It is constitution remaking time. And as in 1987, by foreign connections. In 1987, the massive cross-border terrorism created by India led to a proxy invasion of the country. And later, with the Indian Air Force flying overhead and four Indian gunboats outside the Colombo harbor threatening, a key constitutional change, the 13th Amendment was [...]

Sunday Times 2

Decoding the new constitution


It is constitution remaking time. And as in 1987, by foreign connections. In 1987, the massive cross-border terrorism created by India led to a proxy invasion of the country. And later, with the Indian Air Force flying overhead and four Indian gunboats outside the Colombo harbor threatening, a key constitutional change, the 13th Amendment was forced on JR. This was misleadingly called the “Indian Accord”. Today there are no gunboats but, thwarting the democratic will of the country, there is careful manipulation by foreign funded forces. I am jumping the gun, so let us begin before, much before 1987.

“Divide and Rule”

By using their diabolical “Divide and Rule” principle, the British introduced communal representation from 1833 – initially only for nominated representatives of the colonials. As these representations changed over time, the arrangement did not reflect the numeral strength of different ethnic groups. The Sinhalese were heavily under-represented. This was because of the fear of the Sinhalese becoming a major threat to the colonials, as Sinhalese had already indulged in armed revolts against British rule.

Such thinking in communal terms, partly engendered by these colonial actions, reached a peak during the 1920s with the constitutional reforms of the Donoughmore Commission. The latter’s aim was to set the broad agenda for democracy in the country, discarding special representation and abolishing communal representation.

But as early as 1916, Ponnambalam Ramanathan had spoken against the basic principle of an elected majority. Continuing in this vein, Tamil spokesmen made representations for continued communal representation before both the Donoughmore Commission (1928) and the Soulbury Commission (1944). In 1946, the Tamil Congress wanted the 65% Sinhalese component of the population to be given the same number of seats in parliament, as the Tamils with just one fourth of the population, a flagrant violation of elementary democracy. The Soulbury Commissioners described this as “an attempt by artificial means to convert the majority to a minority”.

This distortion continues today with the racist Northern Province Chief Minister Vigneswaran – significantly a descendant of Ponnambalam Ramanathan – saying that King Devanam Piya Tissa was a Tamil named “Devanai Nampiya Theesan – one who believed in god”. Unfortunately, this racist has no idea that the title Devanam Piya is the same as Tissa’s mentor, Emperor Asoka and means “Beloved of the gods” as in the inscriptions of Asoka which were deciphered only after the Mahavamsa was translated into English in 1837.

A variant of these gross distortions was made by Dayan Jayatilleke who was the first Sinhalese to advocate exclusive Tamil homelands as legitimate and separatism desirable. Later he organised a small guerrilla group and fled to India, but returned after India forced JR to bring in the 13th Amendment. Dayan became a minister in the combined North and East Provinces which later declared unilateral independence. Subsequently using the pseudonym Anurudhdha Tilakasiri , Dayan wrote strongly anti-Sinhalese and anti-Buddhist material every week in the Sunday Observer. These were far more virulent than the then LTTE campaign. JR sued him successfully for Rs.500 million and, irate citizens at a Kanatte funeral stripped Dayan naked. Now he is a key speaker at Gotabhaya aligned meetings. Gotabhaya together with Sarath Fonseka and other commanders defeated the separatism that Dayan had so virulently once promoted.

The “Indian Accord”

Even before the signing of the so-called accord, there was apprehension about its contents, exemplified by a Bar Association resolution which “strongly urge(d) the government not to enter any pact or agreement or accord with the government of India…without first obtaining the approval” of the people. (The current Bar Association issued a parallel statement a few days ago not to go with the new proposed amendments).

The major opposition political parties in the South except for the old left, by then politically dead, were against it. And this opposition to the accord led to the “largest large-scale demonstration and uprising in Sri Lanka since Independence” as K.M. Silva, the sympathetic biographer of J.R. Jayewardene recorded. De Silva also authored later a well-documented book which showed that the so-called exclusive traditional homelands of the Tamils referred to in the 13th Amendment as coinciding with the current Northern and Eastern provinces was but a complete fiction.

A “kinglet”, was the term used by the Portuguese to describe the Jaffna Kingdom. As the oldest European map on the country, namely a Dutch map shows, the extent of the Jaffna kingdom was confined to the Jaffna and the Mannar peninsulas.

And Portuguese historical records show that, even though ruled by a Tamil king, the bulk of the Jaffna population was still Sinhalese. During the Portuguese occupation, the Eastern Province was under a kandyan king. The Dutch-Sinhalese Treaty of 1766 and the English-Sinhalese Treaty of 1815 affirmed Sinhalese sovereignty of the Eastern Province. A Tamil presence of any significance in the East came only from the mid-19th century; when the British Governors Torrington in 1848 and Ward in 1856 settled Tamils in the coastal areas of the Eastern Province.

