that Sri Lanka borrowed to buy destructive weapons. Another is the massive corruption among Government and Defense department officials.

A further major reason for the crisis was the ethnic cleansing that forced most of the Tamils to quit small businesses, high tech-related jobs, manufacturing trades, exportation and training, impeding Sri Lanka’s economic development, managerial efficiency, and productivity. The State by its shortsighted racial policies sabotaged itself.

Earlier racial discrimination against the Tamils forced many of them to leave Sri Lanka. They are the Tamils who are now offering to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for Sri Lanka if the political problems of the Sri Lankan Tamils are solved.

All of the erstwhile racist activities led Sri Lanka to this economic crisis. It did not happen overnight. It started with the ethnic riots of 1958.

Israeli Professor Oren Yiftachel has said ethnocratic countries often experience ethnic tensions which cause instability. Therefore, as long as Sri Lanka remains an ethnocratic country, there will continue to be instability. This will never lead to sustainable peace and economic prosperity as expected by His Excellency. The fact that you have increased defense spending to keep the army in the North-East and to establish massive military infrastructures and settlements to continue oppressing the Tamil people shows the instability that will continue in the future.

After thirteen years since the end of the war why is the Military being allowed to occupy our Peoples’ lands and buildings, our forests and shores?

The existing problems that the Tamils face which were brought to the notice of the President are conveniently forgotten in the Speech. We feel though the President had positively responded to our queries regarding the day to day problems the Tamils face apart from the need to solve the political problems of the Tamils, he prefers to remain silent in Parliament regarding our problems lest he disturbs a hornet’s nest.

I am reminded of Robert Walpole who was Prime Minister of England in 1715 or thereabout whose policy was “Let sleeping dogs lie”. May be because our Tamil Youths in recent times have not resorted to Aragalayas in their areas he believes we are but sleeping canines, best left to be unsaid and unreferred to. But am sure this time Geneva would reiterate its stand quite positively.

I like to remind the contents of my request letter to which His Excellency responded to positively. His Excellency promised to release all Tamil political prisoners. Nothing has come out from that promise. It is said that there is a move to release some persons taken into custody on suspicion after 2019 just in time for the Geneva deliberations. None are going to be fooled by such gimmicks if they be true.

If the case of the Tamil Political Prisoners, some of them languishing in jails for over quarter of a century is not going to be considered in a humanitarian manner considering the long period of incarceration and the type of diseases that have been contracted by some of them, I am wondering if any Tamil Parliamentarian could be ethically and morally be called upon to join in an All Party Government. Many of these Prisoners had been found guilty solely on their confessions made to Police officers under the PTA. Such confessions to Police officers cannot be accepted as evidence under our regular criminal law. That was why I had asked for the release of the Tamil Political Prisoners and for the scrapping of the draconian PTA from our statute books. Instead, it is being now used against the Aragalaya leaders. These leaders would soon be called Terrorists.

Any attempt to bring in diverse political viewpoints together under one umbrella must be preceded by genuine acts of goodwill towards those holding such viewpoints. It is useless saying join us and I will give you a free hand to express your views. The moment a Tamil Parliamentarian joins the Government he would lose his freedom of speech. Majority in the governing Party will rule the roost! I hope the Tamils whose names have been included in a Ministerial list recently would wait till the Geneva deliberations are over before taking office.

I have no objections to attending a meeting of Party leaders friendly towards this Government to put forward the viewpoints of the Tamils.

Finally, my request to the donor countries and the IMF is that in this difficult situation for Sri Lanka, you should definitely help to save the people of Sri Lanka from starvation, but please see that you do your assistance in such a way that your assistance is not used to suppress the rights of the Tamil people and be used for defense expenditure.

Views are personal

Sri Lanka Crisis – why people get on boats

6 mins read

If you asked most Australians to tell you about the current situation in Sri Lanka, you might hear that the schools had to close because there were no supplies and that the country had run out of petrol, or you might just see a shrug and a blank look. For the affluent west, not much attention is paid to this small South Asian island nation. So, it is no wonder that the humanitarian crisis currently affecting Sri Lanka is receiving no real consideration. This is further compounded by either inaction or the application of standard old “go back to where you belong” tactics employed previously by so many Australian governments towards those fleeing their homeland and looking for safety and security in Australia. It is therefore vital to unpack the roots of the current political and economic situation leading to this humanitarian crisis and resulting in Sri Lankan refugees attempting to get to Australia. Equally important is the Australian response to this situation.

The Roots of The Current Political and Economic Crisis

So, first to the roots of the current political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka. The origins of this can be tied directly to the actions of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, including his brothers former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Gotabaya came to power in 2019. In 2020 his party, the Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPP), consolidated its supermajority and therefore control in parliament due to their popular political approach which peddled populism and Sinhalese nationalism. The Sri Lankan people were convinced that they had elected a government that would consider the needs of the ordinary people, yet they were mistaken. In passing the 20th amendment to the Constitution, Gotabaya further consolidated an extraordinary amount of power in the executive presidency. Here was a near-dictator using tools of nepotism, corruption and the promotion of retired military officers into almost every sector of government. As well, accusations abounded of human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war. But in the end, it was simply Gotabaya’s terrible governance and mismanagement of the economy especially during the pandemic, that led to the Sri Lankan Government’s declaration of economic crisis, the worst in the country since the 1948 independence from British colonial rule.

Ordinary people and political opposition began to protest peacefully but were labelled extremists and met with violence and curfews. These protests demanded responses to food, fuel and medicine shortages, power cuts and out of control inflation. Amidst these protests, Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as Prime Minister on May 9, yet his brother still chose to maintain his position as President. Finally, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was chased out of office by protesters. Eventually he fled the country and submitted his resignation, from exile in Singapore, on July 14.

Economically, the Sri Lankan government had created the perfect storm with a failing domestic economy, budget shortfalls and ensuing Balance of Payments deficits. These were coupled with the failure of agricultural reforms and subsequent problems with the drop in export earnings and reliance on imports, as well as the disaster of the Tax Cuts policy that essentially saw the loss of one million taxpayers. Some economists have called Sri Lanka’s handling of foreign exchange as simply debt trap diplomacy. Currency depreciated and inflation increased. The Tourism Industry plunged, affected first by the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo and then, of course, by the global pandemic. Sri Lanka’s history with International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans, and later reluctance to seek a bailout from it, as well as a history of sourcing sovereign debts with high interest rates and shorter durations of payment were issues that rounded out the economic crisis. Thus, the Sri Lankan economy completely collapsed.


This collapse of the country’s economy has resulted in a humanitarian crisis and could lead to what the United Nations (UN) warned of in June this year – a full-blown humanitarian emergency. Certainly, the series of events I have just described have threatened the health, safety and wellbeing of the Sri Lankan people. As days go by, these issues are becoming increasingly critical.

While most humanitarian crises around the world are triggered by conflict or the effects of climate change, the crisis in Sri Lanka is solely due to the economic collapse caused by governmental mismanagement and corruption. The humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka is multidimensional, and as we think about taking that Panadol for our work-related headache or what we might cook – or order – for dinner, Sri Lankan people and aid agencies are faced with food insecurity, threatened livelihoods and the shortage of essential medicines. As well, there are real concerns for safety and protection. Of the 22 million-plus population, it is estimated by some sources that nearly 6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, with nearly 5 million being considered as food insecure.

The Humanitarian Needs and Priorities (HNP) Plan, backed by the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO), was launched in June this year, and has already highlighted nearly 2 million people. In order to avert this crisis becoming a humanitarian emergency, the Humanitarian Needs and Priorities Plan (HNP) has called for $47.2 million US dollars to be channelled into lifesaving sectors in order to support resources that simply save lives. Furthermore, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), established by the United Nations (UN) in 2005 to enable responders to deliver life-saving assistance during crises, has approved a US$5 million rapid response allocation to address urgent needs of food assistance, basic agricultural and livelihood support, vital and essential medicines and supplies, child protection, nutrition, safe water and education in areas worst affected. The work of both the Humanitarian Needs and Priorities Plan (HNP) and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) are understandably hindered by Sri Lanka’s fuel shortages, posing a major operational constraint for humanitarian response and monitoring. Sadly, assistance is not assistance if it cannot reach the people it is designed for.

People Fleeing the Country

This is not a conflict, so the “fight” in the “fight or flight” motto does not work. The natural response then to save life is flight. With no sign of this crisis letting up, and no bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in sight, many Sri Lankans feel forced to leave. As the economic and political crisis continues, Sri Lanka is facing a mass exodus with young men and women waiting for long hours to secure a passport in an effort to leave. At the same time, refugees have been travelling by boats to nearby countries such as India and Australia in a desperate bid to escape the unfolding disaster. In June, an elderly Sri Lankan refugee couple was found unconscious on an Indian beach suffering from severe dehydration. The couple had tried to cross from Sri Lanka to India by boat. The elderly woman later died in hospital. This certainly puts a human face to the situation.

Recently members of an Australian Border Force (ABF) vessel took into custody 46 Sri Lankans attempting to migrate to Australia by boat. All 46 were “repatriated” back to Colombo in early August and handed over to Sri Lankan authorities. When we choose our vocabulary so carefully, for example using “repatriated” instead of “sent back”, “removed” or “expelled”, we sanitise the issue and perhaps absolve any responsibility or guilt.

The Australian Border Force (ABF) Regional Director for South Asia, Commander Chris Waters, recalled the long-standing cooperation between Australia and Sri Lanka and revealed that the Australian Border Force (ABF) has repatriated 183 individuals from Australia following six unsuccessful maritime crossings, since May of this year. He explained that even with the change of federal government, there have been no recent policy changes by Australia in relation to unauthorized maritime people smuggling.

Again, since May, there have been 15 boats that attempted to leave Sri Lanka but were stopped by the Sri Lankan Navy. Some of these boats had children on board. Just over 700 people were arrested from these boats and a further 210 were arrested on land by police with the assistance of the Navy.

Operation Sovereign Borders came into effect in Australia under Tony Abbott in 2013, and our then Prime Minister gifted Sri Lanka with two retired patrol boats. Australia continues to provide tactical assistance and training to Sri Lanka’s Navy under this scheme. The Albanese government has also donated more than 4000 GPS devices to help Sri Lankan authorities in monitoring activity in their own waters.

It is believed that people smugglers are convincing Sri Lankans that since the Australian Labor Party was sworn into office on May 23, refugees will be welcomed. This is clearly not the case. Just prior to the last federal election this year, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), called for a response to its three priorities, the third of which was the reinstatement of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

There are some questions to be asked. Has Australia recognised the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, and if so, why is it exerting its efforts to support the removal of maritime immigrants rather than supporting those Sri Lankans in crisis? When will policy be reviewed regarding the unauthorised arrival of refugees and asylum seekers? When will our policy on refugees and humanitarian support be reviewed?

Several people have commented on the strength of a society. In searching for a pertinent comment, I had to settle for an American rather than Australian voice, however. Hubert Humphrey, who served as US President from 1965 to 1969, said:

“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the sunset of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and those with disability.”

There is now another moral test for our own government!

Views are personal

Sri Lanka:  Anatomy of Baleful Crisis

15 mins read

The following article is based on the keynote address by the author at the recent seminar titled, The Conundrum of an island: Sri Lanka – Present Crisis, Geo-Political Challenges and Way Ahead, organized by the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) which is a Chennai-based Think Tank that mainly carries out research on developments in China and assigns priority to Indian policy interests.

May I, at the outset, express my deep sense of appreciation and heartfelt thanks to my good friends Commodore RS Vasan, Bala and his junior colleagues for associating me with this significant seminar and requesting me to deliver the keynote address.

When I went through the programme I found that I have been allotted 20 minutes. There lies the problem. It takes nearly 20 minutes for a Professor to warm up in the classroom and to expect him to conclude his presentation in 20 minutes is an unfriendly act. However, I shall try to be as brief as possible. As the Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Taylor, told her husband, soon after her 9th marriage: “This too shall be brief”.

Appropriate Title

My congratulations to Commodore Vasan and Bala for choosing an appropriate title – Conundrum of an Island. It reminded me of the poem written by the Great English Poet, John Donne, entitled No Man is an Island. Just as no man is an island, no island can remain an island. In a world of shrinking geographical boundaries and widening intellectual horizon the momentous developments taking place in its immediate neighbourhood and in the wider world will have a tremendous impact on Sri Lanka. Let me quote parts of John Donne’s poem:

                        No man is an island, entire of itself

                        Every man is a piece of the continent,

                        A part of the main…

                        Any man’s death diminishes me

                        Because I am involved in mankind

                        And, therefore, never send to know for

                        Whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

South Asia a Unique Region

     The most striking feature of South Asia is the pre-eminent position of India, which bestrides the region almost like a colossus.  In terms of area, population, economic resources and armed forces, India is more than all the other countries put together. The World Development Report, a few years ago, pointed out that India has 78 per cent of the area, 73 per cent of the population and 77 per cent of gross domestic product.  What is more, India is at the very centre and all other countries are bordering on India. The other countries do not share anything in common, except perhaps fears and misgivings about India. The crux of their foreign policy is how to manage relations with India. In other words, India is the axis around which the wheel of South Asia revolves.

Despite our common cultural heritage, each country has its own individual personality and national identity. And given the ethnic, religious, political and economic linkages, what happens in one country will have its fallout on another. If the Hindu temples are destroyed and the Hindu population comes down, as in Pakistan and in Bangladesh, naturally the Hindus in India will be agitated. And if the Muslims in India are discriminated against and when the Babri Masjid was demolished the Muslims in the region were naturally agitated. If the Tamils in Sri Lanka are singled out for discrimination and subjected to violence, naturally the Tamils in Tamil Nadu will campaign for them. We have to recognize these realities and then evolve a neighbourhood policy.

Despite our common cultural heritage, each country has its own individual personality and national identity.

The ideal neighbourhood policy, with reference to smaller neighbours, was explained by former Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh as “asymmetrical reciprocity”. Inaugurating the road between the Indian side of Kashmir and Pakistani-occupied Kashmir Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh said, “I cannot do anything about the borders, but I can try to make the borders irrelevant”.

