Midweek Review
‘Sihala Urumaya’ and the Sinhala nation: A reply to Kamalika Pieris

by Malinda Seneviratne
In writing the political there is a thing called "opportune moment". Today, when the people are being baton-charged by a number of social and economic problems, and when these issues are etched in black and white in our lived experience on a daily basis, it seems rather strange that Kamalika Pieris finds it urgent to attack the Sihala Urumaya (SU). (viz. Sihala Urumaya and the Sinhala Nation, The Island of August 2, 2001). It is doubly puzzling because she is saying nothing new, just spewing out venom that less enlightened and more vitriolic creatures such as Citizen-D, Walter Jayawardhana and the team of Lake House sycophants have already spouted. I would have thought that Kamalika, who has been a longtime crusader against Eelam myth-making could have come up with something more relevant to these tyrannical times, or at least have got her facts straight.

I was a founder member of the Janatha Mithuro and a close associate of the chief "villains" of the SU (according to Kamalika), Champika Ranawaka and Rev. Athureliye Rathana, the former for 11 years and the latter for over 15 years. For me, the Sihala Urumaya is an important political project given the rampant racist minoritarianism that is playing pandu with democracy and peace in this country. My politics, however, go beyond the confines of the narrow equations of power politics. The SU, therefore, is a necessary but not sufficient thrust in restoring peace and rebuilding civilisation in our torn nation. Elaboration on that particular statement is another article altogether.

Here I will examine Kamalika’s main "points". I do this for just one reason. Simply, I agree with her when she says "The story of the SU and NMAT (National Movement Against Terrorism) is useful because it has brought before the Sinhala enthusiasts several new and important words: infiltrator, paid agent, and saboteur". The insinuation of course is that these epithets suit people like Champika and Rev. Rathana. On this, however, I disagree. So let me fill in Kamalika, other detractors of the SU and NMAT as well as the readers of the Island on some history. This is necessary because there are far too many fabrications in her story, not to mention the fact that her sources are outrageously dubious.

For the last two decades, Sinhala nationalists have been mooting the idea of forming a Sinhala party. Although many popular figured emerged to talk about and write about the Sinhala people, their history and the injustices suffered by the Sinhalese, they were not successful in creating a viable political organisation for the Sinhalese. In 1981, the Sinhala Bala Mandalaya was formed, but in the face of UNP attacks (on people like Sarachchandra, Rev. Sobitha, Siri Perera and Prins Gunasekera) it faded away. Most of its chief activists ended up helping the SLFP candidate at the 1982 Presidential election.

The Maubima Surekeeme Vyaparaya, which emerged with the 13th Amendment to the constitution and the setting up of provincial councils was a victim of the power struggle between the SLFP and the JVP. The Sinhala leaders were unable to make it into a strong Sinhala party. People like Susantha Goonatileke and Rev. Muruttetuwe Ananda began supporting the JVP while Rev. Bengamuwe Nalaka and others moved over to the SLFP. Finally, the old hunger for power resulted in tens of thousands of young people and bikkhus falling victim to State terror and the terror unleashed by the JVP.

Later there was an attempt to use the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) as the vehicle of the Sinhala people. S.L. Gunasekera was on the MEP national list during the 1994 election. After the electoral defeat no one wanted to start afresh. This is how the re-organised JVP managed to squeeze into political contention once again.

While the self-appointed spokespersons for the Sinhala heritage became happily enmeshed in the UNP and the PA, other organisations emerged. The Jathika Sangha Sabhava, which was formed in 1995, was one such organisation. Rev. Maduluwave Sobitha was the popular leader of this movement. The brunt of the organisational work, however, was done by Rev. Athureliye Rathana, Rev. Hedigalle Wimalasara, Rev. Middeniye Wimalarathana and other dedicated and energetic young bikkhus. These three bikkhus all hold degrees and higher degrees in philosophy. More than that, they are among the handful of Buddhist monks who have dedicated their lives to building the nation. Rev. Rajawatte Vappa, Rev. Udahamulle Sirivimala and Rev. Mawelle Suguna were the elder monks of the movement. Of them all, it is Rev. Rathana that I am most qualified to speak ok. He is endowed with the most political mind I have encountered. In addition, he is well versed in the dhamma. He is unblemished in his commitment to build a better social order.

The next organisation that is of import to the nationalist cause is the Sinhala Veera Vidahana. Starting as a commercial organisation, the SVV soon became a politically committed national movement, laying an organisational network all over the island. More than 30 SVV activists contested under the SU symbol during the last election. Such was its commitment to building a truly Sinhala political party.

It is true that SL and others have done a lot of work in areas where Sinhalese live under the threat of LTTE attacks and have helped the armed forces in various ways. The fact remains that the SU received only 104 votes from the Wanni District and just 3 votes from Weli Oya, areas which were frequently toured by SL and Col. Anil Amarasekera. In contrast, NMAT activists campaigned and secured some 300 plus votes in the Jaffna district, more than the JVP did. Now what does this say about the political capabilities of the respective groups when it comes to elections?

According to Kamalika, the NMAT is guilty of undermining the SU election campaign. She forgets that SL and his friends constituted the majority of the SU Central Committee during this time. Surely they could have taken some corrective steps? If they didn’t, or they couldn’t, doesn’t it tell something of their skills when engaging in party politics? There is no place for "gullibles" in politics (Kamalika’s choice of description, not mine!). Furthermore, the charges that Kamalika levels against the NMAT in this regard are based on unadulterated fiction or at best extrapolated from random, unconnected incidents or statements.

SL is not made for political parties. His skills are wasted in such organisations. His greatest contributions have been elsewhere, as a writer and a spokesperson .