De Silva documented that the only evidence that separatists could produce was two sentences by Cleghorn, an ignorant British visitor on a short visit in 1879 who stated that two nations Tamil and Sinhala had lived in Sri Lanka in the present boundaries from ancient times. His ignorance was so great that the third sentence of his statement says that the Sinhalese arrived in the country from Siam! Current genetic research indicates that all ethnic groups are mixed- some more, some less. And such ethnic groups have been shifting around the Island all the time. And further, the boundaries of provinces drawn by the colonials for their own purposes had changed and shifted over time.

Independent foreign observers saw the Indian Accord in a very harsh light. The British Guardian noted: “the most infamous contract imposed on a small country – short of military occupation – since the German intervention of 1938 on the Sudeten”. The London Evening Standard said “India … is the colonial power in the region”.

The New York Times editorialised about India’s “big-stick diplomacy in Sri Lanka”. Another leading American newspaper, the Wall Street Journal called India “A rogue elephant trampling upon its neighbours”. In parenthesis, we should note that today with the Colombo Port City connected with the Chinese, we are no longer in that weak geopolitical position. India is in no position to challenge China.

Of the different religious groups, the vast majority of the Buddhist monks were against the accord. The major Christian groups supported the accord going to their colonial roots as did some Muslim groups. The political opposition to the accord included elements of the UNP, SLFP and the JVP. Later the JVP spearheaded most of the protests, converting it to a policy of violence in which it is estimated roughly 60,000 from all sides died.

Triumphalism of NGOs

Those who were exultant about the Indian imposed accord were foreign funded NGOs. Godfrey Gunatilleke of the NGO, Marga argued that “we have had to awaken to the geopolitical realities within which we existed … that reality was that we are a small neighbour of a country of immense size”. He then castigated “the self-appointed custodians of our sovereignty” and warned of a “Cyprus situation” implying that Indians would carve up the country and annex the North and East.

Radhika Coomaraswamy stated that “we Sri Lankans have refused to accept the realities of our geopolitical situation” implying the need to bow to Indian pressure. She also asked us to accept the “the geo-political context”, and give up our “confrontational attitude” to India and bow realistically to Indian “power and politics”. Any other response she termed “hysteria”. This was a plea to accept the terms being offered by the very country and its State, India and Tamil Nadu that had carried on a proxy war against the country. (Radhika is now a member of the Constitutional Council, whose ultimate aim should include the sovereignty of the country).

One of the most threatening colonial statements was by Jehan Perera with connections to several foreign funded NGOs like Sarvodaya and the National Peace Council. Perera advised Sri Lankans on “some hard truths” on “the limitations of the country” and gleefully warned that the government had “been presented with a fait accompli” and that Indian troops who had come to Sri Lanka would not “leave should the accord be dishonored by Sri Lanka”. These were all triumphalist statements by individuals getting foreign money on the disgrace of Sri Lanka requesting us to accept Indian hegemony and over lordship. This was raw triumphalism by those kept and fed by foreign, western money. And as for Jehan‘s Sarvodaya, it had illegally settled in the Vanni jungles with “foreign money” Indians being deported under the Sirima-Shastri Pact to India. They were later to become foot soldiers of Prabhakaran. (And the leader of Sarvodaya, Ariyaratne is today also a member of the Constitutional Council, a defender of our sovereign interest).

In the US, the Logan Act prohibits interference in the US. Currently, there are investigations about whether the Russians interfered in American political affairs. We, in contrast have foreign funded NGOs – sometimes manned by persons unknown to the academic community or those in academia unfamiliar with what they are talking about, giving us prescriptions for a new Constitution. This of course requires a longer article. (I wrote a book for a well-known international academic publisher on how foreign funded NGOs are reintroducing a colonial imprint on Sri Lanka).

But for the time being, let us take Jayampathy Wickramaratne, considered a father of the constitutional proposals. Constitutions are expressions of desirable societies, that is of a societal ideology. I checked Wickramaratne’s political background and found that he was once a member of the left-wing LSSP and now of the right-wing UNP, hardly a person with a consistent ideology. Digging further for his “real” ideology, I did find that he was associated with the Berghof Foundation which was run by a foreigner called Roper. And this Berghof Foundation during the height of the anti-LTTE war had held workshops for our military personnel in expensive holiday resorts on the need to “downsize” the army. “Downsizing” means disarming the military at a time when our armed forces were about to defeat the LTTE. And, this background would be a much greater indicator of the ideology of Wickramaratne than his switching from the left wing LSSP to the right-wing UNP. And that probably is the hidden message in the new Constitution.

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