30 October, 2020

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The Idea Of South Asia

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

I want to set out four ideas in ascending importance, rather like Matryoshka dolls. But before I do so, I would like to make some observations about two or three points that were made in the discussion so far which are symptomatic of the range of problems that we face.

Professor Akmal Hussain spoke of the need and the possibility of a common policy towards non state terrorist movements. Siddarth Vardharajan raised the issue yesterday of China’s trade in the region, observing that from a purely economic or consumer point of view it doesn’t make sense because it would be cheaper for us to trade within the region. His question was “how come?” High Commissioner Tariq Qarim in his disaggregation of the SAARC road-map spoke about the smaller units and clubbed South India and Sri Lanka as possible sub-units or sub-systems.

To me, these eminently reasonable proposals, and the failure of these proposals so far, take us to the heart of the problem. Why is there is no cooperation between states of the issue of non- state terrorist actors? There the answer is twofold. It is not only because the ‘deep states’ within the states consider these non state actors as strategic or at least as tactical tools, but also because of public opinion. Public opinion in Pakistan will not let go of Kashmir. Public opinion in Tamilnadu will not let go of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue– and therefore together with the uptick in the democratic participation, you also have the problem of domestic constituencies in a competitive multi party frame work. This is the problem.

Why is it that South India and Sri Lanka do not consider themselves as compatible economic partners? Because South India is seen in Sri Lanka as probably the worst of all possible enemies and therefore the Sri Lankan consensus has always been to offset South India by cultivating relationships with New Delhi.

Why is it that there seems to be an open door for Chinese goods while it would make more sense to trade within the region or even the sub-region? The answer there is that even in our policy making circles there is the equivalent of what some of us used to adhere to at one time: ‘dependency theory’ in political economy. But today in South Asia among several segments of the policy intelligentsia here in Sri Lanka, the main trouble or the potential threat is seen as, or as emanating from India. Therefore there is an ambiguity: do we integrate or do we delink? Do we delink or do we try to balance? So this is why, what seems to be sense, what seems to be self-evident is hardly so. “What then is to be done?” is the famous question of Lenin (and Cherneyshevky before him).

This is where my four step presentation or matryoshka doll-like set of suggestions come in. The first step is associated with Prof. Joseph Nye’s notion of soft power and my suggestion is that we explore the possibilities of treating South Asia as potentially a single soft power space. Now we do know that soft power is said to have two components. One is economics. I’m not at this moment concentrating on the economic, as it is too problematic for the reasons I’ve stated earlier. I’m talking about the other aspect of soft power; of culture, of ideas, of attractiveness. There I think what we need is the thickening of the soft power dimension of South Asia as a single unit; the area taken as a single space. A thickening which would permit soft power to get to the point where it does not offset hard power, because it cannot, but where a new soft power programming as it were, permits hard power contradictions to be perceived and resolved differently, so that as Joseph Nye has suggested, the combination of hard power and soft power can culminate in ‘smart power’. So we can eventually think in terms of a ‘South Asian smart power’, starting with treating South Asia and working towards South Asia as a single soft power space and thickening the soft power dimension of South Asian co-operation.

This leads me to the second of my matryoshka dolls and here this set of ideas is associated with the name of Antonio Gramsci, political thinker and revolutionary of the 1920’s and 1930’s in Italy. Gramsci was faced with the problem that frontal assault on the state just did not seem to prove successful. His studies led in to conclude that unlike the East by which he meant primarily Russia where the state loomed large, in Western Europe there were complex trenches and fortifications which Hegel termed civil society. Gramsci urged that one had to accumulate cultural, ethical, moral, intellectual hegemony, over time in a kind of a protracted siege that culminated in the displacement or the shift of the state.

Now I would apply that to the problems of South Asian integration.  If the state, the state bureaucracy and the perception of states of their national interest, are proving slow to change; if they remain in what is essentially a zero sum game mode of strategizing, then one has to shift emphasis to the complex strengths and fortifications that constitute a civil society. And here I do not mean a simple change between civil society actors; not at all. That is in fact a dumbing down of what Gramsci had said. I’m arguing for far more classically Gramscian pathway or strategy for South Asian integration; one which envisages multifarious complex set of moves where you build up the social forces – you build up the consciousness, and you cumulatively culminate in strata of the educated. You push the idea forward in the media, in academia, of a South Asia. There cannot be “South Asian integration”, without an idea and an ideal of South Asia. So South Asia is and has to be first imagined, and that is not been done.

