A Response to Rajan Phillips and L. Jayasooriya

A few comments on the paper delivered in Brazil indicate how deeply Sri Lankans have absorbed the oppositional mindsets that Nirmal Verma and Tagore deplored. One generalization occurred in the Sunday Island, to which a response was made. Another appeared only in the electronic media, but was obligingly sent in. Published here are the response to the Sunday Island and a response to another comment, since it seems important to explain to those who seem confused the idea between a nation in which there is a majority of a particular religion, and characterizing the state as that of a particular religion.


The Editor

Sunday Island


Dear Sir

I read with some interest Rajan Philips’ account of ‘Anglo-Indo-Lanka ties and tangles from DS Senanayake to Mahinda Rajapaksa’  in your columns last week. In the midst of an interesting thesis, he made a gratuitous reference to a paper I had delivered in Brazil last month, and claimed that my thesis seemed to have been ‘to attribute the foreign policy differences between DS Senanayake and the UNP, on the one hand, and SWRD Bandaranaike and the Left on the other, to the difference between a supposedly dichotomous Western view of things and a contrastingly unifying Eastern vision’.

I am grateful to him for having so graphically illustrated a dichotomizing view of things, and sorry that his mindset seems to be ‘Western’ in this regard, as defined by Nimal Verma and Tagore. I did not talk about differences between Senanayake and Bandaranaike, and indeed I pointed out that the Rubber Rice Pact with China was signed during a UNP regime. I did note that J R Jayewardene had abandoned traditional Sri Lankan foreign policy because of his decision to enter the Cold War on one side, but I would certainly not describe the traditional UNP, as represented by the Senanayakes, as dichotomizing.

I attach a copy of the full paper and hope that you might be able to publish it in full, since Mr Philips’ account is misleading.

Yours sincerely

Rajiva Wijesinha


Thanks for writing to me personally. I am sorry you have only blind copied to others, so please do pass this on to all those others as well. I have taken the liberty of copying this to many of those on these lists who have written to me personally recently, but I assume there are many more.

I have long realized that few people read carefully, and that comments on what others say are

a) based generally on what one assumes they have said

b) intended to make points one makes anyway

In this instance it seems that you, like Shenali, have confused my criticism of those who think Sri Lanka is a Buddhist state with those who refer to it as a Buddhist nation. The latter is not a problem, since it means a nation where the majority is Buddhist, which is of course true of Sri Lanka. But thinking of Sri Lanka as a Buddhist state (or of France as a Catholic state) is inaccurate, since this is not the case constitutionally, and it is generally not acceptable to give a state a particular religious identity when there are substantial portions of its populace who belong to other religions. Continue reading


The World Today: China, India and the United States as seen from Sri Lanka

Text of a presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, at the Seminar on:

Crossed Perceptions: China, the United States, the European Union, Brazil and the Emerging World

October 22nd 2013, Rio de Janeiro


Let me begin with one of the formative myths of the Sri Lankan state. It deals with the introduction of Buddhism to the country, in the 2nd century BC. The king at the time, Devanampiyatissa, was out hunting when he came across a strange man in the forests of Mihintale. This was Mahinda, the son, or some say the brother, of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka, who had converted to Buddhism after a terrible war in which, to complete his conquest of India, he had slaughtered thousands.

When the monk saw Tissa, he asked him whether he saw the mango tree before them. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked whether there were other mango trees. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked if there were trees other than mango trees. Tissa said yes again, whereupon the monk asked whether, apart from all the other mango trees, and all the other trees that were not mango trees in the world, there were any other trees.

Tissa thought hard, and then replied that there was indeed the original mango tree the monk had pointed out. This was when Mahinda decided that Tissa was a fit person to understand the doctrines of Buddhism, so he preached to him and converted him and through him his people. Buddhism has since been the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, though, I think uniquely, we also have substantial proportions of our population belonging to the other principal faiths of the world, Hinduism and Islam and Christianity.

When I was young I used to think the story a silly one, but I have since understood its implications for the way we should look at the world. It seems to me now the epitome of what I would describe as the Eastern vision of the individual, society and the world, as opposed to the dichotomies the West believes in, and therefore often creates. In what I would posit as an ideal concept of our relations with the world, we should see ourselves as existing at the centre of several concentric circles, to all of which we belong. While we share aspects of identity with others belonging to those circles, ultimately we need also to be aware of the unique nature of our own individuality.

Continue reading

Moving forward after the recent Provincial Council election results

The results of the recent Provincial Council elections represent both an Opportunity and a Threat. For the government it also made clear both its Strengths and its Weaknesses. Whether however government is willing to, or capable of, making the sort of SWOT analysis that will enable it to go down to history as one that brought peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka remains doubtful.

The Opportunity presented was by the Northern Province. Though the TNA swept the poll, the voters have expressed a marked preference for the moderates amongst them. The choice of Justice Wigneswaran, which was welcomed by pluralists in the South, turns out to have been entirely justified, given how overwhelmingly he topped the preferential vote.

It is true that, during the campaign, he engaged in rhetoric that seemed to suggest sympathy for terrorism. But, as I told a friend who seemed unduly worried about this, having gone out on a limb as it were in approbation of the Wigneswaran candidature, such rhetoric cannot be avoided in such elections. DBS Jeyaraj, the most perceptive of Tamil journalists, had pointed out the possible danger of this, given that Wigneswaran had been nominated against the wishes, not only of extremists, but also of those in Jaffna who would have preferred a man of the area.

Jeyaraj, I think understandably, worried about whether Wigneswaran would become a victim of his own rhetoric, something that has happened to so many politicians in Sri Lanka, including sadly Mr Bandaranaike and Mr Chelvanayakam. But the reason I remain optimistic about Wigneswaran is that, even while he was breathing fire on the campaign trail, he was enunciating a very moderate and sensible point of view internationally, as in the brave interview he gave to the ‘Hindu’. In that he made it clear that excessive interference by politicians from Tamilnadu was not at all helpful.

His forthrightness there is the more to be admired because the bane of Tamil politics has been the tendency to be influenced by outside factors. As I told the British Foreign Office in 2009 (before the Ministry of External Affairs became paranoid about me, and inhibited such contact), they had every reason to tell us to talk to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. This we ourselves needed and wanted to do. But to preach to us about talking to the TGTE was outrageous, and indicative of their own selfish electoral interests rather than the concerns of Sri Lankan Tamils. Even Mr Sambandan, who is I think a good man, but weak, has tended to follow foreign advice, with disastrous consequences, as I believe happened when he advocated support for Sarath Fonseka in the 2010 Presidential election. I don’t think Mr Wigneswaran, though he will be forthright in pushing for rights and equitable benefits for the people of the North, will make that sort of mistake. Continue reading