} Lalith Abeysinghe: 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jaffna and Vavuniya Local Government Elections-An Eye Opener

Jaffna and Vavuniya Local Government Elections

An Eye Opener

It was indeed a very good move by the authorities to have these elections after a long period, though the situations in these two areas were not fully conducive to have elections.

Any how, it was an eye opener, for the people, parties and the government, if they wish to see through.

First of all, the people were not prepared to participate in the elections. The people of these two places at end of July said that they just were not interested in the elections. They were facing with other acute problems in their day to day life. In Jaffna, the opening of the A9 road, commencement of the bus services to 'South', bringing down the cost of living, allowing free access for their livelihoods including fishing, infrastructural development, getting access to their own houses and soon returning to normalcy were the major concerns of the people. In Vavuniya, people expected the complete normalcy to be returned soon. They were very much concerned with the heavy presence of IDP s in the area, which really disturbed the day to day life of Vavuniya people. People in both places were really expecting to bringing 'full civil administration' to their areas with the commencements of the elections. Only in that aspect, they welcome the elections.

In both places, everybody predicted a low turnout at the elections. The main reason was that the registered voters simply, physically were not there. In both places all agreed that, it will be around 35% turnout in Jaffna and 55% in Vavuniya.

In this context, the real turnout was really encouraging.

The verdict of the people participated in the elections, have sent clear massage to the South. It was not wrong to conclude that the people voted were some what 'politically concerned' people compare to the general public.

Minister Devananda said after the election that he felt defeated and ironically Siddharthan of PLOTE said the same.

Minister Devananda was doing a very good job in Vavuniya and in Jaffna. His dedication to work for the people was amazing. He starts work around 4 am and goes to bed (which is a mat on the floor in Vavuniya and the office table in Jaffna!) certainly after 12 mid night. Most of the people were appreciating his work, service and the dedication. He was able to deliver lots of services with the support of the government.

Let's see the results and the facts involved in these elections.

In Jaffna the Number of registered voters were 100417 + (6004*) * Displaced voters.

The Estimated voter turns out prior to the elections was about 35%
As far as the voting was concerned only 22280 were voted. It was only 20.99%. Out of this figure also, 1358 votes were rejected.

The Election Results of Jaffna read as follows.
-United Peoples Freedom Alliance- 13 members
(Votes 10,602 and 50.67%)
-Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi-8 Members
(Votes 8008 and 37.28%)
-Independent Group -1 – 01 Member
(Votes 1175 and 5.62%)
-Tamil United Liberation Front – 01 Member
(Votes 1007 and 4.81%)
-The United National Party did not have any member but was able to get votes 83 and secured 4.4% of the total votes.

In Vavuniya the Number of registered voters was 24626.

The Estimated voter turns out prior to the elections was about 50%
As far as the voting was concerned only 12850 were voted, which is considerably high compared to Jaffna. It was only 52.18% Out of this figure also, 558 votes were rejected.

The Election Results of Vavuniya reads as follows.

-Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi – 5 members
(Votes 4279 and 34.81%)
-Democratic Peoples Liberation Front -PLOTE – 3 Members
(Votes 4136 and 33.65%)
- United Peoples Freedom Alliance- 2 Members
(Votes 3045 and 24.77%)
- Sri Lanka Muslim Congress-
1 Member
(Votes 587 and 4.78)
-The United National Party did not have any member elected but was able to get votes 228 and it was only 1.85% of the total votes polled.

In Jaffna the UPFA secured 50% votes and in Vavuniya only 25%. The opposition votes suggest that the aspirations and the life of the people was not bread alone.

As mentioned earlier, it was a wise move by the authorities to have the elections in these two places. It on the one hand gives the people an opportunity to participate in politics in a democratic way, though there were many shortcomings at these elections. On the other hand, there is also a message in the results of the election and one has to understand that they are not mere votes but loaded with the sentiments of the people.

There were huge cut-outs of President Mahinda Rajapakse particularly in Jaffna, with his famous statement "there is no minority in this country'. Many people told me that it hurts them a lot. Though the President said this with all good faith and intention, the Tamils in Jaffna feels and understands it in a different way. They asked 'are we even as minority not exists?' This is the error of just translating things with out considering the context and the feelings of the others.