The idea of Europe had already been imagined decades if not centuries before what we now know to be the European Union came in to be. The idea was around. It had been subsumed under nationalism. And when the nationalisms had hurled themselves at each other twice, in the first half of the 20th century and so much destruction has resulted, the idea was still left, and it is the shards of these ideas that came together to form the foundation of Europe.

So we first have to have an idea of South Asia. This is not something that one can do at a seminar. And here I must caution, with all due deference to the think tanks; but the greatest ideas of history of the world never came out of think tanks, I mean thinking usually did not come out of think tanks. Thinking took place, as you know, by writers, intellectuals, in universities, before the universities at theological centers, in cafes if you like, in prisons; much of the finest political thinking I would say for example the of Gramsci, came out of prison.  So the thinking has to take place not only, or perhaps not even primarily in the think tanks. But thinking has not yet taken place. What you have are discussions of the level of policy, at the level of economic plans, at the level of technical cooperation. While I profoundly respect those precisely because it is the economic thinking that will most directly benefit the people, I detect what used to be called “economistic reductionism”, in the thinking on and of South Asia. We need an idea of South Asia that can grasp the imagination; that can be attractive and that can have appeal. That has not happened. Without an idea of South Asia there won’t be a South Asian project and without a South Asian project there will be no South Asian integration. Now this South Asian project, this idea of South Asia and the eventual accession to intellectual, moral and ethical leadership of this idea, is a pre-requisite for what we have been striving.

I would ally with the name of Antonio Gramsci, that with a much later; several decades later, a thinker – a young man who died tragically; Nicos Poulantzas who pointed out that it is not civil society vs. the state or people’s movements vs. the state, but that the state itself is crosscut and traversed by contradictions, by different perspectives, different sub-projects. There are the reformists and the conservatives and therefore there has to be a strategy to understand the permeability of society and state and that the idea of South Asia can and must begin to grasp the imagination in both society and state; not in one to the exclusion of the other. Then we move to that point of social and intellectual accumulation which permits the leap to the reality of South Asia as a community of peoples and states. So a Gramscian-Poulantzian perspective is my second Matryoshka doll.

The third is Hegel. Now I wondered semi-humorously in our proceedings earlier today, as to whether the history in South Asia moves cyclically or in some way other than as it is said to move in the West. Well we do know that Hegel had his own variations, his own answers. On the one hand, he did think that there was a direction in history with a logic of widening circles of freedom which characterized the direction of transformation. But Hegel also transcended the notion of a cyclical movement with the idea of a spiral. We did talk about a moment, specially I think High Commissioner Tariq Qarim quite rightly identified 1930 to 1947 as the period of a South Asian cosmopolitanism. We associated it yesterday with the writings of Rabindranath Tagor, as emblematic of his consciousness. At the moment of independence or sometime after it, the South Asian cosmopolitan consciousness disaggregated into national projects which then collided. But perhaps it is possible not exactly to replicate or reproduce, but to strive for reappearance of that consciousness at a higher level of what is called a dialectical spiral where the best aspects of that South Asian cosmopolitanism reappear while the negatives have been critiqued and negated. So it is the transcendence of aspects of our present reality and the carrying over at a different level of the best aspects of South Asian proto-consciousness of 1930-’47 that would enable us to reconstruct the mentalities that are necessary for the contemporary South Asian project to succeed.

While I take the point that Mr. RMB Senanayaka made about the breakup or the disappearance or the displacement of Westernized elite, it is also that Westernized elite that either opened the Pandora’s box for the nativistic xenophobic elements (as did SWRD Bandaranaike) or were so discredited by their rootless comprador cosmopolitanism that those xenophobic elements took centre stage by default and displacement.

So what you need is a new consciousness which won’t just abandon the national interest, but will combine a smart notion of hard power and a ‘smart power’ notion of the national interest. We need a consciousness of concentric circles; of being national, South Asian and citizens of the world. Amartya Sen one of our finest products has already been talking in those terms, so I won’t dwell on that further.

