By Chrishmal Warnasuriya
Introduction – Politics as the science of attaining “power”:
The first lessons taught to any student of the science of politics almost invariably includes a reference to the 16th century Florentine philosopher Machiavelli and his celebrated thesis, “the Prince“; where his principle line of argument revolves on the attainment of “power” as the means of securing all other political ends. In later years the French scientist Jean Bodin attributes a name to this, identifying it as “sovereign power” upon which all political authority vests, which in the subsequent century fellow Frenchman, lawyer and philosopher Baron Montesquieu further splits or “separates” into three units; as (a) Legislative (b) Executive and (c) Judicial sovereign power, upon which all governments are institutionalized. Coincidentally in one of his 17th century works the latter propounds that “there is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice”. Although in the subsequent century English law professors like Dicey postulate a theory (looking at their Monarchy and the power of the “Commons”) that elevates Parliament (or the Legislature) as the Supreme power of these three sovereign institutions, such a “supremacy” does not exist in a Constitutional Democracy like Sri Lanka; in our country the Constitution is supreme and we are all subject to the Rule of Law equally.
Now therefore the following must only be read, at least for the moment as a hypothesis, a possible scenario that may very well be one of many probable reasons as to why we are seeing, what we are seeing in our society at present; a theory only, not factually based on any real evidence that is in my possession but an attempt to explain this sudden resurgence of religious autonomy amongst many of us, identifying ourselves staunchly as Buddhists, Islamists or Christians and pointing fingers at other Sri Lankans not of that same religious persuasion; this is only an attempt to propound a theory as to why!
The Pursuit of “Political Power” in the World Today:
Retaining the above explanation of the science of political theory as a means of securing sovereign power in our minds, let us now assimilate as to how in the 21st century nations go about securing it. There is obviously what we see domestically (or the overt acts) such as a political party system or more preferably individual based campaigning as we see in the “new France” of “local persons” endemic to the domestic political fabric in competition at periodic elections (or the absence thereof, like here in Sri Lanka), resulting in a change of ruling regime or the continuation of an existing one; based upon who secures a majority will of the masses, which we may broadly define as a democracy.
However is it really that simple in today’s world? Is political victory at an election (or even otherwise) purely the result of Peoples majority will; that is it only the majority will of a nation-state that ends up securing its sovereign Executive or Legislative power? I should like to venture a theory that it is not.
Particularly in the present context of global trading and inter-dependant economies it would only be a naïve assumption that only the domestic will of a population ultimately decides a victory or defeat; what of massive party funding or the several global players that pump-in millions to every such election? Is there really no co-relation to the subsequent trade and commercial agreements that successive governments enter upon assuming political power with the process of such persons or party competing for such political office? What of “strategic interests” of the global powers (wherever they may emanate from), be it India, China or other such new economic powers or the more traditional “West” like European powers or the USA or even the former socialist bloc (with hardly any difference at present); do they really have no “interest” in who or which alliance attains or remains in power domestically?
If indeed we are to agree, that it would be naïve to assume that such “foreign interests” had no part to play in the assumption of political power in a country domestically, then we must also agree that such “forces” do not engage in the process directly, for fear of intimidating the concept of sovereignty or territorial integrity of free nation states (if we are truly so “free” – which in itself is a paradox, but best left for another discussion); then they must operate either through or against individuals or groups operating in the local political fabric with the masses, be they be political parties or individuals, religious groups or institutions or other such pressure groups like NGO’s or civil society organizations, through which or whom such “extra territorial interest” would try to attain their domestic political gain.
It is in this train of thought that I should like us to engage at this present juncture.
A fact – Sri Lanka has a majority Buddhist population:
When comparing the last available published information obtained from the internet (2012) based on the figures of Department of Census & Statistics to the figures of approximately a century ago (1911), the following facts emerge as to the demographic equation of our country in terms of religious ratios:
(Rom. Cath. & oth.)
Accordingly the following facts are discernible in terms of the above demographic chart:
- That over this century Buddhists have remained the clear majority, multiplying from a populace of approx. 2.5 million to 14 million, with a growth of approx. 10%;
- the Hindus (2nd majority) have reduced by approx. 10% and portray a negative growth;
- there is a marginal increase of Islam followers by approx. 3%;
- The Christians in total also show a negative growth, dropping by approx. 2%
Therefore the claim of the Buddhist majority of supremacy in number is completely justified and perhaps it is no wonder that successive political parties and candidates have preferred to maintain a close affinity to the Temple; including some who have gone on to become Heads of State and several notable politicians even at present opting to convert from a lesser affluent religion to be a majority Buddhist. It is also noteworthy that even our former colonial masters, when ratifying the Kandyan declaration of 1815 left express provision for the protection of the Buddha Saashana, which has consistently been followed in formulating our Constitutions; as we indeed must!
