Sinhala Nationalism

Rajesh Venugopal, … presenting here the second chapter in his book Nationalism, Development  and the Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, Cambridge University Press, 2018,…. 78-1-108-42879 8 hdback

Sinhala nationalism is the dominant form of political consciousness in contemporary Sri Lanka. As what might easily be characterised as an illiberal ‘ethnic’ nationalism of the east rather than the western ‘civic’ ideal[1], it is also widely identified as a serious challenge to the functioning of liberal democratic institutions, and to multi-ethnic coexistence. Sinhala nationalism features as a central element in the literature on contemporary Sri Lankan politics, and in particular, on the ethnic conflict. Understanding Sinhala nationalism is thus of critical significance and this imperative has inspired an extensive and sophisticated literature.

This includes the historicity of Sinhala identity (Gunawardana 1990, Dharmadasa 1992 Roberts 2004), the Buddhist revival and colonialism (Malalgoda 1976, Bond 1992, Tambiah 1992, Blackburn 2010, Rogers 1994), the Mahavamsa (Kemper 1991), colonial forms of knowledge (Rogers 2004, Kemper 1991), the State Council, Olcott and Dharmapala (Seneviratne 1999, Amunugama 1985, Roberts 1997, Kemper 2015), archaeology, the rediscovery of Anuradhapura and the Sinhala Buddhist past (Nissan 1989, Kemper 1991, Jeganathan 1995, De Silva 2013), the evolution of ‘protestant’ and post-protestant Buddhism (Obeyesekere 1970, Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988), the changing role of monks (Seneviratne 1999, Kemper 1980, Bartholomeusz 2005, Kent 2015), temperance, the 1915 riots, language and literature (Coperahewa 2012, Rambukwella 2012, Field 2014), the transformation of village society, politics, and religious practices (Spencer 1990, Brow 1997, Woost 1994), the discourse of peasant preservation, and development projects (Brow 1997, Tennekoon 1988), the rise of linguistic nationalism and ‘Sinhala only’, and the nationalist upsurge of 1956 (Kearney 1967), and constitutions (Schonthal 2016, Wijeyaratne 2013).

But despite the large amount of historical and anthropological literature, there is surprisingly less research available on the actual insinuation and operation of nationalism in the contemporary political sphere. Sinhala nationalism is widely deployed as an independent variable to explain political outcomes and as an explanatory prop. It often assumes the form of a bubbling cauldron, a dormant evil genie, or some base instinct in the masses that is awakened by irresponsible politicians. But left as a self-evident evil in this way, nationalism itself is under-explained and its political operation is obscured.

Succinct, abstract definitions of nationalism are often found wanting and inadequate, in part because the task is complex: it involves creating a generalisable, universally applicable, comparable category out of something inherently very particular. It requires an assumption that the set of phenomena delineated and deemed to comprise ‘Sinhala’ nationalism bear more than just a family resemblance, but have core commonalities to a generalised abstraction of nationalism drawn from elsewhere. But even when working just within the peculiarities of Sinhala nationalism, definition still involves the challenging task of capturing the range of connected manifestations that operate at very different levels, and compressing them all within a single moniker.

Nationalist politics is manifest at one level in its visible and vocal advocates such as former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, its ideologues such as Nalin De Silva or Gunadasa Amarasekara, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), or the assertive monks of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). The content of this overt and manifest outer world of nationalism has taken the form of campaigns to assert the primacy of Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis a range of other groups, ranging from Catholics, Tamils, Evangelical Christians, and Muslims.  But nationalism is also immanent beyond these often ephemeral nationalist groups and individuals, so that another level of analysis would seek out the ways in which it has suffused the broader political realm, is instituted as a project of Sinhala-isation of the state, or is instrumentalised, and appeased by elite actors seeking power through ‘ethnic outbidding’. While each of these approaches provide insights into the larger phenomenon, they are in themselves not answers as much as components, or entry points into the study of the profound and complex ways in which Sinhala nationalism is constituted and exerts influence in the political realm at different levels.

This chapter provides an outline of the political operation of Sinhala nationalism in terms of five features. Firstly, nationalism has its outer life in the project of Sinhala-isation, the grand politics of ethno-nationalist conflict and an agenda of ethnic domination. Secondly, the political significance of nationalism also has an inner life in framing subjectivities and forming the world view that situates and guides individuals in the political realm with moral parameters. In this way, it regulates and governs the turbulent world of electoral politics. Thirdly, nationalism is also inscribed in the structure of political communication and performance, so that all manner of political agendas – even those which are clearly venal, divisive, and contrary to the ethic of nationalism – must perforce be dressed in the language of nationalist righteousness. Fourthly, this element of communication and performance is particularly significant because the political project of nationalism has a distinctly anti-elite character, and deeply influences the nature of the elite-mass political relationship. Finally, nationalism structures Sri Lanka’s political party system in a distinct, inverted left-right axis in terms of economic policy and ethnic relations.

The Study of Sinhala Nationalism

In approaching the study of Sinhala nationalism, there are a number of important issues that need to be engaged with. Firstly, any work on nationalism bears the burden of having to address the existing debate on modernity versus primordialism. Is Sinhala nationalism, and the Sinhala ‘nation’ as ancient as its own internal narratives claim, or is it instead of relatively recent construction and imagination? Despite specific idiosyncracies with the Sri Lankan case, the parameters of this debate are largely predictable, and follow the larger literature on comparative nationalism featuring the canonical work of Ernest Gellner, Anthony Smith, Benedict Anderson, Tom Nairn, and many others.

Rogers Brubaker remarks that primordialism is ‘a long dead horse that writers on ethnicity and nationalism continue to flog’ (Brubaker 1996:15). In fact, the polemical thrust of modernist, constructivist and instrumentalist theories of identity and nationalism is not directed at the dwindling and often mis-identified academic defenders of primordialism, but at the inner primordialism of nationalist narratives. In many respects, this grand divide in studies of nationalism mirrors the divide in development between the positivist versus the critical approach. That is, the debate is ultimately about whether the claims and narratives of nationalism or development are to be taken at face value or whether they are to be viewed with suspicion as ephemeral or as a veil behind which lurks some deeper enterprise.

In Sri Lanka, the weight of scholarly opinion since the 1970s has been firmly on the side of the modernist position (Spencer 1990, Nissan and Stirrat 1990). This is in fact also the case beyond Sri Lanka, where, as Anthony Smith notes ‘by the 1960s and 1970s, the “modernist” perspective had become the established orthodoxy (Smith 2009: 6). In this rendering, Sinhala nationalism is identified as a product of economic, social, and political transformations that took place in the late-colonial period and early post-colonial periods. The Buddhist revival, colonial racial classifications, the spread of literacy, print capitalism, the education system, and the spread of electoral democracy are all critical elements in the modernist understanding.

