Delivering rejected goods in a new wrapper?
Posted on January 18th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

An obviously complacent Chandrika  Bandaranaike, in a recent interview (as seen on a news video on Lankaweb on January 12, 2017) asserted that Ranil has today accepted her own constitutional proposals of 2000, which he rejected at that time. Commenting on what she took to be a vindication of her stand, she said that our politicians propagate racism, and that she herself did not do that. She further remarked that, of late, even some Buddhist monks have begun to resort to racism. She claimed, in a self- congratulatory tone, that she’s the only politician who never instigated racism, but she was careful to add that the (current) president is also (like her) non-racist. The former president was correct about the basic similarity between the 2000 and 2017 constitutional proposals, which is evident in their common accommodation of federalist demands.  Her banter about racism also has some twisted relevance to current developments in connection with constitution making.

It may be argued that, from as early as the grant of independence, or even from before that time, many communalistic  minority politicians (especially Tamil politicians), not all of them however, have harboured ungenerous feelings about the majority Sinhalese who form 75% of the population. This is in spite of the fact that they are so accommodating towards the minorities who compose the remaining 25%. Besides, the existential truth is that, in general, a larger proportion of the Sinhalese are politically and economically worse off, or more disadvantaged, than Tamils and Muslims. The average Sinhalese voters, who are not without the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, do not know what the problems are that the Tamils have  that they themselves don’t suffer from.

But the perennial complaint of Tamils against alleged Sinhalese discrimination has a historical explanation. It is not due to any characteristic depravity of the Sinhalese or of the Tamils. The key factor is that it is largely a vicious legacy of  the infamous divide and rule imperial policy of the British colonialists. They privileged the minorities over the Sinhalese whom they wanted to keep suppressed since they were potentially dangerous to their dominion. It was the land of the Sinhalese that the British were occupying. The affirmative action policies introduced following the 1956 dawn of ‘the era of the common man’ (or ‘age of the common people’ in today’s nonsexist language) such as making Sinhala the official language in place of English (the foreign tongue through which the common masses were oppressed), nationalizing public transport services, taking over of schools, phasing out the English medium, etc. were meant to end discrimination against the common people, including the Sinhalese majority, who had borne the brunt of European, especially British, oppression. The pioneers of the 1956 change called it the era of the common man  and the concept included all the oppressed citizens of the country – the ordinary Ceylonese as distinct from the small privileged minority of the English speaking and Christian Westernized elite, favoured by the occupying British. The alleged racism that the Sinhalese are traditionally accused of is a complete myth. Actually, it is they who, even now, are at the receiving end of racism, as their current predicament shows.

The external demand for promoting a so-called reconciliation and for formulating a new constitution is, in the final analysis, based on false racist assumptions against the Sinhalese. There is really no need for any reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils because there was no enmity between the two as ethnic groups, and the traditional peaceful coexistence which has been the norm  for centuries remained intact even during troubled times. The call for reconciliation is predicated on the wrong assumption that the government was fighting against all Tamils  and that the LTTE was their sole representative. The factual situation was  that the state was forced, with reluctance, to militarily put down a separatist rebellion launched against it by the group. Armed terrorism was put down, as it had to be, only after all attempts at resolving the problem through peaceful means, under five or six different governments during nearly twenty-six years, had failed due to the  group’s intransigence.

As for a new constitution, such a thing was not among the election pledges made by the coalition of parties that came to power after the regime change of January 2015. What they promised was only to significantly modify the existing constitution by  making such changes as abolishing the executive presidency and introducing a reformed electoral system, etc. Among proposed constitutional reforms at this juncture is the subtly camouflaged proposal that the country be divided into two regions (something discernible even to an average layman like me): the (eventually merged) north and east forming one, and the rest of the country forming the other, with separate zonal councils being established for Muslims in the east and Tamils in the central hills. It is as if the proponents of the new constitution have decided that the Sinhalese are so tribalistic, xenophobic and inconsiderate that it is impossible for minority communities to coexist with them. Doesn’t that unreasonable assumption smack of racist discrimination against the Sinhalese? If one goes by the report of the Public Representations on Constitutional Reform  of May 2016 (which hardly extends any recognition to the views of the majority Sinhalese), and the recent  reports of the six subcommittees of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly (the sub-committee reports are closely linked to the PRCR report)), particularly the report on Centre Periphery Relations, one could strongly suspect that the plan is to divide the country into nine separate provincial administrations, each enjoying its own judiciary, police, and land powers, with few incentives for them to remain united as one country. Of course, the country could still be called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and could still be touted as a unitary state. But that is all. Insistent reassurances, mostly implicit (e.g., in the report of the Sub-committee on National and Public Security, Public Order and Police and Law Enforcement) that the unitary character of the country will remain intact cannot to be relied upon.  Ultimately, the unitary claim will be limited to the label. In reality, the country will be a loose confederation of nine provincial quasi states. A number of Sri Lanka’s competent constitutional lawyers and political analysts who genuinely care for the future of our beloved motherland prognosticate a future where, ironically, a Tamil speaking unitary state will emerge in the north and east and a multiethnic federal state in the rest of the country!

