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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Position Vacant: Conservative Democrats need apply – Part1

We are seeking a Conservative for Sri Lanka to defend the Democratic institutions and constitution of the nation. Your role is to uphold the Liberal Democratic Values central to the wellbeing of the citizens of this nation against over-zealous reformers wishing to implement ideologically driven reforms.

Today’s candidate is H.L.D Mahindapala. There isn’t a single up-to-date repository of his writings but most of it can be found at
lankaweb, sentor or google. Of late he has been expressing his views as a columnist for the AsianTribune, an online current affairs site (A “newspaper” where I can’t seem to find some archived articles and it doesn’t have a search tool but more on that some other time).

As mentioned
previously, this started from a discussion I was involved in over at Indi’s and at the same time coming across this article by HLD (read the very funny comment by Ruwani). Until a couple of months ago I didn’t know much about HLD and Chandare was kind enough to give me the 101 on his background.

I am not out to attack him just to analyse his views as expressed in his writing. FYI, If I wish to, I can consider myself to be a singhala-buddhist, a “kalu sudda” or a traitor to the motherland.

Eitherway what first drew my attention to HLD’s writing was his use of the words
Liberalism, Democracy, Multiculturalism, Rawlsian welfare, Aristotle, etc, because these are words that encompass ideals and values important to me and the society(ies) I would choose to live in. As an outsider rarely have I seen these ideas being discussed in the public eye with reference to Sri Lanka other than for criticism. May be these words are discussed more often in the SL media and polity at large than I have seen, if so please let me know.

To limit the length of this blog I’ll by quoting only small portions from HLD’s writing. This should be enough for locating the relevant sections whithin the linked articles. Also, I am focussing mainly on his ideas and principles as much as possible and looking at the content in relation to these. Read the articles for the full content, rhetoric and/or context. Anyway, Let us start.

primary thesis appears to be this historical analysis of N/E Tamil class/caste politics and the south (Warning my vulgar summary ahead).

Defining his method

Tracing the origins of any violent conflict can run in diverse directions with emphasis on one or the other cause that contributed to its growth and momentum…
… the most misleading path is to rely on any single cause…
Invariably, it is politicized history that would tend to focus on mono-causal interpretations…
A holistic approach, taking into consideration all the operative factors, is more likely to eliminate emotions and introduce a more balanced view of the evolving chain of events…
It is also important that events should be placed in the proper sequence…
… Therefore any meaningful analysis must necessarily step back from the immediacy of events and take a dispassionate view of the totality of forces that led to the crisis…
….mono-causal view turned into a popular and orthodox reference point…
…“1956” – a common starting point for those who advocate the mono-causal view….
…. History can be written in two main ways: 1) by picking the relevant and available facts from the ground that could lead, by the force of its own logic, to a comprehensive pattern that explains the past or 2) by constructing a theoretical formula at the top from selected facts to fit a preconceived pattern.
The holistic view

…. the grassroot forces breaking out of the old mould crumbling with the antiquated colonial empires fading into oblivion; the rough and tough transition from semi-feudalism to modernity; the caste-based ancien regimes resisting change in the hope of clinging on to their feudal and /or colonial privileges, powers and positions; the historical necessity of redressing imbalances of colonial legacies; the local leadership grabbing and diverting the internal forces to extremities; the stagnant economies that frustrated the hopes of youth looking for social mobility; the rewriting of old histories to justify new ideological claims to exclusive territories; the importing of new ideologies and political vocabularies from the West to rationalize extreme demands and violence; the dynamic interconnectedness of evolving events; the chance happenings and the actions and reactions….
….As in all other historical movements, the events rolling down the turbulent years collided with each other and exploded with a violent and unmanageable fury -- particularly the events originating in the post-1983 phase…

The analysis

I can’t do all the work can I.
Actually, too many things to summarise presenting a summary of a historial summary would be unrealistics and given it's content de-humanise it. I would rather the readers come to their own conclusions and discuss it. You gals and guys are going to have to read the rest yourself. Also, compare it with this (pdf) analysis from the CPA Center for Policy Alternatives in SL, though not as historical.

Basically he seems to focussing on a set of historical events that unfolded according to the
Law of Unintended Consequences leading to the issues of today.

That’s it for Today. We shall continue to analyse his qualifications for this role in the next blog.

Some of the stuff (
including the Broken Palmyra) I’ve read about the situation in the N/E of SL squarely blames the progressive left at the time (in addition to the usual culprits) for not taking a principled stands and actions as they were too busy talking about revolutions to act on progressive policies, thus ensuring their ineffectiveness by ‘83. What I haven’t seen or read about are stands taken by committed and conservative democrats. The kind I’d expect to find in a polity versed in democracy and willing to break ranks and affiliations in standing up to the politicians who backed violence upto and including ’83. That’s why I wonder if there is a conservative democratic tradition in SL. If there is, can we add HLD to it? If not can he be considered for a starting role in this tradition? (Please let me know if I’m being naive in thinking that effective conservative democratic voices didn’t exist).

Black Hat View

While the article as a whole offers a particular perspective and clearly focuses on the different historical threads, writing a simplistic summary of this worries me. What I find scary is that a summary focusing on a particular caste and it's relationship with the northern polity would most likely end up being one degree of seperation from hate speech. The kind of speech that can be easily used to demonize the "other".

The equivalent of my amateur analysis here would be asking a political science major to write software in C++ so feel free to critique, comment and discuss what’s been written. No hate speech please there are plenty of other forums for that, otherwise open a damn blog yourself.

Clarified my reluctance to summarise the "analysis" and added the Black Hat View.


  • At 1:02 am AEST, Blogger Morquendi said…

    Yes yes, the progressive left of those days was blamed a lot for what they didn't do...I do agree to a certain extent that things in general would have been very very different if the left had acted at that point (because they had the power and the backing of the people to act). But they were not a part of the problem, their apathy and shortsightedness in ignoring the problem was their fault.

  • At 2:24 pm AEST, Blogger ivap said…

    I agree, there were larger issues at play but there was a failure of responsibility (more like leading by example). I guess by now the postmortems have been performed and things have changed a fair bit.

    The P-Left is not my issue here, I want to look at why the right leaning "democratic conservatives" are not apportioned some of the blame as well. Any ideas ?

  • At 12:26 am AEST, Blogger Chandare said…

    Just a quick comment.I'll wait for the whole series."The progressive left" should be blamed .No doubt about that.On the other hand the guys who filled the void of Liberals or Conservative Democrats like you mentioned ,started there politics in the far left and moved right gradually during the slow death of old-left.Sri Lankan politics is little bit twisted ,where fical liberals and social conservatives merge with socialist or trotkist!How crazy is that?Then you have other alliances of social liberals and fical conservatives with Stalinist.How fucked up is that ?It's all in the name. "Democartic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka"!

  • At 12:28 am AEST, Blogger Chandare said…

    I meant fiscal not fical. ;-))

  • At 1:33 am AEST, Blogger Chandare said…

    I just read a great article .probably realted to this by Dayan Jayatilleke.I have a slightly different take on the issue though.Will try to write a post if possible.Who am I to argue with Dayan anyway?

  • At 7:31 am AEST, Blogger ivap said…

    chandare - Yes I saw this too. About time I say. I've been wanting to comment in the forums but the damn registration has not sent me a confirmation email.

    Dayan or not, your comments will be welcome. Someone has to ask the questions. As you know it's not always top-down that makes a difference.

    Arrgh...I'm going to email them today.


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