In contrast, a small but significant counter-view has prevailed to argue that a strong pre-colonial Sinhala group identity and self-consciousness has existed, and that these have enduring relevance in understanding the contours of contemporary Sinhala nationalism (Dharmadasa 1992, Strathern 2007, Roberts 2004). Michael Roberts, in particular, has argued at length that by viewing nationalism as epiphenomenal to stages of development or print capitalism, the modernist position fails to account for its substantial pre-existing, pre-colonial building blocks and the resilience of its deeper narratives.

Given that the thrust of this book is on economic development, it is intrinsically sympathetic to and linked to the modernist position, and flows from it as an epilogue that extrapolates that historical literature into a more contemporary setting. Nevertheless, the purpose here is not to launch into a defence of the modernist position, and neither is it necessarily productive any more to engage in that debate or to take it as a point of departure.  The debate over modernism versus primordialism or perennialism in Sri Lanka (and indeed more broadly) has largely exhausted itself, both because it is overworked, and also because it increasingly appears contrived. In many cases, the debate circles around differences that are relative rather than absolute, that are exaggerated for the sake of emphasis, or else that result from different definitions of the key terminology, including the very concept of nationalism itself.

Secondly, and related to the debate over modernity is that of the positionality and the politics of the scholar. What is the purpose of studying Sinhala nationalism? What attitude have scholars brought to this task, and how does that relate to the kind of knowledge that has been produced?  It is impossible to be agnostic and detached about a phenomenon as politically vivid, so that to study it is inevitably to identify and position oneself not just with respect to its claims over the past, but with its present day politics and future consequences. In the academic writings on Sinhala nationalism, stretching from history and anthropology to political economy and constitutional law, this attitude is inevitably one of concern and even antagonism. At times the purpose of scholarship is explicitly subversive and hostile towards nationalism, as with the programmatic declaration that introduces Pradeep Jegannathan and Qadri Ismail’s book Unmaking the Nation:

We suspect the nation … we are not enamored by the possibilities of the nation and nationalism, rather we are deeply suspicious of its claims and consequences …the contributors to this book come together in the belief that the inclusive pretences of the nation must be exposed, that not just its inadequacies but its very superfluousness must be called into question. (Jeganathan and Ismail 1995: 2-3).

Similarly, Kumari Jayawardena writes ‘Careful historiographical analysis is needed to unravel the constituent elements of this consciousness and to expose the myths, falsehoods and misinterpretations that have become embedded in it’ (Jayawardena 2003: 114).

With this often explicitly purpose in mind, it is not surprising that nationalist narratives, practices, and politics are, when held up to academic scrutiny, found to be not just false, invented, or derivative, but also dangerous. More often than not, they are identified as complicit in some troubling system of domination such as patriarchy, caste, or class. But even where there is no such manifest agenda, the very act of bringing Sinhala nationalism under the scrutiny of critical historical and social science investigation involves a certain performance of intellectually encircling, overwhelming, and subjugating it.

By unearthing the historical evolution, belief structures, mundane practices, and moral parameters of a phenomenon held in such widespread awe by millions, academic research is unmistakably a project of dispelling that awe. This point requires a certain emphasis because many of the dispellers draw inspiration from Said and Foucault on knowledge as power, and on the colonial construction of Indology. Much as modern science might be used to unmask witch doctors, the full armoury of modern critical social science and historical scholarship has been unleashed to overpower and demystify Sinhala nationalism, wielding scholarship as a weapon with which to expose this false doctrine, refute its texts, ridicule its followers, and shatter its idols.

We have reliably learnt as a result that Sinhala nationalism is not ancient, but modern, not pristine but produced, not anti-Christian, but modelled on Christian missionary practices, not anti-colonial, but derived from colonial discourses and forms of knowledge. These are on the face of it, devastating attacks on Sinhala nationalism, which, if it depended on the academic robustness of these claims alone, should by now have succumbed and shriveled into irrelevance. But it goes without saying that this has not happened. The academic assault on Sinhala nationalism has done little to diminish the influence of its ideas or its political salience. Indeed, as the reaction to Stanley Tambiah’s book Buddhism Betrayed in the early 1990s showed, the attempts to confront power through challenging its forms of knowledge served to strengthen, not weaken that power.

Academic scholarship on Sinhala nationalism, including, for that matter, this book, speaks from a milieu, and to an audience dominated by a cosmopolitan left-liberal ethic committed to multi-ethnic coexistence, and that is deeply hostile to the nationalist project. Many scholars of Sinhala nationalism are, as Michael Roberts describes, ‘liberal humanists at the coalface’ of the struggle against ethnic chauvinism (Roberts 2001: 1). The frankness with which many texts on nationalism explain their political leanings and purpose is refreshing and even admirable for its transparency.

But there are also obvious concerns and shortcomings with turning academic writing into tracts that are engaged in explicit political advocacy. Yoking research to a clear ideo-political and moral end-position explicitly pre-determines the outcome, and suggests that it amounts to cherry-picking evidence to validate one’s prejudices. This is not to suggest that it is possible to depoliticise the scholarship on Sinhala nationalism or even to pretend that scholars can (or should) transcend their own politics to produce some pure and positivist rendering. There is, however, a compelling case for greater reflection and consideration of the purpose and value of this enterprise, and more willingness to let the evidence lead to the conclusions, rather than vice versa. Even if this is a futile task, and amounts to a fiction, it is nevertheless a useful fiction to project.

