Constitutional reforms in the eyes of Tamils and Muslims (original Title)
National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa is in a midst of a controversy over his remarks that Parliament should be bombed in case it approves a Constitution based on the interim report of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly (CA). The report was submitted to the Parliament by the Prime Minister and Chairman of the Steering Committee Ranil Wickremesinghe on September 21.
Weerawansa’s statement gets more importance considering the fact that he was a leader of a political party that had once involved in a bomb attack inside the Parliament. And Deputy Minister Ashu Marasinghe reminded the country on Tuesday that it was Werawansa’s brother-in-law who lobbed that bomb into a room where the then ruling party’s parliamentary group headed by President J.R. Jayawardene had met.
What would have been Weerawansa’s response in particular and that of the Sinhalese nationalists in general, had such a threatening statement been made by a Tamil or Muslim politician? What would have been the response of the law enforcement authorities, especially the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), had it been a Tamil or a Muslim politician who had threatened to bomb the Parliament, the seat of democracy?
Cartoon added by TW from Ceylon Today
Anybody can surmise the answer to these two questions and that points as to how patriotism and the law of the land are being enforced. Weerawansa made this threat on the grounds that a future Constitution based on the said Interim Committee report would strengthen the hands of the separatist forces. But, not a single so-called patriot at least expressed concern, leave alone protesting or bombing; when former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa after a membership drive of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna in Jaffna had said that Mahinda Rajapaksa government would have given permission to commemorate LTTE leaders such as Thileepan, had it been in power for another one year.
The interesting point in respect of the current debate over the Interim Report is that the extremists on either side of the ethnic divide call their compatriots who support the current Constitution making process in general and the Interim Report in particular “traitors.” The bone of contention seems to be the Tamil term “Oumiththa Nadu’ that has been suggested to replace the thus far used term “Otraiatchi” which is considered to be the direct translation of the Sinhala term “Aekiya Rajyaya.” One would be at a complete loss to see that both the Sinhalese and Tamil extremists are of the view that they had been deceived by the use of the term “Aekiya Rajyaya” in Sinhala and “Orumiththa Nadu” in Tamil.
Sinhalese argue that the government promises the Sinhalese, through the Constitutional reforms, an “Aekiya Rajyaya” or a unitary State while promising an “Orumiththa Nadu” which, they claim, connotes a federal set up. On the other hand, Tamils argue that they had been hoodwinked by suggesting to call the country an “Orumiththa Nadu”
Sinhalese argue that the government promises the Sinhalese, through the Constitutional reforms, an “Aekiya Rajyaya” or a unitary State while promising an “Orumiththa Nadu” which, they claim, connotes a federal set up. On the other hand, Tamils argue that they had been hoodwinked by suggesting to call the country an “Orumiththa Nadu” which, they argue, could not necessarily be translated as “Federal State” while it is called in Sinhala an “Aekiya Rajyaya”.
The confusion is a result of the ambiguity of the meaning of the word “Orumiththa” which connotes at times a collection of things and unity at another. For instance, one can say that the Interim Report does not consist of “Orumiththa” (agreed upon) ideas on matters of relevance, but a document containing various options for contentious issues.
Neither side seems to be interested in looking into the practical side of the issue at hand. They fight over terms without looking into physical changes in the structure of the State, if any, that could be taken shape with the proposed Constitution, irrespective of the use of various terms in various languages.
The Tamil extremist groups have rejected the Interim Report outright. Wigneswaran, citing the Sinhala term “Aekiya Rajyaya” and the suggestion to grant foremost place to Buddhism had described it a manifestation of Sinhalse-Buddhist hegemony
Contrary to the popular perception among majority of Sinhalese that all Tamils are united in their objectives, the main Tamil coalition, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is divided in this issue. The leaders of the main constituent party of the TNA; the Ilangai Thamil Arasu Katchi except for Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, C.V.Wigneswaran has taken a flexible attitude while stressing the decade old Tamil demands, such as right to self-determination, merger of provinces and federal form of governance.
During a recent meeting with a group of selected journalists TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan and TNA spokesman and Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said that while they insist on their demands that should be met in the process of Constitution making, they did not intend to scuttle the process in anyway.
They said that they expected the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be amalgamated into one administrative unit when devolving powers and the ethnic problem to be resolved through a federal form of governance. “These are our demands, but we don’t know whether we would succeed or not” Mr. Sampanthan said. He seemed to be somewhat contented with the whole process in spite the government having given in to pressures exerted by the Sinhalese dominated political parties. He had also stated to a Tamil newspaper a few weeks ago that government’s willingness at least to call the country an “Orumiththa Nadu” is a great achievement.
Muslims are not concerned about the nature of the State. Their only major concerns are the religious freedom and electoral reforms which they fear would prune their representation in the Parliament, provincial councils and local government bodies.They are generally not for the merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces
The TNA leader was prepared to conditionally accept the position of the Buddhists that Buddhism be given foremost place in the Constitution. The Article in the Constitution on Buddhism being afforded with the foremost place should entail a nondiscrimination clause in respect of other religions in the country, he asserted. This seems to be the stand taken by all Tamil and Muslim political parties, except for hard-line groups such as the EPRLF led by Suresh Premachndran and individuals such as Wigneswaran who advocate the secularity of the State.
The Tamil extremist groups have rejected the Interim Report outright. Wigneswaran, citing the Sinhala term “Aekiya Rajyaya” and the suggestion to grant foremost place to Buddhism had described it as a manifestation of Sinhalse-Buddhist hegemony. EPRLF leader and former Parliamentarian Suresh Premachndran and Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam had called those supporting the Interim Report traitors on the grounds that it denies the rights of Tamils.
In spite of it having been accused of elimination of its opponents; the EPDP led by Douglas Devananda seems to be the most moderate Tamil political party with respect to the Constitutional reforms. The Opposition leader of the Northern Provincial Council, S. Thavarasa who represents the EPDP dares to say to the Tamils, in an interview with last Sunday’s Thinakkural newspaper, that everybody should accept the fact that the merger of Northern and Eastern Province is impossible “at the moment.”
While expressing satisfaction with the Interim Report, Thavarasa who was a member of one of the six sub committees appointed under the Constitutional Assembly, argues that in a process of a solution to the ethnic problem, it would be imprudent to expect everything to be in favour of “us”. A solution would be possible only through compromises, he had contended. It has to be noted that he tells this to Tamils in Tamil language.
Muslims are not concerned about the nature of the State. Their only major concerns are the religious freedom and electoral reforms which they fear would prune their representation in the Parliament, provincial councils and local government bodies. They are generally not for the merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces and politicians such as National Congress leader and former local Government Minister A.L.M. Athaullah have been expressing their protest against the merger of provinces even during the timr when LTTE was active.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the first Muslim political Party in the country, still following the line of strategy of its founder, the late M.H.M. Ashraff neither supports nor opposes the merger. It argues that there should be a separate Muslim provincial council in the east if the Northern and Eastern Provinces are merged. The rationale behind this contention is that Muslims could not be a minority within another minority.
However, with the opposition to the Interim Report mounting in the south in the recent weeks, with Buddhist monks gradually coming to the fore, interestingly the opposition by the Tamils seems to be somewhat receding. Isn’t it thought provoking?