Indian Elections and Sri Lanka

bjp By Susantha Goonatilake                                                    

The Indian elections are now on. And they might have repercussions on Sri Lanka. India is the only country that after Independence has interfered directly in Sri Lanka. This was with a Congress government training and arming around one dozen Tamil groups.

Since 1989 that is for nearly 25 years India has not had a single party ruling the country, coalitions dominating. These included regional chauvinist parties like the various off-shoots of the DMK or some that catered for particular castes like the Dalit-oriented Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati.

How Sri Lanka understands these changes will be vital for our foreign relations. The Congress formed nearly 130 years ago and which ushered in Indian Independence has been dominated in recent decades by the relatives of the Nehru family. The BJP based on a Hindu” ideology has been traditionally upper caste but is at the present polling well across castes. Modi, the BJP leader however, comes from a backward caste.

The polls claim that the BJP would get the largest number of seats. Its leader Modi says that his emphasis is on development taking as an example, his State of Gujarat (which had grown around 10 percent every year for the last few years. His detractors say that under him, anti-Muslim riots killed thousands resulting in the U.S. denying a visa to Modi.

The BJP manifesto declares that the Congress… has failed to establish enduring friendly and cooperative relations with India’s neighbours”. It adds, India has long failed to duly appreciate the full extent and gamut of its soft power potential”. Soft power”means the use of cultural factors like belief systems. Both India and China have been using Buddhism, the common underlay for the whole of Asia for soft power politics. (Sri Lanka, the longest continuous Buddhist culture in the world had not even thought of this as a foreign policy instrument).

Modi has been campaigning with a picture of Rama behind him. The BJP shot to notoriety when in 1992 a mob they instigated demolished the Babri Mosque built in the 16th century by Muslim rulers on; The BJP alleged it was the site of an earlier temple to Rama, the hero of the Ramayana. The Ramayana however, has no historical basis and is actually derived from the Dasaratha Jataka story and is therefore post-Buddhist. Archaeological excavations in 2003 discovered Buddhist ruins below the Babri site with some signs of an intermediate Hindu” level.

The BJP manifesto states that it will facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya”. And nearer our shores, the BJP manifesto assumes as a real bridge, so-called Adams Bridge – the Ram Setu. Indian scientists have dismissed this as only a natural formation between India and Sri Lanka.

The Ramayana is found in Southeast Asian countries including Theravada countries because Hinduism first penetrated them before the coming of Buddhism. In Sri Lanka, the Ramayana carried no importance till the Kotte period. But even during this period, there was Vidagama Thero ridiculing Rama, the hero of Ramayana, as being unable to cross the stretch of sea between Sri Lanka and India but had to build a bridge and having no godlike powers.  Vidagama also attacked Brahmins calling them deceivers of the world with false magic and “invented Vedas”.

“Hinduism” unlike other belief systems like Buddhism, Confucianism or the Western” religions of Christianity and Islam, does not have a single founder. It has multiple sets of beliefs, the word Hinduism itself derives from what the Persians called the land beyond the Indus River.And in fact, modern “Hinduism” is largely an invention during the late British period.

The Indian Constitution defines Hindus to include Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists with founders and with defined philosophies. The BJP manifesto mentions positively both the Buddha and the Jain founder Mahaviraas part of the Indian heritage. Hinduism in practice has a strict caste system with a significant section of the population Dalits, considered untouchable. It was because of this that Ambedkar, a Dalit co-author of the Constitution said that he was born a Hindu but will not die a Hindu”. He converted to Buddhism together with hundreds of thousands of Dalits. Upon conversion, Ambedkarites smashed Hindu images.

The return of Buddhism to India was actually started earlier in the successful attempt by AnagarikaDharmapala through his Maha Bodhi Society to wrest control from Hindus of the Maha Bodhi, the place of Enlightenment of the Buddha.

The BJP takes its “Hinduism” seriously, and probably would not invite the Pope as a state guest.The destruction of temples in Goa by instructions of Popes like in then Sri Lanka is still fresh in their minds. During the last visit of the previous Pope in 1999, ideologues of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu ParishadVHP demonstrated against the visit. They were incensed when that Pope called for the conversion of Asia. Modi is a member of the RSS. Ashok Singhal once the International President of the VHP termed the LTTE the armed wing of the Christians”.

The BJP and Modi have been going to the different borders of India and saying that the BJP would be firm to Bangladesh Muslim migrants, and to Sri Lankan fishermen. One of its Tamil executive members, Ganesan had been blaming the Congress government for abstaining from the anti-Sri Lanka Geneva resolution this year.

Ganesan has also charged that Pakistan-backed extremists in Tamil Nadu are being trained in Sri Lanka. Modi has got Vaiko the most virulent supporter of the LTTE as part of his BJP alliance. On the other hand Subramanium Swamy, a BJP stalwart has been consistently anti-LTTE.

Other contradictions abound.

The DMK itself arose from a late 19thcentury impact by AnagarikaDharmapala to form a Dravidian Buddhist Society for South Indian dalits. Over the decades, this metamorphosed into the Tamil Nadu racist movement. In the process, the DMK invented Ravana the villain of the Ramayana, as a Dravidian hero who was resisting the North Indian Rama.  (In Sri Lanka, half-baked commentators have recently distorted history including a lorry driver expert” who painted over inscriptions to give a non-existing Ravana presence in the country). And today’s Maha Bodhi Society in Colombo seems to have embraced this Rama/Ravana fiction. AnagarikaDharmapala its founder, who fought to regain Bodh Gaya from Hindus, would have been horrified.

Chouhan, the BJP Chief Minister of Madhya PradeshState had a foundation laying ceremony for a Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies. The Sri Lankan President was there and its governing board has both Sri Lankan Buddhists and Indian Hindus.  It is falsely labelled as a first-ever Buddhist university. The first Buddhist University is the Nava Nalanda University in Bihar State (named after the many viharas that once dotted Bihar) started in the early 1950′s with a Sri Lanka-educated monk Kashyapa. And the biggest Buddhist inspired university is the large Gautam Buddha University established in Uttar Pradesh State by its then Chief Minister, Mayawati the Ambedkar following Dalit.

But there is other cross postings between the BJP and the Mahabodhi Society of India. In 1949 Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee, today with the BJP, was the Mahabodhi President receiving the relics of Sariputta and Moggalana, the key disciples of the Buddha. More recently, another VHP stalwart was for some time head of the Indian Mahabodhi Society. And while Chouhan was laying the foundation for his Buddhist/Hindu University in the presence of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the LTTE supporter Vaiko and his gang were arrested for demonstrating against Rajapaksa’s presence. Vaiko is today supporting the BJP.

There are other facets. Vijaya, the legendary first prince of Sri Lanka is claimed as their own by both Gujarat and Bengal (the latter even having a Yatra” play on him). And Ezhavas, the second largest caste group in Kerala claims that they are displaced Sinhalese.

Regional and ideological tensions will become a factor in any future Indian government.These would loom large as India dissolves into competing factions and held together by a central government. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy hasn’t pressed these many buttons within the Indian polity and society. The USA with nearly a million deaths on its hands in Iraq and Afghanistan is targeting both Modi and Sri Lanka. Maybe if Sri Lanka plays our cards correctly, in both changing India and rising Asia, the two countries could come together. In the Non-Aligned days, decades ago, they did. (Lanka Web)

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