The discourse in the country about the proposed new Constitution has garnered more rhetoric than serious content. It is more speculation than analysis.
The main allegation of the Opposition to the Constitutional reform process is that a new Constitution would divide of bifurcate Sri Lanka. However, the country would not break up on its own as it is not a physical division but a political one that is meant. Politics means human action, deliberate planning and execution of some action. Hence, the question who will break up Sri Lanka?
It is alleged that the international community, particularly the Western powers are conspiring to divide Sri Lanka. There are nearly 300 States in the world and all of them accept the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. In other words they are against its division. This fact is reiterated in numerous ways in the course of trade and diplomatic activity.
Standing Committee of the Constitutional Council
If they wanted to divide our country they could have done so easily during the 30 year-old fratricidal war. Instead all the major regional and world power supported the Government in the war. For example, it is on record that the United States, France, Russia, China, India helped the war effort in many ways. The LTTE was proscribed in India, the United States, Canada and the European Union among others. In some of these countries the proscription still remains valid.
In today’s globalized world no State could exist in isolation. For a separate State to be viable in Sri Lanka at least one regional or world power should recognize it. Such a possibility does not exist. Contrary to the speculation by certain chauvinist forces, India would never accept any Tamil Eelam in its southern tip. Internally, there is no political movement in the country that call for division of the country. Hence, the talk about the threat of division is much ado about nothing. It is further so in view of the fact that still there is no Constitutional draft. What is in the public view is a report of the Standing Committee of the Constitutional Council, which has all views presented (but not approved) by it. To confuse a document for discussion with a final report is not only wrong but also, in this case, mischievous.
Then why is this allegation brought forward? Obviously, it is to arouse communal hatred and use it to gain support from the majority community, in an effort to wrest back power. It is a project by defeatist politicians. No wonder the former President has taken the leadership of these power-hungry opportunist forces.
They are advocating hegemony for the Sinhala Buddhists. However, no nation which oppresses another could be free. It leads to national disunity and communal clashes, a situation likely to cause external intervention.
To substantiate their allegation against the proposed Constitution they say that it does away with the clauses in the present Constitution that gives foremost place to Buddhism. It is fiction since no final draft yet exists. In other words, it is based not on facts but on mere suspicion.
Even the British colonialists pledged to give the foremost place to Buddhism and protected it, they say. The British promised to protect Buddhism to get the assistance of the Kandyan feudal leaders. Their pledge was not worth the paper it was written on, since the colonial power did all in its power to destroy Buddhism. It is people’s struggle that protected Buddhism. Buddhism or any other religion could be preserved only by its adherent masses through their support and agitation, a fact that should be taught to our “patriots”.
Peaceful co-existence of all communities
Inciting ethno-religious hatred and inspiring communal strife is very dangerous. It would, first of all end national unit which is a sine qua non for development. It would cause immense hardships to the masses. Unemployment, poverty, malnutrition and a thousand other ills and scarcities would affect them.
It would also end the culture of tolerance and peaceful co-existence of all communities in the country that prevailed over centuries. Instead a neo-fascist ideology of a super race would become the dominant ideology of the State. Today, one has to admit that compared to the situation that existed during the last Presidential election the degree of national reconciliation in the country has declined. It is the Government that should be blamed for it for two reasons. Firstly, it hesitated in implementing transitional justice measures required to alleviate the problems of those worst affected by the war. Second, Ministers and Other leaders of the ruling parties, the SLFP and the UNP, in the main started repeating the same communal rhetoric to compete with the Joint Opposition in wooing the majority community.
In their attempt to regain power the former President and his supporters have made use of opposition to the Constitutional reform process as their main platform. In defending a new Constitution the UNP seems to be isolated since the majority of the leaders of its both factions, barring the President, have united to oppose a new Constitution. Thus the SLFP has turned to be the main political force opposing a new Constitution despite the participation of its members in the Government. The rest of the opposition is numerically minute. The SLFP deviating from its position over decades has turned 180 degrees to oppose the abolition of the Executive Presidency. It is also opposed to land and police powers under the 13th Amendment despite its participation in the Councils for nearly three decades and the 13 plus pledge given to the international community. Likewise, they have reservations about devolution of power. They also scorn federalism following the JO and thus contribute to instilling unjust phobia among the population.
Such fears were entertained throughout recent history. For example it was said that giving parity of status to Sinhala and Tamil languages would ruin the Sinhala language. Today both are official languages and no damage has been caused to either of them. Similar fears expressed about granting citizenship to Up Country Tamils have been proved to be futile. The Provincial Council system would divide the country, the same forces predicted. But it has existed for nearly 30 years. Despite deficiencies in it there is threat to the integrity of the country.
Devolution of power
The Opposition says that devolution of power would divide the country. Yet they also oppose measures to reinforce central authority and commit the leaders of non-majority communities to the defense of the centre. Their opposition to power sharing at central level is an example.
The proposal for a Second Chamber is also to strengthen power sharing at the centre. Communalists also oppose it. It is a device to get unrepresented communities, professionals, academics and religious representatives on board. In other words, it is an extension of democracy. Most countries, including powerful ones have Second Chambers.
Finally, let us see what gives birth to separatism. In Sri Lanka separatism arose despite the unitary character of the state. That means the root cause of separatism is not devolution of power. Sri Lanka had no devolved powers when separatism arose. In fact the limited devolution that came later was its consequence and not the cause. The cry for separatism arises when discrimination against a community and the violation of the human rights of its members take place. This is proved everywhere in the world.