Politicization of Buddhism and Electoral Politics in Sri Lanka
RELIGION AND POLITICS IN SOUTH ASIA, Ali Riaz, ed., Routledge, 2010
65 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2010
Date Written: March 9, 2010
This study examines the interaction between religion and politics in Sri Lanka. Existing scholarly studies on Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict largely address the ethnic dimension of the conflict. Indeed, in the understanding of Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war, which has left 70,000 dead and displaced nearly a half-million people at its height generally, religion is rarely identified as having any role. But there is a point on the other side – what this study identifies as the religious factor.
In Sri Lanka, political elites and politicians often employ emotional symbols such as religion to win and consolidate their political position. This is a common political phenomenon among the Sinhalese (74% of population in 1981) and the mainly Hindu Tamils (12.6% of population in 1981) as well as the Muslims (over 7 % of the population). However, this study is confined to analyzing the behavior (vis-à-vis the use of religion) of Sinhala politicians and their political parties in their quest for political power.
The first section of the chapter would deal with the background of Sri Lanka’s religious politics to help readers understand the complex interactions between religion and politics. The theoretical section of the chapter would employ theories of symbolic politics to understand how symbols are powerful in electoral politics. The final and key section of the chapter would be dedicated to analyzing Sri Lanka in the context of the use of religion in symbolic politics. This section would examine how the politicization of Buddhism helped Sinhala political elites and leaders in their quest for power, reinforcing religious and ethnic tensions. This paper would finally suggest some solution to de-religionize the state structure to help Sri Lanka enjoy the fruits of modernization and democracy.
Keywords: Religion, Politics, Violence and Peace
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