Same thing happened with the Minister Devananda. Many say that the mistake was that the Minister Devananda to contest under the symbol of UPFA, the Beatle. It would have been better, the UPFA contest under the symbol of EPDP in Jaffna and Vavuniya. The first suggest a kind of Southern arrogance and the second suggests the real respect to the local conditions and to the aspirations of the people. Whether the Southern people and the politicians like it or not, the Tamils in these areas have their own way of life, aspirations and expectations. Many people were in the opinion that had the minister contest under the symbol of EPDP, he would have won even Vavuniya and get more votes in Jaffna. It is also to be noted that the elected two candidates for Vavuniya under the UPFA were one Muslim and the other one a Sinhalese. No body should come out and say that the writer is analyzing this on communal lines. In what ever terms it remains a fact.

We repeatedly are making the error. It is just like Chathurika Pieris, a popular Sinhala actress and the malted milk icon suddenly becomes Tamil. Chathurika Pieris is on the billboards in Jaffna too. But she is with a difference. She has a big red 'Pottuwa' on her fore-head and suddenly become a Tamil! It is so unfitting, unnatural and odd. The advertising firms, which are normally more sensitive than the politicians, at least for their own profit concerns, too make the mistake. The malted milk icon for Tamils should be a charming Tamil girl, for whom the "Pottuwa" is a natural part.

Ananda Sangarie, the veteran National level political leader was able to get only 424 votes.

When the TNA tops the result sheet in Vavuniya and come second in Jaffna, no body should think that the voters are pro LTTE and endorse their way of struggling. Almost all the people that I interacted with denounce violence at the first place and they are totally fed up with the war and war related issues. They really are looking for a peaceful life to lead with their families. One TNA MP told me prior to the election in Jaffna, not to expect huge victory for government backed UPFA, as the voters in Jaffna not voting for petty things such as bread and butter but on policies. It suggests that the Tamil people still waiting for an honorable and just political solution for their grievances.

The UNP, claimed to be more Tamil friendly, at least than the UPFA, pathetically show their inability to understand the realities on the ground. The election result is a concern in the democratic circlers, as the UNP is the main opposition party in the country. The message is that, one has to restore the strength and the dignity of the UNP, as it was the largest single Democratic Party in the country. The opposition party is equally important as the governing party to have a meaningful democratic atmosphere. It appears that the UNP is loosing its ground not only among the Sinhalese but also among the Tamils.

We all should be humble enough to understand the messages that come alone with the election results. The people are really fed up with all kind of violence. They even not ready to talk about the elections, fearing that some unwanted thing would happen. The country as a whole has lost three decade of peaceful existence, development and all the other opportunities. Everybody has the responsibility to ensure violence free, democratic, and decent and a cultured society in this country.

The responsibility of the government in this regard is huge, though the others have their own slice.

Lalith Abeysinghe

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Human Development Report (HDR-UNDP) Needs a Drastic Change

Human Development Report (HDR-UNDP) Needs a Drastic Change

The “Human Development Report” (HDR), annually published by UNDP, consider as an impartial, authentic and a reliable source of information with regard to the status of “human development” in the world. Hence many, the academics, policy makers, international bodies and the politicians refer to this HDR for various purposes.

The Report, categorizes the countries into three, the High Human Development Countries, the Medium Human Development Countries and the Low Human Development Countries. The first set of countries are supposed to be “developed” countries and it implies that the other countries should and try to “promote” them selves to be one of them. Though this is not implicitly stated, through out the report it proposes that to be in “high” rank, the “medium” and “low” rank countries should have the characteristics that the “high” rank countries poses.

There are 177 countries listed and, 57 countries comes under “High”, 88 countries as “Medium” and the rest 32 countries comes under “Low”.

The HDR uses several indicators to compile its report and to categorize the countries in to the High, Medium and Low. The GDP per capita, the life expectancy, adult literacy rate, enrolment in education top the indicators for categorizing. It is understood that the GDP per capita is the utmost important indicator couple with the growth rate. The others are really about the usage of the GDP in health, education etc.

