chapter  8
18 Pages

The Eppawela phosphate controversy in Sri Lanka: development in the context of a 'war for peace'

ByYolanda Foster

In the past, state-sponsored development projects in Sri Lanka were con­ strained by a majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist state and the intrusion of party politics. This is well documented by Tennekoon who explored nationalist resonances in President Jayewardena's Mahaweli project (Tennekoon 1988). More recently, James Brow has explored the role of party politics in a gov­ ernment housing project in Kukuwela (1996). Both authors foreground the politics of nationalism in contemporary Sri Lanka. From Independence in 1948 until 1956 the governing United National Party had had representa­ tives not only of the majority Sinhala community but of the minority Tamils. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party fought the 1956 election largely on the language issue, 'promising to make Sinhala the national language and to support Buddhism' (Farmer 1993: 99), thereby in their own eyes excluding Tamils from full and equal status as Sri Lankan citizens. Although the

subsequent declaration of Sinhala as the only national language was ulti­ mately reversed, the issue of ethnic identity has remained central to the poli­ tical conflicts in the island, as, after an anti-Tamil pogrom in 1983, Tamil nationalism has taken increasingly extreme forms, notably through the guerrilla secessionist war waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE. In the past, the allure of nationalist imaginings has been deployed by various state leaders to secure support for development pro­ jects and boost popular appeal. What is important to explore are shifts in the context of development.