26 November, 2020

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The Nationalist Turn: A Necessary Detour?

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Apart from the fact that it helps in getting a little more interest on one’s modest savings within the banking system, being a ‘senior citizen’ (over the age of 55) helps in other ways too. One is much less interested in defending oneself against attacks in the media or even in explaining oneself. When encountering a misplaced personalized critique (‘The Mark Antony of Nugegoda’ by Sarath De Alwis, Colombo Telegraph, March 9, 2015) the predominant sentiment apart from amusement commingled with minor irritation at inaccuracy and irrelevance, is to use the opportunity to get to the root of the larger matter. In this case the larger matter is the political dynamics of this island: the dialectics of Sri Lankan politics as it were.

These dialectics have, in the Socratic-Hegelian sense, a thesis, an antithesis and could yield a synthesis. What is the thesis, the pre-existing starting point? I submit that the record shows the emergence of a hardline Tamil political consciousness in the political mainstream.

Speaking as far back as 1922, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam said at the meeting of the Ceylon Tamil League:

“…It has far higher aims in view, namely to keep alive and propagate these precious ideals throughout Ceylon, Southern India and the Tamil Colonies, to promote the union and solidarity of Tamilakam, the Tamil Land. We should keep alive and propagate these ideals throughout Ceylon and promote the union and solidarity of what we have been proud to call Tamil Eelam… All this requires heavy outlay of money for which I trust the Tamil Community, and especially its wealthier members here and in the Federated Malay States, will contribute liberally.

Firstly this strident mono-ethnic pan-Tamil project, with its latent expansionism, was not a reaction to stultifying Sinhala rule. It was the British who ruled Ceylon at the time and for a good quarter century after this.

Secondly this was not a robust response to aggressive Sinhala–Buddhist chauvinism. The Anagarika Dharmapala movement was hardly at the center of Ceylonese or even Sinhala politics at the time. It had been marginalized by a multiethnic, elite Ceylonese nationalism in the form of the Ceylon National Congress, which was at center stage. The discourse of the Ceylon National Congress was hardly one of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism.

Thirdly, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was not a figure on the fringe of politics nor was he a vernacular nationalist. He was a sophisticated, Western educated man, very prominent in national life.

Fourthly, this was not an imitation, echo or spillover of Tamil Nadu nationalism. Indeed Tamil Nadu nationalism could be said to have been a later development. Sir Ponnabalam Arunchalam’s strident statement of purpose antedated Tamil Nadu nationalism. Thus the source of pan-Tamil nationalism could be said to have been Northern Ceylon, rather than Tamil Nadu.

Thus I confidently contend that the thesis, the starting point, was the strident, pointed pan-Tamil, proto-expansionist political project enunciated at the formation of the Ceylon Tamil League in 1922. This was the birth or conception of the project of and for Tamil Eelam—and it is no accident that the term itself appears, probably for the first time in this founding speech by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam.

What was the antithesis? What is the rock of reality that this burgeoning consciousness came up against? It was the existential, I might even say ontological situation of the Sinhalese. This Sinhala collective perception was most objectively articulated not by a Sinhala Buddhist but precisely by an LSE educated (and French speaking) Marxist who happened to be a Sinhalese from a Methodist Christian background. This was Leslie Goonewardene, arguably the sharpest theoretical mind of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), who wrote in 1960 that:

“…It is not unnatural that a national minority should have fears of discrimination against it especially on a question like language. In order to build national unity it is therefore the duty of the majority to be not only just but generous in order to remove the fears of the minority. However, in the situation existing in Ceylon there was a complication arising not only from the fact that a consciousness of Ceylonese nationality had not yet developed, but also from the very history of the country. Although in the state of Ceylon, the Sinhalese constituted the majority and the Tamils the minority, the Sinhalese considered themselves to be the minority in the region, when one counted also the tens of millions of Tamils in South India. With a history of constant wars with the Tamils in the pre-colonial era, the Sinhalese considered that it was the Sinhala language and not Tamil which needed special protection and special guarantees to safeguard the position of the Sinhalese and their language. However unfounded these fears may have been, they were both widespread and deep among the Sinhalese population.” (‘The History of the LSSP in Perspective’)

Note that Leslie Goonewardene categorized the Tamils of Sri Lanka as “a national minority”, going on to say that “in the state of Ceylon the Sinhalese constituted the majority and the Tamils the minority”. Is he to be denounced as a Sinhala racist on that score?

