UNP parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera is reported to have said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should not let conservative forces mislead him.
Mangala got that one right. Literally. The issue is, it is doubtful that he understood the meaning of the word. So let’s deal with some definitions first.
‘Conservative’ is an adjective. It means, ‘averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.’ It is also a noun, referring to someone who is averse to change and holds traditional values. So, there are some key words here we need to think about: change, innovation and tradition’
Now ‘tradition’ usually about transmitting customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Not necessarily bad, but in the political discourse that is in part framed by the colonial discourse, it has all kinds of negative connotations. The ‘traditional’ were called barbarians, heathens, philistines, uncivilized, uncultured, unsophisticated, vulgar, you name it.
All negative. Not much is said about how the ‘civilized’ became civilized, and how in the name of civilization they destroyed cultures, plundered wealth, torched libraries, poisoned water sources, enslaved and massacred.
Post-independence, the language changed. It was now about development and ‘underdevelopment,’ the latter sanitized as ‘developing’. Instead of ‘civilized’ we now had stuff like high incomes, high growth rates, growth-led development. Sure, they threw in ‘traditional knowledge’ and ‘sustainability’ and these were just words to sanitize above-board plunder, immiserization, wanton destruction of environment. Check out any development-related project proposal and you’ll find all these. Oh yes, they’ve added things like ‘aid effectiveness,’ ‘disaster mitigation’ and ‘climate change protocols.’ And of course ‘democracy,’ that intangible in whose name wars are declared, countries bombed into the middle ages and people slaughtered or corralled into refugee camps.
So when there’s talk of change and innovation, it’s about transformation of societies and systems in ways that facilitate the same kind of plunder. In short, the sustained development of classes in places of advantage in an economy. In short, subsidizing capital interests. And when there’s talk of ‘conservatism’ it is about preserving the same system of plunder and destruction that has brought us genocide, cultural erasure, increasingly frequent ‘natural’ disasters, wars and deadly diseases. Mangala, in the process of defending his guarded praise for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, tellingly, slips in the following caveat: ‘He should mention that there is no alternative but the economic policy of the previous government.’
Now THAT encapsulates the conservatism that Mangala is not interested in changing. THAT, also, is tradition now as far as the sway it has over all things economic, environmental and cultural. Innovation to entrench or further expand THAT is not wholesome, rather it is destructive, it diminishes and could even be called barbaric, uncivilized, uncultured, unsophisticated and vulgar.
So what else has been ‘traditional’ in Sri Lanka, post-independence? Well, quite apart from the vilification of tradition, history, heritage and other things cultural, we have had the fixation about ‘Exclusive Tamil Homelands.’ Now persisting with THAT would not just be conservative but pandering to a downright lie. Interestingly those who champion such myth models, treating them as givens, are as insistence on the thesis, ‘history is version.’ So, some versions are ok, others are not. That’s conservative.
So, we should not let conservative forces (which includes in these cases the likss of Mangala Samaraweera) mislead us (as they have for decades). There’s a whole lot of bunkum being passed off as god-given ‘solutions’ to all our ills. They include federalism and neoliberalism. Recent ‘traditions’ but traditions nevertheless. Archaic, based on falsehoods and proven to be untenable, unsustainable and even destructive. Advocates of such things are arch conservatives. They mislead. They should be ignored.
There’s more. Another ‘tradition’ that’s persisted is the ballyhoo about secularism. It can be summarized as follows: bash the Sinhala Buddhists, rant and rave over Article 9 of the Constitution, maintain dead silence about the negation of the same in Articles 10 and 14 and, most importantly refuse to utter a single word about the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act and other community-specific legislation that subvert all the lovey-dovey rhetoric of equality. Those who are ‘traditional’ in this sense, are also conservatives who have and continue to mislead leaders and the general public. Mangala is one among many.
There’s more. How about the ‘tradition’ of being servile to the USA, UK and the EU? Mangala (in)famously took THAT conservatism (which is almost an article of faith of the UNP and of course the SLFP under Chandrika Kumaratunga) to a whole new level with Resolution 30/1 of the UNHRC. That kind of genuflection has become a tradition. That’s conservatism we can do without. Indeed it’s conservatism that impedes progress, subverts change and makes innovation impossible. We have had missions from the West acting as though they are de facto viceroys. We have had ‘aid missions’ that have arm twisted or else bribed politicians and officials to tailor national policy in ways that further their interests at the cost of national security (which includes food security, by the way).
Dumping ‘National Interest’ has been a tradition for decades. Remember how that ‘great’ UNP leader, J.R. Jayewardene sold national interest down the river on July 31, 1987 to India? That’s another kind of conservatism; submitting to the will of India due to the so-called ‘geopolitical realities.’ That India seems to be changing, but we need to be ever-alert. Alertness, however, is inhibited by this ‘conservatism.’
It’s all about things that ‘go without saying,’ which, as the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu observed, ‘often come without saying.’ It’s part of colonialism. It’s part of subjugation through direct and indirect means, through threat and execution of threat.
So yes, such conservatives and conservatism should be called out and comprehensively defeated. No one should be misled by those who have a narrow, misguided or pernicious understanding of what’s conservative and what’s not. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa probably has his advisors. Mangala Samaraweera is obviously not one of them. We can only hope that those he listens to are nothing like Mangala Samaraweera.