TamilWeek, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2005
Dutugemunu Strategy and Ellalan Response

by: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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

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 Jayawardenes, 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 alternate leadership available. If these are the alternate 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 complement
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 Gemunu’s.  
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 Gemunu’s) 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

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.  The Tamils of Sri Lanka, like the dinosaurs may
be a thing of the past very soon, not only in numbers, but in terms of their culture,
values and distinctiveness, unless a new visionary leadership emerges to take the
baton from the LTTE.  The LTTE has to go the way of the dinosaurs or the Tamils of
Sri Lanka will become so. It is unfortunate that things have come to this pass.  As
much as King Ellalan of old was a successful, just and righteous King, he failed the
acid test when confronted by the precocious Dutu Gemunu.  The LTTE (our Ellalan of
today) has been very unjust, very unrighteous and has failed to provide enlightened
leadership.  There will be those who disagree with me citing the success the LTTE
achieved in the battle fields against the Dutu Gemunu’s and their armed forces.   My
answer to them is yes, we won some battles, but we have lost the war! Just look at the
plight of the Tamils today.   We are like the monkey which had his tail wedged between
the two parts of a partially sawed log! The Dutu Gemunu’s have succeeded beyond
their wildest expectations. The Ellalan of a bygone age was old, decrepit and without
the fire needed to confront a young and vigorous Dutu Gemunu, burning with ambition
and burdened with grievances.  The LTTE has also become old, self indulgent,
isolated and visionless and is not well placed to confront the emerging Dutu Gemunu’s
and their strategies.  The tragedy is that the LTTE is not permitting and will not permit
the next generation of Ellalans to emerge. The LTTE has become our equivalent of
the dog in the manger!

In a wider context the Tamil leaders (the Ellalans) of the late 1940s and subsequent
years did not have a clear vision as to where they wanted to lead the Tamils.  Sadly,
the Tamils themselves did not have a collective vision as to where they wanted to go.
The accumulating grievances from Sinhala misrule mired the Tamils in self pity and a
craving for a past that was fast receding and was never to return. The Tamil response
to the application of Dutu Gemunu principles was reactive, rather than visionary.   The
Ellalans of the day failed miserably to identify long term goals for the Tamils in the
context of post-colonial realities and the Dutu Gemunu strategies.  The Tamils and
their leaders were intent on preserving the inadvertent advantages secured in the
colonial era, without realizing that the Dutu Gemunu principles were being ruthlessly
and relentlessly pursued by the Sinhala leadership in a unitary Sri Lanka. Having
miserably failed to pursue the federal option in concert with the Kandyan Sinhalese
during the pre-independence years, they also failed to chart a course independent of
the Sinhala polity in matters of economic importance for the Tamils in the post-
independence years.  The over dependence on government employment (‘the money
order economy’) was the down fall of the Tamils in independent Sri Lanka. The theme
song of the Tamils of that era was, ‘Koli meythaalum, kornamenthila meykavernum’
(“Even if you rear chicken, you have to do it in government service’). Every major
action formulated by the Dutu Gemunu’s following independence- Sinhala only,
standardization of marks for university admissions and abandonment of the principles
of excellence/ meritocracy in selections to the public services, flowed from this. The
regularly orchestrated riots and accompanying violence were to teach the Tamils
lessons for demanding the continuance of the status quo.

The Tamil militancy that reared its head in the 1970s was grounded on the existing
economic grievances of the Tamils which were further aggravated by the
standardization scheme for university admissions introduced by the Sirimavo
Bandaranaike government in a very cavalier manner.  The emphasis placed by the
Tamils on education and the professions (medicine, engineering etc.) to achieve
upward social mobility and economic success was seriously undermined by this
measure. The youth who were prepared life long to pursue education related goals to
secure employment were left in the lurch overnight with no alternatives and there was
no one to guide them to alternatives.  The frustration of the youth took the form of an
armed uprising and swept in its wake the Ellalans of the day.  With time what has
resulted is the LTTE (the present Ellalans) and they have done no better in the long
run. The Dutu Gemunu’s have come through with their power to decide our destiny
intact and with no lasting damage on their side of the fence.  It is the Tamils who have
suffered immensely and have been reduced to their present pathetic state.

The Ellalans of the past and present have failed the Tamils miserably, in the face of
the Dutu Gemunu principles and strategy.  We should have struggled to safeguard
and develop our empty and cultivable lands, when there was an opportunity to do so,
without being parochial and tied to our over crowded villages and towns.  We should
have demanded for and developed our own universities and technical educational
institutions.  We should have developed and modernized our agricultural and fisheries
sector. We should have turned our sights away from secure government employment
to the adventure of self employment. We should have transformed ourselves from a
timid and security conscious to a vigourous and adventurous people. We should have
resisted the migration of our people to foreign climes, without rejoicing and taking
pride in it. We should have concentrated in developing the north and east with our
own resources.  We should have never invited the civil war to our door steps. We
miserably failed to do what should have been done in all these matters. It is a pity that
we are yet pursuing the same mistakes.  We are now failing to mobilize the resources
of the Tamil Diaspora and the international community to fund development and
resurgence in the north and east.  We are yet pursuing options that are outdated and
have fatally hurt the Tamils.  We are visionless and absolutely unrealistic. For how
long are we going to wallow in self pity and dwell on a hapless past? We have yet not
learnt our lessons.  We are probably incapable of doing so.  We have to seek not
Ellalans as our leaders- he was after all a miserable failure at the end- but some one
of the likes of Ponambalam Ramanathan or Lee Kuan Yu.

We need leaders who have vision and can inspire us. Their vision should become our
vision. We need leaders who are capable of leading us to the goals envisioned, and
can identify the principles and strategies to do so. We need leaders who are just,
righteous and brave. We need leaders who are democratic and are responsive to the
peoples needs. We need leaders who are not tyrants. We need leaders who will unite
us and not divide us. We need leaders who are with us and not above us. We need
leaders who will help us prosper and not prey on us. We need leaders who are an
asset and not a burden. We need leaders who can be respected rather than be
feared. We need leaders who are flexible, practical and pragmatic. We needs leaders
who can make us overcome the trauma of the past, be enthused about the present
and be optimistic about the future.  We need leaders who are aware of the world and
understand its dynamics. We need leaders who can inspire us to come back to our
land, repopulate it, make it prosper and prosper with it. We need leaders who can
make us learn to co-exist with the Sinhalese and Muslims, with self respect and dignity.
We need a new leadership with all the above and more. If we fail to get such
leadership soon, the Dutu Gemunu principles and strategies will ensure that we will
become non-entities in Sri Lanka. Time is running out for us. As correctly pointed out
by Niro Dissanaike, “My friends-it was never the ‘Sinhalaya’ who was the ‘Modaya’.
Take a good look at your selves. The Sinhalese leaders even put our former British
rulers to shame in terms of strategy” (a ‘Modaya’ is an idiot or fool).
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