Sunil Bastian

(2013) Post-colonial Sri Lankan State, the Rural Sinhalese Society and the Ethno-Political conflict.

In: Jayadeva Uyangoda, ed. State Reform in Sri Lanka: Issues, Directions and Perspectives. Colombo: Social Scientist's Association.

Once hailed as a model for third world development, Sri Lanka suffered from a protracted civil war for more than three decades. Although the country has been stabilised through military means underlying structural reasons for the conflict have not been resolved. How did a country that at one time was a model for third world development change in a space of a few decades? What particular capacity or incapacity did the state posses in making this transformation towards a veritable failure in pluralistic stated formation? Many studies on Sri Lanka.s conflict have focussed on issues like the politics of identity formation and limitations of state institutions in managing inter - ethnic relations. There is hardly any literature that looks at how the development priorities and trajectories, necessitated by particular types of state-society relations, have defined the scope of state capacities as well as incapacities in political and social transformation. In this paper I develop an argument that focuses on a paradox in which the state.s enabling capacity in one domain of public policy .towards the rural Sinhalese masses -- undermined the state.s capacity to effectively construct relations in another domain -- with ethnic minorities.

The starting point of this paper is that an examination of ideologies as well as political alliances that shaped the development process in Sri Lanka shed much light on the formation of ethnic conflict. It helps us to understand puzzling issues like why the Sinhalese political elite had repeatedly and consistently failed to see the growing crisis of the state despite demands made by the Tamil minority movement for reforming the post-colonial Sri Lankan state.

The central thesis I develop in his paper is the following: the Sinhalese political elites had established a special relationship linking the rural Sinhalese society with the political structures of the post-colonial state. That relationship in turn shaped the development policies and priorities, with a bias towards the rural Sinhalese society. It was a strongly emphasized „rural bias. in development. These processes that have been integrally linked to the agenda of post-colonial state formation are also central to explaining the paradox of contradictory transformatory paths of the post-colonial Sri Lankan state. To elaborate this paradox briefly, the Sri Lankan state has maintained an enduring focus on the welfare and development of the rural Sinhalese society, but ignored the ethnic minorities and their political demands. The logic of this paradox has been the commitment on the part of all Sinhalese political elites -- dominant as well as subordinate, urban as well as rural . to a centralised unitary state. Even under the period of economic liberalization started in 1977-1978, the state.s bias towards the rural sector in development priorities continued. However, the forces of globalisation are now undermining this special relationship between the state and the rural Sinhalese peasant society.

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