The grid map of political opinion in Sri Lanka

by Dayan Jayatilleka

How do we classify Sri Lankan opinions and the opinions about Sri Lanka? One broad categorization would be between those who think that the Tigers are the problem and those who think the Tigers are the solution. Most Sinhalese belong to the first category and many Tamils, especially in the Diaspora, to the latter.

There is a more subtle version of this classification. There are those who think the Tigers are part of the problem and those who think they are part of the solution. Most Sinhalese and some Tamils fall into the first category and most Tamils into the latter.

Then there is a quadripartite way to slice it. (a) Those who think that the Tigers (and their supporters/sympathizers) are the sole problem, (b) those who think that the Tigers are the main problem or a major problem, (c) those who think the Tigers are the sole solution and (d) those who think the Tigers are the - or an imperative part of - the solution.

Here in category (b) too, one could distinguish two subcategories:

(i) those who think the Tigers are the main problem (“the primary contradiction”), the resolution of which is the prerequisite for the resolution – though not the addressing -- of all others,

(ii) those (like the UTHR-J, the SLDF and much of the human rights community) who think that they are a major problem but not the main one, and are co-equal with or increasingly secondary to the Government, the military or ‘Sinhala chauvinism’.

For the first grouping (a), those who think that Tiger terrorism (and its allies, local and foreign) constitutes the only problem, the solution is simple: eliminate the Tigers.

For the third and fourth groupings (c) & (d) too, the solution is very simple: talk to the Tigers.

For the second grouping, (b) i.e. for those who consider the Tigers as the main or the most crucial problem but not the only one; for those who think that there is another question, that of building a Sri Lankan nation which accommodates and reconciles Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim identities, matters are less simple.

In terms of policy practice, this category (b) subdivides between (I) those who think that the Tigers should be negotiated with and (II) those who feel that this suggestion confuses issue with agency; confuses the need to address the Tamil issue with the need to talk to the Tamil Tigers. Thus (b) (I) unfortunately lends itself to conflation with or being perceived as on a continuum with (c).

Those belonging to grouping (II) above, i.e. (b) (II), the pro-State Sinhala Realists and anti-Tiger Tamils, argue that there is an issue of identity and political space that needs to be negotiated but that the Tigers are the major, though not the sole, obstacle to designing and implementing a viable solution. They disagree that there is nothing to talk about which cannot be resolved by pure economic development and simple (re)integration. They also disagree that the talks should encompass the Tigers, not least because the history of talks and ceasefires has been disastrous.

As for solutions, if the issue is one state or two, the basic division is between those are for a separatist two state solution, perhaps leading to confederation (Tigers, pro-Tiger Diaspora, pro-Tiger Tamil Nadu elements, some Southern peace NGO elements) and those who are for a one state solution (the vast majority of Sri Lankans and the international state system).

Those for a single state solution divide up between those for:

* A centralized unitary state with zero or minimum devolution

* A federal system and

* A unitary system with maximum devolution (13th amendment full implementation/13 Plus One/13 Plus).

If the issue is the war, or war/peace, or war/negotiations then apart from the obvious division into ‘pro-war’ and ‘anti-war’ camps, there are further subdivisions observable.

n Pro-war, pro-Tiger (hardcore Tigers, pro-Tiger elements in Diaspora)

n Pro-war, anti-Tiger (UPFA, EPDP, TMVP, Karuna)

n Anti war, pro-Tiger (Tiger sympathizers in Tamil Nadu and Diaspora, who want to prevent a military defeat; pro-CFA ‘peace NGO’ lobby, NLF Trotskyists)

n Anti-war, anti-Tiger (India’s CPI-M, UTHR, SLDF, elements of LSSP)

To put the same matter differently, adding on devolution, the Sri Lankan politico-ideological pie slices up as follows, into six positions, three pro-Tiger and three anti-Tiger:

(1) Pro-Tiger and anti-devolution, because they are pro-Tamil Eelam/confederation;

(2) Pro-Tiger and pro-federalism (eg.TNA);

(3) Pro-Tiger/soft on Tigers, pro-devolution (UNP, ex-CBK peaceniks, some Leftists).

(4) Anti-Tiger, pro-federalism/Indian quasi-federalism (e.g. TULF, EPRLF, UTHR-type);

(5) Anti-Tiger, anti-devolution (eg. JHU, NFF except Nandana Goonetilleke);

(6) Anti-Tiger, pro-devolution (EPDP, Karuna, TMVP, SLFP, CPSL, LSSP, PLOT)

If the issues of pro and anti Govt, which means in reality, pro and anti-President Rajapaksa, are added on, together with the issue of devolution, the situation is as follows:

(A) Pro-Tiger, anti-war, anti-MR/Govt, pro-devolution/federalism (UNP leadership, ‘peace’ NGOs, INGOs)

(B) Anti-Tiger, anti-war, anti-Govt/MR, pro devolution/federalism (UTHR-type, CBK sympathizers)

(C) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, anti-Govt/MR, pro-devolution/federalism (UNP base, TULF)

(D) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, anti-Govt/MR, anti-devolution (JVP)

(E) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-Govt/MR, pro-devolution (SLFP, CPSL, EPDP, Karuna)

(F) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-Govt/MR, anti-devolution (JHU, NFF)

Given the character of the Lankan crisis, chiefly a crisis of armed secessionism, Sri Lanka is best served by those who take an anti-Tiger, pro-military position.