A third issue that has to be addressed is that Sinhala nationalism has come to be approached and understood as an ideology of extremism and violence. There are certainly connections to be drawn between nationalism and a range of violent outcomes, and this is perhaps an understandable concern given the magnitude of what has transpired in Sri Lanka. But how far is this appropriate, and what kind of knowledge about nationalism does this approach generate (Jegannathan 1998)?  Perhaps the most influential and extensively argued work in this regard is of Bruce Kapferer and his thesis on the relationship between the ethnic violence of 1983 and the Sinhala Buddhist cosmological ordering of person, community (nation), and state. What Kapferer suggests is that within the corpus of Sinhala-Buddhist thought and practices is a mechanism that lends it prone not just to imbue culturally specific meaning to acts of violence, but to a culturally determined capacity to enact symbolically meaningful acts of violence. As he describes: there is a relation between the passion of sorcery and the furious passion of ethnic violence. Both, I suggest, find their force in ideologically driven concerns, founded in a Sinhalese Buddhist ontology of the state, of the person, and of evil (Kapferer 2011: 32)

Kapferer’s work is pioneering, and often deeply impressive, not least for its intellectual range. It is also unusual and important for its ‘ontological’ approach, into the inner life of nationalist subjectivity. But it is also the subject of concern and critique, much of it warranted (Spencer 1990, Scott and Geertz 1990).  The problems are, in brief, two-fold. Firstly, Kapferer’s approach fetishizes violence, and accords it a position of exaggerated centrality and uniqueness in the landscape of Sinhala Buddhist consciousness. Violence in other words, is presumed to be such a defining feature of Sinhala nationalism, that it sets it apart. Moreover, it suggests that violence forms an appropriate entry point to studying the broader landscape of nationalist consciousness. Decoding the specific forms of violence and the way it is enacted could thus presumably reveal essential features of nationalism’s ontological core.

The problem of course is there is much more to nationalism than violence. As Michael Billig (1995) points out, the everyday life of nationalism is not about spectacular violence, but is borne out and internalised in a variety of routine, banal forms. That is, the inner cognitive essence of nationalism contains not just the possibility of enacting symbolically meaningful acts of regenerative violence, but a more expansive range of mundane forms of behaviour. Analysing nationalism through the lens of its most extreme and violent consequences not only diminishes the understanding of nationalism, but it also limits the frame of study to a narrow and even marginal range of manifest experiences and consequences. Conversely, there is much more to violence than nationalism. Nationalism is invariably an important factor in explaining certain types of manifest violence in Sri Lanka, but the link from one to the other is complex and diffuse, involving a sequence of highly contingent causal steps. These synapses that connect nationalist subjectivity to the extraordinary violence that it inspires cannot be minimized as they are in many cases, the determining factors at stake.

Fourthly, and of more direct relevance to the ambit of this book, how are class and ethnicity interposed in Sinhala nationalism? Class as a category, and class-related analysis has faded from the analytical frame over the years, both because of the broader trend in this direction, and also because of the evident displacement of class politics with ethnic politics in Sri Lanka. This is, however, not to suggest that class is absent, or even that class analysis has not been deployed productively in the past. Kumari Jayawardena’s work on trade union movements and class politics documents the long history of its interaction with Sinhala nationalism (Jayawardena 2003). This is manifest not only in the hybrid Marxist-nationalist politics of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (chapter 8), but beyond that in the ‘old left’ parties, who steadily compromised with Sinhala nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the more original and influential ways in which class analysis has been articulated is in Newton Gunasinghe’s explanation of the connection between the open economy and the 1983 riots. Gunasinghe explains that market liberalization benefited externally connected Tamil merchants at the expense of Sinhala businessmen who had emerged under state patronage and regulation (chapter 4). Violence was in that sense, motivated by underlying economic motives and grievances that were widely shared.

Valuable and significant as this literature is, there is often a sense that it dwells in the realm of the ‘terrible postal error’ that Ernest Gellner famously described (Gellner 2006: 124). That is, it is a literature that struggles –  often with itself – to come to terms with the question of why nationalism triumphed as it did, and why the promise of class did not materialise. Nationalism thus enters the frame not as a real world phenomenon which requires explanation in itself, but as part of the explanation for why some other anticipated outcome did not transpire. Class is indeed a very significant component in understanding Sinhala nationalism, not in the static sense, but more in terms of the way Ernest Gellner deploys it to explain the formation of vernacular intellectuals and horizontally immobile clerks (chapter 3).

A different strand of literature has explored the idea that the deeply hierarchical nature of Asian societies creates nationalisms that are themselves hierarchical rather than egalitarian. Asian nationalisms may thus be fundamentally different from the European prototype, and from the influential models of nationalism derived from Europe (Tonnesson and Antlov 1996). Interestingly, Bruce Kapferer’s work on the hierarchical ontology of Sinhala nationalism is specifically cited as an emblematic case in point of the peculiarities of Asia. This is however, not just a fundamental misreading of Kapferer, but is also in itself just inaccurate in its characterisation of Sinhala nationalism. The hierarchies that Kapferer describes are in the realm of cosmology, and relate to the ordering of the person, nation, and state, rather than internal social hierarchies within the nation. That is, it relates to the hierarchical encompassment of the Sinhala Buddhist person by the state rather than the social hierarchies of class, caste or gender within Sinhala Buddhists.

Where social hierarchies are present in Kapferer’s work, they imply not the class hierarchies that would support an Asian exceptionalism, but the hierarchical standing of different ethnic groups within this ontology, that places the Sinhala Buddhists at its apex. As he explains, ‘The hierarchical ideology of Sinhalese nationalism stresses the internal unity of Sinhalese in themselves …It is in the encompassment of the Sinhalese Buddhist state wherein Sinhalese as a nation are in a hierarchical relation of domination to others that the unity of Sinhalese qua Sinhalese is determined’ (Kapferer 2012: 214).

That is, Sinhala nationalism contains a world-view in which the majority Sinhala Buddhist ‘nation’ has a special connection to the state, and has a superior claim on it to the minorities. Extracted from the cosmological framework and idiom that Kapferer uses, what it amounts to is not particularly different from the way majoritarian nationalisms operate elsewhere in the world, including Europe. But even beyond Kapferer, the idea that Asian nationalisms or that Sinhala nationalism in particular is embedded with an anti-egalitarian, hierarchical core that distinguishes it as a case apart, is quite simply mistaken, for much the opposite is borne out.


The ‘outer’ politics of Sinhala nationalism is manifest in the political realm through a project of ethnic domination, or ‘Sinhala-isation’. In substance, Sinhala-isation takes as its axiomatic starting point the idea that the indigenous Sinhala-Buddhist majority is due a rightful position of primacy that is not adequately recognised by the post-colonial state. This project of state reform consists of advancing and prioritising the material, spiritual, and cultural interests of the Sinhala Buddhist people with a view to enhancing and enshrining their predominance in society. Citizenship rights and all claims on the state are viewed in terms of an ethnic hierarchy, with the Sinhala-Buddhists due the highest position and priority. The minorities are accorded their due share, and are tolerated, as long as they recognize and respect this dispensation and behave in an appropriately demure manner. As Sri Lanka’s army commander, Sarath Fonseka clarified in the final months of the war:

I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people….. We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” (National Post September 23 2008).

