Fear mongering about the minorities is mostly a political project than a real concern among the people. It is promoted by paid and unpaid advocates of power hungry, mostly-defeated political leaders. Only occasionally, the public is carried away by these fears and propaganda
– Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
There can be some objective reasons why some of the Sinhalese, not all, have a ‘minority complex.’ The historical or geopolitical context is Tamil Nadu or South India.
As far as I am aware, this was first pointed out in an objective manner by Leslie Goonewardene of the old LSSP, when he wrote ‘The History of the LSSP in Perspective.’ He said that, “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.” He also added: “However unfounded these fears may have been, they were both widespread and deep among the Sinhalese population.”
This was in 1960. His mistake was to consider it a total Sinhala perception. A task of the LSSP or the left movement, anyway, was to change ‘these unfounded fears’ for a better and a progressive future of Sri Lanka. But it was not happening.
I met Leslie in early 1974 for an interview, at his Colombo residence, at Pedris Lane. I was thinking of doing my post-graduate research on the left movement at that time. When we were discussing this matter, among other things, and I asked him critically: ‘Is it not correct to say that the LSSP itself has succumbed to these fears?’ His answer smiling was: ‘You know, most of our comrades also suffer from these fears.’ It is still true of the remaining old LSSP today, and the traditional left movement in general.
Roots of fear
All ‘fears’ or concerns cannot be totally discounted. As a small island nation, it is true that Sri Lanka is vulnerable to immense international and other pressures. That is what a national leadership for; to prevent, counter and manage these pressures. But instead, if the leaders and their advocates themselves promote these fears among the masses, that is the prescription for a ‘defeatist nation’ instead of a confident and a vibrant one.
H.L.D. Mahindapala in a response to my article, ‘Is there a “Sangha State” behind the State’ (10 July), says the following. “His objections, as I understand it, are to Sinhala-Buddhist politics which oppose the disproportionate demands manufactured in the thirties and forties by the two intransigent racist gang-leaders, Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam.”
His ‘understanding’ is completely wrong.
My objections (or rather exposure) were to the BBS’ fascist politics and its justification by the Asgiriya Mahanayake Theras followed by the all three Nikayas. Mahindapala is still living in the thirties and forties with Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam!
This is a common ailment. Sri Lankan armed forces defeated the LTTE in May 2009. But even thereafter, many of the Rajapaksa leaders and advocates continuously suffered from the LTTE fear without any foundation. That is why they terribly failed to take the next step for national reconciliation with the Tamil people. It was not merely the fear of the ‘international,’ but also the fear of the ‘internal,’ the minorities. They couldn’t understand the new stage. They continuously lived in the old conditions, at least mentally. I know this for sure, as I was somewhat close to them that time.
It was not that that the issues of security could easily be discounted, just because of the defeat of the LTTE. But there should have been some proportionality and realism. The new risks were not the same as before. They won, but they felt that they lost!
This was not only a Rajapaksa ailment. The failures of the political leaderships since independence to forge a united Sri Lankan nation, on the lines of a civic nation or civic nationalism, were at the core of this ‘defeatist’ and ‘defensive’ politics. There was no iota of optimism or self-confidence. They go too much into history, without a vision and confidence for the future. The minority, and particularly of the Northern Tamil leaders, also suffer from this ailment in multiple ways and my focus in this article is on the Sinhala leaders and their henchman advocates.
When you look around the world, most of the conflicts, or their reasons, are more of imagined than real. This is also one reason why a dangerous armed race (now a nuclear race) is conducted with colossal financial expenses and fatal risks, while thousands and thousands in the world’s poor suffer from hunger, malnutrition and disease.
In rare cases, there are/were minorities controlling the majorities. Apartheid South Africa was one example. However, after the political change and defeat of Apartheid, the South African Black leaders are managing the country with confidence. There are no traces of ‘minority complex’ among the South African leaders.
Sri Lanka is not alone!
Of course, Sri Lanka is not alone. The closest ‘friend’ in this case is Zionist Israel. The way they cultivate the ‘minority complex’ is very much similar to what the Sri Lankan propagandists, like HLD Mahindapala, do in our country. Therefore, the Maha Sangha should not be blamed solely. The blame should go to these propagandists also.
Nissim Rejwan (‘Issrael’s Years of Bogus Grandeur,’ 2006) succinctly puts this ‘minority complex’ in Israel on three counts. First, as they feel, when the world is divided into Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews), then the Jews are of course a minority. This is also similar to what is perceived in Sri Lanka on religious grounds. The Buddhists are the majority in Sri Lanka (70%), but a small minority in the world (7%).
