Confronting Welikala and De Silva-Wijeyeratne: One

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

    *********

Asanga Welikala   Roshan De Silva-Wijeyeratne

** Compoisition mixed: 1 Burgher, 2 American, 3 Tamil, 1 French, 2 British, 1 Malay and therest Sinhala

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Confronting Welikala and De Silva-Wijeyeratne: One

  1. I fully agree with CR;s comment re authors’ conflation of two separate aspects of situation ( ie the historical with the political) as explained in his final paragraph.

  2. Sahan De Silva

    So, what are the author’s responses to the above critique? Given that (I understand) they are academics, I expect it is fair to give them a chance to comment. Please do publish their responses if you do get any.

    • But of course!! As it is, I know both Asnga and Roshan, so thi swilll be done …. It is NOW about ten hours since the THREE COMMENTS were displayed ….. and i am in the process of writing a lengthy critique myself. It is only FAIR to let Asnaga & Roshan TO FIELD THE LOT in one ‘collection’.
      I am puzzled by your aggressive tone SAHAN ….. Is there a need for haste. After all I indicated that I had sent my request to 21 others. It will be unfair to ask Asanga/Roshan to tackle the lot piecemeal[no pun intended]

  3. For the simple reason that you began with a “SO” !! …. and did not wait even for 24 hours to pass! …. It is now beyond the 24 hours. I am planning two articles on the topic and I hope some of the OTHERS I invited will review the ASANGA-ROSHAN essay. When a week has passed I willsend the lot ot them. The TOPIC will stay alive for a long time –beyond my own paassage to VALHALLA.
    ,

  4. Michael Patrick O'Leary

     

    Dear Michael,

    I have read the article on Groundviews and note that, after nine days of it being on the site, not a single person has thought it worthwhile to make a comment. I wonder why we are bothering with it?

    I found the article intensely irritating. It strikes me that attempts to explain the rapid and overwhelming success of the SLPP by going back to the days of the ancient kings is quite ludicrous. What has the rule of the ancient kings got to do with the price of fish?

    Imagine a political commentator in the UK trying to explain Boris Johnson in terms of King Alfred. In ancient times, England did not exist as we know it now; nor did Germany, France, Italy, the USA. Decentralisation of power was inevitable in the old days.

    “The reality of Buddhist kingship was that it gave way to a decentralised geographical structure, such that there was a replication of like entities on a decreasing scale, which constituted the classic mandala configuration, rather than a bureaucratic hierarchy in centralised control of territory.” What does any of that mean in 2020?

    “The Covid-19 pandemic provided an early opportunity for the government to establish an authoritarian governing style.” What other style would have been appropriate to such a crisis? It seems to have worked quite well in comparison to the previous government’s handling of the Easter bombings and many other things.

    The authors say that the aim of the new regime is to centralise power in a kind of monarchy. “It will weaken the constitutional safeguards of democracy including the separation of powers, fundamental rights, and devolution.” It was under the yahapalana government that the provincial councils were allowed to wither and die because they were afraid of elections.

    “Those associated with the government in building the intellectual arguments in favour of this type of reform rely heavily on history to justify the primacy of the Sinhala-Buddhists and why they should enjoy a privileged position in the Sri Lankan polity.” I would have thought that the government bases its own primacy on the overwhelming number of people who voted for it in three free democratic elections.

     

    Best wishes,

    Michael

     