Kamalika insinuates that the NMAT did nothing in the conflict areas and for the security forces. Perhaps Kamalika should inquire from the Army headquarters about the contributions of the NMAT to the defense of this country. During the attacks on Kilinochchi, Wanni, and Elephant Pass, the NMAT sent supplies to the army. When the forces were retreating from the Wanni, the NMAT went from bunker to bunker in the north, in conjunction with the Army’s Psychological Operations Unit, giving heart to the demoralised soldiers. Clearly, it was the NMAT that provided the youthfulness, the sacrifice and the energy necessary for any national movement.

Kamalika says that according to Nalin de Silva, it was Susantha Goonetileke who initiated moves to launch the NMAT. It was Champika, Shivanthimala de Silva and others whose patriotism has been deemed insufferable by many quarters who laid the foundation for the NMAT.

Susantha Goonetileke’s academic credentials are not being questioned here. In fact I have learnt much from him. Be that as it may, Susantha’s political history does not a pretty picture make. He seems to have made a habit of moving in and out of nationalist organisations. Kamalika is very quiet about Susantha’s close connections with the JVP between 1987 and 1989. His flirtation with the NMAT is similar. For once he was confronted with a set of determined young men and women who were not easily swayed by his academic credentials. The moment he realised he couldn’t have things his way, he began villifying its leadership. Not new. Kamalika’s problematic piece certainly bears Susantha’s political signature. I am sure she could have done better.

I am happy that Kamalika has mentioned the Janatha Mithuro (JM). All the slander pertaining to the JM is but a creative construct of Walter Jayawardhana about whose academic and political credentials Kamalika chooses to be silent. The JM was the first Sri Lankan political organisation that took up the question of green politics. The issues raised by the JM have been picked up by other political parties since. Kamalika repeats the Goebelsian myth propounded by people like Jayawardhana, about the JM wanting the army out of Jaffna. Meticulous researcher that she is, Kamalika should visit the National Archives and peruse copies of the official organ of the JM, Janatha Asipatha. Here are some of the headlines during the times mentioned: (I give the English translation) "No to fraudulent political solutions, onward with the battle to defeat the Tigers"; "Defeat terrorism in the North, just as the UNP terrorism was defeated in the South"; "LTTE in massive military buildup-the entire country a Visala Nuware," the last being a warning before the peace negotiations were about to break down.

About certain JM members working for GL and Mangala, all I need to say is that there were followers of Lord Buddha who turned against him. Jesus had Judas betraying him. Does that take anything away from their greatness? Kamalika should know that it was the JM that ferreted out and revealed Chandrika’s devious "Package" plans in 1995, thereby foiling their moves to give into Eelamists’ demands. The JM did not work for Mangala or anyone in the PA during the 1994 elections. We campaigned to defeat the UNP. It was not possible to work for the PA even if we wanted to, for the PA was the most disorganised and ill-disciplined party in the opposition. The Ratavesi Peramuna was launched due to the untiring efforts of Champika and Rev. Rathana. Yes, Mangala and SB were members of this broad democratic front, but isn’t it telling they were not among the people who were arrested and beaten up in Wadduwa in 1992? We did nothing for these politicians. They did nothing for us.

The SU was not the political brainchild of S.L. Gunasekera. The youthful activists of the NMAT, and the true Sinhalese of the Jathika Sangha Sabhava and the SVV formed the core of the SU and it gelled together as a result of Thilak Karunaratne sacrificing his parliamentary seat. SL was but an invitee and it is the political immaturity of Champika and others that allowed SL to get his friends into the Central Committee and have virtual control of the party. And they paid the price for this. Isn’t it enough that they have bounced back and are moving forward in the midst of vituperative attacks from Eelamists and the Lake House? Their impact on the Sri Lankan polity can be measured by the fact that all the main political parties, JVP included, have been falling over each other to be more "Sinhala" than the rest.

Kamalika says that it was SL’s popularity that boosted the SU’s chances at the last elections. Far from true, lady. Of all the votes that the SU received in the Colombo district, Champika got 75% of the preference votes, SL securing only 55%. In Borella, Kotte, Maharagama, Colombo East, Colombo West and Dehiwala, where one can expect to find the bulk of the professional population, Champika got over 80%. SL’s appointment as the sole SU member in parliament was opposed by 241 of the 262 candidates, and these included the candidates put forward by the Kithu Dana Pubuduwa from the Gampaha District. Champika’s appointment was ratified by the party’s National Convention, in contrast. In short, the political intrigue within the SU and the NMAT that Kamalika speaks of is nothing more than conjecture.

Kamalika has problems with Champika’s academic credentials. What were Martin Wickramasinghe’s and Einstein’s academic credentials, one can ask. And what have people like G.L. Peiris, with impeccable academic records, done for this country? If the intellectual worth of a person is to be ascertained, one should read what the person has written. Let Kamalika or anyone else take up Champika’s extensive writing and critique it. Better still, take him on in debate. Any takers?

Kamalika says "we can forget about these branches" commenting on a fax sent to one of the SU branches abroad, where the word "cheap" was spelled "cheep". Now that was a cheap shot madam. Sure, the NMAT boys and girls did not have the stellar education that some of your paid-agent-saboteur-infiltrator anti-SU friends may have had. But they do know what is of worth and what is not.

Many were there were pundits who predicted the imminent demise of the SU after SL’s resignation. Many were overjoyed by the internal problems of the party. Among these were Eelamists and PA loyalists. If one were to follow Kamalika’s logic, this would make her a supporter of Prabhakaran. It would make Susantha too an Eelamist. But politics is not that neat. For me, SL, Kamalika and Susantha have contributed much to the Sinhala cause and I am hopeful they will continue to do so. Selective "evidence", malicious utterings and hearsay don’t hold any water in intellectual debate and Kamalika if anyone should understand this. A bit more rigor and a little less malice might do much for all of us.