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Friday 11 April 2014

Political match fixing

It was heartening to see on television fans in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi celebrating the victory of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Dacca with the others in the country in Colombo, Ampara and Matara to name only a few places. The Sri Lankan cricket team consisted almost entirely of Sinhalas, but nobody whether, Sinhala Tamil Muslim or other considered it to be a Sinhala team. The whole country thought it as a victory of the Sri Lankan cricket team, a well deserved victory after knocking at the door, for several years since the famous world cup cricket win in 1996. In this regard it has to be mentioned that it is recorded that even Prabhakaran celebrated the world cup victory with Nagalingam Ethirweerasingham, the famous Sri Lankan high jumper, in Vanni. I do not know how authentic this statement is but there is no harm in believing it. In any event it is known that the LTTE supporters in London celebrated the famous victory by Arjuna Ranatunga and his team.

There may be people who do not like the ways and means of Lasith Malinga, his participation in the IPL series and who would not agree with his statement that the IPL experience helped him to perform against the Indian players at the finals in the ICC T-20 tournament. Some would argue that it helped the Indian batsmen to face Malinga. Then the statements by Mahela Jayawardhane and Kumar Sangakkara to the press in Bangladesh on their retirement have created a controversy and it is clear that underneath the victory there is much politics that will come to the surface sooner or later. A cricket spring to oust the “Rajapakse Regime” has been in air for some time and there is much speculation on the “common candidate” at the next presidential elections.  However, these were of not concern to the “common man” and for them what mattered 
 was, in the words of schoolboys of yesteryears, I presume it is the same now, we won the match, and hurrah for the merry. On Sunday night almost all Sri Lankans enjoyed themselves as schoolboys whether they were males or females, old or young, at home,  Diyavanna grounds or Kilinochchi. This does not mean that all the schoolboys always behave well as it is known that there are a few who cannot come to terms with defeat. However, the Sri Lankans in general are not disturbed too much by defeat as the Sri Lankan culture teaches them to expect defeat as much as victory. Hence, we do not stone the houses of Sri Lankan cricketers even if they do not bring the world cup every time they participate in an ICC tournament.

Ironically we were introduced to cricket by the English colonials who in spite of rhetoric have not adhered to the adage it is not cricket. The subcontinent with rich cultures going back to a number of millennia must have had something in common in their cultures to absorb cricket into their respective cultures. India is mainly Hindu, Pakistan and Bangladesh mainly Muslim while Sri Lanka is mainly Buddhist. However, it is not the religion that matters here as there are many Muslim countries and Buddhist countries that have not been attracted to cricket. We have now drawn Afghanistan into the orbit and have been able to organize a tournament called Asia Cup though the use of the word Asia may be objectionable and not cricket as there are so many Asian countries not playing cricket. (In the same vein the world cup is a misnomer)  The English have been successful in introducing cricket to the subcontinent through elite schools but there must have been something in common in these cultures to absorb cricket. It is not only the rich and the elite of these countries who take an interest in cricket but the poor and the rural folk as well. Is it the uncertainties of cricket that our cultures are not unfamiliar with that draws us to cricket? The limited over cricket and T-20s are more attractive to the common man in the subcontinent, though the puritans among the elite would continue to enjoy test cricket. It could be said that it is the limited over cricket that made cricket more popular in the villages.

In the ICC tournament recently concluded we as Sri Lankans had one objective. That was to win the cup and in this respect the team, the coaches, the officials have worked hard though there may have been differences of opinion (including political) among them. Whether Dinesh Chandimal was “forced” to volunteer to withdraw from the team or not, having been appointed as the captain, his withdrawal has to be admired as he has not shown any resentment at least in public. In fact, he was seen taking helmets to the middle, and appeared to celebrate the victory as much as the other members of the team, and he should be applauded for his action.  

In politics and government it is unfortunate that we do not have a common objective. Neither Cricket nor politics can unite people unless there is a common objective. We do not have a national policy as such in any area and the policies are changed with change of government. It is said by the pundits that Sri Lanka could not be united as we did not have an anti colonial struggle as in India. Even in India there was no common anti colonial struggle with Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi taking two different courses of action.

In Sri Lanka the situation was worse. There was only the anti colonial struggle carried out by the Sinhala people and mainly the Sinhala Buddhists at that. Even if we confine ourselves to the period after the signing of the Sinhala English agreement known as the  Kandyan convention in 1815 the anti colonial struggle was confined mainly to the Sinhala Buddhists. In 1817-18 the first independence struggle was carried out by the people of Uva Vellassa under the leadership of Keppitipola as the English breached the agreement of 1815 by appointing a Muslim as a revenue officer, when the agreement said the country has to be ruled according to the Sinhala law. Thereafter the English though they had promised to protect Buddhagama they not only washed their hands off their responsibilities but worked against the Buddhist culture. The 1848 independence struggle followed and later towards the end of the nineteenth century the Buddhist revival movement began. Though it appeared to be a religious movement, it was an independent struggle carried out by the Sinhala Buddhists. In the twentieth century too the independence struggle under Anagarika Dharmapala and others took a cultural appearance, and was confined to the Sinhala Buddhists. The “Bhasha Premins” of the twenties and thirtees also continued with the independence struggle in their own way.

The Ceylon Congress on the other hand was confined to those who were educated in elite schools and they were interested in limited privileges for themselves and were not involved in an independence struggle. They were petitioners in general who tried to impress the English colonials that they were more English than the English themselves. The leaders of this movement towards the end of the nineteenth century were mainly Tamil elites from the Vellala caste and the Ceylon Congress unlike the Indian Congress had no impact on the common man, meaning the common Sinhala person who was involved in anti colonial struggle. Ironically the common Tamil person was not involved in any anti colonial struggle and the leftist Tamil organisations were in general elite organisations confined to Jaffna and Colombo.

What I would like to emphasise is that there was only one independence struggle by the Sinhala Buddhists, and the Sinhala Christians joined the Sinhala Buddhists ironically only after the school takeover in 1962. The Tamils on the other hand were not engaged in anti colonial struggle, the movement of Navalar Arumugam being purely a religious movement that did not bother the English colonials. Thus there was no one common objective as far as independence was concerned and there is no wonder that we have not been able to “win the match”. The biggest irony is that the Tamils who were not engaged in any anti colonial struggle against the English took up arms against what they called the Sinhala government, maneuvered by the English and the other western countries. This struggle is not over as funds are being pumped into the movement by governments with vested interests and as far as political power is concerned, for the Tamils the Sinhalas have been portrayed as colonials by the western colonialists. The ordinary Tamils when they joined the celebrations on Sunday expressed their willingness to live in harmony with the Sinhalas, as Sri Lankans but when it comes to power politics the English have been successful in turning the Tamils against the Sinhalas, thus weakening the anti colonial struggle against the English and other western colonials. The English have been able to “buy over” the Tamils against the Sinhalas and this is nothing but match fixing and definitely not cricket. It is time for the ordinary Tamils who celebrated the T-20 victory to think of the ultimate victory against the western colonials, unless they think of the Sinhalas as worse colonials than the English. 

Nalin De Silva