Comrade Leslie was only giving detached, not uncritical expression to a perspective first articulated more full-bloodedly within the LSSP by Philip Gunawardena, who in the words of Mervyn de Silva in an early 1960s Political Portfolio published by Lake House (with photographs by Joe Perera) was “Ceylon’s first modern revolutionary…Philip fathered the Marxist movement”. Mervyn wrote in his ‘pen sketch’ of Philip entitled ‘The Defiant One’, that “His sense of history and his deeply engrained nationalism drove him to the idea of giving Marxism a local habitation and colour. Philip’s attempt to liberate Marxism from its red tie and ‘European’ suit …was denounced by his erstwhile comrades as ‘opportunism’ and ‘chauvinism’ but Philip has lived to see his critics veer round to his views.”  

Philip Gunawardena’s ‘nationalist turn’ impacted on the Communist Party resulting in the breakaway of a group which included TB Subasinghe, later a Minister known for his integrity and progressive views. Interestingly the Communist Party had always contained a militantly anti-imperialist, patriotic current tinged with nationalism, in its branches in the island’s South. This tendency always had more respect for Dr. SA Wickremesinghe than for Pieter Keuneman. This is the ideological milieu that produced Rohana Wijeweera.

Decades before Wijeweera’s emergence within the island’s Communist movement, it was the razor sharp intellect of GVS de Silva, perhaps the best mind I had encountered on the Sri Lankan Left (and I had met them all from boyhood, up close), that saw the progressive, anti-imperialist potential of majority nationalism. GVS de Silva belonged to the Kandy Group of the Ceylon Communist Party, which was ‘purged’ for its ‘nationalist deviation’. The Kandy group contained Joe de Silva, husband of the US Marxist and stellar columnist Rhoda Miller De Silva. GVS, like TB Subasinghe, was to join Philip Gunawardena.

So much for the political and intellectual history of the Lankan Left, patriotism and nationalism. To return to the far more important substantive point, the ‘thesis of a heightened, even exaggerated sense of Tamil self-consciousness encountered the ‘anti-thesis’ of the Sinhala sense of existential threat, collective selfhood and special relationship with the island. (Hence my phrase “The Island and the Lion”, in Ceylon Today and The Island, March 9, 2015)

The clash between this ‘thesis’ and ‘anti-thesis’ has been the driving force and determining context of modern Sri Lankan political history and derives, arguably, from a very much longer history reaching back through millennia.

The question may be raised as to why the ‘thesis’ of an exaggerated, indeed hyper-inflated Tamil consciousness could not have been met and cannot be met by a cosmopolitan Sri Lankan consciousness instead of by a variety of Sinhala nationalism. Here the answer has been provided albeit in a different setting by Jean-Paul Sartre. Defending Frantz Fanon and the earlier tradition of Negritude of Aime Cesaire from the charge of the Western, largely white Left, which denounced it as petty bourgeois nationalism– even reverse racism– and posited instead a proletarian internationalism, Sartre argued that the thesis of white racism could not be opposed by the antithesis of proletarian internationalism but by one precisely of Negritude, pan-Arab nationalism etc. Sartre went on to argue that it is perhaps only through the transition and intermediation of the nationalism of the majority, such as Negritude and Pan–Arabism, as antithesis, that the desired synthesis of proletarian internationalism could be reached.

So it is in Sri Lanka. Majority nationalism is a necessary “detour” (in the Althusserian sense). The thesis of pan-Tamil expansionism can be met only by the anti-thesis of defensive Sinhala nationalism, which is the only realistic transition to the desired synthesis at a higher level of the dialectical spiral, of a pluralist Sri Lankan patriotic identity which accommodates Tamil (sub) nationalism within a united country and a strong, unitary state.

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Latest comments

  • 12
    4

    This man must have taken a cue from OTC on the art of convoluting and cheery picking aspects to win arguments!

