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Geostrategic significance of Pompeo’s visit

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By Neville Ladduwahetty

The arrival of US Secretary of State Micheal Pompeo days before the US presidential election has been a cause for much speculation. Judging from the countries he visited––India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia and Vietnam––the Secretary’s whirlwind visits were to strengthen geostrategic ties with these countries as a measure of preparedness to counter the growing dominance of China in the Indo-Pacific region. As part of this exercise what Secretary Pompeo and the US Secretary Defence, Mark Esper, achieved in India was a total makeover of India’s image globally; a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement has now become an ally of the US and committed member of the Quad.

In comparison to what happened in India, the MCC agreement with Sri Lanka amounts to small change. What happened in India would transform a geostrategic alliance with Quad partners into one that would have far-reaching geopolitical implications because its current relationship with the US would affect relations with all its neighbours such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and others.

As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, there was considerable apprehension as to whether the government would sign the MCC agreement, notwithstanding the opposition to it ever since the public came to know of its existence. However, following talks with Secretary Pompeo, the President has reportedly informed his Ministers that the MCC Agreement would not be signed. By not making an official statement to this effect and embarrassing its guest for the sake of gaining cheap political capital, the government has acted with maturity and good taste. After all, one does not have to crow when one does not compromise on principles such as sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

 

WHAT THE US ACHIEVED in INDIA

According to a report in The Island of November 1, by Special Correspondent S. Venkat Narayan, India signed five pacts, one of which “was the crucial Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to share sensitive satellite and map data. This agreement will give India access to topographical, nautical and aeronautical data vital for pinpointed attacks using missiles and armed drones… BECA clears the path for India acquiring armed drones in the first instance and at a later date, fighter aircraft. Esper alluded to the discussions around this topic when he announced that the US planned to sell more fighter planes and drones to India.”

The report states: “A second official said the Indian link up with the US Central Command and African Command indicates that the two countries have bonded on hard security issues. ‘It is quite evident from the 2+2 dialogue that India has completely integrated with other members of the of the four-nation Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (QUAD) to monitor the Indian pacific region’ he said… Esper said the two countries’ focus must now ‘be on institutionalizing and regularizing our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future’ (Ibid).

The report ends thus: “Analysts say that the hesitation on India’s part to embrace the US for its national interests appears to have finally gone. The die has been cast for a strong Indo-US relationship, and it will not matter who wins the American presidential election on November 3”.

Having cast the die for a strong Indo-US relationship that “embraces the US for its national interests”, it makes sense for the Indian Foreign Secretary to question the relevance of non-alignment (Ceylon Today, November 3, 2020). However, for countries such as Sri Lanka, it is not to question the relevance or irrelevance of non-alignment but to accept the reality that India has abandoned a long cherished policy it fathered and nurtured and now finds that very policy an encumbrance because it does not resonate with its current geostrategic interests. It is a let-down not only for Sri Lanka but also to the over One Hundred other countries that committed faithfully to the Non-Aligned Movement. Instead of being despondent, Sri Lanka has to gear itself how to realign itself in keeping with the ongoing tectonic shifts in international relations.

 

FREE and OPEN INDO-PACIFIC

The principle of the QUAD and therefore of India as one of its partners, is to promote “a free and open Indo-Pacific”. Although the stated principle reaffirms the age old international practice of freedom of navigation, the QUAD is essentially a military strategic alliance to counter emerging threats from China in the Indo-Pacific region. These threats arise primarily because most countries in the region have territorial issues with China, starting with the artificial islands that China created in the South China sea. Since Sri Lanka’s Port City is also artificially created, the US has imposed sanctions on companies and/or individuals associated with its construction.

Apart from this, Sri Lanka has no issues with China or any other country. In fact, Prof. Colombage is cited in Ceylon Today of November 3, as having stated that “between 2009 and now, 550 warships from 20 countries have visited Sri Lanka”, thus practicing the principle of free and open navigation in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, Sri Lanka has no cause to align with India or any other country, the way India has done in the name of “national interest”.

