By Uditha Devapriya –
SWRD Bandaranaike knew politics well enough to pick on-the-moment fads and turn them into ideology. He has been criticised and praised for all the wrong reasons. He has been called a chauvinist, as erroneous as the “opportunist” and “demagogue” tags that have been pasted on him by his critics.
There are also those who admire and censure him for different reasons. Having an axe to grind with what he stood for, they consider him one of a cunning politician, one who tricked his supporters into making him popular. As crass a generalisation as this is, it’s an observation that has gained currency among the self-styled intelligentsia, mainly but not only hailing from Colombo (the “Colomboans”).
SWRD was a politician. He knew words. Rhetoric. He felt the on-the-moment need and transformed it into want. He rode on a populist platform and ended up in 1956. To say that he did all that with words alone isn’t true. To say that he was the shrewd, Machiavellian politician-statesman purely by this isn’t true. Both are claims. Unsubstantiated and crass. This isn’t to say that he was a lily-white angel, but this doesn’t make him a deceitful politician either.
I have often wondered whether these claims have anything to do with post-independence politics. After all, as Kumari Jayawardena has so brilliantly observed in Nobodies to Somebodies, it was a ruling dynasty that got to dominate our political landscape. For some, Anglicised and deeply Westernised, the sight of one of these “somebodies” turning into a “nobody” and trying to learn the ways of his own country would have been unbearable.
That is why they resent Bandaranaike. Why they imagine him as a vulgar nationalist and a demagogue. Why they relish it whenever and wherever they stoke their hatred by marginalising his contribution to our country. The truth is that those who belong to that elite and privileged class resent him for having unshackled himself of their class interests and detoured.
This isn’t all, of course. The Colomboans (or, as Malinda Seneviratne calls them, the “Kolombians”) have always believed that it was a particular class who were destined to rule the country, wherever and whatever the context. Bandaranaike was an unforgivable rebel, never to be tolerated again.
When Maithripala Sirisena won this year, everyone cheered. Change was needed. The Colomboans, long resentful of his predecessor’s regime, shouted. Some of them shouted because of regime-change, others because Mahinda Rajapaksa lost. Whatever the reason, however, they raised a cheer. All of them. Accordingly therefore, in an attempt to belittle everything that man did or at least tried to do, they began to marginalise.
The abuse began on social media. It began right after the election results began to get ethnicised by those who couldn’t bear Rajapaksa’s defeat: right after claims that the former president had all but the North and East began gaining (undue) currency. There were statuses and comments which began poking fun at those who had voted for him, particularly from the South. I can’t pick out one status to speak for them all, but looking through it all, it’s easy to understand just how insular, how bigoted, some of them are.
Things move fast on social media. Hashtags and labels gain currency pretty quickly and move all over. It didn’t take long for these insular statements to gain popularity. Most if not all of them called Southerners and in particular those who voted for Mahinda a bunch of uneducated barbarians. At a time when we were condemning those who were trying to script ethnicity into the election, these commentators were whipping up bigotry of a different form.
Almost subconsciously, these commentators began associating “villager” with “barbarianism”, claiming that the reason they voted for Mahinda was their lack of education and “refinement” (whatever that meant). They didn’t (and couldn’t) identify the simple fact that even in certain Southern electorates, Mahinda won only by a margin: a dramatic volte-face from the last election.
Accordingly, in an attempt to “make use” of the former president’s victory to spurt out their prejudices, the Colomboans alleged that the Southerner voted for Mahinda owing to how easy he (the Southerner that is) was to fool. Indeed, if we were to go by this logic, those who vote for the TNA and the SLMC would have blindly followed those parties for that same reason – a statement no-one with any sense of decency would make.
There was vilification that day. We saw Tamils being branded as Tigers. We saw needless divisions between voters being made. Some cheered, others sobered. Those who had thought Mahinda invincible were shattered. That’s natural. When you’ve cheered the same guy over and over again, you tend to assume he won’t lose. This is what happened. To go beyond this and claim that one section (or subsection thereof) of this country contains uneducated barbarians is as bigoted as it’s going to get.
