Sunil Bastian

(2013) Post-war political economy

ICES, Research Paper No.7, May 2013.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how deepening capitalist relations in post-war Sri Lanka will accentuate the social contradictions associated with capitalist development, and add a new dimension to problems of state society relations. The paper looks at this in four policy areas: land policy, economic exploitation of the North and East, labour policy and inequality. The social outcomes of these will supplement creeping authoritarianism and the unresolved national question as major issues that we need to focus on in understanding state-society relations in post-war Sri Lanka.

The military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009 is certainly a critical point in the post-colonial history of Sri Lanka. With this event, a period of instability, political violence and armed internal conflict has apparently come to an end. This period of instability and violence began in the early seventies. Up to that time a formula of managing state-society relations that included electoral politics and a range of social policies promised a peaceful and democratic Sri Lanka. These social policies were measures to protect the peasantry, the idea of universal rights in health and education, and an emphasis on distributive justice in education. A hegemonic Sinhala nationalist ideology buttressed some of these policies. By the early seventies it was clear that this formula for managing state-society relations was not working. The failure of this formula was seen mainly in the relationship between the Sri Lankan state and the Sri Lankan Tamil minority. Thus began almost three decades of instability and armed conflict.

With the defeat of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan state has managed to bring this period of violence to an end and consolidate the juridical entity called Sri Lanka. But consolidating control over this geographical space through military means has not resolved the underlying political issues. The national question of Sri Lanka still requires a political answer. Therefore Sri Lanka is not a ‘post-conflict’ country, as some would like to believe, but a ‘post-war’ country.

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