*Wilson, Jeyaratnam A.
The Break-Up of
Sri Lanka : The Sinhalese-Tamil Conflict
published by C.Hurst & Company, London, Orient Longman Ltd., 1988.
from the Preface:
"I was reluctant to write this book, and for a long time after 1983, I could not
resolve the matter in my conscience. A major factor was that I was close to President J.R.
Jayewardene in the critical phase from 1978 to 1983. But as I kept reading with horror the
operations by security forces of the island state, I realised I could no longer be a
silent witness. The community of scholars interested in Ceylon had to be told what
happened when I was intermediary in the Sinhalese Tamil dispute in the years 1978-83. I
realised too that an analysis of the political process of which I had an inside track
since the island's independence in 1948 would place in context my role in the years
I have used 'Ceylon' advisedly because that is how the country was called for well over
150 years before Sri Lanka was unilaterally introduced into the vocabulary of
international usage in 1972; this was done without the consent of the principal minority,
the Tamils, the community to which I belong. Sri Lanka is used in the title to convey to
readers evidence of the disintegration of the polity under its new name.
My considered view is that Ceylon has already split into two entities.
At present this is a state of mind; for it to become a territorial reality is a
question of time. Patchwork compromises, even if underwritten by New Delhi, are
passing phenomena. The fact of the matter is that under various guises the
Sinhalese elites have refused to share power with the principal ethnic minority, the
Tamils. The transfer of power by Britain to the Sinhalese ethnic majority in 1948
brought in its wake an unfortunate train of events which
can best be described as a loss of perspective on the part of the Sinhalese political
elites. Their anxiety for power led to the abandonment of principle.
My interpretative analysis is based on inside knowledge of political events, which in
turn is derived from my acquaintance with many of the political leaders of the Sinhalese
and Tamils and important members of their respective elites. Most instructive, however,
were two leading statesmen. One of these was
father-in-law S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, who led a revived Tamil nationalism and with whom
I was in frequent contact from 1948 till his death in 1977. He was at the centre of events
as a leading Opposition figure.
The other was President Jayewardene, whom I came to know intimately in the years
1978-83. He was in many ways on a lonely eminence. He does not have a helpful cabinet, and
came to office very late in his life. Whenever I was visiting Colombo from Canada, I spent
much time with him, sometimes every day. I travelled about Ceylon with him, and was
occasionally his only companion. We had wide-ranging discussions, but I have only referred
to selected matters relevant to this book because of confidentiality and respect for our
relationship in those years. Mrs Jayawardene, a gracious lady with considerable political
acumen, joined us at times in our discussions.
I have tried to treat my subject in consonance with my academic calling, and thus with
my conscience. I have presented the facts in a historical frame of reference. The
authenticity of many of the facts can be verified in due course through the archival
arrangements I have made with Columbia University in the City of New York. There is a
proviso that the documents be made accessible after a thirty-year time lapse. For the rest
I have depended on my own notes and on primary and secondary sources.
We live with a Third World
largely of artificial
sovereign geographical expressions. The proliferation of mini-states is inevitable.
Ethnicity transcends barriers of region, religion, class and social distinctions. Leaders
and political parties in these post colonial states, whether democratic or authoritarian,
respond to pressures from their ethnic groupings. My view of the future is reinforced by
the certainty that political problems owe their existence to circumstances that are of
more than 2,500 years' standing* especially when the political processes have been
modernised. When the geopolitical situation has also been activated, the hopes of an
island unity are dim...
*Apart from the
political activities of the Buddhist
clergy in independent Ceylon (and in the days of the Sinhalese kingdoms),
D.C. Wijewardene's The Revolt in the
Temple: Composed to Commemorate 2500 Years of the Land, the Race and the Faith
(Colombo, 1983) conveys the depth of Sinhalese Buddhist feeling on the need to safeguard
the Sinhalese people and Sinhalese Buddhism.