Feature Article

Fundamentalism versus totalitarianism in Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Saturday, 20 February 2010, 03:22 GMT]
Religious fundamentalism and state totalitarianism, which contribute to each other in the island of Sri Lanka is now at loggerheads, when state totalitarianism wants to have complete reins over the other, is the interpretation of a leftist academic in Colombo over the Maha Sangha controversy this week. Meanwhile, BBC Sinhala reported Friday, that "the main opposition in Sri Lanka has accused the government of violating the constitution by trying to destroy the Theravada Buddhism in the island."

The Buddhist prelates of the four chapters in the island, the Malwatte, Asgiriya, Amarapura and Ramanna chapters, were supposed to hold a convention on Thursday at the traditional convention hall Mahaa-ma'luva in the Dalada Maligawa premises in Kandy.

The convention was supposed to discuss the current volatile political situation arising as a consequence of the division within the dominant ruling class, the Sinhala Buddhists.

The prelates were prompted to call for the convention after bitter division in the dominant class manifested into the arrest of the defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka.

The convention was cancelled on Tuesday by an announcement from a section of the conveners, citing the security of monk participants and devotees attending the event.

Only the prelates of two of the chapters, Malwatte and Asgiriya, signed the cancellation announcement of the convention.

The prelates of Amarapura and Ramanna chapters, the monks of which are minorities in number, but represent non-govigama sections of Sinhala Buddhists, didn't sign the cancellation announcement.

Sinhala Buddhists of the govigama caste (landlords or cultivators) only can become monks in the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters, which account for nearly 70 percent of the monks in the island.

Sinhala news analysts in Colombo have already written much on how polarization along caste lines among Sinhalese played a role in deciding winner and loser in the last presidential election.

The ruling party's hands on the Maha Sangha and the anxiety of the Opposition over the cancellation of the convention were evident when the UNP on Wednesday accused two deputy ministers of the Rajapaksa government of intimidating the prelates of the four chapters to postpone the convention.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe alleged Friday that the prelate of the main Malwatte chapter of the Maha Sangha, Most Ven. Thibbotuvave Sri Sumangala thero, had been threatened by some leading fellow monks to take a decision for the cancellation of the convention.

The Buddhist monks had warned the prelate that they would divide the Malwatte chapter if the convention had not been called off, the opposition leader said, according to BBC Sinhala on Friday.

Ranil Wickramasinghe also alleged that the state was sponsoring the division in the main chapter and was violating the constitution in its attempt to create a new chapter.

"Buddhist monks were threatened; they were told they would be bombed if they convened to Kandy," Mr. Wickramasinghe told BBC Sinhala.

In the entire political history of the island over a century, both the Sinhala ruling class and the Maha Sangha, were steadfastly united in not recognising the nation of Eelam Tamils and in not conceding any rights to minorities.

Every attempt of political solution since 1950s were thwarted through ingenious collaboration of the Maha Sangha and the Sinhala politicians. Nobody expects this equation to change, Tamil circles said.

However, an emerging scenario today is the need of the State, endorsed of its totalitarianism in the elections, to bring the religious institutions under its total control.

'True totalitarianism' could set in only when it controls everything. One of the first acts of Mussolini in power was the Lateran Treaty, silencing the Pope.

 

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