By Kumar David –
Nobody is likely to disagree when I say that the hegemonic or leading ideology in Lanka for more than half a century has been Sinhala-Buddhism; forget whether it good or bad, this is just a simple fact. In the early 1970s SB had to share a place in the ideology pantheon with socialistic aspirants (coalition government and the JVP), and in the 1980s with JR style neoliberal economics. The 1990s and first half of the 2000s was a potpourri where other aspirants for a place in the ideological pantheon rose and fell; Sinhala-Buddhism however consistently retained its place as a deity.
Then from 2005 and after the demolition of the LTTE in 2009 and the rise of the Gotabahaya brand of extremist political Sinhala-Buddhism, its ascent has been ethereal. Today, the ideological hue of the national state is not painted by Mahinda but by Gota. The latter, a civil servant, mounts the political stage of Jathika Hela Urumaya’s Udaya Gammanpilla and calls on voters to extend their support. There is bugger all Mahinda, who should answer for constitutional propriety or effete Deshapriya who should monitor electoral correctness, can do. Gota has stuck his finger right up Mahinda and Deshapriya with impunity; my point is not to gripe and bitch (what’s the use) but to make clear the relationships of power.
Let me go on with my story about power, I leave griping about Gota to more urgently inclined souls. What I want to draw attention to is ideological hegemony and its relationship to (a) the sibling’s economic plan and (b) the structure of state power. There is a symbiosis, the three blend into an integrated machine. It may sound a bit complicated, but it’s true, so please bear with me for a few more paragraphs.
I was at a left-forum organised by the Peratugami group last month where one of the participants, pity I omitted to get his name, made a Gramscian point. This government, he said, is using a unique strategy; it is using the cover of SB nationalistic hegemony in the ideological domain, but underneath it is pushing a neoliberal economic agenda. This is a penetrating observation though it needs a little polishing. The small corrections are that it is not unique, Modi is playing the same game in India, and secondly the economic agenda is not straight neoliberalism. It is a mix of IMF strategies (you can call this residual neoliberalism), state intervention for nefarious purposes or family gain, and wasteful infrastructure spending that is mortgaging future generations. The state interventionist and nefarious parts are interference in banks and putting cronies on boards, placing 70% of the budget in sibling clutches, the obscenity of Mihin and Mattala, interfering with the Securities Commission to cover for racketeers, and heaven knows for what reason massive casino projects. Taken together this is better called a corporatist economic strategy of the Mussolini type. The point is not terminology; the key observation is that extremist chauvinism is a mask for an economic programme and a parallel process of family banditry.
A friend and regular e-mail correspondent recently made a point about state power that runs parallel to and complements this. It is argued by some that the SB masses will not allow the Executive Presidency (EP) to be abolished, the superficial reason being that EP enabled concentration of power without which the LTTE could not have been defeated. This is debatable but for arguments sake let us agree. My friend than takes the next step and says: EP is now the bedrock of Sinhala state power; it is the foundation of the mono-ethnic state. Chauvinists, agitated monks, JHU and Weerawansa intuitively grasp that jettisoning EP for a parliamentary system, or even weakening EP, will be an invitation for pluralist tendencies to raise their head. Therefore those who argue that the Sinhala-Buddhist masses will not allow EP to be scrapped have a point; it is not old loyalty to a formula that won a war, now it is the intuitive perception that to retain the state in Lanka as a Sinhala state, and prevent a plural or national state taking shape, preserving EP is crucial. I think this analysis is correct; therefore to abolish EP would entail educating the Sinhalese people in pluralist democratic norms. This can be done by persuading them that the overhead costs of EP (impunity, assassination and white vans, abuse, corruption, nepotism, waste, electoral rigging, drug connections and international opprobrium) are not worth the presumed benefits.