The following extract is from Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda’s October article to the EPW (Economic and Political Weekly) dated 25 October 2008. A full version of the article is available from tamilnation here.
“I believed for quite some time that ethnic majoritarianism is a political condition that the political leaders of the majority community impose by means of coercion on the ethnic minorities. It accords an unequal, at best second class, status to the minorities. Minorities do not accept majoritarianism and they resist it. That is why ethnic conflicts flare up. Observing how the Tamil and Muslim political parties in Sri Lanka have come to accept the second class and unequal status with great pleasure, I changed, realising that my understanding of majoritarianism was an incomplete one.
I now know that ethnic majoritarianism is not necessarily coercive. It has a strong element of consent of the minorities, or at least their political leaders. Majoritarianism is completed when the political representatives of the minorities accept, with happiness and even in intense competition with each other, the condition of inequality. They do so in exchange of other benefits which are usually couched in the respectable language of “development assistance to our community”.
That is what the 25 years of civil war has done to the minority rights project in Sri Lanka.”
The part italicised is my own emphasis from the original. It is a very short article and the excerpt above comes at the tail end of the article.
I am unable to agree with the professor’s analysis (which is not detailed possibly because he was constrained by space) and hence my disagreement with his ‘new conclusion’ about majoritarianism. Prof Uyangoda’s reference to the minorities accepting a second class status is possibly a conclusion resulting from his analysis of Karuna’s, Douglas’s and possibly Thondaman’s politics.
I do not think the minority ever willingly gives into majoritarianism. I do not think that they give it up with ‘great pleasure’. The fact that the minorities ‘give up’ is essentially related and directly linked to coercive majoritarianism. The Prof seems to tag this ‘giving up’ as unconnected with coercive majoritarianism. Its a victory of one over the other, where the victorious picks the new leaders of the minority. I would say Thondaman, Karuna and Douglas are all examples of this. The fact that these political parties have given up does not mean that the entire community has given up. These political parties have ‘given up’ because they were unable to survive in their attempts to resist coercive majoritarianism. The petty agendas of these political parties and their leaders cannot be taken as a give up by a minority. I can understand a war weary population seeking out developmental assistance – an assistance which is reliant on the resources the majority has almost exclusive control over. Hence destruction, starvation and hunger is a tool of coercive majoritarianism. War wearediness can also result because of the leaders of the minority struggle lacking startegic political vision as in the case of LTTE. The dillema of minority politics in Sri Lanka is not because it has given it up with ‘great pleasure’ as Prof Uyangoda calls it. It is because 1) coercive majoritarianism having been able to cleverly stick to the fundamentals of majoritarian democracy (having periodic elections) has succeeded or appears to have succeeded in winning over minority politics both by the use of tools associated with majoritarian democracy (again elections and numbers) and through the use of arms and 2) because minority politics lacks imagination and flexibility.