    Sent: Monday, August 31, 2020 at 1:18 PM

  5. Pingback: Modernist Fundamentalism: Missing the Force of Walk, Talk & Majesty in Sinhaladom | Thuppahi's Blog

  6. EMAIL COMMENT from Professor John Richardson in USA, 1 September 2020: “Dear Michael,
    I am not going to respond specifically to the scholarly and evocative article you shared though I did read most of it. The question I ask myself is “what can I say that would possibly make a difference in the present circumstances. I believe I did the best I could In writing Paradise Poisoned and I have attached a copy of the concluding Chapter. Also I have attached copy of Politics Without Principle, to which Chapter 22 of Paradise Poisoned refers. As you know, I recently read and reviewed Razeen Sallie’s wonderful book iReturn to Sri Lanka, Paradoxical Island. Now another facet of the paradox is unfolding. Your resilience and patience in continuing to engage with the unfolding Sri Lankan Saga is something I greatly admire. I continue to hope that K,M, deSilva’s contribution to Sam and my edited volume (Democratisation in South Asia: The First 50 Years – “Sri Lanka: the Resilience of Democracy”) will prove to be prescient. The resilience of the ICES encourages me …. Keep fighting the good fight. “

  7. Native Veddah

    So what? Why should anyone care two hoots about what some doddering old outdated codgers living in some utopian dream land (if infact they live in Sri Lanka at all) have to say? For after all it is the generation of these respondents that have cast Sri Lanka into this right royal mess in the first place. To elaborate lets consider

    a) Karunanayake – no idea who he is as such, but a google search reveals he probably fled the country decades ago to the comfort and safety of white man’s land, and also thinks ‘Sinhala Only’ was the best policy possible because it allowed the masses to get an ‘education’ (if what passes in local universities as an education can be taken seriously) and enter the public service. Here’s a question for Karunanayake – if it was the right policy, did you ensure your own family were educated in that system? I somehow doubt it. May be why our public service in addition to being one of the most corrupt and inefficient in the world is also overstaffed by about 500,000 (with the present genius in power to add another 300,000 to that list of idlers). Great policy indeed! He then proceeds to quote sections from Knox, which as a scholarly source is as outdated and unacceptable as most religious texts in addition to joining that particular canon by also being largely a work of fiction, as Sarojini Jayawickrema as reviewed by Kamalika Pieris (daughter of Ralph Pieris) has skillfully shown http://archives.sundayobserver.lk/2005/12/18/fea38.html Perhaps Karunanayake thinks that policitians of today are as they were in the ‘good old days’ – robbing with the ‘kang henda’. Sorry to break it to you that this has progressed to the current lot of ruling ‘gods’ who now rob WITH THE BULLDOZER. Perhaps he would do well to emigrate back to the mother land since he thinks the Rajapaksa’s are such heroes, when in reality they simply continue to keep the masses fooled in the same vicious cycle of poverty, claiming credit for a war victory that was actually that of innocent soldiers slain on the battlefield.

    b) Senile geographer Gerald Peiris doesn’t really merit a response except maybe to ask of him what he thinks are the geographical impact of the thousands of MT of river sand mined in the last 9 months after his beloved leaders gave a ‘free for all’ in the transport of this destabilising commodity? What of the impacts of endless bottom trawling by chinese vessels that pay our current fisheries minister a cool 100 million bucks a pop for illicit licenses? Honestly, why does he even bother?

    C) CR de Silva seems to make some amount of sense, but overall nothing of any real substance.
    Finally, Michael Roberts’ pathetic autumnal attempts to re-brand himself as an ‘extreme patriot’ after decades of trashing Sri Lanka, are amusing to those of us who are not amnesiac. For the sake of the future of this country it is time the generation of ivory tower commentators highlighted here retire permanently, perhaps to the land that most of them abandoned so long ago, and see how things really work here.

  8. Hugh

    Native veddah is a serial cyber pest who does not have the guts to reveal his identity. I refrain from commenting on his perverse observations as there is hardly any point in engaging with a coward.

  9. I can give witness in support of HUGH quite readily, “NATIVE VEDDAH” is the pseudonym deployed by an Assassin who seems to reside in COLOMBO TELEGRAPH circles –a guy [definitely male, probably Tamil] whoverbally slashes left right centre and solar plexus … and asumes the air of a know-all.
    I say “probablyy Tamil” becuase of his targets and the content of his stance. To get some inkling of his AIRS …. that is his FARTS …. just visit any article by one michael Roberts placed in COLOMBO TELEGRAPH or any issue re Eelam war IV….. Michael Roberts

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