Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to Accommodation

Michael Roberts …. reprinting an article drafted in Heidelberg in 1976 and published in the MODERN ASIAN STUDIES in 1978  … with the pessimistic forecast in its concluding paragraphs being informed by seminar discussions in SRi Lanka in the early 1970s, an article by Martin Woolacott in the Guardian Weekly and news items in UK indicating that young Tamils were receiving military training with the PLO.

Bandaranaike stirring a crowd and Mettananda addressing a crowd of Sinhalayo on Galle Face Green pressing for the Sinhala Only Bill

It is widely recognized that the concepts of ‘state’ and ‘nation’ developed largely out of the history of Europe. In Western Europe the process of state-building preceded and assisted the process of nation-formation. In consequence, the concept of the nation that developed from this process focused on the political community as defined by the institutional and territorial framework. In the tradition of Rousseau, Abbé Sieyes could define a nation as ‘a body of associates living under one common law and represented by the same legislature’.[1] In most lands of Western Europe these developments also produced the model of a single nationality nation or nation-state. In Central and Eastern Europe, the process was different: ‘the nation was first defined as a cultural rather than a political entity’ and the underlying theoretical foundation was in the tradition of Herder rather than Rousseau.[2] Nevertheless, once nationhood had been achieved in these regions there was a tendency to approximate to the model associated with Western Europe. This was made all the easier in such states as Italy and Germany because the majority of their citizens were from one ethnic group; they, too, were single nationality nations.[3] Whatever the dualisms and amalgams in Europe, the export model has been that associated with that of Western Europe—for the simple reason that the predominant colonizing powers were from this part of the Continent.

Chelvanayakam electioneering in Jaffna …  and a burning vehicle during the anti-Tamil ‘riots’ in 1958 

Proceeding from this background many scholars have analysed nationalism in the Third World in essentially ethnocentric and Euro-American terms. Even those who were aware of its dangers, such as Rupert Emerson, have not escaped from its clutches.[4] As Paul Brass has incisively illustrated, it has produced a teleological approach to the problems of nation-formation which has significant valuative and analytical implications. Even multinational societies have been surveyed within the theoretical framework of the West European single nationality model. The concept of ‘national integration’ has emerged in such a fashion as to be synonymous with ‘political integration’, and been regarded as a process of state-building. Concomitantly, ethnic loyalties have been downgraded and been viewed as parochial and divisive. As a result, no consideration is given to alternative models for the relations between the state and a nationality other than the integration of state and nationality, or the latter’s secession.[5]

This outlook has not been confined to scholars. Since the early twentieth century it has powerfully influenced the approaches of the Asian and African intelligentsia. Their education was such that the Afro-Asian élites absorbed the concept of a nation-state as it had evolved in a West European setting. Following their British and French masters, they regarded ethnic and tribal loyalties as divisive, barbarous, and vile. As heirs-apparent or heirs to the colonial units, moreover, it was (is) in their interest to preserve the entities which they received or extracted. Accordingly, such terms as ‘communalism’ and ‘tribalism’ became weapons in the nationalist armoury, symbols of all that was politically detestable. This approach was initiated in the Indian sub-continent and its role as an exemplar reinforced its diffusion among other nationalist movements. In the Indian case, the north Indian setting was particularly influential. The sectional identities and loyalties which weakened the anti-British movement were predominantly associated with religious differences between Hindus and Muslims. These identities were described as ‘communalisms’. The term was bequeathed to other lands, among them Sri Lanka, even though the principal lines of sectional cleavage in some cases were linguistic or ethnic rather than religious.

If this loaded terminology was an ideological borrowing, the population patterns and the very structure of some multi-ethnic societies encouraged resort to such weapons. It was in the familial or group interest of some politicians to pursue an ‘anti-communal’ line against others with whom they were jostling for advantage. In such instances a ‘national image’ and ‘anti-communalism’ (and, for that matter, ‘socialism’) must be viewed as part of the rhetorical language of discourse, a medium for the subterranean operations of sectional interests.

In such a context the labels adopted in both scholarly and political analysis are invested with a special significance. They carry values. They impose a norm as to what is the justifiable collectivity and what is not. I follow David Potter here. His point is that in any totality, be it a community or a state, ‘unless the minority really is identified with and part of such a totality, the decisions of the majority lack any democratic sanction’ and, therefore, that ‘the question whether the controlling group and the dissident group form a real verifiable totality is vital and decisive’. An emphasis on a valuative classificatory approach means that when the historian attributes nationality to any group, he establishes a presumption in favour of any acts involving an exercise of autonomy that the group may commit; when he denies nationality, he establishes a presumption against any exercise of autonomy. The attribution of nationality therefore involves a sanction—a sanction for the exercise of autonomy or self-determination.[6]

These sanctions came into play in Sri Lanka. The labels, ‘national’ and ‘communal’, conveyed contrasting values and sanctions; and local politics was moulded by these factors. It is my contention in this essay that such an approach has hindered fruitful inter-ethnic accommodation within the island and has contributed to the process by which Sri Lanka’s political integration and survival as a state are seriously threatened.

In Sri Lanka, during the early twentieth century, all sectionalist claims from ethnic and religious groups were dubbed ‘communalist’.[7] They were denied legitimacy. Bargaining with ‘communalists’ was seen as bargaining away—a loss, not a gain. The predominant view in Sri Lanka echoes that of Gandhi: ‘We are one nation’, full stop. This dogmatic and elevated stance, as in the Indian case, carried an intransigence which hindered negotiation, disguised fears, and prevented concessions.[8] From this lofty position, it was not perceived that sectional nationalisms and wider nationalisms ‘are not necessarily polar or antithetical forces’. It was not perceived that nationalism can be ‘the terminal result of a full development of strong sectional forces’.[9] It was not perceived that nationalism can incorporate, subsume, and even pyramid familial, local, regional and ethnic loyalties.[10]

The approach embodied in these quotations, as we know, characterized the path followed by Japanese nationalism in the late nineteenth century: for those daimyo and samurai who were behind the Meiji Restoration incorporated regional and other parochial loyalties by using the traditional symbols of loyalty and obligation ‘to make all the little loyalties lead up to one great loyalty to the Emperor’.[11] Their’s was a relatively homogeneous culture, however, and presented a tractable arena. Not so in the independent Republic of India. But here, too, the conflicts aroused by regional nationalism have been partially resolved, after many hesitations and struggles, by a reorganization of state boundaries on linguistic culture lines and by a pluralist solution to the relations between the state and the sub-groupings which recognizes the prevalence of a hierarchy of identities and loyalties.[12] Again, in the Netherlands, where the political parties reflect the deep cleavages of class and religion, these ‘basic realities’ are accepted and governments function through inter-party coalition and accommodation.[13]

Such perceptions have not been entirely absent in Sri Lanka. It is the purpose of this essay to illustrate these perceptions and indicate how they could not be taken very far; how, in the period extending from the 1920s to the 1940s, this approach was attacked and denied by those who remained attached to the holistic Gandhian argument. In the absence of adequately detailed research, I will not attempt to distinguish the relative place of personal interest and ideological conviction in the thinking of the Sinhalese political leaders who advocated one or the other of these arguments. In moving on to the confrontation between Sinhalese and Ceylon Tamil sectionalist nationalisms, however, it is easier to document the influence of competition for the loaves and fishes of office. In doing so, emphasis will be placed on the manner in which Sinhalese sectional nationalism in the 1950s circumvented the borrowed values which had been employed against it previously, and thereby achieved ideological legitimation. The same process involved the fusion of age-old indigenous concepts with foreign concepts, the mixing of the traditional with the modern. This development also exacerbated the sectional nationalism of the Ceylon Tamils, while the new ideological patterns of thought set up an additional barrier to inter-ethnic compromises and the pursuit of pluralist solutions. Running through this tale is irony and paradox: one person was strongly associated with both the pluralist and accommodationist approach among the Sinhalese, as well as with the powerful emergence of Sinhalese sectional nationalism in the 1950s. He was none other than S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.