    I copied the below from Sarath De Alwis’s article:

    “No devolution or too little, and communities will break away. Too much devolution and they will do the same. The degree of devolution at the periphery depends on the character of the mainstream. If one implements a strictly secular Republicanism as does France, and one is a French citizen with equal rights irrespective of ethnicity, then the need for substantive devolution at the periphery is virtually non-existent (though Corsica would doubtless disagree). However, if a society insists that the culture, language and civilization of its majority must have some built-in preference, then it is unrealistic to expect that those who do not belong to that culture but are inhabitants of the country would feel themselves fully integrated and un-alienated citizens. Full integration can only take place on the basis of full equality, and a citizenship that is blind to ethnic origin, religion and language. If the State and citizenship are not blind or even-handed but biased, then it is unavoidable that there will be demands by minorities for their own political space at the periphery.” [http://groundviews.org/2008/07/30/winning-the-war-winning-the-peace/]

    So did you write the above without knowing what Ponnampalam Arunachallem said in 1922? You denounce the antics of Anagariga Dharmapala but we all know that his legacy is the bedrock of the modern day Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism. The same cannot be said about Sir Ponnampalam A. If you do you are a complete liar. The so called Tamil expansionism is a total non-starter; this has been proved beyond doubt with the reality of the politics of the Indian sub-continent. You use these cherry-picked points to justify your own low point; you have stooped to the level of Wimal Weerawansa the rising star!

    • 12
      4

      A man who rejected his farther’s Portuguese name ‘De Silva’ talking about nationalism. I read only the heading, so can’t comment on what this warmonger lunatic says here….

      • 8
        6

        Alahakoon,

        Exactly, This parangi is trying to be ultra patriotic subscribing to Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. His forefathers betrayed the Sinhala Buddhists to fill their pockets with the colonialists’ hand outs.

        Many of these half castes have played opportunist Sinhala racist politics for the same reason – to fill their purses and to get some power.

        From D S Senanayake, SWRD, and you name them they all belong to the same category – half castes turned Sinhala racists for bettering themselves fooling the Sinhala Buddhist masses in the process.

        Vast majority of the Sinhala Buddhists may not have the creature comforts or even proper hosing these opportunist political elite enjoy.

      • 1
        0

        Mr Alahakoon,

        Suggest you also read the replies from readers as many do. Offers great entertainment!!!

        No one in his right mind reads this DJ bloke anymore…so better skip the headline too.

    • 10
      3

      Dayan Jayatillaka,

      Can you Fish?

      It is more productive.

      PW wants to shoot Indian Fishermen poaching on Sri Lanka Waters. He calls it Robbery, Stealing.

      We call what Medamulana Mahinda Rajapaksa, your boss did, Stealing and Robbery, and criminal activity.

      Have you heard about Gotas White Vans?

  • 10
    3

    Yes, yes .. its a Sinhala island, everyone else are guests who have rights .. being here for over a thousand years is not relevant. Keep beating the nationalist drum DJ. Logic is clearly a luxury for nationalists.

    • 5
      16

      As far as I know DJ did not say this country is a sinhala land or even a sinhala country. Actually none of the mainstream sinhala politicians did not talk about a sinhala country or even a sinhala nation.

      The only fellow who brought this topic ‘sinhala land’ is Wigneshwaran.

      Every educated Sinhalese would agree SL is a multi ethnic country that should go ahead as a secular modern nation. That does not mean we will bow down to separatism and ultra tamil racism and manufacturing SL history

      • 10
        2

        Sad Sach,

        Did you forget to read the line “In the political and ethno-national sense there is only one nation in Sri Lanka and that is the Sinhalese nation”? Too difficult a line to read or understand, or are you the amude tryibg to cover DJ’s shame?

        • 0
          4

          Idiot saying that there is only one nation, sinhala nation exists in a ethno national and political sense is different to saying Sri Lanka is a Sinhala country.

          Please develop your comprehension skills.

          And again DJ was not the first to talk about a Sinhala nation, it was wiggie who started talking about a Sinhala nation.

          The FACT that you tamils (and even Muslims at times) are ever ready to join with external powers to bully SL shows there is no nation of yours in SL. It was the Sinhala nation that forms the foundation of this country and gave their life to protect its sovereignty. You were always tools of others.

          • 1
            0

            It is sad indeed Sach when the sole and solemn purpose of existence as an amude is to protect shame, however twisted one needs to get. Seems like the comment hit exactly where it hurts — given that “sach” indeed is the apt translation for “amude”!

            Saying “there is only one nation in Sri Lanka and that is the Sinhalese nation” is somehow different from saying ‘saying Sri Lanka is a Sinhala country?”

            If only Dayan was a Buddhist, I have no doubt he would have said “there is only one nation in Sri Lanka and that is the Buddhist Sinhala nation” – It is a huge relief for all the non-buddhist Sinhalese that Dayan de Silva has difficulty hiding that part of his heritage!

