“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr
.This has been told, not once, not twice or thrice but an umpteen number of times. The Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) organization is not a fresh or novel manifestation of a particular sectorial thinking or a by-product of yesterday’s emotions. The character, substance and inner content of the driving force behind these civil organizations- although there is nothing remotely civil about this kind of groupings- is a tremendous sense of inexplicable yet remarkably acute inferiority felt all along the storied history of the Sinhalese Buddhist people. The style adopted by the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) might appear as novel, violent, militant and even sophisticated to an untrained and unequipped academic but that style is deeply embedded in the troubled psyche of the Sinhalese people, especially of the Buddhist kind.
The Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka are experiencing a feeble feeling of inferiority despite being a great majority among those who claim the country as their motherland. Time and time again, historians have failed to render any valid and legitimate reason as to why and how an ethnic majority schooled and nurtured by a non-violent and non-discriminatory religion, is indulging in macabre killings and wanton vandalism. A malicious and a delusional mind is being portrayed as a superior kind, exposing complete absence of intellectual reasoning and prudent inquiry.
When politics invades an ordinary mind, a mind that has been entrapped by myths and legends of the past and held captive by screaming rhetoric of the twenty first century vernacular and backed by deafening silence of both the clergy and lay leadership of the country’s majority, the shame of being held under colonial serfdom tries to find solace in a glorifying sense of superiority because that glorified superiority follows a ‘war-victory’ after a grueling thirty-year physical battle with their sworn enemies of history- the Northern Tamils; that gives them a different DNA, an identity for this Colombo-accustomed middle class that is struggling to compete with the English-speaking, Colombo-educated elite.
That new ID has provided this emerging middle class of Sri Lanka not only with a false sense of patriotism, it has also provided them with a moral (or immoral) proviso to be militant against an unarmed civilian community whose only sin has been their being born to a different race or ethnic group. Always intrigued by a new sense of importance and self-glory, this middle-class is perpetually in search of an identity and gives moral, psychological and eventually, material support to fringe organizations that propagate and sustain the significance of commanding supremacy in the echelons of societal power.
That middle class is the dynamic force that sustains fringe organizations such as Bodhu Bala Sena and Ravana Balakaye. Some members of them being university-educated, they gain acceptance in society more than others whose only daily needs are limited to making a decent living with their children in school and making an extraordinary effort to make ends meet, so to speak. And that segment of that lower middle class is an easy marketplace for vitriolic politics that is principally based on the supremacy of the Sinhala race and Buddhism.
In addition to making this crucial segment of the population getting engrossed in a socio-cultural issue which anyway is quite sharp enough to reach explosive dimensions provided they are fanned with the necessary ‘patriotic’ rhetoric flames, the distraction it does to this class of people from the daily struggle of keeping ends meet in an economic atmosphere of spiraling living costs, is quite great. That ‘distraction’ factor was most cleverly used by Fidel Castro in Cuba when the Cuban economy kept struggling to stay afloat after the pipeline of massive aid from the then Soviet Union dried up.
The current administration has been successful, at least up to the present time, in keeping the people engrossed in socio-cultural issues such as imaginary Muslim domination in the business world, equating the local Muslim population to the international terrorist organizations such as the Taliban and Al Qaida etc. and thereby throwing a sense of fear and suspicion based purely on race and religion. When such racial and religious suspicions and fears start playing in a people who have been traditionally found to be gripped by an inferiority complex while being an overwhelming majority inside their own country, organizations such as Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) and Ravana Balakaye (RB) whose very organization-title names are meant to be inspiring and provoking while sustaining a false sense of pride, aura and glory among that target population group, aided by superior mob-oratorical skills as evidenced in the speeches made by the leading persona who is appearing in saffron robes, the canvass gets extremely smudgy and unreadable for the unsuspecting and un-probing mind.
Although the birth of organizations such as Bodhu Bala Sena and Ravana Balakaye at first sight, looks as a logical juncture in the evolution of the Sinhalese-Buddhist patriotism, especially after the ‘war-victory’ against the ‘Tigers’ but when one follows the development of these organizations, their inexorable march towards a demented sense of dominance and the very vernacular that is being used by their leading persona who is garbed in Saffron robes, are frightening. Their behavior makes even a notorious Parliamentarian like Mervyn Silva look like an amateur.
A reasonable man or woman might cringe at the very use of the language used by these religious ruffians who appear in Saffron robes, but when taken in the context of the overall transformation that our society has gone through over the last decade or so, our people have got used to this uncivil and indecent language. Stated quite bluntly, the language used by the notorious leading voice of the BBS is not the language used even by any lay leader in the country. It is not only tolerated by a great majority of the followers of the movement but in fact, the absence of such vitriolic language would be treated as a shortcoming on the part of the deliverer of the message. The language and phraseology attributed to the leaders of the BBS are no more innocuous than a street thug dictating to his petty gang reminding one of a third rate hooligan demanding attention through words cascading from him like hate-ridden provocations and threats.
But the real question is not whether these unholy provocateurs keep badgering an unsuspecting segment of our population. It is the vociferous approval rendered unto them by quasi-racist political organizations such as Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the silent nodding that they receive from the highest in the land. The euphoria that followed the war victory and the ugly signs of triumphalism encouraged and fed by the those who gain direct benefits from such a destructive social force, contributed heavily to this resultant chaos that was stage-managed in Aluthgama a couple of weeks ago. All these signals and messages indicate one thing and only one thing- a carefully planned and plotted design is in place with only one objective in play: The next Presidential Elections and how to gain the maximum advantage from a gullible voter who has already been set up by a campaign run and sustained by pseudo-patriotism.
So the indications are obvious, only if one attempts and desires to be objective without being overly ‘patriotic’. The aiding and abetting rendered by the powers that be, to these elements who dwell on the fringes of the political spectrum are beyond dispute; its nourishing and nursing is systematic and well-orchestrated. Willy nilly the voter, the majority Sinhalese Buddhist segment of the population, has opted to be prey to such a diabolical scheme and even a physical demise of a Buddhist monk done at the whims and request of the plotters could serve well for the advance of this unholy cause of religious and racial division. Nothing could be ruled out when a determined set of rulers is hell-bent on retaining their power. At that time the BBS might well be an expendable tool.