H L D Mahindapala and His Interpretations!

By Lionel Bopage

H L D Mahindapala (HLDM) has again taken to his gutter pursuit in referring to my critique of Dr Michael Roberts's pamphlet titled "Sinhala-ness and Sinhala Nationalism".

The main thrust of HDML's writing appears to be on two points. Firstly that I do not write about Tamil nationalism, and secondly that my writing is contradictory. I will first deal with these aspects and then come to his diversions.

HLDM misinterprets my reference to a holistic approach. I considered that the approach Dr Michael Roberts has adopted in his analysis "does not subsume all the other disciplines" and "does not span the entire area of study". The pamphlet was restricted to the topic "Sinhala-ness and Sinhala Nationalism" and accordingly I confined my discussion to that topic. I did not want to confuse issues raised by Dr Roberts by trying to focus on other related matters. Elsewhere I have written that both Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms are responsible for the current catastrophic situation. However, HLDM conveniently tries to slip away from discussing those factors affecting Sinhala nationalism. His convoluted logic is that Sinhala nationalism arose as a result of Tamil nationalism. Facts go against the very grain of this convoluted logic.

HLDM is trying to sideline the major aspect I have tried to discuss in my writing; ie, the influence of Sinhala extremism on the ordinary Sinhala people. I am not ashamed to state that I come from the rural south of Sri Lanka and through my own experience I know the attitudes of the Sinhala people at the grass-root level. There is a contradictory nature in the attitudes of the grass-root level Sinhalese. On the one hand, they have some chauvinist attitudes and on the other hand, they have rejected the war and violence. HLDM views these attitudes simply as existing in any society and therefore we should not discuss such matters. As Sinhala Buddhists if we do not discuss these matters, then who else should discuss them? This, in itself, will indicate that HLDM is nothing but an opportunist of the first order.

HLDM states that "in 1949 communal harmony was at its peak". Is this correct? Tamil nationalism originated and ran parallel with the origin of Sinhala nationalism. This is evident when Sinhala and Tamil capitalist leaders formed Ceylon National Congress in 1919 and when the Tamil leadership broke away from Ceylon National Congress to form Tamil Mahajana Sabhai in 1921. Thereafter the capitalist leaderships pursued their respective nationalist agendas by arousing extremist forms of nationalism within their own electorates. With the formation of Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) in 1949, the capitalist Tamil leaders demanded a communal representation in a central legislature but still they were not demanding a separate homeland for Tamils. The Citizenship Act of 1948 effectively made Tamils in the plantation sector stateless and the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1949 denied their citizenship and voting rights. How then was communal harmony at its peak?

HLDM raises the question whether or not there is "a single unique society which can come within their definition of egalitarianism? There is a simple answer: such an ideal society does not exist. Does this mean that we should place a full stop to social progress? Many countries have established socio-economic and legal mechanisms in order to minimize discrimination with the objective of moving towards a more egalitarian society. The capitalist and socialist political leaderships who had seen the importance of such mechanisms for their social development adopted such strategies, and I praise them for that! In Australia, incidents of killings of someone just because of that person's background are identified by the words such as "the frogs, the slanty-eyed bastards, the dagos, the wogs, boongs, booris (both refer to Aborigine or blacks)" are extremely rare. I do not want to forget that when Australia was first colonised, killings of aborigines were universal. Aboriginal movements are still demanding justice for the historic injustices carried out against them, however at least there are several mechanisms built into the system for addressing such issues.

In Sri Lanka what can one say about the perpetrators of events in Gal Oya in 1956 and thereafter, in 1958, 1977 and July 1983. From the sidelines there have been many who applauded or supported those events. Those culprits are the best supporters of the Tiger and/or Eelamist cause. No one can deny the fact that the Eelamist cause multiplied thousand fold as a result of Black July riots in 1983. In Australia some have been justifying such actions, even today there are! Even after all these riots and killings what have they done to address such issues? Nothing! For example, when the PA government tried to present an Equal Opportunity Bill in Parliament in 2000, they were forced to withdraw it because of the protests of the Sinhala extremists! And still HLDM preaches that no one should do anything towards the cause of egalitarianism because no country has achieved complete egalitarianism! He talks about Le Pen of France. What did the French people do? They demonstrated in public against Le Pen and fell on line to defeat him, because they knew that his ideology was to bring disaster to France! But in Sri Lanka what did we do? We nurtured disaster!!

HLDM handpicks several countries to illustrate his ill-logic. He conveniently forgets Singapore, Switzerland and even India! These are not perfect societies, but they use all their national languages in their state communication channels! Their flags do not have a symbol representing the majority of their societies or their religions, so the issues HLDM raises do not arise at all!