In the classroom situation, I am fond of narrating a story which exemplifies the need for a win-win situation. The Christian Missionaries started a school among Adivasis in Madhya Pradesh to teach the children the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic. A large number of students were admitted to the school. At the end of the year, the Principal decided to celebrate the first anniversary by organising a sports meet. 100 meters race. All the boys were asked to assemble. On your mark, get set and go. All boys began to run. There was a strong boy who was running ahead of others. Everybody cheered him. But mid-way he stopped. The Principal went to him and said, “you were running ahead of others. You could have easily lifted the trophy. Why did you stop in the middle?” The boy told the principal “Madam, in our community that victory is the greatest victory when we all win together”. Win-Win situation – that should be the objective of India’s relations with smaller countries in our region.

Some Issues relating to Nation Building  

I do not know how many of you – I am asking the students – have heard of Khan Abdul Wali Khan. You have not heard his name. You must have heard his father’s name, Abdul Ghaffar Khan– Frontier Gandhi (Sarhadi Gandhi) – as we used to affectionately call him. Khan Abdul Wali Khan who was president of the Awami National Party in Pakistan and a son of the prominent Pashtun nationalist leader Ghaffar Khan passed away a few years ago. Wali Khan was asked by a journalist “Are you a Pakistani, a Muslim or a Pathan?” Wali Khan replied: “I am all the three combined into one”. The journalist will not give up. ”You must tell me what is your primary identity, what is your secondary identity and what is your third identity?” Wali Khan replied: “I am a Pakistani for the past 35 years, a Muslim for 1800 years and a Pathan for the last 5000 years”.

All of us have multiple identities. When I was an undergraduate student in an affiliated college of Bombay University in the mid-1950s, my Professor used to say: “You are an Indian first, you are an Indian second and you are an Indian last”. Those days, we never disagreed with our teachers, because the teachers did not like that. So all of us nodded our heads in approval. As I grew older, I realized that I have several identities – I am a Tamil because my mother tongue is Tamil; I was born and brought up in Kerala and had my school education in Malayalam medium; in fact, my Malayalam is better than my Tamil, so I have a Kerala identity; I had my under-graduate and post-graduate education in Bombay and started my teaching career in an affiliated college in Bombay University, therefore, I have a Maharashtrian identity; I  have a teacher identity; an Indian identity; I have a South Asian identity; I have a universal identity. These multiple identities must co-exist harmoniously.  They should not clash with one another. That is the basis of ideal nation-building.

I speak several languages – Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, English; I learned Sanskrit as the second language, I can read and write Sanskrit, but cannot speak; while in Bombay, I learned a little bit of Marathi, though I am out of touch with it now; as a doctoral student, I learned Bahasa Indonesia. The more languages I learned I became more tolerant My good friend, K Suresh Singh, former Director General of the Anthropological Survey of India, used to tell me “Diversity and linkages, freedom and tolerance go together”.

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil political leaders drifted from collaboration with the Sinhalese elite and eventually began to demand a separate state of Tamil Eelam. The Dravidian movement in India followed a diametrically opposite course.

The distinguished political scientist, Louis Halle, in early 1970’s, surveyed all countries in the world (132) and found only 13 (9.0 per cent) did not have problems of integration because they were inhabited by people speaking the same language, follow the same religion and belong to the same ethnic group.  There is only one country in South Asia which does not have problems of nation building. It is the Maldives. But it is not a model to be followed. It is a downright reactionary country. According to Maldivian Constitution, only a Sunni Muslim can be a citizen of the country.

The Italian political philosopher Massimo d’ Azeglu, I do not know how the Italians pronounce the name, I am pronouncing the name in my Malayalam – Tamil way, said in 1848, after the unification of Italy: “We have made Italy, now, we must make Italians”. The same is true of all countries in our region. We have become independent states but the process of making the Indian nation, Pakistani nation; Bangladeshi nation and Sri Lankan nation have begun only after independence.

Two Contrasting Scenarios

I would like to submit two propositions which can be considered as the yardstick for the success of nation-building experiments in multi-ethnic societies in South Asia. First, the political system should provide sufficient space for minorities so that they can preserve, promote and foster their identities while being part of a wider country.  Second, a federal polity, with entrenched provisions for sharing powers between the Centre and the States, can lead to softening of secessionist demands and pave the way for eventual national integration. Two illustrations, one a success story from India and the second, a tragic narrative from Sri Lanka, both relating to my community – Tamils – are given below. What is interesting to note are the differing political developments and contrasting responses on the issue of nation-building.

            In Sri Lanka, the Tamil political leaders drifted from collaboration with the Sinhalese elite and eventually began to demand a separate state of Tamil Eelam. The Dravidian movement in India followed a diametrically opposite course. The scholars studying the Dravidian movement are unanimous in pointing out important milestones – the formation of the Justice Party and the non-Brahmin movement in 1917; E V Ramasamy Naicker’s Self-Respect Movement and Anti – Hindi agitation; the formation of the Dravida Kazhagam in the mid-1940s and its demand for a separate state of Dravida Nadu; the formation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam under C N Annadurai in 1949;  the coming into power of DMK after the 1967 general elections; and the domination of DMK and its offshoot All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1972 in the politics of Tamil Nadu. The DMK gradually got “domesticated” because the Indian political system provided sufficient space within which the Tamil identity and regional autonomy could be preserved and fostered. What is more, the domestication of the DMK was evident even before Annadurai formally renounced secessionism in 1962 (after the Sino-Indian conflict) and the 16th Amendment to the Constitution (which proscribed secessionism and required from all candidates, seeking political office, an oath of upholding the Constitution) was passed. The DMK/AIADMK stakes in the unity of India got further strengthened when these parties started sharing power in the Centre.

            (Let me give an illustration of how the interests of Sri Lankan Tamils were sacrificed by Karunanidhi and the DMK during the Fourth Eelam War. It needs to be recalled that the Dravidian parties considered protecting the interests of Overseas Tamils as one of their foremost objectives. In the Tamil film, Parasakthi, (the script was written by Karunanidhi)  Gunasekaran, the hero (acted by Sivaji Ganesan) asks the question “Why are the waters of the Bay of Bengal saltish?” and then he replies “It is because of the tears of Overseas Tamils”. During the Fourth Eelam War, the DMK was an ally of the Centre and went on with India’s Sri Lanka policy. It did not do anything constructive to prevent the genocide of the Tamils. Karunanidhi was permitted to do a political gimmick; he undertook a hunger strike in the Marina. He started the fast after breakfast and concluded it before lunch. The Union Ministers rushed to Chennai and persuaded Karunanidhi to withdraw from the hunger strike).

            In contrast, an overview of Sri Lankan Tamil politics since independence clearly shows that the Tamils had been mainly “reactive” to Sinhalese politics. Since Sinhalese-dominated governments never fulfilled their hopes and aspirations, frustrations became intense, demands more radical, which finally culminated in the demand of a separate state of Tamil Eelam in 1976. The politics of Tamil opposition started with the demand for balanced representation and responsive cooperation; which spanned the period from 1948 to 1956. The demand progressed to Federal State and non-cooperation during 1967-1972. It escalated to separatist slogans during 1973-76. Finally, it ended with the demand for a separate State in 1976. But, while the demands changed, the mainstream Tamil political leadership confined themselves to strategies of peaceful agitation, parliamentary and non-parliamentary alike. From 1979, militancy began to creep into the agitation and by the beginning of this century, the Tigers became the most dominant force in the Tamil areas.

Fire must not only be extinguished but the causes of fire must be removed once and for all. A solution could be found only if there is a Sri Lankan consensus. 

            By mid-1970’s, the Sri Lankan Tamils, who were, to begin with, “reluctant secessionists”, began to define themselves as a separate nation, entitled to self-determination and a separate state. Discriminatory legislative enactments and governmental policies in the areas of language, education, land colonization, religion and employment opportunities, the abrogation Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1956 and the Senanayake- Chelvanaygam Pact of 1965, which conferred limited autonomy to the Tamil areas, and, above all, brutal military repression convinced the Tamils that they cannot co-exist with the Sinhalese.

Cardinal principle of India’s Sri Lanka Policy

            India was committed to the principle that Sri Lanka should not solve the ethnic problem through military means. When the July 1983 holocaust took place Prime Minister Indira Gandhi telephoned President Jayewardene: “Foreign Minister Narasimha Rao is coming to Colombo tomorrow to study the situation”.  It must be highlighted that Mrs. Gandhi did not seek Jayewardene’s permission. Narasimha Rae toured Colombo and became deeply sensitive to the undercurrents of the conflict. If the communal fire is not extinguished it would spread to Tamil Nadu also. The fire must not only be extinguished but the causes of fire must be removed once and for all. A solution could be found only if there is a Sri Lankan consensus.  In other words, the solution must be isolated from competitive Sinhala politics.  

T-72 M1 and the crew from the Indian Army 65 Armoured Regiment during Operation PAWN in Sri Lanka [ Photo © Frontier India ]

            At the end of July 1983, Amirtalingam came to India and visited New Delhi. In order to escape the attention of Sinhalese hoodlums on the way to Colombo airport, he was dressed as a Muslim and travelled in Thondaman’s car.  It was a changed Amirtalingam who met Indira Gandhi and G Parthasarathy. Hitherto Amirtalingam’s main support came from the Dravidian parties. Amir used to say” “In India south is fighting against the north, in Sri Lanka north is fighting against the South”. The TULF leader began to realize India has its stakes in Sri Lanka and it would be in the interests of Tamils to get the support of New Delhi. In the closed-door meeting Indira Gandhi told Amirtalalingam that India would not support the creation of an independent state, but a solution less than that of independent Tamil Eelam, Tamils could count on India’s backing. Then the GP asked Amirtalingam: “What is the strength of Tamil militants? Will they be able to defend the Tamils if JR launches a military offensive?”. Amir replied: “The number of militants, all alphabetical combinations together, is less than 100. They are in no position to defend the Tamils”. New Delhi, to assist the Tamils to defend themselves began to provide military training to Tamil militants. It should be pointed that the twin pillars of India’s Sri Lanka policy, at that time, namely mediatory and militant supportive, were contradictory. How can you mediate when you support one side through military training? Naturally, India’s Sri Lanka policy resulted in a quagmire. However, New Delhi was determined not to permit Colombo to solve the problem through military means.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the suicide squad of the LTTE completely altered the situation. India, especially Tamil Nadu, underwent a catharsis, from which we are yet to recover.

            When in May 1987 Colombo launched Operation Vadamarachi and the LTTE guerrillas were running away from the battlefield, New Delhi stepped in. It violated Sri Lanka’s air space and dropped food materials in Jaffna.  The international community did not even “lift a finger” against New Delhi. JR later explained his dilemma as follows. He first sent Lalith Athulathmudali to Pakistan to seek its support. Lalith realized that Pakistan would not open another front against India. Then he went to China. China was, at that time, interested in normalizing relations with India and advised Lilith to settle the ethnic issue with the help of India. Events moved swiftly and concluded with the signing of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, and the induction of the IPKF on the invitation of President Jayewardene.

            The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the suicide squad of the LTTE completely altered the situation. India, especially Tamil Nadu, underwent a catharsis, from which we are yet to recover. India’s response to the fourth Eelam war is an illustration of the changed situation. The Sri Lankan military forces realized that if they have to win the war against the Tigers, the flow of refugees to Tamil Nadu should be stopped. The Sri Lankan Navy, therefore, began to consolidate its hold on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Strait, from Talaimannar to outer islands in Jaffna. On the Indian side, the Coast Guard stepped up its vigil and prevented the refugees from coming to India. During the last stages of the war, five Tamil refugees took a boat from Mullaitheevu and came to India undergoing great suffering. Three of them died of dehydration and two reached the Mandapam camp. Thanks to the NGOs working among the refugees I could meet these two refugees and talk to them They said” Every innocent Tamil, caught between the Sinhalese lions and the Tamil Tigers, would like to come to India as refugees”.   

When the Fourth Eelam War degenerated into a savage war against the Tamils and the Sri Lankan air force began to bomb hospitals, places of worship and orphanages I raised the matter in the National Security Advisory Board, of which I was a member. Ambassador Shankar Bajpai, who was the Convenor, requested Ambassador Tirumurthy, who was Joint Secretary in charge of Sri Lanka, to initiate the discussion. He performed his duties faithfully and justified New Delhi’s then Sri Lanka policy. When my turn came I pleaded that  India, along with the United States and members of the European Union, should pressurize Sri Lanka to declare a ceasefire, so that those innocent Tamils who want to escape from the war zone could be evacuated to a safer place. My plea turned out to be championing a lost cause. Only 9 members of the 27-member NSAB supported me. The end result was according to the United Nations 40,000 innocent Tamils died during the last stages of the war. India, I submit, is guilty of collaboration with Sri Lankan armed forces. As Lady Macbeth said in the sleepwalking scene: “There is the smell of the blood still. And all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten my dirty hands”.   


Commodore Vasan is pointing the wristwatch to me implying that I have exceeded my allotted 20 minutes, Therefore, let me come to the conclusion. I shall conclude with one of my favourite quotes from Jawaharlal Nehru’s autobiography. The quote is in relation with his visit to Jaffna.

“One little incident lingers in my memory. It was in Jaffna, I think. The teachers and boys of a school stopped our car and I said a few words of greeting. The ardent, eager faces of the boys stood out. And then one of their number came to me, shook hands with me and without question or argument said: “I shall not falter”. The bright young face, with shining eyes, full of determination, is imprinted in my mind. I do not know who he was, I have lost trace of him. But somehow I have the conviction that he will remain true to his words and will not falter when he has to face life’s difficult problems”.

            We in India, especially in Tamil Nadu, should have an interest to see that this young boy, and as he grows older, his son and grandson, do not become once again the cannon fodder in the senseless conflict between the Sinhalese Lions and the Tamil Tigers, on the contrary, he is provided with opportunities so that he could blossom into another Ananda Coomaraswamy.  

Future of Islamist Terrorism in South Asia

5 mins read

Time turns a page to mark a year since the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan through the colossal failure of the Biden administration’s botched military withdrawal. The threat that the Taliban now emanates to Asia and the world is not pristine but rather a neo-mandate of its former leadership. This is not to say that its leadership is weak or incapacitated as the same leadership is ultimately responsible for kicking the Americans out whilst largely being operational out of Afghan cave systems. It is simply to say that there exists a visible shift in Taliban strategy towards international acceptance and ratification.

