The Policy Statement of Siihala Urumaya (hereafter abbreviated to SU) has been widely disseminated on the internet and circulated to Sri Lankan expatriates via e-mail. SU is a recently established political party in Sri Lanka which will make its political debut in the elections scheduled for 10 October 2000. It is claimed that SU will issue a full Manifesto, but until then the present Statement may be taken as setting out the position of the SU on several important issues. This policy statement is given as an Appendix to this document. Sri Lankan expatriate groups, particularly those concerned with the separatist problem, have an obligation to respond to the SU Statement and it is in this spirit that this document is issued by ACSLU.
The name of the Party raises some problems. The word Siihala is used interchangeably with the better known term Sinhala in the Statement. 'Sinhala' is a word derived from Sanskritic roots meaning lion (sinha) and slayer or taker (le). It refers to the legend of Vijayabahu as related in the Sinhalese chronicles. . 'Siihala' could either be a Pali or an Elu version of 'Sinhala', it is not clear which. Whether this linguistic change has a wider implication is also not clear. We will take 'Siihala' to be synonymous with Sinhala and Sinhalese. 'Urumaya' means heritage but which part of the Sinhalese heritage is referred to is not clear. After the heyday of the Sinhalese during the Anuradhapura period the Sinhalese kings were forced to retreat South due to invasions from South India. When the Portuguese came the capital had shifted to Kotte now a suburb of Colombo. Then came four-and-half centuries of colonial domination. In the last fifty years of independence Sri Lanka has failed to grasp the opportunities presented and today, as the Policy Statement says, it is at its lowest ebb. So the Heritage that the party if looking at is one of decline from a high point a thousand years ago. Perhaps it is harking back to the Anuradhapura era because one of its stated aims is to transfer the capital to Anuradhapura.
The Policy statement we are considering consists of a initial declaration and sections entitled 'A United Siihala Country and a Clear Administration', 'A National Economy that protects the Siihala Heritage', "A Contented Society' and a concluding section entitled 'One Nation, One Law, One People. The document itself is relatively short and a lot of it reads like the election manifesto that it is. As with any manifesto there are both positive and negative aspects depending on the point of view from which a critique is established. Some promises like that of creating a contented society cannot be empirically verified and it would be inappropriate to discuss such vague and ill-defined terms. However there seems to be distinct philosophical position behind the SU and it is this that can be analysed.
We may commence by looking at the SU position on the Constitution and the rights of citizens. The Constitutional issue will be a major issue in the October 2000 election. Both the main political groupings are advocating some form of devolution of power whether or not one calls it the transformation from a unitary to a federal state or not.
The rights which are conceded to the citizens of the country are also an important element of the policy stance. It would be interesting to compare the position of the SU on this with that advocated by ACSLU and other progressive expatriate groups, a position which is not advocated by any leading political party in Sri Lanka.
The most important of the positive aspects in the policy stance of the SU is the assertion of the unitary nature of the Sri Lankan state and a clear opposition to political separatism. ACSLU too has argued that not only should Sri Lanka be a unitary state but that it should be a highly centralised state. It had proposed that the Provinces into which Sri Lanka was divided in the 19th century during colonial times should be dissolved. SU too proposes that the Provincial Councils be dissolved, and presumably also the provinces, but proposes new provinces based on river basins. This is a retrograde step. River basis are not necessarily appropriate units. The Mahaweli basin will be the largest and it may not be possible to identify clear river basins in the Northern parts of Sri Lanka. The only permissible local government units should be those based on urban population conglomerations and rural localities with a substantial community of interest. Such local units should be small, have extremely restricted powers and should always be under the authority of the central government. The SU policy does not spell out its conception of local government in Sri Lanka.
There is very little said on the specific form of the unitary Constitution, e.g. whether it is presidential or parliamentary, whether it has a single or bicameral legislature, what electoral mechanisms are to be adopted. Even the extent to which democratic institutions are to operate is not clearly spelled out.
On the question of the rights of individuals the principle that a citizen can live and work in any part of the country is affirmed. This is indeed a positive aspect of the SU programme, and one that has long been advocated by ACSLU. However beyond that there is very little affirmation of rights. There is no mention of the enactment of a Bill of Rights or of anti-discrimination legislation. QASLU has identified this as an essential part of a true Sri Lankan democratic unitary republic.