Conflicts in ancient Sri Lanka had been mainly due to foreign invasions or attempts to expand the horizons of local feudal lords. In fact, there had been many instances of co-existence of languages and cultures and decentralization of feudal power. We lost that linguistic and cultural co-existence and decentralization of power with colonialism. And during the post-independence period we killed any tendency that pushed the country towards such egalitarian goals.

Now, with regard to his second allegation that my writing does not make sense. What I wrote in the article is quoted below:
'This thesis appears to hold ground in the context of the recent Sri Lankan political history. However, the true test of this thesis will be an analysis of the expression of will of the Sinhala people since the 60s. The current petrifying situation is not, I believe, due to "deeply entrenched nationalist thinking" but due to cyclically peaking treacherously extremist nationalist positions taken by power-starving, nepotistic, family bandyist leaderships of the main political parties."

And that is what it is. Sinhala-nationalism is a paradox representing a unity of contradictions. It is a reflection of the true state of affairs within the Sinhala society. The discrimination and riots against Tamils may appear as acts of extreme nationalism of the majority of Sinhala Buddhists, however, when the will of the Sinhala people is analysed it does not seem so.

And I concluded by saying that "The writing concentrates on the dilemma of understanding extreme Sinhala nationalism. Michael's work is an attempt at challenging the tradition, conservative thinking and moulded attitudes, but one does not need expertise in history or culture to appreciate Michael's contribution."

Then he takes a statement out of context, distorts it historically and makes it his "most astounding piece" of argument. When I stated that a majority of the Tamils and the Sinhalese rejected extreme nationalism that statement refers to a historical time period. In the case of Tamils KKS bye-election in 1975 and 1976 Vadukkodai resolution signify the turning point of Tamil nationalism from federalism to separatism. Organised anti-Tamil riots of 1956, 1958, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983 immensely contributed to the militarisation of and violence and terror unleashed by the Tamil nationalist youth movement(s). Reciprocally Vadukkodai resolution and post resolution events strengthened Sinhala nationalist extremist forces. HLDM also shows a typical case of "convenient historical amnesia" by not presenting the agonizing implications of 1977 to 1989 period. He skips over during this period, events that multiplied the Eelamist cause thousand-fold. Probably he cannot bear to contemplate the implications of these events. The transformation of the majority Tamils in the North commenced supporting the demand for a separate state after the implications of the events of this period. Chauvinists of yesterday and today will continue to help multiply the Eelamist cause further!

Then HLDM comes to perform what he can do best: his falsification and misinformation campaign!! He refers to some "questionable trips to Iraq and a mysterious explosion in the harbour". And he follows this misinformation with the statement that "there may be no connection between the two". What is his underlying intention and invention?

Since I resigned from the JVP in 1984 the CID, NIB and MI5 subjected me to questioning many a time. I was detained in 1983 on the pretext that I was one of the masterminds who attacked Tamils in July 1983 (Ha! Ha!!). Major thrust of the detention exercises was to force the detainees to join the then UNP government led by President JR Jayawardena. In 1983 it was the then director of CID and in 1985 it was the Late Mr Lalith Athulathmudali (who signed the order to detain me!) who tried to make me join the UNP. I rejected all offers that were placed on the table.

As the compulsion did not work and my wife challenged the detention in court, just one day prior to the hearing of the fundamental rights case I was released, without any charge or condition. I was subjected to innumerous questioning with regard to the whereabouts of comrade Rohana Wijeweera who had gone underground because of the government repression against the JVP in general and death threats to his life. Until I left the country in mid-1989, I was subjected to questioning in order to pressurise me to join the UNP. Even after all these attempts failed Mr. Athulathmudali remained in good terms with me.

The point I want to make is that during all this period I was never questioned with regard to an "explosion in a harbour or a trip to Iraq". Since resigning from the JVP, I had been working in Sri Lanka until mid 1989 when the government of HLDM's liking and the JVP went on a killing spree. HLDM then hints that I "cottoned onto Lalith Athulathmudali" and got myself an entry visa to Australia". This reminds me of the Sinhala saying "Danne Nathnan Katawagahena hitapang modakama nopenna!" meaning "If you do not know keep your mouth shut without exhibiting your stupidity". Mr Athulathmudali did not get me an entry visa to Australia. I challenge HLDM, the falsifier, to make all evidence he has in this regard available to the public immediately.

