19 May, 2022


Federalism: A Mechanism For Citizens To Be Close Partners In Sri Lanka

By Ayathuray Rajasingam

Ayathuray Rajasingam

Ayathuray Rajasingam

History has shown that there have been disputes culminating in wars and people have witnessed that the world is full of cruelty and injustice on account of the greed for power and wealth. The continuing wars on various pretext claimed untold numbers of human lives and destruction of properties. The main issue is what have the war achieved other than shattering the lives of peace loving citizens who wanted to be close partners in their countries.

The wars between countries in Europe eventually compelled Nations to realize the outcome of crimes against humanity. Having realized the disrespect shown to human rights that has ended up with the destruction of several lives, especially the weak, the League of Nations and the United Nations demonstrated the need for protection of weak States and the need for various races to live peacefully with the majority community. With the passage of time, it is history that centuries old rivals such as Germany and France have become close partners in regional organizations known as the European Union. Similarly, all races have become close partners in the Canadian society as well as in other Federal countries. The growth of democracy in Europe was a gradual transformation of process which eventually laid the foundation for Federalism as a means of bringing various communities together in an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood.

Unfortunately in some Asian developing countries, politicians have utilized the concept of democracy for their own benefit to rule as a dictator, resulted in the collapse of various institutions. Even religion was politicized. Since most of the military officers lacked the legal educational qualifications, civil officers find it very difficult to work when military officers fail to grasp the constitutional issues because of the egoistic attitude of the military officers as well as of the ruling politicians. In Sri Lanka the search for solutions to the problems faced by the Tamils rests on establishing a Federal State where the minority Tamils could enjoy equal rights in par with the Sinhalese and share each other’s values. Federalism has the force of getting rid of egoism on account of the co-ordination of the shared powers between the Federal and Provincial governments. The key element is to establish trust and confidence among all parties. Political leaders who have studied law should have known the difference between Federalism and Separation. Unfortunately the political leaders are always concerned in deviating the attention of the people and mislead them by playing the tune that they will not allow the country to be divided by external forces, (when, in fact, no one is interested in such division), without answering the difference between Federalism and Separation. Thus the ethnic issue becomes an unfinished symphony because of the attitude of the ruling political leaders who are an obstacle for the Tamils and Sinhalese to be close partners in a united Sri Lanka.

Though Sri Lanka failed to settle the ethnic issue for the last 60 years, it has stepped into the 21st century, which is a period of rapid change for which globalization played a contributory role in everyone’s life. With the advancement of science and technology people have become closer to each other. People began to view everything (including Federalism) with a forward looking attitude, and not with a backward looking attitude. The Western democratic countries have realized the significance of having a Federal State or the Federal features by cherishing the civil liberties. The challenges in those countries have been met on account of the broad-minded politicians. The introduction of Federalism in Sri Lanka depends on the change of things and change can bring challenges. Challenges crop up in the form of obstacles (by way of misleading the people) to reach the goal. Challenge is an invitation to rise to another level with intent to improve in the process where one can accomplish the task, which the Sri Lankan politicians are reluctant to take up, probably for reasons known to them. Federalism has the force of being a fruit of kindness and the realization of Federalism by political parties implies the fruit of knowledge. The spirit of Federalism signals the blessing of the people at each other – a sign of becoming close partners. The path to Federalism is a path to peace in Sri Lanka.

Moreover instead of solving the ethnic issue on a Federal basis, the behavior of leaning towards China, Pakistan, Iran and some Middle-East countries, which are noted for violation of human rights, compelled other democratic countries to have distrust on Sri Lanka. Moreover, these countries are keen to have Sri Lanka to echo the voice against the Western democratic countries only, instead of finding out a meaningful solution to the ethnic problem. When international community calls for an account for violation of human rights, it is difficult for Sri Lanka to raise the issue of its sovereign rights to security, as it is also subject to the provisions of the United Nations Charter. This is not a healthy sign for citizens to become close partners in a country.

The reluctance to resettle the Tamils in their own lands and colonizing the Sinhalese in those lands demonstrates that the hearts of the Sinhalese and Tamils are at greater distance and not close for which Sinhalese politicians are instrumental, despite developments that are taking place. There is nothing wrong in Sinhalese coming to the North, but should not be colonized after chasing the Tamils. Developments alone will not eradicate the distance between the hearts of the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The results of the Provincial council election in the Northern Province is a case in point. Sri Lanka’s promises which are riddled with lies and deceptions, should focus on the meaningful devolution of powers that will narrow the distance between the hearts of the Sinhalese and the Tamils, which eventually turn Sri Lankans to become close partners in a Sri Lankan community. The Sinhalese politicians should reconsider the fruits of Federalism and not to mislead the people that Federalism leads to separation, which is absolutely false, but an expansion of democracy.