On the rights of the citizens the policy statement says that "the birth rights of the Sinhala People and the legal rights of all other sections of the populace who consider Sri Lanka to be their only homeland" are to be recognised. What the difference is between "birth rights" of the Sinhala People and the "birth rights" of non-Sinhala people is not spelled. But one presumes that such a distinction is made. To make such a distinction is of course to introduce a measure of discrimination between citizens. The ACSLU position is that Sri Lanka has a right to determine who its citizens are, but once citizenship is recognised all citizens should have the same rights irrespective of the race to which they are born.
The SU states that it is "not directed against any non-Sinhalese segment of the populace" but how this could squared with the implicit difference in rights for different groups is not explained. If it means some kind of positive discrimination such as is advocated by Bhumiputra groups this is not stated.
The SU places the blame for Sri Lanka's current "tragic situation" on "leaders of the major parties who ... set Sinhalese against Sinhalese". One of the declared aims of the SU is to "unite the Sinhala people" although how this could be done cannot be addressed without looking at the causes of dissension between Sinhalese.
Of course disunity is not only a characteristic of Sinhalese and other groups like the Tamils and the Muslims too have their own divisions. Indeed political parties are a feature of democracy and there is usually a division of voters between them but this cannot usually be described as "setting people against people"..
There have been divisions amongst the Sinhalese not related to political partisanship. Of these the most important have been the class, caste and religious differences. Class differences have actually been growing in recent years The SU economic policy is mentioned very briefly in the section on "A national economy that protects the Siihala heritage". This is an extremely meagre statement, but it can only be implemented if the SU becomes the ruling party, which might be too ambitious at this stage. Thus we may be justified in skipping over this part. The policy given seems to harken back to the protectionist policy originally implemented by the SLFP which resulted in the country stagnating while many other countries in Asia made the economic breakthrough to higher standards of living. It is not all clear whether economic differences between different of the Sinhala people will be eliminated even if the "siihala heritage" is protected. Thus class differences will remain.
The caste differences are not highlighted but these have been considerably reduced in recent years, even as electoral factors. However the Kandyan-Low Country difference remains although it too has been declining. Thus the SU document may have been justified in not looking at this cause of difference..
However the same cannot be said of religious differences where the differences between Christian Sinhalese and the Buddhist Sinhalese remain. Several factors have aggravated this difference in recent years. One is the fact that while most of the Buddhist sangha has supported the struggle to maintain the unitary status and oppose the devolution law most of the Christian clergy have been supportive of separatism. It is the Christian priests of the North and the East that have been most prominent in this regard, and have even been accused of giving material support to the LTTE terrorists. The Sinhalese Christian clergy have not provided an adequate counterweight to this. All that the SU manifesto states on this is that the provisions of the Kandyan convention will be restored. However the current practice has actually gone beyond the rather limited undertaking by the British government in the Kandyan convention. The present Constitution gives the "foremost place" to Buddhism. The creation of a Government department to deal with Buddhist affairs goes well beyond the undertaking in the Kandyan Convention. Thus the SU position on this question is actually regression over the prevailing practice if its intentions are to advance the interests of the Sinhalese Buddhists. In fact all Buddhists are Sinhalese, but not vice versa.
The religious differences have recently been highlighted by the strenuous efforts made by Christians to convert Buddhists using economic incentives. There have been some conversions to Islam also using the same techniques. The silence of the SU policy statement is thus significant, especially as it has been claimed that some of the SU leadership comes from Christians. The problem of evangelical conversions have become a serious problem in India and will become one Sri Lanka as well where missionaries are given full rein.
Thus the SU policy statement is silent on how it will unite the Sinhalese over the divides that remain.
One of the most serious shortcomings in the SU Policy Statement is the confusion between nation and state. While the SU seems interested in advancing the cause of the Sinhala nation it seems to consider this task as identical with advancing the interests of the Sri Lankan State. This is a serious error. A nation is defined in terms of cultural or ethnic characteristics, a state on the basis of territory and the population inhabiting it. The two do not always coincide. Historically the modern state was constituted as a nation state, but in many paces the it has progressed from this initial state and has become a plural, multi-cultural and multi-nation state. The nation-state based on a single ethnic group is rare and may well be extinct. The question is can Sri Lanka revert to the position of a mono-national state even if it can be established that it was one in the past.
