By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the article Political Buddhism & Corruption: The Unholy Twins by Dr. Ameer Ali (AA) in the Colombo Telegraph Website and wish to comment on some views expressed by him, therein:
1. Firstly, the conjoining of the phrases, Political Buddhism, Corruption and Unholy Twins is controversial. There is no religion called “Political Buddhism” as there are no religions as “Political Christianity”, Political Hinduism” or “Political Islam”. Religions are based on doctrine, theology and teachings. Religion transcends the human and has an extra- cosmic and God-centric dimension. On this criterion, Buddhism is not strictly a religion, but nevertheless commonly referred to as a religion. Moreover, reference to Buddhism as Sinhala Buddhism is also misleading, because Buddhism as an ethical philosophy stands unqualified, unless there is a difference in its practices which qualifies it as Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism. Even Christian religion is qualified as Catholic, Protestant, Methodist and Anglican and so is the religion Islam as Shiite and Sunni. Hinduism too is referred to differently but not on religious basis but on the choice of God worshipped by a devotee (“Ishta Devata”).If one worships God Shiva as the main God then you are a Saivaite or if the main God worshipped is Vishnu , a Vaisnavite. It is more correct to say Buddhism is politicized, instead of saying it is a political religion. I would venture to say that all founded and organized religions with a centralized Authority as the Church, the Sangha and the Mosque, in Christianity, Buddhism and Islam respectively, have a strong political element in them. In case of Buddhism the political element is manifested overtly and stridently. Whereas in Christianity and Islam the political element is more covert and subtle. Only exception being Hinduism, which has no founder and no organized centralized apex Authority. This political element in religions is driven by the zeal to increase their numbers demographically and territorially.
2. Dr. AA in his opening statement says that “Buddhism is an imported product in Sri Lanka, but Political Buddhism is native to the soil”. This is factually not true. Sri Lanka did not seek (import) Buddhism, but it was offered to Sri Lanka by India. By describing Buddhism as an “imported product” Dr. AA is demeaning and derogating a sublime spiritual philosophy to the level of a commercial commodity. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by the great Emperor Ashoka in 247 BC by sending his son Prince Mahendra on a religious mission, which led to the conversion of the Tamil Hindu king Devanambiya Theesan and his subjects to Buddhism.
3. Another statement Dr. AA makes is that “the sole intention of political Buddhism is to claim and own the entire island, which is home to a number of ethnic, religious and linguistic communities, all of whom, except the Veddha community, are foreigners”. This is a fallacy. It is true only in respect of Christian and Islamic communities, which are of foreign origin. The Tamil Hindu community is an indigenous community. The uncivilized tribal Aborigines designated as the Veddhas, lived in the ancient period. There were no Christian and Islamic communities in ancient times because Christianity originated in the 1st century A.D. and Islam in the 7th century A.D. The original inhabitants were a mix of races called Dravidians, such as Tamils, Telugu and Malayalees, and their religion was, Hinduism. In reality, there was no island called Lanka before the Ramayana time, 12,000 BC. It was potentially in the landmass that was connected to South India called “Kumarikkandam”, which disintegrated and sank in the Indian Ocean by a Sea Storm around 15000 BC. The present Lanka is a remnant piece of that landmass, as other islands such as Madagasacar, Mauritious, Andaman, Nicobar, Maldives etc. in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, Dr.AA’s statement that “all were foreigners” is a fallacy. His view “which one of these communities came first is yet to be discovered”, does not arise ,as the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka were Tamils and other Dravidians and not foreigners, as claimed by him. With the introduction of Buddhism in 247 BC, and the conversion of the Tamil King Devanambiya Theesen, the Tamil Hindus became Buddhists and was referred to as Demala Bahudayos. It was only in 6th century A.D Sinhala language was created based on a mixture of Tamil, Sanskrit and Pali languages. With a new religion and Sinhalese language, the Tamil Baudayos, metamorphosed into a synthetic Sinhala ethnic community. Sinhala race is not an organically evolved race. The “number of ethnic, religious and linguistic communities” referred to by Dr AA apply to the modern context of history. The Sri Lankan Muslims is the result of inter-marriage between Tamil women and immigrant Arab traders in a limited way after the 7th century A.D. But substantially, they were South Indian Tamil Muslim immigrants. There was also an influx of Kerala Muslims called Marakkars, who took refuge in Sri Lanka from Portuguese persecution there. The Muslim name Marrikar, is derived from word Marrakkars.
