In the end, it doesn’t matter how it turns out, but unless this tyranny ends, there is no hope for a lasting economic recovery.
Independence Day 2022 would be celebrated in a unique economic crisis environment never experienced by any previous government since 1948. For millions of people in this country, even one meal a day has become a luxury. Economic misery reigns and leaders are scapegoating the pandemic for causing it. That the pandemic exacerbated misery is never in question, but the damage done to the economy by two years of flawed economic policies coupled with a gross understatement of the true cost of the ethnic civil war that ended more than a decade ago causing the current crisis needs to be acknowledged.
Overall, the prevailing economic disaster is the cumulative effect of Sri Lanka’s majority democracy, which has failed to integrate the synergy of the nation’s ethnic and cultural heterogeneity into the struggle for economic growth. , a factor sadly overlooked by local economic experts and development advisers. In other words, the tyranny of majoritarianism has undermined the economic vitality of this nation like an undetected cancerous growth.
Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majoritarianism is the product of political Buddhism, a strange phenomenon in the context of Buddha’s principles and philosophy on state governance. This was clearly stated in a recent televised dialogue between two eminent scholarly monks, Ven. Galkande Dhammananda and Ven. Uduhawara Ananda, from Kelaniya and Colombo universities respectively. If the Sangha had advised post-independence rulers on the true nature of Buddhist governance, as the two scholars implied, Sri Lanka would have thwarted the growth of majoritarian tyranny. Needless to point out, it was the virtuous guidance of the Sangha in the past that made the pre-colonial Buddhist monarchs of Sri Lanka the architects of a peaceful, prosperous and resplendent island. In contrast, the so-called virtuosity injected by the monks surrounding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has produced a republic of chaos.
Historically, the seeds of majoritarianism as an outgrowth of political Buddhism were sown at the end of the 19th century in the heart of a Buddhist nationalist wave started by that Buddhist fanatic and national hero Anagarika Dharmapala, who ironically wanted to be reborn not in Buddhist Sri Lanka, but in a Brahmin family in Hindu India – a fact less known among his living followers. Although post-independence political Buddhism emerged as a legitimate response to nearly 450 years of political and cultural subjugation of Buddhists by three Western Christian powers, it subsequently flourished and metamorphosed into an aggressive ethno-religious ideology aimed not only at claiming total ownership of the country but also at denying equal citizenship to members of local minority communities.
Today’s authoritarian GR regime, brought to power by a coalition of Sinhalese-Buddhist supremacists, represents the epitome of this ideology, which has made other ethnic and religious minorities comprising nearly 30% of the country’s population, disconnected from the regime’s so-called development efforts.
From the disenfranchisement of Indian Tamils in 1948 to the Sinhalese Bill of 1956, the 1972 constitution elevating Buddhism alone to the top spot, followed by a series of state-initiated pro-majority policies under various governments in education, public administration and land distribution, and down. to the current program of legal homogenization under a controversial One Country One Law task force led by a militant Buddhist monk, has left ethnic and religious minorities to suffer the tyranny of Sinhalese-Buddhist majoritarianism. It is by understanding this tyrannical impact of majoritarian democracy on a large part of the country’s population and taking steps to reconnect the disconnected with the struggle for economic growth that the country could be rid of its ambient misery.
The current regime is unable to do so, as the ruling Rajapaksa dynasty with its Viethmaga power cartel is married to Sinhalese-Buddhist majoritarianism. From the day President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took the oath of allegiance at the Ruwanvelisaya compound in 2020 to the day he was knighted by a team of Buddhist monks as Lankaeeswara Padmavibushana in 2022, his presidency and his government have sworn to protect and promote Buddhism alone. and rule primarily in the interest of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. The cry of minorities for justice and equal rights has fallen deaf for years. The fight for the 13th amendment by the Tamils and the Catholic cardinal’s crusade for justice for the victims of this Easter infamy are only two episodes among many where the regime has shown complete disregard for the claims of minorities. . This is why they are forced to seek help from outside powers and this in turn has economic implications.
Unfortunately, none of the opposition parties, with the possible exception of the JVP/NPP, are ready to speak out against the majority tyranny. Even within the JVP/NPP, different leaders speak in different tones when addressing this thorny issue. The sensitivity of the opposition to the Buddhist vote bank is the main reason for this weakness. However, like manna from heaven, the severity of the current economic crisis seems to teach the Buddhist masses that they too have been deceived by majoritarianism. With civil societies working closely with a political party like the JVP/NPP, the tyrannical majority rule could be broken.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how it turns out, but unless this tyranny comes to an end, there is no hope for lasting economic recovery. There is nothing more valuable as a productive asset than a country’s population. The greater their participation, the greater will be the gross national product and the per capita income. It is not development that would remove the evils of majority tyranny as GR wrongly assumes, but it is the removal of this tyranny that would ensure development and prosperity.
(The author is attached to the School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia.)