It was Malinda Seneviratne who correctly observed that vilifying an entire collective was indicative of hypocrisy, whether in social media or elsewhere. More often than not, the “trend” was to criticise one form of “blanket vilification” while absolving another. That’s what surfaced (slightly, I should say) when those who condemned the Northern and Eastern voters were rightly thrashed while those who rubbished Southerners did so with impunity. As a part-Southerner myself, I found the latter’s statements offensive and downright insulting. But those who condemned them were in the few. Sadly.
The reason has more to do with self-inflated notions of “education” and “refinement” than with actual bigotry. It’s significant that those who ridiculed Southerners hailed from Colombo or at least from neighbouring suburbs. It’s also significant that their puffed up notions of education came from privileged backgrounds rather than from any real sense of what that term really meant. Most of them came from that English-speaking and self-styled “intelligent” crowd who couldn’t probably identify Kandy or Galle on a map and would probably be comfortable with the British ruling us, thinking that West is best and those who can’t speak in English or afford fine dining can’t think and are brainless.
There were claims made that day. Counterclaims too. Those who condemned one form of racism were in the many. It’s sad to think that even some of those who condemned it got themselves involved with bigotry of another sort: not fuelled by racism, but by the need to emphasise that imaginary line between them and those they deem to be brainless village idiots.
The postscript belongs to a friend of mine who, by way of explanation, had this to say: “The elite castes always considered Southerners (as) lower beings.”
So it’s not racism. Not even bigotry. It’s class consciousness. The same kind of consciousness that continues to vilify Bandaranaike and ridicule him as a Westernised elitist who took everyone, Sinhala Buddhists et al, by their (imaginary) horns and fooled them into electing him. That’s politics. The politics of marginalisation.
*Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles can be accessed at fragmenteyes.blogspot.com
Robert.R / January 17, 2015
Still continue to give you same advice as before, you need to travel and see the world before wiring.
There is a big world out there, and you need to see it. The Internet is not good enough for that.
Rajash / January 17, 2015
Robert R you are wasting your time advising this guy.
Davidson Panabokke / January 17, 2015
The internet is good enough for Uditha desperately trying to talk about marginalisation:
Marginalisation of ethnic minorities boomeranged on the President in the recent elections.
Davidson Panabokke / January 17, 2015
“education” and “refinement” may have prevented Mahinda from
i going to Thirupathy or 2. relying on astrology,
1.he has built so many Buddha statues and viharas in Sri Lanka and
2.UN Charter and international law are there in addition to national laws.
Luxmy / January 17, 2015
“The elite castes always considered Southerners (as) lower beings.”
If ever there was anything like that, Mahinda failed to disprove it:
”Sri Lanka’s political leaders chose not to expend their political capital in this way but instead, to accede to demands of the radicals. It will be useful to seek lessons from periods when Sri Lankan political leaders, like President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had such overwhelming political support that they were in a position, if they chose, to expend political capital by taking concrete steps toward communal reconciliation.” – Prospects For Post Conflict Reconciliation And Development In Sri Lanka: Can Singapore Be Used As A Model? Prof John Richardson, Text of a presentation at Global Asia Institute Speaker Series (2010), National University of Singapore.
Luxmy / January 18, 2015
”The three elections prior to the escalation of protracted conflict when a new government was swept into power with overwhelming political support were those of April 5-10, 1956, May 27, 1970 and July 21, 1977. In each, the party previously in opposition gained decisive power on a platform that promised fundamental change. After each election, there were missed opportunities for initiatives that could have addressed many concerns of Tamil community members, while simultaneously respecting the concerns of all but the most radical Sinhalese nationalists” – Prospects For Post Conflict Reconciliation And Development In Sri Lanka: Can Singapore Be Used As A Model? Prof John Richardson, Text of a presentation at Global Asia Institute Speaker Series (2010), National University of Singapore
This author and all the other authors should prod the citizens to watch the present govt from straying away from the 100-day programme and other subsequent programmes to save the marginalised people and to lead the country to a bright future.
clever inteliginsia / January 17, 2015
The above comments tend to prove your point, Uditha. Stupid uneducated masses don’t know what is going on.