The starting point for our tale is in the early 1920s when the fledgling Ceylon National Congress (C.N.C.) was split asunder as the majority of Ceylon Tamil political leaders and the Kandyan Sinhalese leadership broke away and set up their own associations.[14] This situation called forth recurrent efforts to patch together some sort of unity. The failure to bring together the principal Tamils and the Sinhalese associations in the period dating from the split in 1921-22 to the formation of the United National Party in 1946 underlines the divergence in material interests and the weight of primordial loyalties as well as the influence of a West European model which hindered concessions to ethnic claims. The conflict between the pluralist and accommodationist approach on the one hand and the dogmatic, unitary nation-state outlook on the other emerged in striking fashion during one of these attempts in the mid-1920s. In December 1924, C. E. Corea, a senior member held in trust by the Ceylon Tamils, had been selected as President of the C.N.C. (for 1925) as a ‘tangible proof of the Congress’s desire to secure unity and cooperation with the Tamils and the Kandyans’.[15] Corea then led a number of Congressmen to Jaffna and negotiated an agreement regarding the distribution of seats in the Legislative Council. This is known as the Mahendra Agreement of June 1925.[16] However, this arrangement was not ratified by the Ceylon National Congress at its annual conference in December 1925. The rationale for this action was underwritten by the West European model of a single nationality nation and presented in the idiom of the Gandhian Sublime:

“There is too much communalism with us yet . . . A mere pretence of unity will not do. A unity brought about by pacts and agreements based on communal prejudice, communal distrust and communal selfishness is nothing but a pretence and a fraud, and pacts between the two largest communities in the Island guaranteeing to each a certain proportion of the loaves and the fishes are revolting in the extreme and deserve unqualified condemnation. The only real and lasting unity is based on mutual trust, mutual good-will and a recognition of the community of interest …,”

argued the incoming President, Francis de Zoysa.[17] His contentions echo those of the leaders in the Indian National Congress: for it will be recalled that the pragmatic arrangements which C. R. Das had worked out for Bengal in discussions with the Bengali Muslim leadership in 1923 were opposed by other Congressmen and Gandhians on the ground that there should be no horse-trading.[18] Behind these views, no doubt, were fears that concessions would only whet the appetites of sectional interests.

Yet just as striking is the reasoning behind the attempt at appeasement. C. E. Corea’s speech on this occasion was characterized by a scathing attack on ‘Western institutions’ as exotic plants for Lanka’s soil and by an essentially pluralistic view of the society: ‘Racial difference in human society was in the order of Nature, and Ceylon’s social fabric was built on the wholesome and holy principle of nationality’, he contended in appealing to his Sinhalese countrymen to ‘reject the silly notion that political union required the absorption of the small by its big neighbour’.[19] Equally significant is the fact that he was seconded on this occasion by a young Oxford graduate named S. W. R. Dias Bandaranaike who argued that ‘communities could retain their entity and yet act together as one nation for the benefit of the whole country’.[20] Bandaranaike took this approach to its logical conclusion in 1926 by advocating the establishment of a federal state as a means of bringing about a better understanding among the different communities.[21] From the ‘central’ standpoint, this was accommodation at its furthest stretch: a federal structure was precisely what the Kandyan élite in the Kandyan National Assembly wanted at this time.[22]

While the Ceylon Tamil leaders did not go this far, the pluralist vision, naturally, attracted them. Their demand for minority rights in the decades before 1948 was within a framework of thought in which they regarded themselves as Ceylonese, and in which the future polity was to be a multi-ethnic state.

“The conception of corporate unity… in the minds of the Sinhalese is in the nature of a merger, an absorption, of the minorities in the major community. A just and more correct idea of an united Ceylon is that of a rich and gorgeous many-coloured mosaic, set and studded with the diversities of communal consciousness within a glorious one-minded solidarity, …”

contended the All-Ceylon Tamil Conference in 1937 in support of their defensive sectionalist politics.[23] Unfortunately, at this stage this view was coupled with an absurd demand that the Sinhalese should limit themselves to 50 per cent of the parliamentary seats and permit the minorities to constitute the other 50 per cent. What is more, led by G. G. Ponnambalam, the Ceylon Tamil associations and several Other minority leaders chose to ally with various British interests in Sri Lanka and Britain and to seek substantial modifications in the reform demands which the State Council and the Ceylon National Congress had placed before the British authorities.[24] Among these modifications was opposition to the removal of the Governor’s powers, a central demand of the nationalist leadership.

Such Tamil political associations, therefore, came under polemical fire as ‘communalist’ organizations from the Ceylon National Congress and the Marxist leaders in the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (L.S.S.P.) as well as other observers. Similar attacks were directed against the Sinhala Maha Sabha which had been formed by Bandaranaike in 1934. At one stage in the period 1939-42 the place of the Sinhala Maha Sabha as a unit within the C.N.C. confederation was even brought into question by a number of activists led by J. R. Jayewardene, C. P. G. Abeyewardena, A. W. H. Abeyesundere, Stanley de Zoysa, Victor C. Perera and G. C. S. Corea.[25]

In meeting these criticisms, Bandaranaike developed the view which he had presented in 1925, though he did not go so far as to propose a federal state. In two important speeches in March and in December 1939, and in several speeches in the 1940s, he reiterated his argument for a pyramid of loyalties:

“We [i.e. the Sinhala Maha Sabha] saw differences amongst our own people —caste distinctions, up-country and low-country distinctions, religious distinctions, and various other distinctions—and we therefore felt that we should achieve unity, which is the goal of us all. Surely the best method was to start from the lower rung; firstly, unity among the Sinhalese; and secondly, whilst uniting the Sinhalese, to work for the higher unity, the unity of all communities.”[26]

The persistence with which the Kandyan Goyigama remained aloof from the political mainstream appears to have been one of Bandaranaike’s particular worries. His programmatic statement quoted above was followed by the exaggerated claim that the differences between the two sections of the Sinhalese were ‘fast disappearing’ and that a recent meeting at Rambukkana ‘attended by thousands of people’ evidenced ‘a new hope of Sinhalese unity’. In retrospect, it is evident that his Sinhala Maha Sabah and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party achieved this objective and brought about substantial links between the Kandyan and Low-Country Sinhalese, though at the level of alliance rather than that of assimilation.[27] There is reason to suppose that Bandaranaike’s personal ambitions would have led him to attach greater weight to his goal of Sinhalese unity than to his further object of capping this unity with Sinhalese—Tamil cooperation. In his public discourses in the 1930s and 1940s, however, Bandaranaike remained adamant that both goals were attainable. He even told the delegates of the Sinhala Maha Sabha that ‘their own conception of nationalism alone would bring about true unity and progress in the country’.[28]

As with C. E. Corea, but more incisively, Bandaranaike’s approach was linked with the criticism that Ceylonese politicians unfortunately surveyed the political scene ‘along lines Of British thought unintelligently and without any consideration of the particular conditions of the country’.[29] The juxtaposition of these aspects is significant. His understanding of indigenous social realities and his willingness to reject borrowed notions permitted him to move away from the model of a single nationality nation towards a pluralist and pyramidical solution— an arrangement which, in my retrospective view, held out the best hopes of assuaging Sinhalese-Tamil conflict.