Second, when the Jewish situation is perceived in the Middle East, they remain a tiny minority in a sea of Arab nationals. This is similar to the most prominent comparison given in Sri Lanka as Leslie Goonewardene did. When the Sinhalese are compared to the South Indian Tamils (not to speak of others), it is a minority.
Third, in the case of Israel, in a narrow cultural or culturist terms, Rejwan also said, the Zionists also feel a minority among the other Jewish communities. This is in a sense also the case of the Sinhalese, because many of them readily accept their mixed ancestry/ancestries. Therefore, the ‘pure Sinhalese’ also feel a minority among the Sinhalese, although they may be the most ‘mixed’ in the actual sense. If you are in a mixed marriage, perhaps by accident, then this feeling is doubly accelerated.
Even otherwise, there is a third dimension to the Sinhala ‘minority complex’ in the north and the east. This majority-minority complex is a common bane among the Tamils as well. The whole homeland concept rests on acquiring a majority status. In areas where they are dominant, they also want to discriminate the Sinhalese or the Muslims on this basis.
The solution to this bizarre majority-minority syndrome is to perceive that we all live in a pluralist, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies. This is the case in Sri Lanka, as well as in other countries. As Amartya Sen succinctly illustrated (‘Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny’), people have multiple plural identities and not only ethnicity or religion; or only majority-minority identity. Before the exact population counts were available in Sri Lanka, there were not much complex or conflicts based on majority-minority or ethnic lines. People used to mix quite freely beyond ethnicity or religion. Historically, Sri Lankan society was largely a product of this mix, until the ethno-minded leaders came to disrupt the situation and use these fears and feelings for their power politics.
Fear mongering about the minorities is mostly a political project than a real concern among the people. It is promoted by paid and unpaid advocates of power hungry, mostly defeated political leaders. Only occasionally, the public is carried away by these fears and propaganda.
The justification for the 18th Amendment was based on the argument that Sri Lanka needs a strong and a continuous presidency in the face of threats and risks. It was on that basis that the January 2015 presidential election was held, even two years before, to end up in a pathetic defeat. It was believed that ‘the majority of the majority’ was sufficient to win an election, neglecting the ‘minority’ concerns. That argument also terribly failed.
After the presidential elections, the fear mongering was accelerated to win the parliamentary elections in August in the same year. The much-hyped Nugegoda rally, to ‘rise up with Mahinda’ (Mahinda Samaga Nagitimu) was particularly aimed at this end. However, the parliamentary election results clearly show that the Sinhala people could not be swayed by those fears alone. The voters moved more towards a ‘majority-minority or a multiple alliance,’ while the SLFP itself breaking up into two on the same and other issues. This was a major progress from the old ‘1956 SLFP.’
If there is any reasonable and a general formula for winning elections, even in the future, that is not about ‘majority of the majority,’ but about ‘majority-minority or multiple alliance/s’ under a rational political platform. However, the propagandists, like Mahindapala, are still waving the old formula of fear mongering about the minorities or the international actors. This is the gist of his Response to me on the ‘Sangha State’ question. If I may just ignore his customary invectives, the three cases that he has cited amply demonstrate his propensity to carry on with this fear mongering among the Sinhala people.
He says, “I shall select only three instances [cases] to test the validity of his [my] argument.” What are they? Let me quote his first case in full.
“Case 1: When the anti-conversion bill was presented the American Government of Bush, a committed Evangelist, forced his will on Chandrika Bandaranaike’s Government to reject it. Now which state was running CBK’s state?”
He is not giving the time frame or the context for his spurious case. This was October 2005, although a bill was initially presented in June to circumvent a more stringent bill from the JHU. Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Prime Minister of the Chandrika Bandaranaike government that Mahindapala talks about. Let us forget about that. But MR became the President after the elections on 17 November. What happened to him and the bill, thereafter? Was the American Government also running the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government as well on the interests of the Evangelical groups? Mahindapala is mum about this latter part of the history.
In his response, he has not quoted me at all, except running away with my thought-provoking question in the title! His argument is that, if my question is valid, then his cases are also valid. But in my case, I have given ample evidence not only quoting the Mahanayake Theras’ statement, but also the Asgiriya one, quite extensively. But what he has actually done is the propagation of the usual ‘minority complex’ and the ‘international phobia.’ His second case is about ‘Islamophobia.’ And the third one is more spurious, finding NGO ‘reds under every bed.’ There is no further point in answering him.