Fashioning Subjects: From Farmer, to Soldier, to Patriot

The imagination of the frontier as “empty” (of civilization) but “full” (of resources) not only allows for the making of a particular landscape, it also helps create and make a certain kind of subject (Bridge 2001; Eilenberg 2014; Korf et al 2013; Li 2014; Tsing 2005; Watts 1992). This paper traces how the postcolonial Sri Lankan state expanded to the northeast Dry Zone frontier by adopting a high-modernist development model, which was driven by an objective to bring “development” to the country at large and the peripheries in particular, and its post-war revival in 2009 in spite of the programme having being considered a failure. I argue that state beneficence in the form of development – the Mahaveli Development Project – manifests itself in the Dry Zone frontier through the giving of “gifts” of land to create peasant colonies in Sri Lanka. Through a discussion of how a “development gift” (Yeh, 2013) of land helps a beneficiary to become a rice farmer and binds him to the state, I trace how the peasant farmer becomes vital for the presence of the state in the frontier. The paper concludes by demonstrating how the Mahaveli Development Programme, while failing as a development project, is an overall success as it was and is yet being used to claim the frontier and to fashion a certain kind of subject who enables the postcolonial state territorialisation agenda.