During the pre-9/11 days of Taliban control in Afghanistan, the country hosted a profusion of training camps run by al-Qaeda and other terror groups.During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 80s, thousands of fighters from the Muslim world flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Young fighters that formed the Afghan Mujahedeenincluded Osama Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from Jordan who would ultimately form al-Qaeda and the Islamic State respectively.

As passenger airliners flew into the majestic towers in daytime New York, Bin Laden became a more influential entity than any other government, leader or organisation in modern history. As the towers fell to dust, America fell to its knees, thus triggering the global War on Terror – an ongoing conflict that has snatched millions of lives and dismantled countless communities across the world.

Twenty years down the line, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a major political win for the Taliban cementing their return to power in Central Asia. This return to power is not merely a Taliban comeback but rather the aggravation of the al-Qaeda alliance in the region.

With the Taliban’s phoenix-like rise to power, dozens of terror and non-terror groups across the world sent them their congratulations and praises – including Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance. Naturally, groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State cells are bolstered in their international politico-religious agendas as Afghanistan has once again become a haven for threat groups. The highly unstable and ever-changing political situation in Afghanistan clearly illustrates how tribes and government groups have often switched sides and backed terror groups to ensure their own survival.

The Taliban had emerged through the Afghan Mujahedeen as a defensive group that assembled to form a bulwark of sorts against Soviet assault on the traditional Pashtun culture. This initial stance by the Taliban has cemented their popularity among the Pashtun people for decades. However, the Taliban’s historic ties, familial relations and shared outlooks with other groups had resulted in a slow infiltration of the Taliban to function as a jihadist group. The Salafi Wahhabi ideologies that emanated from the Gulf had ideologically penetrated the Taliban ranks to shadow its Pashtun roots and embrace fundamentalist and violent Islamist perceptions.

Although twelve months have passed after the rise of the Taliban, the world has not seen the violent consequences of Biden’s failure – yet. A momentary glimpse of the boiling pot was made when it was revealed that Ayman al-Zawahiri had taken refuge in the capital of Taliban-controlled Kabul. Al-Zawahiri remained al-Qaeda’s most consequential leader after Bin Laden was shot in Abbottabad, Pakistan eleven years ago. The very fact that al-Zawahiri was given refuge in a villa belonging to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of Taliban’s Afghanistan, underpins the threat that the Taliban posits to the world at large.

The Taliban in itself may not necessarily be a threat to global security as its neo-mandate appears to focus on national governance and international ratification – however, the group’s emergence to power creates a black hole in Afghanistan that functions as a terror haven for other terror groups to train, bolster and consolidate. Groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba threaten regional security especially in India, while groups like al-Qaeda threaten the status of global security. Both groups operated training camps during the Taliban’s previous phase of power and are likely to run camps under the new Taliban.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda were linked to the killing of Maldivian journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla back in 2014 and have sowed seeds of discord in the country since the 1990s. Terrorist networks in South Asia do not stop at borders and easily transcend them. This is especially true of international global terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State brand of terrorism.

The Taliban/AQ alliance and Islamic State, however, are rivals. Although Salafi Wahhabism has infiltrated the ranks of the Taliban, the top leadership of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have deep-rooted long-standing disputes. Operational as Islamic State Khurasan Province (IS-KP), its attacks have become frequent in targeting Taliban efforts in a tug-of-war fight for power, dominance and authority in the region and amongst the population. The two groups frequently engage in propaganda campaigns against each other that easily divide and sow discontent.

Sri Lanka, at present, is a figurative sitting duck amidst a massive geopolitical powerplay between the US, Russia, China and India while the threat of terrorism looms from the black hole in Central Asia. A unified Islamic State and Taliban/AQ alliance would spell doom for South Asia and other regions of the world.

Two of the deadliest Islamist terror attacks that occurred in South Asian history are tied to the Islamic State. The 2019 Easter Attack killed more than 270 people in Sri Lanka and was the largest IS attack outside of Iraq and Syria and the 2016Dhakaterror attack killed 22 people. This acts as a clear indication of the propensity for the Islamic State brand to be adopted by local bad actors to gain political advantage and recognition for their terror attacks globally. Earlier this year, Indian authorities arrested two terrorists belonging to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The two men, according to the arresting officers, were planning to conduct deadly attacks in the state capital of Lucknow. In the same month, three were arrested in connection with setting up terror networks in Kolkata. The overall risk of the Taliban and its affiliates inspiring regional conflict is significant and growing.

Many high-ranking officials of the Islamic State cite South Asia as an important region for their activities. Even though they have enjoyed success of sorts in the form of successful terror attacks, they have not gained a strong foothold there yet. With the largely successful decimation of the IS caliphate in the Middle East, IS has not been able to appoint a charismatic leader, build a strong chain of command in the region or sustain coordinated operations in South Asia. However, after the US killing of al-Qaeda’s al-Zawahiri in Taliban-controlled territory in July 2022, the possibility looms of a temporary truce between al-Qaeda, Taliban and IS working together. If this fusion transpires, the threat to global security will rise significantly.

As the US shifts its foreign policy from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region, intense conflict and deep-rooted crises could materialise within South Asia.With the Taliban firmly ensconced in Afghanistan and enjoying political freedom from the lack of pressure the United States previously applied, this possibility is strongly underpinned. Training facilities, recruitment efforts, and offensive staging capabilities could all be protected under this terror ecosystem being redeveloped in Central Asia.

This is of course coupled with the ignominious failure of the Biden-Harris administration in abandoning billions of dollars worth of state-of-the-art equipment – something that now gives the Taliban and its allied terror factions greater access to launch mid- and high-level operations across South Asia. The high-tech equipment has effectively equipped the Taliban to be a force to be reckoned with.

Sri Lanka, at present, is a figurative sitting duck amidst a massive geopolitical powerplay between the US, Russia, China and India while the threat of terrorism looms from the black hole in Central Asia. A unified Islamic State and Taliban/AQ alliance would spell doom for South Asia and other regions of the world. The establishment of intelligence-sharing mechanisms among regional and international agencies will significantly reduce the threat that emanates from Afghanistan. Likewise, strict monitoring of online spaces, especially social media and chat rooms, is paramount to a strong defence capability against an ideologically-charged terrorism threat. Sri Lanka must brace herself for impact.

Sri Lanka: Towards a political vision combining social justice and pluralism

8 mins read

The post-war Sri Lankan state’s inability to fulfil the demands of global finance capital has devastated the lives of millions of Sri Lankans. This is a country where we see the socio-economic impact of the new period of capitalist transition that emphasised the private sector, markets and openness to global capitalism for more than four decades. The other dimension that has had a wide-ranging impact on society has been three decades of a military strategy to consolidate the territory of the centralised Sinhala nationalist state. This began in 1979 with the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and sending troops to the North and was achieved in 2009. A full understanding of the social impact of this dimension needs a lot more research. If we add to these the impact of COVID and the economic crisis we get the full picture of the socio-economic issues that people within the Sri Lankan state are facing. Of course, the impact of these issues is mediated through the social structure. Therefore socio-economically marginalised population is facing a worse situation, and their condition is bound to deteriorate further.

The media is full of analyses and answers to these problems. But as one of my favourite Critical Theorists – Robert Cox – who worked in international political economy, says all analyses are done for someone and for some purpose. There is no politically neutral analysis. The bulk of the discussion is geared towards restoring capitalist growth. Often this is accompanied by a desire for what is called political stability. But advocating political stability without defining how this is to be achieved, in a country where we have seen thousands of deaths through state repression, is not only dangerous but downright reactionary. Rather than political stability, we need to talk about political legitimacy. A regime that has a greater degree of political legitimacy can give leadership to developing a new social contract, which is essential for Sri Lanka to face the current situation. This note is aimed at the social and political forces that have begun to challenge existing orthodoxies in the current context. These protests are found cutting across ethnic groups. It aims to combine social justice and pluralism and point towards new areas where progressive politics can be strengthened.

In a situation where wages become a major source of income, education and skills development becomes a critical area for social mobility. State monopoly on education was broken in the new period of capitalist transition

To begin, we need to consider the impact of more than four decades of the more liberal period of capitalist transition. The bulk of the economy is concentrated in the Western Province, which was better endowed to benefit from the new directions in the economy. Central Bank data shows that in 2019 these areas accounted for around 39 per cent of the total national output. According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey of 2019, which managed to cover the entire territory of the state because it was unified through military means, 11.9 per cent of the households in Sri Lankan live below the official poverty line. There is a great degree of variation in this indicator between districts. While Colombo district had 1.8 per cent of households below the poverty line, the Mullativu district in the Northern Province. it was as high as 39.5 per cent of households. This area has also been affected by three decades of armed violence. In reading this data it is necessary to remember that the poverty line, as defined by the state, measures a basic minimum a household needs for survival, although it is propagated as a great achievement in development. What these figures show is the proportion of the population who could not secure even this basic minimum.

With the deepening of capitalist relations of production, there have been significant changes in the agrarian sector. The share of agriculture in the economy has significantly declined. In 1977, 30.7 percent of the national output was from agriculture. By 2019 it had declined to 7.0 percent. There has been a gradual deterioration in the viability of smallholder paddy. The 2019 Household Income and Expenditure Surveyshows that only 8.6 per cent of income in the rural sector was from agriculture.Further reforms in capitalist transition backed by international actors will try to promote markets relations in state land. This will make it even more difficult for the smallholder peasantry to earn a living from their land.

The other side of this rural transformation is the growth of a population depending on wages. The growing working class is found in multiple socio-economic formations – organised, informal, sub-contractors, etc. A significant section of this labour are women. Some sections of the working class sell their labour in other countries. While the working class has grown, institutions that protect their rights and working conditions don’t operate in many sectors. What existed in the past has been gradually dismantled. The effectiveness of these institutions depends a lot on the presence of trade unions. But the working class is not organised in all sectors. On the other side, business interests will continue to try and dismantle the remaining institutions that protect rights of the working class.  

It is necessary to pay attention to the austerity measures that are sure to follow an agreement with the IMF.

In a situation where wages become a major source of income, education and skills development becomes a critical area for social mobility. Since the state monopoly on education was broken in the new period of capitalist transition, the role of the private sector in education has expanded. This has become a new avenue where richer classes can ensure an education for their children. In addition, the state sector is not an equal system. Therefore, both private sector education and state education provides more opportunities for the richer section of population to provide a quality education for their children. The cumulative effect of these changes has been the growth of a significant level of inequality. Data for 2019 show that while the richest 20 percent of the population acquired 51.4 percent of national income the poorest 20 percent had only 4.6 percent.

The answer to these socio-economic issues from those whose main agenda is restoring capitalist growth in the current context, is the same old idea of protecting vulnerable groups that we heard 40 years ago. The foundation of this idea is the notion of growth and trickle-down. Sometimes these policies are called targeted safety nets. The argument is that these policies are meant to safeguard the poor from the impact of capitalist reforms. This is supposed to be the main role that the state should play vis-à-vis the poor – in the long run, economic growth would take place, and the benefits would trickle down to the poor. The analysis that underpins these ideas always focuses on households in isolation from the structures of socio-political power that maintain this population in this condition in the first place. Therefore, it takes us away from the need to tackle the reasons for marginalisation.

During the new period of capitalist transition that emphasised markets, private sector and openness to global capitalism, all sections of the Sri Lankan population did not accept these ideas of safety nets propagated by the political elite and their international backers. That is why there have been struggles in various sectors, such as the urban working class, plantation working class, sections of smallholder peasantry, fisheries, etc., to improve their living conditions by challenging the structures of power that maintained existing the social relations of production. The entry of women’s groups into these struggles added a new dimension. Of course, there were setbacks, such as state repression of the July 1980 strike. At present what is needed is to take a close look at this experience, learn lessons and look for possibilities of reviving these struggles.

Finally, it is necessary to pay attention to the austerity measures that are sure to follow an agreement with the IMF. In approaching this question, it is important to remember what we have is a post-war state. The result of more than four decades of the new period of capitalist transition and three decades of armed conflict has been the growth of armed forces and proliferation of state institutions at several levels. Today the institutional structure of the centralised Sinhala nationalist state has institutions at presidential, parliament, provincial, districts, sub-district and local authority levels. Almost all these levels include elected members and a bureaucracy. In addition, institutions of the central state have undergone numerous divisions. One of the reasons has been the need to maintain coalition regimes and large cabinets.The strategy of the political elite has been to divide state institutions and distribute them among coalition partners. State is bound to give priority to ensure resources for these institutions in implementing austerity. The objective of progressive sections should be to focus on how policy changes will affect the marginalised, and counter possible negative impacts.

During the new period of capitalist transition that emphasised markets, private sector and openness to global capitalism, all sections of the Sri Lankan population did not accept these ideas of safety nets propagated by the political elite and their international backers.

If we are to go by the past experience in Sri Lanka, the politics of economic reforms to ensure capitalist growth need not be peaceful. We need to remember that the state has draconian laws and a better-developed security apparatus to meet any challenges to these reforms from society. As in the past, the political elite is more likely to use this repressive apparatus to achieve their own political objectives, rather than aim towards political legitimacy through a new social contract.

Beyond reconciliation

As pointed out at the beginning of this note,policy discussions on social justice should not ignore the political demands that have been raised by ethnic minorities right throughout the post-colonial period. While the political elite inaugurated the new period of capitalist transition after the 1977 elections, the Tamil minority demanded a separate state in the same election. One of the responses of the centralised Sinhala nationalist state, that presided over the new period of capitalist transition was to enact a Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), establish a discourse of terrorism and send troops to the North-East. This military effort lasted for 30 years, and in 2009 the territory of the centralised state was consolidated. But none of the major issues in relation to minorities and the centralised Sinhala nationalist state have been resolved. In fact, in some areas, the situation has worsened for example, with the Muslim population becoming a target of extremist violence. 

At present some of the key aspects that the ensure security of the post-war state are maintaining the strength of the armed forces, continuing a presence of armed forces, especially in the Northern Province at a level higher than when Tamils demanded a separate state, and keeping the PTA in the statute books. In this context various activities under the title of reconciliation become an element to stabilise the post-war state.