 

With India “embracing” the US in a strategic security alliance because of its own national interest, the question for Sri Lanka is what the status of the Agreements and Accords that were forged with India when it was non-aligned is. Now that India has abandoned its former policy and committed to a new relationship with the USA and the QUAD, India’s bona fides as far as Sri Lanka is concerned become questionable because there is a credibility deficit.

With the US and India signing the key Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement “to share sensitive satellite map data”, India now has “access to topographical, nautical and aeronautical data even within Sri Lanka’s Greater Economic Zone. Such vital information gives India a clear and distinct advantage over Sri Lanka, that it did not have before. Such advantages are often exploited by major powers to the detriment of the smaller States. The irony in such a situation for India is that it shed blood to rid itself of colonialism, and later banded with other former colonial states to be fully free of colonial exploitation, but would itself become a coloniser and exploiter under the new relationship with the US, all in the name of “national interest”.

Reliance on the Non-Aligned Movement to bail out Sri Lanka from such a predicament would amount to blowing in the wind. Nor would appeals to India to play fair on account of centuries of deep and abiding bonding be of any help. What is at stake is pure and simple exploitation couched in smooth language based on “principles” such as free and open Indo-Pacific on the surface while exploiting what belongs to others beneath that geographic surface.

STRATEGY for SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka has to gear itself to face the emerging challenges arising from the dynamics of the newly forged US/India relationship. In this regard, Sri Lanka has to prepare itself to address how it is to structure the state including the institutions of government that best suits its own security, geography and its cultural roots under a new Constitution. In this regard, Sri Lanka should keep India informed only of the major trends of such an exercise not with the hope of securing India’s acquiescence, but as a matter of courtesy.

As for the economy, Sri Lanka should adopt measures that encourage the private sector to implement locally funded infrastructure projects to the maximum extent possible. By way of a real life experience, where this has benefited and continues to benefit the country is in the field of Water Supply. When Dinesh Gunawardena was Minister of Urban Development and Water Supply, a proposal was made to Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, who was the Secretary to the Treasury, to implement water supply schemes using locally raised funds because design and construction capabilities including materials required were available in Sri Lanka. The idea was welcomed but took time to germinate. With time and patience, today, out of a total of forty-four (44) small and medium scale Water Supply Projects throughout the country, twenty-two (22) are being implemented using local funding. Furthermore, locally funded projects are less costly than the foreign-funded ones.

Sri Lanka has the know-how and capability to undertake large scale Water Supply Projects as well. The issue however is the lack of funding. In such instances, instead of handing over the total project to foreign sources at a higher cost, the government should raise foreign funds and implement them locally because the local costs are considerably lower, and that means the foreign funds needed are significantly less than giving the entire project to foreign sources.

Such an approach should also be adopted for the construction of expressways that are toll roads as well, because even if such projects are given to foreign sources they are subcontracted out to local companies. Therefore, funds for infrastructure projects should be raised from foreign sources other than governments, and implemented locally at lower costs instead of handing over implementation to foreign sources at higher costs.

The benefits to the country that cannot be quantified in pure monetary terms are (1) That every project comes with it its share of challenges; exposing local personnel to the associated challenges means that they gain experience that otherwise they would never have received; (2) the fact that funding is sought from sources other than governments,means the country retains its independence without having to compromise its foreign relations thus avoiding financially related traps that are exploited by countries; (3) except for high priority projects such as power and energy, other projects should be delayed until Sri Lanka is able to catch its breath from the effects of the COVID – 19 Pandemic, and (4) to give Sri Lanka’s private sector every encouragement to engage with the private sector in other countries in projects that add value to local raw materials and minerals, and/or in projects that would substitute imports.

CONCLUSION

India and the US won big following the visit of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary Defence Mark Esper. In fact, it was so big that the MCC Compact with Sri Lanka amounted to small change. Perhaps, it was this that made Secretary Pompeo leave the decision on the MCC Compact to Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan people.

