Independence & Dependent Leaders

"Who is responsible for the overall situation in the country? The British and the other European nations that ruled us should undoubtedly take the bigger share. However, can the Sinhalas, especially the Sinhala Buddhists say they have no responsibility at all in the matter. We are in this position because the Sinhalas cannot speak with one voice on most of the issues."

by Nalin de Silva

(This article was written by the author in 2002 also views expressed are his own)

(February 04, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) When will Sri Lanka be independent? There are many people who think that in 1948 we had a head start compared to most countries in Asia and Africa and that many countries wanted to follow our example. However fifty six years after February 1948 we are trying to follow everybody else without knowing where we are going or what we need. In 1948 we had a University that was supposed to be in good shape and soon after some newly established universities in our region wanted the expertise of some of our academics to direct their faculties. I do not know whether Indonesia had world famous Universities or academics by then but today we have to depend on Indonesian experts to obtain funds from the world bank to "develop" our universities. We were supposed to have a good civil service fifty years ago but today the administrative service has been politicised so much that it is neither civil nor a service to the public.

The country is going through a grave crisis. There are so many upavasas and strikes in the public sector that nobody knows for certain whether the employees in a given department are on strike or not. There is no government today even with respect to administration. We have never had a government with respect to affairs of the state. The state media are controlled by the President, who though supposed to be part of the government and the head of the state, plays the role of the leader of the opposition. Thus we find the state media giving prominence to the opposition, and criticising the ministers other than the President who is supposed to be the head of the cabinet. On the other hand the Leader of the Opposition behaved until recently as if he was in the government.

The "government" in spite of the mandate that they claim to have received from the people, appears to have lost its writ. The armed forces are commanded by the President and since the day she took over the three ministries the "government" has begun to collapse. The Prime Minister more than anybody else knows the gravity of the situation, not as far as the country is concerned, but as far as the "government" is concerned, and has been agitating to get back those three ministries. He may say that the so-called peace process cannot continue without the three ministries but what he means is that the "government" cannot continue without them. The writing is on the wall and the people know that the "government", at present, does not have even the "powers" of a Pradeshiya Sabha.

The privatisation or the so called peoplisation that was begun with much enthusiasm with advice given from various quarters to the "governments" is coming to a grinding halt. The latest in the privatisation chain is the university and the college system. There is a draft bill to privatise the higher education in the country and the university academics are busy in studying the bill. If the bill becomes an act of Parliament the state Universities in the so called south, with faculties of Arts and Science would become the poor relations in the system within ten years, with the world bank funding private institutions and some pet state universities of the "planners", whoever they may be, the latter institutes most probably ending up as colleges of technology. The bill has to be read in conjunction with the "proposals" called for World Bank funding, in order to understand the seriousness of the problem. However, the bill will not see the light of the day if the Railway employees succeed in their struggle against privatisation of the railways in Sri Lanka.

Who is responsible for the overall situation in the country? The British and the other European nations that ruled us should undoubtedly take the bigger share. However, can the Sinhalas, especially the Sinhala Buddhists say they have no responsibility at all in the matter. We are in this position because the Sinhalas cannot speak with one voice on most of the issues. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the so-called leaders, political, intellectual, social and other, of the Sinhalas are not independent of the non national forces that operate in the country. Even some of their religious leaders have been bought by the non national forces and the Sinhala masses are without leaders in many spheres as the so called leaders have been given to them by the westerners and other non national forces. The Sinhala masses do not believe in these so-called leaders but at the same time have not been able to produce their own leaders.

We are in this mess not because of the Tamil racist problem or the exclusive principle adopted by the Sinhalas as claimed by the NGO "intellectuals" who are paid for repeating what the west likes to hear. The railway strike and the upavasa by the workers in the health sector and by the farmers are not consequences of the Tamil racist problem though they stem from the same cause of following theories as formulated by the west. It is neither a problem due to the monolingual deficiencies of the "educated" youth among the Sinhalas. For most part of the fifty six years since 1948, except during the time when Mr. Premadasa was the President (Mr. Wijetunga was only a stop gap), and even before, from the Legislative Assembly days through the State Council, it is the English educated elite that have "ruled" us. If the monolingual Sinhala educated had "ruled" the country, then we would have seen a plethora of "profound theses" accepted by "prestigious international bodies" written on the need for a knowledge of English for the "rulers" of the country. Our problems arise from the fact that we are the worst imitators of the west whether in economics, politics or cultural activities. If those who have "ruled" the country for the last fifty six years were monolingual then they were so not due to a lack of knowledge of English but because they spoke in Sinhala only when they addressed their "ayas". How many countries have adopted policies dictated by the world bank and the IMF more vigorously than us? How many original concepts and theories have come from the so called English educated "intellectuals" in this country?

