The Paradox of Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism

Sinhalese Buddhism nationalism (SBN) has been the dominant socio-cultural-political force in SL since Independence. It has captured the state. SBN had strong class and materialist roots: it was originally a successful vehicle for extending and defending the claims of the poorer (Sinhalese) population to state resources. But it has also assisted in the defeat of a range of competing popular movements, and thus contributed to the general political demobilisation of a formerly activist citizenry. Liberated from organized, class-based, ‘popular’ pressures, the political elite has steadily replaced high-spending entitlement-based welfare programmes with successively smaller and more complex patronage-based packages. Governments most closely aligned to SLB have been most responsible for undermining the state’s revenue base, thus ruling out any return to significant welfareist policies. At a time of growing inequality, state capacity to spend on the poor is very limited. How do we explain this paradox? There is very little evidence on which to convict the obvious suspect: ‘capitalist forces’.