The ideological history of the Sri Lankan 'peasantry'.
In order to support and sustain its claim to be the legitimate political heir to the British colonial power, the Sri Lankan nationalist elite became 'locked-in' to a particular interpretation of the historical and moral nature of Sri Lankan rural society and of the proper role of state power in reconsitituting that society out of the 'deformed' patterns of social and economic relationships created by colonial rule and alien influences generally. This interpretation of society has involved the notion of a 'peasantry' as the historical and moral core of Sinhalese (as opposed to Sri Lankan) society. Rural policy, and thus this continual reconstitution of smallholder agriculture, has been significantly determined by a set of beliefs which were fitted together and embodied in an elite nationalist interpretation of history to meet the political needs of the 1920s and 1930s. These beliefs have remained influential, in part because of the remarkable (relative) stability of the Sri Lankan political system from 1931 until very recently. Yet they have also helped set the scene for the undermining of that stability, and for the recent descent into severe ethnic conflict, political repression by the government party, and the incipient disintegration of the whole mechanism of rule. For the primacy assigned to the majority Sinhalese community in this dominant ideology has helped legitimize a wide range of symbolic and material aggressions against the perceived 'privileges' of the minority Sri Lanka Tamil community.