For the US, it got India to “embrace” a new relationship with the US and become a committed partner of the QUAD to a point where India’s Foreign Secretary has questioned the relevance of non-alignment. These shifts have transformed the geostrategic impact of Pompeo’s visit into a geopolitical one, and in the process have shaken the foundation of India/Sri Lanka relations. For India, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the US gives access to maps and data relating to the Indian Ocean that are invaluable to it both militarily and economically. This data has to include much information relating the Sri Lanka’s Greater Economic Zone. This places Sri Lanka at a serious disadvantage that is bound to be exploited by India.

These tectonic shifts become the motivation for Sri Lanka to break free from its former constraints imposed by Indian intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, and restructure the State and its Institutions to ensure its own security in keeping with its geography and cultural values, under the new Constitution. In the meantime, Sri Lanka should revisit and refashion its economic strategies on the lines recommended above, thereby underscoring its commitment to the country’s Sovereignty, Independence and Territorial Integrity.



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India at 75

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By Gwynne Dyer

Last Tuesday, on the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to turn India into a developed country, within the next 25 years. If all goes well, that could actually come to pass, but it would have to go very well indeed.The demographic and economic signs are positive. The country’s population has grown fourfold, since independence in 1947, but population growth has now dropped to ‘replacement level’: 2.1 children per completed family.

The current youngest generation is so large that the population will keep growing, until 2060, when it will have reached 1.7 billion. The upside of this is that India will continue to have a rapidly growing young workforce for another generation, while its only rival, China, will have a rapidly ageing and dwindling population (1.2 billion and still falling in 2060)

India’s GDP per capita has been growing at about 5% for years, and if that continues for the next 25 years, it will have grown to $7,500 per person. That’s certainly within the lower ranks of developed countries (like Mexico, South Africa or China today). Given the size of India’s population, the economy would certainly rank in the world’s top five.

So, Modi’s prediction was certainly within the realm of possibility, but there are two big wild cards. One is climate: although only half of India, technically, falls within the tropics, all of it, except the very far north, suffers long, very hot summers.This summer has been the hottest ever, with many of the largest cities experiencing temperatures, above 45°C, for days at a time. Whatever we do about climate in the future, it can only go on getting worse for India, for the next 25 years.

That will bring the country into the zone where it literally becomes unsafe for people to do manual work outside, at the height of summer; death rates will go up, and food production will go down. Nobody knows exactly how bad it will get, but it will certainly get much worse that it is now.

The other wild card is war. Since the Indian and Pakistani tests of nuclear weapons, in 1999, the subcontinent has lived under the threat of a ‘local’ nuclear war that would devastate both countries (and also cause global food shortages lasting for at least four or five years).An Indo-Pak nuclear war is not inevitable, but, unlike the major nuclear powers, these two countries have fought real wars against each other – three in the past 75 years. The likelihood of such a catastrophe actually happening is certainly a lot higher than zero.

Each country now has about 160 nukes, and although both are now working to move beyond the dangerously unstable ‘use them or lose them’ phase where a a surprise attack might disarm the other side, there is no real stability to be found when the adversaries are so close and the hostility is so intense.So there is no harm in considering whether it might have been better to keep the entire Indian subcontinent, first united by the British empire, in one piece, at independence, rather than splitting it into two countries (and eventually three, counting Bangladesh).

The split was by no means inevitable. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two main Hindu leaders of the independence movement, wanted an inclusive, non-sectarian republic, including all of British India, although they failed to offer Muslims sufficient guarantees to ensure their support.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the main Muslim leader in 1947, did want to carve a Muslim-majority Pakistan out of the country, but there was no obligation for the British government to satisfy his demand. He got his way because the United Kingdom was virtually broke after the Second World War and in a great hurry to dump its responsibilities in India.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been east of Paris, had five weeks to draw the dividing line between the two new countries. Around 15 million people, who found themselves on the wrong side of that line, became refugees, mutual massacres followed, and within weeks India and Pakistan had their first war. But it could have been different.

