THE WAY FORWARD AFTER 20A
Posted on October 23rd, 2020

By Rohana R. Wasala

The Sinhalese in independent Sri Lanka have been nationalistic, but never narrowly communalistic; they have never illtreated non-Sinhala minorities on the basis of race or religion. Those who are wallowing in a sea of misinformation having been swept there by tides of hostile propaganda over the decades, may bristle at this, but the truth must be stated. The nationalism of the Sinhalese is not a construct of the last colonial era. Contrary to what Eurocentric theorists, their local clones, imperialist lackeys and their modern dupes believe, it is an inclusive nationalism. In their long history, the nationalism of the Sinhalese has been synonymous with patriotism or the love of their country, their island homeland. The JVP of 1971 and 1987-89 shed blood in the name of the country, not in the name of a race or a religion unlike respectively the defeated LTTE and the recent NTJ. To point this out is not being communalistic; it is only reacting to a false criticism. The racists and the extremists among the minorities raise false allegations of communalism against the majority community to justify their own communalism.

Today, even a section of the Sinhalese polity including some young members of the FB generation, seem to think that to be a nationalist is the same as being a racist. That misconception is largely because they are not well enough informed about their own true history and truly admirable, multifaceted heritage, a legacy that is enjoyed by all communities in common: the still functional parts of the ancient hydraulic system, archaeological remains that attract foreign tourists and earn foreign exchange for the public coffers,and many other treasures. But anti-national individuals and agencies still censor Anagarika Dharmapala, the pioneer national revivalist of the colonial era, as a hate figure for ideologically rekindling, around the beginning of the 20th century, the nationalist spirit of the patriotic Sinhalese that had been choked in the course of a number of popular uprisings by force of arms by colonial invaders following the 1815 British intrigue. All the Sinhalese leaders who caused the 1948, 1956, 1972, 2009, and 2019 restorative revolutionary watersheds to happen were inspired by Dharmapala and were opposed by the real racists and received little support from non-Buddhist religious extremists. 

The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British imperialists was naturally to the greater disadvantage of the majority community than to the minorities, who in fact stood to gain from it. The British exploited the minorities to weaken the historical defenders of the land. It may be plausibly argued that they used them as tacit allies to restrain the Sinhalese from rebellion, in return for privileged treatment (although this was limited to an elite that politically mattered to them, while the majority of the dispossessed mixed masses consisting of common Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims shared the rigours of colonial exploitation without discrimination). 

Particularly, the racist leaders of the Tamil minority feared that a parliamentary system of government where the Sinhalese would hold power because of their numerical superiority would mean a loss of their privileged status (hence the notorious 50-50 seat allocation demand of G.G. Ponnambalam which was contemptuously rejected by the Soulbury Commissioners in 1946. All the overtures that Sinhalese leaders from D.S. Senanayake to Gotabaya Rajapaksa made to the few but powerful racists (among the minority politicians) who somehow manage to hoodwink their people and persuade them to vote for them have failed to convince them to cooperate wholeheartedly with the majority in making unitary Sri Lanka a strong sovereign state where they harbour equal stakes and enjoy equal rights and share equal responsibilities. 

The false allegation of Sinhala communalism finds a convenient platform in the demand for the constitutional emasculation of the institution of the executive presidency (if complete abolition is not possible). This is because it is usually a Sinhalese who stands a chance of getting elected as president by the pan-Sri Lanka electorate. These minority politicians (the extremist few, not all minority politicians) propagate the idea that all Sinhalese are communalists, and that every president will be biased against their people.  But this is a fallacy. Though, at present, there is no likelihood of a minority politician becoming president because the minority polities are still mostly under the sway of racists and religious extremists, it is not an impossibility. If the non-racist, non-extremist politicians that there are among them are allowed to emerge dominant, they certainly will find more favour with the average Sinhalese voters than a conceited Premadasa or a clueless Sirisena, and a correspondingly modest and knowledgeable Tamil or Muslim president will no longer be just a dream.  There are many examples from the past to illustrate the possibility of such an eventuality, but this is not the time for dwelling on the subject.