The focus of reconciliation is society, rather than the nature of the state and state-society relations. Although there is an element of prejudice and animosity between identity groups in Sri Lanka’s conflict, they exist in a context of a centralised Sinhala nationalist state. Ignoring this within the discourse of reconciliation means ignoring the need for fundamental state reform focusing on its identity, public policies and structure to suit a multi-ethnic society. What we need is not a nation-state with a unified identity, but a state that has space for multiple identities. Its structure and public policies have to fit into this vision.

Given the socio-economic impact of the economic crisis that is affecting all ethnic groups at present, there is space to focus on a strategy where diverse ethnic groups come together to struggle for common socio-economic rights. This can give a new meaning to reconciliation and combine social justice with a vision of a plural society. There are scattered examples of this happening already. For example, every year we see demonstrations by the mothers of the disappeared from the North (victims of the military strategy to consolidate the territory of the Sinhala nationalist) and South (victims of the state repression in 1989/90). There have been some links between them. But this certainly can expand. During my work in the North/East after the war ended, I have seen examples where people from a Tamil village and adjoining Sinhala village come together to lobby state institutions to restore their land documents. Another example is Muslim and Sinhala villages coming together to lobby about supply of water in the irrigation canals. There can be many such examples that can built upon. These are small examples. In the current context there is space to build on this strategy.

To end this note I would like to emphasise the need to get away from an analysis that places class and ethnicity in isolated compartments when dealing with the problems of the marginalised in Sri Lanka. In this regard, my best personal experience has been when working with the plantation working class/Hill Country Tamils. There was no way one could separate ethnicity and class at analytical or political level when working with this population. The struggle for political,socio-economicand right to a distinct ethnic identity had to go together. This is an experience that we can learn from.

Views are personal

Sri Lanka: Ramifications of Nation Rebuilding

14 mins read

A nation is a community of people formed into one state in a particular territory based on shared features such as language, history, ethnicity, culture, or a combination of one or several of those. All citizens of the nation should be able to live together peacefully and feel togetherness towards one’s own country irrespective of individual or group differences concerning religion, race, region, culture, caste, etc.

Once national integration is achieved, individuals will likely work together to build a system that enhances the nation’s and people’s prosperity. The nation-building process in Europe commenced a few centuries back and grew gradually in several phases as viable governance units.

Colonisation by the West

After becoming strong nations, some European countries invaded, migrated, and colonised other parts of the world. Also, many people migrated to western countries from those colonies looking for greener pastures, and migrants became a cheap source of labour in Europe. But the local communities look at them as inferior non-Europeans and relegate them. The scholars of the west developed concepts such as co-existence, pluralism, multiculturalism, etc., to influence local communities to accept those migrated aliens. The governments of those countries also provided legal support to reinforce the above concepts to maintain the cheap labour force.

Colonial administration was the integrating factor, like the basket that kept all potatoes (traditional governance units) together. Once the basket is removed (independence), potatoes start rolling away in different directions (separatism).

Colonialists competitively established governance units (colonies) in the Third World according to their ability to capture territories and parts of territories, irrespective of historical factors, languages, ethnicities, etc. Sometimes, one territory of a traditional leader may have been divided among several colonialists. Also, on some occasions, several governing units of traditional leaders may have been brought under one governance unit (colony). Such states were like baskets of potatoes. Colonial administration was the integrating factor, like the basket that kept all potatoes (traditional governance units) together. Once the basket is removed (independence), potatoes start rolling away in different directions (separatism).

In the 20th century, while responding to independence movements, colonial masters did not attempt to carve out or amalgamate governance units again according to the citizens’ wishes, such as culture, history, religion, language etc. Therefore, in many instances, newly independent nations are creations of colonialists, not by the citizens, according to the historical and cultural factors. Consequently, many newly independent nations struggle to separate or amalgamate to align with their customary identities. Under this scenario, nation-building in Asia, Africa, and part of South America became highly complex, leading to eternal conflicts between and within countries.

The Case of Sri Lanka

After falling off the Polonnaruwa kingdom, Lanka did not have a stable central government to face the South Indian invasions. The Kingdom of Lanka shifted to more secure areas such as Gampola, Kandy, Kurunegala, Dambadeniya, Kotte, etc., to avoid such attacks. During these political instabilities, the Sinhala population also moved to southern and hilly regions, abandoning the Ancient Great Sinhala Buddhist Civilisation centre.

During the Kotte period, regional kings/rulers became independent from time to time. Jaffna was under an independent ruler on several occasions. During the Portuguese invasion in the 16th century, there was no strong central government in Lanka, and regional rulers were fighting with each other to augment their territories. However, Mahavamsa has attempted to show that the kings of the kingdoms mentioned above were “All Island Kings”, and others were regional rulers. It indicates that Mahavamsa has tried to reiterate the concept that Lanka is one nation, one country, and one state. Under this backdrop, the Portuguese could capture the entire low country from regional kings/rulers. However, they could not grab the Hill Country (Kandyan Kingdom) due to its defence-wise strategic location.

With the consolidation of power by the Portuguese, Lanka was officially divided into two states (the Coastal area of the Island as the Portuguese Colony and the Central hilly area as the Kandyan Kingdom). This two-state position of the Island lasted for about three centuries until the British captured the Kandyan Kingdom and formed a single administration for the entire Island in 1815. In addition to the ordinary laws for the Island, the British introduced specific private laws on subjects such as Land ownership and marriages. (Marriage laws for Hill country and Muslims, land laws for Jaffna, etc.)

History of Sinhala-Tamil Conflict

There are no doubts about the existence of the Tamil Community on the Island since antiquity. Throughout history, Lanka struggled to counter the Tamils and other Dravidian invaders from South India. After the Cholas invasion in the 11th century, the Tamil population in Lanka could have increased. But there is little evidence of ethnic or religious conflicts, hate, or discrimination against Tamils by the Sinhalese.

There is not much evidence to prove that the wars of Sinhala Kings were against Sri Lankan Tamils.

After the collapse of the two ancient kingdoms, those territories became a sizeable contiguous forest pushing Sinhalese to South and Hill Country and most Tamils to the Jaffna peninsula. This forest area functioned as the buffer zone to separate Sinhala and Tamil Communities from each other. As a subsistent agricultural society, there was no completion or conflict among the two communities for natural resources such as water or land.

There is not much evidence to prove that the wars of Sinhala Kings were against Sri Lankan Tamils. Those could have been against South Indian invaders such as King Elara, Cholas, Pandian, etc. Otherwise, there can’t be a substantially large Tamil community in Sri Lanka. It means Tamils were not hated or considered aliens to the Sinhala society.

Also, there was no resentment or threat to the existence of Hinduism from Buddhists. Buddhists used to respect Hindu gods without any hesitation. Muslim immigrants, mixed with Sinhalese and Tamils, filled the vacuum of national and international trade needed by both communities. Hence there was no discrimination against Muslims, either from Tamils or Sinhalese. There was no challenge to the co-existence of three significant communities or ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka until the conquering of the coastal area by the Portuguese.

Except for the Kandyan Kingdom, the rest of the Island had ruled by the Portuguese and Dutch as one state. The British conquered the Kandyan kingdom in1815 and brought the entire Island as a British colony under the name of Ceylon in English, Lanka in Sinhala, and Illankai in Tamil. In 1948 Ceylon became an independent county with Dominion status. In 1972 it became a republican under the single name of Sri Lanka in all languages.

The Soulsbury constitution and subsequent two Republican Constitutions, 1972 and 1978, did not provide a robust and broad framework to promote national integration and build Sri Lanka as a cohesive nation. Instead, it has sown the seeds of ethnic disharmony and national disintegration. Consequently, even after seven decades of independence, Sri Lanka still struggles to become a sustainable nation.

Since 1978 the constitution has amended/submitted amendments on 21 occasions. Most of these amendments are not for the broad public interest but to satisfy the little curiosity of individuals, families, and groups. The most critical issues, such as national integration, good governance, and genuine fundamental rights, have gone under the carpet. Now, the government is contemplating the 22nd Amendment.

Sri Lanka can invest many resources expecting national prosperity, but all those may become futile, as in the past, if no national integration exists. Reasons and justifications for these proposals are not given here, as the intention is to make the article brief.

But the proposed amendment also seems to be addressing the vested interest of powerful groups instead of removing major evils and incorporating elements required to heal the wound. This article will discuss many aspects that legally and constitutionally need corrections, but some of these may be politically difficult. I hope many of these proposals can be implemented by the present deformed government because the time has come to keep the personal and group agendas aside and do the neediest things to become a sustainable nation. Sri Lanka can invest many resources expecting national prosperity, but all those may become futile, as in the past, if no national integration exists. Reasons and justifications for these proposals are not given here, as the intention is to make the article brief.

Recommendation and Suggestions

Legal Aspects

All private laws providing special privileges or discriminating against any ethnic/religious group must be abolished and brought under the country’s common law. However, a citizen must be free to follow their cultural, religious practices, and customs within their societies without affecting the freedom of others.

Contesting for provincial and general elections by the priest of any religion should be banned, and religious leaders should prevent them from attending party politics.

Political parties promoting any religion, ethnic group, caste, or profession that leads to social fragmentation should not be registered as political parties. All political parties must have national objectives only in their policy. Any Existing political parties with such narrow interests and policies should be allowed to change according to the national interests.

All kinds of discriminatory activities such as hate speeches, publications, and the use of any media insulting a religion, language, ethnicity, or caste should be prohibited in the law. An Anti- Discrimination law must be introduced.

The use of ethnicity in official documents such as birth certificates, identity cards, etc., in place of ‘nationality or the nation’ should stop. Nationality/ nation in any document should be indicated as Sri Lankan, not as Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, etc. If necessary, the parents’ religion and language may be shown on the Birth Certificate because just born child has no religion or a language

Customarily, in the Sinhala language, “JATHIYA“means Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim or Burger. It does not imply the nation or nationality (Sri Lankan). Now, this deep-rooted connotation can’t be changed. Therefore, without disturbing the Sinhala sentiments, a new Sinhala word must invent for the English word ‘nation and nationality, instead of using the word JATHIYA alternatively for both the ethnicity and the nation. If necessary, the same should do for the Tamil Language as well.

Relevant clauses of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Public Property Act, etc., should be amended or repealed to prevent the detention of the accused for a more extended period to satisfy narrow-minded political aspirations and cover up the inefficiency of law enforcement authorities. And the maximum period for detention should be specified in the law. If the police fail to frame charges during the specified period accused must be released on bail.

Constitutionally, a system of inter-dependency between the three levels of governance (central government, provincial councils, and local authorities) shall introduce to ensure an indivisible Sri Lanka and to prevent conflicts between the representatives of the above three levels. That may avoid surfacing personal interest rather than local, provincial, and national interests, which is highly visible under the present system. For instance, instead of conducting a separate election for the provincial councils, chairpersons and mayors of local government institutions in the province can become ex-officio members of the provincial council. The governor can appoint the member who can command the support of the majority in the council as the Chief Minister. Under this arrangement, local authorities become part and parcel of the provincial council. To make the devolution more reliable and robust, provincial chief ministers shall make ex-officio members of the cabinet, representing the provincial interest. Such a system may pave the way for national integration and do away with the arguments on Federalism Vs. Unitary system. All three tires will be interwoven, and no room for separation.

While the central government is designing the national programs, implementing all divisible programs and projects should be the responsibility and right of the provincial council and local authorities. The central government must implement only the indivisible programs. To reflect these requirements, necessary amendments to the constitution and elections laws must be affected.


The establishment of new religious places such as temples, mosques, churches, kovils, planting Boo-trees, and erecting statues in public places, must regulate under the laws of environment, physical planning, archaeology, etc. according to approved parameters, with due consideration to the needs of such new places.

In addition to existing ones, Laws must introduce to prevent the introduction of new religions, which could lead to further social fragmentation.

Conversion from one religion to another through unethical inducements such as cash or material bribes and offering privileges should be banned. However, conversion with understanding, knowledge, and education must be allowed.

A national program is necessary to impart knowledge about the basic principles of all religions among priests enabling them to have an interfaith understanding.

In addition to their faith, all students must acquire general knowledge about other accepted religions in the country, enabling them to avoid religious conflicts and gain interfaith understanding. The Syllabus of religious studies must be prepared to accommodate this requirement.

A national program is necessary to impart knowledge about the basic principles of all religions among priests enabling them to have an interfaith understanding.

When the history of Sri Lanka is analysed carefully, it is possible to assume that Buddhist archaeological sites in the north and East could be Buddhist ancestral assets of the Tamilspeaking people who have been converted to Tamil Hinduism or Islam faith due to Indian invasions and co-habitation in those areas. Therefore, Sinhala Buddhists in the South should not claim those as solely Sinhala Buddhist heritage. Tamil-speaking Hindus and Muslims must encourage preserving and protecting those as their ancestral heritage.

The government should stop establishing separate ministries for each religion and culture. One ministry of Religious and cultural affairs is sufficient. Also, the government’s assistance to religions should be rationalised to prevent discriminatory service to some religions.

All religious schools must register under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and regulate (Curriculum development, examinations, certificates, teacher qualifications, physical facilities, etc.). Religious schools should not be an alternative to the general education system in the country.

The naming of government schools after religions/ethnicities/linguistics such as Sinhala College, Muslim college, Tamil College, Hindu College, Buddhist College, Catholic college, etc., should not be allowed further. Schools must name according to the school classification of the department of education. If a school is named after religion or a language, such schools must teach only that religion or language regulated by the ministry of religious affairs.

Today, English is taught as a subject from grade 3 in Swabasha (vernacular) schools. But teaching English as a subject (link language) must commence from grade 1. An adequate number of English, Tamil, or Sinhala (second language) teachers in all schools in the country are a must.

Learning English, Sinhala, and Tamil as subjects must be compulsory for all students to GCE (O/L). Today, in government schools’ a second language is taught only to read and write. Still, high priority must be given to training in speaking, which is very important for inter-lingual interaction and employability in any part of the country.

The medium of instruction should change to English from grade 5 or 6, step by step over 10-12 years, while two vernaculars are taught as subjects in secondary education and universities.

While moving for English as the medium of instruction, an attempt must be made to have classes of multi-ethnic, multi-religious students in schools.