My fourth Matryoshka is Plato. Why? I believe it is a problem of philosophy. Plato famously argued that philosophers must become rulers or rulers must become philosophers. In our region, we need a new, modern and yet inclusive philosophy. We require a South Asian elite that is not elitist but inclusive. You must be an elite, but not elitist. Until this mentality becomes accessible and internalized by policy makers, we shall never have the new South Asia that is possible. And when that consciousness, that philosophy is grasped by the policy makers; not necessarily the leaders, so when those who have that philosophical inclination either become policy makers or policy makers develop that philosophical inclinations, then perhaps we will see the coming to fruition of our project of an enlightened and shared South Asia.

*Speech delivered at the conference on ‘South Asia Economic Integration: A Strategic and Economic Appraisal’ co-organized by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), and the Regional Program SAARC of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 10-12, 2013.

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    Dayan shows his true colours and equates the Sinhala south with the whole of Lanka-true to his racist Sinhala nationalism – by equating Sri Lanka with the Sinhala consensus here:

    “South India is seen in Sri Lanka as probably the worst of all possible enemies and therefore the Sri Lankan consensus has always been to offset South India by cultivating relationships with New Delhi.”
    WRONG! Tamils of Lanka have always gone to South India for help and see south Indian PEOPLE as opposed to STATE and politicians as kin – extended family. Dayan, you are a TRUE BLUE con artist and Sinhala NATIONALIST – equating Sri Lanka with the southern racist Sinhala consensus.

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    Ha, Ha, Ha! While pretending to speak for civil society in South Asia, DJ in fact speaks ONLY for himself and the Snhala Racist Rajapassa regime, from whom he is desperate to get a new DIPLOMATIC POSTING! But folk in the Foreign Ministry are blocking so Dayan sprouts his usual dishonest tripe here..
    Con artist Dayan in full name-dropping splendor here: dismissing Think tanks and NGOS in South Asia when it was in fact Himal South Asia in Nepal and Kanak Dixit whose project South Asia has been:
    Rather, than recognize and salute the work of South Asian NGOS Dayan talks as if he is sprung from G-D- Plato, Hegal, Gramsci etc..
    He only cites and quotes ambassadors as Lanka’s SAARC wanna be and has been ambassador in Waiting! HA, HA, HA!

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      Dude you are so right!
      DJ is a pretentious git!
      Debate on South Asia and SAARC as a non-starter has been played endlessly.. and Nye’s notion of “soft power” like the notion of “social capital” is theoretically and empirically vacuous!
      But Dayan is great a spinner of yarns!

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      Ha, Ha, Ha! Running with the hares and hunting with the wolves!!!!!!!

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    Dyan,

    “Professor Akmal Hussain spoke of the need and the possibility of a common policy towards non state terrorist movements.”

    The above means suffocate collectively the freedom movements and consolidate the little “empires” left behind by the colonialists.

    “Why is it that South India and Sri Lanka do not consider themselves as compatible economic partners? Because South India is seen in Sri Lanka as probably the worst of all possible enemies and therefore the Sri Lankan consensus has always been to offset South India by cultivating relationships with New Delhi.”

    The above simply means that Sinhalese hate the Tamils, whether they are in Sri Lanka or India. This is openly stated by J.R.Jeyawardane – former president 1978-1989 who created the prevailing lop-sided constitution, said in London Daily Telegraph on 11 July 1983:

    “I AM NOT WORRIED OF THE OPINION OF THE JAFFNA PEOPLE NOW. NOW WE CANNOT THINK OF THEM. NOT ABOUT THEIR LIVES OR OF THEIR OPINION ABOUT US. THE MORE YOU PUT PRESSURE IN THE NORTH, THE HAPPIER THE SINHALESE PEOPLE WILL BE HERE. REALLY IF I STARVE THE TAMILS OUT, THE SINHALA PEOPLE WILL BE HAPPY.”

    With leaders like JR, MR or GR it is no wonder the Tamils were starved out in Vanni before they were massacred en masse in Mullivaikkaal in 2009.

    Dyan expresses a similar opinion of the Sinhala people about Tamils couched as South Indians.

    We need a genuine leader like Lee Kwan Yew, who lifted the masses in Singapore – Chinese, Malays and Tamils from poverty to 1st world standard.

    Dyan is the person who defended the genocidal Sri Lankan state in Geneva. Forget about all the high flown philosophy and Plato and all the scholarly nonsense that opportunist politicians will buy.

    What we need are truthful leaders with ethical values to lead the poor, ignorant masses of South Asia.

    Have we got any? An emphatic no!

