The darkest hour is just before the dawn – III
Posted on November 16th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

Ven. Abhayatissa’s more recent utterances show that he has been somewhat reassured by the president. He sounds hopeful that after all this constitution making problem will soon be resolved. The monk believes that the president is the only person who can be expected to do this and save the country from being divided on ethnic lines.

To date, however, important government representatives have contrived to be in the denial mode, when queried about the new constitution. They usually ask critics: How can you talk about a constitution of which there isn’t even a draft?” But now it is evident it has already been drafted, as Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera said, though he did not reveal the names of the two persons who, he knew, drafted it. It is the venerable thera’s word against the two powerful political pragmatists, lately at cross purposes with each other. People know who to believe. Rear Admiral (Retired) Dr Sarath Weerasekera,(former UPFA MP for Ampara who led a three member delegation to Geneva in March 2017 with a 100 page dossier of factual information to refute war crimes allegations against the Sri Lankan armed forces as Chief Coordinator of The Federation of National Organisations sponsored by the Global Sri Lankan Forum) mentioned the names of two lawyers as the architects of the new constitution, both federalists: (old moribund Marxist) Jayampathy Wickremaratne and (overweening TNA politician) M.A. Sumanthiran. (These must be the names that the Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera was hesitant to mention.) Anyway, this is now common knowledge.

To cut a long story short, we are talking about a constitutional plot by interested parties. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa called the new constitution making programme a ‘constitutional conspiracy ’in parliament on November 2, 2017 while participating in debate on the so-called interim report. This conspiracy has been a few years in the making. Its purpose is to offer the  separate state that the LTTE fought for on a silver platter. Is it for this that over 29,000 of our young soldiers died and over 14,000 of them got permanently disabled in fighting? To this we need to add the incalculable cost that the conflict incurred in terms of the loss of civilian lives and property destruction. The Tamilnet, January 22, 2015 carried an article entitled Singapore Principles of 2013: Tamil polity taken for ride from Oslo to Singapore”. It refers to a meeting in Singapore in 2013 to which Mangala Samaraweera went, allegedly like a beggar” urging Tamil support for regime change in Sri Lanka.

QUOTE ‘Mr M.A. Sumanthiran, the non-elected national list ITAK parliamentarian and Mr V.T. Thamilmaran, the dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Colombo were the Tamil representatives from the island while representatives of the so-called Global Tamil Forum (GTF) were representing the Diaspora Tamils at a meeting in Singapore in 2013 when Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne came with his proposal points to agree upon a conceptual framework aimed at regime change, the removal of Executive Presidency and other arrangements targeting good governance. Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne was an adviser to Sri Lanka’s past two Presidents.

Mangala Samaraweera came as a ‘beggar’ urging Tamil support for regime change and abolition of the executive presidency. It was 2013,” said one of the participants, reflecting on the Singapore meeting.

When Tamil aspirations came for discussion, M.A. Sumanthiran wanted to avoid the mentioning of terms such as Nation and Right to Self Determination in the document.’ END OF QUOTE

What is in the interim report can be traced to the ten (so-called) Singapore Principles. The vagueness of the language adopted in formulating these principles and subsequently in preparing the interim report is deliberate. The first principle is: In describing the nature of the State what is important is the substance; the labels are secondary.” In the proposed constitution, the universally accepted English term ‘unitary’ is to be replaced by Sinhalese ‘a-keeya’ (a word coined by the republican constitution makers of 1972 as an equivalent of the English term ‘unitary) and Tamil ‘orumitta’ (meaning united, not unitary). The English word unitary will be dropped as inappropriate. So, the new federalist/separatist constitution makers are indulging in a kind of cynical verbal jugglery, by which they hope to leave the Sinhalese and other unitarists with the label the constitution makers think they will be satisfied with, and the Tamil communalists (not the ordinary Tamils) with the ‘substance’ they have always been clamouring for. The Republic of Sri Lanka shall be a secular state. Similarly, Principle No. 10: The Foremost place to Buddhism and equal status to other religions shall be assured” is an insult to the average intelligence and dignity of the Sinhalese Buddhist electorate. If all religions enjoy equal status, how can one of them be given the ‘foremost place’? Constitutionally granting Buddhism the foremost place will not harm the secular nature of the Lankan state just as the foremost place given to Christianity in the US, UK, and Norway, among other countries has not harmed the secular status of those countries. Monks get involved only when the country, the nation, and the Buddha Sasanaya are in danger, the protection of which is above politics.