Yet on becoming head of state in 1956, Bandaranaike was not able to take this approach very far. It made its appearance, in qualified and fitful fashion, in the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957. But he could not impose this view on the forces that had picked him up as their leader and symbol. Both this standpoint and its advocate were enmeshed and submerged by other tendencies. The Sinhala Buddhist movement in the 1950s was a channel of mass mobilization. Its populist radicalism and the coalescent interests within it would brook no limitations on the symbolic and material rewards which control of the machinery of state placed within their grasp.[30]

That such a fate should overtake Bandaranaike’s initial views, with such poignant consequences (the dead bodies of 1956 and 1958 plus the growth of Tamil separatism), is a pointer to the fact that Sri Lanka’s terrain is more intractable than that of India, however paradoxical this might seem, and much less amenable even to the pluralist solution. Thus, in presenting his theory of ethnic conflict as a dialectic that resolves problems, Jyotirindra Das Gupta does not take adequate account of the solidarity functions performed by the Hindu religion (as a Great Tradition) and the myth of Mother India. These traditions and the federal governing institutions had integrative effects and provided a framework that contained conflict. In India, moreover, the locus of conflict was dispersed, largely at ‘the periphery’ rather than at ‘the core’; that is to say, the linguistic nationalisms and regionalisms focused on the state governments and the regions rather than the federal centre. In consequence, the federal government could step in sometimes as arbiter.[31] The very multiplicity of nationalities, the ‘multi-polar’ situation as Arasaratnam describes it, also served to produce some equilibrium.[32] None of these features were (are) found in Sri Lanka. Ethnic roles in the central institutions were (are) at stake. The presence of Moors (six to seven per cent of the population) and Burghers (less than one per cent) only qualified (qualifies) an essentially bi-polar situation. Above all, perhaps, as subjectively perceived, history and mythology have provided no solidarity functions. They have been purely abrasive and anxiety-ridden.

The history of the island has bequeathed to the Sinhalese a vision: their role as a chosen people destined to preserve Buddhism in its pristine purity within the island bastion. This vision is embodied in two sister concepts: the Dhammadīpa concept (island of the Dhamma) and the Sīhadīpa concept (island of the Sīhala people or Sinhalese). Dating from the fifth century A.D. at the very least, these concepts were not only embodied in the ancient Pali chronicles (the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa), but also were maintained and embellished in Sinhala literature, folk-lore and mythology.[33] These concepts were nurtured in an era in which there were no Tamil kingdoms within the island and in which they were in accord with the composition of the island population. While there were probably some Tamil settlements in the Mannar (Mantota) locality, the present centres of the Ceylon Tamil population in the Jaffna Peninsula and along the eastern coast were inhabited largely by Sinhalese.[34] So complete was the Sinhalese occupation that the term Sīhala came to refer to the land as well as its inhabitants. As early as the fourth century A.D. the island is referred to as ‘Saiṃhala’ in the Samudragupta Allahabad Prasasti in India.[35] It was not till the formation of a Tamil kingdom in the north in the thirteenth century and its subsequent persistence that demographic facts were at variance with the Sīhadīpa and Dhammadīpa concepts. Even thereafter, the buffer zone provided by the dry zone forests in the Vanni, the limited degree of interaction between Tamil and Sinhalese kingdoms, and the tendency of some Vanni chiefs and Tamil kings to accept the fiction of the Sinhalese king’s overlordship encouraged the Sinhalese in their adherence to these notions. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, therefore, the Kingdom of Kandy in the interior was referred to as ‘Sīhalē‘. As Paul Pieris stresses, to the Kandyan court, ‘the Sinhalese, wherever they lived, were the King’s people’.[36]

The cultural boundaries and group identity of the Sinhalese were not only fostered by the norms embodied in the Dhammadīpa and Sīhadīpa concepts. They were maintained by interaction. As illustrated by Gananath Obeyesekere, the pilgrimage was one of the sociological mechanisms by which the superordinate identity as Sinhalese was maintained, for the pilgrimage cut across, and merged, various parochial loyalties.[37] Simultaneously, interaction with neighbouring and visiting ethnic groups (e.g. Tamils and Moors) over a long period of time assisted the process by which cognitive boundaries were established. Intermittent political conflict with South Indian kingdoms entered Sinhalese memory as a dominant theme. The Dravidians and Tamils appear in the chronicles and folk-tales as invaders and destroyers of the Dhamma—as the descendants of Magha who helped to destroy the famous Rajarata civilization in the north and then set up an independent kingdom further to the north. As embodied in the popular Dutugamani epic, the Tamils represent one arm of a pincer which threatened to press the Sinhalese peoples against that other arm, the deep unfathomable sea. Even the Nayakkar dynasty who ascended the throne (in the eighteenth century) in the Kingdom of Kandy through the legitimate channel of marriage found that these strains could be used against them: on at least two occasions aristocratic and priestly factions branded them as ‘heretical Tamils’ in inciting coups or rebellions against Nayakkar monarchs.[38]

With the national awakening and cultural revival which developed in response to the developments under British rule, these traditions were consolidated. The use of the printing press and the spread of literacy encouraged the strengthening of the Sinhalese collective consciousness. The cultural revival that was initiated in the latter half of the nineteenth century was in large part a backlash against the denigration of Buddhism at the hands of Christian zealots as well as a reaction against Westernization. Nevertheless, it meant an affirmation of the Sinhala Buddhist identity and an aggressive effort to shore up Sinhalese self-respect. From the very outset it involved a concern for Sinhalese strength and the Sinhalese share of materially rewarding and prestigeful occupations. The activists in the Sinhala Buddhist cultural revival were among the earliest exponents of economic nationalism. In the 1880s the Sarasavi Sandaräsa, the organ of the Buddhist Theosophical Society, argued the need to become self-sufficient in consumer goods and wanted the people to increase their exports so that money would flow into the country. Year after year it pressed the argument that it was ‘the business of the Ceylonese to consider ways of accumulating capital’. Its clientele of Buddhist merchants evidently ‘thought that no useful purpose was served by increasing the production of export commodities if the profits were taken by ‘non-nationals’. ‘Predictably, the European capitalist came . . . sharply into focus as an exploiter of the island’s resources.’ So did other aliens. And non-Sinhalese. Indeed, the Sinhalese merchants revealed specific interest in the Sinhalese share of trade and were hostile ‘to the non-Sinhalese who dominated the import trade’.[39] These goals and strains were carried on by the Buddhist zealot and propagandist, Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933 :

“We must learn to stand on our own legs and not depend on the alien. We must revive our industries, give work to our countrymen first before we feed the distant Austrian and Belgian who supply us with his manufactures . . . Tamils, Cochins, Hambankarayas are employed in large numbers to the prejudice of the people of the island—sons of the soil, who contribute the largest share…..”[40]

In several of these expressions the manner in which ‘non-national’ could shade off into ‘non-Sinhalese’ is significant. Through ambivalences, Dharmapala’s inclination to use ‘Ceylon’ and ‘Sinhala’ synonymously comes through clearly. At one point in the 1920s he even tilted at people who used the word ‘Ceylonese’ rather than ‘Sinhalese’. From such a viewpoint, it follows that the indigenization of the highly prized administrative services meant Sinhalization rather than Ceylonization.