Unwarranted dilution of the powers of the executive presidency was what was achieved by the controversial 19A, which, effectively divided people’s sovereign power between the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker. It was a three-headed monster, as a government minister recently said. As a result of it the sovereign people had to put up with a severely dysfunctional parliament that brought disaster to the country for an interminable four and a half years before it was finally dissolved by the President and a fresh Parliament elected.  The potential for the continuation of such a corrupt malfunctioning parliament is greater when the executive power of the President to dissolve it is curtailed or is completely taken away. That provides a situation open to exploitation by the Rishads and Hakeems of this world.

The Island editorial/October 20, 2020 made the following comment, which suggests the despicable way they are ready to cock a snook at the sovereignty of the people: 

‘Bathiudeen brought down the hurriedly formed Sirisena-Rajapaksa government, in 2018, by refusing to vote with it in Parliament. That administration crashed, unable to raise a simple majority in the House. This time around, Bathiudeen can give the present regime the kiss of death by voting for the 20A. If he and his four MPs vote for 20A, as expected, those who claim that he and the government have struck a secret deal will be vindicated. The only way the government can avert such a situation is to engineer the crossover of some other Opposition MPs so that it does not have to depend on Bathiudeen…..’  

Who is this Bathiudeen? He was one of the Muslims forcibly evacuated from the North as a result of Prabhakaran’s ethnic cleansing policy. When Bathiudeen came down to Colombo he was a penniless youth with nothing but the worn out clothes on his body, it is said. Today, he is a billionaire with palatial houses here and there, and thousands of acres of land in his possession, with some more lands given to his relatives. He was able to help himself to such great wealth and also indulge in philanthropy at the expense of the state  because he became a politician and managed to join the winning side continuously from the previous MR government to the end of Yahapalanaya, and battened on the suffering of the fellow members of his own displaced community. During the near decade in power, he was charged by environmental groups with the devastating deforestation of the Wilpattu forest reserve; he was  rumoured to be complicit in importing cocaine hidden among goods in CWE containers, illegally exploiting the ilmenite containing mineral sand deposits at Pulmudai for personal profits, abusing the CWE to propagate extremist Islamist ideology, and he was even accused of having connections with the Jihadists who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels.  When the police finally started looking for him to arrest him on the charge of having abused state/public property by transporting by CTB buses some 10,000 voters from their new places of residence to their old (for casting their vote a second time it was alleged in the media) on the day of the presidential election in November last year. How is it that an extremely unscrupulous, originally insignificant penurious politician has been allowed to invest himself with such power as the Island editorial has described?

This is because the minority communalists who stick that label on the majority have been empowered by the existing faulty electoral system being abused, and the majority community effectively disenfranchised in the process. Having to strike a deal with political criminals or to ‘engineer the crossover of some other Opposition MPs’ as the Island editorial suggests in order to get 20A or any other nationally important piece of legislation through parliament, is a wretched proposition for any sovereign nation even to contemplate. But, isn’t there any prospect for the nation to reverse this unfortunate self inflicted anomaly? In my opinion, there is. It is to get rid of our own fear of adopting strategies that might run the risk of being attacked as racist, Sinhala Supremacist, discriminatory towards minorities, contrary to international standards, etc. We have to learn not to give a fig to such unfounded accusations. 

At present, the Sinhalese are scrupulously guiltless in this respect. Still they are treated as if they were the worst racists, human rights violaters, xenophobes, chauvinists in the world. Sometimes their own leaders criticise them for being jaatiwadin, or racists as Premadasa and Sirisena have already done: 

Former president Sirisena was heard, at the Easter Sunday Attacks inquiry recently, referring to racists among the Sinhalese. In a Twitter message, which was only in English and Tamil, but not in Sinhala, during the presidential election campaigning period, SJB leader Premadasa charged that Muslims were subjected to discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese! He toured the North, presumably to show the northern Tamils that he was a champion of Tamil rights. He was given a heroic welcome in Jaffna and he garnered many Tamil votes, too. But it is not that they fell for stratagems; they knew that he was ready to betray his own people for a mess of (electoral) pottage. Could a person who doesn’t care about his own kind be concerned about other people? 