            • 0
              0

              The fact that you have nothing else to say other than throwing insults kinda proves my point!

      • 3
        0

        Sach,
        You are correct by saying one should NOT bow down to separatism. In fact, you need to keep your head up and clear and think. If minorities say they can’t or don’t like to live with you as one nation, please don’t act like territorial animals. Minorities are crying for 30 years or perhaps 60 years. Talk to them, think empathetically, find reason for the cause, there are always solutions if you think and act like humans. If you act like territorial animals, both majority and minorities fail, it will be a failed state..

        • 0
          2

          If minorities say they cant live with someone, they cannot manufacture history and start claiming exclusive rights. SL issue is nothing but a history debate.

          It started as a history debate which was started by a Tamil politicians of the yesteryear. This is not an issue of minority prosecution or discrimination, but an issue of history a history debate.

          Sinhala people do not accept the tamil’s claim that they lived in N and E historically.

          • 0
            0

            such,

            “Sinhala people do not accept the tamil’s claim that they lived in N and E historically.”

            Sorry you cannot speak for the entire Sinhala population! Only those chauvinists and bigots do not accept that Tamils do not have historical habitation within the N&E. It looks like you are one of them. Who knows your ancestors might even have a Tamil origin; this is the paradox of the issue in SL!

            • 0
              0

              I dont care whom my ancestors were. It is this country that I care and cared for. I or none of my ancestors were traitors to this land and never were tools to this land.

              All (may be marxist idiots without no history knowledge) Sinhalese reject the Tamil historically claim. Disapproving your historical claim is not big deal. Many reputed historians have refuted that.

              If there was a historical tamil land, why the hell every tamil flee when asked about any proper research, source for so called tamil historical nation?

              I have asked sources for that from you, Rajasingham, NV, Vishvajith, Shankar and few others but NOBODY appear after that

      • 1
        0

        My dear, he doesn’t needs to, his thinking and its justification automatically leads to. What is not stated, but is obvious from the synthesis of the parentheses he has given of ‘some great thinkers’ is that Sri Lanka is for whom, you guess. Maithri thinking, if supported and sustained by all reasonable people across all divides, is an effective anti-dote to these non-sensical dialectics. Dayan J and his ilk know this, and that’s why this forceful broadside with string-hopper like complexity. I’mmad

        • 0
          1

          To be honest I don’t think your writing has any meaning

  • 5
    0

    Wimal (Nationalism) + Vasu (Socialism) synthesized into an ‘ideology’ by Dayan = National Socialism.

    • 6
      1

      Dodo

      “Wimal (Nationalism) + Vasu (Socialism) synthesized into an ‘ideology’ by Dayan = National Socialism.”

      A concoction of the above ingredients taken orally makes one a superman smart ass patriot.

  • 6
    3

    Hey Dayan,

    As a senior citizen, the one privilege you could use to hide you past sins is a claim of “dementia”

  • 4
    1

    Waste of time and energy in following his articles. Best he follows Wimal+vasu+dinesh+ etc to kill his time.

  • 2
    1

    Smart Patriot DJ,
    For SL, Jan 8th was a turning point for the better.
    You can not fool the majority of the Sri Lankans all the times. Same with the majority of other countries in the world who are members of the UN.
    Neverthless you want MR to come back at any cost,
    So please refer to

    1. the Video below ( 15 th April 2013 ). You could also learn about Intergrity.

    https:// https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/video-sinhala-nationalism-tamil-nationalism – and military-triumphalism-interview-with-nirmala-rajasingam/

    2. The current ( refers to MR’s gov on May 24, 2009 ) go has mobilised Sinhala Buddhist national opinion to prosecute this war.
    https:// http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=SB&v=ZFGbF35Es5k

  • 1
    6

    The thesis of pan-Tamil expansionism can be met only by the anti-thesis of defensive Sinhala nationalism, which is the only realistic transition to the desired synthesis at a higher level of the dialectical spiral, of a pluralist Sri Lankan patriotic identity which accommodates Tamil (sub) nationalism within a united country and a strong, unitary state.

    When Dayan Jayathilake says that he is a Catholic above statement is very fair.

  • 2
    0

    So there is only black and white,nothing in between,no intersections?

