Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Imagining the immediate (im)possibilities


My last reflection on the immediate possibilities of state power sharing had an unusual over 25,000 readers generating 77 comments amounting to a staggering 24,500 word count. Luckily for the most part, a very healthy debate was building particularly amongst writers such as SomewhatDisgusted, Disgusted and Undergroundview. Such intense and articulated engagement is rare. I am pleased if my writings had in anyway become a basis for such debate. That was the intention. Because there is no democracy without debate and similarly there is no debate without democracy. Commendable as the writers managed to save the decency of democratic debate, avoiding the so common vixenish narcissism. I wish I knew them personally so that some day we could have some tea and chat.  While leaving space for their intra/nano debate on conceptual interpretation of Minority Rights Vs Majority Responsibilities, I try to contour the meso level debate on the issue of Political Power sharing in SL.

Sharing State Powers: Imagining the immediate (im)possibilities

Recently the media reported some politically significant developments for students of SL affairs. 1. The escape of 20,000 (mostly suspected former LTTE) detainees. 2. The joint demand by the key ‘’Thamil Speaking’’ political parties. 3. President’s visit to Anuradhapura Maha Meuvna Uyana to inspect a suitable site for the proposed “Victory’’ Dágeba. Since Dr Saravanamuththu has reflected on the cadre turned detainees-now escapees, I will try to learn from the latter two.

Donating Dágebas-Present of the Past

President was accompanied by CM Bertie Premalal whom I know as a pragmatic politician and singer turned Governor Karunarathna Divulgane, who like his music is a soft/ethical man. Both these boomiputhras of Rajarata in the company of the learned Atamasthana Viharaadipathi means the president is making a bold public promise to implement this project, even while it unavoidably falls into the electioneering docu-dramas. Dágeba donating is a key Theravada tradition. Popularly believed to have pioneered by Emperor Asoka. Asoka’s attempts to Saasanasodhana and the 3rd Council (in effect the Fourth Council- Frauwallner 1952a) of Buddhism at Asokarama at Pataliputta around 250 BCE, was followed by a very generous state sponsored Dágeba donation for the advancement of Buddhism (Mendis 1946:1-24, Perera 1977, Bechert 1970 & 1978) Our Vamsa literature, especially the narratives of Mahavamsa extrapolates this as an act of legitimizing ‘’Theravada’’ polities of power balancing between the State and the Sásana. Almost all the kings of Lanka donated Dágebas (and Viharas) so as to have the reassurance of the Sangha for their rule (and to advance Buddhism). The creation of Mahavihára and two other competing Jethavana and Abeyagiri Viharas in the early Anuradhapura era were all part of this complex interdependence of Sangha and the State in SL. (Mv:1832 xxxiii: pg 137-9) Scholars of Theravada Buddhist polities claim that while the Sangha had used their cultural position as the strongest leverage to shape the nature of the government/kingship, the state power in return used the Sangha to legitimize their rule particularly when the rule is threatened by internal forces (Tambiah 1976, Gomrich 1988)  For this reason the ideology historicized in Sri Lanka is contrary to the multi religious Buddhist society intended by Asokan traditions. (Mahavamsa Chap. XV –XVII). In the near history, King Kirti Sri Rajasimha of Thamil/Náyakkar origin in Kandy did historical contributions by restoring the Upasampadda (ordination of Sangha) tradition with the help of Siam monks. The Mallwatte temple and the modern form of Äsala Perehara were his projects. As de Silva (1981:241-276) argues Rájasimha struggled to prove his Buddhist-ness to the Sangha and the society as he was facing a major rebellion.

However, the contemporary political act of Dágeba donation differs from the recorded Indian and even Mahavamsic historical practice. While, the ‘’annihilation’’ of tiger terrorism (note not the state terrorism) is the claimed reason for such Damma gesture or Kusalakamma,  the project clearly resurrect a strong sense of Sinhalanization of the entire state as Dágebas and Viharas are essentially the strong part of pots-Buddhist Sinhala tradition. As we see in the history Dágebas and Viharas are not mere building projects but imposing the fundamentals of Theravada Buddhism into a new area because such projects are naturally followed by the new settlement of Sangha and the dáyakayas.  The actual benefit to the entire country from the proposed project during an abysmal financial crisis aside, The Anuradhapura ‘’Victory’’ Dágeba is supposedly the first one of the nine in all nine provinces. Thus the attempts of induction of history goes beyond mere act of stabilization the Sinhalaness of the state but also a state sponsored project to assimilate the rest of non-Buddhist identities into the “Maha” culture.

