Social Scientist. v 3, no. 30-31 (Jan-Feb 1975) p. 97.

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Imperialism and Development Studies in Sri Lanka

THE aim of this note is to trace in broad outline the growth of thinking on development in Sri Lanka, especially over the last two decades, thereby placing this thinking in a historical context, and to assess the position of such thinking today.

After the imposition of a total colonial blanket on the country in the nineteenth century, two broad views of what is development (in the fundamental sense of what was desirable for the country) began to emerge. Firstly, there was the view of the colonizers, for example, that the growth of the plantation sector, with the associated growth of a socio-economic infrastructure of railways and other means of transport, together with the colonial bureaucracy, was best for the country. The opposing view, held by such reformers as Anagarika Dharmapala, and later, by nationalist leaders such as Bandaranaike, emphasized self-sufficiency, self-reliance and sovereignty. This may be called the counter-view on development.

But the counter-view, which gathered strength in the last decades of colonialism, was not well formulated in terms of post-independence plans of action, nor did it represent one specific view of development. Under its broad heading were views that ranged from a romantic idea of returning to the ancient golden age of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, through the east European form of socialism, to a national laissez-faire type of capitalism.

One counter-view to have a strong influence was a deep-seated nationalistic ideology which sought inspiration from the Sri Lankan past, rejecting the changes induced by Western penetration. By the 1860s, a strongly-motivated Buddhist revival, led by members of the middle class, educated in Christian missionary schools, was growing in strength and militancy. Expatriates, like the American theosophist Colonel Olcott, and the Russian mystic Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, also played an important role in this by stressing an idealized Sri Lankan past and exhorting the Sri Lankans to reject the Western presence. But by far the central figure in this re-crystallization of the Sri Lankan national self-consciousness was Anagarika Dharmapala.

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