Given my curious fascination with Sri Lanka and its long-running ethnic conflict, I thought it wise to provide some context. The island nation’s 34-year civil war is pretty baffling, and the partisan journalism on both sides doesn’t make it easy to parse the details. That’s why I heartily recommend Sri Lanka: History and the Roots of the Conflict, edited by an even-handed British academic. The introduction, in particular, is worth a gander; the indictment of patronage politics is sad and troubling:
The economy became politicized with the nationalization of certain sectors, and more importantly as political parties and MPs began to control access to all sorts of resources: to objects, to finance, and to jobs. The institutions of [Sri Lanka] were increasingly subsumed by the political machines and alliances of politicians; access to the resources of the state became a matter of access to politicians. One effect of this was that Tamils were effectively excluded from the channels through which resources were distributed. Ties between MPs and their followers became of utmost importance, and, in such a situation, for any MP representing a Sinhala area to allocate resources to a Tamil area was madness. Tamils became steadily more and more alienated from the state.