The cases and the preventive actions taken to control HIV/AIDS which is of course deadly, use as an indicator to measure human development. In the same way, the mental illness and stress have gone unnoticed as they reported mainly in the “high” ranking countries. This will become a major problem in very near future. The work and life style mainly base on profit created this problem and it is not any way a human pattern to achieve “human development”.

The other aspects which the HDR looks at are rather secondary. In short the categorization ultimately deals with the “Rich” and “Poor” aspects of the countries base on their GDPs.

One has to seriously look at the criteria used on which the HDR compile.

The HDR proposes that the countries in the “High” category are better and the other countries should follow the path the “high rankers” have taken to achieve a high position in the Human Development Index.

This is at the very outset a misleading and really a “destructive” measure propose by the HDR.

The most important aspects that should come in to the whole analysis are regrettably absent in the HDR. The HDR looks lacking a vision for the present and certainly for the future.

There should be a new set of aspects, indicators and more importantly a set of “human” values to compile this report. Even at present the HDR presents a set of values, indicators and aspects for ranking the countries which are highly questionable.

The attempt of this article is to examine whether the current sets of values, indicators and the aspects are fair and sufficient to “measure” “Human Development “of the world.

At the very out set, it is very clear that there should be a drastic change in the format, values, emphases, aspects, issues and the indicators in order to compile such a decisive report. It is because, the HDR, published by an UN body, regarded as a credible report and many tend to refer to this report and get a direction from it to ensure or promote “human development” in the respective countries. Many tend to take the observations, predictions, trends and proposals from the report with regard to the “human development”

Hence, there should be a serious effort to review the whole presentation of the HDR. There could be many ways of looking at this. But the case is that it needs a dialogue in this regard.

One way of looking at this could be introducing a points system that could be used to categorize the countries. According to the points the report could present “comparatively” a “highest ranked” state with regard to the “human development”. The efforts take by such country should be exemplary with regard to “human development” not only in its own country but also world wide.

The points system is necessary to cover more complex aspects of “human development” as they are not always and necessarily the “material” connected aspects. The “meta material” needs and aspects should be seriously looking in to when compiling a report of this nature. They may include even the religious, spiritual and community aspects in the “medium” and “low” rank countries and the mental stress, illness, loneliness and suicide rates taking place in the “high” rank countries. Then only the HDR could present a credible example of a country, that really looking at all this aspects and be comfortably replicate the principles adjusting to the other countries as they applicable, appropriate and if at all tat they wished.

This is necessary because the HDR should take a responsibility as they directing countries towards “Human Development”. The present HDR certainly proposes a “path” the countries should be followed in order to achieve “human development”.

We may have to divide the new set of aspects, issues, indicators and values into two. They are “Anti Human” and “Pro Human” or rather “Anti Nature” and “Pro Nature” which ever be appropriate and applicable. The “anti” aspects will get minus points and the “pro” aspects will get the plus points. Of course there is a value judgment in dividing those. The point is that we have NOT agreed upon these values and it seems “somebody” have taken a decision with regard to these values.

The HDR should have a vision of sustainability, justice, environmental harmony and to deal with the entire future of the globe including human.

It is clear at present that the GDP is topping the list. Is it a fair indicator to measure “human Development”? Most of the countries in the “High” category earns fair amount of their GDP by producing armaments. Is this really for the “Human Development”? The countries which earns by producing arms should get a drastic cut of the points for their contribution towards destruction and anti human actions and motives. The countries which import such armaments too should get minus points.

In the same way the countries invade the other countries should get minus points as they are anti human, destructive and anti nature as well.

The countries which dispose nuclear waste to the environment should get minus points as they are anti human as well as the anti nature and rather toxic. These wastes produced by the “High” rank countries normally dump in the “Low” rank countries. Should the “Medium” and “low” ranking countries follow this example? Not only the nuclear waste, but the wastages of food, cloths, machineries, and equipments too should get minus points. Many of the “Low” rank countries have become the cemeteries of the dead equipments dispose by the “High” rank countries.