Given the character and proven track record of the Tigers, the anti-Tiger cause is best served by a pro-war, pro-military position.

Given the nature of the UNP leadership, that anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-military position is sustainable only through a stand that is pro-Govt and pro-President Rajapaksa.

Thus the interests of the country are best served by the anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-military, pro-Mahinda Rajapakse, pro-Govt position and camp.

Given that sustainable security and peace require the support of India; that sustainable prosperity requires the support of the world community; that no element of the world community from the Global North or South, East or West, supports an anti-devolution position and all of them urge reasonable devolution upon Sri Lanka, the future of the country is best served by the pro-devolution stand, to the extent that it is the sole viable stand.

Given that (going by voting patterns and opinion polls) the overwhelming majority of the country’s citizenry are anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-military, pro-President Rajapaksa, the pro-devolution cause cannot be served from outside that camp. It cannot be productively served from within the anti-state, anti-military camp or the federalist camp.

Given the domestic realities, the cause of the Tamil people is most viably served by an anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-Govt/MR, pro-devolution (non-federal) position.

Given both the domestic and international realities, Sri Lanka is best served by the positions and forces at the saddle point, the point of intersection, namely the anti-Tiger, pro-military, pro-war, pro-Govt, pro-devolution position and political elements. This then is the stand that must be taken, the ground that must be converged on, the position that must be strengthened and these, the political forces that must be supported.

(These are the strictly personal views of the author)


Thus the interests of the country are best served by the anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-military, pro-Mahinda Rajapakse, pro-Govt position and camp = GENOCIDE + establsishment of SINHALA ONLY NATION

Sounds Silly to you. Yes, the TRUTH hurts more than the Shells fired from Mortars and artelary.

Posted by: April | March 11, 2009 02:37 AM

I always liked the Dr Dayan Jayathilake's analysis. I was a vivid reader of Guardian magazine edited by Mervin Silva. I met Dr Dayan as a young student once in Soviet book exhibition and asked him what he thinks of Latin American Revolution struggle, Che Guevara and JVP. He replied JVP is not following Latin American path or Che Guevara eve though they seems to do that and JVP will lose if they go on like that. I have also attended his speech in Girl guide Headquarters where he supported Tamil Liberation Struggle. (to some extent) I told about Dayan to my JVP mentor at the time and he said Dayan is a CIA agent who works for Marga Institute and advice me to completely ignore Dayan's views. later I left JVP and supported Tamil Liberation struggle with Trotskytes. (I have attended Dr Sucharitha Gamlath's lectures at the time about the self Determination of Tamils)
That was in 80s.
I am now in a position - Anti Tiger/LTTE, Anti Tamil Diaspora - Pro UTHR(J), (PRO Rajan Hoole -side)- Yet Pro Mahinda-Pro Government - Pro Military Victory (no other choice) against Tigers and Pro Devolution.
Most people (friends) call me Sinhala Racist because I support Mahinda R.

Posted by: gamaya | March 11, 2009 11:03 AM

I think there is a vital category missing...one that too often gets lumped in with "pro-Tiger" and "anti-war". Specifically - "minimum cost" vs "any cost".

My observation is that the UNP leadership is not "Pro-Tiger" but given their pro-business nature more focussed on "minimum cost". Arguably, the UNP's modus operandi of sending Long-Range "Reconnaisance" Patrols (LRRP) to assasinate LTTE leaders right from the start of the CFA, along with engineering the Karuna split-off, were very low-cost (but long-term) ways of detroying the LTTE. This is similar to the UK policy towards the IRA during the "Troubles" (the unspoken policy was to reduce the problem to an "acceptable level of violence" until they gave up and joined the democratic mainstream) and fairly similar to the underlying principles of KPS Gill's counter-terror approach in Punjab, both of which worked.

One could argue that the level of threat the LTTE posed to the island's borders meant the slowly-slowly approach contained the risk that partition might have occurred before the LTTE had been sufficiently weakened...but I do not accept this as the area under LTTE control was not of strategic significance either in terms of people (the bulk of the Tamil population have been under govt control since 1996) or land (the Vanni contains no major resources or strategic locations). Once the East had been recaptured (hence Trincomalee secured) then the combination of LRRP raids and bombing (given the succesful use of UAVs) could have taken out the LTTE leadership, their main artillery and airfield assets over the period of 2 or 3yrs without the huge loss of life to civilians and Sinhala youth and the consequent damage to Sri Lanka's image.

Posted by: Alex | March 11, 2009 12:56 PM

Goodness me!

Your point is?