Historically considered Sri Lanka has always been multi-national. Even at its origin the Sinhalese were constituted out of North Indian migrants and an indigenous population. However a few centuries after the arrival of Vijaya the Tamils too came as trader and occasionally as usurpers of political power. The case of Elara is perhaps the best known of these. Much later we have the Chola invasions and the subsequent colonisation of the Jaffna peninsula which had originally been occupied by the Sinhalese. Thus Sri Lanka has been multi-national from early times. And more significantly there were not national homelands withing the geographical limits of Sri Lanka, because both the North and the East where most of the Tamils live today were originally occupied by the Sinhalese. These areas are multi-national as indeed is the rest of Sri Lanka.
This is a significant difference between the SU policy statement and that advocated by ACSLU on this question. ACSLU argues for the recognition of a single multinational country with no areas demarcated for any particular ethnic group. If this principle is abandoned and the whole nation is considered a siihala country, then there is a serious problem of accommodating the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and other groups within the polity of Sri Lanka. But as a multi-cultural state there is no problem of attending to this problem. The last section of the SU manifesto contains the slogan: "One nation, One law, one people". This has ominous overtones of Hitler's famous slogan: "Ein Volk, ein Reich". It is a dangerous appeal to a narrowly defined nationalism which borders on xenophobia.
One curious feature of the SU statement is that there is no single mention of Tamils. The greatest problem in Sri Lanka today is caused by Tamil separatism and it is surprising that a Party which seeks to eliminate separatism has not considered the nature of Tamil separatism. It is not only the Sri Lanka Tamils who have articulated separatist sentiments. Some leaders of the Indian Tamils of the Hill country and the Muslims in various parts have also expressed separatist sentiments. The problem posed by Tamil racism as represented by the LTTE and the other Tamil chauvinist parties cannot be solved by simply ignoring them. The other parties speak of negotiating with the LTTE. ACSLU has strongly opposed negotiation with terrorists. The SU position on this is left open and people will be wondering how their policy on this will differ from that of the main parties.
In fact the SU may well be playing into the hands of the LTTE. The LTTE argument is that Sri Lanka consists of two nations - the Sinhalas and the Tamils. They tend to oppose claims of a Sinhala Heritage (siihala urumaya) with the claim of a Tamil Heritage. Thus they will not necessarily oppose the SU claim of a Sinhala Heritage. In fact they are fighting to have the two "heritages" demarcated by a geographical line of partition. The most effective way of opposing the LTTE claims is not to oppose Tamil nationalism with a Sinhala nationalism. The correct response is the shift the basis of discussion from nationalities to the question of Sri Lankan statehood.
It has been said that the SU even fields candidates from Jaffna. This is not surprising as the ideology of SU would not conflict with some Tamil separatists who want to make Sri Lanka a land of two nations.77
One factor which has to be considered in this context is the emergency of the "Neo-Sinhala" phenomenon. The term neo-Sinhala was coined by ACSLU to denote the radical transformation of the Sinhala character since the so-called cultural revolution of the 1950s initiated by the Solomon Bandaranaike. With his assassination we saw the institutionalisation of the Bandaranike dynasty whose latest representative is the current President Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga.
The neo-sinhalas sought to insulate the Sinhalese from the broad currents of progressive international opinion and to bring about a measure of isolation from these trends which have worked to the detriment of the Sinhalese. With the premature adoption of Sinhala as the medium of instruction a whole generation of young people were bread by the schools and the Universities who were quite ignorant of trends going on elsewhere in the world. They became the high priests of the neo-Sinhala wave.
Devolution is a logical product of this neo-Sinhala attitude. The original scheme was proposed by Solomon Bandaranaike but it was his daughter who has gone the furthest in the neo-Sinhala line. In the ordinary people neo-Sinhala has bred a spirit of defeatism. The slogan to end the war that is currently being advanced by the main political parties is code for capitulation in part at least to Tamil racist separatist demands. This is what the devolution proposals are designed to achieve.
The question as to whether the SU is the latest manifestation of the neo-Sinhala mentality is too early to determine. But the language of narrow nationalism that it espouses is close to the neo-Sinhala mentality.
We have identified some positive aspects as well as negative ones in the policy platform of the SU. So it is difficult either to completely endorse its program or to completely denounce it. What is clear is that its leaders have not thought through the problems that their movement poses.