For all their vigour of language the influence of the Sinhalese cultural revivalists took second place in the principal political associations during the first half of the twentieth century. The West European view of a nation-state and its secular emphasis attracted many of the English educated leaders. Their attachment to these concepts was ambivalent and not as undiluted by cultural revivalism as some historians have thought.[41] Nevertheless, their attitudes did not stretch to the extremes that are associated with Dharmapala and his followers. Dharmapala’s brand of Sinhalese nationalism, one suspects, had a significant following among the urban literati and local notables who made up the Lanka Maha Jana Sabha, an important affiliate of the Ceylon National Congress from the 1920s. With the initiation of the Sinhala Maha Sabha in the mid-1930s these elements would have found a warmer hearth there, but there were other Sinhalese revivalists who remained more closely connected with the Ceylon National Congress. At this stage, till the early 1950s, Sinhalese nationalism was on the defensive. Indeed, it was regularly reviled as a ‘communalism’. Special reasons enabled it to transcend and transform this disadvantage. By the 1950s the groundswell of the underprivileged sectors of Ceylonese society and the festering opposition to the privileges of the English-educated ‘class’ could no longer be contained. Linking up with a body of defectors from the privileged sector, the have-nots pushed themselves forward to the front reaches of political power. The principal agency for this thrust was the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (S.L.F.P.) under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, a party that was formed in 1951 on the foundations provided by the Sinhala Maha Sabha.[42] The dramatic and sweeping victory of the M.E.P. coalition (in which the S.L.F.P. was the principal unit) at the general elections of 1956 was a psychological triumph that created deep impressions. Its egalitarianism and its enthusiasm gave this populist movement an ideological legitimation. Uncommitted observers could describe the movement as a ‘Sinhalese nationalist resurgence’ and an expression of ‘Sinhalese nationalism’.[43] An invidious and insidious distinction could creep in, with one value for the Sinhalese and another value for the parallel Ceylon Tamil nationalism: so that a local scholar could provide a sympathetic review of the grievances of the ‘Sinhala nation’ and the nature of ‘Sinhalese nationalism’ at the same time as he referred to the Tamil ‘communal programme’.[44]

Let me reiterate here what has been noted by other scholars: the claims of distributive justice and the grievances of the under-privileged represented by the S.L.F.P.-M.E.P. movement were interlaced with the material wants of a Sinhalese sectional nationalism reaching out for shares in the economic pie. The old Sinhala Buddhist antipathy to aliens remained. Hence the widespread support for nationalization programmes—support that extended beyond those with Marxist or socialist convictions.

Since plantation enterprise, nascent industry and the island’s trade were dominated by foreign capitalists, and the minorities were disproportionately influential within the indigenous capitalist class, Buddhist pressure groups viewed socialism as a means of redressing the balance in favour of the majority group. Every extension of state control over trade and industry could be justified on the ground that it helped curtail the influence of foreigners and the minorities. The Sinhala Buddhist section of the capitalist class was not averse to socialism so long as its own economic interests were not affected. The result was that the populist Sri Lanka Freedom Party has been able to reconcile a commitment to a hazy socialism with an advocacy of the interests of a section of the indigenous capitalist class—the Sinhala Buddhist segment of it.[45]

From the same springs tributary movements emerged which sought to dissolve and eat away the advantages held by the Ceylon Tamils. From the early twentieth century mere impressions were adequate to suggest that the Ceylon Tamils held a disproportionate share of posts in the government services and in the liberal professions. In the 1940s and 1950s it was claimed that this was the outcome of educational privileges and nepotism. ‘Statistical comparisons were employed to show how the Tamils had “usurped” more than their fair share of jobs’.[46] A sense of relative deprivation took root, with the Ceylon Tamils as a comparative reference group. The old psychological fear of the Tamils cropped up and was assiduously cultivated—gaining a greater credibility with the advance of the D.M.K. in South India. ‘The problem of the Tamils is not a minority problem. The Sinhalese are the minority in Dravidastan. We are carrying on a struggle for national existence against the Dravidian majority’, said a Member of Parliament in 1962.[47] ‘If the Tamils get hold of the country, the Sinhalese will have to jump into the sea. It is essential, therefore, to safeguard our country, the nation, and the religion and to work with that object in mind’, said the Mahanayake thero of the Ramanya Nikaya in May 1967.[48] In this sense the Sinhalese are a majority community with the fears of a minority.

In the process, the movement which began in the 1930s to displace English with the two vernaculars took a different slant in the 1950s. With the ‘Sinhala Only’ cry, primacy of place was claimed for the Sinhala language and received a majoritarian sanction from the demographic distribution. Political power and language reform, therefore, were employed to change the terms on which the ethnic groups competed for jobs in the government sector. Since the 1950s a far-reaching Sinhalization of the government services has been taking place.[49] This has occurred at the same time as two other processes: a tremendous expansion of the government sector and the increasing politicization of the bureaucracy—to the where M.P.s take routine administrative decisions and control the recruitment and placement of some public servants.[50] Since the disenfranchisement of the ‘Indian Tamils’ has given the Sinhalese 79—81 per cent of the parliamentary seats since 1952,[51] the political penetration of the bureaucratic services has further disadvantageous implications for the Tamils. The declining economy has in the meantime created new constraints and new pressures. One adjustment on the same discriminatory lines has been the introduction of standardization schemes (1973 onwards) and the imposition of district quotas (1974 onwards) for University admissions: as a result of which the previous capacity of the Ceylon Tamils to secure about 40 per cent of the University places in the prestigious science-oriented courses has been reduced to about 25 per cent.[52] Despite such trends, the old Sinhalese sentiments of relative deprivation remain. ‘The Tamil people must accept the fact that the Sinhala majority will no longer permit themselves to be cheated of their rights’, said Mrs Bandaranaike in 1967.[53] Clearly, hard-won advances and controlling position are not going to be given up lightly, even though the wheel has been turned more than full circle. The possibility of concessions has been made even more difficult in recent decades by the growth in the political of ‘depressed’ Sinhalese castes, such as the Bathgam, Wahumpura, Rajaka and Berava—a development which all Sinhalese politicians have to take into account. No Sinhalese statesman has appeared yet who has shown a firm commitment to altruistic self-denial and a readiness to risk political suicide.

Predictably these trends have had their repercussions on the attitudes of the Ceylon Tamils, Moors, and other minority groups; and in the former case served as a catalyst for the growth of national consciousness. The Ceylon Tamils and Ceylon élites had expressed fears of Sinhalese domination as early as the 1910s.[54] These fears have remained an overriding concern ever since.

The Moor élites initially leaned towards an alliance with the Tamils and other minorities so as to extract political concessions from the British, but from the 1940s they have tended to ally with the Sinhalese against the Tamils; with wings in both the S.L.F.P. and U.N.P., they have revealed the buoyancy of a cork and a Talleyrand—an ability to stay vigorously afloat at every political overturn ; and they are entrenched in the commercial sector. Yet there must be underlying anxieties which intermittent ethnic friction in the bazaars and the recent (1975 and 1976) outbreak of Sinhalese-Moor clashes must have emphasized.

The fears and grievances of the Ceylon Tamils grew apace throughout the period extending from the 1910s to the 1970s. The indigenization of the public services in Malaya and Tamilnadu in the post-war period has reduced their previous job opportunities abroad; and the post 1950s trend in Sri Lanka has been a great blow, for government service has been one of their major ‘industries’.[55] At the political level they can look back on a history of broken promises and agreements on the part of several Sinhalese political associations. Their sense of relative deprivation is now acute. Its political expression is the recent acceptance of the goal of a separate state and the formation of a Tamil United Front with the Federal Party as its main constituent (1972-73) and the Tamil Congress and Ceylon Workers’ Congress as the other units. This is a new development. For perhaps the first time the Ceylon Tamils have established organizational links with the ‘Indian Tamil’ segment of the island population. An uncommitted observer has indicated that these political links are paper thin.[56] However weak, this new development, and the programmatic demands associated with it, together constitute a landmark in Tamil ideology: they represent an attempt to diffuse Tamil separatist nationalism. As such, they signal a new departure in the policy favoured by the Ceylon Tamil leaders (mostly Vellala) in previous decades.

