21 November, 2018

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Taming That Lunatic Fringe

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka in his reply to my column last week points out certain ontological, ideological, and factual errors I made. In particular, he takes me to task over my categorising him as a nationalist and a moderate federalist, though I placed those terms in a certain context which, yes, can be mischievously reconfigured by someone against him. Point taken, point conceded. I apologise and I sincerely hope he wasn’t inconvenienced by those errors. This week’s column, however, is not about Dr Dayan, but about the responses he and his group got courtesy of my article.

I have come to believe that no constructive debate in this country is possible without two fundamental premises: the ability to accommodate opposing viewpoints and the ability to constructively critique those viewpoints. The problem is that we don’t know how to accommodate and we don’t know what “constructive” means. So we pin the you’re-biased tag on those we cross swords with, forgetting that we are no better and in fact are in certain respects worse than them.

I neither support nor oppose Gotabaya Rajapaksa. I believe that he did something during his tenure at the UDA, though what he did was badly tempered by what he failed to do and/or unfortunately let slip through his hands. I believe that despite his authoritarian streak, he got Colombo (and nearly every other suburb, this writer’s hometown being one of them) cleaned and adorned. But I also believe that he is, like every other political figure we hedge our bets on, flawed. Taken by itself, this means nothing: we are all flawed, and doting on the man’s perceived goodness is no worse than doting on those who are virulently opposed to him.

Getting back to my earlier point, inasmuch as the likes of Dr Dayan will be pivotal in bringing together those aforementioned two camps by 2020, it is true also that Gotabaya himself will be instrumental in reconciling them to one another. It’s a circle that goes around both ways: the theoretician uniting two broadly similar movements via a figure who concurrently by his very presence brings them together.

Underlying that, incidentally, is another point. As important, as relevant.

I suggested a few weeks ago that the dividing line between those two camps is based on what each of them privileges. With respect to the Yuthukama Sanwada Kavaya and Jathika Chinathana camp, it’s an almost mythical idealisation of the Sinhalese and the Buddhists, which brings them closer to the likes of Anagarika Dharmapala and the failed (or stalled) project of finding a successor to him. With respect to Project Gotabaya, it’s a largely economistic, rationalistic, and cosmopolitan idealisation of the man at the centre of their movement. The only difference between the cosmopolitanism of this second camp and that of those opposed to them (i.e. supporters of the present regime) is that the latter are, I daresay, culturally apathetic.

And not for no reason. The truth is that many of those liberals (yahalapalanist or ex-yahapalanist) are blind to the need for a government, any government, to legitimise historical realities. Some of them (I should think many of them) seem to believe that the best way to shut out majoritarian dissent is by (what else?) shutting it out altogether. This is risky, if not dangerous: it erases away any democratic space for the majoritarian right to vent out its frustration.

To be sure, it’s difficult to think of a rational, cohesive, and “just” way of opposing the Bodu Bala Sena and those complicit in its political rise. The yahapalanist liberals continue to conflate it with majoritarianism. They are only partly correct: the truth is that the BBS scrounged up barely 0.2% of the votes at the 2015 General Election, compared to the 4.87% the JVP (which by the way was in a rather disadvantaged position owing to its vaguely articulated stances) got. The majoritarians were voting in large numbers for their preferred candidates: they didn’t care about the lunatic, racialist, neo-fascist fringe. But in what those liberals are correct, they are correct all the way, almost unconditionally: the BBS is opposed by everyone, and by everyone I include supporters of the Joint Opposition, the SLFP, and the UNP.

Going by comments I have obtained from hardcore anti-yahapalanist majoritarians, I can verify that their (mild) support for the BBS has not transformed into votes, or a sizeable electorate, to be reckoned with. It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that the more anti-Buddhist the “mainstream” parties are perceived to be, the more likely it is that such a dangerous situation will become a reality. And it doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out what the government must possess to prevent that risk from turning into a reality. Not irrational frenzy, but sober decisiveness.