President MR was recently credited for his seemingly postmodern political thoughts when he declared that SL does not have any ‘’Sulu Jaathin’’ (minorities). This pronouncement was impregnable empirically as much as theoretically. He carefully avoided to say that in the absence of the minorities, all will be “Sama Jaathin’’ (equal citizens), because the political implication of that will means there is no “Maha Jaathin” (majority) either. A position even SWRD could not afford to utter after his years of learning in local governments and sub state governmentality at a modern political school. The closest SWRD came was to sign the B-C pact, which eventually robbed his life by none other than few influential members of the Sangha Samája. The post independent SL, as in her history, clearly remains as an ethno-centric state that tries to solidify itself against the “other’’ who is often a non-Sinhala non-Buddhist. The self identity of the modern state has derived from what it is ‘’not’’. Anagárika’s revival was largely modeled on the evangelical missionary moments of the 20th century which Obesekara termed as ‘’Protestant Buddhism’’ (See Dr Sarath Amunugama’s thesis on his)

Erecting Dágebas in all nine provinces, even without any popular request from the citizens of those provinces amounts to a state centric Sinhala-Buddhisiation. Then the socio-political implication of this would mean that defeating the LTTE was not merely to rid the country and its citizens from a protracted terror polity and usher democratic stability but to impose a majoritarian hegemony through an internal colonization masked as a religious thanks giving.

Surely democracy does not grow by repression or state centric assimilation. Even more, Buddhism cannot be advanced by constructing Dágebas. History is full of such evidence. After all those dharmishta efforts by Asoka, Buddhism did not survive in India because the fundamental of Theravada Buddhism solely rests in the manner in which the Sangha practice the Patimokkah Seela and guide the laity in the Vinaya and  Panchaseela. President will benefit and provide moral leadership should he invite the Mahanayakas to initiate a statewide Damma Sajjayana to call the Buddhists (and the willing non-Buddhists) to return to the path of Damma from the present culture of corruption, murder and power hunger even while some 300,000 are lamenting for basic life and the majority of (Buddhists) citizen are struggling to survive in a perishing socio-political habitat. Perhaps then the Theravada teaching will produce some timely and eternal results. Contrarily, erecting Dágebas will remain as hollow symbols of cultural colonization in a deeply divided state.

Joint Demand by the Thamil Speaking Parties

SL’s ethnic calcification is purposefully ambiguous. It has no basis of any know ethnomethodology. It was a crafty act of the British colonialist now exploited by the state. For instance,


A racial-linguistic identity because there are no other Sinhalas on planet earth except for those scattered Diaspora for educational and economic benefits. (If one is to claim that Sinhalas leave SL for safety, then they readily justify the separatist claim)

Ceylon Thamil

An ethnic-linguistic id, separating them from the rest of the 100 million global Thamils

Indian (Malayaha) Thamils

A geographical id, strongly connecting them to Thamil Nadu than to SL


A religious id, which in turn pushes them to seek affiliation to an international order than to localize. Even the use of ‘’Moor’’ is largely to show their Arab/Indian origin than to confirm a SL ownership


An ancestry and country of origin id, while most them are Muslims


An id based on the descendents, while most of the modern Burgers are Catholic/Christians and often speaks Sinhala and/or Thamil as their social language.

Here one could observe that non-Sinhalas are subdivided on number of regular inconsistencies. While the Sinhala id is kept under a broad umbrella even while such id is comprised of visible sub-divisions at least as Buddhist Sinhalas or Catholic/Christian Sinhalas on religious ground and Udarata, Phatharata Sinhalas on cultural grounds. (There are more sub divisions amongst the Sinhalas. For detail see research work of (Ganananath Obeysekara, and M.D. Raghavan 1948, 1951a, 1951b, 1957, 1962, 1967) in defining the cultural anthropology of the Sinhalas.