Importantly, the project of Sinhala-isation does not understand itself or base its actions on the idea of imposing the brute force of the majority, but on the notion that it is a righteous obligation, bears legitimacy, and is the exercise of justice. That is, the Sinhala Buddhists’ claim to predominance flows from idea of dhamma-dweepa, which relates the Sinhala-Buddhist people to a unique historical-religious-territorial destiny and responsibility to protect the Buddhist religion in the island of Lanka. This in turn is based on the legitimacy of the Sinhala Buddhist claim to primacy because of indigeneity, historical evidence of habitation in the entire island, and the democratic principle of majority rule. Sinhala-isation is also based on the idea of redressing a grave historical injustice done to the indigenous community by centuries of European-Christian colonial rule, cultural-religious persecution, and economic dispossession. Related to this last point is the redressal of the undue historical advantages that accrued to minority groups such as Tamils under colonialism.

In comparative terms, there is much that the project of Sinhala-isation and the Sinhala-ised state bears in common with what Sammy Smooha describes as an ‘ethnic democracy’, or even the more severe concept of an ethnocracy by Oren Yiftachel (2004) – both originally modelled on Israel.  As Smooha explains, the dominant nation appropriates the state, and shapes the symbols and laws, to benefit itself. Outsiders to this dominant nation have citizenship rights, but are viewed as a security threat to the dominant nation and as such, enjoy distinctly inferior rights. State measures to avert the risk from minorities affects their equal status, as well as the broader rule of law and democracy. Similarly, Yiftachel and Ghanem (2004:649) describe, ethnocracy as a ‘regime facilitating the expansion, ethnicization and control of contested territory and state by a dominant ethnic nation. The dominant ethnic nation appropriates the state apparatus and shapes the political system, public institutions, geography, economy, and culture, so as to expand and deepen its control over state and territory.’

In both versions, liberal democratic features of government co-exist uneasily, and are undermined by the assertive dominance of a majority ethnic group that gains control over state power.  To that extent, many elements of these archetypes are clearly resonant with the Sri Lankan experience, and indeed in subsequent work, Sri Lanka is explicitly identified as an illustrative case study of ethnocracy (Yiftachel and Ghanem 2004). Uyangoda (2011:4) further expands on the specificities of ethnocratic state in Sri Lanka as ‘a specific form of democracy that privileges ethno-nationalism as the dominant framework of political imagination, competition, and mobilization’.

There are three broad components to the Sinhala-isation agenda. Firstly, there is a cultural and symbolic agenda of infusing the state with a Sinhala Buddhist aura. This agenda operates at a number of different levels and includes the incorporation of distinctly Sinhala Buddhist symbols within the state’s majestic presence such as the national flag, and the national emblem. It involves enshrining the formality of official status for the Sinhala language, or according the ‘foremost’ place for the Buddhist religion. There is also a de facto Sinhala-isation that takes place through everyday practices such as the presence of official sign-boards in Sinhala only, the appearance of Buddhist symbols, practices, and monks in government offices and public functions, or the staffing of entire government bureaus or police stations with ethnic Sinhalese personnel. Through these processes from above and below, the Sri Lankan state has acquired a distinctly Sinhala-Buddhist quality to it.

Secondly, Sinhala-isation is an agenda of economic advancement, that is, the prioritisation of the material interests of Sinhala Buddhists. This signifies directing state resources and influence towards employment opportunities, economic development projects, and commercial enterprises in ways that benefit the majority community.  State employment, previously dominated by minorities such as Jaffna Tamils, Sinhala Christians, and Burghers, became increasingly dominated by Sinhala Buddhists through the 1960s and 1970s. The political economy of Sinhala-isation is also inflected by the association of peasant agriculture with a quintessential Sinhala Buddhist authenticity, so that Sinhala-isation is also about providing for the indigenous peasant.

Thirdly, Sinhala-isation is a territorial agenda of expanding the spatial reach and control of the dominant nation, and of containing the territorial claims of minorities.  This involves expanding the frontier of Sinhala-Buddhist populated areas of the island, and opening new areas through irrigation resettlement colonies (Tennekoon 1988, Korf 2009, Klem 2014). It also involves preserving the unitary nature of the state and to limit, fragment, or complicate the territorial claims to political decentralisation or separation by the minorities.

In this way, the politics of Sinhala nationalism is an agenda of constituting and capturing the sources of public authority – including the state – and wielding it to effect the predominance of the Sinhala Buddhist community. The motor engine driving this process was the grip that Sinhala nationalism as an ideology had on the majority of the electorate, and the role that this framework came to play in governing the larger political space. Indeed, this political dominance is of an extent that it transcends party competition and constitutes a Gramscian ‘common sense’, that is the conformist consensus widely accepted across the mainstream political spectrum.  Through the inexorable pressure of the ballot box, all of the ostensibly national parliamentary parties in Sri Lanka: the United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) have at some point advanced a Sinhala nationalist agenda. At times they have done so implicitly and through obfuscation – that is, by pandering, collaborating, and compromising. At other times it has been more explicit, openly championing Sinhala-isation through the dynamics that DeVotta (2005) describes as ‘ethnic outbidding’.

A Moral Framework of Regulating Electoral Politics

Behind the ‘common sense’ consensus of Sinhala nationalism, and its outer life as a manifest political project, is an inner life, buried in individual subjectivities, ‘deeper’ discourses, and what Michael Billig describes as banal, mundane practices. Nationalism on the public stage rests on widely shared understandings and aspirations of the political world and how it should be constituted. As Liah Greenfeld describes, nationalism is: a form of social consciousness, a way of cognitive and moral organization of reality.  As such it represents the foundation of the moral order of modern society, the source of its values, the framework of its characteristic – national – identity and the basis of social integration in it. (Greenfeld 2001:24)

It establishes the framework, tenor, and vocabulary that people use to engage, evaluate and accept the authority of the state. Nationalism is the cognitive framework that allows individuals to situate themselves vis-a-vis a larger community, and to acquire a historically contextualised, symbolically meaningful framework of the present. That is, it draws fluidly on a social imaginary (Taylor 2003) and an inner cultural edifice of Sinhala-Buddhist principles, traditions, narratives, symbols, cosmology and historical memory. From this, it identifies and establishes a set of transcendental objects and values of supreme veneration that have widespread collective resonance, and against which political actors and political action, including those of the state and other sources of public authority, can be judged. These include, but are not limited to, three widely cited, interlocking symbolic elements: the land, the people, the faith (rata, jathiya, agama), corresponding to the territorial homeland of Sri Lanka, the community of Sinhala Buddhist people, and the Buddhist faith.

