ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Conflict and Development in Sri Lanka

in Sri Lanka Paradise Poisoned: Learning about Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka

Conflict and Development

in Sri Lanka

Paradise Poisoned: Learning about Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars

by John Richardson; International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, 2005; pp 746, $ 25.


his book is the result of a 17-year project devoted to understanding the linkages between deadly conflict, terrorism and development, by viewing them through the lens of Sri Lanka’s postindependence history, from 1948 through 1988. It follows that the governments under the presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaranatunga-Bandaranayaka are not focused.

The author’s main thesis is that the deadly conflict arose due to development failures. Development failures cause social pathologies that contribute to intensifying violence. Intensifying violence makes development failures more probable, which results in a vicious circle (p 55). He launches several times the metaphor of society as an organism that contracts lung cancer, which can be avoided by refraining from smoking. He presents “fever charts” of violent political conflicts by comparing different periods within the given time frame. In an analogy to with smokers, he advises “remedies” to political leaders who are concerned about catalysing civil war to implement policies that address the material and psychic needs of people and to refrain from oppressing them. Those who failed in doing so were S W R D Bandaranayaka, Sirimavo Bandaranayaka and Junius Jayawardene. During their time, we find suspension of constitutional guarantees, arrests, exiles and executions, restrictions on the formation of political parties and censorship of the media. The author has identified 10 development failures: (1) unsustainable entitlement programmes, (2) polarising political rhetoric and tactics, (3) “winner take all” official language policies, (4) failure to devolve power – the “outstation” mentality in implanting Sri Lanka’s development strategies and programmes, (5) halfhearted reforms of secondary and higher education, coupled with discriminatory university admissions policies targeting Tamil youth, (6) perpetuation of governmentcontrolled economic management schemes long after their economic inefficacy had been demonstrated, (7) the over-ambitious and over-politicised economic reform policies of J R Jayawardene, (8) inadequate funding, Sinhalisation and politicisation of security forces, (9) use of repressive measures to secure the United National Party’s parliamentary majority for an additional term in 1982, and (10) the attempt to restore order in the north-east (especially in volatile Jaffna province) with military forces that were clearly incapable of achieving that goal (pp 576-77). Knowing the development failures is of course the first step to avoid them like the smoker avoids smoking, but the author formulates 10 more imperatives to prevent deadly conflict and terrorism (pp 591-603).

The book provides a key understanding of the causes of conflict during the period 1948-88. This gives some satisfaction and makes it an exciting reading, no matter its voluminous size. What more can be said about the following period from 1988 to 2006? True, there can be more “fever charts”, lists of development failures can be repeated, and more accounts of the costs of destruction can be set up, but will the thesis change? I am trying to indicate that theories that explain (almost) everything in the past, even it is for a short period and which seem to make the future predictable, have to be examined carefully. Such theories are sometimes too good to be true.

The author writes from the perspective of the governmental administration of the unitary state of Sri Lanka. From that perspective he can rightly and justly talk about development failures and hold the governments responsible for the development in Tamil areas also. Most specialists will agree with him. But if we take the perspective of the Tamil resistance movement, governmental development failures were causing resentment only up to the 1960s. From the 1970s onwards demands for development were replaced by demands for self-determination under the leadership of the LTTE. The concept of receiving welfare from the central government was replaced by the concept of creating welfare independent of Colombo. We learn from the author that human decisions play an important role in social systems (p 100). The decision of the LTTE goes far beyond yearning for social reforms from governments. Concepts like relative deprivation and development failures relating the Tamils to a governmental administration have been suspended by the LTTE. The LTTE has not sent almost 18,000 young men and women to die on the battlefield for social reforms. The LTTE and political scientists will read this book as being an overhang of Tamil aspirations from a time gone long ago. The author’s repeated recommendations to present politicians to listen to the people’s aspirations are from that perspective an atavism. The author’s conviction that failures can be corrected is extremely sympathetic, but it is wishful thinking. A state is not like a smoker who can recover health by refraining from smoking. If the author intends to write a book about the period 1988-2006, I suggest considering the perspective of the LTTE also. It is the perspective of two separate states, one de jure and the other de facto.



Economic and Political Weekly October 21, 2006

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