There should be a figure worked out as to calculate the average global per capita resources consumption. If the figure is “x”, all the countries which exceed the figure should get minus points. Looking at the present ranking it is surprising that the countries waste food, cloths, and all the resources by media promoted consumerism are in the “higher” rank. What are the vision and the direction given by the HDR? Should the “medium” and “low” rank countries follow the same path to be in “high” rank and put the whole world in danger?

It should be same for the per capita carbon emissions to the environment. The countries exceed the figure should get minus points according to the volume. The countries which use the renewable sources should get plus points according to the volume.

There should be also a system to give plus points for the protecting and maintaining bio diversity and natural rain forest per squire km. In the same way the producers and the usage of the harmful chemicals and pesticides which will be detrimental to the eco system should get minus points. The countries import and use them too should get minus points according to the volume they use.

The environmental prolusion should treat in the same way. There are systems adopted by the “high” rank countries which could use to minimize the pollution by filtering and controlling the harmful gases, materials entering in to the environment. The harmful stuffs still remain in the environment if not they “exported” to the Moon or to the Mars. The “purification” process too, eats lots of energy which could be used for other purposes. It is not the “purification” efforts that we take. We have to stop pollution at the first place. Should the “medium” and “low” rankers follow the same path?

There should be also a provision to examine the fair and reasonable trade. The countries engage in fair trade should get high points and they should not necessarily be alone with WTO treaties which are one sided and imposed on the others. The “primary products” mainly agriculture, mining, raw materials etc should realistically get the higher price in trade and higher points in ranking. We could look at them whether they eco friendly activities and process. The “secondary products” will be not there if the primary products are not coming in. The OPEC has realistically showed this case few decades ago. As they got a good price for their primary commodity, they were able to come up on the ranking!

On the other hand the “technological”, “electronic” and “digital” advancements and their colossal prices/incomes should take back into a realistic level. They were overvalued and, thus boost their GDPs.

There are also treaties that have approved by ALL the countries, still some countries are adamant and publicly say that they will not abide by them because of their “national interests” thus causing problems to “Human Development” of other countries. These countries should get minus points.

It is also now become very clear, the 120 Medium and the Low rank countries listed in the HDR, cannot replicate the model of the “High” rank countries. If it to be happened, it says that we need another four planets to get the required resources. Even we get them that the increasingly fading limits of the nature will revolt against not only the entire humankind, but the whole globe.

There should be also a method to “measure” the status of “human rights”, “women”, “children”, “good governance”, “transparency” and “democracy” etc. “The concept of “democracy” should not necessarily be a two or multi party system. A system where the “minority” aspirations also looked after should get higher marks. Even in some traditional systems, there was greater participation of the people in governance.

The HDR should present an exemplary sample of a country as the Top High Ranking, considering all the facts with regard to the authentic “Human Development”, and the model which replication is viable.

If it happens, the current order of the ranking of the countries may change. It will encourage the other countries to follow the same path which should be a sustainable, fair and just one.

The HDR, as a whole needs a thorough review in order to present a true picture of the world affairs and to present a vision for the “Human Development” and for the future generations as well.

Lalith Abeysinghe

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Comment on "Left Movement" in Sri Lanka
Lalith Abeysinghe.

I disagree with one of the main points that Kusal is presenting. ( Please see Kusals Article below)

According to Kusal, at least it implies that the "Left" in Ceylon and in Sri Lanka was totally if not partly responsible for the agony that the country is experiencing now.

I disagree.

There was/is no mainstream "Left" in the country at the first place.

We, for various reasons, like to believe that there was (or is) a "Left Movement" in the country. True, the LSSP, the CP and the numerous fractions of those two and the most recent the JVP and the equally numerous fractions were / are there. They are RED. They quote Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, Gramsci and so on. They talked about the 'Working class' too. Pathetically, and in reality none of those parties had a "Left (or Marxist/ Leninist) Program". If we prepared to accept or believe that there were/are "LEFT" movement, from that point onwards, whole of our analysis and the predictions get derailed.