This cultural edifice and these objects of supreme veneration constitute moral beacons that illuminate electoral politics, rendering it comprehensible and navigable, identifying what is valuable, and distinguishing what is legitimate and permissible from that which is not so. The idea of nationalism as a moral framework is derived and inspired from E.P. Thompson’s (1971) work on the moral economy and bread riots. Thompson argued that 18th century English bread riots and peasant revolts were triggered not by hunger or exploitation in the abstract, but only at the point when this breached a trigger point determined by customary norms. In contrast to the modernist view of nationalism, which argues that the superficially cultural phenomenon that is understood as nationalist ‘tradition’ is in reality the product of modern economic forces, the moral economy finds the converse. That is, what superficially appears as an economically determined phenomenon (bread riots) is in reality governed by factors that are more cultural and ‘traditional’ in their character.

Thompson unnecessarily confines the idea of the moral economy to the circumstances of 18th century England (Gotz 2015), but it can be extended well beyond, and be re-deployed to the broader framework and language of governmentality and regulation. That is, the moral economy regulates the dangerous and potentially harmful world of economic activity, which is guided by self-interested human venality, so that it functions in the public interest. The basis of this regulation is a subjectively held, but widely shared notion of what constitutes legitimate economic behaviour. As an institution, morality thus constitutes rules, policing, and punishment so that a bread riot is not about violence and theft by a hunger-crazed mob. It has an entirely different meaning and rationale of causation in terms of the dispensation of justice to those found guilty of having breached the moral code.  As Thompson (1971:108) describes, justice was not a rash descent into pillage, but was about restoring prices to a just level: ‘What is remarkable about these “insurrections” … is not the sack of granaries and the pilfering of grain or flour but the action of “setting the price”.’

Sinhala nationalism effectively constitutes something that resembles a moral economy. The expansion of welfarism under a nascent electoral democracy in the 1940s meant that the state had become the most important economic actor in society. Sinhala nationalism thus inscribes customary economic rights and expectations that citizens can expect from the state. James Brow describes Sinhala nationalism along these lines as a ‘dominant code of moral regulation … The ideal image of the social order in nationalist rhetoric is one that recognizes the responsibility of government to ensure the welfare of the common people, particularly the peasantry’ (Brow 1990b:13). It is in the course of being demonstrably moral that people engage, evaluate and accept the authority and good standing of those in the political realm.

For this reason, it is perhaps more appropriate to view nationalism as broader than a mechanism for economic regulation, but one that regulates and governs political conduct and political relationships, including that of citizens vis-a-vis the state. Regulation in this sense refers both to the self-control that comes from the exercise of conscience and an individual code of ethical self-conduct, but also in terms of judging how others, and particularly those in positions of authority ought to behave, and what Sinhala-Buddhist people can rightfully expect from them.

As Charles Taylor (2004:7-8) describes of social imaginaries and moral orders, there is a ‘founding contract’ – a ‘hermeneutic of legitimation’ that outlines the reciprocal arrangement – but this can also be prescriptive in dealing with a breach of this contract and justify serious consequences. Breaches of these customary rights due from the state, or of unethical, immoral political behavior by any actor in the political landscape can, as with the transgression of the moral economy, invite extraordinary and demonstrative acts of collective disapproval and punishment. Depending on the institutional and organizational ways they are channeled, these can take the form of votes, hartals and demonstrations. Moral transgression is also the basis upon which acts of violence, such as riots, assassinations, or even insurgency, can become viewed as publicly legitimate, and hence tolerated.

This relationship between nationalism and the political behavior it regulates is illustrated well in an episode from Jonathan Spencer’s ethnography of a village in Sabaragamuwa. Spencer describes how one of his informants carefully distinguishes between desapalanaya, or politics, and jatika prasnaya, or the national question (Spencer 2008: 611).  The emphatic way in which these spheres are viewed as separate bears scrutiny, not because it reflects an underlying reality, but because it describes the way in which they are cognitively organised and seen to relate to one another. Politics is the sordid, cut-throat, real-life business of pursuing political power. Nationalism on the other hand is the code of conduct by which this dangerous practice is to be managed and controlled in the collective interest. Drawing deeply on an available wealth of concepts, symbols, images, and stories, nationalism constructs a vision of unity, harmony, and righteousness that has significance and bears constant repetition, so that it self-evidently contrasts against the disunity, greed, and conflict of the real world of politics. In other words, the categorical separation of these two spheres that informants are eager to assert has validity, although the two are in reality interlocking, inter-dependent components that have significance with respect to one another.

The political enfranchisement of the entire adult population quickly changed the calculus that guided the behaviour of state elites. On the one hand, it led to the precocious social development that Sri Lanka became known for. By the mid-1940s, the government had initiated a range of transformative social welfare schemes such as subsidized food, free education, and free public health, which changed life for the better for the large majority that had hitherto been deprived of these (Jayasuriya 2013). As a result, by the early 1960s, Sri Lanka was being described as an unusual and precocious miracle of social development.

But beyond providing for their new constituents through policy, universal franchise also forced political elites to cultivate, engage and relate to their new rural voters in symbolically resonant forms of vernacular communication. Given the social, cultural, economic, geographic, and even linguistic gulf that separated this elite from the electorate, this was an unusual and challenging task that required great effort. In establishing this new relationship between the voters and the voted, electoral politics generated a special vocabulary and rhetorics: a synthetic patois of communication that would be employed in this emerging realm. This new template of communication drew upon ideas of rights and righteousness that had resonance and were meaningful to the newly enfranchised rural masses, relating them to the political circumstances of citizenship, elections, and the relationship between rulers and subjects that was being forged.


As such, the template of political morality that constitutes Sinhala nationalism is in practice, deployed as the morally laden language of formal political communication. Citizens, political actors, and the state itself approach, conduct, negotiate, and resolve their problems with one another in the rhetorics of nationalist righteousness.[2] In James Brow’s ethnography of a Vedda village in Anuradhapura in the late-1970s, he describes how the nationalist cosmos is widely understood and resonates well with the received cultural rhythms, life-experience, and world-view of the residents themselves. But nationalist rhetoric is also viewed by his respondents as a stylised, synthetic jargon of collectivity, rights and morality that villagers switch to when engaging with politicians and state officials in the course of seeking access to material benefits. He describes:

the villagers could indeed employ the discourse of nationalism when its adoption promised advantages, as in attempts to acquire benefits controlled by politicians and officials, but when engaged in their own internal affairs they reverted to a local idiom which was their own and which, despite the similarities and connections, was only marginally infused with specifically nationalist themes. (Brow 1990a: 141-142).