I heard a number of MPs of the yahapalana coalition, among them particularly, those of the official SLFP, denouncing their opponents in the Joint Opposition as (Sinhalese) racists. In this respect, the UPFA members raising racist allegations against their erstwhile colleagues, who form the biggest component of the Joint Opposition,  are even more strident than the UNP members. Therefore, Chandrika Bandaranaike is not without supporters. She is a responsible person. She was elected president for two terms. She must have genuine reasons to believe what she believes about our politicians (apparently, only those representing the majority Sinhalese are racists in her view). However,  there a rare few Sinhalese politicians who condemn their co-ethnic colleagues as racists. They do so when the latter express an independent opinion about what is good or bad for the Sinhalese as a community that is different from their own views.

But what is racism? A good definition of ‘racism’ is the following from the online Oxford Dictionary:

The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”

A politician who holds such a belief and demonstrates it in words and actions is a racist. Speaking and working for the welfare of one’s own race, and against what is detrimental to it, but without any unprovoked ill will  towards members of other races, is not racism. It is patriotic nationalism.  In my opinion, only a handful of Sinhalese politicians from 1948 to date can be called racists; strangely though, they are not pro-Sinhalese; they are anti-Sinhalese racists.

2 Responses to “Delivering rejected goods in a new wrapper?”

  1. Cerberus Says:

    Tamils have not done anything to develop the country from the time of Independence. They only hate the Sinhalese even though they have got more than the Tamils in Tamil Nadu from the Sinhalese. No amount of appeasement will satisfy them until they can create a Dravidasthan in Sri Lanka for the Tamils everywhere. This time they managed to get a trio of traitors elected by spreading lies about President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This proves that Democracy does not work in Sri Lanka since our people can be swayed easily by lies. The MPs who get elected can be easily swayed by giving them money and cars and other perks. Most of them are uneducated louts who get into politics to make money.

    The fact that Democracy does not work has been proven by the recent elections in the USA where a bunch of uneducated people elected controversial person into power. People, unless they are highly educated and trained in critical thinking, can be easily swayed by demagoguery like US President-Elect who appeared to appeal to the basest emotions of the people. Hitler is another example of a demagogue who was insane and destroyed Germany. India’s recently deceased Jayalalitha was popular with the uneducated masses of Tamils because she used to play the Hindu goddess Parvati. In fact, it is said that Tamil used to throw themselves under the wheels of MG Ramachandran’s car because they thought he was Shiva and by dying under his vehicle they would go straight to heaven.

    This proves what Socrates said long ago. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLJBzhcSWTk&t=54s

    In order to safeguard Democracy, we must implement regulations as follows as to who can run for office in Sri Lanka as our neighbor Singapore has done.
    1. Set minimum qualifications for anyone who runs for office. In Singapore, one has to have a Ph.D. to run for office.
    2. Ensure they have no police record or criminal background.
    3. Lay down a maximum age for those who run for office.
    4. Pass a medical test and psychological test to ensure they are of sound mind and body.
    5. Ensure they declare their assets and those of his immediate family members annually to the public.
    6. Above all have the free press and a good education which trains people in critical thinking, not memorizing and reproducing facts at exams.
    7. Have debates and discussions on issues as they do now on the tv and radio. In the USA the press and TV have been hijacked by the Republican party which caters to the very rich. The recent book by Thomas Piketty talks about the growth of Capital in the hands of a very few people and what it does to the society. In Sri Lanka people who became instantly rich like Arjun Mahendran and his nephew, Arjun Aloysius has bought some media companies in preparation to take over the media in Sri Lanka.

    True democracy is never free. It is a right one has to fight for every single day.

  2. Christie Says:

    It is not a question of racism. It is a question of Imperialism and colonialism. The Indian Empire and Indian colonial parasites.

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