The alleged Sinhala racists are none other than the few monks and some young Sinhala activists who are merely reacting to proven cases of harassment, aggression, and subversion against them by some extremist elements from among the minorities. Considerable numbers of young Tamils and Muslims are also among their supporters. Had the successive governments taken them seriously, the slaughter of innocents on April 21 could have been avoided. They represent millions, but are they taken notice of? Are they given proper media coverage? Global media (international TV channels such as Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, etc) broadcast distorted news about them. There’s no place for them on the You Tube, either. 

The true situation in the country is different from what is usually reported in these media. Why did the nationalists win very nearly two thirds of parliamentary seats, with the racists and religious extremists getting fewer than what they usually win? The result surprised even the nationalists. This shows that the Sinhalese electorate can decide the future of the country by themselves. But they naturally prefer to do so with the participation of the minorities. If the Sinhalese MPs in parliament forget their partisan divisions and remember the patriotism of their ancestors who shed their blood to save their motherland for all its inhabitants, they will voluntarily help the government to muster the two thirds majority required or even more for introducing a completely new constitution when the time comes for that.

Not less than the survival of the unitary state, the nation, the dominant Buddhist culture and the island territory is at stake.  The America-led West and India seem to have found a deus ex machina opportunity to further crank up pressure on economically doddering Sri Lanka in the fast expanding mysterious Brandix Covid-19 cluster and in a court judgement given in UK that is favourable to the LTTE rump still active there: It was reported in the media on Wednesday (October 21, 2020) that UK’s Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission has concluded that the Home Office decision to keep the LTTE  as a proscribed terrorist organisation was flawed and unlawful. So, the British parliament is likely to lift the ban on the organization in that country. Britain is one of the forty countries that proscribed the terror outfit. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, this will make little difference to the status quo, because the UK has practically always allowed its members to behave as if there was no ban on it. 

So, all MPs in parliament, please forget your party, ethnic, religious and interpersonal differences in the name of our motherland. At the time of writing, the ad hoc 20A is to be put to the vote. It will be passed with necessary amendments. It is good if this was carried out without the government having to strike secret deals with communalists or to engineer crossovers from the Opposition (which would be a slap in the face of the voting public). The more momentous responsibility that you are going to fulfill is  to create a sound new constitution for our country that will save our nation from squabbling geopolitical powers who are promoting their own separate national interests at our expense, leaving us in perpetual political instability and endless economic misery. You Hon. MPs, especially the fresh thinking young ones, owe our resplendent island homeland  no less.

(PS: The 20A was passed in parliament with 156 voting for it and only 65 against. The votes cast in favour  exceeds the required two thirds majority by 6 votes. It is obvious that the government did not have to make undue special overtures towards Muslim MPs. There were only 6 Muslim votes but they were not critical, they were dispensable. It is clear that the Muslim MPs thrust themselves on the government side without being asked. Probably, they did this on the prior instructions of Hakeem (and Rishad as well). I think so because, about two weeks ago, Hakeem  told media men that he wouldn’t vote for 20A but that the other members of his party would probably do so. The government had better be careful: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. The government, it seems, was short of only 2 votes for acquiring the required number of votes, which was 150. Those two votes came from Tamil MP Aravind Kumar and SJB’s Diana Gamage. The latter violated her leader’s injunction, for which she must be praised.

The drafting of a completely new constitution commenced two or three weeks before. This will get into top gear now. The drafting committee is headed by the renowned PC Romesh de Silva, and includes other legal luminaries such as Manohara de Silva and experts in related fields such as geologist and geopolitical analyst and commentator Prof. Gerald H. Peiris. They can be expected to produce a document that will be as much acceptable to the minorities as it is to the majority.)   

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