School textbooks and curriculums must develop/revised to prevent the proliferation of antireligion and racialist views and to promote co-existence and the concept of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans.

Local market in Kandy, Sri Lanka – Photo © Florian Wehde

Official Language

Along with the above-said changes in the education system, the possibility of making proficiency in the second language an entry qualification to the public service should be considered in several steps.

Accept English, Sinhala, and Tamil as national and official languages with equal status and allow national and subnational level government institutions to select two Languages (English and Sinhala or Tamil) as official languages with due consideration to social and cost factors.

However, National level agencies must be equipped to communicate in all three languages.

The appointment of an adequate number of translators, especially Sinhala- Tamil translators, to government offices is a paramount need under the prevailing circumstances. All universities in the country can introduce language streams to produce tri-lingual graduates (Sinhala, Tamil, and English) to fulfil the needs of qualified people. The government must guarantee the employment of tri-lingual graduates as translators and teachers.


The mass media has a critical role in awareness building, inspiring, and influencing the people, opinion leaders, and political leaders to achieve the goal of national integration. Owners and managers of media must realise their responsibility to the nation and society to provide clean, transparent, and reliable information. All media in the country must build up an ethical agreement and understanding to refrain from spreading news, rumours, views, and concepts counterproductive to the objective of national integration

Owners and managers of media must realise their responsibility to the nation and society to provide clean, transparent, and reliable information.

The media must be used to promote the concept of Sri Lankan and Sri Lanka, not the identity of ethnicities.

Spreading news and views detrimental to ethnic and religious co-existence must be banned in the country’s law. The media shall not use words such as ‘Sinhala man has been assaulted by a Muslim man or ‘Tamil youth has been taken into custody by the USA police,’ highlighting individuals’ ethnicity.

As we are accustomed to using the word ‘JATHIYA’ to name the ethnicity throughout history, the media should not use the same word to call the nation and the nationality. A new Sinhala word may be invented and used for nationality and the nation.’


All ethnic groups must be given the opportunity proportionate to the population in any new major irrigated settlement schemes.

In the Northern and Eastern Districts, lands occupied by security forces, which are strategically crucial for national security, must be appropriately acquired under the land acquisition Act and pay compensation to owners in line with the ‘National Involuntary Resettlement Policy. All other lands must release back to their original owners without delay.

Accommodate People who have lost their land due to the civil war or natural disasters in new settlement schemes with irrigation and other infrastructure facilities to cultivate and live on. In such events, all people who have lost lands must accommodate, disregarding the percentage of the population.

Legal and constitutional provisions must introduce to delegate a limited authority on land matters to provincial councils while keeping the prime control with the centre.


Instead of commemorating the war victory, objectives and arrangements of “Ranaviru Day’’ must be changed, enabling the whole nation to participate in commemorating the loss of the lives of their loved ones and to celebrate the bliss of defeating terrorism. It could be the day of the National Integration, not Rana Viru Day.

The Indian Tamils should not confine to estates as bonded labour. Their accessibility to the main streams of the economy should be improved and facilitated to move into other areas for employment and living through higher education and diverse skills.

Designing a program is necessary to encourage, motivate, and support people of the oppressed castes in the North for upward socio-economic mobility and migration to other areas, enabling them to establish social recognition.

Serious consideration is necessary to bring the country’s name to pre-1972 status. In Sinhala, it can continue as Sri Lanka, in English as Ceylon, and in Tamil as Illankai. Though the Tamils are more accustomed to the name Eelam, during the last three decades, it has given a bad connotation to Sinhalese.

Tamil speakers must allow using Tamil words for the National Anthem without changing the meaning and the music.

Instead of excessive interference and threats, the UNHCR and interested external parties should respect the county’s sovereignty, allow local systems to operate within the culture and ethics atmosphere, and support fill gaps. They shall encourage the Tamil diaspora and the leadership to find a solution within the country’s social, economic, political, and historical background by working with the government and the Sinhala majority instead of widening the ethnic gap and cultivating hatred. The government in power also must understand the Tamil community can’t be cheated by camouflaged proposals and promises; it should be genuine and highly committed. There must be a separate ministry or a bureau under the president with sufficient powers and strength to drive and monitor all actions for national integration.


These proposals are brought forward to benefit all stakeholders interested in unity within the religious, ethnic, and culturally diverse Sri Lanka. I propose that the mindset of all Sri Lankans should change to think, speak, and behave as Sri Lankans while maintaining their religious, ethnic, and cultural identities without affecting the freedom of others. Must respect and accept the citizens’ right to live in any part of the Island and engage in livelihood according to their wish. Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, and Malay are not nations. They all are ethnic groups, and “Sri Lanka” is the country and “Sri Lankan” is the nation.

Nowhere in the world has national integration been achieved by forcefully and entirely loading the culture and the interest of the majority on the minorities.

After independence, Sri Lanka has sacrificed 74 years unproductively to counter or manage internal conflicts. Otherwise, it could have been devoted to building a prosperous nation. Nowhere in the world has national integration been achieved by forcefully and entirely loading the culture and the interest of the majority on the minorities. In many countries, the majority has compromised many values and interests to allow the minorities to feel that they are equal with others. The attempt to persuade minorities to comply with Sinhala Buddhist Cultural values will make it difficult for them to live with the majority. Then, it justifies the demand for a separate country.

As such, compromise is much better for everybody, including the Sinhala majority, to avoid unwarranted external influences and stand as a sovereign nation. Also, leaders of the minorities must realise that their problems can’t be resolved only with international pressures, ignoring the government and the majority. Compromise will pave the way for a sustainable solution.

Pakistan at 75: Jinnah’s Legacy in Perspective

25 mins read

We start, though one never should, with an alternative universe: imagine if Gandhi didn’t really want freedom for India. Go further afield: imagine if Churchill didn’t want to win the war. Or if that avatar of modern evil, Adolf Hitler, was lukewarm about racial supremacy.

Now imagine if all of the above was conventional wisdom in real life. It doesn’t work, because it’s just not true — we have endless data that tells us otherwise, as well as the express words and deeds of these men, bent on doing the exact opposite.

Yet that same sense of obviousness isn’t always extended to Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Mountains of evidence are ignored, dozens of speeches forgotten, alternate universes imagined out of thin air.

But some universes merit deflating more than others — like the one where Jinnah never wanted Pakistan or Partition; where he never wanted, right to the end, a separate country at all.

Per this version, Jinnah was a poker player, with Pakistan no more than a bargaining chip — all he really wanted was a better deal for everyone in an undivided India. As explained by historian Ayesha Jalal, “Jinnah was from a province where Muslims were in a minority. He wanted to use the power of the areas where the Muslims were a majority, to create a shield of protection for where they were in a minority.”

Jalal’s theory is that the Pakistan demand was a bluff; a mere play for India as a loose federation. “The Lahore resolution should therefore be seen as a bargaining counter,” she writes, “which had the merit of being acceptable (on the face of it) to the majority-province Muslims, and of being totally unacceptable to the Congress and in the last resort to the British also. This in turn provided the best insurance that the League would not be given what it now apparently was asking for, but which Jinnah in fact did not really want.”

In sum, Jinnah didn’t want what he was saying he wanted, and wasn’t trying to do what he ended up doing. He was fighting for the rights of Muslims across India, and sought to leverage the strength of Muslim-majority areas into a kinder place for the overall minority. A string of perfect accidents later, Pakistan was born.

It’s of course true that Jinnah desired a united India as a young man, before changing his mind. But the idea that he was secretly holding out for a better, tamer deal right up until separation is neither rich enough nor coherent enough to explain the creation of a country.

This idea caters to many constituencies — it strokes the conceit that Pakistan was an amputation of Mother India; it appeals to locals who believe separation a bad business from the beginning; and it denies Jinnah any responsibility for Partition.

Yet all the facts point elsewhere. It’s of course true that Jinnah desired a united India as a young man, before changing his mind. But the idea that he was secretly holding out for a better, tamer deal right up until separation is neither rich enough nor coherent enough to explain the creation of a country.

Nor is it novel: far from the daring new revisionism it’s made out to be, the theory that Pakistan was a botched trump card is very much an old British take, first muttered by the viceroy and his lieutenants after the Lahore Resolution. Thus, just a week after Jinnah made his bid for a separate state on March 23, 1940, British officials riled themselves up into an echo chamber of their own.

In his telegram to the viceroy, the chief secretary of the United Provinces huffed that the Pakistan plan was “merely put forward as a counter-demand to that of the Congress as a bargaining move.” The governor of Bombay piled on, “The best that any Muslim has said about it is that Jinnah cannot mean it and is only using it as a bargaining weapon.”

The viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, wrote back to London on 6 April with the same conclusion as his peers, “I am myself disposed to regard Jinnah’s partition scheme as very largely in the nature of bargaining … my impression is that … there is a good deal of feeling that it is bargaining in character.”

That Linlithgow’s arguments are the same as Jalal’s is unsurprising, given how much her work relies on colonial archives. “[T]he bargaining counter theory was a favourite one with British officials,” writes Indian historian Mushirul Hasan. “In fact, one is constrained to suggest that Ayesha Jalal has probably borrowed the idea from, among other sources, the British documents at the India Office Library.”

But the context should have been considered — that these were the private papers of men that had put down Jinnah as a dangerous gambler, and who felt the sun would never set on the Raj. Described by Nehru as “heavy of body and slow of mind, solid as a rock and with almost a rock’s lack of awareness,” Linlithgow thought India wouldn’t win its freedom for another fifty years, and that thanks to the wonders of air-conditioning, it was now possible for millions of Britons to settle in places like Dehra Dun.

That same sense of permanence coloured his views. “The Hindus have made the mistake of taking Jinnah seriously about Pakistan,” wrote Linlithgow, “and as a result they have given substance to a shadow.’ This was rehashed by pro-Congress papers like the Hindustan Times, caricaturing Jinnah as a lone warrior against the world.

Yet beyond the biases of British bureaucrats, long proven incorrect, the Pakistan-as-poker-chip theory fails to find much material in its support. If Jalal’s work represents any orthodoxy, it is that of empire — the Raj trying to shrug off Pakistan as ‘bargaining in character.’

After all, when was that bargaining ever in play? As Indian critics would later shake their heads, Jinnah never once changed his mind, never once backpedalled, never once bargained away the basic point in all future negotiations — that unless the parties agreed to Pakistan in principle, there could be no further talks.

Even contemporaries like the Dalit genius B.R. Ambedkar dismissed such theories as “wishful thinking” as early as 1940. “The Mussalmans are devoted to Pakistan and are determined to have nothing else,” he wrote. The Raj wasn’t so discerning; it refused to accept Lahore for what it was — the final curtain on a united India.

How highly Jinnah himself thought of this bargaining chip theory is apparent in speech after speech. “The Hindus must give up their dream of a Hindu Raj and agree to divide India into a Hindu homeland and Muslim homeland,” he said on September 21, 1940. “Today we are prepared to take only one-fourth of India and leave three-fourths to them. Pakistan was our goal today, for which the Muslims of India will live for and, if necessary, die for. It is not a counter for bargaining.”

At the conference in New Delhi where Lord Mountbatten disclosed Britain’s partition plan for India.(Getty Images)

Some months later, he warned his party again, “It would be a great mistake to be carried away by Congress propaganda that the Pakistan demand was put forward as a counter for bargaining.”

If that wasn’t clear enough, he told the Muslim Students Federation in Lahore on March 2, 1941, almost a year after the resolution, “The only solution for the Muslims of India … is that India should be partitioned so that both communities can develop freely and fully according to their own genius … the vital contest in which we are engaged is not only for material gain, but also for the very existence of the soul of the Muslim nation. Hence I have said often that it is a matter of life and death to the Mussalmans and is not a counter for bargaining.”

When another year went by, Jinnah was asked at a press conference on September 13 whether there was still room to compromise. “If you start by asking for sixteen annas, there is room for bargaining,” he replied, “… Hindu India has got three-fourths of India in its pocket and it is Hindu India which is bargaining to see if it can get the remaining one-fourth for itself and diddle us out of it.”

Year after year, Jinnah was making the same point all the way to independence — that division was necessary, and to say he was bargaining for anything else was plain wrong.

His landmark presidential address to the Muslim League in Delhi, on April 24, 1943, put such arguments to rest for good. To the question Jalal would also raise, about the Muslims that would be stuck in India even after division, he was as clear as day:

Do not forget the minority provinces. It is they who have spread the light when there was darkness in the majority provinces. It is they who were the spearheads that the Congress wanted to crush with their overwhelming majority in the Muslim minority provinces. It is they who had suffered for you in the majority provinces, for your sake, for your benefit and for your advantage. But never mind, it is all in the role of a minority to suffer. We of the minority have suffered and are ready to face any consequences if we can liberate the 75 millions of our brethren in the north-western and eastern zones.

As Jinnah saw it, Pakistan meant the greatest good for the greatest number. To liberate the majority, the minority provinces would have to suffer. Yet his opinion, stark as it was, remained unchanged — to achieve Pakistan, they were ready to face the consequences.

Though the minority Muslims were “the pioneers and first soldiers of Pakistan”, Jinnah would say elsewhere, “we are determined that, whatever happens to us, we are not going to allow our brethren to be vassalised by the Hindu majority.”

As for the second plank of Jalal’s argument — that the Quaid’s real goal was a loose federation, with protections for the overall minority — Jinnah dismissed the idea in the same speech:

We are opposed to any scheme, nor can we agree to any proposal, which has for its basis any conception or idea of a central government – federal or confederal – for it is bound to lead in the long run to the emasculation of the entire Muslim nation, economically, socially, educationally, culturally, and politically and to the establishment of the Hindu majority raj in this subcontinent.

Therefore, remove from your mind any idea of some form of such loose federation. There is no such thing as a loose federation. Where there is a central government and provincial governments they will go on tightening, tightening and tightening until you are pulverised with regard to your powers as units.

Jinnah knew this to be true years before Indian-occupied Kashmir was turned into an open prison — the idea of a loose federation would be of no help to the Muslims, who would soon be overpowered by the logic of a brute majority.

The Ismail letters

Having seen how glaring the record is over the years, we now turn to the material favouring the other side — that is to say, the idea that Pakistan was a cunning card trick.