The LSSP was the first, which introduced the Marxist elements to the Sri Lankan politics. They were more in Trotskyism. The CP was responsible for Stalinism and Shan for Maoism.

If we accept the Russian Revolution, as Kusal discussed in the Sri Lankan context, there was no "Capitalists" and nor "Working Class" in Russia as such, at least compare with Germany. If we accept the Chinese Revolution, there were no "developed" working class and capitalists in then China. Both the countries were escaping from the feudalism. If we accept the Cuban Revolution, there were no developed capitalists or working class. If we compare Russia, China and Cuba with the other developed countries such as England, France, and Germany and later on USA, the revolution should have been taken in the developed countries. The 'conditions' explained in the Marxist theories were more in those countries and conducive for the "revolution". But it did not happened in that way.

Then what was the "decisive factor" that led the revolutions in Russia, China and Cuba? It was the "Marxist Party" with a "Left (Marxist/ Leninist/ Maoist/ Castroist) Program.

The context in Ceylon in 1930 s was unique in itself and not that different to the contexts of Russia, China and Cuba. Of course the contexts were different from one to the other. There will be no similar situations and the contexts to compare with. There are vast differences in each situation. The Revolution takes place in different ways addressing the details and the differences in each context.

The "Left" in Russia, China and Cuba were equipped with true and capable "Communist Parties" which had a "Program" towards the Revolution. They were not necessarily or unnecessarily uttered the "Marxist" jargons. Lenin in Russia even contributed to the Marxist literature in a creative ways, addressing the Russian context in which the revolution took place. Mao and Castro did the same ways in China and in Cuba.

There were/are no mainstream "Left" in Sri Lanka. It is of course very hard to accept. But we very freely say that there was no "Left" in the Cambodia. Simply because we were not involved in it and we could look at it very objectively.

As Kusal (wrongly!) expressed, there is no need that the country should have 'capitalists' and 'working class' for a revolution. There should be a proper program based on the "Marxist Values" led by a Party for a socialist revolution.

The "Left" in the country is still to come; no matter there is capitalists or a working class.

Lalith Abeysinghe.

Sri Lanka:Non-existing Capitalist and Working Classes and growing “Sinhalaisation”of Business Community
By Kusal Perera

