By Mass L. Usuf –
“The true civilization is where every man gives to every other every right he claims for himself” ~ Robert G. Ingersoll
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced that the Parliament has approved on Wednesday, 9th March a resolution where all Members of Parliament will constitute the Constitutional Assembly. They will be discussing the new Constitution. He said, “We will be starting work in May”.
Like cerebral asymmetry, the perception of the people towards this exercise is variegated. It is good to begin with the doubting Thomases. They see this exercise only as a diversionary tactic to engage the masses away from the economic and other woes. For those who remember the pledge given to the late Venerable Sobitha Thero viz. abolition of the Executive Presidency, devolution of powers and a mixed electoral system, claim that only an amendment to the relevant Articles in the constitution would suffice. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Constitutional expert and his ilk would like to see a new and modern constitution. One in line with the developing countries where the scope of civil and political rights has been expanded. In addition, includes children’s rights, women’s rights, the economic and cultural rights as enforceable rights. To the general citizenry, many are the expectations to be fulfilled by this new constitution. The Tamils wants a solution to their ‘Tamil problem’. The Muslims look forward for some accommodation as a minority community. The Sinhala masses want a unitary state.
History laments the disgracefully squandered opportunities of the 1972 and 1978 governments which could have anchored Sri Lanka as an exemplary democratic nation – stable, peaceful and prosperous. The price tag, as we all know, of these misadventures is enormous and continuing to mount in different forms.
Even if the constitutional indulgence of Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike is excused due to the then prevalent circumstances, can an elderly Statesman like the late Mr. J. R. Jayewardene be pardoned? It would be unfair to assume that he lacked foresight or a vision for his Dharmista nation when he architected the Socialist Democratic Republican Constitution of Sri Lankan in 1978. It is an open secret that party politics, Sinhala chauvinism and Buddhist nationalism were their priorities over the future and greater interest of the entire nation. Sadly, remnants of these retrogressive elements are making their presence relevant even today in both of the major parties.
Intellectualism elsewhere is engaged in scholastic discourses on political philosophy like dissecting the Social Contract theory (the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual) to understand it’s impact on majoritarianism. While most of our ‘Uncles’ here have imprisoned their ‘minds’ with retrogressive and obstructionist political views. Tragically, the level of their political outlook and political thought process – concerning justice, rights, law, and issues pertaining to governance is much lower than the desired mark. It is against this backdrop that the government is enthusiastic about the new constitution. Will this third chance too be a disaster?
Several areas of deep controversy abide within this exercise of constitution making. The Tamil politicians to sensationalise it would call their issue as the ‘burning national question’ – Federalism versus devolution of powers. The Mahinda camp nationalists are in total opposition to a federal solution and, the pseudo nationalists vociferously lobby for placing curbs on the powers to be devolved. Funny it may seem, the so called Muslim politicians have made no statement of their stand with distinct clarity. Deaf and dumb, in Arabic summun bukmun, the politicians remain, giving way to speculations of all sorts within the community. The unpredictable chameleon nature of the Muslim politicians has confused the community. Some say that they are even capable of selling off the Muslim community’s interests. Far distinguished from the Latinised summum bonum. However, it may also be that the politicians are biding their time, monitoring how the issue is going to reveal itself, before any pre-emptive positioning. The fact that the Muslims are neglected nevertheless remains.
Minority within minority
Chief Minister Wigneswaran is of the view that the binary vision of unitary or federal state idea has to be revisited. Referring to other countries like India, China, Switzerland, he is of the opinion that a hybrid modern version of governance and shared sovereignty has to be developed through permutations and combinations. By the way, hybrid versions of anything will not digest well for those in the Mahinda camp. In their perspective, federalism or right to self-determination is as good as carving out the Tamil Eelam.
The Muslims are suspicious about the North/East merger. They are also apprehensive about extensive devolution of powers. A non-partisan analysis of the reasons for Muslims’ fear can be associated with many factors. I broach this subject as their voice is hardly heard. They were a lot who suffered heavy loss of life and property (this does not mean others did not) in a conflict in which they were not a direct party. The status quo of the internally displaced Muslims is still in a limbo though several years have passed since the cessation of hostilities. They do not see any ray of hope from the Tamil politicians both in the North and East who would simply give them back their ancestral farming lands etc. They have always found the Tamil politicians speaking only of the rights and demands of the Tamil people. The Muslims are also well acquainted with the permutation and combination rhetorics of the Tamil politicians. Alternating between the binary ‘Tamil people’ and the ‘Tamil speaking people’. The latter to include the Muslims in their camp by linking the spoken language. Thus giving the picture of a larger populace. All these, some allege, on an as and when basis of opportunism. Crowning it all, presently, the Muslims fear that they would become a minority within a minority.
Orientation for the MPs
Ironically, solutions to the national questions of the minorities pivots round the decisions of the majority community. In reality, the nationalists, pseudo nationalists, the chauvinists, progressivists and the modernists sit as Parliamentarians. It is they who will be determining the destiny of this country and the fate of its people. The battered minorities of this country may question as to how can one expect the majority to be so generous in resolving the disputes? Disputes which had over the several decades have either not been resolved or resolved only in favour of themselves.
Not all those who sit in Parliament are equally exposed to real political thought (political philosophy and science) and modern international political outlook. I believe, it is better if the government could engage our political scientists and constitutional experts to conduct a crash course for the Parliamentarians on modern political thinking and constitution making. This will greatly facilitate smooth discussions and deliberations on the making of the new constitution. Further, will help create the environment for objective thinking, independent views and an aura of common understanding even on contentious issues.
We are one nation and have to look ahead with that same spirit and fervour. In conclusion, I reiterate the quote above, “The true civilization is where every man gives to every other every right he claims for himself”.