The destructive history of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideologues | Sunday Observer

The destructive history of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideologues

6 September, 2020

The abuse of history has been one of the major contributory factors that led to the exacerbation of the North-South relations. If our political/social scientists had balanced the mono-ethnic extremism of the North with the Southern forces reacting to the disproportionate demands of the North (Example: 12% Jaffna Tamils demanding 50% of power at the centre) and given the due weightage to both, the communal conflagration that came out of the partisan and perverse perspectives could have been avoided. Instead the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideologues in academia and NGOs played foul by manufacturing and reinforcing the mono-causal perspective coming down from the North to blame only the Sinhala-Buddhists.

Prof. S. J. Tambiah’s Buddhism Betrayed?: Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka is a typical example of blaming only the Sinhala-Buddhists living in a universe of multi-factorial causes. It is a cheap exercise that went overboard to blame only Buddhism. Any academic mug could have written a similar book titled Christianity Betrayed?, or Judaism Betrayed? or Gandhism Betrayed? or even Marxism Betrayed. History is one big mass grave in which the dry bones of noble ideals lie scattered with no one caring two hoots about it. Clearly, Tambiah’s academic exercise to pick only on Buddhism, ignoring the parallel Hindu forces of the North fathered by Arumuka Navalar, a caste fanatic, does not elevate him beyond that of a partisan charlatan.

The parallel force in the South was led by Anagarika Dharmapala who, like Navalar, was an anti-Christian, anti-Western reformist whose primary objective was to restore the traditional values of the indigenous people suppressed by the colonial masters.

The difference, however, is that Navalar’s revision of Saivism, which was a political move to anoint the Vellalas as the Brahmin aristocracy of Jaffna, perverted the political culture of Jaffna, reducing segments of Jaffnaites to subhuman slaves, and finally to Nandikadal, the Waterloo of the Vellalas; whereas Anagarika Dharmapala’s Buddhist revival marched all the way to the latest triumph of the Rajapaksas in a non-violent political landmark.

The Vellala devotees of Navalar abandoned the non-violent mainstream politics and declared war in the Vadukoddai Resolution (May 1976) to retain their casteist supremacy. Their power struggle led them all the way to Nandikadal (May 2009).

Mono-causal theory

On the contrary, the followers of Dharmapala marched all the way to enthrone the Rajapaksas, democratically and peacefully. With all its imperfections, the triumph of the democracy in Sri Lanka is attributed to the power of tolerant Buddhism to nurture and foster a democratic culture. This was the original conclusion of Prof. A. J. Wilson, son-in-law of the father of Tamil separatism. (See below).

Going against this, after the Tamils took to separatism, Prof. Tambiah manufactured a mono-causal history partly to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists as the prime cause of the raging ethnic conflict, partly to cover up crimes committed by the Tamil Vellalas against their own people in the feudal and colonial times, and partly to lend justification for the Vellala supremacists, born out Hindu perversions, indoctrinated by Arumuka Navalar.

Manufacturing a mono-causal theory to point the finger only at one side in a conflict situation where the ubiquitous opposites in history collide is, in the first place, against the known facts. Second, history happens only as a dialectical clash of two or more conflicting forces. The reverberating sounds of history do not echo in the passages of time with a one-hand clap.

The monumental events that shook the nation in the post-independent period for 33 years – from the Vadukoddai Declaration of War in 1976 to Nandikadal in 2009 – moved into the pages of history because the forces of the North clashed head-on with the forces of the South and vice versa. But the ideologues who ganged up to manufacture their version of history constructed only a one-way narrative blaming only the Sinhala-Buddhists as if the Yal Devi went only to the North and never came down.

Take, for instance, the case of Dayan Jayatilleka who never fails to advertise that he is a ‘political scientist’. If Prof. Tambiah is at the high-end of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist gang Dayan is at the very low end, parroting what his gurus had told him. Wearing his tinted blinkers made in Gramsci’s factories in Italy, he is wont to attack the Sinhala-Buddhists, naming in particular Anagarika Dharmapala, the anti-colonial reformist who awakened the Sinhala-Buddhists to the corrosive effects of the Christianised, Westernised and alien forces imposed by the imperial masters.

Dayan has failed to give equal weightage to the parallel forces unleashed in the North by the Saivite revisionist, Arumuka Navalar – the most pernicious casteist fanatic who is the demi-god of the Vellalas. He fathered Vellala casteist fascism that turned his devotees in Jaffna into relentless and merciless oppressors of the Tamil people.

This high priest of Vellalaism told his Saivite followers that it is their duty to kill those who ‘revile’ Siva. And if they can’t kill they should hire someone else to do it for them. (p. 80 – The Bible Trembled, The Hindu-Christian Controversies of Nineteeth Century Ceylon, R. F. Young and (Bishop) S. Jebanesan).