The undivided ‘big India’ would have 1.8 billion people today, about one-third Muslim and two-thirds Hindu. That would virtually guarantee that both groups would be represented in every government and in most political parties.

Lots of countries, elsewhere in the world, manage to be both democratic and prosperous with comparable religious and/or ethnic differences. The ‘big India’ would not have wasted 75 years’ worth of high defence spending, and there would be no risk of nuclear war.All those energies would have been devoted instead to civilian priorities, and that united India might already rank as a developed country. Might-have-beens.

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Ukraine War: Mother May I?

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By Gwynne Dyer

“This obviously does not happen because of a thrown butt,” said British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. But the Russian Ministry of Defence insisted that the explosions that destroyed at least eight warplanes at Saki Air Base in Russian-occupied Crimea on 9 August were due to “a violation of fire safety requirements.”

The implication is that some careless Russian smoker tossed away his cigarette butt and caused a fire that set off explosions. That’s hardly a testimonial to the discipline of the Russian air force’s ground crews, but it’s better than admitting that Ukrainian missiles have reached 225 km behind Russian lines to destroy a whole squadron of Russian fighters.Moscow also claimed that no Russian aircraft had been damaged by the explosions in Crimea, although the wreckage of the destroyed fighters was clearly visible on the ‘overheads’ from satellite observations.

The Russian Defence Ministry played the same silly game in April when Ukrainian cruise missiles sank the ‘Moskva.’, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It claimed that a fire had caused munitions to explode, and that the ship then sank while under tow due to “stormy seas” (although the sea was actually flat calm at the time).And what caused that fire? Careless smokers again, presumably, because even the most damning statements about the indiscipline and incompetence of Russian sailors and airmen are preferable to an admission that the Ukrainians are really hurting Russia.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry is having fun with this, reporting that it “cannot establish the cause of the fire [at the Russian airfield], but once again reminds of fire safety rules and a ban on smoking in unauthorized places.”

Taking responsibility for these strikes deep in Russian-controlled territory is not in Ukraine’s interest, so it’s happy for Russia to take the blame. Various anonymous defence officials in Kyiv further muddied the waters by suggesting that Ukrainian partisans were responsible, or Ukrainian special forces already operating far behind Russian front lines.

But why is it not in Ukraine’s interest to take ownership of these small but symbolically important victories?

It’s because the really decisive front in this war is how fast American and other NATO weapons systems are sent to Ukraine, and that is determined by a process that seems to be derived largely from the old children’s game of ‘Mother May I’ (also known as ‘Giant Steps’).The opening move is quite straightforward: Kyiv asks Washington for a hundred HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems so that it can counter Russia’s huge superiority in older artillery and rocket systems and drive Moscow’s forces from Ukrainian soil.

Washington replies that it can take two giant steps and a frog hop. No, wait a minute, it replies that Ukraine can have four HIMARS systems now. Once the crews have been trained and have demonstrated their proficiency in using the weapons, Kyiv can start the next round of the game by asking for more. This takes four weeks.

Getting into the spirit of the game, Ukraine then asks for only twenty more HIMARs, leaving the rest for later. Washington replies that it can take four baby steps and a pirouette – or rather, four more HIMARs now, but with the range still restricted to 70 km. and no thermobaric ammunition (fuel-air explosives). And so on.We are now in the fourth round of this game, with sixteen HIMARs promised of which Ukraine has already deployed between eight and twelve on the battlefield. At this rate, Ukraine will have the hundred HIMARs it needs to expel the Russians around April of 2024.

Similar games are being played with other badly needed weapons from NATO stockpiles like Western-made combat aircraft, modern anti-air defence systems, and longer-range missiles for attacks like the one on Saki Air Base. This is all driven by an excess of caution about such ‘escalation’ at the White House and in the National Security Council.

