Feature Article

Sinhala nationalists vow to oppose west, 'neo colonialism'

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 02 March 2005, 16:59 GMT]
Sinhala nationalists Wednesday declared 2 March as national ‘Anti-neo-colonialism Day’ at a rally to mark to commemorate Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala, the Buddhist monk who pulled down the Union Jack and hoisted the Sinhala lion flag 190 years ago. A widely publicized rally to mark the day was organized in Colombo by Patriotic National Movement (PNM), an alliance of Sinhala nationalists formed and backed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s main coalition ally, Janatha Vimukthi Permamuna (JVP).

Anti Colonial Day
Child monks laying flowers at the feet of Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala's statue

Hundred of monks, child monks, JVPers and members of various Sinhala nationalist groups took part in the rally at the open air theatre in Vihara Maha Devi Park in Colombo Wednesday.

The participants led by JVP strongman Wimal Weeranwansa laid flowers at the feet of a large Papier-mâché statue of Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala Thero standing on a trampled the Union Jack.

Buddhist monks demonstrate in Colombo
TamilNet Library Photo
The image is particularly meaningful at this juncture when the JVP and its minor Sinhala nationalist allies are decrying Norway and most western nations that support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka for allegedly scheming to destroy the sovereignty of the Sinhala people in favour of the Tamil Tigers.

JVP/PNM and other Sinhala Buddhist nationalists have often burnt Norway’s national flag in the past to show their opposition to what they call the “neo-colonialist conspiracy to divide Sri Lanka”.

The founder of the JVP, the charismatic Mr. Rohana Wijeweera, argued in a report to the party’s central committee in 1986 that the Tamil liberation movement in Sri Lanka is part of a larger “American imperialist plot” to break up India and thereby destroy the cause of socialism in South Asia.

The report in Sinhala is the JVP’s bible today.

Sri Lankan flag
Sri Lankan flag
Mr. Weerawansa and a lesser known Sinhala Buddhist monk leader hoisted the Sri Lankan Lion flag and a newly designed ‘Anti-Colonial’ flag inscribed with a stylized face of a lion holding a sword.

However, Ven. Elle Gunawansa, the leader of the PNM and Mr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, its General Secretary were not present.

March 2 is also remembered as the day on which Sinhala chieftains signed the Kandyan Convention, ceding sovereignty to the British. In a special feature in the ‘Daily Mirror’ (published from Colombo) to mark the day, the writer says “On March 2, 1815 the Singhalese who remained independent for 2357 years lost the Kandyan territory without a single shot being fired. How did this happen?”

This reflects the general Sinhala nationalist mood in the island today, underpinned by anxieties that their culture, society, tradition and above all their sovereignty are being inexorably undermined by the forces of “neo-colonialism”.

Dr. Nalin de Silva, a leading Sinhala nationalist ideologue, wrote in his column to the ‘Island’ paper on Wednesday “The harm that the western Christian education done (sic) to this country has not been studied properly”.

A poster for the rally in Colombo
Anti Colonial Day
Anti Colonial Day
Anti Colonial Day
JVP has been successful in drawing a wide cross section of Sinhala nationalists to its fold through the PNM in recent years.

The JVP/PNM campaign that blames meddling by western countries, World Bank and the IMF for the economic woes of Sri Lanka strikes a chord among the Sinhala rural poor, hit hard over the years by withdrawal of agricultural subsidies and the negatively fluctuating price of rice.

JVP/PNM also play on traditional apprehensions of Sinhala Buddhists that the West is bent on destroying their culture and way of life by accusing foreign NGOs of representing a ‘Western Christian Conspiracy’ to undermine Sinhala sovereignty.

Addressing the ‘Anti-Neo Colonial Day’ rally Wednesday Mr. Wimal Weerawnasa lashed out at western NGOs of conspiring to divide the island. He said that western neo-colonial powers and their NGOs attempted to create a separate state for the Tamils in Sri Lanka through Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party government.

He asserted that the western NGOs in Sri Lanka are still involved in the conspiracy to divide the country.

The PNM campaign against what it brands as western hybrid culture and values combined with the JVP’s strident opposition to the economic policies promoted the World Bank and IMF in Sri Lanka are embarrassing President Kumaratunga’s government, which is heavily dependent on western aid, and are eroding her party’s traditional standing among the Singhalese as the champion of their national interests.

The JVP attacks opposition leader Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new “Don Juan Dharmapala”, the first Sinhala king to convert to Christianity in the sixteenth century. The connotation is deliberate and is not lost on the Sinhala masses that are not unaware of the ex-Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s Catholic background.

JVP has sought to persistently destroy his image and prestige as a leader of Sinhala Buddhists by portraying him as a lackey of “American neo-imperialism”.

However, the JVP/PNM campaign to stir mass Sinhala Buddhist nationalist sentiments has larger implications not only for Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party but also for President Kumaratunga and her Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), founded by her father Mr. Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Banadaranaike.

SLFP came to power in 1956 by stirring up the rural Sinhala Buddhist middle classes and farmers, long neglected under British rule, promising to empower them politically.

Anti Colonial Day

Since then these classes have been the main support base of the SLFP, which sustained their allegiance by sticking to an anti-western ideology, aligning itself with the Soviet Bloc and China.

Despite the passage of four decades these classes still constitute a significant segment of the Sinhala voting population.

JVP/PNM wants to ultimately break the SLFP hold on them completely by impressing Sinhala Buddhists that they (JVP) are the true sons of the soil, untainted by colonial or Christian links.

President Kumaratunga’s SLFP and Mr. Ranil Wickremesighe’s UNP can do little to counter the JVP’s strategy- haunted by the pro-colonial histories of their dynasties and handicapped by western economic aid on which they have to depend today.

JVP knows that the House of Bandaranaike that once claimed descent from a South Indian Tamil called Neelaperumal and acquired its wealth and prestige by loyally serving the British cannot honestly celebrate the glories of Sinhala nationalism and salute the defiance of Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala who pulled down and trampled on the flag of the British Empire.

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