Right up to 1948-49 the demands of the Ceylon Tamils, however exaggerated, had been invoked in the language of human rights and minority rights. Their claims as a nationality were not advanced. In this sense their ideology was a Ceylon Tamil sectional patriotism rather than a sectional nationalism. It became a sectional nationalism in the year 1949 and thereafter. At that point, a segment of the Ceylon Tamil leadership broke away from the Tamil Congress to form the Federal Party. They sought regional autonomy on the ground that the ‘Tamil-speaking people in Ceylon constitut[ed] a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood’.[57] With the upsurge of Sinhalese nationalism in the mid-1950s the Federal Party grew into the dominant political party in the Ceylon Tamil areas. Despite its claims on behalf of all the Tamil-speaking people in Lanka, its concrete links with the ‘Indian Tamils’ appear to have been limited. Moreover, as in the years before 1948-49, these claims were advanced within the parameters of a Ceylonese nationalism and the conception of a multi-ethnic polity.[58] Therefore, the recent developments represent a major transformation. In the light of the memories, trends, and discriminations referred to above this is not a surprising development. Behind it, and behind the vested interests of the older generation of Tamil leaders, are cohorts of unemployed or frustrated Tamil youth.

Whichever slant one gives the story, it has been, as Wriggins notes recently, ‘a thoroughly vicious circle’.[59]

Both this outline survey and the numerous publications on the subject indicate that material interests and economic competition for shares in the Ceylonese pie were a major factor in this process If the fears and forces that powered this competition were longstanding and deep, there is nevertheless reason to think that the escalation of opposition could have been better ‘regulated’ than it has been. In brief, there has been a failure of statesmanship. Comparisons with the policies pursued under Tunku Abdul Rahman in Malaysia and with D. S. Senanayake’s policy in the period 1946—52 support this view. In both cases, Wriggins considers that ‘moderation made it possible for leaders to construct a more inclusive political following from [the principal] communities’. This is where the self-interest of individuals and associations operating within a competitive parliamentary system led to excesses. ‘Aspiring politicians found issues of language, religion, job defense, etc. the best ways [to arouse] a popular following’ and to erode the support for the moderates; and ‘communal conflict resulted from the political strategies aspiring leaders were tempted to use in their own rise to influence’.[60] This was as true of the Ceylon Tamil politicians as of the Sinhalese. However, several of these ambitious politicians were also responding to wide-spread popular sentiments and deep psychological commitments. There is, in this instance, a chicken-and-egg problem in disentangling interest and identity. Both the cynicism of an Anil Seal and the unrelenting hostility of an Elie Kedourie seem ‘at least as likely as the contrary view[s] to traduce the ambivalence and complexity of the relationship’.[61] Some measure of emotional authenticity must be allowed for.

In the Sri Lanka case one part of the complexity is provided by structural features.[62] For one, the Sinhalese constituted 67 per cent of the population in 1921, 69.4 per cent in 1946 and 72 per cent in 1971; and roughly 79 per cent of the citizens in the 1960s.[63] For another, after the effective disenfranchisement of the ‘Indian Tamils’ by statutory measures enacted between 1947 and 1949, the Sinhalese have regularly gained 79-81 per cent of the parliamentary seats since 1952. This has enabled them to give minimal concessions to the Tamils. Indeed, the principal parties have been actively discouraged from making significant concessions because this would erode their popular support in the


The Population of Sri Lanka, 1871—1971 : Ethnic Groups

Numbers (‘000s)
Census Year 1881 1911 1921 1946 1953 1963 1971
Ethnic Groups
1. Sinhalese 1847 2715 3016 4620 5617 7513 9431
Low-country 1717 1927 2902 3470 4470 5426
Kandyan 998 1089 1718 2147 3043 3705
2. Tamils 687 1059 1120 1514 1859 2288 2599
Ceylon Tamils 528 517 734 885 1165 1424
Indian Tamils 531 603 780 974 1123 1175
3. Moors 185 267 285 410 511 682 853
Ceylon Moors 234 252 374 464 627 828
Indian Moors 33 33 36 47 55 28
4. Burghers & Eurasians 18 27 29 42 46 46 45
5. Malays 9 13 13 23 33 33 43
6. Veddas 2 5 5 2
7. Europeans 5 8 8 5 40 20 15
8. Others 7 13 22 40
1. Sinhalese 66.9 66.1 67.0 69.4 69.4 71.0 72.0
Low-country 41.8 42.8 43.6 42.9 42.2 42.8
Kandyan 24.3 24.2 25.8 26.5 28.8 29.2
2. Tamils 24.9 25.8 24.9 22.7 22.9 21.6 20.5
Ceylon Tamils 12.9 11.5 11.0 10.9 11.0 11.2
Indian Tamils 12.9 13.4 11.7 12.0 10.6 9.3
3. Moors 6.7 6.5 6.4 6.1 6.3 6.4 6.7
Ceylon Moors 5.7 5.6 5.6 5.7 5.9 6.5
Indian Moors 0.8 0.7 0.5 0.6 0.5 0.2
4. Burghers & Eurasians 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.4
5. Malays 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3
6. Veddas 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0
7. Europeans 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.5 0.2 0.1
8. Others             0.3       0.3   0.5   0.6          
 100  100   100   100   100   100   100

Sources: census data as represented in N. K. Sarkar, The Demography of Ceylon, Colombo: 1957, pp. 193—94; for 1953 and 1963, the Statistical Pocket  Book of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) 1974, p. 14, and for 1971, the Census of Population 1971, Colombo: Dept. of  Census and Statistics, 1975, p. 24.

strategic Sinhalese districts, especially in the Kandyan Sinhalese areas where the hostility to the ‘Indian Tamils’ is rock-hard. In this way the Sinhalese have a democratic sanction as well as structural incentives in support of their recent sectionalist policies.

Another structural feature of some consequence, of course, has been that of physical geography; Sri Lanka’s island character has encouraged the feeling that it is a ‘natural’ unit preordained to remain one entity. It is instructive, here, to recall that one of the earliest strands in the evolution of nationalism in Europe can be described as the ‘natural theories’. Its advocates were convinced ‘that they were not asserting a novel claim but affirming an ancient truth’.[64] History and geography linked together in Sri Lanka to perpetuate a similar feeling.

Another part of the complexity, and an important reason for the growth of ethnic divergence, has been the island’s peculiar ideological heritage. Indeed, it is in delineating the manner in which this dynamically changing heritage blocked ethnic accommodation that this paper seeks to make an original contribution. In the 1920s and 1930s, as argued earlier, the imported concept of a nation-state on the West European model prevented strategically placed Sinhalese leaders from making meaningful concessions to the Ceylon Tamils. In the 1950s the situation changed. A powerful ideological constellation and fusion occurred. The hallowed Sinhala Buddhist ideology, the nation-state concept, and democratic and egalitarian theories were blended into one force. Traditional notions were linked with modern concepts. Sinhalese sectional nationalism was legitimized. In certain aspects this fusion had been anticipated by the Sinhalese cultural revivalists in the late nineteenth century and had been continuously present ever since. Yet, from 1956, it had a more comprehensive theoretical grounding, a mobilized population, and a great electoral triumph behind it. In the typical Sinhalese perception, Ceylonese nationalism could be equated with Sinhalese nationalism, the part being unconsciously or consciously sublimated with the whole.