The policy statement contains a good deal of good sentiment. But in politics a mere assertion of a sentiment or wish is not enough. There must be concrete suggestions on how these goals are to be achieved. Some of the goals seem to be contradictory as in the economic sphere. For instance will the protectionism that is advocated also lead to self-sufficiency in food which is also another goal.
The most serious objection to the SU program would be abandonment of the principle of a unified state in favour of a nation defined in terms of cultural or even racial factors. Far from eliminating the problem of separatism this principle may provide justification for racially based separation on the basis that each ethnic group has its own heritage to maintain.
Today, we are confronted with a great national crisis of a magnitude that is virtually unprecedented in the history of Sri Lanka. The very survival of the Sinhala People is now at stake. Never before have the Sinhala people been so helpless and leaderless or found themselves with no one to advocate their cause. Who is primarily to blame for this tragic situation other than certain leaders of the major parties who, driven by nothing more noble than a naked lust for power and nepotism, set Sinhalese against Sinhalese and ruled this Country in rotation for the major period of time since Independence? It was consequent to a deep analysis of this pathetic situation that Sihala Urumaya was founded by a group of dedicated men and women who are untainted by corrupt politics.
Sihala Urumaya is committed to the protection of the birth rights of the Sinhala People and the legal rights of all other sections of the populace who consider Sri Lanka to be their only homeland. It being crystal clear that this task will not be achieved by any of the other existing political parties the Sinhalese are left with no alternative other than to make a final attempt at a revival of the Sihala Heritage.
Sri Lanka which is the only homeland the Sinhalese have in the entire world has not, at any time, been so disgraced as now. It is against this background that Sihala Urumaya was launched with the pure intention of providing to the Sinhalese People, who, having chased a mirage by voting in turn for one or the other of the two major political parties have had their hopes and expectations brought to naught, with a new Party, which is both possessed of the capacity to champion their cause and one with which they could identify themselves without reservation. Accordingly, to whatever party you may belong, in whatever religion you may believe, and whatever your place in society may be, if you are a Sinhalese by birth or one who sympathises with the Sinhalese, we cordially invite you to consider this good news with objectivity.
"Sinhala Urumaya" is not just another political party. It is a powerful social force that arose as the need of the hour to safeguard for all time, the historical, environmental, economic and socio-cultural heritage of the Sinhalese. Sihala Urumaya has a clear vision about the future of our land and a set of policies it truly expects to implement, as well as a team of enlightened and genuinely dedicated men and women. We present to you a summary of our principal policies. We intend placing before you a comprehensive manifesto in due course.
The writ of the Government of Sri Lanka will be re-established throughout the length and breadth of this Country and the rule of law will be applied to the letter to all citizens regardless of rank or race.
The unitary character and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka will be protected and any attempt at dividing the Country will be so wholly destroyed that the ugly head of separatism could never again be raised in our Land.
The Sinhalese race which has from time immemorial founded the civilization of this Country and members of all other races who regard Sri Lanka as their only motherland will be guaranteed their birthrights of living in and travelling to any part of this Island without fear and engaging in any occupation of their choice.
The Provincial Council system which was foisted on the People and has resulted in the wastage of an enormous sum of money in excess of Rs.25,000,000,000.00 annually will be abolished; a system of `Development Regions' based upon river basins in consonance with the geographical realities of the Country will be established, and the institutions of the Local Government strengthened after a re-demarcation of their boundaries.
A long term plan to move the seat of government (the governmental capital) to the ancient city of Anuradhapura which has been the cradle of the Sinhalese civilization and the capital of our land for about 1500 years (or to a place in close proximity thereto in the Rajarata) will be formulated and implemented. This will, in turn, bring the seat of government closer to the residents of the Northern and Eastern Provinces and pave the way for the development of the under-developed areas of the dry zone. Colombo will, however continue to be our commercial capital.
The Public Administration will be cleansed of corruption, sycophancy and waste and a public service which is efficient and committed to serving the needs of the People re-established.
The Buddha Sasana will be guaranteed the rights/privileges conferred upon them by Article 5 of the Kandyan Convention of 1815 and reflected in the Buddhist Commission Report of 1956 and State patronage given for the performance by Temples of those services traditionally rendered by them to society.
A foreign policy which does not permit Sri Lanka to cow down to any foreign force or non-governmental organization which is inimical to Her sovereignty will be followed.
