On the eve of the Presidential election 2010 the ‘‘Kathika’ study circle issued a statement on the election and there were some responses to it to which we could not attend at that time. In this article we address some key issues arising from some of the pertinent responses to our statement.
The statement of the ‘Kathika’ study circle on the Presidential Election 2010, titled 2010 Presidential Election: Nationalism Or Liberalism? “Yes, Please!” sought to present an analysis of the political processes operative in the lead to the election. (It appeared here, and
here under the title “Liberalism Poses Severe Challenge to Sinhala Nationalism at 2010 Presidential Election.” Our statement which was originally in Sinhala first appeared here ).
The central idea of our statement was that if Sinhala nationalism had come to believe that it had established itself as the dominant ideology in Sri Lanka over liberalism following the victory in the war against the terrorism of the LTTE, the run up to the presidential election showed that liberalism had established itself in Sri Lanka as a force that is capable of levelling a serious challenge to nationalism. We argued that the events leading to the Presidential election showed that the Sri Lankan public had sharply divided itself into two contending camps representing the discourses of nationalism and liberalism, and the belief systems and the ways of life built on them which are taken (by them, the public) to be antithetical to each other. We also maintained that whichever side of the two camps in the election, the victorious side may seek to impose its ideological hegemony on the opposing camp, thus aggravating the clash between nationalism and liberalism and giving rise to a long drawn out antagonism in our society which will in turn further strengthen its autocratic tendencies and thereby expose us to the danger of massive social instability in the long run. Our analysis intended to throw light on this scenario urging reflection on the future prospects this will hold for our country.
Until the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) joined the opposition camp, even many who were within the government camp believed that their margin of victory would be minimal. That this was a widespread sense was evident in that all the pro-government forces, political, intellectual, and otherwise were working hard to convince the public that they should vote for the government candidate. Even though how the people voted in the election once the TNA played into the hands of the government was unbelievable for the most optimistic of government ranks, the opposition camp polled over 4 million votes winning the urban centres of Colombo, Galle and Kandy. In the post Presidential election landscape the oppositional discourses between Sinhala Nationalism and liberalism have continued even though, sans the former army commander being their candidate, the main opposition coalition is raising the issues of cost of living, lack of employment, destitution etc. as its main slogans. Whether the conflict between the nationalist and liberal camps will give rise to social instability in the long run is something that is left to be seen.
One criticism levelled at our analysis of the political situation in the country in the above statement was that we had ignored the complexity of the state as we urged our readers to imagine the state as a union of citizens and therefore define the role of the state as creating the conditions that would facilitate political dialogue among the citizens. When we suggested the imagining referred to above we were drawing inspiration from the practices of the ancient city state or the polis, the epitome of which was the ancient Athens of Socrates. We were not thinking so much of the modern ‘state’ or the ‘nation state’ but a futuristic state which would have sufficiently addressed the implications of the all pervasive character of modernity and capitalism. In our efforts to imagine beyond the dictates of the contemporary political scene we believe we are in good company with Hannah Arendt the central theme of whose writings can be taken as an argument for the revival of the public realm, the ideal type of which she found in the Ancient Athens. It may be relevant for our discussion here that in discussing American politics in her On Revolution, Arendt in fact went on to suggest that the Ward system proposed by Thomas Jefferson would come close to what she imagined to be a genuine public realm of citizens in place of the bourgeois parliamentary democracy, even though she would not have agreed to trade in bourgeois democracy for any form of authoritarian government that would have denied the limited democracy the former offered. We have no qualms about the necessity to attend to the strategies and tactics of governance and state craft, especially when the sovereignty of the state is threatened from both within and outside. Our goal in following Arendt here is to use this moment to arouse our collective imagination to think beyond the present to imagine an alternative future to that of modernity and capitalism, an orientation which no doubt those who are geared to think only in terms of reality here and now may consider naive or unrealistic.
Another comment on our article was related to our ‘methodology.’ We not deny that in our analysis we are guided by theoretical premises which we both apply to and examine in the context of the social processes we are examining. This is generally the method of the social sciences, unlike the natural sciences which used to claim that they begin with observations and then go onto form hypotheses. However, even in the natural sciences, this premise has been seriously challenged since Popper’s work in the latter half of the last century.
The most engaging and detailed response (see here and here ) to ‘Kathika’ statement came from Buddhika Bandara and Prabha Manuratne (B&P) who raised several key issues to discuss which we devote the rest of the article. Continue reading politics