4. Political Buddhism and Corruption: Dr. AA links corruption in governance of the country to so-called Political Buddhism. This is not true. Buddhism, even though heavily politicized, is not the direct cause for corruption of the political rulers. In my view, the absence of God consciousness in Buddhism is a contributory factor. Man, and not God, is held to be supreme in Buddhism. Thus Buddhists have no scruples of doing any wrong. Human intellect is considered superior to the Divine. Buddhists claim that even the Divine Gods paid obeisance to the Buddha. But the primary cause of corruption amongst the ruling political class is the structural defect in electing a Government by the people at an election. Political Parties based system of election to form a Government is the root cause for corruption. Political Parties are centered on families. People elect those nominated by Political Parties as their representatives. Comradeship and unity of Political Parties promotes corruption. There is mutual protection of corruption even between different Political Party based Governments. For example, the corruption of the Rajapaksa Government is glossed over by the Ranil Wickremesighe Government, and vice versa.
5. The root cause has to be eradicated to overcome corruption in Governance. The system of electing peoples’ Representatives to form a Government based on Political Parties should be abolished in a new Constitution under the Electoral Law. Political Parties nominating Candidates to elect a Government results in those with mass popularity being elected to Parliament but with no intellectual merit. In any Government elected to govern the country, the majority of the elected have no school level education of OL or AL qualification. Popularity is the measure of success at elections and not intellectual merit.
6. Elections must be open to the Public and not monopolized by Political Parties. That is, any independent individual with specified minimum education of a University Degree or equivalent professional qualification should be able to contest elections. One may argue that even under the Political Party based elections, independent individuals are not debarred by law from contesting elections. This is well said in theory but not in practice. Could independent candidates win elections, in workable numbers, to form an Independent Government in competition with Political Parties? It is certainly not a possibility. Therefore, Political Parties should be abolished by law to contest elections. It is only then, men and women of intellectual merit and integrity, not of mass popularity, will govern the country. It will truly be a Democracy and a National Government. There will not be an Opposition. All elected 225 MPs will participate in governing the country in various capacities. I refrain from details of this system of Government, which I have adverted to in a previous Article.
7. A Government sans Political Parties will not have room for corruption because each individual would be a watch-dog of the other, a mutual check, and with such vigilance there is no scope for corruption. Even under the Political Parties based government there is the ludicrous instances of some dissident groups breaking away from their Party and sitting as an Independent Group in Parliament. Then during critical national crisis one hears calls for forming an All Party National Government. These instances exemplify that Political Parties are willing to sit as Independent Groups and in crisis situation willing to forego their Party Identities and work together in an All Party Government. If this is the case, why on heaven sake, elections cannot be contested by Independent individuals at the very start of elections without Political Parties?
8. The solution to the Tamil Problem: The problem of the Tamil Minority should be solved once and for all without allowing it to fester indefinitely, by enacting a new Constitution. The politicized Buddhist Sangha and the extremist Buddhists strongly oppose any move to fully implement the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, which Dr. AA says is a manifestation of Political Buddhism. Historically, the Tamil majority of the North Eastern Province has a valid claim for self-rule in an undivided Sri Lanka. At the time of the arrival of the Western Portuguese in 1505 AD, the country had three Kingdoms: the Northern Jaffna Kingdom, Central Kandyan Kingdom and the South West Kotte Kingdom. This is an indisputable and incontrovertible fact. Didn’t the Sinhalese majority accept this historical reality and co-existed in harmony then? The Portuguese overpowered and subjugated the Jaffna Kingdom and the Kotte Kingdom , except the Kandyan Kingdom. The Dutch who succeeded, continued the rule of the Maritime regions. It was the British who annexed the Kandyan Kingdom and integrated the entire island under a Unitary Administration. Therefore, opposition of the extreme Sinhalese for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment is ludicrous and has no rationale at all. I would suggest that a new Constitution, leave aside the 13th Amendment, should restore the status quo that existed, prior to the arrival of western powers, by carving out three Federal Units corresponding to the three Kingdoms that existed then, by dissolving all the Provincial Councils now in force. This will pre-empt any notion of the Tamil Minority for a separate State.
In the course of History, say for convenience from the time of introduction of Buddhism in 247 BC to the present time 2023, a total of 2270 years of history, Sri Lanka was ruled by Cholas, Khalinga Magha and the Nayakkars for 290 years and the Western Powers, Portuguese, Dutch and the British for 442 years, that is a total of 732 years. The balance period of approximately 538 years was ruled by the so-called Sinhalese Kings of dubious racial identity, because names ending with Bahu are related to Tamil. I am citing this to illustrate that if the Sinhalese could have lived with the Tamils and the Western foreigners, why the present cry by the extreme Sinhala lobby to oppose the granting the historical native Tamils regional autonomy to rule themselves , where they are a majority, in an undivided Sri Lanka, in a Federal State.