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An Unforgettable Legacy


N. Manoharan


By Rajiva Wijesinha
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2007, pp. 322, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

'The corrosive effects of authoritarianism, on people and countries and in particular on those who perpetrate it needs constant attention.’ It was this need for constant attention that propelled the author to bring out this book, which is an updated version of his earlier two books. The underlying theme of the book is to answer the key question: what exacerbated violence in Sri Lanka? At the outset, the author points to ‘the authoritarian policies of the Jayewardene government’ and his successors as the principal reason. According to the author, the book neither engages in virtual hagiogra-phy of Jayewardene, and regards Tamil claims as illegitimate and asso-ciated with terrorism, nor sees Sri Lankan state as a Sinhala majorita-rian monolith that necessarily oppressed Tamils. He says that Tamils have been the victims of majoritarian excesses, but these were piece meal and often due to political rivalry amongst Sinhala majority parties.   The central figure of the book is J.R. Jayewardene, a veteran political figure and the first executive president of the island. At independence he became the first Sri Lankan Minister for Finance, the post had previously been reserved for a British civil servant. JR’s authority within his party—United National Party—grew in this office. He was rapidly recognized as being a reliable party man. However, he was never thought of as a charismatic figure although his abilities were respected, especially in urban society. It was Jeyewardene who assiduously built up the UNP again after Senanayakes in the 1970s.   When Jayewardene took over the reins of power in 1977 with an overwhelming majority, the author thought that the former was an intelligent and forward looking politician, able to lift the country from the trough, economic, social as well as racial, into which it had fallen. The period immediately following the election of 1977 was one of great hope. In the economic sphere this seemed justified. Politically, however, indications were depressing from the start. Jayewardene intended from the Parliament which according to the prevailing Constitution meant that any change was possible, he set about using it with clinical determination to consolidate firstly his own power, secondly that of his party. Especially, the presidential system created by Jayewardene seems to be a recipe for destroying the abilities even of an idealistic successor. He ensured that Parliament continued under the domination of the Executive. There was absolute stranglehold of the ruling party over members of ...


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