It is the greed for power and wealth of the politicians that tempts a person to shout or look with suspicion at other persons and keeps them at a distance. To put it briefly, when two persons are angry at each other, their hearts are at a distance. If the shouting cannot be heard then the dispute begins. But in the case of lovers, they do not shout because their hearts are close, and they speak softly signaling that there is no room for disrespecting each other’s rights. Similarly, Sri Lankan politicians shout with the view to divert the attention of the people in order to secure their power. Their unwanted statements which tantamount to hate propaganda, prompt the distance great between the communities. It is time for every politicians to respect other’s rights in order to become close partners. Had there been a Federal government, there would be an assurance for cherishing the civil liberties and places of worship of other communities would not be targeted because of the Provincial Police. Becoming close partners means hearts should be close on every aspect of their lives. A Statesman will not engage in issuing unwanted statements had there been a Federal State.

Unleash of violence paving way for tension and conflict to survive on it, is a symbol of poor governance and is not the approach to confident building measure among the communities. Sound economic policy is marred by the greed for power and wealth that tempts to adapt a malignant economic policy which allows rooms for import of unwanted items that are not required for the country. Persons engaged in such activities shout or look with suspicion at other persons and religious hatred is promoted in order to conceal all illegal business, all of which have discouraged citizens of becoming close partners in a society.

As Federalism is a device to accommodate diversity, there is guarantee for religious and cultural rights. Non-violence is a theme propagated by all religions. Lord Buddha as well as all messengers of God preached the path of non-violence for establishing peace and harmony in a country. The path of non-violence is a teaching covering a very wide field such as getting rid of greed, hatred and delusion. It promotes love and compassion which it revolves with the mind to be free from attachment and not to cling on to worldly matters. It is then a person becomes a close partner in the Holy Life of God. This is what is emphasized in Dhammapada as well as in other religious scriptures. Unfortunately South Asian countries failed to abide by such conditions of Dharma whereas Canada is a Western country that abides by such conditions of Dharma. (Vide Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Canadian Constitution). Even the EU has a Human Rights Charter. But in Sri Lanka the manner in which Tamils were massacred (which is a continuing story for the last 60 years) including the women as well as incidents that occurred after the war where even the Sinhalese were not spared, had not been realized as a defeat of humanity. Amidst such developments, there are  unscrupulous Tamil scoundrels (even the LTTE sympathizers) utilizing even Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s name for favours to mislead the innocent Tamils and swindled away with the collection in billions and also engaged in the operation of gangs to attack and plunder the wealth of Tamils. Meanwhile people are also reluctant to lodge complaints at the Police Stations because they too are in possession of undeclared money. This is a complex situation. This is something similar to the situation that prevailed in France after the French Revolution, though there are three races in Sri Lanka. In addition, Sri Lanka spends more on warfare and on suppressing the opposition. Good governance which is a stepping stone for citizens to become close partners, has become a questionable issue amidst such an atmosphere.

Federalism affords an opportunity for a person to live by righteousness and for righteousness which is the essence of Buddhism as well as of other religions, because of the shared powers. But in Sri Lanka, political leaders have failed to uphold these lofty ideals for the betterment of mankind. It is for the Sinhalese and Tamils to realize that the main purpose of the religion is the unfoldment of the Divinity within man as stated by Swami Sivananda. As several thousands of innocent Tamils died as a result of the military operation, it does not mean that the Tamils should take revenge. There are Sinhalese who have witnessed this episode, but are voiceless. Even Emperor Asoka realized that the weak and the poor can only surrender their worries to God as there are no options when the powerful rulers are all out to destroy. The mighty rulers should realize that they came with nothing at birth and they would not take anything at death, other than the good deeds which have free access to the God’s kingdom or sanctuary. If he realizes this truth, he will never engage in conspiring to commit unlawful crimes against humanity, because the expectation of God are to be honest, love everyone and never hate. It is egoism that prompts a person to commit crimes at the expense of the suffering of the innocent people. Merely paying homage to holy places will not amount to getting rid of egoism or wash out sins. Let us all hope for a change in hearts with a new glorious chapter giving prominence for righteousness which will narrow the distance to be close partners in Sri Lanka.