A parallel has been drawn between Sinhalese nationalism and Afrikaaner nationalism in South Africa.[65] The more comparable parallel is with the Magyar conception of the Hungarian state between 1915 and 1918. Let me not be misunderstood. In contextual situation as well as their social foundations, there are striking differences between the Magyar and Sinhalese nationalist movements. The similarity is confined to one arena: their conception of the national state and its boundaries. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as we know, the traditional patriotism of the Magyar-Hungarian aristocracy received a fresh infusion of blood from Herder’s concept of a volk community, from the growth of linguistic nationalism originating in the Romanticist movement and its allied branch of Historicism, and from the nationalist implications of the French Revolution. The cultural and linguistic renaissance in turn transformed the ideology of the aristocracy. Whereas old ‘Hungary was a supranational nobilitarian class society’ until the first part of the nineteenth century, ‘under the influence of the nineteenth-century ideas of linguistic nationalism Hungary transformed itself into a Magyar nation-state in which the Magyar feudal ruling class continued to control the state’.[66] Not only did the traditional patriotism of the aristocracy evolve into a nationalism. Their ideology took a specific Magyar slant. As in the relationship between Sinhalese nationalism and Sri Lanka, Hungarian nationalism was subsumed by Magyar nationalism: the territorial focus was on the historic boundaries of Hungary rather than the ethnic contours. As in Sri Lanka, it generated similar results: conflict with the minority ethnic groups within these boundaries.

In Sri Lanka, then, this ideological constellation has become a barrier to meaningful political accommodation between the Sinhalese and Tamil sectionalist nationalisms. Federal structures of government, other pluralist solutions, even decentralized administrative schemes (e.g. the district councils’ scheme in the 1960s) were (are) treated as beyond the pale or were (are) regularly undermined.[67] In short, it has long been a form of ideological blindness, a blood-clot suffocating and debilitating the body politic. In this form the Tamils might well see this force as a capture of the nation-state concept (and the state itself) by the Sīhaladīpa and Dhammadīpa concepts. In this fashion this conceptual blockade has contributed substantially to the process by which, between the mid-1940s and 1973, the desire for a separate state moved ‘from the wild imagination in the lunatic fringes of Tamil politics to the centre of Tamil political calculations’.[68]

In arguing that more accommodating policies on the part of the Sinhalese majority would have lessened the degrees of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, this essay raises a broader issue: does conciliation assuage or nourish sectional nationalism? In what circumstances do concessions placate sectional interests and what guarantee is there that further demands would not be stimulated? The leaders confronted this classical dilemma. The Sinhalese leaders in the Ceylon National Congress in the 1920s and 1930s undoubtedly feared that concessions to ‘communal demands’ would weaken their movement and compromise their objectives. When G. C. S. Corea, a Minister and the President of the Congress, had discussions with some Ceylon Tamil leaders in mid1940 as part of a ‘new policy of “conciliation'”, this course of action was brought under slashing attack by D. R. Wijewardene and his Lake House journalists:

“in this ‘business’ of satisfying communal demands, the more are the seats conceded, the greater is the demand. The communal appetite increases with what it feeds.[69] Dominion Status or even independence [based on] an unjust scheme of representation will [not be] … a worthwhile advance in responsible government. The Indian National Congress has always refused to compromise on fundamental principles. When British statesmen ask the people of India to compose their differences, they merely encourage the minorities to raise their price.”[70]

A reasonable case could always be made against accommodation.

Nor were the paths of those Sinhalese who supported appeasement made easier by the strategies and tactics pursued by the Ceylon Tamil associations. For instance, in 1930-31, at a time when the Congress leaders were disposed to permit concessions in the delimitation of territorial constituencies, the Ceylon Tamil leaders seem to have spurned cooperation.[71] Again, from the mid-1930s, G. G. Ponnambalam’s ‘fifty-fifty’ demand and his strategy of collaboration with the British created an unfavourable climate for accommodation.

Nevertheless, amidst these developments, the L.S.S.P. and the Ceylon Communist Party maintained substantial links among the Ceylon Tamil intelligentsia till the late 1950s and D. S. Senanayake patched together a coalition in 1946-47 which included G. G. Ponnambalam and other Ceylon Tamils. It was in the 1950s that a change occurred, following the forceful emergence of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism to the front reaches of power. Paradoxically, the latter was marshalled by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, whose understanding of Sri Lankan society, and pluralist conception, provided greater possibilities for a successful compromise than the approaches of a Francis de Zoysa or a D. R. Wijewardene. But his attempts at balancing interests were sabotaged by the forces he had gathered together. Bandaranaike’s failure as a mediator underlines the strength of the factors that support ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka; viz., to summarize this essay: long-standing group identities and prejudices; competition for shares in the pie; a demographic structure which is essentially bi-polar and which places the Sinhalese in a clear majority; an electoral framework which accentuates the majoritarian status of the Sinhalese and places any political party which cooperates, with the Tamil sectionalist associations in a vulnerable position;[72] the historical legacies and the ideological constellation that occurred in the 1950s between modern political concepts and dynamic traditional concepts.

This story calls into question Das Gupta’s belief in the dialectical process of conflict as a solution to ethnic problems. In contrast to class conflict it is not always true that those who feel that they are oppressed have numbers in their favour. In such countries as Sri Lanka, the geopolitical factors of population distribution, as we have seen, differ radically from those in the Republic of India. Indeed, there is room in Sri Lanka for conflict to evolve in the direction of such awesome ‘models’ as Northern Ireland, Cyprus and the Lebanon. This is a pessimistic view that will appear far-fetched. This is because the potential similarity is veiled by an important point of difference between Sri Lanka and these three ‘exemplars’: the island has escaped the full ‘benefits’ of industrial progress as well as the experience of immersion in a twentieth-century war. In short, if one excludes the largely Sinhalese armed forces, neither the Tamil nor the Sinhalese extremists have the military technology of the Irish, the Cypriots, or the Lebanese. As yet.

***  **

 A NOTE in 1977/78

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Fifth European Conference on Modern Asian Studies held at Leiden in mid-July 1976 and at a seminar of the Centre of South Asian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, in London, on 3 November 1976. I am grateful to those present at these gatherings for their comments. My thanks, too, to C. R. de Silva, Roland Edirisinghe, C. H. Fernando, Bruce Kapferer, Gerald Pieris and Dietmar Rothermund for their helpful observations.

NOTES in 2018

SCENES from RECENT TIMES … Lanka and Abroad


[1] Quoted in F. H. Hinsley, Nationalism and the International System (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973), p. 44. Also see the description provided by a lawyer named Lacratelle in 1789, quoted in Boyd C. Shafer, Faces of Nationalism: New Realities and Old Myths (New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1974), pp. 9, 381.

[2] Otto Pflanze, ‘Nationalism in Europe, 1848-1871’, Review of Politics, Vol. 28, No. 2 (April 1966), p. 140.

[3] The comments in the first paragraph have profited from the works referred to in citations 1 and 2 and the writings on nationalism by S. Arasaratnam (1974), Morris Ginsberg (1961), Paul R. Brass (1974), Lewis Namier (1962), Hugh Seton Watson (1965), Joseph R. Strayer (1963) and Louis L. Snyder.