What this misinformer will do, is to wait for several months and then again write the same thing, like Goebbels, "exaggerating and repeating the same lie over and over again". His 'SPURious" friends tried to do the same thing implying that I was on the paylist of the LTTE and have carried out campaigns against 'Sinhala Buddhists' and Sri Lanka and so on. When challenged they become quiet for a while and then repeat such allegations ad nauseam. Not an iota of evidence has been so far provided by anybody including HLDM. This gutter pursuit has not generated any positive outcomes for debauchees like this.

HLDM further mentions that I became a champion of human rights overnight. His agenda is to discuss human rights of one party while hiding those of the other party. What rabidity! Just to put the record straight, I was an Executive Committee member of the Human Rights Organisation (HRO) established in 1978. Without being an elite organization, HRO endeavoured to make people aware of their democratic and human rights and to train them to stand for their rights when subject to erosion. One person heavily involved in HRO was Mr. Satyapala Wannigama of the Ruhunu Campus who was eliminated by HLDM's friends. I am proud to say that the HRO was among the first to campaign against the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) when it was brought into the Parliament by hoodwinking the Sinhala people. I was in the forefront of this campaign with Late Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam, Late Mr Nimal Senanayake and Late Mr H N Fernando. This was while HLDM and his likes were glorifying and defending such undemocratic Acts as the PTA in printed media. What I am now doing is a continuation of that practice. And it will not stop irrespective of who barks!

HLDM further charges me that I cannot exist without attacking the 'Sinhalese Buddhists'. I consider myself a better Sinhala Buddhist than HLDM (if he calls himself a Buddhist). Though a Sinhala Buddhist, without being restricted by dogmatism and rituals I am prepared to critically look at the past policies and practices of the institutions of Sri Lanka and the role played by extreme nationalists in implementing such policies and practices. HLDM and the LTTE either identified or identify the majority of Sinhala Buddhist people to be working hand in glove with Sinhala extremism. I have never identified the Sinhala majority as such. In the name of the Sinhala majority, many extremists carry out many things which the majority of Sinhala people do not support at all! I ask HLDM to outline any so-called anti-Sri Lankan activities that I have allegedly conducted "in the guise of human rights".

In this short response I will not try to deal at great length the other allegations raised, because basically what HLDM attempts is to divert attention from real issues related to Sinhala nationalism. The particular pamphlet refers to Sinhala Nationalism and if one wishes to look at what Dr Roberts has written about Tamil nationalism it is not difficult to find. I do not wish to get involved in the allegations of HDLM against Dr Roberts regarding Dr Peebles. All one has to do is to refer to the citation at the bottom of page 149 of the History of Ceylon, Volume 3 edited by Prof. K M de Silva to discover that Dr Roberts had provided scholars with full reference to Dr Peebles' yet unpublished work when that chapter was written. Or one could ask HMDL's beloved Prof. K M de Silva to confirm that Dr Peebles is shooting wildly from the hip - like HLDM himself.

HLDM's reading habits seem to be very selective. His charge against Dr Roberts is a clear indication of his reading habits! So far HLDM has not seen the short articles on "Self-immolation" and "Beyond Vijaya" by Dr Roberts, nor the longer one on "Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide" that appeared in Contributions to Indian Sociology in 1996. Whenever criticisms of the post-independent governments appear, these are seen by HLDM as attacks on Sinhala Buddhism. It is high time that HLDM understands me correctly. Buddhism is one thing. Sinhala extremism is another thing which has nothing to do with Buddhism. I have criticized post-'independence' governments and their policies for the current debacles in Sri Lanka. I have no doubt that the majority of people in Sri Lanka including the politicians agree with this view now. A Deeper research is not required for this matter; a comparison of the political leaders of Sri Lanka and those of India would suffice. In the same vein I have criticised extreme Tamil nationalism and chauvinism and their terror campaigns.

My main argument is that Sinhala speaking Sinhalese and Tamil speaking Tamils are subject to discrimination on the basis of the class and caste systems that prevail in the country. On top of this class discrimination there is discrimination against Tamils because they constitute an ethnic minority. Of course there was a colonial Sinhala and Tamil bureaucracy discriminating against both Sinhalese and Tamils. Tamil nationalism discriminates against Muslims. And the North-East of Sri Lanka still remains comparatively more conservative with more feudal remnants because the economic policies implemented so far have not been strong enough to challenge the feudal relations of production that exist in that part of the country. When I was in the Communist Party of Sri Lanka in 1960s, under the leadership of Comrade Shanmugathasan, I fully supported the militant drive against feudal vestiges in the North-East. I consider myself as have been actively involved in fighting against those feudal vestiges while bedfellows of the likes of HLDM have been fighting to safeguard such feudal vestiges in the South of Sri Lanka.

