Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
This essay reviews the history of the intellectual discourse known as Jathika Chinthanaya in Sri Lanka. This discourse emerged in the Sinhala-Buddhist south of Sri Lanka as a left-oriented intellectual movement and soon transformed into the intellectual front of extreme Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-nationalism. The central problem addressed in this essay is how the movement shifted away from its initial promise to overcome the limits of Marxism and propose an alternative vision to the existing capitalist economic and social order to become instead the intellectual front of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. This problem is investigated through a historical analysis of the evolution of the Jathika Chinthanaya discourse in its first two decades. The essay argues that the key to understanding the history of the movement, particularly the deviation from its left leanings towards an extreme form of ethno-nationalism, is to look at the problem in terms of the way in which it responded to the broader political and ideological circumstances in the Sinhala-Buddhist south in the period under review. Initially, the movement responded to the political vacuum created by the decline of the Left. This response took shape in a context where Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-nationalism was looking for new stimulus to face the challenge that came from growing militant Tamil nationalism. Jathika Chinthanaya successfully performed that task, especially by mobilising politically-conscious educated youth in the Sinhala-Buddhist south. Continuing to engage with the task of constructing an effective counter-discourse to the one that legitimised the Tamil political demands, the movement shifted further away from its initial left orientation and became an integral part of Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-nationalism as its most effective intellectual front.
Keywords: Gunadasa Amarasekera, Jathika Chinthanaya, Nalin De Silva, Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-nationalism, Sinhala-Buddhist South