What the news channels reported on parliamentary proceedings on October 30 – the first day of the scheduled three day debate (later extended by another two days) on the interim report of the proposed constitution making process – suggested the general direction it was moving. Minister Lakshman Kiriella, Leader of the House, was trying to assure the increasingly skeptical (public) that the unitary structure of the state and the foremost place given to Buddhism will remain untouched. (Having read the previous paragraph, the reader will have no difficulty in guessing how credible the writer thinks Kiriella is.) MP M.A. Sumanthiran forthrightly revealed what was up his (the government’s) sleeve: what was being proposed was ‘federation’. That was a direct contradiction of what Kiriella said. So, if the new constitution is passed, then Sri Lanka will be a confederation of states. Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was shouting about being against anything that divides the country, while referring to a so-called ‘13+1’ that the former president had allegedly suggested. The sincerity of Joint Opposition leader Dinesh Gunawardane’s unequivocal opposition to what is proposed in the interim report was in stark contrast to the silly casuistry of Kiriella.

The interim report gives a strong indication that, if the proposed constitution is passed and becomes the basic law of the country, the survivors of the militarily defeated separatists will not only have their separate state, but they will also have written a constitution that will in effect be a death warrant on the unitary state that defeated them! However, when this small country is virtually divided into two or three or more independent sovereign states, life will be hell for all the communities, due to inevitable border disputes, resource sharing squabbles, problems about maintenance of law and order, and religious conflicts. The worst hit will be the majority community. But it will be no better for the others.

The recorded history of the island is the history of the Sinhalese majority. Though nowadays the Veddahs are exclusively described as the indigenes of the island, that is misleading. The tribe that built up the island civilization, known throughout history as the Sinhalese, are as much indigenous to the island as the Veddahs. There is nothing wrong with the written and epigraphical history of this country. That it cannot be cited in support of federalism is a problem for the supporters of that ideology. Northern provincial council chief minister Vigneshwaran’s call to rewrite the country’s history is ridiculous. A 78 year old man must be a little more graceful towards the young children of this country, and control his thoughts, speech, and actions so as to save them future distress. Prabhakaran might have got Tamil fiction writers to invent Devanam Piya Theesan to replace Devanampiya Tissa (during whose reign Buddhism was officially introduced to Lanka), or Kasiappa to answer to the name of Kashyapa (Kashyapa of Sigiriya fame). But according to the most coldly academic accounts of dedicated historians (e.g., Prof. K.M. de Silva), Tamils, who originated in Tamil Nadu (Tamil country) had no permanent presence in the island until the 13th century CE. That is, their history in Sri Lanka does not go back more than 800 years, whereas the indigenous tribe that changed and survived as the Sinhalese after being conquered by a north Indian prince in the form of Vijaya around 600 BCE had been there from time immemorial. There were many invasions from South India, but they were all repelled. Magha of Kalinga who invaded the country in 1215, and who caused utmost destruction and delivered a mortal blow to the dry zone hydraulic civilization of the Sinhalese was driven back after 21 years of occupation. There were provincial Tamil rulers in the north, but they always ruled on sufferance. There were provincial Sinhalese rulers in the south as well. However, it was always recognized that the whole of Sri Lanka was one sovereign state, Sinhale, Ceylon, the country of the Sinhalese.

We must look back to our earlier as well as more recent heroic past in order understand the present problems and deal with them successfully. That is in order to leave a peaceable and prosperous land for our children. We don’t have to apologize for using the epithet heroic to describe our history because, unless it was heroic, we won’t have survived, as a people with their own country, unique language, universally benign religion, and  absolutely humane culture, the  numerous South Indian invasions and the subsequent, more lasting European intrusions over the past five hundred years. Sinhalese form nearly 75% of the population, and the rest all the minorities put together whom they have treated without discrimination, but with utmost humanity, kindness and generosity true to their Buddhist culture. These are self evident facts.

