1 July, 2022


Need For Inclusive Nationalism Plus 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

During the election campaign the ruling party and its allies legitimized their call for a 2/3 majority in parliament on the basis that a change of constitution was needed to empower the future government. But there was limited information about what needed to be changed. The focus was on the 19th Amendment that shared power more equitably between the president and parliament, protected state institutions from political interference and banned dual citizens from contesting elections. There were also references to the need to do away with the 13th Amendment that devolved power to the provinces, or at least abolish the devolved powers over police and land.

The government is now beginning to provide more information about its plans for a new constitution that would permanently alter the country’s political landscape. Minister of Justice Ali Sabry has said that the terms of Parliament and the President should be limited to five years, the number of terms of President be limited to two and appoint an expert committee to prepare a Constitution suitable to the country. Hopefully this will be accompanied by the presentation of a process by which public opinion may be sought, as well as input from opposition political parties.

The history of constitutional change in Sri Lanka has been that a single political party obtaining a 2/3 majority has been a recipe for leaving all other parties out without taking their views into account. Thus, the 1972 constitution was drafted without taking into consideration the views put forward by the Tamil political parties. This led them to boycott the ratification process of the new constitution. The 1978 constitution too was drafted without input from the opposition parties and in the face of their opposition to its centerpiece, which was the executive presidency. The opposition parties described the presidency as the precursor to dictatorship.

Prioritised Community 

Events after the promulgation of the new constitutions in 1972 and 1978 have demonstrated that the absence of consensus in formulating the country’s supreme law can be extremely costly in terms of the conflicts they contribute towards. A similar danger exists on this occasion too. The election campaign that led to the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019 was an extremely divisive one. This could be seen in the way that the electorate voted highlighting the ethnic and religious divides in the country. The threat posed by sections of the minority population to the sovereignty of the country and to the ethnic and religious majority in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter bombings led to a campaign that voting for President Rajapaksa was the last chance to save the country.

In his inaugural address after winning the presidency in November 2019, the President addressed this issue by saying that he had been voted in to power by the ethnic and religious majority, but he committed himself to be the president of all. Much weight is being put today on this statesmanlike assertion. The general election campaign eight months later was less divisive due to the emergence of the Covid pandemic that took the primary place and affected all sections of the population in equal measure. The government’s decisive handling of the pandemic permitted the government to make significant inroads into the minority vote base. However, the theme of strong government being necessary to protect national sovereignty and the subordinate place of the ethnic and religious majority has continued to be a central one. President Rajapaksa’s policy statement to the new parliament at its inaugural sitting has reflected this reality.

The president was plainspoken in saying, “In accordance with the supreme Constitution of our country, I have pledged to protect the unitary status of the country and to protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana during my tenure. Accordingly, I have set up an advisory council comprising leading Buddhist monks to seek advice on governance. I have also established a Presidential Task Force to protect places of archeological importance and to preserve our Buddhist heritage. While ensuring priority for Buddhism, it is now clear to the people that freedom of any citizen to practice the religion of his or her choice is better secured.”

A rebuttal to this statement of the president came the following day in parliament by former Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council and newly elected MP for Jaffna, C. V. Wigneswaran to who said, “My sole purpose in participating in this debate is to examine the effect the policy statement might have on the people of the North and East. There is no reference to the decades old problems of the Tamil speaking denizens of the North and East. The North and East whilst being part of Sri Lanka is majority Tamil speaking. It would have been ideal if his Excellency would have had adopted a holistic attitude towards the island keeping in mind the necessity to view the problems of the periphery from the standpoint of subsidiarity.”

Inclusive Nationalism 

There is a concept of inclusive nationalism, in which everyone born within the boundaries of the country (regardless of race, religion, skin colour, language or culture) is accorded equal membership in the nation. The problem that the government will encounter is whether an inclusive Sri Lankan nationalism is possible when one ethnicity and religion is given priority. It will tend to alienate those who belong to other ethnicities and religions. The distinction between inclusive and exclusive nationalism is their attitude towards others. Exclusive nationalism centres upon the need to scapegoat others for the country’s social ills. This has happened time and time again in the past, most recently with the Muslims in the aftermath of the Easter bombings but also before.

In contrast, inclusive nationalism is consistent with the politics of compromise. Therefore, it is important that nationalism should be balanced by an emphasis on equality-based pluralism for citizens. Where people of different identities share a common space, the state needs to ensure there is equal rights, equal treatment and equal protection to all its citizens. This would mean, for instance, that a Tamil speaking citizen should be provided services in the Tamil language in any and all parts of the country. This would also be the case for Sinhala-speaking citizens in Tamil dominant areas of the North, East and hill country. Such a right would not be on account of Sri Lanka being a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual country, but rather by the need to provide equal treatment to all citizens.