[4] Paul R. Brass, Language, Religion and Politics in North India (Cambridge University Press, 1974), pp. 5-7, 432; Michael Roberts, ‘Variations on the Theme of Resistance Movements: The Kandyan Rebellion of 1817-18 and Latter-Day Nationalisms in Ceylon’, Ceylon Studies Seminar, No. 31 (October 1972), mimeo, p. 4.

[5] Brass, Language, pp. 4-7, 14-15, 432. Cf. Rupert Emerson, From Empire to Nation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960), pp. 7, 103.

[6] David M. Potter, ‘The Historian’s Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa’, American Historical Review, Vol. LXVII, No. 4 (July 1962), p. 930.

[7] E.g. Ceylon Daily News, 19 December 1938 and 6 March 1939; Youth Congress, Jaffna, Communalism or Nationalism . . … ? A Reply to the Speech Delivered in the State Council on the Reforms Despatch by G. G. Ponnambalam, Esq., 1939 (Chunnakam: Thirumakal Press, 1939); The Hand-Book of the Ceylon National Congress, 1919—1928, ed. By S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike (Colombo: H. W. Cave & Co., 1928), pp. 346ff, 499—516. The latter will hereafter noticed as Handbook CNC.

[8] Elie Kedourie (ed.), Nationalism in Asia and Africa (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1970), pp. 60-1. Kedouric’s excessive acidity must not be allowed to cloud the validity of this point.

[9] Potter, ‘Historian’s Use of Nationalism’, p. 931.

[10] Kenneth B. Pyle, ‘Some Recent Approaches to Japanese Nationalism’, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. XXXI, No. 1 (November 1971), p. 9.

[11] Ibid., quoting from Thomas C. Smith.

[12] Jyotirindra Das Gupta, Language Conflict and National Development (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970).

[13] Brass, Language, p. 40, summarizing Arend Lijphart’s, The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in the Netherlands (University of California Press, 1968).

[14] K. M. de Silva, ‘The Ceylon National Congress in Disarray, 1920-21; Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam leaves the Congress’, Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, new series, Vol. Il, No. 2 (1972), pp. 97—1 r 7; L. A. Wickremeratne, ‘Kandyans and Nationalism in Sri Lanka: Some Reflections’, Ibid., Vol. V (1975), pp. 49-67.

[15] Quotation from F. A. Obeyesekere’s speech at the annual sessions of the C.N.C. in the editorial in the Ceylon Morning Leader, 10 December 1924. C. E. Corea: advocate, Low-Country Sinhalese and Goyigama Christian. His family had been headmen in Chilaw District for several generations and they were the leading force in the Chilaw Association which emerged as a relatively vociferous critic of British rule from the 1890s. The Chilaw District bordered Moor and Tamil areas. It is possible that this influenced the outlook of the Coreas.

[16] See Handbook CNC, 1928, pp. 661-64 for full text. Apart from C. E. Corea, the other Sinhalese in the delegation were C. E. Victor S. Corea (his brother), George E. de Silva, R. S. S. Gunewardene, M. H. Jayetilleke, and P. de S. Kularatne. The other Congress delegates were M. A. Arulanandan, T. B. Jayah and Dr S. Muttiah.

[17] Handbook CNC, 1928, p. 686. Also see pp. 700—8. Francis de Zoysa: advocate, Low-Country Sinhalese, and Salagama. Married to a Catholic. His son, Stanley de Zoysa, also entered the C.N.C. in 1939-40 as a staunch critic of ‘communalism’; but was a founder member of the S.L.F.P. and Finance Minister in the 1956-60 administration.

[18] Information communicated by Dietmar Rothermund. Also see Leonard A. Gordon, Bengal: The Nationalist Movement, 1876—1940 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), pp. 168-69, and 194-96; J. H. Broomfield, Elite Conflict in a Plural Society: Twentieth-Century Bombay (University of California Press, 1968), pp. 238-39, 245-46, 153-56, 330. The Hindu-Muslim Pact was rescinded in 1926.

[19] Handbook CNC, 1928, pp. 692-701, quotations pp. 700-01.

[20] Ibid., pp. 701-02. Also see Victor Corea’s comments, pp. 702-08 and 771-73.

[21] In a series of six articles, Ceylon Morning Leader, 19 May to 30 June 1926.

[22] L. A. Wickremeratne, ‘Kanydans’, pp. 55, 59-67; Kandyan National Assembly, The Rights and Claim of the Kandyan People (Kandy: Miller & co., n.d. (1928)).


[23] Memorandum from the President, All-Ceylon Tamil Conference, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 14 July 1937, in CO 54 series. Also see the Ceylon Daily News, 12 April 1937, for reports on a meeting of the All-Ceylon Tamil Conference.

[24] Citations above and other documents printed in Michael Roberts (ed.), Documents of the Ceylon National Congress, 1929-50, and Nationalist Politics in Ceylon (Colombo: Dept of National Archives, in press), pp. 2113-53, 2483-97, 2381-98. For some C.N.C. reactions, see ibid., pp. 1317ff.

[25] Roberts, ibid., pp. Ixxxviii, clv-clvii, 561-76, 596-601, 1294-5, 1346-51.

[26] S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Towards a New Era: Selected Speeches . . . made in the Legislature of Ceylon 1931-1959 (Colombo: Dept of Broadcasting and Information, Government of Ceylon, 1961), pp. 50-51. This was on 21 March 1939. The same argument was reiterated at the annual general meeting of the Sinhala Maha Sabha on 30-31 December 1939 (see Ceylon Daily News, 1 January 1940, or Roberts (ed.), Documents, pp. 566-70) and at subsequent S.M.S. meetings as well (see citation 28 below). It was also emphasized in the defence he presented at an Executive Committee meeting of the Ceylon National Congress on 17 January 1940 (Roberts (ed.), Documents, pp. 564—5).

[27] For some comments, see my ‘Meanderings in the Pathway of Collective Identity and Nationalism’, in Michael Roberts (ed.), Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Sri Lanka during the Modem Era (Colombo: Marga Publishers, in press). This will hereafter be abbreviated to CINP.

[28] S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Speeches and Writings (Colombo: Dept of Broadcasting and Information, Government of Ceylon, 1963), p. 87; also pp. 90-1, 95-96, 102. From this self-perception, Bandaranaike was even able to attack G. G. Ponnambalam’s organization as ‘communal’ and a body of ‘local reactionaries’ seeking the ‘entrenchment of imperialism and exploitation, and the protection of vested interests’ (ibid., pp. 96, 98, 104—5).

[29] See Colon Daily News, 1 January 1940, or Roberts (ed.), Documents, pp. 566-70.

[30] The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact was rescinded unilaterally after agitation from Sinhala Buddhist pressure groups. For details and the general background, see W. Howard Wriggins, Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation (Princeton University Press, 1960), passim, esp. pp. 265-68; Donald E. Smith (ed.), South Asian Politics and Religion (Princeton University Press, 1966), chapters on Sri Lanka; Robert N. Kearney, Communalism and Language in the Politics of Ceylon (Durham N.C. : Duke University Press, 1967), esp. pp. 85-86, 107-09, 117-19, 144-46.

[31] Brass, Language, pp. 12, 18-19, 426-31.

[32] S. Arasaratnam, History, Nationalism and Nation Building: The Asian Dilemma (Inaugural Lecture at the University of New England, Armidale, 1974), pp. 20-21. Also noted in W. H. Wriggins, ‘Problems of Communalism in South Asia’, in Sri Lanka-since Independence, ed. by K. M. de Silva, A. J. Wilson, W. H. Wriggins and Calvin A. Woodward and appearing as Vol. IV, Nos 1 and 2 in the new series of the Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies (January-December 1974), pp. 136-37 (hereafter cited as SL since Independence).