In her book The Sole Spokesman, Jalal’s key piece of evidence is a letter from 1941 — Jinnah’s reply to a Nawab Ismail of Patna (not to be confused with the more prominent Muslim leader, Nawab Ismail Khan of Meerut). Ismail had been pestering Jinnah for weeks to send him some notes on the Pakistan demand, so that he could prep for his meeting with H.V. Hodson, the viceroy’s adviser.

Hodson was an old-school imperialist, in the middle of writing a rather dense report on the communal problem. He’d once dubbed Jinnah “a conceited person, afraid that events may lose him the power that he craves,” and that the Muslim League was “first and foremost communal, and can never be anything else.”

The report, when it did come out, was as damp about the Pakistan demand. “The most interesting point was that every Muslim Leaguer, with but one exception, interpreted Pakistan as consistent with a confederation of India,” wrote Hodson.

Hence his conclusion: “My impression was that among the Muslim Leaguers in the provinces visited there was no genuine enthusiasm for Pakistan.” Instead, the Raj needed a new vocabulary, “one which recognises that the problem is one of sharing power rather [than of] qualifying the terms on which power is exercised by a majority.”

Here were again the same bad takes, recycled from one Raj paper-pusher to another. But all that would come later — in the run-up to the report, Nawab Ismail was in a tizzy. He was excited to see Hodson (as was usual when the landed gentry met their imperial overlords), and again asked the Quaid for instructions.

Jinnah responded to Ismail that the Lahore resolution was their guide, and refused to say more. To read Ayesha Jalal, however, that reply may have been the smoking gun:

As [Jinnah] told Nawab Ismail in November 1941, he could not openly and forcibly come out with these truths “because it is likely to be misunderstood especially at present”. In a line which reveals more than a thousand pages of research and propaganda, Jinnah admitted: “I think Mr Hodson finally understands as to what our demand is.”

To sum up, since Hodson was busy pooh-poohing the idea of Pakistan, and insisting that the real problem had to do with sharing power, Jinnah’s nod to the man — that Hodson finally understood their demand — was proof that the Quaid felt the same way.

But that’s quite the reach, especially if one were to read his actual letter to Ismail. With winter setting in, Jinnah had fallen ill and taken to his bed. His reply of November 25, 1941, was cold and curt, and is set out here in full:

Dear Nawab Sahib,

I have already written to you and explained to you the situation that we stand by the Lahore Resolution and it is quite clear to every man, who understands the constitutional problems of India, and also to every intelligent man if he applies his mind and tries to understand it.

I cannot say anything more because it is liable to be misunderstood and misrepresented, specially at present.

I think Mr. Hodson fully understands as to what our demand is.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,


For starters, Jinnah had said that Hodson “fully understands” the demand, a degree less dramatic than the mistype of “finally understands” — more a passing comment than some grand admission.

At any rate, the need for such detective work disappears when one goes through his papers from that time. In late 1941, Jinnah was copying out parts of his Lahore speech to magazines: “The only course open to us all is to allow the major nations separate homelands by dividing India into autonomous national States,” he had said. (He had also sent a League paper to Linlithgow a while before, calling for the “division of India and the creation of independent Muslim states.”)

In yet another recent letter, to a Jam who had similar apprehensions as Ismail, Jinnah had again pointed to the Lahore resolution. “You will observe from this that it does not contemplate any form of central government or legislature,” Jinnah wrote on March 21, 1941, “and has for its basic principle that Muslim zones in the northwest and the east, while being vested with full responsible government, will continue in direct relationship with the British parliament as the Indian states, and the scheme will provide for the assumption, finally, by the respective regions of all powers…”

To anyone interested, Jinnah’s outbox was making as clear a case for total separation as possible. The same was true of his public messaging — just months after Jinnah’s letter to Ismail, his working committee’s resolution of April 11, 1942, spelled it out again, “So far as the Muslim League is concerned, it has finally decided that the only solution of India’s constitutional problem is the partition of India into independent zones.”

There’s also the fact that Jinnah hadn’t even read Hodson’s report — what to say of agreeing with his views — because it didn’t exist at the time; the Quaid had written to Ismail in November, when Hodson was still conducting his interviews. Even otherwise, Hodson’s eventual report may have sniggered at Pakistan as a project, but it never once doubted the Quaid’s motives.

There’s also an interesting postscript — the fact that Hodson himself would come around to the contrary. As a middling Raj official, he’d played it safe, reporting to his superiors what they were used to hearing. In retirement, however, he could afford to be more relaxed. In his own account of Partition titled The Great Divide, written over a quarter-century later, he saw the Lahore resolution for what it always was: “contiguous Muslim-majority regions were … to become fully sovereign States.” A confederal India, per Hodson, “was neither the two-nation theory nor the true idea of Pakistan.”

And that is where the matter of Henry Vincent Hodson, and Ismail’s letters to the Quaid, must rest.

Long story short, the mission’s grand plan was a three-tiered wedding cake of a country — provinces at the bottom, federations in the middle, and then a union with limited powers on top. The idea was that India would stay intact, while the middle layer — smaller sub-countries of Hindus and Muslims — would enjoy total autonomy.

Cabinet Mission finale

There’s a final climax to the poker chip theory, and it happened in the summer of 1946. Even as the Raj was getting ready to bolt for the door, it made one last effort to keep India together. Charged with the impossible were three of the empire’s old boys, each with names more elaborate than the last — A.V. Alexander, Stafford Cripps, and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence. They were dubbed the Cabinet Mission, a reference to the Attlee government’s hope that India could still remain whole.

So it was that the mission made their way south, if with issues of their own. (“Summer in New Delhi is not the best time and place for negotiations,” sniffed the posh Cripps.) They arrived in India, ironically enough, on March 23, and brought the natives to the table.

Long story short, the mission’s grand plan was a three-tiered wedding cake of a country — provinces at the bottom, federations in the middle, and then a union with limited powers on top. The idea was that India would stay intact, while the middle layer — smaller sub-countries of Hindus and Muslims — would enjoy total autonomy.

These would be the three federations, or groups, as the mission called them, roughly consisting of the areas that would later become Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. There was also an escape hatch — if the fear of Hindu domination hadn’t died down by then, the Muslim groups were free to secede after 10 years. Much to the shock of the mission, Jinnah accepted the plan.

But Nehru didn’t. “When India is free, India will do just what it likes,” he said at a Congress meeting on July 7. “We are not bound by a single thing.” He doubled down at a press conference the next day: “It is our problem,” he said of the minorities, “… We accept no outside interference in it, certainly not the British government’s interference in it.”

Nehru’s bombshell had the intended effect — Jinnah broke out of the plan at once, while Congress leader Abdul Kalam Azad called it “one of those unfortunate events which changed the course of history … [Nehru] is at times apt to be carried away by his feelings.”

The mission failed, and would be mourned by Partition’s critics forevermore: “Arguably,” wrote one Indian scholar, “Jinnah, with his liberal, free market, pro-Western policies, would have been a far more successful Prime Minister for us than Nehru, with his socialist controls and his pro-Soviet brand of non-alignment.”

But counterfactuals are a risky business, and are best not indulged too much. We turn instead to the most popular take on the Cabinet Mission: that it was the last hurrah for a united India, as well as the final proof of the poker chip theory — since Jinnah had assented to the union, we’re told, this was clearly what he’d always wanted, not Pakistan. It was Nehru and the Congress that were to blame for Partition. Had they not behaved so badly and wiggled out of the deal, India could have come out of all this in one piece.

That, too, isn’t borne out by the facts. It’s true that Nehru did everything he could to make a mess of the plan (though Gandhi’s role as a spoiler is underrated). But to hold Nehru’s surliness, over a single summer in 1946, as one of the reasons for Partition, is to miss the forest for the trees.

First, the plan itself was some badly-drawn bureaucratese. Per one observer, “[Jinnah] sought nothing less than 50 per cent parity for 33 per cent of the populace, and a confederation of states with a weak centre. Such a heterogeneous super-state would have been unworkable in South Asia, and has never been operational in history.”

Second, the mission gave the League just about everything it wanted — parity with a far larger population (what Sardar Patel called “national suicide” for the Hindus), a button to secede, and the prospect of an undivided Punjab and Bengal to tear along with it; Jinnah had been dead set against their division, and would rue the day when they were cut in two.

Third, the poker chip theory finds no support here either — the Muslim League had always dubbed the plan a stepping stone to total separation; the text of its acceptance is grounded in “the establishment of a complete, sovereign Pakistan.” Seated before the mission’s bemused members in April, Jinnah told them that his starting point was “a Hindustan and Pakistan, each one of them a completely sovereign State.”

He was just as blunt to his party members; at a session of the Muslim League council on 5 June, he likened the mission plan to a ship, “we can work on the two decks, provincial and group, and blow up the topmast.” Having suffered the Congress regime of the 1930s, Jinnah knew just how important it was not to leave the ship deck open to his rivals.

Fourth, his plans to “blow up the topmast” went beyond mere lip-service. When the League finally did join India’s interim government that same year, Jinnah’s finance minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, moved to tax the industrial barons backing Congress, and frustrate the centre in any way he could. The implications of League control, especially over Punjab and Bengal, began dawning on Nehru with even greater force.

Fifth, the Muslim movement had already proven with its votes — in the election of 1946 — that it was Pakistan or bust, with the leadership actively working toward secession. Throw in Nehru, with his need for a strong centre, and the odds that a viable coalition could have emerged had already been blown to smithereens. Hence, ultimately, the mission’s return to London.

Mr. Jinnah and Miss Fatima Jinnah with their friends in Bombay [ File Photo]

To lament that it all could have worked out, had Attlee’s boys succeeded, is to be looking at it backwards. The Cabinet Mission came to Delhi with a single goal — keeping India intact. By that metric, failure was only a matter of time; Nehru just sped up what Jinnah would have ensured.

A promised land?

Seventy-five years in, how we’ve dealt with the founding father is rather shoddy. This is quite aside from the facts of Pakistan itself – where generals win war after war against elected governments, where politicians think the country is an internship for their unemployable children, where judges bolt the doors to the assembly in less than a few paragraphs, and where civil servants are as redundant as their fax machines.

Amid so much waste, the least that could be done was to remain faithful to the founder’s memory. Instead, one school of thought puts him down as a bluff expert who got swept up in the tide; a premise that contradicts almost everything he said or did in the last decade of his life.

But there’s also the other school, Pak Studies lite, that’s equally rooted in unreality: that Pakistan was a successor state to the glorious Islamic lands of the past, populated by foreign races near and far: from the frozen steppes to the desert sands. And Jinnah was just one of many deliverers, as were Qasim, Ghori, and Babur.

That theory may be even less fair to the Quaid — Pakistan was the dream of Muslim modernists, against the backdrop of colonial rule and a world war. It was powered by messy mass politics, and brought to life by Jinnah. As noted by Penderel Moon, a British civil servant long critical of the Raj:

There is, I believe, no historical parallel for a single individual effecting such a political revolution; and his achievement is a striking refutation of the theory that in the making of history the individual is of little or no significance. It was Mr Jinnah who created Pakistan and undoubtedly made history.

And it is in that history where the story of Pakistan truly begins — the Arab invasion of Sindh no more foretold the republic than the Ghaznavids that defeated the Arabs, than the Ghorids that set up the sultanate, than the Mughals that defeated the sultans. As far as today’s Pakistan is concerned, those were a thousand battles that settled nothing.

Nor was Islam imposed on India battle by battle. Had the old Muslim kings wished to spread the faith, their seats of power, from Delhi to Mysore, would have had far larger Muslim populations. That their fellow believers were instead concentrated along India’s flanks — today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh — points to a more gradual process; one that hews toward the persuasive powers of Sufi saints, as well as hopes of a better life that came with converting.

Most important, though these rulers are painted as just and generous now, they rarely touched the lives of the natives that had actually embraced Islam. Over two-thirds of the imperial services under the Mughals were manned by foreign-born Muslims. The ruling class “did not merge with the local converts, rarely recruited them to higher posts, refused to marry into them, and generally looked down on them,” wrote the Pakistani historian K.K. Aziz. “… At the end of five hundred years of continuous Muslim rule, only a minimal number of local Muslims had managed to climb high on the ladder of preferment.”

Put another way, the old kings lived in an age that had yet to conceive even the outer limits of an idea like Pakistan. It thus wasn’t the sultans, or their Mughal successors, that presaged it. That honour belongs to the growing number of Muslims on the ground — the ones their kings were indifferent to, and had little hand in converting anyway. By the time Pakistan was formed, those converts had mushroomed into the largest body of Muslims in the entire world, and had greater claim on the country’s creation than any medieval sultan ever had.

Jinnah’s own view of the Muslim experience was as holistic. “The Mussalmans came to India as conquerors, traders, preachers, and teachers,” he said while marking Eid in 1942. “… Today, the hundred millions of Mussalmans of India represent the largest compact body of Muslim population in any single part of the world.”

He persisted with this bottom-up view of the Pakistan idea, centring it not on the first conqueror, but the first convert. Dawn reports from a speech he gave at Aligarh Muslim University in 1944:

Tracing the history of the beginning of Islam in India, [Mr Jinnah] proved that Pakistan started the moment the first non-Muslim was converted to Islam in India, long before the Muslims established their rule. As soon as a Hindu embraced Islam, he was outcast not only religiously but also socially, culturally, and economically … Throughout the ages, Hindus had remained Hindus and Muslims had remained Muslims, and they had not merged their entities — that was the basis for Pakistan. In a gathering of high European and American officials, he was asked as to who was the author of Pakistan. Mr Jinnah’s reply was “Every Mussalman.”

Two years later, Jinnah told the Cabinet Mission trio “that he readily admitted that 70 per cent of Muslims were converts from Hindus. A large body were converted before any Muslim conqueror arrived.”

As for the old kings, Jinnah had little patience for their lessons. When Westminster’s Leo Amery revealed he was studying the reign of Akbar, Jinnah mocked him at length, “The British government in India, too, is constituted like Akbar’s government. Akbar had Hindu ministers and Muslim ministers. Akbar knew he had to rule over both. He was eminently concerned with his own autocratic rule, and that was no rule at all.”