Project Gotabaya believes in Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the epitome of sober decisiveness. The man’s occasional outbursts in the past, however, point at anything but sober decisiveness. But that is not my issue. My issue is that by idealising and depending on a single “role model” (for the lack of a better term), we are feeding into complacency. Complacency won’t get us anywhere. Only constructive debate will. The tragedy here is that the oppositional space needed for such a debate is being denied to the spokespersons of Project Gotabaya. It’s a tragedy because the Jathika Chinthanaya and Yuthukama Sanwada Kavaya, an extension of the Nalin de Silva and Gunadasa Amarasekera led coterie of nationalists, have congealed into a class and an oppositional space of their own, courtesy of their more reckonable history when it comes to combating their opponents, the “anti-nationalist” right and left.

Now you may agree or disagree with some of the key figureheads behind this movement: with Nalin de Silva, Gunadasa Amarasekara, Manohara de Silva, Gomin Dayasiri, and Gevindu Cumaratunga. I won’t say that I disagree (indeed I find myself agreeing with many of their contentions) but I will concede that they compel from those yahapalanist liberals the same sobriquet that Dr Dayan, in a series of debates conducted with their movement in the eighties, bestowed on them: intellectual protectionists. Yes, they are intellectual protectionists to most. But these intellectual protectionists have been fighting their intellectual skirmishes for over three decades. That’s something Project Gotabaya will take time to equal, though in equalling it I think there is a major role that they, in particular Dr Dayan, will get to play.

Which in a brief, pithy sense is as follows. In a context where most of the yahapalanist liberals are opposed to the Bodu Bala Sena because of their veiled anti-Buddhism and anti-intellectualism, we need a force that is at once sensitive to the collective being wooed by racialist outfits and also opposed to those outfits. The one doesn’t negate the other, I believe: the fact that one is sensitive to Sinhala Buddhists doesn’t mean that one is hell-bent against other collectives. To contend otherwise would be to say that all Sinhala Buddhists are complicit in the rise of the BBS. They are not.

On the contrary: until we sort out this contradiction, which is really an artificial and simplistic dichotomy, there won’t be any hope for any oppositional outfit to legitimately challenge the status quo, by which I am referring not to this regime, but rather to the anti-majoritarian elite who are denying any democratic outlet for the majority to resolve their grievances. If 1956 is anything to go by, folks, constricting such an outlet will do more harm than good. For everyone. And I think Project Gotabaya, at least to a certain extent, will be assessed by how well it drives home that point. Personally speaking, I don’t think it’s doing a bad job there. At least, not yet.

Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com. His articles can be accessed at fragmenteyes.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Hiding Under the Yahpalana Mask were the UNP Crooks lead by Dr Rani,l who were starving for 20 years………In fact a senior UNP Yahapalana minster said so recently , although not in the same word…. …Nobody will oppose elimination of Corruption….. Nobody opposes good Governance according to the Law of the Land…… No body opposes getting rid of Nepotism……..Nobody opposes Developing the Nation for the benefit of all inhabitants ,( not just the Dual citizens mind you ) irrespective of Caste, Class, Religion and Ethnicity….. What positives has this Yahapalanaya done so far , along side being unable to collect even the refuse of Colombo Elite , Anglicans, Vellalas and the Wahabis who signed that Lankadeepa full page Ad, paid by the NGO Dollars……After all that vandalism Yahapalanaya wants to divide the Nation by stealth………Can you do that when 5.8 Million from the majority inhabitant population. have already rejected the “UNP SLFP Sira Paln” because they knew what is behind it……..

    • 3
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      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera———–When did Dayan become your mango friend? ———Is he helping MR and his clan write Mahavamsa version of Mein Kampf?

      • 0
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        Hey NV, KA Sumanaya won’t understand who Hitler was or is today. So please stick to Mahavamsa or a comic book. He is a dull little boy. Poor Sumanaya is still busy trying to finish off the comic book he started reading 35 years ago. Sadly the comic book only has 6 pages and already 2 are missing. His mom used those two pages to pack his rice and curry for him to take on the bus to Hambantota.

    • 1
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      I am no against to this writer because he is young.

      He does not have any knoweldge to see the gravity of harm DJ has been doing to this nation.

      However, DJ is obviously abusing the boy TO THE same degree as sodomite of Ghanasara would continue while Asgiriya theros support them.