Imagine, for instance, what Dayan Jayatilleka and his fellow-ideologues would have done if Anagarika had told the Buddhists to kill those who had ‘reviled’ the Buddha. Wouldn’t he have danced the kavadi to the drum beat of goo-ooo-rung, goo-ooo-rung on the streets of Colombo condemning it?

Dayan’s pseudo-political science is yet to give due weightage to the Vellala factor that over-determined the North-South relations from the colonial period. He has, in his abysmal ignorance, failed to weave in the decisive and destructive Vellala factor that collided with the Southern forces reacting to the Vellala grab for power in the dying days of colonialism.

At the centre of the North-South conflict has been the Vellala thrust to grab disproportionate power at the expense of other communities. Dayan was blinded by various shades of Eurocentric theories, particularly Marxism, that hardly worked at the grassroots level in Sri Lanka.

He could not get out of that box and come to grips with the mono-ethnic extremism of the North – the sole source of power of the Vellalas -- winding its way inexorably to the Vadukoddai Resolution and, consequently to Nandikadal.

Like all anti-national political pundits, he fancies that if he throws in a few quotes from Gramsci, Althusser, Marx or Lenin, he could lasso the multifarious forces that had bedevilled Sri Lankan politics and keep them under his control in his ideological stables. He believes that the solution lies in theoretical mumbo-jumbo spun in Eurocentric ideological factories.

But how many Gramscis, Althussers and Lenins marched all the way to the polls that swept the Rajapaksas into power? Which theory of our pundits predicted the annihilation of the UNP, or the rise and rise of the Rajapaksas? The Presidential and the parliamentary elections debunked the theoreticians parading as ‘political scientists’. The Eurocentric theoreticians were among the victims of the Rajapaksa tsunamis that swept the nation.

This is only one example of how our political/social scientists blacked out the destructive forces that came down from the North and destroyed the ground laid for peaceful co-existence by the Founding Fathers of independence.

Distorted history

Better political/social scientists than Dayan have played the ignominious role of betraying the fundamental principles of scholarship. They had no qualms in abandoning their own findings/theses at the end of years of research and plugging anti-Sinhala-Buddhist propaganda to buttress their partisan political agenda. I shall deal with more of it later.

Before that let me first deal with the manner in which distorted history played its subversive role in post-colonial politics. Each time history was dragged into the political arena it either ran into verbal fireworks with the clash of theories and interpretations, or exploded in bloody violence like the fireball that rolled all the way down to Nandikadal.

In fact, the very first communal explosion that ripped the uninterrupted inter-ethnic harmony of centuries occurred when the up-and-coming leader of rising Tamil communalism, G. G. Ponnambalam, launched his attack debasing the Mahavamsa and the history of the Sinhalese in June 1939 in Nawalapitiya. Lashing out at the Sinhalese as ‘a race of hybrids’ he denigrated them as nobodies in the history of the nation. It didn’t take long for inter-ethnic clashes to ignite in the neighbourhoods of Passara, Nuwara Eliya, and Maskeliya.

Next month S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was able to form a branch of the Sinhala Maha Sabha in Nawalapitiya. At the inaugural meeting he said: “The Nawalapitiya Sinhala Maha Sabha should erect a statue of Ponnambalam as we should be grateful to him for provoking the formation of this Sinhala Maha Sabha.” (p.256 – Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931 – 1947, Jane Russell, Tisara Prakasakayo, 1982.)

This was the time when Ponnambalam was going around whipping up support for his ‘50 – 50’ demand. The ruling Vellalas who formed the power elite in Jaffna backed Ponnambalam to the hilt. The anti-caste, anti-communalist Jaffna Youth Congress, the one and only movement of the North to reject Tamil communalism, was critical of Ponnambalam. The Youth Congress, which was a formidable force in the twenties, stated: “There has been plenty of false propaganda and exaggeration on both sides.

Ponnambalam has been singing the glories of the Tamil race on public platforms, and by implication and direct statement casting slur upon the Sinhalese people. Communalists flourish on one another. It is the existence and utterances of Ponnambalam that provide the means for the rise to popularity and power of a Bandaranaike, and it is the latter’s acts and utterances that the former used to whip up a following.” (Ibid – pp. 255-6).

Jane Russel points out that “1938 and 1939 mark the nadir of communal relations in Ceylon”. (Ibid – 234). And she noted: “In March 1938, G. G. Ponnambalam and D. P. R. Gunawardena came to blows in the corridor outside the chamber (of the State Council).” (Ibid – p. 257). Footnote to this said: “The victor to this pugilistic contest was, not surprisingly, D. P. R. Gunawardena”. Any serious study of Jaffna will confirm that despite the boasts of the greatness of the Jaffna Tamils they lack not only substantial evidence to back it up but also a historical consciousness comparable to that of the Sinhalese. So when Jaffna launched the separatist movement in 1948 it became an urgent political necessity to manufacture a history that could substantiate their political agenda.

