Q How do you analyze the root causes of the ethnic problem?
We are a very old society. From the very beginning, there were racial differences of so called Aryans and Dravidians. With the passage of time, while the Sinhala people developed their identity, people in the North and the East were also growing towards a national identification. It happened with the expansion of Capitalism. Actually, the national question arises due to market and the capitalist economy. Earlier, there was not much of an exchange. People accepted whoever ruled. Their own villages functioned separately. Their cultures were dispersed. Various types of cultures could exist under the ruler identified as Sinhala or Tamil. When we say Dutu Gemunu as the Sinhala king, there would have been villages with different cultures such as Tamil-speaking or otherwise. They combined the Kingdom State. When the market economy started, the integration of people together through the exchange, there came about the development of a homogeneous society. Caste barriers broke down. People began to get identified by their language as large entities. The language develops with the expansion of the market economy. In Sri Lanka too, Sinhala people’s unification appeared very recently, may be about 100 years ago. Earlier, they would say they were people of Govigama caste, Salagama caste, etc. That tendency disappeared.
Sinhala became the common identification for all around 100 years ago. The identification of Sinhala and growth of their nationality took place towards a latter period actually. Then, the Tamils also started similar tendencies more recently during the 1950s. That development towards nationality took place along with the development of Capitalism. In a situation like this, it should be allowed in order that the national identification to grow. With that the language and culture will develop. Knowledge will also develop with the national integration. There will be literature and philosophical understanding getting developed. In Sri Lanka, there is the Sinhala identity. With that, there is the philosophical understanding of Buddhism. Tamils, even under difficult circumstances, became a nationality particularly in the election periods due to the conflict of interests and the idea of having a Tamil State in order to develop their own culture, language and so on. Because of that, in 1956, they contested as a Tamil National State party or the Federal Party.
There was the idea to have a Tamil State. These developments are parallel. Due to democratic revolutions throughout Europe, people were allowed to develop their nationalities. That became one of the biggest tasks of the revolution. Napoleon and other leaders allowed national development, having a common understanding through integration. A person who really discussed this matter seriously is Lenin. Lenin wrote a thesis with many sections explaining the historical development of nationality and the need to recognize the right to self-determination of each nationality. He said it was a task of human development. It was to decide whether a nationality should live together with somebody or not. Equality, autonomy and right to self determination are the three principles to be followed. Actually, all these principles are now accepted by the UN. Today, the UN has recognized that nations should be treated with equality, autonomy and with the right to self-integration.
Q You say it is a phenomenon created by Capitalism. But, there is a school of thought that the problem was created by the colonial rulers. How do you respond?
This is a natural development of Capitalism. Capitalism came through colonial rulers. We were not a Capitalist society. We had an Asiatic mode of production. With the arrival of Europeans here, we also developed their type of village structures and urban structures within Capitalism. With the expansion of the market, we got our own merchant class emerging. The European idea rooted here. Then, if somebody says the problem came through Europeans, it is true because Capitalism also came with them. That is an organic development of history. Some countries that were not conquered were also developing similar trends. For example, Thailand was not conquered. But, the same problems are now arising there as well. It is a problem of the development of Capitalism and market economy. The idea of nationhood comes organically. Then, there were movements. While there were Sinhala movements such as the Panadura Vadaya, there was similarly Hindu nationalism in Tamil areas. And, there were Muslim aspects too. In this manner, the idea of nationalism was activated. The merchant class, that was created with the expansion of Capitalism, funded them. Here also, the merchant class in the down south, such as the Hewavitaranas promoted the Sinhala identity.
Q In this context, how valid is the homeland concept for a particular group of people?
When you break down caste barriers and all, then the identity becomes a feature. In earlier, societies, people were identified by the caste. In Jaffna, people say they belong to different castes. When the language issue came up, it became geographical. This area is Sinhala. That area is Tamil. That is the way it was seen.