Though there are many faiths, man should realize that God is only one but people call him by various names. God never causes wickedness. He has a loving purpose for humans which I think Canada has put in practice, because it is concerned of the welfare of every of its citizens whether they are in Canada or outside Canada – a lesson that Sri Lanka should follow. God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others as all souls emanate from the Supreme Soul. Upon realizing the nature of God, a vital issue arises whether we as humans have a right to torture and humiliate others instead of accepting others as close partners in a community of a country. The truth of all religions is that everyone in this world have to live together without any disputes and discriminations. Calling the ethnic community as parasites reflects the uncivilized culture in God’s language. Discriminations resulting in disputes are man-made, while living together on equal basis is God-created. Federalism denotes living together.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Thanks Mr. Rajasingam. You have explained Federalism from all points of views.

  • 1

    ‘Federalism ……… is an expansion of democracy.’
    The author has explained it beautifully leaving no room for critics. Politicians, who always talk of democracy, should reconsider this.

  • 1

    The example given as to why are the hearts between two persons are at a distance and close is fantastic. The writer has succinctly stated that Federalism implies understanding between two communities because of the shared powers. Easy to understand by ordinary people. Good article.

  • 0

    it seems to me that there’s a lot of trauma over the decades that Tamils have not dealt with – especially those who grew up in the West. thus they are advocating for separation of the island, where many Tamils have lived within other communities in Sri lanka relatively peacefully. It is these Tamils who will benefit most in a United island perhaps true federalism is the answer.

    But many sinhalese seem afraid to give land and police powers to the Tamil-majority PCs and are afriad to join the north and the east to make a large area dominated by Tamils. Their fear stems from the fact tht the sinhalese see themselves as a regionals minority – a non-dravidian group whose culture exists only in Sri Lanka and whose religion is a minority religion in south asia.

    it is in this context that one has to understand the 2 sides as they draw lines in the sand. Little do they realize that the tsunami that is the geo-political new “cold war” between the Us and China, is going to wipe way those lines in a matter of seconds, if they do not some how find a way to live on the island peacefully.

    So how can these 2 sides – both with legitimate fears of annihilation – trust each other? i would suggest trust building exercises first. Admit to the wrongs done by each side against the other. Apologize from your heart : the sinhalese for the support of anti-Tamil riots, and the Tamils for the massacres and unfair mud-slinging of the sinhalese and their places of worship. Admitting the favoritism for minorities that neglected the sinhalese during colonial times and genuinely sharing power in a united island nation, can help allay fears the sinhalese masses have.

    The question is, is there anyone – politician/civil society leader/religious leader who is courageous enough to stand up to the extremists and nationalists of all sides (sinhala, SL and Indian tamil, TN tamil, muslim)?

  • 1

    “Moreover instead of solving the ethnic issue on a Federal basis, the behavior of leaning towards China, Pakistan, Iran and some Middle-East countries, which are noted for violation of human rights, compelled other democratic countries to have distrust on Sri Lanka.” (Ayathuray Rajasingam)

    Which model to follow for a small country like Sri Lanka?

    Country Population Land area
    Iran 77,891,220 636,293
    Pakistan 187,342,721 310,401
    China 1,336,718,015 3,705,386

    Countries with federal government
    • Argentina (23 provinces and one autonomous city (Buenos Aires)
    • Australia (six states and three territories)
    • Austria (nine states)
    • Belgium (three regions and three linguistic communities)
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,
    Republika Srpska and their condominium Brčko District)
    • Brazil (26 states and the Federal District)
    • Canada (ten provinces and three territories)
    • Comoros (Anjouan, Grande Comore, Mohéli)
    • Ethiopia (nine regions and two chartered cities)
    • Germany (16 states)
    • India (28 states and seven union territories)
    • Iraq (18 governorates and one region (Iraqi Kurdistan)
    • Malaysia (13 states and three federal territories)
    • Mexico (31 states and one federal district (Mexico City)
    • Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap)
    • Nepal (14 zones)
    • Nigeria (36 states and one federal territory (the Federal Capital
    • Pakistan (4 provinces, 2 autonomous areas and 2 territories)
    • Russia (46 oblasts, 21 republics, nine krais, four autonomous
    okrugs, two federal cities, one autonomous oblast)
    • Saint Kitts and Nevis (two states)
    • South Sudan (10 states)
    • Sudan (17 states)
    • Switzerland (26 cantons)
    • United Arab Emirates (seven emirates)
    • United States (50 states, one incorporated territory, and one
    federal district (Washington, D.C.)
    • Venezuela (23 states, one capital district and one federal

    • 2

      The Professional:

      Does the size really matter? Or the size gives a carte blance to the majority to impose their will on the minority? The fact is a multi-racial, multi-religious country needs a statesman but in SL the majority Sinhala politicians have always built their careers by stepping on and creating pain and misery on the Tamils. The fact that MR screwed up mischievously the vast and best opportunity to build a “new” nation proves that he foolishly he screwed up the immense opportunity to be counted as a statesman. His so-called saviour has turned out to be his worst enemy and nightmare.