Washington is right to be concerned about Russia’s reactions, but it is prone to see the Russians as dangerously excitable children. They are not. They are poker players (NOT chess-players) who bet over-confidently, and are now trying to bluff their way out of trouble. The Russian ruling elite, or at least most of it, remains rational.

The Ukrainians, however, have to take American anxieties into account even when they use their own weapons, some of which have been modified for extended range, on distant Russian targets. The simplest way is just to pretend it wasn’t their weapons that did the damage.The same policy applies to the numerous acts of sabotage carried out in Russia by Ukrainian agents – and by a happy accident the Russians are willing to collaborate in this fiction. They’d rather blame the clumsiness, ignorance and incompetence of their own troops than give the credit to the Ukrainians.

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Book Review : An incisive exploration of Sri Lanka’s religiosity

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Title: ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka’ – Innovation, shared spaces, contestation

Editors – Mark P. Whitaker, Darini Rajasingham- Senanayake and Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran

A Routledge South Asian Religion Series publication

Exclusively distributed in Sri Lanka by Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 5. (e-mail: vijiyapa@gmail.com)

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This timely publication could be described as a revelation of the fascinating nature of Sri Lanka’s religiosity. It is almost customary to refer to Sri Lanka as a ‘religious country’ but it is not often that one comes across scholarly discussions on the subject locally. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, a collection of research papers put together in book form, fills this void most adequately.

Although not necessarily synonymous with spiritual development, religiosity in Sri Lanka essentially refers to the widespread prevalence of organized or institutionalized religion in the lives of the majority of Sri Lankans. What qualifies the country to be seen as religiously plural is the presence in it of numerous religions, though mainly in their institutionalized forms.

What ought to pique the interest of the specialist and that of the inquiring layman alike is the fact that though falling short of the highest standards of spirituality most of the time, religion is used innovatively and creatively by its adherents to meet some of their worldly and otherworldly needs. That is, religion is a dynamic and adaptable force in the lives of Sri Lanka’s people. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’ explores these characteristics of religion in depth and underscores the vitality of religion in the consciousness of its diverse practitioners. A chief strength of the publication is the featuring of almost all the main religions of Sri Lanka, from the viewpoint of their innovative and adaptable use by devotees.

The research papers in question, numbering 16, were presented at an Open University of Sri Lanka forum held in mid-July in 2017. The editors of the volume have done well to bring these papers together and present them in book form to enable the wider public in Sri Lanka and abroad to drink deep of the vital insights contained in them, considering that religiosity has gained increasingly in importance in post-war Sri Lanka. Fittingly, ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, is dedicated to the memory of well-known Sri Lankan social scientist Malathi de Alwis who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but had contributed a paper at the relevant forum prior to her passing away. Her paper too is contained in the collection.

The thematic substance of the volume could be said to have been set out in some detail by co- editor Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake in her introductory essay titled, ‘Spaces of Protection, healing and liberation…’ She writes: ‘Religiosity appears as a means of coping with life’s transitions, celebrations, disappointments, diseases, conflicts and violence; and events such as birth and death, illness, exams, marriage, divorce, the sense of the sacred, the auspicious, and inauspicious (Sumangali-Amangali). Fundamentally, beyond the political, (multi-)religiosity provides an individual’s coping strategy and/or a social performance for negotiating with the perceived power, energies and structures that are greater than oneself, particularly the supernatural and transnational.’

When seen from the above perspective, the ability of many Sri Lankans to comfortably worship at multiple religious institutions and shrines, for example, while claiming adherence in the main to this or that religious belief makes considerable sense, because the average Lankan devotee is of a pragmatic bent and not a religious purist. Depending on her needs she would worship at a major Buddhist or Hindu temple, for example, and also supplicate her cause at a prominent Catholic church. Such practices speak volumes for the flexibility and innovativeness of the devotee. They also testify to her broad religious sympathies and her ability to share her religious spaces with others of different religious persuasions. A few places of religious significance in Sri Lanka that thus draw adherents of multiple religions are Adam’s Peak, Kataragama, Madhu Church and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo.

