“Aiyo”, are Sri Lankan legislators heading for another conflict

thIn Sri Lanka, Buddhism has been closely intertwined with the political power structure and though there is no state religion has made it into a Buddhist state that ran contrary to the notion of modernity. Due to this forced Sinhala Buddhist national identity, the little island nation has faced in the seventy years since independence many stiffest challenges to overcome ethnic and religious extremism, that has spread hatred towards minorities in the country; sadly this practice is continued to this date. In a society where numerical supremacy of a group could prejudice it to disfavor smaller groups, secularism could intervene to deter persecution of ethnic and religious minorities. In contrast secularism restrains the political expression of cultural or religious conflicts between different communities in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

When Sri Lanka, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country gained independence in 1948, it was expected that in the process of modernization secularism would thrive; but it did not happen because based on its Sinhala-Buddhist ideology the state enjoyed majority support that guaranteed Buddhist re-awaking. Earlier the Buddhist reformer Anagarika Dharmapala had invoked the Mahavansa to affirm the relationship between Buddhism and the Sinhalese that facilitated the transfer of power to Sinhala ‘Buddhist’ elite. They having entered the political scene by first faking their religious beliefs aligning more to the majority inhabitants’ beliefs of Theravada Buddhism, benefited fully by it. The former President Rajapaksa’s father Don Alwin Rajapaksa a born Catholic, was no different to both the fourth Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranayke, and the first Executive President  J.R. Jayewardene all pretenders, who deceived  by casting off their strict Christian backgrounds and converted their religious beliefs to gain political mileage and dominated national politics.

In the post-colonial multi-ethnic and multi-religious independent Sri Lanka the political conditions were not those referred to in Mahavansa; under democracy with secularism there was no state religion in the country. But as the years rolled on and with interference from the phony Sinhala Buddhist leaders, who bluntly exhibited Sinhala Buddhist extremism to gain public popularity gave foremost position to Buddhism. This was not necessary, for if these leaders had respected the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of the country, the followers of other religions in the country acknowledging humanizing message of tolerance and compassion in Buddhism would have given its pride of place at the top. On the language issue had the Sinhala Buddhist leaders accepted the truth that Tamil Language was also a native language and allowed it to be used by the Tamil speaking people, then they would have accepted North-East as the home land of the Tamil speaking people.  Instead the forced Sinhala Buddhist national identity only brought modern day Sinhala Buddhism into conflict with secularism and freedom of practice of other religions, that has denied the little island nation of any development.

In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country there would be cultural differences and languages, this was not well understood by the fraud Sinhala Buddhist leaders. A psycho analysis of Sinhala-Buddhist extremism will explain in terms of the mystification of the Sinhala Buddhist identity through history and the developments leading to the present crisis in Sri Lanka. As war victory run out of steam the last regime to assure continued electoral success, was in desperate need of an enemy in the post war politics in Sri Lanka. Looking at the allocation made for defense makes one wonder if the state is seeking to mold itself as a mono-ethnic mono-religious entity and is using the security forces to achieve it. Earlier when the crisis led bloody civil war was intensifying the government was justified in the allocation of 177.1 billion rupees for the year 2009 for its defense forces and it compares well with the government’s allocation a year earlier in 2008, which was 166.44 billion rupees.

The civil war ended in 2009 and the post war developments have shown clear similarities with patterns in countries where fascism thrived. Uncertainty and extremism tend to go together and as the government was only interested in retaining power, used manipulative methods during the negative peace years; with the much publicised development agenda having failed to deliver the goods to the people who are struggling to make ends meet, made the highest allocation in 2010 Appropriation Bill of 215.2 billion to the Defense Ministry and when the present government took control already the 2015 Appropriation Bill had allocated 231.0 billion for the Ministry of Defense. The people did not expect this trend to continue under the present government, but it did and in the 2016 Appropriation Bill had allocated the lion’s share of 306 billion to the Defense Ministry, and is to continue in the 2017 Appropriation bill to be presented in Parliament soon for approval, where 283 billion been allocated for defense, which is the lion’s share of the total for defense in peace time.

Groups that suffer uncertainty about their collective future can act in different ways. Politically motivated violence perpetrated by individuals, groups or state-sponsored agents and designed to inflict feelings of terror and helplessness on a population in order to influence decision-making and condition behavior is the method chosen by Sri Lankan Buddhist extremists. It is obvious that the previous regime having got rid of its enemy was on the lookout for alternatives and the creation of extremist forces was a result of this uncertainty resulted in the state continued discomfiting the minorities particularly the Tamils, held Tamil political activists indefinitely without formal charges, used the army to colonize the entire Tamil region, resettling Tamils forced into displaced persons camps and refused to acknowledge on going disappearances. Remembering one of the most famous sayings attributed to Abraham Lincoln is about deception: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. So this trend cannot continue and the new government must realize that country cannot survive in isolation and global politics will continue to influence events in Sri Lanka in the future as it did in the past. There is a need for a change in political culture to resolve the problems of the minorities including the said grievances of the Tamils.