    This is the kind of proposition that can lead to confrontational politics and even war,,

    Instead of this kind of non sense, what we need is a middle space where political leaders from all sides negotiate the nation-state suitable for 21st century.

    Existential threat works both ways.

  • 1
    0

    The little respect I had for him vanished recently. He was fiercely calling for rattling the MR regime. At the final moments he turned Judas.

    He hates RW and CBK for whatever reason.From internationalism to nationalism . He could advise even BBS.

  • 1
    0

    The little respect I had for him vanished recently. He was fiercely calling for the rattling of MR regime, but turned Judas in the final moments

  • 4
    0

    Pan Tamil expansionism is something utter nonsensical. Tamilnadu is one of nearly 30 states in India and is about the sixth largest in size. Tamils of Tamilnadu are very happy and proud to be Indians first and Tamils second because of a reasonable level of autonomy they enjoy though they would like to have more autonomous powers. Economically and socially Tamils of Tamilnadu have benefitted tremendously by being part of India. They will benefit more in due course by sharing the waters of the big rivers in the North besides other resources.

    Tamils of Sri Lanka have the language and a number of cultural aspects in common with the Tamils of Tamilnadu but at the same time they have considerable differences too as for instance reflected by the distinct Jaffna dialect of Tamil. Tamils of Sri Lanka will never want to get overwhelmed by the Tamils of Tamilnadu whereby they will lose their distinct identity. So, this talk of a pan Tamil expansionism is nothing but a vain attempt by racists such as DJ to instill an unnecessary fear in the minds of the Sinhalese, often by quoting reference to the past history of dynastic wars which have no relevance to modern politics.

    Sengodan. M

    • 0
      1

      Actually the pan tamil movement started in SL and not in Tamil nadu. Normally the early sinhala leaders are blamed for all the racial ills in this country by giving a free pass to racist tamil politicians of yesteryear. And the tamils’ claim that there was utopia before independence is false.

      Many say they took to separatism because of 56, but in reality seperatism and the notion of Eelam had existed much before. This needs to be pointed out and highlighted to understand the issue properly.

  • 0
    2

    “The thesis of pan-Tamil expansionism can be met only by the anti-thesis of defensive Sinhala nationalism, which is the only realistic transition to the desired synthesis at a higher level of the dialectical spiral, of a pluralist Sri Lankan patriotic identity which accommodates Tamil (sub) nationalism within a united country and a strong, unitary state.”

    I hope I am interpreting above correctly when I say..if Sinhalese ethnicity and culture to survive for future millennia only realistic solution is a Sri Lanka defined by both Sinhala Nationalism and compassionate coexistence with other ethnic groups at an acceptable level of stress (tension).
    Couldn’t agree more!

  • 2
    0

    Dyan the lost property:

    The Nationalist Turn: A Necessary Detour?

    Detour is a long or roundabout route that is taken to avoid something or to visit somewhere along the way.

    Having written so many self incriminating articles revealing your Racist tendencies inciting racial hatred you are now trying to potray the same message in a roundabout way to avoid detection.
    But it wont work as I have already despatched copies of your earlier Articles to the UN, British High Commission in Colombo and the American Embassy in Colombo inviting them to question your views on racial tolerance if you ever apply for a Visa.

    1) So it is in Sri Lanka. Majority nationalism is a necessary “detour” (in the Althusserian sense). The thesis of pan-Tamil expansionism can be met only by the anti-thesis of defensive Sinhala nationalism, which is the only realistic transition to the desired synthesis at a higher level of the dialectical spiral, of a pluralist Sri Lankan patriotic identity which accommodates Tamil (sub) nationalism within a united country and a strong, unitary state.

    *** If proof was ever needed that you indeed are MAD the above proves it.

    I have never heard any sesnible person except the 20 million born Racists utter the Word that Majority Nationalism is a necessary Detour to counter Tamil Expansionism. You started the killing of Tamils in their thousands statring from 1958 which cretaed Prabakaran.
    When you managed to stifle the Freedom Movement with the help of Traitor India your boss MR the THUG started the expansionism ( Detour in to Tamil areas ) but the Tsunami that hit the Island washed away the foreign invaders.

    *** Nationalism is an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries. Tamil Nationalism which you now accept is here to stay and confirms that there are two Nations within Sri Lanka and you should be given credit for conceeding defeat albeit late.

    No more Detours in to Tamil Areas

  • 0
    0

    This man [Edited out]

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