By Veedeya Bandara –
Former US President Ronald Reagan liked to call United States“A City on a Hill”, a righteous force, “the last best hope of man on earth” battling the “Evil Empire” of Soviet Union. In those days of apple pie patriotism many Americans, and not all of them conservatives, believed this caricature, probably not knowing enough about or just myopic about US support for right wing death squads in El Salvador, illegal bombings and arming drug dealing Contras in the name of anti Communism to heckle the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, etc. etc.. The euphoria that some people have for system of governance based on Jathika Chinthanaya (National Consciousness) is not so far removed from attitudes of those Americans.
Democracy as Christianization
Jathika Chinthanaya was more a response to neo colonialism and the cultural erosion that followed the introduction of free market economic policies in 1977 by the then government of Mr. JR Jayewardene. It called for emancipation both physical and mental from West oriented thought process. This however is nothing new. Frantz Fanon, Steve Biko through Black Consciousness Movement, Malcolm X, and even Huey P Newton and his Black Panther Party for Self Defense, RSS of India were all beholden to this idea. Indeed its crudest forms were practiced in the post the colonial Congo by those inspired by the slain nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba during Simba rebellion, and during Boxer rebellion in the early 20th century China. While it was Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara who was the progenitor Jathika Chinthnaya it was Professor Nalin de Silva who laid the ideological foundation through his magnum opus “Mage Lokaya” (My World) in 1986. Accordingly people who subscribe to Jathika Chinthanaya viewed the concept of Modernity which gave rise to western democracy as an extension of Greaco Judeo Christian thought and therefore alien to or incompatible with Sinhalese Buddhists culture ofSri Lanka as is the party system that is the bedrock of this system. And this was why democracy has failed in this country. Further Professor Nalin and those who subscribe to Jathika Chinthanaya is of the view that spread of western democracy is another form of Christianization where West seeks to deluge Asian and African people with Greaco Judeo Christian Thought. Getting rid of “incompatible” “Western” democracy is therefore a part and parcel of mental emancipation anticipated through Jathika Chinthanaya.
Sovereignty of a Grave Yard
One cannot be blamed for harboring such misgivings about democratizing project of Western nations especially considering their actions in the recent past. The Bush Doctrine and the oft-ill used “Regime Change”. United States and its allies often used lofty ideals such as democracy, human rights to further their own agenda notably installing puppet governments, resource extraction, finding strategic locations for their military bases etc and the use of NGO s and INGO s that champion human rights as part of such efforts. Further the global economic crisis that began in its earnest towards the latter part of 2007. The liberal democracies of the West were the ones most embroiled while non-democratic states like China that uses nationalism as the dominant political ideology despite paying lip service to Communism were not only unscathed but were recording high growth rates. This in a way a roll back of the triumphalism that drove Fukuyama to write “End of History and the Last Man” in that golden age of neo liberalism. Hence that the “sun is setting on the dominant development paradigm” justified in a way a government led by national consciousness, one which makes nationalism to take precedence over western style democracy. But what these people overlook however is such gains are short termist and sooner or later the effects of deep structural flaws sets in, with China being nothing more than a large factory for Western consumers and its ruling class, mainly those high in the politburo and fat cat businessman related to them drive the system while ordinary Chinese are mere slaves who are doused in the opiate of xenophobic nationalism. Also while undemocratic governments ofSingaporeandMalaysiamade their respective countries flourish, it took visionary, pragmatist leaders to achieve the task.
There are those states like North Korea that practices an extreme form of National Consciousness based on Juche concept that left many thousands dead and millions starving while, unknown thousand “dissidents” are put away to spend lives of incarceration and torture. Then there’sBurma and its Junta who again used anti-West nationalism to justify their rule despite their actions leaving scores of people dead including Buddhist monks. While Burmese people were demonstrating at a great threat to their lives, against the Junta, there were enough nationalists of theJathikaChinthanayaSchool who perceived pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as an agent of the West seeking to ChristianizeBurma and demolish its traditional Buddhist values and subjugate its sovereignty. Out go the crony capitalism, extreme repression and tyranny that characterized Junta rule. What these people are calling for is nothing more than a sovereignty of a grave yard.
Poverty of an Ideologe
What system then Nalin de Silva, Gunadasa Amarasekara et al propose as a compatible alternative? It is called Mahasammathawadaya. But what would this Maha Sammathawadaya entail? This is a system that puts so-called sovereignty above all else while rights of the individual become a poor second. This is a system that puts faith on a single or a set of powerful entities tasked with governing the country in accordance with the Sinhalese Buddhist values as the Jathika Chinthanaya ideologues sees it fit. However as shown above without a visionary leader and required attitudes such a system can easily degenerate in to tyranny a la “HermitKingdom” style. It’s a system that is open to abuse by unscrupulous leaders. This system flavored with nostalgia for those far off days of theSinhaleseKingdom hardly do justice to present realities. Incidentally it was a because of a tyrant that we lost our sovereignty to British in 1815. True, Parliamentary Democratic system of governance is not perfect, it has so many defects, but it has shown to be the best form that ensures individual rights, while providing a strong framework for sustainable development and has proven to be resilient in face of challenges. The successful implementation of various forms of parliamentary democracy in non-Western nations like India, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Argentina, Columbia has shown its practicability as opposed to decent into anarchy manifested as the simmering irregularities force themselves into the surface as in Libya, Syria and even Iran. Hence the system of governance based on Jathika Chinthanaya if put in to practice would do irreparable damage to the democracy in Sri Lanka.