[33] For elaboration, see Heinz Bechert, ‘The Beginning of Buddhist Historiography in Ceylon: The Mahavamsa and Political Thinking’, Ceylon Studies Seminar, No. 46, 1974; Kitsiri Malalgoda, ‘Millennialism in Relation to Buddhism’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 12, No. 4 (October 1970), pp. 424-41.

[34] K. Indrapala, ‘Dravidian Settlements in Ceylon and the Beginnings of the Kingdom of Jaffna’ (University of London: Ph.D. dissertation in History, 1966)

[35] Information conveyed personally by A. Liyanagamage. I am indebted to him and Lakshman Perera for comments which helped me in formulating this paragraph.

[36] Paul E. Pieris, ‘Appointments within the Kandyan Provinces’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, Vol. XXXVI, No. 99 (1945), pp. 114-15. See also Roberts, ‘Variations’, p. 19.

[37] G. Obeyesekere, ‘The Sinhalese Buddhist Identity’, in George de Vos and Lola Romanucci-Ross (eds), Ethnic Identity, Cultural Continuities and Change (Palo Alta: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1976), pp. 239-41.

[38] K. N. O. Dharmadasa, ‘The Sinhala Buddhist Identity and the Nayakkar Dynasty in the Politics of the Kandyan Kingdom, 1739-1815’, in CINP.

[39] L. A. Wickremeratne, ‘Religion, Nationalism, and Social Change in Ceylon, 1865-1885’, JRAS, GB & I, No. 2 (1969), pp. 135-39.

[40] Return to Righteousness, ed. by Ananda Guruge (Colombo Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, 1965), pp. 501-44; also pp. lxvi-lxvii, lxxivff.

[41] Roberts ‘Problems of Collective Identity in a Multi-Ethnic Society: Sectional Nationalism vs Ceylonse Nationalism, 1900-1940’, in CINP.

[42] The S.L.F.P. also included elements from the C.N.C. ‘Rump’ of 1946—50 and several political notables who had left the United National Party previously for various reasons; while some former members of the L.S.S.P. (e.g. Somaweera Chandrasiri and W. Dahanayake) and of the Republican Party also moved in during the 1950s (see the introductory monograph in Roberts (ed.), Documents, pp. clxii-clxvi and Figure 2; and Wriggins, Ceylon, passim).

[43] Kearney, Communalism, Ch. 2 and ‘Sinhalese Nationalism and Social Conflict in Ceylon’, Pacific Affairs, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2 (Summer 1964), pp. 125-36; B. H. Farmer, ‘The Social Basis of Nationalism in Ceylon’, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. XXIV, No. 3 (May 1965), pp. 431-39.

[44] S. U. Kodikara, ‘Communalism and Political Modernization in Ceylon’, Modern Ceylon Studies, Vol. I, No. 1 (January 1970), pp. 100-03.

[45] K. M. de Silva, ‘Nationalism and Its Impact’, in SL since Independence, pp. 67-68. Quite independently, James Jupp has made much the same point (‘Modernization and Pluralism: Ceylon and Malaysia’, in Adrian Leftwich (ed.), South Africa— Economic Growth and Political Change (London: Allison and Busby, 1974), p. 200).

[46] W. Howard Wriggins, ‘Impediments to Unity in New Nations: The Case of Ceylon’, American Political Science Review, Vol. 55, No. 2 (June 1961), p. 314, and his Ceylon, pp. 229-70, op. 233-36, 263.

[47] Quoted in Robert N. Kearney, The Politics of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973), p. 164.

[48] Quoted in Kodikara, ‘Communalism’, p. 103.

[49] Firm personal impressions, but something observed by others as well: see C. R. de Silva and Vijaya Samaraweera, ‘Leadership Perspectives, 1948-1975: An Interpretive Essay’, and Samaraweera, ‘The Role of the Bureaucracy’, both in SL Since Independence, pp. 29 and 39 respectively. For a summary of figures provided by some Tamil leaders, See Walter Schwarz, The Tamils of Sri Lanka (London: Minority Rights Group, Report No. 25, 1976).

[50] SL Since Independence, pp. 25, 31-39, 47-48; Kearney, Politics of Ceylon, pp. 79-84.

[51] A. Jeyaratnam Wilson, Electoral Politics in an Emergent State (Cambridge University Press, 1975), provides a analysis of the electoral framework.

[52] C. R. de Silva, ‘Weightage in University Admissions: Standardisation and District Quotas in Sri Lanka’, Modern Ceylon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (July 1974).

[53] Tribune, 7 May 1967.

[54] E.g. M. B. A. Cader, ‘Reforms, Reformers and Minorities: A Muhammadan View’, National Monthly of Ceylon, Vol. V, No. 4 (February 1918), pp. 70-72; K. M. de Silva, ‘The Formation and Character of the Ceylon National Congress 1917-1919’, Ceylon Journal of Historical and Serial Studies, Vol. 10, 1 and 2 (1967), pp. 70-102, and his ‘CNC in Disarray’, ibid., 1972.

[55] The mercantile sector in Sri Lanka and employment in U.N. agencies, African state, U.S.A., U.K. and elsewhere have provided alternative, but it is doubtful whether they could have met the growing demand.

[56] Personal communication from Jane Russell (who has just completed a Ph.D. dissertation at Peradeniya Campus on the history of Tamil before 1948 and has the of recent field experience in the Jaffna Peninsula).

[57] The Case for a Federal Constitution for Ceylon: Resolutions passed at the First National Convention of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ColomEK), 1951).

[58] K. M. de Silva, ‘The Transfer of Power in Sri Lanka—A Review of British Perspectives’, in SL Since Independence, p. 13; S. Arasaratnam, ‘Nationalism in Sri Lanka and the Tamils’, in CINP.


[59] Wriggins, ‘Problems of Communalism’, p. 139.

[60] Ibid., p 142.

[61] M. A. Cook reviewing Kedourie’s book in the Journal of African History, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1973), pp. 167—8.

[62] These have been emphasized and illustrated in Kodikara, ‘Communalism’. Also see Ch. 4 in Wilson, Electoral Politics; Kearney, Politics of Ceylon.

[63] The latter figure is only an approximation and is from Kearney, ibid., pp. 143—4.

[64] M. E. Yapp, ‘Language, Religion and Political Identity: A General Framework’, a seminar paper at the Centre of South Asian Studies, S.O.A.S., University of London, 19 May 1976.

[65] By George Bennett (referred to and supported by B. H. Farmer, ‘Social Basis’, P. 433).

[66] Hans Kohn, The Habsburg Empire, 1804—1918 (New Jersey: Van Nostrand & Co., 1961), p. 27.

[67] For brief comments on the abandonment of the district councils scheme by the U.N.P., under internal and outside (the U.N.P.) pressure, see Wilson, Electoral Politics, pp. 31—2, 36—9, and his essay in SL Since Independence, p. 47.

[68] Arasaratnam, ‘Nationalism in Sri Lanka and the Tamils’, in CINP.

[69] An article by the ‘Political Correspondent’ (J. L Fernando) in the Ceylon Daily News, 22 and 23 August 1940. G. C. S. Corea’s reply was published on 24 August.

[70] Ceylon Daily News, 23 August 194 : editorial entitled ‘Political Bargaining’.

[71] Information conveyed by Jane Russell.

[72] This is only too evident on reading Wilson, Electoral Politics in an Emergent State.


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