The darkest hour is just before the dawn – II
Posted on November 14th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

Something worth keeping in mind in this context is that the nationalism of the Sinhalese has always been territorial nationalism. (.) Sinhalese domiciled in a country other than Sri Lanka, will never ask to be recognized as a ‘nation’ in that second home country however large their numbers in that country may be. Their nationalism is not racism; it is not racially motivated, but is territorially based, as well known professor of archaeology Raj Somadeva correctly emphasized recently in the course of his guest lecture at National Freedom Front leader MP Wimal Weerawansha’s book launch (Yadamin baendi Akuru or ‘Characters in Irons’).

The writer (of this article) remembers that ‘maubima naethnam maranaya’ (Motherland or Death) and ‘palamuwa maubima – devanuwa waedabima’ (First Motherland  – Second Workplace) were among the main slogans of the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) during both of its 1971 and 1988-89 insurrections. The membership of the JVP then entirely consisted of young Sinhalese Buddhists, but their struggle was on behalf of their social class/the dispossessed, the downtrodden, but not racial or religious ethnicity; and as Marxist materialists, they were not concerned with a religion. In their rebellion, more than 60,000 young men and women, a substantial number mere kids below the age of 15, laid down their lives for their cause.

They fought and died to prevent the country from being divided through federalism in terms of the 13th Amendment forcibly imposed on our country by India in 1987. Some 29,000 young soldiers died in the 30 year war, and 14,000 left permanently disabled. Terrorist bombings and massacres also claimed young lives as well as old. So, it is not an exaggeration to say that during the last half a century not fewer than 100,000 young people died in the name of our Motherland. Can we forget the thousands of young Tamils who laid down their lives for an unworthy cause, misled by a group of separatist terrorists, and other young Tamils opposed to them who were massacred by the same fratricides.

The territorial nationalism of the Sinhalese has not changed even today, contrary to prevailing negative views about Sinhalese as ethno-religious racists. Whereas Sinhalese are concerned for the country, others are only worried about racial matters: racist Tamil politicians always talk about Tamil interests to the exclusion or even at the expense of those of other communities; communalist Muslim politicians are not different. But there are Tamil and Muslim politicians who are of the national level, whom the majority Sinhalese sincerely respect.

The Sinhalese have never fought a communalist war. Anti-Sinhalese misconceptions have been created by false information disseminated abroad about them by federalists/separatists.

Some anti-Sri Lanka propagandists pretend that the Buddhasasana is the Maha Sangha. The monks are only a part of the Buddhist religious establishment, though an indispensable part. It is the community of monks as a united monolithic institution that has been a powerful force in the Lankan state. Of course, the reality today is that this institution has been weakened through the infiltration of politics.

The recent coming together of monks under the apolitical leadership of the traditional Mahanayake Theras of the various nikayas is a welcome development. There may be individual monks (there always have been) who are powerful with politicians in their own right, but they are also subject to the leadership of the Mahanayakes.

It is wrong to automatically assume that the Buddhist monks are not knowledgeable or competent or experienced enough to advise rulers in matters that they think come within their purview. (However, it must be added in the same breath, that monks usually prove themselves to be very naïve when they have to deal with politicians, because of their lack of familiarity with mundane matters. They have to guard against being duped by the latter, who are ever eager to exploit religion for their own pragmatic ends.

It is mandatory for monks to be above partisan politics.) Most monks who are today in the forefront of movements dedicated for national and religious service are university educated. To give a couple of examples, Ven. Medagama Dhammananda Thera, the Registrar of the Asgiriya Chapter of the Siyam Nikaya, is a PhD. He was educated in America and Taiwan; he is also equipped with a comprehensive knowledge of the secular law. Ven. Dhammananda Thera is an active researcher in the field of international and local political changes, and in poverty alleviation studies. He is active in the Jayagrahanaya Sri Lanka organization, and has done much work paving the way for Sinhala Tamil harmony in the Eastern province by restoring irrigation tanks and canals damaged in the war.

Sinhalese Buddhists are a minority in that province. So, his work benefited more Tamils and Muslims in that region than Sinhalese. Ven. Dr Dhammananda Thera says, Unlike certain NGOs, we are not extremists”. Another outspoken monk who is in the vanguard of these movements is the youthful Ven. Dr Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera. He is the head of the historic educational institution known as the Sunethra Devi Pirivena, Pepiliyana.

