Sectarianism, secularism and
spectre of sectarianism is haunting the ongoing electioneering
in the Eastern Province and this is something which the
right-thinking should find very unnerving. As disclosed by the
National Polls Observation Centre (NPOC), some political actors
in the 'fray' in the East are resorting to the highly damaging
tactic of blaring forth slogans of a religious and communal
nature with the aim of influencing public opinion in the run-up
to the Eastern Provincial Council elections. The
conscience-stricken of this country are bound to be pained by
the continued use of this perverse ploy by vote-hungry
We hardly need say that the exploitation of religious and
communal sentiments and sensitivities by politicians for the
purpose of expanding and consolidating their vote banks has had
the dire consequence of turning one community or cultural group
against the other. This dangerous play on perceived divisions by
parasitic politicians is a well tried tactic which has brought
many a fire-breathing, foul-mouthed demagogue votes, but has
undermined national unity very relentlessly.
In fact, Sri Lanka suffered very seriously and as pitiably
over the decades as a result of it. The conflict which bled Sri
Lanka white for 30 long years is the proof of this. We are
compelled to conclude that the lessons of history are brushed
aside with wanton disregard by the political forces concerned or
are yet to be learnt.
Since 1948 Sri Lanka has prided itself over its democratic
identity but very little, unfortunately, has been done about the
lingering blight of sectarianism; that is, the opportunistic use
of religious sensitivities by wily politicians to build and
expand on their vote bases. However, ideally, this should not be
the case if the tenets of democracy are being scrupulously
preserved by our polity.
In flourishing democracies, religion and politics are rigidly
kept apart. That is, religious issues cannot be used
self-servingly and cynically by politicians in a system of
government which claims to be democratic in nature.
Provisions to this effect are usually embodied in the
constitutions of these countries and in the foremost of them
there is no 'mixing' of religion and politics. This is
secularism in its essentials and in the strongest of liberal
democracies, secularism is seen as an inalienable principle of
Thus, the need should be seen as great in polities such as
Sri Lanka, to completely outlaw the divisive use of religious
sensitivities and sentiments by politicians.
It is the cynical and destructive use of these emotions in
politics which must be shunned and the problems currently
surfacing in the East should draw the attention of the local
polity to this urgent need.
Religions serve a very important purpose in society and their
abuse by self-serving and opportunistic politicians, for
instance, amounts to denigrating these belief systems and world
views which, under normal circumstances, make human life
beautiful and worth living. Thus, among other things, a society
would be helping to protect the integrity of religions by making
it an offence to use religious slogans and sentiments in a
divisive and destructive way in politics.
Ideally, laws and prohibitions must be passed to prevent the
destructive use of religion. Specifically, political campaigns
must be free of incendiary slogans of a religious nature. Giving
effect to these prohibitions is within the realms of the
possible and we urge the state to give this matter deep thought.
We cannot have devious politicians undoing the good that has
been achieved over the past three years in particular, in the
form of a society which has the potential to be united under one
'Sectarian strife' is relentlessly destroying many a polity
in particularly Asia. The suffering borne by these societies
should emphasize to the world the highly destructive nature of
politicized religion. This is a path of destruction any
right-thinking society would avoid.