I find it hard to believe that the ‘truth’ about the previous regime had not trickled down south and up center.
Don’t they get opposition newspapers?
Don’t they have the UNP members and supporters to educate them?
Don’t they get rumors?
I don’t know who the new education minister is but he should work on the areas shaded in blue on our election results map.
Native Vedda / January 18, 2015
“The above comments tend to prove your point, Uditha. Stupid uneducated masses don’t know what is going on.”
Even the clever intelligentsia does not know what is going on.
Please tell us when did Dayan, Malinda, Robert, Nalin, Chambika, ……….. and other pseudo intellectuals get it right?
“Don’t they get opposition newspapers?”
What news papers?
Are the editors/owners of these news merchants interested in truth and wise counselling? They are interested in their market share and share of government advertising revenues. Unless they pander to government ministers and propagate racism they cannot survive in the competitive market.
Comment is free, but facts are sacred – CP Scott
Silva / January 17, 2015
So, Udiths is writing to outcaste Bandaranaike and incaste Rajapakse?
Though Bandaranaike passed Sinhala Only in 1956, his conscience marginalised him and brought the Special Tamil Provisions Act in 1957 but alas, Mrs Bandaranaike shelved it 1960-1965.
Rajapakse marginalised the ethnic minorities the whole of last nine years and inhumanely blame them for his downfall.
Davidson Panabokke / January 17, 2015
”For some, Anglicised and deeply Westernised, the sight of one of these “somebodies” turning into a “nobody” and trying to learn the ways of his own country would have been unbearable”
Recently there was a photo of Basil and his wife in New York airport – returning to the western world.
Uditha / January 18, 2015
Recently there was also a photo of Hillary Clinton worshiping a Buddha statue. Doesn’t make her a Buddhist though. ;)
M.T. / January 17, 2015
”it was a ruling dynasty that got to dominate our political landscape”
We have lost count of the Rajapakses that got into ”positions” in the last nine yrs.
Punitham / January 17, 2015
Nobodies to Somebodies – for readers’ benefit:
Nobodies to Somebodies (Paperback) by Kumari Jayawardena (Published:1Feb 2003)
The origins and growth of the bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka during British rule are important aspects of the country’s modern history. Here, Kumari Jayawardena traces the evolution of the bourgeoisie from a “feudal” society and mercantilist economy, to the age of plantations. She assigns primacy to class over caste, and details the rise of the new-rich “nobodies” of many castes, ethnicities and religions into the ranks of the “somebodies”. She discusses the links between capital accumulation, religious revivalism, ethnic identity and political movements, and highlights the obsession of the bourgeoisie with land acquisition and social status.
Review : ‘A superb scholarly and revealing account of the social and economic transformation of Sri Lanka during the British colonial period.’ – Emeritus Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia
About the Author: KUMARI JAYAWARDENA is a senior fellow of the Graduate Studies Institute of Colombo University and serves as secretary of the Social Scientists’ Association, a group of concerned scholars working on ethnic, gender, caste and other issues. Her many books include Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World (Zed Books, 1986), The White Woman’s Other Burden (Routledge, 1995), and Embodied Violence (Zed Books & Kali for Women, 1998).