These rhetorical performances of nationalism were required not just of the rural poor, but also, more demandingly so, of their rulers, who were defensive of their authenticity, and as such, perpetually forced to demonstrate and perform it. At its extreme, it led to the phenomenon of the ‘Donoughmore Buddhist’, the elite Sinhalese Christian born politician who converted to Buddhism after the introduction of universal franchise in order to gain in electoral appeal.[3] But it also led to an established practice of everyday instrumentalisation of nationalism as the necessary performance that elites had to pass through on their path to power. Elite performances of nationalism are significant in understanding the nature of elite-mass interaction, and to the strategies of elite counter-populism that gained momentum in the 1970s.

Elites and Masses

The role of Sinhala nationalism in the political relationship between the rulers and ruled needs to be traced back to the late-1920s and the hearings of the Donoughmore Commission (Barron 1988). Political reforms had since the 1880s gradually expanded the quantity and quality of native representation within the colonial government, and the nascent Ceylonese elite that had been thus drawn in, expected and lobbied for further such gradual reforms. However, the Donoughmore Commission, which arrived in Ceylon in 1927 had more ambitious ideas in mind. They proposed a significant expansion in self-government, but linked this to an even more significant expansion of the franchise. Voting had hitherto been restricted to men of education and property, but the Commissioners made the radical proposal of extending it to all men and women aged 21 and over (Kumarasingham 2006, 2014).

Ceylon’s native political elite, composed entirely of wealthy, educated, westernised men, were aghast at this idea. Almost unanimously, they opposed the extension of the vote to those they considered manifestly unsuited and unprepared for it.[4] Their most senior and respected personality, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, wrote in outrage that it was ‘an utter stupidity’ to ‘transfer political power to a dangerous mob’.[5] Yet it went ahead. Under the Donoughmore constitution (1931-47), the crown colony of Ceylon – not even a dominion yet – was the first country in Asia, and the first ‘non-white’ unit of the empire to be granted such extensive self-government, and also the first to have universal suffrage.

The elite in early post-colonial Sri Lanka typically refers to the Colombo based, English speaking classes that had emerged during the nineteenth century, and who were linked either to the plantation economy or to the modern professions. For the most part, they were low country Sinhalese and Jaffna Tamils in origin. But they were set apart from the rural majority of both communities by virtue of their wealth, English education, and by their adoption of a lifestyle and outlook that was markedly westernised and even Christianised (Roberts 1973, Roberts 1974, Fernando 1973, Singer 1964, Oberst 1985, Jayawardena 2000, Spencer 2002). Indeed, a disproportionately large share of the Sinhalese and Tamil elite were actually members of the Protestant church.

The ‘mass’ in question – and as with elites, this is an unavoidably sweeping generalisation – consists of the overwhelming majority of the population; predominantly the peasantry, but also the urban working class, and the urban lower middle class. This last section includes the majority of the salariat, but also their more precarious counterparts in the urban and rural informal sector. The composition of these elites and masses in question has a clear basis in class, although for analytical and descriptive purposes, the less rigid and more fluid, albeit less conceptually rigorous, categories of elites and masses are more appropriate and functional.

Elites are an important part in understanding Sinhala nationalism, and the elite-mass distinction gives it a significance that complicates the familiar narratives of Sinhala-isation. James Manor (1979:22) had in the late-1970s asserted that the ‘elite/mass discontinuity, rather than the Sinhalese/Tamil discontinuity, is the principal cleavage in the polity of Sri Lanka’ and this remains an important theme in the study of the conflict. The role of elites in relation to Sinhala nationalism has taken shape in the literature largely through the idea of elite instrumentalism (Stokke 1998, Bush 2003). In this rendering, Sinhala nationalism is an ideology that is constructed, promoted, and exploited by a manipulative elite seeking to achieve, retain and legitimise economic and political power. Elite instrumentalism is also compatible with the idea of Sinhala nationalism as the hegemonic ideology of a ruling class imposed on society in order to rule and exploit by consent rather than dominance.[6]

In attempting to transcend the ethnic, and to situate the politics of Sinhala nationalism beyond ‘Sinhala-isation’, elite instrumentalism and hegemony have great relevance. Elites have presided over the worst excesses of Sinhala-isation, starting with the D.S. Senanayake’s disenfranchisement of upcountry Tamils immediately after independence, and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s Sinhala only campaign. Their periodic affectation of Sinhala nationalism was often transparently evident as feigned, exploitative and opportunistic. There is much that elites can be held culpable for, both in their actions and inactions. But to what extent does culpability, in terms of that which enters into the historical record, amount to causality in the analytical sense?

As with the moral polity framework, hegemony is an explanation that seeks to challenge economic determinism and it similarly finds that the pathway from economic impulse to political outcome is mediated and constrained by the way legitimacy is constructed and collectively internalised. There are however important differences between them in the way they understand power and ideology to operate. That is, in the moral polity explanation, nationalist consciousness serves to regulate and contain the pursuit of power by political operatives. This means that it operates to protect the community (the nation) against the excesses of its rulers. Hegemony instead finds that nationalist consciousness serves not to limit power, but to legitimise it and render it acceptable. As such, it does the reverse, protecting rulers against their subjects.

There are elements and fragments of hegemony that are borne out by the evidence in this book. In particular, exaggerated performances of Sinhala nationalism are often used to legitimize what is otherwise illegitimate. But beyond this, the Gramscian idea of hegemony suggests that the ideological mechanism that dulls the hegemonised masses into a consensual relationship of subservience is one that is of and for the ruling elite.  That is, the model implies that Sinhala nationalism is the ideology that emanates from, and is ‘owned’ by the ruling capitalist elite, and is projected by them onto the masses. This is however, not the case in Sri Lanka. Sinhala nationalist ideology is evidently not the expression of the material or symbolic values of the Donoughmore or Soulbury era post-colonial elites. Although they quickly adjusted and learned to cope with the new nationalist dispensation, and have even presided over it, they do not ‘own’ it. Rather, nationalism is deeply anti-elite in its moral formation, and has constantly provided the basis for continued anti-elite mobilization, including the violent insurgencies of the JVP.  There is, as a consequence, a need to reconsider whether Gramsci’s hegemony provides an adequate guide to model this relationship between ideology and social hierarchy.