He would also disdain advice offered by foes as different as Lord Mountbatten and C. Rajagopalachari — that he emulate Akbar, Aurangzeb, and other Muslim icons. “These great men might have differed from one another in many respects,” said Rajagopalachari, “but they agreed in looking upon this precious land and this great nation as one and essentially indivisible.”

“Yes,” Jinnah replied, “naturally, they did so as conquerors and parental rulers. Is this the kind of government Mr Rajagopalachari does still envisage? And did the Hindus of those days willingly accept the rule of the “great men”? I may or may not be suffering from a diseased mentality, but the statement of Mr. Rajagopalachari … indicates that in him there is no mind left at all.”

Each time he was confronted with the kings of the past, Jinnah centred the Muslim in the street. In a rapidly changing India, yesterday’s rulers were no longer the yardstick; in some cases, like Akbar’s, they were self-serving autocrats.

Besides, it was the absence of Muslim kings, rather than their long-ago presence, that was in play. At the Muslim League’s inaugural session in Dhaka, its first chairman, Viqar-ul-Mulk, had said, “Woe betide the time when we become the subjects of our neighbours, and answer them for the sins, real and imaginary, of Aurangzeb, who lived and died two centuries ago, and other Mussalman conquerors and rulers who went before him.”

That Mulk’s words marked the birth of the party that created Pakistan was no coincidence — it was rooted in anxiety for the future, of an India where the locus of power had shifted dramatically from a Muslim elite to a Hindu majority. While most native Muslims fell in neither category, they could now be expected to answer to the Hindus for the sins of the past (one in which they’d been dressed up as temple-sacking jackals by British authors).

Each time he was confronted with the kings of the past, Jinnah centred the Muslim in the street. In a rapidly changing India, yesterday’s rulers were no longer the yardstick; in some cases, like Akbar’s, they were self-serving autocrats.

Hence, also, Jinnah’s own evolution. Though easy to forget now, India’s pre-eminent young nationalist in the 1910s wasn’t Gandhi; it was Jinnah, the apostle of unity. By injecting religion into the freedom movement, Gandhi stole the stage and rooted it in religious tropes — satya, ahimsa, dharma, and the majoritarian flood that came with it. Jinnah’s calls for sanity were shouted down by a populist beast he could no longer recognise. After much heartbreak, public and private, he realised there was no way out but a separate state.

And who better than the reformed Hodson to explain that voyage of discovery: “One thing is certain. It was not for any venal motive that he changed. He could be bought by no one, and for no price … He was a steadfast idealist as well as a man of scrupulous honour. The fact to be explained is that in middle life he supplanted one ideal by another, and having embraced it, clung to it with a fanatic’s grip to the end of his days.”

This also ties in with one of the most popular myths about the Quaid, if from the other end of the spectrum — that India was an ageless union where Hindus and Muslims made merry together, until the British divided them, incited them, and abandoned them. The imperial hand, in cahoots with Muslim collaborators like Jinnah, tore the union asunder.

The same line would be rehashed by liberal nostalgics, even onscreen. “My passport is Pakistani, my roots are in India,” says a teary-eyed grandmother in the superhero series Ms Marvel. “And in between all of this, there is a border … marked with blood and pain. People are claiming their identity based on an idea some old Englishmen had when they were fleeing the country.”

That myth, too, falls away fast. It’s true that the British enjoyed demonising the Muslim rulers they had torn down and replaced. And it’s also true that colonial power in India rested on the art of divide and rule. (“Strict supervision, and play them off against the other,” goes one of Rudyard Kipling’s short stories. “That is the secret of our government.”)

But tensions between Hindus and Muslims weren’t the Raj’s main means of control by the nineteenth century — if only because that risked exploding far larger religious blocs. The Raj preferred safer subdivisions, ever more fragmented along ethnic, linguistic, and political lines. Per leftist historian Perry Anderson:

For the British, the ideal arrangement was rather to be found in Punjab, the apple of the imperial eye: interconfessional unity around a strong regional identity, loyal to the Raj, against which neither Congress nor Muslim League made any headway in the interwar years. During the Second World War, when Congress came out against participation in the conflict, the League was favoured. But once the war was over, Britain sought to preserve the unity of the subcontinent as its historic creation, and when it could not, tilted towards Congress far more decisively than it ever had to the League. Popular conceptions in India blaming the creation of Pakistan on a British plot are legends.

When it came down to it, most British mandarins did everything they could to keep India in one piece — the ultimate drivers of the split were “indigenous, not imperial.”

To then argue that Pakistan was the result of butchering Mother India is equally faulty: as per the Quaid, no such realm even existed before the British showed up. “India of modern conception, with its so-called geographical unity, is entirely the creation of the British,” Jinnah would say, “… whose ultimate sanction is the sword.”

Indian nationalists rebut this with an ancient pedigree; of a Hindustan as old as the hills. But one can cut Jinnah some slack, seeing as India’s varied Hindu populations had never formed a subcontinental state of such dimensions. Jinnah put it more plainly, “When did the Hindus rule India last and what part of it? It is a historical fact that for nearly one thousand years, the Hindus have not ruled any part of India worth mentioning.”

The same can be said for coexistence — as wrong as the trope of the foreign Muslim oppressor was the rival fantasy that all was peace and love between the faiths at the local level. While hard to admit, the Hindu-Muslim problem was in evidence well before the colonisers wrote tall tales about it, and well before Jinnah arrived at the same, unmistakable conclusion.

That the subcontinent was becoming the theatre of two major, incompatible faiths finds mention over the course of a millennium. For the celebrated Persian polymath al-Biruni, writing in 1030, the real-life interaction between the two was like fire and ice. “First,” al-Biruni said of the Hindus, “they differ from us in everything which other nations have in common.”

… Secondly, they totally differ from us in religion, as we believe in nothing in which they believe, and vice versa … They … forbid having any connection with them, be it by intermarriage or any other kind of relationship, or by sitting, eating, and drinking with them, because thereby, they think, they would be polluted.

… In the third place, in all manners and usages they differ from us to such a degree as to frighten their children with us, with our dress, and our ways and customs, and as to declare us to be devil’s breed, and our doings as the very opposite of all that is good and proper.

Well before the predations of the East India Company, before Hindu sectarians like the Arya Samaj, before Muslim reactionaries boiled over with resentment, the idea of a single Indian nation — unreal at any time before 1947 — was being rebutted by the lived experience of two communities with two very different confessions.

That such deep legacies of conflict could be wished away as British intrigues or, alternatively, as Jinnah’s bargaining counters, in a secular paradise that had never once existed, soothed those denying the logic of Partition — that is, until they became willing parties to the same outcome.

In any event, the poker chip school spends most of its time on Delhi’s parlour games, and none at all on the groundswell in the distance — the ideologues of UP, the progressives of Dhaka, the vanguard of Sindh, the rebel scouts of Gilgit, and millions more. In short, it ignores the men and women who gave their heart and soul over to the idea of Pakistan.

Most importantly, it does a disservice to that movement’s core. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s last years were so consumed by his pursuit of a new nation-state, he destroyed his lungs and lost his life. Seventy-five years later, it is unjust to continue attributing this country to a sleight of hand, rather than his supreme will.

India’s Impressive Progress in 75 Years – Could it Have Been Even Better?

4 mins read

As India is now completing 75 years after attaining independence from British rule and celebrating its 75th year of Independence on 15th August, a careful review of the scenario in 1947 and in the year 2022 in a holistic manner will certainly convince a discerning observer that India’s achievements and progress have been substantial, significant and praiseworthy.

In 1947, when India forced Britishers to give freedom, India was an underdeveloped country with a low literacy level, a high level of economic disparity and a large percentage of countrymen living below the poverty line.

All such deprived conditions have changed considerably in the last seventy-five years with significant industrial development, growth in agricultural production and productivity, significant improvement in literacy level and public health and reasonably good advancements in technology and particularly in digital media and information technology. The improved figures and data are well known and are in the public domain.

The question is that given India’s landscape, different climatic and soil conditions, irrigation potential, mineral deposits, long coastal belt and several other advantages, should one conclude that India should have done better than what it has achieved?

The best way of answering this query would be to compare India’s growth with a few other countries facing similar conditions in 1947.

Japan & Germany :

India attained independence in 1947 and during this period, Germany and Japan remained battered and virtually paralysed after facing defeat during the second world war.

Both these countries have made remarkable progress during the last seventy-five years and today remain as amongst the most developed countries in the world with a high level of prosperity index.

However, both Germany and Japan had a reasonably strong technology base before 1947 compared to India, as a result of which both these countries could take part in the second world war and they exhibited their technological and military capability of a high order.

While credit should be given to the governments and people of Germany and Japan for their remarkable progress subsequent to the second world war, India’s technological and industrial base in 1947 was at a much lower level. India had to virtually start from scratch.

Therefore, comparing the growth of Germany and Japan to that of India during the last seventy-five years may not be appropriate.


In 1947, both India and China were nearly on par as far as technology, industrial and agriculture base are concerned. In the last seventy-five years, China has grown phenomenally and is now claiming superpower status in the world.

China is only 15% of the global economy in size but now contributes 25 to 30% of global growth. Assuming that we don’t count the European Union as one economy, China is the second largest economy in the world. China’s share of world output has gone up from 6.3% in the year 1996 to 17.8%, in the year 2020. China contributed as much as around 70% of the growth in the share of developing economies in world GDP in the last two decades.

Today, the size of the Indian economy is much smaller than that of China. What is the reason for this sharp difference in the growth profile of India and China?

One can say that China is a totalitarian country and therefore, the Chinese government has been able to implement any project as it deems fit without resistance from any quarters. However, the mere totalitarian rule cannot be attributed as the reason for China’s success, since several other totalitarian countries have not progressed to any reasonable level.

The reason for China’s growth is the strong government and policy of the government to liberally cooperate with the developed countries in industrialisation and technology acquisition. Many multinational companies are now operating in China with large industrial capacities, substantially contributing to China’s technological growth and economy. Chinese companies have gained a lot by having joint ventures with multi-national companies in China.

The credit must be given to the Chinese government and the people of China for this phenomenal growth.

Indian Scenario

India could have done better in the last seventy-five years if the following issues have been tackled adequately.

India’s population in 1947 was around 347 million and the population is 1400 million at present. The mouths to be fed have multiplied several times and India’s economic growth, though impressive, has not been adequate enough to match the population growth. In the next year, India would emerge as the most populous country in the world. China too is a populous country but the Chinese government has admirably controlled the population growth by its one-child family policy, which India has not been able to do due to several reasons.

Unlike China, India is a democratic country with freedom of speech and personal freedom remaining at a very high level. As a result, several projects announced by the government have been criticised and resisted by a section of activists and several political parties with India emerging as the noisiest democracy in the world. Several well-meaning schemes could not be implemented and good projects have been forced to close down due to the protests by the so-called activists and some political parties. The latest example is that of the Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu. Due to the closure of this plant, India has become a net importer of copper, whereas India was a big exporter of copper when the Sterlite Copper plant was operating. Another example is the very important and technologically significant Neutrino project, which has been stopped by political groups. So many other examples can be readily pointed out.

Another major issue is the rapidly developing dynastic politics in India, where family groups are holding a vice-like grip over several political parties all over India. Except for BJP and communist parties, all other political parties in India today are dynastic parties under family control. In this scenario, due to the development of a situation where the family groups are ruling several states and with vested interests developing, administrative standards have deteriorated and in several states, political corruption has reached an unacceptable level. Committed people with proven competence are unable to win elections based on their merit. Such conditions have become a drag on the overall growth of the country.

What scenario for the coming years?

During the last eight years, Prime Minister Modi has elevated the quality of governance to a higher level and has introduced several imaginative schemes, keeping in view the requirement of the people at a lower economic level as well as the compulsive need to forge ahead in terms of technology and productivity. Even in the present post-COVID period where several countries in the world including developed countries are facing serious issues of inflation and recession, the Indian economy is doing much better. This fact has been recently confirmed by a report from International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Though several opposition political parties and some activists have been opposing and criticising Modi’s governance in severe terms, the overall view amongst the cross-section of the countrymen appear to be that Prime Minister Modi has done a reasonably good job and this trend should continue.

Another Hiroshima is Coming — Unless We Stop It Now

11 mins read

“When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open.

At a quarter past eight on the morning of August 6, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, then I walked down to the river where the survivors still lived in shanties.

I met a man called Yukio, whose chest was etched with the pattern of the shirt he was wearing when the atomic bomb was dropped.

He described a huge flash over the city, “a bluish light, something like an electrical short”, after which wind blew like a tornado and black rain fell. “I was thrown on the ground and noticed only the stalks of my flowers were left. Everything was still and quiet, and when I got up, there were people naked, not saying anything. Some of them had no skin or hair. I was certain I was dead.”

Nine years later, I returned to look for him and he was dead from leukemia.

“No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin” said a New York Times headline on September 13, 1945, a classic of planted disinformation. “General Farrell,” reported William H. Lawrence, “denied categorically that [the atomic bomb] produced a dangerous, lingering radioactivity.”

Only one reporter, Wilfred Burchett, an Australian, had braved the perilous journey to Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing, in defiance of the Allied occupation authorities, which controlled the “press pack”.

“I write this as a warning to the world,” reported Burchett in the London Daily Express of September 5,1945. Sitting in the rubble with his Baby Hermes typewriter, he described hospital wards filled with people with no visible injuries who were dying from what he called “an atomic plague”.

For this, his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared. His witness to the truth was never forgiven.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an act of premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of intrinsic criminality. It was justified by lies that form the bedrock of America’s war propaganda in the 21st century, casting a new enemy, and target – China.

During the 75 years since Hiroshima, the most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and to save lives.

“Even without the atomic bombing attacks,” concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, “air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that … Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war [against Japan] and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

The National Archives in Washington contains documented Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued. A cable sent on May 5, 1945 by the German ambassador in Tokyo and intercepted by the U.S. made clear the Japanese were desperate to sue for peace, including “capitulation even if the terms were hard”. Nothing was done.

The U.S. Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was “fearful” that the U.S. Air Force would have Japan so “bombed out” that the new weapon would not be able “to show its strength”. Stimson later admitted that “no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the [atomic] bomb”.

Stimson’s foreign policy colleagues — looking ahead to the post-war era they were then shaping “in our image”, as Cold War planner George Kennan famously put it — made clear they were eager “to browbeat the Russians with the [atomic] bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip”. General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project that made the atomic bomb, testified: “There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis.”