  • 0

    The article appears to be a direct reply to MR who said that he will not allow the country to be divided. Is MR of the view that Federalism means separation, but the author says it is an expansion of democracy. Moreover, why has MR failed to acknowledge that Emperor Asoka realized that the weak and the poor can only surrender their worries to God. Finally why MR has not read the Dhammapada. Perhaps he would have been influenced by the rulers of Libya, Iran, Pakistan, China and now Uganda. I think Federalism must be a bitter taste for MR.

  • 0

    It is interesting to watch how the writer combines religion and politics. Merely boasting about being the champion of Buddhism is not enough. The vital issue is whether one lives by righteousness and for righteousness. Whether this applies to politicians is suspicious. It appears that the shared powers in Federalism facilitates a citizen or insists a politician to live by righteousness and for righteousness given the fact that there are many crimes taking place in the country. The political leaders have to reconsider this.

  • 1


    You have got it wrong my friend as Sri Lanka is not a Suitable Country for Federalism to work for the following reasons.

    Federalism: A Mechanism For Citizens To Be Close Partners will only work where there is Rule Law and adherence to Democratic Values couple with Checks and balances to prevent abuse.
    Let me give you some clues taking India as a Model.

    You need the following for it to work.

    1) People with separate Identity- Language and Religion
    2) Separate areas where they are concentrated.
    3) The Centre to accept Federalism as enshrined in the Constitution.
    4) Most importantly the Federal State or States to be able to withstand any attack by the centre on its ability to function.

    Taking India as a Model the Federal Structure satisfies all the above Criteria except for occasional mischief from the Centre. The fact that India has so many different States makes it difficult for the Centre to Meddle without causing the Union to Collapse.

    Sri Lanka is a different ball game Ball together for the following reasons.

    1) We have people with two separate Identity but there can only be Two States North & East United and the South.
    2) We yet don’t have Constitution which recognises the two Separate States.

    3) The fact that we only have two states makes the viability of the Minority State to function without feeling being Dominated by the Majority in the absence of International Guarantee difficult.

    So I am afraid Federalism cannot be a Mechanism For Citizens To Be Close Partners in Sri Lanka especially when we have not seen any evidence from the Sinhalese Majority since Independence that they will
    treat the Tamils as Equals.

    • 0

      It is not the issue that Sinhalese and Tamils cannot be close partners, but who began shouting that that Federalism is separation. Sinhalese leaders like J.R.Jayawardena, Dr.N.M.Perera and S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake have said that Federalism is suitable for Sri Lanka. Unfortunately because of the greed for power, they began misleading the Sinhalese that Federalism would lead to separation. No one was prepared to come forward to pronounce that Federalism means expansion of democracy. Even Gamini Dissanayake, his wife and Ranil Wickremasinghe all endorsed Federalism is suitable for Sri Lanka during their Presidential elections. At least the academics should have come forward in the best interests of Sri Lanka. I think Dr.Wickremabahu Karunaratne also endorsed this. It is time for religious leaders to keep away from politics.

      • 0

        “It is time for religious leaders to keep away from politics.”

        Leaders may or may not be religious. If they keep away atheists will have a field day.

  • 0

    If the hearts of two or many communities can get together why “Federalism”, that divides and encourage separatism?

    Why not all the hearts get together in “unionism” and have a “UNITARY STATE”? Don’t you see the PROBLEM today is that all the leaders do not want that “unionism”. What they want is to DIVIDE and RULE for their own benefit for which purpose they propose various “organizational structures”.

  • 0

    The writer says that Federalism is an expansion of democracy, not separation – one step further than in Unitary form of government. Because of the shared powers between the Federal and Province there is a possibility of give and take. Divide and Rule occurs in Unitary because of the greed for power and wealth. Apparently the system of Checks and Balances are rarely seen in Unitary.

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