In balancing the imperatives of collective nationalism with equality-based pluralism for citizens, the government needs to develop champions from within its ranks to bridge the gap in understanding and trust. There will be a need to promote values of a pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in which equal opportunities and equal protection are ensured through a framework of equal rights and equitable practices. This will need to be accompanied by trust building between communities by setting up platforms for trust building to take place through enhancing and expanding the space for positive interaction and the dispelling of divisive and demonizing narratives of the other.

Whatever reservations that those from the minority communities might have had regarding the president’s policy statement, it was accepted by the parliament, including those representatives from the minority communities, without division. One of the sentences of the policy statement to parliament by President Rajapaksa was that “Our ardent desire is to build a prosperous nation with a productive citizen, contented family and a righteous society.” This is a sentiment that will resonate throughout the country and all sections of the people and needs to be actualised.

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Latest comments

  • 13

    Jehan Perera,
    You are talking about a ‘concept of inclusive nationalism’. When Sinhalayo gave citizenship to ‘Para’ aliens the expectation was that they will pledge allegiance to the country they were given citizenship. But sad to say that Malabar racist Vellala Demala (Tamil) leaders/politicians did not want to be inclusive.
    At the time Sinhale received Independence Malabar Vellala Demalu dominated the administration of the country. Actually, Sinhalayo were discriminated by Malabar Vellala Demalu. Yet in 1949, ultra-racist Chelvanayakam who was born in Malaya and entered this country illegally formed the Federal Party and send the message that they want to have their ghetto.
    Although minorities keep on repeating ‘Minority Problem’, ‘Minority Problem’, the truth is ‘minority leaders/politicians’ are the problem. You should do your preaching to those guys.

    • 16

      Eager less puntak
      What’s the gripe you are having against the high caste Tamils.
      Is your fornication Meenakshi an untouchable low caste.?
      I am 67 years young you also a teenager who s 92 is welcome to join me at my Aged care in Blackburn
      You have become the much laughed at comic on many a website.
      You write like a big baby but in the end you are similar to all the petty minded Yakko racists all fart and no shit of a dropping
      Retire gracefully
      At your funeral will I be able to orate or irritate the eulogy about your cheapest of them all them leaving Charlie Chaplin in the shade.

      • 2

        Mahindapala, Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, states that northern and eastern provinces are lands of historic habitation of Tamil speaking people which Sri Lanka government had accepted. Can your veerayas remove that wording without the consent of India.
        Take it from me that big talking Rajapakse gang will tuck their tails between their legs and do exactly what India orders them to do. Get ready to hide under the bed.

    • 5

      Jehan Perera, This is CIA latest reports, Sri Lanka 74.9% Sinhalese Aryans, 11.6% Sri Lanka Tamils, 9.2% Moors, 4.2% Indian Tamils, others 0.5%. South Africa 80.9% Blacks, 7.8% White, 8.8% Colored, Indian Asian 2.5%. Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) 99.4% African Black 0.4% unspecified.0.20% . USA 72.4% White,12.6% Backs, 4.8%Asians, 0.9% American Indians, Hawaiians and Pacific 0.2% , others 6.2% More races 2.9%

  • 6

    Jegan Perera,
    The constitutions are supposed to be supreme law of the land. The entire people should spearhead the formulation, drafting and implementation of a new constitution.
    If it is practically impossible, ways and means should be found out to make maximum participation possible.

    The process is much more important in making a constitution

    The referendum is not a satisfactory answer for people participation.

    Referendum provides only an idiotic option “Yes” or “No”- nothing in between.

    If at all, only political parties,political scientists, and constitutional lawyers play crucial role. Actually, constitution must be over and above the political parties, the constitutional lawyers and the elites in society.

    Constitution of a constitutional assembly elected for the sole purpose of formulating a constitution may be a way out and innovative methodologies shall be adopted to overcome the real problems in having a people constitution.

  • 4

    No country has “inclusive nationalism”. It is an oxymoron.

    Nationalism by definition is exclusive.