The general cry was that the Buddhists were persecuted by the British. This would have appealed to many as the truth, but when one sees the number of Buddhist from down South who became Academics and Professionals under the British Education system to be employed as Govt servants under the British and again a wealthy class of Tavern Renters from the South who were Buddhists, to have ironically funded the first Buddhist temple, Deepaduttaaramaya at Kotahena to be followed by a number of other Buddhist Temples being built, in and around Colombo under the British Rule at that time, leads one to wonder whether the Buddhists were really persecuted? Further there is no record of a single Buddhist temple being shut or destroyed by the British at that time, although on the contrary many have sprung up in and around the city of Colombo, around aged old Bo-trees propagated by crows, all being unauthorized under British Rule, financed by the wealthy Renters. Migettuwatte Gunanada thera born to a rich Buddhist Salagama family from Balapitiya also have had no obstacles in pursuing his debates with the Christian Clergy either. Be that as it may, Kumari Jayawardene in her book ‘Nobodies to Somebodies’, describe well, how all these Sinhala Buddhists who were Nobodies before the British arrived, to have become Somebodies under Colonial rule to form the Bourgeoisie class in Sri Lanka, is indeed a challenge to this myth of persecution” – Rajapaksa’s Olcott Buddhist Card, 23 July 2013,
M.T. / January 18, 2015
”Accordingly therefore, in an attempt to belittle everything that man did or at least tried to do, they began to marginalise”
Who belittled him most? Mahinda Rajapakse himself because he ”appoints Commissions/Committees” to tide over condemnation of his violations of nationally and internationally accepted norms:
Where are the reports of thw 17 Commissions/Committees he appointed in 2006-2013? Why did he wind up the Peace Secretariat as soon as the war was over? For him”ending military assaults” is peace!!
He lied in his addresses to UN General Assembly. He lied to journalists, eg
Excerpt from CNN video(2010) on ‘Witness to Survival” by Ms. Sara Sidner: the journalist challenges the President’s lies.
His ambassadors had to lie for him. PR companies paid profusely had to lie for him in the US and the EU.
If a minor employee lies he would be questioned, tried or dismissed.
A President lied for nine years!? Utter shame. He should have been working for himself in his own backyard.
Uditha, what on earth are you doing with your young, precious life?
M.T. / January 18, 2015
The following must be fullstopped for humanity’s sake, not only for SriLankans’ sake:
Sri Lanka was granted GSP+ by the EU in June 2005 but had the benefits withdrawn in August 2010 after an investigation panel(2008/2009) found out that Sri Lanka had been failing to meet the eligibility criteria of implementing three UN human rights Conventions: ICCPR, CAT and CR not only at the time of applications but also during the period under investigation: 2005-2009 Thus the EU had a weak monitoring mechanism in 2005 when it began the GSP+ scheme, but had come to adopt a rigorous one in 2012(g). In June 2010 the EU offered Sri Lanka an extension of the concessions for six months from August 2010 in return for some progress in outstanding issues. But SriLanka declined the offer(h).
After the report of the investigation panel was released in October 2009, Sri Lanka sent Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith with representatives from other religions in November 2009 to the Vatican to ask the Pope to press the EU to grant GSP+ to SriLanka:they first met the Italy’s Foreign Minister(i) This same Archbishop was also taken by the Defence Secretary to Mannar District in Northern Sri Lanka to appeal to the group of displaced fishermen to accept the terms offered by the government( that has grabbed large swathes of lad with houses belonging to thousands of families in the other districts of the North too), driving them to a jungle.
You must be prodding MR and not pleasing him.
M.T. / January 18, 2015
The country needs youngsters like you to change the corrupt state to take it forward, preventing any backward slide:
Sri Lanka was granted GSP+ by the EU in June 2005 but had the benefits withdrawn in August 2010 after an investigation panel(2008/2009) found out that Sri Lanka had been failing to meet the eligibility criteria of implementing three UN human rights Conventions: ICCPR, CAT and CR not only at the time of applications but also during the period under investigation: 2005-2009 Thus the EU had a weak monitoring mechanism in 2005 when it began the GSP+ scheme, but had come to adopt a rigorous one in 2012. In June 2010 the EU offered Sri Lanka an extension of the concessions for six months from August 2010 in return for some progress in outstanding issues. But SriLanka declined the offer. Improving human rights would mean bettering the lives of the marginalised.
After the report of the investigation panel was released in October 2009, Sri Lanka sent Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith with representatives from other religions in November 2009 to the Vatican to ask the Pope to press the EU to grant GSP+ to SriLanka:they first met the Italy’s Foreign Minister. This same Archbishop was also taken by the Defense Secretary to Mannar District in Northern Sri Lanka to appeal to the group of displaced fishermen to accept the terms offered by the government( that has grabbed large swathes of lad with houses belonging to thousands of families in the other districts of the North too), driving them to a jungle.