Q Actually, what is your view on the demand for constitutional recognition of these areas by ethnic identities?
People mostly concentrated in a particular area will call it their homeland. In a particular area, if the population is 90 percent Sinhalese, then, it will become their homeland.
Q Does it mean that the North and the East should be recognized as the homeland of Tamil-speaking people?
Now, we have to. Demarcation has been made by the development of economy.
Q You mean the demarcations made by the British for provincial administration?
I am referring to demarcation of market mechanism. People go around buying and selling. They identify the Tamil area because of the language and all. The area is identified by the merchant class that way. Then, the rising bourgeoisie is the one identifying the area. National identification comes with that. Developing Capitalists identify the areas as such for markets.
Q How valid is the demand for right to self-determination for Tamils then?
Every nation has the right to self-determination. Once a community becomes a nation as a result of market mechanism and so on, whether it is small or large, if it is identified strongly and has developed a culture based on a language or sometimes on religion, then it becomes an identity. It is identifiable. If you go there, you can see the language and all. Then, they demand more independence to develop their culture. The development of separate cultures, traditions and music and drama constitutes the identification. The Sinhala people developed their identity with drama up to Maname by Sarachchandra. During that period, they identified themselves with separate cultures. Then, separate songs came for New Year and all. Then, we become a nation. Nationhood is a growing entity. If you go back to the early period, even Martin Wickramasinghe identified Kandy as Sinhale. People used to call Kandy as Sinhale and down south as Pahatha Rata. But, all that vanished and Sinhale became everything.
Q There is argument that Tamil culture did not come into existence in Sri Lanka. It came into existence elsewhere in India. What is your analysis?
As for cultural development, the Jaffna kingdom existed up to the 13th century. It started in the 11th century. Up to the capture of Jaffna by the Portuguese, there was a kingdom.
From time to time, the kingdom was attached to the central kingdom like Kotte and all. Sapumal Kumaraya himself is a Tamil. He is Chandra Sapumal. He attached the Jaffna kingdom to Kotte. He became the Kotte king. He became the Sinhala king as well. The Jaffna kingdom and its culture, starting from the 11th the century and 13th century, was there. They have developed a culture and language, actually their language and Tirukkural language is the same. Tirukkural is written in the ancient form of Tamil language. Jaffna Tamils say their language is more cultured and refined than that of Tamil Nadu dialects.
It is nonsense to deny that Tamils were here.
Q When you say self-determination, what is the extent of power sharing you advocate?
It depends on the struggle. It could mean a separate State or, based on understanding, a Federal State. Or else, it is to have a Unitary State with autonomy in the area concerned.
Q What is the position of your party?
All the Marxists, while accepting the right to self-determination, are opposed to secession. We do not need to separate. We need to be united by accepting more and more autonomy. You can have a Unitary State even with a high degree of autonomy.
Q How do you rely on the current constitution making process in Parliament?
Now, the understanding is better. A bourgeois leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is very open and understands the problem better than former leaders. Therefore, the possibility remains to a large extent for the resolution of the problem.
Q As a politician following Marxist ideals, how do you see the economic policy of the present government?
Actually, the Capitalist policies are collapsing all over the world. The Neo-Liberal pattern is collapsing. In 2008, it was found that such models could not be sustained. Now, other models are looked at. There is a turning towards Social Capitalism. It has caused a reaction. Capitalists are demanding fascism.
Q How comfortable are you with this government?
We are together in the common struggle against the Fascist type Mahinda Rajapaksa thinking. On that basis, we are working together. As far as Capitalism is concerned, we have no common ground. But Social Capitalism is something that can be experimented with. We are concentrating more on the constitution making process, modernization and democracy.
Q How do you see the performance of the government?
Now, they have started the constitution making process. It had an understating with Tamil people’s representative organizations in the reconciliation process. Something has happened, but not enough. We are campaigning for democratic rights. We are pushing the government for rapid changes in the country.