By Laksiri Fernando –
From the very first sentence of his confused response to my article “A Ray of Hope from Australia: Lessons for Sri Lanka,” Vinod Munesinghe today (The Island, 21 March 2017) has revealed his ideological orientation of ‘servitude to political regimes’ and ‘xenophobic nationalism’ which are regrettably unhealthy, in my opinion, for a democratic political culture in Sri Lanka.
He says, “Perhaps symptomatic of the extent to which the Yahapalanaya regime has failed to fulfil its promises is that its supporters [Laksiri Fernando] among the intelligentsia are now distancing themselves from it.”
He is at least surprised in his ‘servile orientation’ to political regimes that I am critical of the present regime although supported political change in January 2015! He should know that my first critical article of the present regime came in May 2015 on the bond issue (“Cabraal is no excuse for Mahendran,” Colombo Telegraph, 23 May 2015).
Let me raise another similar point. It is well known that I did support Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2010 elections. Does that mean that I should have continuously supported MR or his regime? That is what he implies. This is what I mean by ‘servile thinking’ inimical to democracy. People should be able to take independent positions, at times taking unequivocal political decisions.
He repeats six times an unfounded accusation against me that “One of the principal reasons why intellectuals such as Fernando, who were associated with the international non-governmental organisation (INGO) sector, threw themselves so heartily into the Yahapalana camp.” These are cheap propaganda with political motives. It is a common tactic to call NGO names to discredit people. Didn’t Mahinda Rajapaksa once accused Dayan Jayatilleka also working on a NGO agenda?
As a matter of fact, I have never been associated with NGOs in Sri Lanka or INGOs, although I have worked as a professional (Secretary for Asia-Pacific) for the World University Service (WUS) in Geneva during 1984-1991. WUS was an international association of academics all over the world, although sometimes called a NGO. There were so many different Sri Lankan academics who were associated with WUS and I don’t want to mention their names unnecessarily.
Moreover, I don’t see anything wrong in anyone associating with NGOs or INGOs as far as they represent the national or the international civil society. One can be supportive or critical of them, depending on the issues and their activities. Therefore, I do consider the point-blank opposition to NGOs or INGOs as an anti-democratic trend and part of ‘insular/extremist nationalist policies’ whether it is from the Joint Opposition or others.
I was amused to hear about Moonesinghe’s interpretation of ‘Bunyip’ Aristocracy in Australia! He says “Far from being nationalist, the right wing of the Australian political spectrum is the remnant of the Bunyip Aristocracy, which fought tooth and nail against separation from Britain – only achieved in 1986.”
There is/was no such a real Aristocracy in Australia. It was a term coined in 1853 by Daniel Deniehy to ridicule those who pretended that they were of aristocratic ancestry. It is an indigenous name for a mythical creature. There can be similar pretence in Sri Lanka. I really don’t know whether Moonesighe likes to consider some of the people in the Joint Opposition (at the top) as Bunyips, because they are also pretending. Only difference being that the Australian Bunyips pretended to be linked to the British aristocracy and our Bunyips pretend to be linked to ancient royals or ‘radalayas.’ Take for example, the bizarre song “Ayubowewa Maha Rajaneni” by Saheli Gamage, otherwise sung in a sweet voice. This is axiomatic of our Bunyips.
The right wing in Australia, when we refer to them in political terms, is based mainly on ideology and policies. The National Party is such a party traditionally representing the regional interests and conservative politics. Their policies on migration (particularly Asian), ethnic minorities and multiculturalism are both right wing and nationalist. However, when compared to the ‘Australia First’ or ‘One Nation’ of Pauline Hansen, they appear to be quite ‘soft.’ To Moonesighe, the right wing is not nationalist; just aristocrats. Is it the same in Sri Lanka? According to him, even Paulin Hansen is not an extremist nationalist, but a Bunyip aristocrat. The main political banner of Hansen today is against Muslims and Islam.
Let me set aside his slight that “Fernando… is not quite au fait with the politics of his chosen domicile.” But his attempt to say, apart from Bunyian business, that Australia achieved independence or separation only in 1986 is spurious. Yes, there were past links (still are) and technically there were possibilities for the UK to legislate for Australia or an appeal from Australia to go to a British Court. But those were not in operation. They were formally terminated through the Australia Act 1986.
However, to argue that Australia didn’t have independence until 1986 is quite an extreme point of view. It is like arguing that Sri Lanka only achieved independence in November 1971, after the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council, or in 1972 with the New Republican Constitution. I am sure Moonesighe’s line of argument is in that direction which I call ‘insular/extremist nationalism.’ At the next turn, he might even suggest to readjust Sri Lanka’s independence-day. These are unnecessary political arguments to confuse people and arouse nationalist emotions. Any drive for independence of any country takes different steps and stages.
What a load of name dropping that Moonesinghe has unleashed to painfully argue that I have equated ‘anti-colonial struggles’ with ‘far-right racism.’ That is his own imagination and not mine. I am not sure whether he was even born when I wrote “Jathika Viyaparaya, Viyavastha Vardenaya and Vamansika Viyaparaye Upatha” (Nationalist Movement, Constitutional Development and Origins of the Left Movement) in 1974. But to me, anti-colonial struggle is not an ethno-nationalist struggle, Sinhala or Tamil, in the case of Sri Lanka.
To come back to his name dropping, he talks about Louis Farrakhan, Frantz Fanon, George Padmore, Steve Biko, Marshal Tito and then comes to Sirimavo Bandaranaike and to Anagarika Dharmapala. He goes around countries like America, South Africa, Kenya, Vietnam, Palestine, Czechoslovakia, Uganda, Serbia, and India in a confused virtual sojourn in responding to simple and direct article. When he comes to Sri Lanka, the following is what he says.
To quote him: “The British Empire used Sri Lanka as something of a test-tube in this [sic]: before settling on the Burghers, North-East Tamils and the Muslims, they experimented, with little success, with introducing classes of Chinese and Thanjavur Christian landholders into the mix.”
What a nonsense of historical garbage? It is well accepted that the British used ‘divided and rule’ strategies to keep the colonial people under subjugation. This is accepted by their own historians. But the claim that the ‘Burghers, North-East Tamils and the Muslims’ were settled in this country by the British is not only nonsense, but also dangerous in terms of politics. He has not quoted any historical source.
I would like to ask whether the Joint Opposition subscribes to these views.
This kind of a theory could lead to xenophobic nationalism, ethnic cleansing and already has clear traits of racism.