By Suren Raghavan –
Even after two decades of its publication, the seminal work of Professor Tambiah is more misunderstood than anything Sinhala nationalists did not even bother to see the ‘?’ that was in the title of this unmatched research debate but declared it as an ‘!’ by Tambiah. Thus, the book is still banned in Lanka.
I think reading the NORAD Review one can safely add an ‘!’ to the Buddhism Betrayed debate.
The 1990-2005 Norwegian process was blinded to the subaltern realities. So is this post-Praba review. The Peace Process was hogemonized by a naive liberal peace discourse. It gravitated around the liberalism II model of minority rights, right to self-determination and ethnic federalism etc. By which it pre constructed solutions at the cost of analysing the depth of the actual problem.
Norwegians and Eric Solhaim the key architecture refused to recognize the central power dynamic that created, fuelled, mobilized and finally led to the repugnant military victory for GSL. That is the Sinhala Buddhist political mind set- a kind of ‘Sinhalattva‘. The peace Samaritans possibly on the advice of the urbanite middle class ‘Civil Society’ of Lanka dismissed the role of Buddhism and the Sangha in shaping the politics of Lanka. (Eric blames CBK for such advice). Of course, this is the reason – CBK failed too. Out of her arrogance of power and hybrid ‘liberalness’, she refused to respect and recognize the role of Sangha in microcosmic political dynamic of Lanka.
Sadly the review by SOAS academics also fails on this account The 208 page review has two mentions of Sangha ( 1 in text pp. 122 1 in footnote pp. 47) and mere four mentions of Buddhism (2 in text pp. 48, 56 1 footnote pp. 77 1 reference pp. 144). The question how Athuraliye Rathana and Chapika Ranawaka who were at the political wilderness of the periphery became Generals of a war discourse as against a heavily funded, the stylish Pakkiyasodi Saravanamuththu and Berghofian workshops is not discussed. How did the Sangha – including the most learned Walpola Rahula in his late 80s managed to mobilize a Theravada Society to 1. Dismiss this peace a federalis power sharing peace 2. To justify a military solution is not addressed in this review.
Anyone who is a student of SL politics will know the role and influence the Sangha have in to reshape a political outcome. It is historicized and institutionalized. 1956, 1965, 1989, 1995 and 2000 at every attempt of political power sharing, the Sangha, well manipulated by the Sinhala political/trade class defeated such process. Refusing to understand the ontology of modern Sangha resistance, one that first started against the Kandy Govigama Siam dictatorship is a blindness based on preconceived framework of analysis.
In 1801, venerable Ambahapitiye Gnanawimala was refused the Upasampadaa by the Kandy Siam Nikaya based on his noon Govigama caste. With the help of the Dutch rulers of the south, he went to Amarapura then capital of Burma and received higher ordination. On his returned in 1803 he for the first time in Lanka history started a non- Kandyan/Govigama Amarapura Nikaya .Subsequent years witnessed the growth of other Nikayas like Rammna and some 30 odd sub nikaya. This was the first stage of Protestant Buddhism. The second stage in which the laity ( Dayaka/Daika) for the first time in history tried to replace the Sangha by reforming Buddhism. Anagarika and American Henry Olcott symbolized this Sasana reformation. For the last two hundred years, the Sinhala Sangha have gradually become protestant, political and militant often as a reaction to an outside force that attempted to alter the social /political structure of Lanka.
Without understanding this fundamental fact, any peace/democratization process is doom to fail in Lanka. The liberal outside world is still failing to recognize this. To me now there are two research questions. Why do the Sangha refuse to allow a liberal democracy in Lanka and Why do the Western scholarship refuses to accept the role of Sangha in Lanka? Both are equally within a paradoxical paradigm. Any process , review ( or Review of review such as the one done by Dayan with his unmatched hatred of Praba of LTTE but adoration of Nabha his former political boss of EPRLF) that fails to probe the actual , perceived and politicized role of Sangha in Sinhala society is will amount to a betrayal of Sinhala Buddhism – Alternatively
Suren Raghavan is a Research Fellow at Wolfson College University of Oxford.