Q How do you see the concept of evolution of nationalism over internationalism against the backdrop of the US Presidential Election
We can analyze the outcome of the US election from different angles. In October, 2001, I wrote an article analyzing the September 11 attack on the United States Twin Towers. I pointed out in my article that the US advocated open borders across the globe only to fulfil its capital requirements. The US was striving to build a world without borders virtually for its capital to flow freely. By the collapse of the Berlin wall, the US was actually trying to open up East Europe and Russia for its capital. What they wanted was to open up the markets. Yet, the US and its allies never opened up themselves for the other nations. That is the reason why, in Third World countries, there are so many queues in front of Western Embassies, for visas. If it was a free world, citizens the world over should have been able to travel, live, work as they like. The September 11 attack, in my opinion, challenged US borders.
I see the victory of Donald Trump as the US President as a call for protectionism and for building walls on its boundaries. It is a call from the White American people. That is also what happened regarding Brexit. Therein, British citizens also said what Britain was preaching to the world was inappropriate for them, and the country should opt for protectionism instead.
Q How will this global trend impact or influence nationalism in Sri Lanka in your view?
More than Trump’s victory, Hilary’s defeat is a gain for nationalist movements across the globe. I do not want to analyze Trump’s victory as a victory of nationalism. But, the ideology espoused by Hilary Clinton was rejected in her own country. It is a gain for nationalism. For us, what’s happening in China, its rise is more important than what happened in the US. It is bound to equal the US in terms of economic size by 2025. By 2050, it will be double the size of the US economy. At the same time, countries such as India, Brazil, South Africa, and Korea are making giant strides in economic growth eclipsing the global economic hegemony hitherto maintained by Europe and the US.
China and other Asian countries will rise while preserving their cultural identities. They may have derived Western technology and knowledge for their production purposes. Martin Jacques, the author of ‘When China Rules the World’ shows that although China seems to be Westernized in appearance, it is becoming more and more Chinese in food, in language usage, in family life etc. Koreans work in their own language and the Chinese do the same. This is a consolation for us. It gives the message that we, can rise along with them, while preserving our own cultural and civilizational identity.
Q Do you mean that Sri Lanka should team up with the newly emerging world order in this manner?
That should happen compulsorily. Until World War II, Britain was the imperialist giant. Along with it, Portugal, the Dutch, Belgium, France and Spain colonized countries in the world and established their authority. From World War II onwards, the hegemony of the US-led West prevailed up to now. They all have the same civilizational link. After centuries, the world is heading in a different direction today. China is becoming a global power. The global leadership is transferred to a nation with a different thinking. It will look at the world from a novel perspective. It is a country with a rice-eating people. In the past, we saw the US and Russia as two power centres trying to establish their control. It is not so today. Today, different countries rise, with different civilization bases; with their own cultural identities. That is very important. This has given us hope that we will also be able to rise on our own. It is not that we should emulate China. We should strive to build a country on our own civilization values. This is what Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera has shown in his new book ‘Sabhyathwa Raajya Karaa’. Of course, we can align with China as we find more similarities with China than with the Western world.
Q How do you analyze the evolution of Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka against the backdrop of different perspectives regarding it from the Western point of view?
Everybody has to understand that the people of Sri Lanka built its civilization over 2500 years ago. Ancient irrigation works, religious monuments such as magnificent Dagobas speak of it. And it’s not a dead civilization. We use those “wew” (irrigation works) to-date. We worship those dagobas to date. It’s a living civilization. The Mahawamsa, whatever is contained in it, has inspired generation after generation for over 2000 years. Sri Lanka, as a small island, faced constant invasions from external elements.
While repulsing such invasions, the country was able to sustain its civilization for over 2500 years. This is a unique situation in world history because there are only a handful of countries that weathered such invasive pressures and survived. If you look at the Roman Empire, how many centuries did it survive? The US has only a history of less than 500 years. Even the empire built by Dharmashoka did not last for 100 years. But, with the inspiration from Mahavamsa, the people of this country have acted to foster and protect their civilization for more than 2500 years. Nobody can deny it. We preserved our country until we were deceived into ceding the country to a foreign rule under the 1815 Treaty. The Portuguese, with their firepower, could conquer nations in Asia, Africa and America within a short span of time. For most of the countries they did not need even a decade. But, for centuries we stood up to them and protected our country. Even the British failed to conquer us militarily.
The Great Anagarika Dharmapala rekindled this civilization consciousness in our people. Kumaratunga Munidasa refined this consciousness. In fact, in 1956, what triumphed was nationalism rekindled by Anagarika Dharmapala. Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike gave leadership to it in the political front.
Q In today’s context, how do you work for the victory of nationalism politically?
In 1956, when the draft bill to make Sinhala the State language was presented, the MPs of the Northern Province queried the fate of the Tamil language. Then, Mr. Bandaranaike, as the Prime Minister, made a special statement. He sought a little more time from them and asked them to be patient till the issue at hand was addressed. He said let him first bring his struggle with what he called ‘Kalu Suddas’ to an end. He opined once that was done, it would be easy to address the issue of the Tamil people. Nationalists didn’t struggle against Tamils. They struggled against Western hegemony. They fought against ‘Kalu Suddas’. Philip Gunawardena called them ’thuppahiyas’. Ananda Coomaraswamy has called this English educated Anglicised class as ‘bastard intellectuals’. When we try to walk towards our civilization roots, this Anglicised elite use Tamils as the cat’s paw.
