'Catastrophy for Sri Lanka to take triumphant position' - Ramachandra Guha

London (PTI): A noted historian has warned that it would be catastrophic for Sri Lanka to take a triumphant position on its victory over LTTE and it is time the country gave democracy and pluralism a chance. 

"In the aftermath of defeat of Tamil Tigers, it would be catastrophic if the Sri Lankan Government were to take a triumphant position. I am told there is a proposal to build statues of a Sri Lankan King who died 2,000 years ago to commemorate the victory," Ramachandra Guha, the Bangalore-based historian and biographer said while delivering the fifth Nehru memorial Lecture 2009 on "Democracy and Violence in South Asia and Beyond" at the Nehru Centre here on Friday night. 
Patrick French, a noted writer presided over the function, which was attended by the Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee. 
Drawing a parallel between the violence in Jammu and Kashmir and Northern Sri Lanka, Mr. Guha who has previously taught at the Universities of Yale and Stanford, said: "Just as Kashmir is a big blot on India's democracy, the treatment of Tamils is a signal failure of Sri Lankan democracy. 
"As in Kashmir, the problem arose because of denial of democracy's software and hardware - elections were rigged both in Kashmir and Northern Sri Lanka," he said, adding "cultural pluralism in terms of language, in terms of dress, in terms of faith is a serious part of democracy." 
The historian said "in northern Sri Lanka, apart from rigging the elections, there was discrimination on the basis of language and religion". 
Mr. Guha said in 1956 Sinhala was made the sole official language of the island placing it on a position of superiority. This act of injustice was compounded in 1972 when Buddhism was made official religion of Sri Lanka - meaning Buddhists were superior to Tamils, Muslims, Christians and Hindus. 
"Discrimination on the basis of religion and language was further intensified by the burning of the great Jaffna Library in 1981 when the Sri Lankan army in an act of petty and vicious vindictiveness put to flame the great repository of Tamil culture and two years later, there was a progrom against Tamils in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, orchestrated and directed by ruling politicians," he stressed. 
Mr. Guha also noted that the LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran had assassinated every rival Tamil politician. Emphasising that the Tamils in Sri Lanka had also made "terrible mistakes", he said "Prabhakaran led the Tamil people down the road to disaster." 
Answering a question, Mr. Guha said he wanted India to be a "more contented and less violent place." 
He said "the greatness of modern Indian democracy is that every citizen is equal, regardless of language and religion. That is what Sri Lanka can learn from India."
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