It was a university level centre of education and culture which had flourished in the 15th century before the fateful incursion of the Portuguese at the beginning of the next century. Ven. Abhayatissa Thera is also involved in social work helping all communities without any discrimination. Not long ago, he led a group of monks from Colombo who went to Jaffna for the express purpose of donating blood.

Apparently, there was a shortage of blood for transfusion in hospitals there. Monks do not engage in such charitable activities to promote someone or some ideology, though their biased critics might feel tempted to attribute political motives to this instance of practical expression of their genuine Buddhist altruism.

Regarding the Maha Sangha’s eligibility to get involved in this crucial matter, one or two more facts need to be emphasized. These leading monks have been in contact with the highest leaders of the government the president, the prime minister, and the speaker of parliament at least since January directly as well as by proxy regarding the constitution making program as can be inferred from a speech given by Ven. Dr Medagama Dhammananda Thera.

They have also been thoroughly briefed by non-political analysts of the proposed new constitutional reforms such as specialist doctors, and legal experts in the constitution making domain. So, the venerable monks, with their selfless patriotic commitment, are infinitely more eligible to express an opinion on the subject than the antinational NGO hirelings who are promoting this federalist constitution.

Incidentally, it was Ven. Dr Abhayatissa Thera who, according to a news report in The Island of October 25, 2017, urged the president and the prime minister to have a Tamil speaking president and a Tamil speaking prime minister without further delay, saying that such an arrangement was better than dividing the country on ethnic lines. He made these observations in a speech at the National Library and Documentation Centre, Colombo, on October 23, 2017 (Please see below). Though this proposal would immediately sound desperate and unrealistic, a Tamil speaking president or a prime minister or both  will surely be as acceptable to the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community as a Sinhalese speaking one, provided that they prove themselves to be non-communalist leaders who are genuinely committed to the preservation of the unitary structure of the Sri Lankan state and the protection and fostering of Buddhism as the foremost religion of the country.

The last four kings of the Kandyan kingdom, the Nayakkars, were Dravidian (not Tamil, though) were from South India. They were accepted by the Chiefs and the ordinary people of the Kandyan provinces as Sinhalese Buddhist kings, and they made popular rulers, too. They ruled here NOT because they were Dravidian, but because they were connected with the Kandyan royalty through marital relations. Sinhalese Buddhist citizens of modern times have never voted as racists or communalists.

After this unnecessary constitution making imbroglio is, hopefully, resolved, the UNP and the SLFP (if restored)/the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) should recognize the need to change their constitutions to accommodate Ven. Abhayatissa’s proposal, if they don’t already allow that, which of course is unlikely; any Sri Lankan citizen has the right of getting elected to the highest post in the country. The JVP which was deadly against Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987 wholly rejected the 13th Amendment because of its federalist features.

Its leader Rohana Wijeweera was a severe critic of Indian expansionism in the region. The JVP’ers were concerned about the preservation of the unitary character of the state, but they were not anti-Tamil by any means. In his book RECOLONISATION – Foreign Funded NGO’s in Sri Lanka” (first published by Sage Publications New Delhi, California, and London, 2006) Dr Susantha Goonatilake refers to some confidential tape-recordings by a former minister (presumably of the UNP government of president Premadasa in the 1987-90 period) in refutation of the then JVP’s alleged exclusionism. (Prabhakaran’s LTTE regarded the JVP as an ultra-racist Sinhalese organization, though evidence suggested otherwise.) Dr Goonatilake writes on p. 179:

QUOTE ‘From these recordings it would appear that instead of being exclusivist and anti-cosmopolitan, the JVP was looking beyond its natural lower strata class base. In fact, it had wanted to suggest the name of Radhika Coomaraswami herself for the highest post in the island, that is, as its choice of presidential candidate (Ranasinghe 1996)’ END OF QUOTE

The entirety of the JVP comprised young Sinhalese, nearly all of them from a Buddhist background. No doubt, there were a few Catholics and Christians as well. The attitude of the JVP then was identical with that of the majority Sinhalese community. However, it is not only the communalist politics of  the few powerful politicians from the minority parties that would prevent the election of a president or prime minister from their ranks, but their power hungry counterparts among Sinhalese politicians.