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    Similarities of England and France/Europe.

    Or why US does not really think Mexico is part of North America. Thats even in spite of California, Texas and New Mexico having been wrested from Mexico/Spain.

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    There NO knowledge-based or transparent policy making in the Rajapassa regime which does not know the meaning of the word knowledge of research based economic policy making.. Rajapassa brothers make back room deals for huge kickbacks – and think its economic policy!
    Economic development under the uneducated moron Basil Rajapassa is all about knee jerk, corrupt crony deal making with China – so Dayan is in Gaga land to say:
    Why is it that there seems to be an open door for Chinese goods while it would make more sense to trade within the region or even the sub-region? The answer there is that even in our policy making circles there is the equivalent of what some of us used to adhere to at one time: ‘dependency theory’ in political economy. Even though dependency theory is outdated- the corrupt regime hasn’t got a clue about economic and trade POLICY making!

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    Dayan Jayathilake should ask Jayallalitha and the gang to attack Sinhala people visiting Tamilnadu. that would promote trade.

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    Is there truly no end to the posturing of this man who has been very accurately described as a “git” by another commentator?
    Dayan Jayatilleke is an increasingly irrelevant apologist for his erstwhile and (he hopes) future masters, the Rajapassas.
    It is only a stupid racist Sri Lankan readership that will be, in any way, impressed by his endless name-dropping.
    PLEASE stop your endless name-dropping and absolute intellectual dishonesty before we are tempted to harness you and your fellow. Please stop boring us to death before we are tempted into yoking you to the same plow as that other PhD, Rajiva Wijesinha!

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    “..much of the finest political thinking I would say for example the of Gramsci, came out of prison…”

    Well, it is time we all give up and hand over the administration to the prisoners!!!

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    “..To me, these eminently reasonable proposals, and the failure of these proposals so far, take us to the heart of the problem. Why is there is no cooperation between states of the issue of non- state terrorist actors? There the answer is twofold. It is not only because the ‘deep states’ within the states consider these non state actors as strategic or at least as tactical tools, but also because of public opinion. Public opinion in Pakistan will not let go of Kashmir. Public opinion in Tamilnadu will not let go of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue– and therefore together with the uptick in the democratic participation, you also have the problem of domestic constituencies in a competitive multi party frame work. This is the problem…”

    “..in Western Europe there were complex trenches and fortifications which Hegel termed civil society. Gramsci urged that one had to accumulate cultural, ethical, moral, intellectual hegemony, over time in a kind of a protracted siege that culminated in the displacement or the shift of the state..”

    “..one which envisages multifarious complex set of moves where you build up the social forces – you build up the consciousness, and you cumulatively culminate in strata of the educated. You push the idea forward in the media, in academia, of a South Asia. There cannot be “South Asian integration”, without an idea and an ideal of South Asia. So South Asia is and has to be first imagined, and that is not been done…”

    “.. but the greatest ideas of history of the world never came out of think tanks, I mean thinking usually did not come out of think tanks. Thinking took place, as you know, by writers, intellectuals, in universities, before the universities at theological centers, in cafes if you like, in prisons; much of the finest political thinking I would say for example the of Gramsci, came out of prison. So the thinking has to take place not only, or perhaps not even primarily in the think tanks. ..”

    The con artist is spinning his routine web of DJ Jargon over deep state, non-state terrorist actors, Matryoshka dolls etc. which would never deliver any goodies for the country. But more practical and realistic methods have been tried and were successful. For example in our own country JR saw the impediment caused by India and the importance of US for the country to catalyst forward to become economically and socially developed. But the size of the economy mattered and US ignored SL and asked JR to approach them via India over which US had visions for their long term plans. India had the development agonistic barriers DJ has stated but it did not wait endlessly to “..accumulate cultural, ethical, moral, intellectual hegemony, over time in a kind of a protracted siege that culminated in the displacement or the shift of the state..” but the Gandhi family sacrificed their family heritage and glory for the good of the country and made apolitical Manamohan Singh the leader of the country and he led India along the development path which JR envisioned before India did. The silly ideological forces in India nearly defeated Singh though in his efforts but now they are well and truly on course for great achievements. Had India not played jealous SL today would have been a heaven! Sri Lanka had a second chance when Ranil took over and just before he blasted forward through Regaining Sri Lanka Master Plan, the racist sectarian and opportunistic fools in the country led by the JVP buffalos made Chandrika bitch defeat the attempts of Ranil. Since that day Sri Lanka is all the way going down and sinking. Although these buffalos boast of a war victory it is no victory at all when considered in the long term international perspective-if they did there won’t be UN resolutions and demands for international referendums for secession as ELAM. On the contrary the unprofessional way Rajapakshas handled the LTTE terrorism, war and post-war developments created the ideal conditions for creation of the ELAM on the table of UN without firing a single bullet!

