By Rohana R. Wasala
Fiat justitia – ruat caelum! (Let justice be done though the skies fall!)
In May 2009, we ordinary Sri Lankans suddenly had everything before us, whereas for the previous thirty years, we had nothing before us. Most of us had been inured to believe that the separatist militants were invincible, and we were filled with incredulity when they were defeated. It was the best of times for peace-loving patriotic Sri Lankans living everywhere, but it was the worst of times for their opponents. It was the season of Light for the former, but it was the season of Darkness for the latter. It was the spring of hope for those who believed their problems were over, but it was the winter of despair for those who thought otherwise. However, the pendulum of power swung (or was forced to swing) in the opposite direction in January 2015. The bleak present is so unlike that roseate period that ‘some of its noisiest critics insist on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only’. Yet, there are hopeful signs that the masses are awakening to the reality and the country is being recalled to life!—with apologies to Dickens.
As the saying goes, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”: Things can only get better when they could get no worse. We are in a situation today that reminds us of this inspiring piece of proverbial wisdom. It is probably the worst predicament we have been landed in since independence, though it is 75% self-inflicted, so soon after the brightest moment in that six decade transitional period. If ever a single national cause united the majority of all the different ethnic communities as a single Sri Lankan people within the last half a millennium that happy moment occurred when separatist terrorism was militarily defeated in May 2009.
But the results of that historic national achievement have been grievously squashed already. Hardly five years had passed since the end of terrorism before we were unexpectedly condemned to a state of progressive topsy-turvydom, which today has reached its nadir: economic dreams have been turned into nightmares; reconciliation and goodwill between communities into mutual suspicion and alienation; democracy into kakocracy (rule by the worst); sovereign independence into voluntary subjection to a ‘free sovereign states management’ version of geopolitics (on the analogy of ‘supply management economics’ given expression in the deliberate destruction of surplus food crops in certain capitalist societies where poor sections of the population may be starving), war heroes into terrorists, and vice versa, and many other similar tragic reversals.
While imbeciles considered usable by the powerful are lionized, intelligent honest persons are ostracized; criminals are tolerated and even rewarded, efficient as well as patriotic local experts and professionals are replaced by imported non-national crooks, but peaceful protestors against wrong economic policies are set upon by paid thugs unleashed by criminal politicos with underworld links, and the victims of those attacks and their suspected leaders are put in prison, in a bid to stifle just opposition. (These general observations are based on information gathered from reliable internet media.) Indefinitely postponed elections mean denying the franchise of the people, thereby stifling the very life breath of democracy.
Amidst all this, the undeniable fact is emerging that Sri Lanka is being unjustly targeted by the Western powers, the so-called Tamil Diaspora parasitizing the global influence of those powers, our giant neighbour Big Brother India, the cynical Tamil National Alliance (TNA) pushing its hardly concealed separatist/federalist goal with an air of unprecedented eclat, all ganged up in pursuit of their diverse and disparate ends, making common cause, however, with each other for dismantling the unitary structure of Sri Lanka and for deposing Buddhism from its foremost place in the current constitution. It is the Buddhist religion that has given the unitary state its cohesive cultural identity since its beginning more than 2300 years ago. The aforementioned countries and groups want to achieve this twofold purpose through a forcibly imposed federalist constitution. Those patriotic Sri Lankans belonging to all communities (the overwhelming majority) who are unequivocally opposed to these designs are hopeful that the powers that be will at least put on hold, if not abandon altogether, their conspiratorial constitution making scheme for the time being in response to the rising public outcry against it, which now has reached a crescendo.
The case against the introduction of a new constitution by the Yahapalana government has by now been well established by eminent constitutional lawyers, academics, professionals, members of the clergy of the main religions, secular intellectuals, veteran journalists and others who are knowledgeable and vocal about the subject. Its illegality, fraudulence, and the utter loss of public confidence in the sincerity of intentions on the part of its architects and promoters were authoritatively explained in an article by previous Justice and Buddhasasana minister Dr Wijeya dasa Rajapakshe MP recently serialized in The Island newspaper (on November 2,3, and 4, 2017).
Public disapproval of what has been appropriately described as a constitutional death-trap has received an imprimatur in the form of the unanimous voice of the Maha Sangha of all Nikayas raised against it. The leading clergy of other religions have shown that they too support the stand taken by the monks in this regard. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expressed (as reported in The Island/October 24, 2017) its grave concern about proposed amendments to Articles 1 and 2 of the current constitution, and resolved to write to the government demanding precise and clear answers to a long list of questions including, for example, those about: the need/requirement for a new constitution, the fate of the unitary structure of the state, powers to be devolved, and the ability of the centre to later recall those powers if necessary, the future of the executive presidency, the status of the judiciary, and fundamental rights issues.