Sihala Urumaya will strive to unite all Sinhalese who are now divided on political, religious and social lines and to defeat all efforts made at dividing the Sinhalese People.
A modern development program which is both speedy and designed to protect the environmental heritage and the natural resources of Sri Lanka as well as the needs of future generations, and ensures to the entire people of Sri Lanka a high standard of living, will be implemented.
It is the aim of Sihala Urumaya to build a strong economy founded on the vision of a just society and nationalism, in which abject poverty no longer exists, and the disparity of income levels is reduced to a minimum.
It is the aim of Sihala Urumaya to make our Country self sufficient in food and secure in Her ability to feed our People despite whatever instability there may be in the world economy in the future, and to thereby minimise the threats that could be made to our security and independence by powerful nations.
In as much as it is the Sinhalese who most suffered the adverse effects of the existing open economy and received the least benefits therefrom, steps will be taken to minimise such adverse effects.
Agriculture which is the principal means of livelihood of the Sinhalese People will be resuscitated by following a protectionist policy and maximizing production by the use of new technology which is harmonious with the environment.
The local entrepreneur, the small and medium scale industrialists and those engaged in the service sector of the economy will be encouraged by the provision of modern technology and State protection.
A program will be implemented to make the country self-sufficient in essential goods and to provide optimum facilities for distribution and marketing so as to ensure that the cultivator is able to sell his produce for a higher price [than that at which he now sells it] while the consumer is enabled to purchase it at a lower price [than that at which he now buys it].
Such practical and long-term measures as are necessary to cushion the unbearable burden of the cost of living that the public has got to bear will be taken without delay.
Steps will be taken to establish balanced development in all parts of the Country by the application of a greater percentage of the national investment in development to the most under-developed areas of the country.
Steps will be taken to relieve the acute landlessness of the Kandyan peasantry and the others similarly circumstanced by providing them, as a matter of priority, with land from productive estates which have been abandoned and are located in proximity to the places of their residence.
A program will be implemented whereby `security villages' are created in close proximity to unprotected villages in the Northern and Eastern Provinces by the grant, to members of the security forces who fought for the Country and the People regardless of risk to life and limb, of such land as is necessary to ensure for them a stable future.
New systems and methods to provide to all, employment according to their skills and remuneration which is geared to productivity will be implemented.
Sihala Urumaya intends to adapt to the needs of the modern age, the indigenous technological knowledge which is harmonious with the environment and has come down to us over the generations, and to embark upon a path of development which is both our own and consonant with our traditional values and norms.
Our youth will be regarded, not as a burden on society but as an invaluable resource and a program of human resource development designed to realise the full potential of their skills will be followed.
Sihala Urumaya is committed to destroying the present system whereby the attainment of political leadership is dependent on one's birth and family connections and to throwing open the doors of opportunity to political leadership to all those born with talent and natural leadership qualities who have earned the respect of society.
State patronage will be given to all measures taken to absorb all citizens of Indian origin into the mainstream of our national and cultural life.
Schemes will be implemented for the purpose of protecting aged pensioners who have expended their energies in the service of the nation, those who are physically handicapped and those who are in a helpless condition due to other reasons as well as for the purpose of developing their skills.
Steps will be taken to provide public servants working in remote rural areas with official quarters and incentive payments in addition to their salaries in accordance with the hardships encountered by them having regard to the facilities available in such areas.
While any law that may be passed for the public benefit in respect of any subject including subjects such as the possession/ownership of land, birth control etc., will be implemented throughout the length and breadth of the Country in respect of all races and communities without distinction, steps will also be taken to make such amendments to the existing personal/territorial laws of the country which are applicable to only some and not to other segments of the People, so as to make the same laws applicable to all the People of the country without distinction on the basis of race, caste, place of residence and/or religion.
A special court will be established with full powers to deal with all those who engage and/or have engaged in dishonest and/or treasonous and/or anti-national activities to enrich themselves at the expense of the Country in respect of defence contracts and the privatisation of public assets regardless of their rank, status or family connections.
This struggle launched by Sihala Urumaya is not directed against any non-Sinhalese segment of the populace but is, on the contrary, a righteous struggle to protect the birthrights and the simple way of life of the Sinhalese as well as our cultured society which are fast being devastated. The principal weapons which will be used in this struggle are truth and justice. Let not our noble struggle be desecrated by any kind of violence of whatever nature.