Midweek Review

Dutugemunu strategy and Ellalan response

by Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

(From The Tamil Weekly)

The battle in which an ambitious and aggrieved young Sinhala Prince ‘Dutu’ Gemunu defeated the ageing Tamil King Ellalan (Elara-in Sinhalese) to become King in ancient Sri Lanka, has underscored Sri Lankan ethnic politics in the past sixty years.   The anguished cry of a restless ‘Dutu’ Gemunu that he was unable to sleep because of being hemmed in by the Tamils on one side and the deep ocean, on the other, resonates in most Sinhala hearts to this day.  Very few have paused to consider how Gemunu acquired the prefix ‘Dutu’ (evil), the respectful homage he paid to the ‘Just and Righteous’ King Ellalan upon his death and the memorial he subsequently erected in memory of Ellalan.  Niro Dissanayake (Asian Tribune-21/10/2005) in an interesting, forthright, intuitive and largely objective article titled, ‘The Dutu Gemunu Principle––Why Prabhaharan is the Singhalese’s best friend’ has while highlighting the role Dutu Gemunu continues to play in Sinhala political life states the following:

* "Imagine the King Dutu Gemunu being reborn in this period. He is 20 years old on the 3rd February’1948. He realizes the Sinhalese are on the verge of losing the conflict which raged for 2000 years. The unified country is no more and has a foreign master. The North and East of the country are devoid of Sinhalese. The Sinhalese have no power, no future etc. etc. He decides to go to battle".

* "He has the following objectives:

1.   To give the Sinhalese permanent political power which they will never lose again and remove the political power from the Tamils.

2. To give the Sinhalese economic power and remove it from the Tamils

3. To remove the possibility that Tamils in the future having an independent country.

4. To give the Sinhalese ‘their country’ unified and whole back and remove any external countries which may challenge the status".

* "King Dutu Gemunu, if you like, is an amalgamation of Senanayakes, Bandaranaikes, the Jayewardenes, Premadasas etc. etc. They may appear to fight among themselves, but each and every one of them follows these basic principles".

Niro Dissanayake continues on to identify events in post-independence Sri Lankan history that gave effect to the Dutu Gemunu principles.  I agree with his conclusion that the ‘Cupboard is bare’ with regard to Tamil leaders at present, while disagreeing with him on the alternative leadership available. If these are the alternative leaders, who will determine our future as Tamils, it will be like scraping for any scrap at the bottom of the empty cupboard!  I hope this attempt to identify future Tamil leaders is also not part of the evolving Dutu Gemunu strategy.  Niro Dissanayake’s article should be compulsory reading for all intelligent Tamils with an open mind.  I have to compliment Niro Dissanayake for his thoughts and thesis.

 Reading his article was like breathing in cool fresh air in the arid desert of meaningless discourse based on charges and counter charges currently taking place on the ethnic problems in Sri Lanka, following the pattern over the past several decades. It is apt for me as  a fast ageing Tamil Sri Lankan, born a few years before independence to explore what the modern day ‘Ellalan’ (read Tamil leaders) did to counter and further the Tamil cause in response  to the ‘Dutu Gemunu’ (read Sinhala leaders) strategy. 

In all human confrontations, whether in normal day-to-day life, politics, war or games, where two individuals, groups or teams are involved, every move has to be overcome or neutralized to succeed and further the initial objectives.   If this fails, one party loses and has to call it a day, with the option available to deploy new tactics in future confrontations to further their objectives.  A refusal to engage again will signify that the defeat in a battle has also conceded the war and the objectives for which it was waged.  In such instances of conflict, there have to be clearly thought out long term objectives, an awareness of tactical options available and suitable to the circumstances, an ability to use the tools available appropriately and the moral fiber to pursue short term objectives consistently despite occasional or even frequent failures  in order to achieve long term goals.  In the case of a group of people such as the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the leaders and the people have to also have a sense of destiny and their visions for the future must find confluence, if their struggle has to confront strategies such as those of modern day Dutu Gemunus.   What is fundamentally important is that the goals are profound, unimpeachable and morally valid. The tactics and tools deployed must also conform to these criteria.  This was the essence of Gandhianism that resonated around the world and laid the foundations for what India is destined to become in the future. The Sinhala leaders (Modern day Dutu Gemunus) were justified in their pursuit of power and a better life for their people. 

However, they were wrong in trying to achieve these at the expense of the Tamils and other minorities. For the latter they stand condemned in the world today.  They could have aspired to be Gemunu’s without acquiring the prefix ‘Dutu’.   Their tactics lacked moral scruples and these have led to the contradictions, depravities, degeneration and loss of values, hypocrisy, corruption and cruelty that have pervaded the Sri Lankan society as a whole today.  Morally unacceptable tactics, when resorted to as a guiding principle in an individual’s, a people’s or a nation’s life cannot bring about satisfactory outcomes.  This is clearly exemplified in the instance of Sri Lanka.

While our neighbours have progressed and are on the road to prosperity, we have degenerated, our institutions have declined and our nation is wallowing in muck. One has to reap what one sows (‘Kela kela dhey, pala pala dhei"–– Sinhala and ‘Vinai vithaithavan vinai arruppaan, thinai vithaithavan thinai arruppaan’––Tamil).  The belief in cause and effect (Karma) underpin both Hinduism and Buddhism.  While the Hindus believe in mitigation through divine grace, the Buddhists believe that there is no cop-out – the consequences of one’s actions- good or bad, are unalterable and have to be borne. Sri Lanka is fast becoming a country which any one - Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, who has the opportunity –– legally or illegally, will abandon in search of greener pastures. This is the result of almost sixty years of the application of Dutu Gemunu principles! We will soon become a nation of left-overs! The Tamils, on the other hand, are fast losing the moral high ground they occupied during the course of the so-called ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

This moral high ground that held up solidly even during the worst years of civil war and the accompanying brutality and beastliness, has rapidly eroded during past few years of the ceasefire due to the lunacy of the LTTE.  I use the word lunacy deliberately, because the LTTE strategy over the past few years has been totally irrational, erratic and self destructive. 

The results are unfolding now to the greater detriment of the Tamils.  Any one who does not discern this is trying to play the proverbial ostrich. This is one major success of ‘The Dutu Gemunu strategy’ for which Niro Dissanayake considers Prabhakaran the best friend of the Sinhalese. 

The LTTE’s lack of perspicacity, political sagacity and wisdom has played into the hands of the Dutu Gemunu’s and left the  Tamils with an ‘Empty Cupboard’ with regard to potential alternate leadership.   The Tamils today are a forlorn people without any hope for their future in the land of their birth and that of their ancestors. 


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