For the last three decades, thank to the extreme form of ethnonationalist politic of LTTE, (Balasingham 2005) the Muslims and the Malayaha Thamils were not provided an equal space as  collective minorities in  the struggle to bargain state power. Except for the Thimphu Demands where the Sri Lanka citizenship was claimed for all those who were born in SL, the political philosophy of the LTTE rapidly constructed a monoethnic id, finally creating internal separatism , the apparent reason for Colonel Karuna Amman to defect the group (and assimilate into majoritarian politics?)

It is in this complex back drop in a post-Prapa political context that the key ‘’Thamil speaking’’ parties have come together. While their immediate attention is focused on the inhuman conditions of the detainees, it promises some new possibilities for democracy in SL. If CWC, UCPF and other (unarmed) Thamil, Muslim Malay and Burgher groups could see the common cause and modalities to articulate a common agenda, then the possibility of bargaining a Lijphart (1984, 1999) model Consociational Democracy in the form of Senghass’s Participatory Democratic Ownership (2002) could be imagined, especially in the light of the operational deficiency and the organized disorder of the UNP. On surface it appears to be a grand coalition of the Non-Sinhalas for political benefits, but an alliance of such nature with an electoral ‘’veto’’ in hand could eventually lead the wider democratization of the major parties in the south and their governmentality as no government in SL was formed without the support of the parties of the minorities after 1977.  The interlocking, self defeating “Majoritarian Mindset of the Minorities’’ against the “Minority Mindset of the Majority’’ needs to be dismantled to unchain the imaginative political energies to search new possibility for ethnic harmony, democratic recoveries and economic development.

Imagining (im)possibilities?

The effort of such collective non-majoritarian politics should surely go beyond the immediate concerns of the Thamil speakers. They need to envisage a society where primary forces of democracy will govern and rule the state. They ought to think and act not just for the Non-Sinhalas but for the rights of Sinhalas as well. It is only then a cross fertilizing ethno political democracy is possible. Imagine the implications, if the LTTE had a Sinhala Buddhist as their deputy leader commanding a Sinhala brigade or the JHU has a Muslim as their alternative leader? Then these Thamil Eelam and Hela Uruma(i) will not be the thick signifier of the ‘’other’’ but different forces perhaps working for a common causes.

In the effort of joining forces and imagining alternatives, I urge the non-majoritarian (i.e. Thamil Speaking) parties to consider the following demands as their conditions for support for any future government.

  1. Change the constitution and create two Vice Presidencies for Thamils and Muslims
  2. Change the election law as to no person could contest for presidency as an individual but as team of three. In this team there will be a leader and two deputies all three representing the three ids. E.g. If MR is contesting he needs to find two vice presidents from the other communities. And similarly if Hakeem is contesting for the post of presidency he will be accompanied by Thamil and Sinhala deputies. And voter will vote for the said team not and individual. This, like in Belgium and Lebanon (and future Iraq) may defuse the explosive mono-ethnic competition and force the voters to consider the presidency for policies, programs and person’s moral/ethics beyond their given ethnicity.
  3. Change the constitution to create the PM post as a rotating post of two years alternatively for the most popular Sinhala, Thamil and Muslim parliamentarian of the ruling party. After all this is now largely an administrative function within the parliament.
  4. Under write to have a free/fair referendum for the abolition of the national parliament and instead create nine strong Provincial Councils. Because as long as there is a dominant Centre, no genuine periphery could grow. Each province depending on their population strength (one for every 500,000?) will nominate ministers to the National Cabinet.  For sure we will not have more than 40 but representing the province at national level irrespective of the ruling party of the province. Then in such culture the JVP, if they manage to win a province could legitimately share the power of National Politics without being a frustrated spoiler or an underdog cheaply seduced by of ministerial perks.
  5. The president will be in charge of the National Defense and Central Bank (as it has happened in reality since JRJ) while the board of ministers bear all other largely devolved responsibilities.

Now I could visualize some blue jeans neo-nationalists and Maha sammatha boomiputhras wielding their traditional Hela Jaathika sword against such imagination. Unfortunately that would only reflect their pathological inability to imagine, because one cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it. We need fresh political imaginations to move from this stagnated swamp of decaying majoritarian democracy. Our collective potentials are far and wide as the ocean out there.