    Who is Manamohan Singh and how could he salvage India from crisis? Who is Ranil and why couldn’t he salvage SL from peril? Both MS and RW are professionals. Although MS was more economically erudite RW was neck and neck when managing the economy of the country. Both were liberal progressive and out of the box thinkers. The reason and difference lies in the “think tanks” in the two countries. Whereas in India the “think tank” of Gandhi family took the correct decision to pursue the future of the country leading in from with MS in Sri Lanka the so called educated and opinion builders-the think tank may be-as well as the common man stuck to the racist nationalistic and chauvinistic type of politics and development! And probably DJ is write-the thinking appears to have been taken by the criminals in the prison whereas in India it was the work of “think tank”! And from the day MR came to power DJ has been writing writing writing endless compiling theory upon theory, replacing one ideology by another but the country is going down the drain! This is the difference between SL and most other countries in the world where people like DJ do not live and therefore continue to make progress!

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    Sorry, few typos:- “leading in from (front) with MS,”, “And probably DJ is write (right)”, “writing writing endless (endlessly)”

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      Tend to agree with you in general. Sometimes when we have a go at the writer we miss what he says. Whatever Dayan Jayatilleke’s motives are he does churn out ideas and we need to consider whether they are valid in the current context. Though JR and the republican constitution is much maligned by many I believe it was JR that brought the country out of the hell hole it had fallen into under Sirimavo, and launched the economic development on modern lines. It is now clear that an over powerful executive would be damaging if he turned out to be a megalomaniac, yet at that time there was a need for a strong executive to stabilize the government. In hind sight it is now obvious that even the executive needs checks and balances. When Mahinda Rajapaksa abuses his position by introducing 18A, removing independent commissions, and lifting presidential term limits, his parliament overwhelmingly endorses it while at the same time criticising JR for his constitution! The problem here is the lack of a commitment to an egalitarian society amongst our politicians. We need to find the reason for the duplicitous and immoral conduct of our politicians. The politicians, and Sri Lankans in general seem to lack that love for truth and justice, good moral conduct, and ethical behaviour. What is the reason? Is it to do with education? Yes. Religion? Doubtful. Culture? Probably. This is a subject that must be examined and discussed if we are to put Sri Lanka right.

      In international relations it is the absence of this moral dimension that has caused states to fall out. Despite the abominable treatment of Tamil people by the Government, the action of the Indian government, and Tamil Nadu in particular, was immoral. India was slow to realize the changes taking place in the world economy and the direction it was taking and decided to penalize Sri Lanka for taking an independent line from the hitherto closed economy followed by both countries. Added to this, financing, arming and training of terrorists, and unleashing them on Sri Lanka will not be forgiven by Sri Lankans for a long time. As a consequence the governments of the two countries must agree on non interference, and non betrayal to build trust for trade and other relationships to develop.

      Unlike Europe the South Asian history is not bound by common bonds. They are not a mass of landlocked countries. Seafarers have exerted greater influence but less so across national borders where landlocked, since few are connected by highways, railroads, etc which unlike Europe would have otherwise lent to greater cultural and social exchange. The Christian influence I suspect, and the spread of the industrial revolution had a marked effect on all Europe. Their development was therefore more or less similar despite the political polarization at the beginning of the 20th century due to marxist/communist thought. South Asia cannot coalesce in this manner, and that may not be desirable now in a new world where national boundaries are irrelevant. For instance the price of Chinese goods may be preferable in quality and price to Indian and Pakistani. There are other factors at play here which must be considered in trade.

      As for Hegelesian thought I feel that history expands and contracts in the same place alternating between conservatism and liberalism, nationalism and and internationalism, morality and immorality.

      Plato of course was right. A leader must be a philosopher to understand existence and reality and to give a moral dimension to governance. If he is a poet too he will make the people happy and contented. India has a wise leader. We cannot say the same.

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