Attorney at Law Lal Wijenayake , calling himself a proud member of the BASL (as reported in The Island/November 4, 2017), describes these questions of crucial importance as ‘a set of childish questions to the wrong party (the government)’. The few examples I have mentioned here prove that the questions that the BASL raised are not at all ‘childish’ questions. That inane statement alone is enough for us to guess the mindset of the minority of individuals who are behind this non-Sri Lankan-sponsored unconstitutional (illegal) constitution making program, though Wijenayake is speaking only in his capacity as an individual member of that professional body. His main grouse is that the meeting that produced the BASL statement of October 23rd was attended by only 46 out of the total Bar Council membership of 950. Is that important? The meeting on October 23rd was called in response to what was implicitly deemed by the BASL hierarchy a national emergency. The resolution was properly adopted at the Bar Council’s monthly meeting held on October 28th as Wijenayake himself admits in his ‘reply’ (as The Island calls it). (Note: Articles 1 and 2 of the existing constitution are:
1. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a Free, Sovereign, Independent and Democratic Socialist Republic and shall be known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
2. The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State.)
No party or individual contesting the January 8th and August 17th elections had included a pledge to replace the existing constitution if elected to power. Besides, no party or alliance won an absolute majority of seats to form a government alone on the latter occasion. Hence the Yahapalana government has no mandate to address the same. The most formidable challenge to the unmandated new constitution making enterprise comes from the Maha Sangha. This is not to the liking of the powers that be and certain madly intrusive, mercenary NGO outfits (which are actually the prime movers behind the questionable project). They are doing their damnedest to mislead domestic public opinion, and international perceptions regarding this crucial issue, especially among misinformed and prejudiced non-Sri Lankan/alien functionaries (such as the recent visitor Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff or the one before him Ben Emmerson) in the interventionist UN bodies who have little knowledge about our country in terms of its diverse communities, geography, demography, culture, or history.
A common criticism leveled against the Sangha offering to air their opinions before government leaders about the constitution making issue is that they have neither the authority nor the competence required to do so. But the reality is that they have the authority granted by hallowed tradition in this country where Buddhism has enjoyed supremacy over everything else since the very dawn of Lanka’s recorded history, and where it is given the ‘foremost place’ in the 1978 constitution (that operates today). Just as the majority of the Sinhalese are Buddhists, the majority of Tamils are Hindus.
Hindu Tamils have absolutely no issue with the idea of Buddhism being recognized as already occupying the foremost place in the state. Though they provide guidance to the ruler, the Maha Sangha play an apolitical role. A state where Buddhism is given the foremost place is effectively secular (if secular means a complete separation between the church and the state in governance). The monks intervene when there is reason to believe that the Buddhasasana, the Sinhalese race, and the country (all three of which they consider to be above politics and non-negotiable) are in jeopardy. They consider this to be their inescapable historical responsibility. They don’t care which person or party rules, so long as these three treasures are duly safeguarded. Foremost among them is the Buddha Sasanaya, because it is what renders the unitary state whole, in both senses of the word (complete, sound/healthy).
The Malwatte Mahanayake Thera was out of the country when the Karaka Sangha Sabhawas of the two Chapters of the Siyam Nikaya met at the Dalada Maligawa and issued a statement calling on the government to stop the ongoing attempt at making a new constitution in view of the likely harmful consequences of such an exercise in the current situation (explained to them by impartial, non-political intellectuals, legal experts, and specialist doctors), and instead to bring in only such absolutely essential reforms as changing the electoral process, and also to focus on developmental work in order to relieve the suffering of the people. The Mahanayake Theras had directed the Anunayake Theras and the Karaka Sangha Sabhawa of Malwatte to deal with the matter jointly with the Asgiriya sector as per custom. Now, the Ven. Mahanayake Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, who was in the country at the time, refrained from attending the meeting of the monks at the Maligawa, because he thought it was improper to do so in the absence of his Malwatte counterpart. Each Karaka Sangha Sabhawa has twenty members. So, 40 monks contributed to the deliberations before arriving at their final unanimous decision. They met at the historical Ran Ayudha Mandapaya of the Maligawa as they traditionally do. The Diyawadana Nilame, the lay custodian of the Maligawa, had no part to play in the matter, except perhaps having physical arrangements made for the purpose in the Maligawa premises.
The Maha Sangha of the whole country approved of the stand of the Siyam Nikaya hierarchy. The democratic, and no less dignified conduct of the monks who announced their perfectly sound counsel regarding this aggressive constitution making project was in stark contrast to the cynically dismissive, inappropriate, authoritarian response it evoked among those who appear to be committed to support it. Ven. Professor Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera says that the henchmen of the government have started a besmirching campaign in order to discredit the Maha Sangha and Buddhist institutions over this.
A powerful government bigwig with a three-lettered name (in Sinhala characters) had asked (an acolyte, presumably) to ‘Smash this fellow at this opportune moment’ ‘moota me welawe gahaladapan’. The monk revealed that he was told by a powerful person in the government that although they insisted that there was not even a preliminary draft of the proposed constitution, a constitution has already been drafted. The monk knew the names of the two persons who wrote that document, but thought it inappropriate to divulge them just yet (Ada Derana TV news/October 28, 2017).
(To be continued)