What really is wrong with Sri Lanka ? Where have we landed ourselves as a developing country after 61 years of independence ? And now, how fractured and beleaguered our "paradise" island is ? Thereafter, one should also ask, how stupid and foolish the "Left" had been in Sri Lanka . The "left" during the immediate pre and post independence period called shots in our national politics, deciding many things that have misled and misdirected the society all through the decades there after. Before coming to the current issue of how the "Left" (including those who pose as "pedigreed" Marxists) stupidly projected and explained the UNP (United National Party) as a "capitalist" political party, let us just remember how incompetent and amateurish the "Left" had been in Sri Lanka from the time it was ' Ceylon '.
First, the LSSP, the most articulate and democratic of the original "left" political parties and the traditional Communist Party (CP) were both talking of "working class" politics, when there was no such working class in then Ceylon , in the way they chose to define the working class. It was therefore obvious they could not become a mass national force, though they could in the early period become an urban "protest" force.
Second, the failure in understanding this fundamental mistake in their politics led them to portray the "Sinhala" break away faction from the UNP as a "progressive" force in order to work out a platform to defeat the UNP. "Progressive" they decided, because this break away SLFP was going on a "State take over" of private business as a principle stand of their economic policy. The result ? This anti-UNP "left" parties supported "Sinhalisation" of the State in lieu of "State take over" of private business, in the name of "nationalisation". Nationalisation for them was as good as "Socialism". Thus it was "socialism" under a racist government that turned the State into a Sinhala State. "Never mind" they thought, if the UNP could be defeated.
Why defeat the UNP and not the SLFP? Here in lies the big lie of the "left". There is no capitalist class in Sri Lanka as explained by the "left" activists and intellectuals. The UNP and the SLFP have almost the same social base in terms of political strength. The same business community funds them both. The Sri Lankan society is yet to develop and polarize into economic classes. Every segment in society still lives a quasi feudal life, with their attachments to caste and village. One great recent exposure of this social thinking and attitude was the aftermath of the 2004 December Tsunami. It was not only the ordinary man in the Colombo streets who ran to his village to see what relief could be organized, but the big time businessmen too. They took over most relief work in their own villages. For them Tsunami relief immediately meant their village and their own caste.
It's very plain. They live in feudalistic beliefs and social ties. We have businessmen and their professional advisors trekking to Kataragama annually, to fulfill their previous year's vow and to make another this year, expecting their businesses to flourish with the help of God Kandaswamy. This only explains the attitude, the competitive mind set of the business community. What we have in Sri Lanka is a "business community" scrapping out profits by what ever means and not a Capitalist "class" regenerating capital for growth.
It has to be so. Our economy is not an economy that stands or lives on "productive" capital. The plantation based economy that was introduced into a feudal society during the British rule, did not help dismantle the feudal society in full and generate new "capital". It only grafted a new money based plantation sector with other service appendages, into the existing feudal society leaving whole parts of it with old social values, social structures and also the traditional village hierarchy intact. What developed around all that in the colonial economy which we inherited after the 1948 independence was a service oriented consumer economy? Tea and rubber that could have opened up value added product based industries were not encouraged by the Colonial ruler and wasn't thought of after independence. The major focus was on a welfare State subsidized and run by the State. The private sector therefore grew as a trade and commerce sector, with the government playing the role of a regulator of trade, especially of import and export trade.
There after productive capital came in as grants and aid from pro-Soviet regimes since 1956, when the Bandaranayake government moved into a State centered economy. All corporations producing leather, ceramic, steel, rubber and timber products, were Soviet bloc gifts to be State owned. While most such enterprises were mismanaged and used for political advantage by ruling political parties, with other main service sector enterprises owned by private individuals also taken over by the State, there remained very little opportunity for a capitalist class to evolve and grow.
Nothing proves this better than the privatization of the commuter bus service. Three years after the economy was turned into a complete free market, there were no large capital investments available for the private bus service. Private buses are run by many hundreds of individuals with finance and leasing 25 years and plus after the privatization. They represent the social segment that indulges in small time business like groceries and local distributor agencies for consumer products. This is the main reason for this service sector to be totally and wholly ad hoc and thus unprofessional in its management and operations.
Such petty expansion of trade capital depends on State patronage. All recent frauds and corruption cases have exposed links between ruling regimes and the business community. From JKH group to Ceylinco group, from LMS Ltd to Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation privatisation, the issue is not only how unethical and unprofessional these big time business dealers have been, but also how well knit the ruling regimes have been with business persons in supporting them for all things vulgar in business.
Therefore, all through the past decades, the economic growth in Sri Lanka has not been able to shift ownership and social relationships based on capital. Economic activities have not been able to change attitudes and social values to suit the development of a modern society. Instead, it nurtured ethnic and caste polarization within the business community. With such polarization, political patronage became an important factor in competing for markets.
For such a sucking, dependent business community which tries to sustain itself and make profits in an economy with snail pace lopsided growth, competition to survive becomes important and often times crucial. It is this that led the majority Sinhala business community to gang up and take control of the State and organize themselves to have the larger share of the existing market. Over the years, politics of the business community thus became more and more Sinhala. The "Sinhala Veera Vidhanaya", basically a market oriented organization of the Sinhala urban middle class was seen promoting local trade associations to clear out non Sinhala traders from their towns and cities. Over the years, it became quite apparent that in urban areas where trade capital accumulates, the region becomes more Sinhala in politics.
Western province, the geographical area which enjoys the greater accumulation of national wealth at 51%, showed this "Sinhalisation" during the last general elections in 2004 April. In all 03 districts, the JHU which fielded Buddhist monks as candidates polled over 10% with Colombo the most commercialized of all districts giving them 18% of the votes polled at that election. These are districts with large percentages of non Sinhala and non Buddhist presence as well. Yet in predominantly Sinhala Buddhist districts like Hambantota, Moneragala and Anuradhapura , but with very much less accumulation of trade capital, the same JHU polls a falteringly less percentage of 0.1, 1.4 and 2.2 percentages respectively.
Such "Sinhalisation" of the business community is only possible with competition for a larger market share with State power. This has become more evident with the present regime that uses the Sinhala platform to wage war against Tamil separatism. The social call by the Rajapaksa regime, backed by Sinhala political groups like the JVP and the JHU that compete between them to be the best Sinhala representation in politics through war, has provided space for the majority Sinhala business community to use that Sinhala hype to carve out bigger shares in the market for themselves on ethnic bias.
The collective of Colombo based big business people as the "Maubima Lanka Padanama" (Foundation of Motherland Lanka) with its improvised Lion logo called the "Soorya Sinha" logo is the tragic example of such Sinhala dominance in the market. It is this business community that funded the UNP. They now want the UNP too to represent them as a Sinhala political party, as the party in waiting to form the next government. The crisis within the UNP in bringing a pro Sinhala political leadership represents this tussle for Sinhala political power. The UNP is thus far from a "capitalist" political party. It can not be in a country that lacks a capitalist and a working class.
What ails Sri Lanka is this backwardness in capitalist growth and not socialism. Sri Lanka needs to work on a subjective factor, an intellectual leadership to achieve such capitalist growth. The "left" in Sri Lanka is not one that could help generate such intellectual discussion. Sadly, it’s dead wood now.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Plantation People in Sri Lanka