There are some among these "intellectuals" who think of "Jathika Chinthanaya" as a Sinhala racist reaction against the "Tamil nationalism". Even that is not their original thinking as it is what they see when they look at the world through the western spectacles. The concept of "Jathika Chinthanaya" had to emerge in Sri Lanka and not in any other country as we had the worst imitators in the world. I must admit that even "Jathika Chinthanaya" was influenced by the imitative thinking of the "intellectuals" in the early stages. The "Jathika Chinthanaya" had wanted to adopt Marxism as its "ideology" as revealed by the writings of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera in the late seventies and the eighties. As one of the imitators of western Mathematics, Science and Marxism in the seventies and early eighties, I remember criticising the works such as "Anagarika Dharmapala Marxvadeeda", "Ek Asathya Kathavak" and "Premaye Sathya Kathava" of Dr. Amarasekera for attempting to dilute Marxism by proposing collaborative action with the indigenous petty bourgeoisie. I did not write "Mage Lokaya" in eighty six against Tamil racism. It was basically against the so called objectivity and objective reality, and introduced a philosophy on relativity of knowledge without any absolute knowledge as such. The philosophy introduced was called constructive relativism (nirmanathmaka sapekshthavadaya) as it was on creating relative knowledge from "nothing" or "shunya", due to "avijja", without making "shunya" a "shunyathava" (or "anathma" an "anathmathava" or "anithya" an "anithyathava") as in the case of "Madhyamikavada" of Ven. Nagarjuna Thera. "Mage Lokaya" introduced and emphasised the fact that knowledge is relative to the sense organs, culture and mind, and is created by people due to "avijja" of "anicca, dukka, anathma".

It is true that we in the "Jathika Chinthanaya" movement have our own concepts and theories on Tamil racism, but then we have our own knowledge of so many other things including western science, epistemology, modernism, postmodernism etc. The "intellectuals" conveniently ignore these and identify "Jathika Chinthanaya" with "Sinhala Chauvinism".

Coming back to privatisation we consider that as a natural development in economics that began with the emergence of Greek Judaic Christian (GJC) Chinthanaya, as against the medieval European Catholic Chinthanaya, in the fifteenth century. Consumerism is part of this Chinthanaya and we could analyse how the western universities evolved as the west changed from the medieval Catholic Chinthanaya to the GJC Chinthanaya. The holistic concept of a university as an integrated whole of faculties is no more and the faculties have been encouraged to take the place of the universities. As the west changed from Catholic Chinthanaya to GJC Chinthanaya, which incidentally incorporates aspects of "The Protestant Ethic" as described by Weber, the education became an investment or a ladder to achieve social status. The education in general and the universities in particular have disintegrated in a holistic sense in the west in the process, and the world bank and the Indonesian "experts" want us to accelerate the collapse of the universities in Sri Lanka in favour of so called information technology institutes or schools. The end result will be an increase of "graduates" who could only imitate and not think. It should be noted that Western Europe has not produced many profound thinkers in the last few centuries, but they have been able to buy the thinkers from the Eastern European countries whose culture is based on the Greek Orthodox Chinthanaya. The GJC Chinthanaya encourages tinkers and not thinkers.

The education that we received from the British was in a transitional stage from what was based on the Catholic Chinthanaya to that based on the GJC Chinthanaya. We never inherited anything from the educational tradition of the Mahavihara and we were mere imitators from the word go. We could not be independent of the knowledge created in the west and to date we are governed by the west not through so much of political power but through their knowledge. Colebrooke Cameron "reforms" made sure that our elite were alienated from our tradition and after 1848 freedom struggle the British were confident that we would get our "leaders" from the products of the education system that they implanted here. Our "leaders" were appointed by the British for us and we have not yet found a way of selecting our own leaders. A new education is required to produce "our own leaders" and we would be independent the day we produce them.

(Professor Nalin de Silva is a Sri Lankan theoretical physicist, philosopher and a political analyst. He is a Professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.)