Now whilst this demographic variable is the very foundation of my conspiracy theory, how does it sit in answering the following questions that are presently being repeated, ad nauseam in various socio-political circles?
- That the minority religions have forcibly converted the majority and/or that the majority has lost a substantial following over the years due to economic & other benefits offered by some minority religions – do the above figures reflect such a decrease / increase over 100 years?
- That if a majority Buddhist resurgence is not immediately summoned, even sanctioned by the State, it will lead to a collapse and ultimate death of the religion – whilst the Constitution itself, at Article 9 thereof demands that the State shall protect and foster the Buddha Saashana, do the above demographic facts highlight any such acute urgency for heightened activity?
- The claim by the Catholic (and other traditional) churches against evangelism of newly formed Christian communities – is not their issue that Christians are leaving traditional churches in search of newer and more “charismatic” forms of worship (rather than forceful conversions from another religion), as amply manifested by the above figures?
- The claim by certain members of the Islamic faith of concerted attacks on places of business – have there been cogent and factually based complaints made at police stations and if they are not being investigated properly, is it not more a question of police inaction that must be swiftly dealt with by the sovereign Judicial Power of the People rather than a case of religious tension?
- Similar incidents of attacks on places of minority religious worship – is it not once again a matter for the State, those institutions exercising the sovereign Judicial Power of the People rather than a case to make a socio-political issue bordering on religious tensions?
The Political Hypothesis:
The above facts and figures are not only known to us and are freely available to those others with “interests” in the sovereign political power of our Nation; indeed, they may be much better informed of the various demographic statistics than we are! However in such a backdrop is it too far-fetched to postulate the following questions:
- By inciting a tension between the majority Buddhists and the minority other religions, is not more convenient to isolate a possible “political leadership” whether with their knowledge or even surreptitiously appealing to their ego (either one individual or a group of like-minded politicians) that can thereafter be manoeuvred into attaining sovereign power?
- Following on the “divide and rule” policy of our former colonialists, is it not more convenient to approach the minority religious groups, either by identifying individual community leaders or the institution itself (whether by direct aid, sponsorships, foreign assignments or any other such motivation) and once again, knowingly or even unwittingly secure their allegiance in creating the above inter-religious disharmony?
- Having failed with several attempts to re-ignite our previous racial tensions between the minority Tamils and majority Singhalese, which we as a nation seem to have successfully overcome (except for a few old extremist voices from both sides that are hardly given any credence now), mostly as some of us remember the destruction and massive loss of those thirty years, can this not be a new attempt to create another division in us Sri Lankans, when we can so easily unite as one strong nation under a strong, honest and policy driven leadership?
Appeal to my Fellow Sri Lankans:
Let me leave the above only as questions for the moment, a possible scenario of what things may be; hoping in absolute earnest that I will be proved wrong and this is not what is unravelling before us now.
Let us not forget that period of our lives, not that long ago, when we had to live with suspicion over our brother Sri Lankan next door, always looking over our shoulder to see whether they were attempting to harm our life and limb; let us not leave that unsavoury past even for our children to go through. Religion is something rooted deeply in our faith and so let it be, in us, personally; let us love and cherish our individual faith with absolute dedication. However for that very reason, when we love something so dearly, it is very easy for those with vested interests to “sow the seed of dissension” in us and await for a monster to grow. Let us not fall into that trap from wherever that thought emanates; even if (unfortunately) it is instigated by our own religious institutions, personalities, groups or leaders of society in whom we may have had faith in the past.
Let us individually and with our own faith, not giving way to our emotions, consider the possible reasons as to why these dissensions are now being placed before us and to that end, should you be so inclined, consider my above proposition that this may very well be a manifestation of the above conspiracy aimed at ultimately robbing our sovereign power to govern this nation as best as and through whom we see fit!
Power to the People!
( — Chrishmal Warnasuriya, BA (Colombo), P Dip. (Hons), LLM (Hons) (London) –)