The Plantation Community :Who Cares?

There are Tamils in the middle of the country too, not only in the North and East. They are over one million, concentrated mostly in the Central Province. They call Plantation Community. The Central Province is now in the news, but not the Tamils live in the middle of the country. Normally after an election, the people used to talk about the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and Up Country Peoples Front (UCPF), as, Mr. Thondaman and Mr. Chandrasekaran the leaders of the CWC and UCPF respectively, used to bargain with the "main parties' to form the government.

At the PC election, the CWC and the UCPF contested under the UPFA list and supported the government. It revealed, according to the results, that the CWC and the UCPF could not able to play a significant role and not contributed much to win the respective electorates. Instead the plantation Tamils have gone away from them. Mr. Vijitha Herath the Propaganda Secretary of JVP pointed out that the Tamils have not given their votes to the government, despite the fact that the CWC and UCPF were with the government.

The Tamil people were in the news for the last three decades, but not the Plantation People. Neither the people in the country nor the government talks about these people, though they are Tamil.

Let us briefly look at the story of the Plantation People.

They were first brought by the British in early 1810 to work in the Coffee plantation, followed by the Tea in late 1820s. By 1931, there were 693,000 Indian origin plantation people in the country. They have contributed immensely to develop this country and to earn the much needed foreign exchange in very difficult terrain and conditions for the last two centuries.

After the independence there was a concern of the ruling party (UNP) over these people. It was noted that these people have voted in favor of LSSP in the elections. By one of the first acts soon after the independence, No 14 of 1948, the Citizenship Act, the then government denied the citizenship for all the plantation people. It was followed by another act to deny the voting rights too.

They were suddenly become "stateless people". It is very hard to understand the agony link to the issue, by the people who have "citizenship". It was a problem for the country and to India as well. The both governments signed a Pact, the Sirima -Shasthri Pact in 1964 to settle this problem. There was a huge 'repatriation' process after signing the Pact. For both of the country, it was just a number game. The one page pact decided to distribute 975,000 people (the then population) in 7: 4 ratios to both countries. According to this agreement India agreed to take 525,000 people and Sri Lanka agreed to give citizenship to 300,000 people. The remaining 150,000 was subjected to a separate agreement later. The repatriation process is to be completed with in 15 years from the date of the agreement signed, which is 30 October 1964. There was no choice, 525,000 people have to go whether they like or not. The pact was signed with out consulting these people or their representatives. Some people left for India and the process stopped half way due to the war intensified between the government and the LTTE in mid 1970s.

At least some of them got citizenship!. Ironically, the people settled in India called "Sri Lankan Tamils" and the people settled in Sri Lanka called "Indian Tamils"!, which speaks volumes.