      However, I am sure, this boy will sooner than later will grasp how devious DJ has been.
      He will then have to be ashamed to have supported a man who knew nothing beyond his posts.
      Besides, the boy should be well aware of the facts, in lanken arena, DJ is not a well balanced analyst to add his thoughts this way: He should rather be a backbencher in terms of the knoweldge of some good Univerisity dons. Unfortuantely, those Dons would not have been interviewed by LOCAL pvt media and they would nto even fall to the levels of DJ either.

  • 4
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    “I neither support nor oppose Gotabaya Rajapaksa. I believe that he did something during his tenure at the UDA, though what he did was badly tempered by what he failed to do and/or unfortunately let slip through his hands. I believe that despite his authoritarian streak, he got Colombo (and nearly every other suburb, this writer’s hometown being one of them) cleaned and adorned.”

    So you are saying you are ok with his white vans, his attacks on journalists and his illegal land grabs!!?

  • 2
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    “I think Project Gotabaya, at least to a certain extent, will be assessed by how well it drives home that point. Personally speaking, I don’t think it’s doing a bad job there. At least, not yet.”

    It sure did drive home a serious point with how he treated Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who won the war, his whole White Van abdications, murders, attacks on journalists and many more that have the people of this country sick and tired of such politicians…

  • 2
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    Uditha, you say, “I neither support nor oppose Gotabaya Rajapaksa. ….. But I also believe that he is, like every other political figure we hedge our bets on, flawed. Taken by itself, this means nothing: we are all flawed, and doting on the man’s perceived goodness is no worse than doting on those who are virulently opposed to him”.

    So then, by your reckoning (that “we are all flawed”), he is no better or worse than the rest of us?!! Come on, man, that is simply a load of bovine excrement!

    And by “goodness”, if you mean “goodness” equates getting “Colombo cleaned and adorned”, then your premise is flawed, as the definition of “goodness” has to do with ‘virtue’ and ‘morality’ and not with what you are referencing. Perhaps you meant he was “efficient”?? And surely you don’t believe that Gotabaya was moral and virtuous??? If you do, then there is no room for further discussion.

    There have been innumerable reports of Gotabaya’s despicable behavior, his rude and vicious outbursts at critics, reporters and others who disagree with his words and deeds, of which I am sure you must be aware of. You must also remember the allegations of White Vans, abductions, murders, not to mention his incendiary statements that put the fear of God (for want of a better word), into anyone who dared to openly oppose him. And if you think the rest of us are as flawed as this man is, you must surely be living in some virtual reality that has little to do with what many of us experience (and experienced) in the real world.

    Another revealing statement of yours is, “The problem is that we don’t know how to accommodate and we don’t know what “constructive” means”. If you are speaking of yourself, fine, but don’t lump us all in your assessment of what many of the rest of us feel or do.

    And that “lunatic fringe” you are attempting to “tame” is a mighty task, so start by looking inward.

  • 1
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    sri lanka is a country which needs a carrot and stick approach
    when the carrots failed the stick has to be used
    that is what both ranjan and gota did
    yahapalana is a foreign concept which has led to an increase in lawlessness of every type so unfortunately coercion is necessary to successfully govern the country

  • 0
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    Get me a few Sudu Vans and allow me to use security forces to do ALL sorts of dirty jobs – I will keep Colombo clean and build some walking tracks without getting my pockets filled.

  • 1
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    My congratulation to Uditha Devapriya for his discerning and path-breaking analysis which will doubtless prove quotable if not downright prophetic– and which puts the spotlight squarely on the “two camps” as he calls them, or “two trends /tendencies” , as I would term it, within the Pro-Gota Movement, and might I say, within the broader Opposition itself…

  • 5
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    Quite a depressing read..I will give being ‘constructive’ a pass. DJ and UD
    are just weaving webs of denial around themselves. They always resort to covering up the unjustifiable with their hollow arguments.
    Gotabaya indeed! The guy should probably be in prison by now for any number of crimes. I’d say just don’t think too highly of the majority community. I for one am quite disgusted with my community , for where they have taken Sri Lanka to , from independence till 2017. So wake up and be liberal. It doesn’t equate to being anti this or anti that, just fairness!