A Matter of Dignity

Liah Greenfeld describes how ‘national identity is fundamentally a matter of dignity’, (Greenfeld 1991: 487) and this has relevance not just with respect to the outside world: that is, in fighting for the dignity of the Sinhala Buddhist people, language, and religion. Of relevance here is also what Jayadeva Uyangoda (2000) calls the ‘inner courtyard’. Whereas all other forms of social identity in the context of Sinhala-Buddhist society involve explicit status hierarchies of wealth, caste, occupation or gender, nationalism reconstitutes identity on the basis of a community of homogenous, equal peoples of Sinhala-Buddhist heritage. The collective claims that Sinhala nationalism makes on the Sri Lankan state are the patrimony of the whole nation, membership in which elevates and liberates its nationals from the humiliating identities of explicit inferiority that burden them in every other sphere of life.

This capacity that Sinhala nationalist identity bears for social emancipation, even as it remains embedded in a deeply hierarchical and unequal world, needs further elaboration.

Firstly, it means that Sinhala nationalism has much more than just an ‘ethnic’ personality, and amounts to more than a political project of Sinhala-isation.  It also bears an anti-elite dimension that is critical in understanding its evolution and contemporary operation. Sinhala nationalism emerges from and is produced in the context of the social, cultural, economic and geographic distance that separates the rich from the poor, English from Sinhala, the urban from the rural. Within these circumstances of multiple exclusion, and where the elite itself bears a distinctly cosmopolitan character, the politics of class consciousness and resistance spontaneously takes shape through Sinhala nationalism: an assertion of rights based on equal membership in a community of the indigenous majority.

Secondly, Sinhala nationalism became associated with antagonism to commerce and capitalist enterprise (Moore 1998). The traditional economic left-wing agenda of redistribution, welfarism, and state socialism gained a fundamentally Sinhala nationalist colouring, particularly from the mid-1950s onwards. As Mick Moore writes, ‘The extent of “nationalism” has thus correlated crudely with leftism’ (Moore 1992:37). Gunadasa Amarasekera, an important Sinhala nationalist ideologue of the generation of 1956 explained pithily: ‘in the west, the protestant ethic worked for the spread of capitalism. The Buddhist ethic works for the spread of socialism.[7]

At the time of its catalysis into the popular realm in the mid-1950s, Sinhala nationalism was sedimented upon a recent and concurrent history of populist, anti-elite, anti-UNP mobilisation by the Marxist left. Despite the sharp doctrinal differences between Marxism and Sinhala nationalism, these two ideo-political currents have in terms of practice often shared many elements of rhetorical, analytical and programmatic overlap such that the popular discourse of political legitimacy, electoral competition, and lay intellectualism frequently featured an eclectic mix of themes drawn from both currents such as social justice, the alleviation of poverty, the protection of the (Sinhala) peasant, the promotion of indigenous culture, and a broad antipathy towards the neo-colonial cultural and economic domination of the Euro-American ‘west’.

Thirdly, it posited a strong set of welfarist obligations on the Sri Lankan state that oriented its economic policy in this direction from the 1940s-70s, and that has continued in many ways even after the market reforms of 1977. It means more broadly that as a result of the circumstances of its insertion into mass politics, the political morality inherent in Sinhala nationalism is not confined to territory, language, culture, ethnicity, and religion, but extends beyond that to a broader set of referents on social justice. The moral framework of nationalism establishes a strong set of paternalistic obligations on the part of the state to promote the welfare and improvement of the people, and to cultivate what might broadly be termed as a Sinhala Buddhist-centric social democratic welfare state.

The protection and advancement of public services such as free education and health, the provision of public employment, the protection of peasant agriculture and rural life against the pressures of internal capitalist expansion and international price pressures, the alleviation of poverty and social inequalities, together with the promotion of the Sinhala-isation agenda had over this period come to comprise a set of customary rights. They formed the moral parameters within which the very legitimacy and stability of the government and indeed the broader political system was hinged. Stanley Tambiah describes this in terms of its Buddhist foundations:
the majority of monk ideologues who formulate a theory of Buddhist politics read in the Buddhist canon and in later Buddhist chronicles a clear endorsement of welfare politics and state planning and redistribution. They also interpret Buddhism as being against ‘self interested action’ which leads to greed, competition and even exploitation, and therefore as being against capitalism, which leads to inequality. This is a critical parameter of a type of modern interpretation of the relevance of Buddhist norms for life today (Tambiah 1992: 118).

It is tempting to read into this explanation something of Max Weber’s well known writings on the ascetic other-worldliness of Buddhism (Weber 1978: 627-630). But the hostility that nationalism bears for commerce relates more directly to its social origins in de-peasantised intellectuals, to the late-colonial romanticist narratives of the immiseration of the indigenous peasantry at the hands of the capitalist plantation economy, and to the influence of Marxism in its formation.

The relationship between the public morality of politics, notions of popular social justice, and Sinhala nationalism framed here is resonant with James Brow’s description: ‘The ideal image of the social order in nationalist rhetoric is one that recognizes the responsibility of government to ensure the welfare of the common people, particularly the peasantry’ (Brow 1990b:13). It also has similarities with Jani De Silva’s (1997) description of how the concept of a ‘just society’ forms a fundamental premise that structures the discursive field of electoral politics, and is captured within the signature slogans advanced by the main electoral parties – such as the UNP’s dharmistha samajaya, (righteous society) the SLFP’s samajavadhi samajaya (socialist society), the LSSP’s sama samajaya (equal society), or the insurgent JVP’s sadharana lova (just world).

Stanley Tambiah describes the way in which the moral imagination of an ideal Sinhala-Buddhist dominated, welfarist-social democratic state is reflected in the contemporary writings of Buddhist monk-ideologues of the 1950s-80s. The historical-political writings of one prominent monk-ideologue, Henpitagedera Gnanasiha, he describes, invoked a:

vision of a utopian past invoked as a vision of a utopian future [which embodies] precedents for instituting a welfare state and a social and economic egalitarianism in a noncompetitive agricultural society of villages. … Gnanasiha paints the regime of Parakrama Bahu I of Polonnaruwa as a collective welfare oriented dispensation, indeed as a kind of ‘socialist welfare society’ where the monarch was the chief holder, developer and distributor of land, resources and rewards to all people, while at the same time, a liberal supporter and protector of the sangha and a propagator of Dhammic virtues (Tambiah 1992: 106-107).

