I sent the Article by Asanga Welikala and de Silva-Wijeyeratne to 24 personnel** in various parts of the world on the 29/30th August inviting Comments ….. and these THREE comments from Hugh Karunanayake, Gerald Peiris and CR de Silva are the first ‘burst’ ….. Michael Roberts
Critical Comments from Hugh Karunanayake in Sydney, 30 August 2020
The joint authors have engaged themselves in a laborious attempt to squeeze the recent overwhelming mandate given by the people of Sri Lanka, into a sort of theoretical straightjacket based on their own political idealogies.
The main thrust of their argument is that the recent victory was shaped by Sinhala Buddhist ultranationalism. That position is not tenable, given that (a) The Colombo district where Sinhala Buddhists are in a minority, returned MPs from the SLPP., something that had not occurred before. In the North itself, we had the unique outcome of an SLFP member being elected, and the communalist TNA reduced in numbers. So rather that interpret the victory as one driven by Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, the authors should have noted the disaffection with the govt following systemic corruption, blatant misuse of public resources and general lack of national leadership that was behind this phenomenal victory.
Notwithstanding the above, let me make some observations on the general thrust of the argument presented. They assume that precolonial Ceylon was never a centralised state, and that the kings who ruled did not exercise absolute power. Another assertion was that it was only the British Governors in the pre-Colebrook Cameron reform era, who exercised absolute power! What perverse logic.! I would recommend the duo to read Knox’s book “An historical relation of the island of Ceylon” on the rule of Rajasighe II to know what absolute rule was.
Their whole argument based on false assertions seem to run into further trouble when they assert that the recent people’s mandate was a directive to reassume “past Sinhala Buddhist glory,” and that, according to the authors, is a desire to return to past colonial rule. Their perverse logic does not allow history to get in the way of their thesis mounted on false assertions. They conceal the fact that colonial rule was thrust on the people and that British Colonial rule was not what the people desired, but was something that was forced upon them. Neither did the people ask for iniquitous marauding pieces of legislation such as the Waste Lands Ordinance, or the Paddy Tax, or the total decimation of the entire population of male adults in the Uva district following the Uva rebellion.
The people of Sri Lanka have given their verdict on five years of Yahapalana misrule, and no squeals from its apologists can ever mitigate the significance of that great victory. Neither can a thesis based on false assertions and presented in pseudo technical terminology which the author’s themselves do not seem to comprehend.
A Critical Comment from Gerald Peiris in Kandy, 29 August 2020
I really do not think that this kind of garbage deserves a response. Its absurdities are so numerous that even a brief comment on each fallacy will take time which I cannot afford to waste, given the fact that we are not engaged in some kind of pseudo-academic parlour game. With best regards Gerry
Thoughts Conveyed by CR De Silva, of Peradeniya and Virginia, 30 August 2020
Mike, In their piece on ‘The Past and the Present in the (Re) Constitution of the State”, Asanga Welikala and Roshan de Silva-Wijeyeratne rightly emphasize the use of history in Sri Lankan politics. I also agree with their view that while Sri Lanka has historically had decentralized polities, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists currently “claim ownership of or even celebrate a unitary state structure that is clearly colonial in its origins.”
In my view, however, the authors exaggerate when they state that the Rajapaksa/SLPP electoral victories denote ” a more fundamental and wider cultural realignment of Sri Lankan politics in favour of a new nationalist elite that seeks to reshape the form and content of the Sri Lankan state.”
Political leaders who constructed the Constitutions of 1972 and 1978 had already used a mythical history of a united and centralized state in Sri Lanka to build on the colonial model of a centralized state dominated by the majority. For examples, I attach an article by M. M. Fazil in the Journal of Politics and Law (2019) but you yourself have published much on this aspect of Sinhala nationalism. John Holt in an essay in the book on Buddhist Fundamentalism (1998) that I co-edited analysed a talk by Chandrika Kumaranatunga to illustrate this point.
My criticism of the article is that it conflates the use of history for the concentration of power within a small group within an existing centralized state (which is what is happening) with the building of a centralized state, which has already happened.
Best Wishes, CR
** Compoisition mixed: 1 Burgher, 2 American, 3 Tamil, 1 French, 2 British, 1 Malay and therest Sinhala