‘Majoritarianism wins with the acquiescence of the Minorities’ ?

-Guruparan Kumaravadivel-

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.


7 responses to “‘Majoritarianism wins with the acquiescence of the Minorities’ ?

  1. Well the minority doesn’t want to accept the majoritarianism because they themselves don’t like to be the minority and governed by the majority thus want to be the majority.. In that sense no one can criticize the majoritarianism.. And no one can divide an island due to ethnic differences because, firstly it will result in natural resource management of the entire island that would equally impact on the majority and minorities both. Secondly the creation of this island is meant to be one for its own survival and any division of the island and natural resources would be detrimental to the continual existence of the Island and its inhabitants (Majority + Minorities)

  2. The professor is partly right, however there are many other factors that contribute to majoritarian hegamony. A few of the factors to note:
    1.There is a big difference between the minority party of the 1950s and today. In the 50s the parties were truly representing their people and their aspiration are represented since the social fabric was strong then and the political leadership was an integral part of the minority community where there was a system of command and control within the community due to the quality of the social fabric.
    Today the electoral system, 4 decades of war and its ambience of visible majoritarian hegamony in the guise of fighting terror and conversion of minority parties as a transactable comodity has led to what the Prof call “giving up with great pleasure” a clear indication of minority parties really not representing the aspiration of its people whom they represent. Today no minority community has a system of command and control as a result of fragmentation of the community by their own leaders to pick the crumbs thrown at them by the majority dominant parties mostly to their individual benefit. Which majoritarian parties leverage to benefit from.
    2.Decency, goodwil, civilized behaviour is no more among the so called democratic parties and most of the politicians who represent their people are of questionable education, social, moral, ethical and professional background and their capacity to exist is “the survival of the fittest”. Therefore no civilized being will come forward to represent the people through party politics. This is an indication of how roots to terrorism is bred among all communities in the island by the socalled leaders not delivering goods to their people. Because, when peoples aspirations are not represented by their representatives, when people, whose true and proven capable representative are precluded by the system from active participation, the people will be left with no option but to fight to get their goods delivered.
    3.Majoritarian behavior today will never build a nation that is beneficial for all. As long as the majority community believes that they are majority and therefore a previledged class, the minorities will never submit to such hegamony as human beings. Since the currency of the humans are righteousness and good conduct and therefore to build a nation the majority should learn to accept and reciprocate with the minorities as humans and vice versa. Otherwise, this tug of war will continue to generations upon generations until the islanders are decimated by themselves.

  3. ‘great pleasure’ ? no kidding. this guy is not for real. he was on to the correct solution in the first place. Coercion and the fear factor. control basically. no community will willingly step back and be trodden over. everybody fights for equality. The politics and the governance of this country has made it clear in no uncertain terms who the superior race is and who everyone else would bow down to.

    as for ‘minority politics lacks imagination and flexibility’, i think it’s only the minority politics that is allowed to climb to the public eye that is seen as such. idealistic and revolutionary minority politics will be quickly quelled under the existing system. mayhaps that was how the LTTE was originally born. interesting write up on an abstract socio-psychological topic. thanks guru!

  4. He is correct. Within a democratic system majority get a chance discriminate the minority. But this is not uniquely base on ethnicity. Nor this is unique to Sri Lanka. American did the same this with color people back then and now they are doing that with homosexuals and other who not looks and behaves like the majority. And so do us. I think the solution have to broad and apply base of deferent set of rules. Whatever it is, I think American constitution do a lot to solve that problem and we have to great deal to learn from that.

  5. What you nor Uyangoda doesn’t seem to address is how do you bring about development operating within the reality of a Majoritarian democracy. The terrorist option has clearly failed and no other future terror outfit will ever come close to what the LTTE once was.

    If and when the LTTE is defeated — after it looses it’s territorial control — which seems likely to happen, one scenario is that there will be organic development.

    Once violence drops, high security zones are phased out and freeflow of trade is established, you will find the ‘resources’ of the state supposedly controlled by the majority matters less than you think. and certainly less than it mattered when the conflict began.

    The other process is for the ‘minority’ politics to have this vision and flexibility they lack and exploit openings that will come thanks to the instability of political coalitions so as to be the ‘king makers’ in the future. For whatever it’s worth, despite their small numbers the JHU and the JVP have managed to fundamentally change the political debate by (for the most part) merely manipulating the weakness of the electoral system.

  6. Machan Deane,

    1) You say: “Once violence drops, high security zones are phased out and freeflow of trade is established, you will find the ‘resources’ of the state supposedly controlled by the majority matters less than you think.”

    Explain. Isn’t what is happening in the East – govt aided colonisation – giving any indication about the importance of sharing access and control over resources? If you dont trust me look at the CTMC report and the ICG report.

    2. What i meant by flexibility is that the LTTE will have to become sophisticated with its political agenda – there is a lot of easy things they can do with regard to HR (including recruitment of child soldiers) which will help with their legitimacy problem. They also need to get serious about autonomy and internal self determination.

    3. Machan this parliamentary gimmicks were tried out by ITAK from the 50s to 1970. It didnt work because of the first pass the post system and because the Govt always retracted from what they promised (Banda Chelva pact etc being examples). Oppositions used to always oppose any deal as sell outs. Minority political maneuvering in influencing government creation might work under the present electoral system. That will depend on a lot of factors including being able to put up a solid united front (the Muslims dont influence anymore for example because they are scattered). And you think any government would want to be seen forming a government with ITAK? Leave out all of the above. The snow ball has gathered so much of moss down the hill that you cant wish to roll it back. The talk now is about autonomy. Tamils cant be asked to go back to old parliamentary politics. That can never be mooted in Tamil politics. Even Douglas or Anandasangaree or for that matter Karuna would moot it.

  7. So again I ask, what’s your bright idea?

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