If politicians behave in a manner that the democratic will of the ordinary people is asserted, then there will be no barrier to a person other than a Sinhalese being elected to the highest post in the country. It won’t remain an unrealizable dream in the future when the new thinking more liberal younger electorate begins to have the upper hand. If the writer’s memory doesn’t fail him, the JVP wanted Lakshman Kadirgamar to be prime minister towards the end of Chandrika Bandaranaike’s presidency (1994-2005), though it later appeared that they fell by the wayside due to influences from other quarters beyond their power to overcome.

An invaluable service that Chandrika Bandaranaike did to the country during her lackluster two terms was her choice of this noble Sri Lankan as her Foreign Affairs Minister. Actually, the late Kadirgamar was initially anti-left as his daughter Ajitha Kadirgamar says in her biography of her father ‘THE CAKE THAT WAS BAKED AT HOME’ (Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo, 2015). Though the JVP revolt of 1971 did not affect him directly, Kadirgamar felt that the advent of the JVP didn’t augur well for the country. It was going to make life in Lanka worse, and he felt he needed to go abroad. Following is Ajitha Kadirgamar from p. 189 of her book:

QUOTE ‘But ironically enough the very same Lakshman who left Sri Lanka due to the JVP found himself on the best of terms with the rathu sahodarayas” thirty three years later. The JVP found in Lakshman a sincere friend and guide while Lakshman recognized a like-mindedness” on some issues. ’END OF QUOTE

What provided the main cue for this article and prompted its title The darkest hour is just before the dawn”, were the hints that the writer found in Ven. Dr Abhayatissa Thera’s speech on the aforementioned occasion about the respective attitudes of president Sirisena and the Joint Opposition (JO) towards the controversial constitution making process.

The thera found fault with the JO for failing to take a tougher stand against the new constitutional reform proposals, thereby revealing its possible indecision regarding the issue. (However, the stand of the JO cannot be different from the stand of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. His public statement of October 16, 2017 is the best critique of the envisaged new constitutional reforms that this writer has come across.

In his speech on November 2 during the parliamentary debate on the interim report of the Steering Committee, he argued convincingly and calmly how parliament will be redundant when powers are fully devolved to the provinces. He explained that what he had meant by 13+ was something that would hold the country together, but not something that would divide the country as would the proposed new constitution. Mahinda also pointed out the glaring injustice in the allocation of time for speeches in this debate.

More time was shared between the government speakers and those of the official opposition, i.e., TNA, JVP, etc., who were supportive of the proposed constitution because they were all stakeholders of the Yahapalana project of 2015, while members of the Joint Opposition were given much less time to express their views. He wanted the JO members to use their vote for or against these reforms according to their individual conscience; he appealed to the leaders of the government to allow their own members the same freedom.

In addition to these instances, his occasional cautious critical remarks in response to journalists’ queries suggest that he doesn’t believe that the constitution making enterprise will survive the united opposition of the Maha Sangha. Besides, Udaya Gammanpila MP, leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, a constituent of the JO, has explained that the point of their remaining in the constitution making process while opposing it was both to keep themselves informed of what was actually happening in it, and to disrupt its progress as much as possible, something, as he claims, they are already achieving.)

On the other hand, simply  depressing is what Dr Abhayatissa Thera reveals about the attitude of the president who had had consultations with a number of national civil organizations opposed to the peremptory constitution making exercise including the Jathika Sangha Sabhawa, the Federation of National Organisations, Patriotic National Movement, Mahajana Rajjya Sabhawa, the Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) and Wimal Weerawansha’s National Freedom Front. (According to The Island news  report, Ven. Dr Abhayatissa Thera himself was representing the Eliya organization when addressing the media at the National Library and Documentation Centre {Independence Avenue, Colombo}.

Both Eliya and Viyathmaga organizations whose memberships comprise academics and professionals are led by former secretary of defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, whose unblemished reputation as an efficient, honest, and no nonsense government official under the previous government is still a force to reckon with.)

The monk told the media that the president had said that the people of the North were unhappy as they had been denied their rightful place (!). He believed that the president was unwilling to reverse the constitution making process. Having said what I have about Ven. Dr Abhayatissa Thera, I’d like to kindly remind the reader to be mindful of the factor of typical naivety that at least some Buddhist monks display, despite their educational background, when dealing with politicians.

(To be continued)

 

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