HLDM says that it was the JVP that first unleashed political violence against innocent civilians in the post-independence era. Has he simply forgotten the state-terror unleashed against Tamil parliamentarians in 1956 and political violence against Tamil civilians in 1958? In 1971 there was no major political violence against civilians. On the other hand all the post-independent governments unleashed political violence against the civilian population who were involved in the opposing parties and in left politics in general, not to mention the numerous attacks against peaceful demonstrations, strikes, hartals, satyagrahas. It is not too late for HLDM to give up his selective and jaundiced interpretations of Sri Lankan political history. At least he will become aware of the violence unleashed since 1948 against the democratic political activities and traditions of left political organisations. And with regard to the April 1971 insurrection I have publicly stated that it was a mistake on the part of the JVP leadership, including myself, to have taken a decision to counteract state terrorism in the way we did. However, I do not discount the fact that it was the government in power who used a terror campaign against the JVP. Therefore I hold the government primarily responsible for the insurrection and then the JVP. If HLDM wishes to know what happened during 1971 he should read the following statement at his friends' webpage at

1971 - Biggest revolt by the youth in the recorded Lankan history caused by the ignored problems of the capable & daring Sinhalese youth. The ignorance of those who are responsible to attend the problems of the capable & daring Sinhalese youth, enable JVP leadership to recruit support for a Marxist rebellion. Unable to understand neither the root cause of youth unrest nor the culprits of the rebellion, the government kills over 20,000 Sinhalese young men & women who were mostly innocent. In the most dangerous development, the govt discovers the power of emergency regulations & how it can be used to silence the critics.

According to HLDM the careers, perks and acceptance of academics, who critically look at the extent of extremeness of nationalism and the influence exerted on the attitudes of society, "among their peers in Western academia depend entirely on the distance they travel to denigrate the natives and worship the white man's institutions and ideologies as the panacea for all ills in the developing world". This is a convoluted argument. My whole argument is other way around. HLDM and his cohorts denigrate any attempt to expose real 'Brown Sahibs' in Sri Lanka. I am one of the natives and that is why 'Brown Sahib' HLDM infers that I cannot write sensible material in English. It is him and his cohorts who worship and reinforce colonialist institutions and practices and denigrate genuine Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

To understand the nature of the selective partisan criticism of HLDM I will cite a recent example. In his criticism of my writing he refers to the executive director of Marga Institute as "Godfrey (Catholic) Gunatilleke". In one of the interviews of HLDM in defence of Major General Janaka Perera's 'human rights record', broadcast on Canberra Sinhala radio program of 26 July 2001, he referred to Gunatilleke the same person as a "monitor of human rights violations of Sri Lanka". If Godfrey defends somebody like Janaka Perera, that person is a human rights monitor, but if he criticizes extremists for their extremism, he gets labelled a 'Catholic'. I leave it upto you to come to your own conclusions!

His denigration of what happened in 1971 is underpinned by his pro-imperialist and anti-socialist agenda. What happened in 1971 is very clear and it was an insurrection in defence of the right of the JVP to engage in democratic politics. In 1971 the Colombo attacks were called off due to specific imminent events that occurred.

HLDM falsifies when he states that I was expelled by the JVP. He uttered these lies before and I have rejected those allegations as entirely false. He is talking about me discrediting the JVP. It is the JVP leadership that discredits themselves when they sit under the chair of a priest who led the1983 July riots which ultimately led to the killing of the JVP leader. Criticising the JVP policies has nothing to do with discrediting its leadership. I have never discredited the JVP but I have criticized their policies on the national question as adopting non-Marxist positions and at least in this regard HDLM seems to agree. And I quote from HLDM: (Marxist) "theoretical absurdities do not guide them in their appraisal of what the Marxist called the "national question". And that is exactly the point I raise. While the JVP leadership attempts to interpret their policies on the national question as Marxist, I criticize those policies as non-Marxist. This is very clear and proven correct when the likes of HDLM and Sinhala extreme nationalists extend their sympathy towards the current JVP leadership!

This response is written with the full understanding that it will lead to another bout of vitriolic writing and thereby attempt to perpetuate a slanging match. As Mao said, "In any contradiction, there is an unity." In all wars both sides become like each other. HLDM is so malicious and so much into character assassination that he tends to shoot himself in the foot, but that may only be evident to insightful readers. I simply do not wish to waste my time and energy by repeating what I have said previously. With this correspondence and reflection, I choose to close my communications with HLDM.


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