Q How do you work for a political victory to the nationalist movement?
When terrorist attacks were taking their toll in major capitals of the world, Sri Lanka, as a small nation, freed itself from the menace. What happened on January 8, 2015 was a conspiracy. That was meant to reverse the gains we achieved. Gains we achieved by defeating terrorism; gains we achieved in development goals as a small, independent nation.
We have to defeat conspirators. There is no alternative other than that. President Maithripala Sirisena was installed in power with the involvement of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike. They both act as agents of the Western powers. We have to free the country from this coterie.
We have to achieve three targets here. One is that the nationalist forces should defeat the current rule. Next, we should not give into separatist demands in any way. We should make sure that even a single clause that paves the way for Federalism or separatism should not be included in the constitution. We do not rule out the need for amending the constitution. We do not find faults with an electoral system that ensures a representative responsible for each constituency. Actually, we demand it. We are not opposed to making amendments to the Executive Presidency. We are for strengthening the Parliament.
The LTTE was defeated finally in Nanthikadal. The TNA, Tamil diaspora, and all the separatist forces backed the LTTE. So, with the defeat of the LTTE, separatism was also defeated. The country, resuscitated from the scourge of terrorism, should be united politically. The war victory should be made a political victory enabling all the people of this country to live together under a unitary state.
My opinion is that nationalism should be upheld not only in the political front but also in our day-to-day life. In 1956, after the victory of Mr. Bandaranaike, after Sinhala was made the state language, our people expect the state to protect the language. In the same way, they anticipate the Government to protect Buddhism. It is true that the Government must intervene. But it is our responsibility too. If we don’t use Sinhala in our day-to-day work, if we don’t do business in Sinhala, if we don’t live and love in Sinhala no Government will be able to help.
Q What is the solution you offer to the Tamil national question?
What is the way for you to get citizenship in the United States? You have to sit for an English language proficiency test. In India, the state language is Hindi. Nobody questions these. But here in the Lal Wijenayake committee report, it has been proposed to remove the lion symbol from the national flag for the sake of reconciliation. Once TNA MP Mr. Sumanthiran said, that as long as Buddhism is accorded the foremost place there will be no solution, as there is no equality.
Today, Sri Lanka’s situation is compared to what happened in South Africa during apartheid. In that country, the blacks were denied travelling together with the whites in buses. They were not allowed to live in the same cities and towns. Blacks were segregated. Even in the United States, it happened until the ‘60s. Have we ever done it here? What are they talking about?
TNA MP Sumanthiran also said the suppression of minority rights by the majority verdict of the majority community was the cause of this problem. He cited a nice example. He referred to a family with one boy and three girls. During the first school vacation, the boy wanted to go hiking, whereas the three girls insisted on picnicking on a beach. They could not agree with each other. Then, a vote was taken. The three girls easily voted out the boy and succeeded in going on a picnic to the beach. Then comes the second school vacation. Again the boy asked for hiking but the girls refused. Again, the vote was taken ensuring victory for the girls. During the third vacation, the same happened. This is the plight of Tamils as noted by MP Sumanthiran.
This is utter falsehood. In our country, we are blessed so that we can go on hiking and beach picnicking on the same trip. In politics also, both hiking and beach picnicking have taken place together.
Take the case of making Sinhala the state language in 1956. Many people say the crisis was triggered by the enactment of this Act within 24 hours. It is not true. That Act became operational in the country only on 1st March, 1961. But before that, in 1958, the very same ‘Sinhala’ government of Bandaranaike brought the Tami Language (Special Provisions) Act. It was also scheduled to be operational from 01st March, 1961. So, in practice English was replaced on the same day in the south, and by Tamil in the North and East as administrative and judicial languages. So, picnicking on the beach and hiking took place in the same holiday on the same day.
The Sinhala language was not imposed by force on Tamil children. They were not forced to study in Sinhala. Not in the North nor in the East. Not even in the West. Not anywhere. At Royal College, Colombo, teaching was done and still is done in both mediums. Even Mr. Sumanthiran as an old Royalist knows that. His children who go to Royal College can learn in the Tamil medium although they have preferred English. Both sons of Northern Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran studied at Royal College. They know the reality. If you look at cut-off points determined for admission of students to popular schools after the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination, the Tamil medium cut-off points are determined for all 25 districts of Sri Lanka. However, the Sinhala medium cut-off points are determined only for 20 districts. In five districts, classes are not conducted even up to Grade 5 in the Sinhala Medium. They are Jaffna, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar. I have met Sinhalese people in the Batticaloa district who have been forced to educate their children in the Tamil medium as there isn’t a single school nor a single class which teaches in the Sinhala medium. What has the Northern Chief Minister done about this? What have the TNA MP’s done about this? Who are the real racists?
We have made Sinhalese and Tamils as citizens equal before the law. This is what Nelson Mandela asked for. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed for. If our Tamil brothers have aspirations beyond that, the only solution will be to defeat those. And we will certainly do that.
The racist separatist aspirations were the main cause for the monster Prabhakaran. So after 30 years of destruction please, please don’t repeat the same mistakes.