The ‘history’contained in the Vadukoddai Resolution is a clear example of Tamils making history on the run. The frantic rush to make a new history was inevitable because the Tamils, unlike the Sinhalese, did not have a sense of history. Writing on the attitude of the Sinhalese and the Tamil towards their past, E. Valentine Daniels, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan, said, “the Sinhalese privilege history, whereas the Sri Lankan Tamils privilege heritage.” (p. 1.-- Three Dispositions Towards the Past: One Sinhala, Two Tamil, Social Analysis, No.25:22-41, 1989).

Besides, the Mahavamasa, Chulavamsa, Deepavamsa point to the deep historical consciousness of the Sinhalese. The Tamils have not produced any comparable records of their past. In fact, the colonial masters had to urge them to produce a history for their guidance. The best known, Yalpana Vaipava Malai, was produced by poet Mylvakanam, because the Dutch Governor asked him to do so. Nobody asked the historian Mahanama to write the Mahavamsa. He did so in medieval times because he inherited the historical consciousness from his ancestors. It was in their blood. It was different with the Tamils of Jaffna. In the 20th century the Vellala casteist supremacists were desperately in need of a history not only to maintain their casteist grip on peninsula politics but also to extend their power beyond the boundaries of Jaffna.

Vadukoddai Resolution

They needed history to sanctify, justify and legitimise political violence which they launched in the end to achieve their elusive Eelam. The South too used history to justify their violence.

But it has been more reactive than provocative. For instance, only the North has officially resorted to violence consciously and deliberately to achieve their political goals by declaring war against the South in the Vadukoddai Resolution (1976). No other leadership of any other community has officially declared war on a mono-ethnic ideology to achieve self-serving political goals at the expense of other communities. The ending of Vadukoddai violence in Nandikadal confirm that history returns again and again to renew and reinforce the flow of the mainstream, dismissing fanciful and futile interpretations of theoreticians. History refused to be boxed in by narrow, self-serving theories.

The most deplorable part is the role played by the intellectuals. Re-reading Prof. Tambiah’s Buddhism Betrayed?, particularly in the light of subsequent events, makes you wonder about the integrity of intellectuals and their capacity to contribute gainfully to the welfare of people, particularly to people trapped in conflict situations. Dayan’s theories can be dismissed as irrelevant sounds of an empty vessel. Whether it is on Cuba – his ideal state – or on Sri Lanka his political theories and somersaults question not only his intellectual honesty but also his failure to grasp some of the essentials of the ground realities.

It is the betrayal of their own principles and the sacred standards set for sound scholarship that make the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist academics/theoreticians a bunch of hired hacks selling their talents to the highest bidder in the political market. Take the case of Prof. A. J. Wilson, son-in-law of the father of Tamil separatism, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam.

Doctrine of tolerance

In his early career he began by commending Buddhism as the force that has stabilised Sri Lanka and fostered democracy. Here’s what Calvin Woodard, an American scholar, wrote in a review of Wilson’s, Politics in Sri Lanka, 1947 – 1973, Mac Millan Press, 1974): “The uniqueness of Sri Lanka, Wilson points out, is that it has faced these challenges without veering from the democratic path. Certainly then, the key to the future lies in an understanding of the past.

How and why, in other words, has the democratic experiment been able to work so well in Sri Lanka? The author investigates this and concludes that the political stability so far maintained in Sri Lanka is due mainly to two forces, one of indigenous origin and the other the result of Western implantation. Primary is the Buddhist ethos and the doctrine of tolerance.

This, according to Wilson, has acted to dissuade the majority community from unduly imposing itself on the minorities and encourage it to respect the fundamental rights and distinctions of others in the plural society. Similar in effect to the Western notion of compromise, the doctrine of tolerance has facilitated compromise and provided essential underpinning in society to the parliamentary system.” ( pp. 72-73, The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, Vol III, July-December, 1973, No.2).

It should be noted that this was written after S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who is generally vilified by the Tamil ideologues as the evil force that unleashed Sinhala-Buddhism as a dominant political force. What happened to Wilson who, by far, was the best-informed political scientist of the Tamils.

Did he turn against his own scholarly judgement after he joined his father-in-law, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism? Following in his father-in-law’s footsteps he too began to accuse the Sinhala-Buddhist of being creatures of the Mahavamsa.

Abandoning his own scholarly judgement, he had no compunction in pointing his finger at the Mahavamsa mentality of the Sinhala-Buddhists for not yielding to the ever-increasing demands driving the North into mono-ethnic extremism of the North.

This is generally the history of the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist ideologues who had to rationalise their demands to substantiate their mono-ethnic extremism that was driving Jaffna incrementally to their violent end in Nandikadal. They reaped what they sowed. And they yet keep on blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists.As in the beginning they keep on blaming the Sinhala-Buddhists even in the end. Not knowing what to do next they are bent on going back to their fathers and grandfathers’ politics like G. G. Ponnambalam who talked of ‘two nation’ claims in Parliament on the opening day. I wrote this as prelude to deal with his dangerous reversion to divisive politics. I shall deal with it in the next instalment