An Inverted Left-Right Party System

This moral structure and the widespread power it acquired in regulating and structuring the political landscape is manifest in the particular alignment of political competition that it has given rise to. At independence in 1948, the party system had briefly and ephemerally been defined by a conventional left-right axis that resembled a European style division between a pro-business UNP and pro-Labour Marxist-left. But this was transformed by the nationalist ascendancy of 1956, which established economic redistributive justice and Sinhala-isation as the structural pillars of popular electoral mobilisation. This transformed the electoral terrain with a powerful incentive structure, and consequently, gave birth to a new configuration of Sri Lanka’s ‘national’ level political party system (outside the Tamil-speaking north-east or the central plantation districts).

That is, it is defined on the one hand by a classic economic left-right axis, based on a traditional party of business, the UNP on the right and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on the centre-left, and the Marxist parties on the far-left. The other axis that defines the party system is that of Sinhala majoritarian nationalism, along which the UNP is the furthest to the (liberal)-left, while the SLFP and more extreme Sinhala nationalist parties are further to the right. In other words, there is an inversion of the familiar left-right layout with respect to these two axes, so that the party furthest to the right on economic issues is to the left on issues of minority rights, and vice versa. This is an unconventional arrangement of the left-right axes compared to the rest of South Asia, where, as with the Awami League in Bangladesh, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Pakistan, or the Congress Party in India, national political systems were anchored by a party of economic populism that was also identified with ethnic or religious minority rights.

Sri Lanka’s unusual party system where cosmopolitan capitalism confronts sectarian socialism is not a temporary aberration, as this alignment has been resilient, and forms a natural ordering of the party political system since then, and to which it has reverted on numerous occasions since 1956. Political elites, particularly of the UNP have found that this alignment places them at a position of particular disadvantage vis-à-vis the two axes of political morality and electoral populism that animate Sinhala nationalism. In subsequent decades, Sinhala nationalist sentiment has been aggravated and acquired a particularly sharp edge on every occasion when a ruling UNP government found itself the subject of a repeat of the alignment of 1956: that is, when it confronted both economic and ethnic populism. This occurred most vividly in 1987, when simmering anger at the UNP’s market reforms fused together with the widespread outrage at Indian military intervention, sparking an extraordinarily violent insurgency. It occurred again in 2004, as the Ranil Wickremasinghe government’s two-track policy of market reform and negotiations with the LTTE aroused a combined resistance from trade unionists, left parties, and Sinhala nationalists.



The Politics of Sinhala Nationalism

In conclusion, this chapter has served to introduce, contextualise and provide historical background for many of the themes that are explored in greater depth in subsequent chapters. It deals primarily with the political circumstances, insinuation and effects of Sinhala nationalism, and has provided five different ways in which this occurs.

Firstly, nationalist politics takes shape as an explicit political project of majoritarian domination, or Sinhala-isation. It contains the strong idea that Sinhala Buddhists have a righteous claim to primacy, and that the state must recognise and reflect this. It is in this sense that Sinhala nationalism fuels ethnic polarity and the conflict.

Secondly, Sinhala nationalism provides the cognitive structure through which popular conceptions of political morality are conceived, and suffuses the matrix of criteria against which the state and political actors can be accorded legitimacy or the lack thereof. That is, it constitutes a moral subjectivity that situates voters in the realm of modern electoral politics. In doing so, it serves to regulate that sphere, tempering the cut-throat and divisive world of electoral politics with an ethic of unity and community.

Thirdly Sinhala nationalism gives rise to the specialised technical jargon drawn upon when people engage in political discourse and make claims on the state. That is, it provides the template for political interaction, communication, and performance. This includes the frequent performances of nationalist authenticity by elites born that are either entirely expedient, or else born of insecurity and defensiveness at their lack of popular credentials.

Fourthly, Sinhala nationalism must be seen within a dynamic of elite-mass confrontation, so that it is an expression of class consciousness. In this sense, it contains an anti-capitalist sentiment of ‘Buddhist socialism’, in which the legitimacy of the state is connected to the pursuit of social justice and welfarism. Sinhala nationalism has thus, in the course of the circumstances ingrained its evolution, emerged as the ideology of an ethnicised social welfare state. This state is seen as having deep moral obligations towards the welfare of society in general, and towards the material, spiritual, and cultural needs of the Sinhala-Buddhists in particular.

Fifthly, Sinhala nationalism structures the party system in a peculiar order, with its polarity determined by two rival historical meta-projects. This consists on the one hand, of a populist agenda of left-wing Sinhala-isation, and on the other, of an elite-driven agenda of market-based economic reform together with ethnic conflict resolution based on concessions to the Tamil north-east.


[1] On Hans Kohn’s (1961) distinction, and the critiques of it (to which I am sympathetic), see Kymlicka (2001), Brubaker (1999), Yack (2006).

[2] Of note, Spencer (1993: 103) makes the observation that notions of fairness are directed towards access to state resources, not the redistribution of existing resources from the wealthy.

[3] It is extraordinary to note that the assassin of Sri Lanka’s most famous Donoughmore Buddhist, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, was a Buddhist monk who performed the reverse journey, and converted to Christianity in jail prior to his execution in 1962.

[4] Manor (1989:78) lists the only three people who advocated universal franchise in Ceylon as a trade unionist A.E.Goonesinha and two British residents.

[5] Cited in Russell (1982:18).

[6] See in particular the work of James Brow and Michael Woost.

[7]  Interview, Gunadasa Amarasekera, 7 April 2007. For an extended commentary on Gunadasa Amarasekera and his views on Marx, Weber, and Buddhism, see also Rambukwella (2008). See Seneviratne (1999), chapter 7, and Tambiah (1973) for an extended discussion of Buddhism and Weber. Of note here is also Southwold-Llewelyn’s interviews with farmers on the ‘mudalali myth’, and their attitudes to traders, who are widely as outsiders in terms of community and morality (Southwold-Llewelyn 1994: 177).  See also Weeratunga (2010).

NOTA BENE: Rajesh Venugopal, lives in Oxford and is attached to the LSE ………………


Filed under British colonialism, Buddhism, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, constitutional amendments, cultural transmission, democratic measures, demography, discrimination, economic processes, electoral structures, ethnicity, European history, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, island economy, landscape wondrous, language policies, Left politics, life stories, modernity & modernization, Muslims in Lanka, nationalism, parliamentary elections, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

2 responses to “Sinhala Nationalism

  1. Pingback: T – Vichara

  2. Pingback: T – Vichara

Leave a Reply