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The Social Basis of Nationalism in Ceylon

  • B. H. Farmer


There is something particular, though perhaps not unique, about Ceylonese nationalism, or, to be more precise, about recent Ceylonese nationalism. In the last years of colonial rule, Ceylon appeared to be sliding gently and quietly along the road to independence, with properly conducted constitutional change to mark the milestones; when colonial rule ended on February 4, 1948, it seemed that the gentleness and quietness was to continue into the era of independence itself. But with the 1956 elections there came an apparently sudden change. In the elections themselves, a landslide overwhelmed the long-dominant United National Party in a way that has not so far afflicted the Indian Congress or other similar parties, and a new Government came into power borne, it seemed, on the crest of a second wave of nationalism, of a different and more violent quality than its predecessor. There followed a period of rapid change, of communal strife, riots and emergencies, of political assassination; and, in 1962, there was an attempted coup d'état followed by political arrests. Such is still the instability of the contemporary scene in Ceylon that he would be a bold prophet who would dare to forecast the next political surprise.



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1 The author wishes to claim no special insight into Ceylon politics, his interest in which he regards as a by-product of work in other fields.

2 See Keeble, W. T. and Sena, Devar Surya, Life of Sir James Peiris (Colombo, 1950); and Hulugalle, H. A. J., The Life and Times of D. R. Wijewardene (Colombo, 1960).

3 For a brief review of constitutional change in Ceylon, see Wriggins, W. Howard, Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation (Princeton, 1960), 79103.

4 See Mendis, G. C., Ceylon under the British, 2nd ed. (Colombo, 1948), 123.

5 See Ceylon: Report of the Special Commission on the Constitution, Cmd. 3131, (London, 1928); and Ceylon: Report of the Commission on Constitutional Reform, Cmd. 6677 (London, 1945). See also Pakeman, S. A., Ceylon (London, 1964), especially Chapters 7–11.

6 The author is grateful to Mr. George Bennett for pointing out this and other suggestive parallels between Afrikaner nationalism (itself perhaps to be seen as a “second wave”) and Sinhalese nationalism.

7 See Wriggins, op. cit., especially p. 237; and Farmer, B. H., Ceylon: a Divided Nation (London, 1963).

8 For the geographical realities behind the terms “Wet Zone” and “Dry Zone,” see Farmer, B. H., “Ceylon” in O. H. K. Spate, India and Pakistan, 2nd ed. (London, 1957), 745–86.

9 Ryan, Bryce, Caste in Modern Ceylon (New Brunswick, N. J., 1953), 331.

10 SirJennings, W. Ivor, “Politics in Ceylon since 1952,” Pacific Affairs, XXVII (1954), 344.

11 Wriggins, p. 173.

12 Ibid., pp. 193–201.

13 The Betrayal of Buddhism, Report of the Buddhist Committee of Inquiry (Balangoda).

14 Jennings, op. cit, p. 344.

15 M. E. P. stands for Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (“People's United Party”).

16 See Wriggins, pp. 191–2; and Bryce Ryan, 39–41.

17 Bryce Ryan, 41.

18 The author is indebted to Mr. George Bennett for this suggestion. For D. S. Senanayake's policies and character, see The D. S. Senanayake Memorial Volume, Ceylon Historical Journal (1955–6).

The Social Basis of Nationalism in Ceylon

  • B. H. Farmer


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