The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Harry Truman voiced his satisfaction with the “overwhelming success” of “the experiment”.

The “experiment” continued long after the war was over. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States exploded 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific: the equivalent of more than one Hiroshima every day for 12 years.

The human and environmental consequences were catastrophic. During the filming of my documentary, The Coming War on China, I chartered a small aircraft and flew to Bikini Atoll in the Marshalls. It was here that the United States exploded the world’s first Hydrogen Bomb. It remains poisoned earth. My shoes registered “unsafe” on my Geiger counter. Palm trees stood in unworldly formations. There were no birds.

I trekked through the jungle to the concrete bunker where, at 6.45 on the morning of March 1, 1954, the button was pushed. The sun, which had risen, rose again and vaporised an entire island in the lagoon, leaving a vast black hole, which from the air is a menacing spectacle: a deathly void in a place of beauty.

The radioactive fall-out spread quickly and “unexpectedly”. The official history claims “the wind changed suddenly”. It was the first of many lies, as declassified documents and the victims’ testimony reveal.

Gene Curbow, a meteorologist assigned to monitor the test site, said, “They knew where the radioactive fall-out was going to go. Even on the day of the shot, they still had an opportunity to evacuate people, but [people] were not evacuated; I was not evacuated… The United States needed some guinea pigs to study what the effects of radiation would do.”

Marshall Islander Nerje Joseph with a photograph of her as a child soon after the H-Bomb exploded on March 1, 1954

Like Hiroshima, the secret of the Marshall Islands was a calculated experiment on the lives of large numbers of people. This was Project 4.1, which began as a scientific study of mice and became an experiment on “human beings exposed to the radiation of a nuclear weapon”.

The Marshall Islanders I met in 2015 — like the survivors of Hiroshima I interviewed in the 1960s and 70s — suffered from a range of cancers, commonly thyroid cancer; thousands had already died. Miscarriages and stillbirths were common; those babies who lived were often deformed horribly.

Unlike Bikini, nearby Rongelap atoll had not been evacuated during the H-Bomb test. Directly downwind of Bikini, Rongelap’s skies darkened and it rained what first appeared to be snowflakes. Food and water were contaminated; and the population fell victim to cancers. That is still true today.

I met Nerje Joseph, who showed me a photograph of herself as a child on Rongelap. She had terrible facial burns and much of her was hair missing. “We were bathing at the well on the day the bomb exploded,” she said. “White dust started falling from the sky. I reached to catch the powder. We used it as soap to wash our hair. A few days later, my hair started falling out.”

Lemoyo Abon said, “Some of us were in agony. Others had diarrhoea. We were terrified. We thought it must be the end of the world.”

U.S. official archive film I included in my film refers to the islanders as “amenable savages”. In the wake of the explosion, a U.S. Atomic Energy Agency official is seen boasting that Rongelap “is by far the most contaminated place on earth”, adding, “it will be interesting to get a measure of human uptake when people live in a contaminated environment.”

American scientists, including medical doctors, built distinguished careers studying the “human uptake”. There they are in flickering film, in their white coats, attentive with their clipboards. When an islander died in his teens, his family received a sympathy card from the scientist who studied him.

I have reported from five nuclear “ground zeros” throughout the world — in Japan, the Marshall Islands, Nevada, Polynesia and Maralinga in Australia. Even more than my experience as a war correspondent, this has taught me about the ruthlessness and immorality of great power: that is, imperial power, whose cynicism is the true enemy of humanity.

This struck me forcibly when I filmed at Taranaki Ground Zero at Maralinga in the Australian desert. In a dish-like crater was an obelisk on which was inscribed: “A British atomic weapon was test exploded here on 9 October 1957”. On the rim of the crater was this sign: WARNING: RADIATION HAZARD

Radiation levels for a few hundred metres around this point may be above those considered safe for permanent occupation.

For as far as the eye could see, and beyond, the ground was irradiated. Raw plutonium lay about, scattered like talcum powder: plutonium is so dangerous to humans that a third of a milligram gives a 50 percent chance of cancer.

The only people who might have seen the sign were Indigenous Australians, for whom there was no warning. According to an official account, if they were lucky “they were shooed off like rabbits”.

The Enduring Menace

Today, an unprecedented campaign of propaganda is shooing us all off like rabbits. We are not meant to question the daily torrent of anti-Chinese rhetoric, which is rapidly overtaking the torrent of anti-Russia rhetoric. Anything Chinese is bad, anathema, a threat: Wuhan …. Huawei. How confusing it is when “our” most reviled leader says so.

The current phase of this campaign began not with Trump but with Barack Obama, who in 2011 flew to Australia to declare the greatest build-up of U.S. naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region since World War Two. Suddenly, China was a “threat”. This was nonsense, of course. What was threatened was America’s unchallenged psychopathic view of itself as the richest, the most successful, the most “indispensable” nation.

What was never in dispute was its prowess as a bully — with more than 30 members of the United Nations suffering American sanctions of some kind and a trail of the blood running through defenceless countries bombed, their governments overthrown, their elections interfered with, their resources plundered.

Obama’s declaration became known as the “pivot to Asia”. One of its principal advocates was his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who, as WikiLeaks revealed, wanted to rename the Pacific Ocean “the American Sea”.

Whereas Clinton never concealed her warmongering, Obama was a maestro of marketing. “I state clearly and with conviction,” said the new president in 2009, “that America’s commitment is to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Obama increased spending on nuclear warheads faster than any president since the end of the Cold War. A “usable” nuclear weapon was developed. Known as the B61 Model 12, it means, according to General James Cartwright, former vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable”.

The target is China. Today, more than 400 American military bases almost encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to South-East Asia, Japan and Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, as one U.S. strategist told me, “the perfect noose”.

The Unthinkable

A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the U.S. Army, the authors evoke the infamous catch cry of its chief Cold War strategist, Herman Kahn – “thinking the unthinkable”. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war.

Kahn’s apocalyptic view is shared by Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical fanatic who believes in the “rapture of the End”. He is perhaps the most dangerous man alive. “I was CIA director,” he boasted, “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses.” Pompeo’s obsession is China.

The endgame of Pompeo’s extremism is rarely if ever discussed in the Anglo-American media, where the myths and fabrications about China are standard fare, as were the lies about Iraq. A virulent racism is the sub-text of this propaganda. Classified “yellow” even though they were white, the Chinese are the only ethnic group to have been banned by an “exclusion act” from entering the United States, because they were Chinese. Popular culture declared them sinister, untrustworthy, “sneaky”, depraved, diseased, immoral.

An Australian magazine, The Bulletin, was devoted to promoting fear of the “yellow peril” as if all of Asia was about to fall down on the whites-only colony by the force of gravity.

As the historian Martin Powers writes, acknowledging China’s modernism, its secular morality and “contributions to liberal thought threatened European face, so it became necessary to suppress China’s role in the Enlightenment debate …. For centuries, China’s threat to the myth of Western superiority has made it an easy target for race-baiting.”

In the Sydney Morning Herald, tireless China-basher Peter Hartcher described those who spread Chinese influence in Australia as “rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows”. Hartcher, who favourably quotes the American demagogue Steve Bannon, likes to interpret the “dreams” of the current Chinese elite, to which he is apparently privy. These are inspired by yearnings for the “Mandate of Heaven” of 2,000 years ago. Ad nausea.

To combat this “mandate”, the Australian government of Scott Morrison has committed one of the most secure countries on earth, whose major trading partner is China, to hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American missiles that can be fired at China.

The trickledown is already evident. In a country historically scarred by violent racism towards Asians, Australians of Chinese descent have formed a vigilante group to protect delivery riders. Phone videos show a delivery rider punched in the face and a Chinese couple racially abused in a supermarket. Between April and June, there were almost 400 racist attacks on Asian-Australians.

“We are not your enemy,” a high-ranking strategist in China told me, “but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.” China’s arsenal is small compared with America’s, but it is growing fast, especially the development of maritime missiles designed to destroy fleets of ships.

“For the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack… This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy…”

In Washington, I met Amitai Etzioni, distinguished professor of international affairs at George Washington University, who wrote that a “blinding attack on China” was planned, “with strikes that could be mistakenly perceived [by the Chinese] as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma [that would] lead to nuclear war.”

In 2019, the U.S. staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War, much of it in high secrecy. An armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB – blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is fear of such a blockade that has seen China develop its Belt and Road Initiative along the old Silk Road to Europe and urgently build strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands.

In Shanghai, I met Lijia Zhang, a Beijing journalist and novelist, typical of a new class of outspoken mavericks. Her best-selling book has the ironic title Socialism Is Great! Having grown up in the chaotic, brutal Cultural Revolution, she has travelled and lived in the U.S. and Europe. “Many Americans imagine,” she said, “that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. The [idea of] the yellow peril has never left them… They have no idea there are some 500 million people being lifted out of poverty, and some would say it’s 600 million.”

Modern China’s epic achievements, its defeat of mass poverty, and the pride and contentment of its people (measured forensically by American pollsters such as Pew) are wilfully unknown or misunderstood in the West. This alone is a commentary on the lamentable state of Western journalism and the abandonment of honest reporting.

China’s repressive dark side and what we like to call its “authoritarianism” are the facade we are allowed to see almost exclusively. It is as if we are fed unending tales of the evil super-villain Dr. Fu Manchu. And it is time we asked why: before it is too late to stop the next Hiroshima.

What the “Woke” Left and the Alt-Right Share

4 mins read

The Canadian psychologist and alt-right media fixture Jordan Peterson recently stumbled onto an important insight. In a podcast episode titled “Russia vs. Ukraine or Civil War in the West?,” he recognized a link between the war in Europe and the conflict between the liberal mainstream and the new populist right in North America and Europe.

Although Peterson initially condemns Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression, his stance gradually morphs into a kind of metaphysical defense of Russia. Referencing Dostoevsky’s Diaries, he suggests that Western European hedonist individualism is far inferior to Russian collective spirituality, before duly endorsing the Kremlin’s designation of contemporary Western liberal civilization as “degenerate.” He describes postmodernism as a transformation of Marxism that seeks to destroy the foundations of Christian civilization. Viewed in this light, the war in Ukraine is a contest between traditional Christian values and a new form of communist degeneracy.

This language will be familiar to anyone familiar with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s regime, or with the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. As CNN’s John Blake put it, that day “marked the first time many Americans realized the US is facing a burgeoning White Christian nationalist movement,” which “uses Christian language to cloak sexism and hostility to Black people and non-White immigrants in its quest to create a White Christian America.” This worldview has now “infiltrated the religious mainstream so thoroughly that virtually any conservative Christian pastor who tries to challenge its ideology risks their career.”

The fact that Peterson has assumed a pro-Russian, anti-communist position is indicative of a broader trend. In the United States, many Republican Party lawmakers have refused to support Ukraine. J.D. Vance, a Donald Trump-backed Republican Senate candidate from Ohio, finds it “insulting and strategically stupid to devote billions of resources to Ukraine while ignoring the problems in our own country.” And Matt Gaetz, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Florida, is committed to ending US support for Ukraine if his party wins control of the chamber this November.

But does accepting Peterson’s premise that Russia’s war and the alt-right in the US are platoons of the same global movement mean that leftists should simply take the opposite side? Here, the situation gets more complicated. Although Peterson claims to oppose communism, he is attacking a major consequence of global capitalism. As Marx and Engels wrote more than 150 years ago in the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. … All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

This observation is studiously ignored by leftist cultural theorists who still focus their critique on patriarchal ideology and practice. Yet surely the critique of patriarchy has reached its apotheosis at precisely the historical moment when patriarchy has lost its hegemonic role – that is, when market individualism has swept it away. After all, what becomes of patriarchal family values when a child can sue her parents for neglect and abuse (implying that parenthood is just another temporary and dissolvable contract between utility-maximizing individuals)?

Of course, such “leftists” are sheep in wolves’ clothing, telling themselves that they are radical revolutionaries as they defend the reigning establishment. Today, the melting away of pre-modern social relations and forms has already gone much further than Marx could have imagined. All facets of human identity are now becoming a matter of choice; nature is becoming more and more an object of technological manipulation.

The “civil war” that Peterson sees in the developed West is thus a chimera, a conflict between two versions of the same global capitalist system: unrestrained liberal individualism versus neo-fascist conservativism, which seeks to unite capitalist dynamism with traditional values and hierarchies.

There is a double paradox here. Western political correctness (“wokeness”) has displaced class struggle, producing a liberal elite that claims to protect threatened racial and sexual minorities in order to divert attention from its members’ own economic and political power. At the same time, this lie allows alt-right populists to present themselves as defenders of “real” people against corporate and “deep state” elites, even though they, too, occupy positions at the commanding heights of economic and political power.

Ultimately, both sides are fighting over the spoils of a system in which they are wholly complicit. Neither side really stands up for the exploited or has any interest in working-class solidarity. The implication is not that “left” and “right” are outdated notions – as one often hears – but rather that culture wars have displaced class struggle as the engine of politics.

Where does that leave Europe? The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall paints a bleak but accurate picture:

“Putin’s aim is the immiseration of Europe. By weaponising energy, food, refugees and information, Russia’s leader spreads the economic and political pain, creating wartime conditions for all. A long, cold, calamity-filled European winter of power shortages and turmoil looms. … Freezing pensioners, hungry children, empty supermarket shelves, unaffordable cost of living increases, devalued wages, strikes and street protests point to Sri Lanka-style meltdowns. An exaggeration? Not really.”

To prevent a total collapse into disorder, the state apparatus, in close coordination with other states and relying on local mobilizations of people, will have to regulate the distribution of energy and food, perhaps resorting to administration by the armed forces. Europe thus has a unique chance to leave behind its charmed life of isolated welfare, a bubble in which gas and electricity prices were the biggest worries. As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently told Vogue, “Just try to imagine what I’m talking about happening to your home, to your country. Would you still be thinking about gas prices or electricity prices?”

He’s right. Europe is under attack, and it needs to mobilize, not just militarily but socially and economically as well. We should use the crisis to change our way of life, adopting values that will spare us from an ecological catastrophe in the coming decades. This may be our only chance.