    • 4
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      This poor child is being used as a proxy by his puppet master DJ to be used as a vessel in his propaganda to bring back a man(Gota) who was part of one of the worst families (Rajapaksas) who exploited our nation…

  • 1
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    This guy is no different from the propagandist Dayan. The only difference is that he pretends to write analytical stuff. He is misguided to say the least,, writing about project Gotabhaya,both are trying to make such an idea legitimated in the psyche of people. If Gota comes to power in the name of majority rights or nationalism of Dayan’s variety, the country will have a dictator. More cut outs of Rajapakse images in all corners,more sil redirect,more white vans, and God knows what else? A military rule couched in Terms of protecting Sinhala Buddhism.!

    In Indonesia,during last Presidential election there was a candidate from Suharto loyalist party.He was defeated. People got some democratic rights. In Lanka people got their democratic rights by sending senior home. DJ and this writer pretend to tell the readers that everything about the present govt is bad. Previous govt was beautiful. When this mantra is repeated in the media unfortunately some will believe it. DJ has left leanings on Monday,right leanings on Tuesday, and in between rest of the days. It is time that literate people think beyond failed politicians and behind the scene machine operators and form an organisation of true patriots untarnished by corrupt politics to advance the cause of Lanka. Don’t get fooled by this garbage written with an innocent outlook by DJs golaya.

    • 0
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      Tharaka, this Uditha seems to want exactly what you described that’s why he avoids talking about all the criminal acts the Rajapaksas were responsible for and shamelessly is trying indulging in propaganda to promote a known criminal and dictator for president!!

      Winning a war does not give the Rajapaksas family to loot our country, abduct our citizens, suppress the freedom of speech, build and support Buddhist terrorism like BBS to attack and terrorize our citizens, plunder monies that should have been used to improve the quality of life of all Sri Lankan’s.

      We don’t need a repeat of what we have seen form a decade of Rajapaksas family rule…

  • 2
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    tweedledum and tweedledee
    one should talk about culture which he knows something and not write about politics about which he knows nothing
    the other should be sent to cuba where he might get a job

    • 1
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      nalmen——————“the other should be sent to cuba where he might get a job”————————No, he should be sent to Hindia where he will have to explain himself to the crafty South Block Brahmins of Sultanate of New Delhi day in day out. —————————————————— Mind you RAW (Hindian Foreign Intelligence) may want to know what was the type of clandestine work Dayan was involved himself in India. Hindians knew him very well in this island as well as back in Hindia during the time when Hindian RAW was running a not so covert operation in this tinny island. Whom did he work for?

  • 2
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    Uditha Devapriya in the carefully worded and crafted article “Taming That Lunatic Fringe” betrays which side of the 08 January 2015 fence he is in.
    Uditha says “Dr Dayan Jayatilleka in his reply to my column last week points out certain ontological, ideological, and factual errors I made. In particular, he takes me to task over my categorising him as a nationalist and a moderate federalist………..”.
    “ontological”? My foot. Dayan simply does not understand federal form of governing. He is opposed because Gotabaya does not like it.
    About Gotabaya he says “I believe that despite his authoritarian streak, he got Colombo (and nearly every other suburb, this writer’s hometown being one of them) cleaned and adorned”.
    If “cleaning and adorning” means getting rid of shanties then yes, he did. But he used whitevans to terrorise the poor. Few beggars with pulped skulls later, the poor are trying to get back. Why?
    BBS is a fascist group – look at their mission statement. Lankans know that BBS has high level political patronage. Use of violence is condoned. They can be bought off to overcome business competition. If safeguarding Buddhism is their aim, have they ever tried peaceful means? BBS is in the same category as the Indian Hindu-cow-vigilantes. Yet you call BBS a “fringe group”.

  • 2
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    Let us get corrupt MIG deal via Belissima holdings, Welikada prison assassinations,murders of journalists, politicians, sportsmen,etc. by death squads reportedly run by this uneducated, uncultured,psychopath before our highest courts, then let the electorate decide if they want us to return to pariah failed state.

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