A response to Uditha Devapriya: Sinhala nationalism and support for Gotabaya

24 June 2017 12:40 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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While I thank Uditha for his searching critique, and must express my hope and expectation that he may yet develop into a successor of Ajith Samaranayake, I must correct him on three factual issues:   


1. He writes that “Like Dayan’s father, Malinda rejected the right-wing, elitist ethos of those institutions, and became a nationalist.”   


That is incorrect. Mervyn was an internationalist and a Third Worldist who was sympathetic to nationalism but never a nationalist. In that sense he was much closer to Godfrey Gunatilleke, Regi Siriwardena, Gamini Corea, Charles Abeysekara, Neville Jayaweera, Izzeth Hussein and A.J. Gunawardena than to Malinda’s father Gamini Seneviratne who was of course a contemporary and friend of his, and whose writings he enthusiastically published in the Lanka Guardian. Appropriately enough, it is Godfrey Gunatilleke, a “golden lad” of that most intellectual of generations, who has analyzed Mervyn’s ideology and consciousness most definitively, and rightly defines him as committed to humanism and universalism; to a “universalist humanism”.   


2. Uditha also writes: ” But there’s never just one kind of nationalism: there are nationalisms, so soon enough we saw Dayan and Malinda fighting via newspaper columns despite the fact that both were opposed to the government over its handling of the war…the “intellectuals” were opposed to both since they were “nationalists”…”   


Here too, the facts are the same as in or analogous to, the case of Mervyn de Silva and Gamini Seneviratne. Malinda was a militant Sinhala Buddhist nationalist, a member and electoral candidate of Champika’s JHU and a member of NMAT. Unlike Malinda, I have never been a nationalist nor am I one today, despite my alignment with, support for and sympathy with nationalists and nationalism. I am not ontologically a nationalist. My support for nationalism is neither unconditional nor unqualified. I am however, a patriot who is also an internationalist and a universalist. To put it provocatively, I admire Puran Appu and Jose Marti, but not Anagarika Dharmapala– because no sectarian ethno-religious particularism ever resonates with me.   


3. The third error that Uditha makes is to say that “He [DJ] is also a moderate federalist”. It is because I come from the Marxist tradition that I have never been a federalist, moderate or otherwise. While I did support self-determination in my early twenties as a bookish Leninist, for 40 years since I have consistently been for equal rights as well as for devolution/regional autonomy. As the Chinese Constitution makes clear, it is perfectly possible and is often the case that those (especially those from a Leftist political culture) who are for regional autonomy are also staunch supporters of a unitary state…with regional autonomy/devolution.   


Obviously I must clarify and set to rest my stand on Gotabaya. He is to be sure a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist, which I am not, but that is not all Gotabaya is, just as it is not all that Mahinda Rajapaksa or Dinesh Gunawardena is. Furthermore there are times in history when Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is more reactionary than progressive, more negative than positive, but this is not one of those times. This is much more like 1956, 1970 and 2005. Finally, there are times in history when there is an option other than a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist leadership and ideology under which to fight a pro-imperialist puppet regime like the UNP but that time came and went in 1947-1953 and again in 1984-1988 (Vijaya Kumaratunga). They were historical exceptions. One hopes such a time comes again and with greater sustainability and success.   
Finally, to move from Uditha’s few factual inaccuracies to a single one of several partial misinterpretations. Vladimir Putin is an Orthodox Christian Russian nationalist, which is also what drives him and makes him take the stands he does. Like many throughout the world—states, social groups and individuals-- from China to Cuba, from Syria to Vietnam, I applaud and admire him neither because of his Orthodox Christian Russian nationalism nor despite it. We support him because he revived his country having rescued it from capitulation and disintegration under a Yahapalana type Yelstin regime, won a war and crushed a ghastly separatist terrorist militia in Chechnya (years before we won our war), and takes an active stand for national sovereignty and a multipolar world. In short people like me throughout the world support him not because of his subjective ideology but because of the objective role that Putin plays in a given historical context. So also it is with my support for Gotabaya.  

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