Posted by: Ranjo | March 12, 2009 02:30 AM

There is no need to split hairs over this. What the President needs to do at the end of the war is to bring in the rule of law. Irrespective of party loyalties etc., law has to be above everything else. Then, he needs to take steps to develop the North. There should be no room for corruption a la Mihin Lanka. If he gets immersed in the euphoria of victory and forget that, God help Sri Lanka, for the country will suffer for another 60 years.
When there is opportunity and hope, the ordinary tamil people will not take up arms. What he needs to create is opportunity for the locals and not the tamil diaspora who will never return to Sri Lanka. The so called aspirations of the diaspora is not important. What is important is to look after the locals. If petty politics is allowed to continue as it has for the last 60 years, then you can kiss good bye to all the sacrifices that everyone made.

Posted by: Vasanthan | March 12, 2009 03:57 AM

Cheers Man.


Posted by: aratai | March 12, 2009 05:10 PM

All these permutations and combinations do not mean anything in reality. Social injustice commenced with independence and safeguards against it in successive constitutions were removed.Majority rule was used for repression of minorities instead of improving their lot in society.Objections were met with brute force, by law enforcers who were rewarded for their role by successive regimes. Perpetration of injustice was entrenched by the Prevention of Terrorism Act which empowered law enforcers to commit injustice under its cover.Fraudulent elections elected regimes who further corrupted and bought over those willing to support them.Now even the armed forces have been given police powers.
All governments were elected by severely flawed elections.
The present regime has hidden the reports of all presidential commissions and reports submitted to COPE to enable its existence. The conflict was the excuse to bury all sins of politicians and officials. Diplomats like the writer have to toe the line to exist. Spin doctor mercenaries whitewash the regime.The 110 Mega Cabinet has been lately enriched by a former militant who was accused of killing 600 policemen and many other cvilians in the eastern province, but his sins are now excused. Now he does not speak of the VIP who gave him a bogus passport to travel to UK. Journalists who exposed all this have been eliminated. The snatching of dissidents goes on,latest victim being Prf.G.Dissanaike and this is explained by a minister who says such abductiions are done by groups to bring the government into disrepute.
Support of the community is unnecessary for this regime tio exist.
The cause of the tamil people will be served by a regime which beleives in and enforces social justice. Maybe this is why the Ethnicity Census has been commenced/enforced in the western province.
Let us also hope that tamils displaced by the "high security zones" will be resettled in their homes,lands and livelihoods as ordered by the Supreme Court aslast year.

Posted by: Nathan | March 13, 2009 05:30 PM

Very sad indeed to expect a SL government 'free of corruption' - have you ever heard of it?

More arms we buy better it is for some one!

Communalism is at its height - no victory for the country.

We have lost the small possibility of a well developed Ceylon in the fifties and sixties!

Soon SL will be at the bottom end!

Posted by: Canaga | March 14, 2009 03:32 AM

Surely Dayan, you are fully aware that the discrimination created by State Terrorism in the fifties and sixties, created of the problems, and the formation of the LTTE. So obviously the LTTE are the imperative part of the solution.

Since SL government terrorism led to the creation of LTTE, it is not the cause of the problem.

How can the Tamils join to build SL nation, when they have no confidence with the SL Governments which have torn up so many signed agreements?

The responsibility lies entirely with SL government.

Posted by: Canaga | March 15, 2009 04:37 AM

Srilanka has mostly been served by those who take an anti-Tiger, pro-military position since the war began and only change of attitude we saw was during short lasting Ranil's government who came to power by offering LTTE 10 years of ISGA of North and East. When it came to practice he did the opposite. LTTE realised this only after Karuna's split which was too late. The international security net work created by Ranil thanks to the post 09/11 attack and Karuan's split were the main turing points in LTTE untimely demise. Of course present governtment capitalised on it to hit final death blow as Dutugemunu did it thousand years ago to ailing king Elara.
I do not see any miracles in present military gains at a cost of ? 12000 solidiers and almost empty government coffers.
When it came to a negotiated solution this anti-Tiger, pro-military lobby was a total historical failure.
Only thing they are good at is stiiring national anti- Tamil sentiment and inflating their own bank accounts. If look at the history with an open mind you will see it. This happened in stark day light.

Posted by: Dananjaya Dissanayake | March 17, 2009 06:08 AM


LRRP raids were not UNP, they were under CBK, with Lionel Balagalle as army commander. the UNP accused the DMI ( directorate of military intelligence) a vital part of the LRRP strategy, of plotting to kill Ranil, and signed the CFA under the unilateral disarming of other Tamil groups provision of which the LTTE murdered the anti-Tiger Tamils who were symbiotically linked with the LRRP operations.

Posted by: dayan jayatilleka | March 18, 2009 09:44 AM

Dear Gamaya,

I recall the Girl Guide Hqrs speech, but not the date. Could you kindly give me the dates ( years) of the Soviet book exhibition and the Girl Guides'Hq speech?

Posted by: dayan jayatilleka | March 21, 2009 02:24 PM

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