As the agreed process was not completed, the successive governments 'gave' citizenship to 'all' the people only as election pledge. Still some of these people do not possess proper documents to 'prove' their citizenship.

Then there was the famous "ethnic problem" comes in to the scene. It appears by the term it self, it has some thing to do with the ethnicity, more specifically Tamils. Though the Plantation people are Tamils, they were not a party to the problem. They became a party only when the violence happened in the country. They occurred as a retaliation or respond to the acts committed against the main ethnic group, the Sinhalese, by the arms groups of the North. The Plantation Tamils were subjected to violence. They had nothing to with the Northern Tamils and their struggle for a separate state.

There are several reasons for these people to not associate with this struggle. First, the Plantation Tamils maintain a different approach to gain their rights. They are mainly through 'satyagraha" and industrial actions ranging from token strikes to the full scale strikes. They had a working class tradition of "fighting", though they are basically agricultural workers. Secondly, the Plantation community is no way in agreement for a 'separate state' solution. It was not possible geographically, culturally and occupationally.
Thirdly, the Plantation Tamils felt that they will get a second class treatment from the Northern Tamils. Fourthly, they tried become part of the government by offering their support to form the government. There were lots of bargaining and they were able to get some resources to settle some of the problems face by the plantation people. As a result, the Plantation community was not taken or considered as a party even in the discussions to solve the 'ethnic problem'. They were left out from the 'ethnic problem'!, though they are Tamils.

The government is now preparing give a 'political solution' to the 'ethnic problem' soon, after defeating the LTTE militarily. It seems that the parties concerned are trying to seek solutions to the 'ethnic problem', especially the problems encountered by the Tamil speaking people.

What is the place these Tamil Plantation People get in these discussions and in the process? Are these discussions intended to solve the problems of the Plantation Tamils too? The problems range from getting very basic facilities to participation in governing. At the very first are they a party to these discussions? Secondly, if it so, who will represent them in the discussions? Both the questions have similar importance.

In a survey conducted among the plantation people in 2003 by the writer (with S. A. Ramya), the following questions were asked. The responses got from them indicated here as well.

Should the Plantation People be represented at the Peace process? (Yes 87%, No 11%, No response 1%)
Which Party should represent the Plantation People at the Peace process? (CWC 47%, UCPF 20%, UNP 21%, PA 2%, other 10%)
Which Party will best speak for the Plantation Sector at the Peace process? (CWC 43%, UCPF 21%, UNP 19%, JVP 4%, LTTE 2%, PA 1%)

This was in 2003. By 2009 the whole picture has changed.

Thondaman and Chandrasekaran are loosing their grounds. Both CWC and UCPF were originated from the Trade Union movement. A decade ago most of the plantation people are estate workers, thus almost all the workers are the members of one of the Trade Unions.

Now there is an increase of the 'non estate worker' category in the plantation. Many people work outside the estate and they live in the estate. Most of the youngsters are now 'educated'. It was not the same a decade ago. The parents want their children to study. Earlier, the parents themselves send their children to work as domestic servants or in boutiques and shops in the town. Most of the youngsters do not like to work in the estates. There are no job opportunities for the educated youth with in the estates. They tend to go out from the estate. Hence, these "non workers" do not automatically become members of the two parties, the CWC and the UCPF.

The plantation people have showed the reluctance of being a "plantation person". They look for more "national" status. It mostly appears in the youth. Hence there is deterioration in the 'local', 'regional' and 'sectoral" politics.

There is an ambition with the people for mainstreaming the plantation community. Some time ago the Plantation People were segregated. There were " estate schools", "estate dispensary", "estate cooperative", "estate lines" "estate roads", "estate people" and Estates"!, indicating a "different kind".

The Plantation people now have broken this segregation with maintaining an immense patience. Most of them have shown the readiness of being a Sri Lankan, but not an "Excluded Plantation Person" as such. It includes the same opportunities in education, employment, status, dignity, land and freedom.

The country should not waste this opportunity and should not wait for them to fight for their rights in a different way.

Lalith Abeysinghe.