At these places of reverence the usually restricted adherence to a single religious belief or faith is easily transcended by worshippers as apparently part of a personal or collective coping strategy to deal with multiple personal and societal pressures. ‘Kataragama Pada Yatra – Pilgrimaging with ethnic “others” ‘ by Anton Piyaratne and ‘Religious innovation in the pilgrimage industry – Hindu bodhisattva worship and Tamil Buddhistness’ by Alexander McKinley are just two papers in the collection that deal insightfully with this aspect of worshippers’ abilities to comfortably manage multiple religious identities and spaces. These habits of the average Sri Lankan devotee highlight the potentiality of religiosity, among other things, to be a bridge-builder among communities.

For instance, Mckinley sets out in his exposition: ‘Religious innovation at shared sacred sites can thus blur or sharpen the dominant ethno-religious divisions of ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ and ‘Tamil Hindu’ in Sri Lanka. Saman devotion can simultaneously be interpreted as a sincere form of highland Hindu religiosity, a strategic innovation by Tamil workers to appease Sinhala pilgrims, as well as an opening for Sinhalas to either convert Tamils into Buddhists, or to cooperate with them towards common goals, such as environmental conservation’.

A conspicuous and continuing theme of the collection is the wide-ranging and often damaging impact of the Sri Lankan government’s 30-year anti-LTTE war. Quite a number of the researchers, thus, deal with its adverse impact on women, and quite rightly, because the war revealed as perhaps never before the marked vulnerabilities of Sri Lankan women in conflict situations. ‘Of Meditation, Militarization and Grease Yakas’ by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake and ‘Vijaya and Kuweni retold’ by Neena Mahadev deal quite elaborately on this subject and throw valuable light on the multi-dimensional impact the Northern war has had on women, besides focusing on the resourceful ways in which religion is used by women to cope with social and political issues.

‘Emerging innovative religiosities and what they signify’ by Selvy Thiruchandran continues with the focus on women and religiosity but introduces a wider societal dimension by bringing into the discourse the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRM). The researcher points to the immense popularity among mainly middle class women of two of these movements, the Satya Sai Baba cult and the growing interest in Brahma Kumaris Yoga centres, and elaborates on the roles they play in enabling women to deal with personal and societal pressures.

However, Thruchandran arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion at the end of her wide-ranging research that, ‘The old religion and the new so-called innovation that is sought in the new religions can be summarized in a well-known cliché – old wine in new bottles.’ That is, these New Religions are mainly forms of escapism. We have here a fresh perspective on issues relating to the liberation of women that calls for deep consideration. Moreover, these New Religious Movements do not help in any substantive way to change the fundamental and perennial reality of male domination over women; for, we are given to understand that some men actively discourage their wives from joining the Brahma Kumaris movement.

The role of Sri Lanka’s Christian Left in giving religion a progressive and socially emancipatory orientation in recent decades is the subject of Harini Amarasuriya’s paper titled, ‘Beards, cloth bags, and sandals – Reflections on the Christian left in Sri Lanka’. The researcher’s prime focus is on an institution of mainly Left political activism established by a Christian clergyman, Sevaka Yohan, in Ibbagamuwa, Kurunegala in the seventies decade by the name Devasaranaramaya. Besides committing itself to robust Left political activism, the latter centre possessed an indigenous cultural ethos and sought to unite the country’s cultures and religions. In other words, the institution aimed at being a shared space where religions comingled on the basis of shared values.

Accordingly, the publication of ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka…’, is a welcome development. The book sheds invaluable light on the subject of local religiosity, which is a relatively unexplored but vital area of knowledge that has important implications for nation-building in Sri Lanka. Besides the papers discussed above, there are numerous other learned and insightful research papers on religiosity in this collection that call for urgent reading. Collectively the papers constitute a treasury of knowledge that those pursuing Sri Lankan Studies could ill-afford to by-pass.

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