This beautiful country Sri Lanka belongs to the two major linguistic communities who have made it their common homeland for centuries: Sinhala speakers and Tamil speakers, who are culturally close relatives, that is, virtually members of one family. The majority of Sinhalese are Buddhists, while the majority of Tamils are Hindus. Christians and Muslims also largely belong to these two linguistic communities. Although earlier, English was used by the elite sections of the populations, it is now becoming a more and more universally used link language in education and work; English, as the most easily available global tongue for us, is set, whether we like it or not, to gradually replace both Sinhalese and Tamil in both fields. Multilingualism is not new to us Sri Lankans. It has been the case from time immemorial. Monks and prominent citizens learned Pali and Sanskrit in addition to Sinhala. Many native physicians acquired a knowledge of Sanskrit since Ayurveda medical treatises were in that language. Buddhist monks travelled to China, Cambodia, Thailand, etc. as missionary monks, and they had to learn appropriate foreign languages. Few who have learned Sinhala haven’t heard the ancient line of poetry demala saku magada nohasala sathata dada”,  by which the poet addresses his work to sathata dada”, that is, to people (meaning readers) who are ‘dada’, i.e., amateur: amateur/not so well educated monolingual Sinhala reader who has not studied Tamil, Sanskrit, and Magadha/Pali”. Sinhalese, though as an island people they jealously love their motherland, have historically been cosmopolitan in their outlook.

To survive in the modern world we have to be multilinguals. The trilingual policy (teaching Sinhala, Tamil, and English languages to school children) initiated by the previous government was a progressive move that should have continued. It is said that 94 members of the present parliament haven’t passed the GCE (OL). These can’t be expected to even their mother tongue properly. How many out of the 225 in parliament could we assume to have a decent knowledge of English? Very few, indeed. So, most of them are likely to have no idea of what is in interim report of the Steering Committee. Constitutional plotters are exploiting the lack of English among the Sinhala speaking parliamentarians.

The characteristic cosmopolitanism of the majority Sinhala Buddhist community, which foreign observers may be surprised to hear about because of the successful anti-Sinhalese propaganda that separatist communalists have carried out abroad for decades now remains unrecognized and unexploited by opportunistic politicians who try to appeal to communalistic sentiments among their constituents to gain support at elections. The accommodating spirit is most apparent at the grassroots level of the society. When what was claimed to be the tallest artificial Christmas tree in the world was being built at Galle Face Green for Christmas 2016, there was some controversy about it. The church hierarchy rightly condemned it as a costly unnecessary display in these difficult times, and the work on it was stopped, though it was later completed, presumably with altered dimensions. The harbor minister was apparently behind the project. It was, no doubt, a reconciliation gesture towards Catholics and Christians who form only 10% of the population in this Buddhist majority (70%) country. The main sponsor of the Christmas tree was the Buddhist Association of the harbor workers. When the project was temporarily halted,  the structure was taken apart, the sponsors were distressed. Media had pictures of workers in tears. What is there for anyone to do in the name of reconciliation between Buddhists and Christians? But some communalist minority politicians of the North and their soul mates in the South attack those who dare to speak up for the threatened rights of the Sinhalese Buddhists as tribalists. Though they are thus insulted as narrow-minded racists, it is always the majority Sinhalese Buddhists who create a conducive social environment for Sri Lankans of all faiths to live in peace and security.

While the vast majority of ordinary Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities have no problem living as citizens of one state enjoying equal sovereign rights, human rights, etc., and sharing equal social responsibilities, certain self seeking minority politicians feel tempted to use shortcuts to power, that usually foment antagonism between the minorities and the majority. Stoking communalism is the easiest shortcut to electoral support within a minority community, but it doesn’t work among the majority community. Exploiting religious differences is another. Whatever happens, the majority community are concerned about the country. It is a historical fact that resistance to foreign rule always came from the Sinhalese. Peace and harmony, now gravely threatened, can only be restored by electorally defeating the forces that are poised to divide the country on ethnic lines by dismantling the unitary state. (Concluded)

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