  • 11

    As I came into this planet in December 1952, I cannot vouch for what took place till around 1960.
    I was told by my grandfather till 1956 there was harmony and peace prevailing in Ceylon.
    After the debacle of an election in 1956, the once docile beautiful island began it’s down the hill ride.
    Now it is ranked as the topmost beggar’s colony in the world.
    If one expects the much-maligned crooks of the highest magnitude Rajapuka’s to treat the minorities as equal citizens it will become the undisputed joke of the century
    These mangy flea-ridden moron crooks well-known worldwide as the horu boru Rajapuk’s are not even treating their fellow Yakko’s in a fair and just manner.
    They being the globe’s best-known bullshitters are taking these sitting shitting on their tiny midget of a brainwave no qualms about what they are indulging in.?
    As long as the saffron coloured see-through amude clad Buddhist monk gannankarayas are around there will be no tranquillity on this once upon many a moon ago peace serenading isle.
    Now I come to Sajith. P, he too pays unnecessary poojas to these so-called monk rowdy gangsters who think that the sun is shining on their wide-arsed backsides.

    • 4

      Your grandfather is right. There was peace and harmony till 1956 because Sinhala Kalu Suddas (mostly Christian) governed the country and Malabar Vellala Demalu (Tamils after 1911) ruled the country. English was the official language. About 60% of the Government jobs were held by Malabar Vellala Demalu. In Medical, Engineering and Science Faculties more than 60% were Vellala Demalu, about 60% of Grade 1 schools were in Yapanaya. Although British gave Independence, Native Sinhalayo were still down trodden people oppressed by Sinhala Kalu Suddas and Vellala Demalu.
      In 1956, SWRD Bandaranayake and D.A.Rajapakse left the ruling mafia and launched a silent revolution. After that Kalu Suddas (Christian) and Malabar Vellala Demalu who lost their privilege status launched a campaign to sabotage Government’s effort to give true Independence to Sinhala Buddhists who were oppressed for about 450 years.
      For obvious reasons Malabar Vellala Demalu might think that once docile beautiful island began it’s down the hill ride after 1956. But for Native Sinhalayo 1956 revolution was the first step towards gaining true Independence.

      “I was told by my grandfather till 1956 there was harmony and peace prevailing in Ceylon.
      After the debacle of an election in 1956, the once docile beautiful island began it’s down the hill ride.”

  • 3

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

    For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 7

    Until recently, political leaders promised to abolish the executive Presidency but that seems to be water under the bridge now. The question now is do we need ceremonial PM with an all powerful President or the roles reversed but in reality, do we need both? The Yahapalanaya is an example of the disastrous consequences of an illiterate President & an ineffective PM pulling in different directions, paid for by the tax payer. Can debt ridden poor SL afford to have a President, as well as, a PM, (assisted by 225 MPs) to govern a small country of 25 million or so people?

    Corruption, mismanagement & abuse of power were synonymous with the MR regime, yet we have the same President now as PM. I have my doubts if the 2\3 majority would bring any benefit to SL, instead, most likely pave the way for a dictatorship for life.

  • 3

    Let us understand the contents of this article in simple terms. The big message is that humans must treat each other with respect. For that, the ball does not lie entirely within the ruling party but the whole society must value the principle take an effort towards realizing it. Leaders of societies do have a part to play. It is sad to see that division is created and highlighted for political advantage. I believe that within a decade, maximum two, the landscape may change for the better because the ordinary bloke begins to feel that they are being taken for a ride in terms of division instead of a proper Government.

  • 3

    Inclusive Nationalism is not an oxymoron. By definition nationalism is not exclusive of some of its citizens. It is exclusive of other nations. Srilanka is one nation with people of different race, religion and language. What the other intended was that Srilnakan Nationlism should be inclusive of all the citizens of Srilanka irrespective of their race, religion or language. What you are referring to is not nationalism but religio-racial-linguism which is not inclusive and youcannot say Inclusive religio-racial-linguism.

  • 3

    One doesn’t need atomic bombs or even conventional bombs to destroy a country, look at Japan and Germany today. All one needs is a corrupt education system that preaches Nationalism as a cure-all.
    Patients then die at the hands of such doctors.
    Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers.
    Money is lost at the hands of such Bankers.
    Justice is lost at the hands of such judges.
    Humanity is lost at the hands of such priests.
    Honesty is lost at the hands of such politicians.
    The collapse of Education is the collapse of the nation.

    • 0

      As far as Lankawe matters are concerned, all arguments are valid in explaining how the 1948 Singapore become international Pariah in 2020. All talks have shown some king of points so far. The reason for that every Sinhala Intellectuals had/has in his/her own destroyed the country. Much time many here were introduced as old style dedicated workers. But their talk shows in few minutes how contributed consciously to country’s destruction. Jehan PhD right in the middle of Yahapalanaya’s constitutional negotiation, advised to New King and Mangala to seek Lord Neasby’s help to abolish Resolution 30/1. He personally accompanied Tilak to Geneva to seek ways to abandon from UNHRC. He uses the foreign donation to enforce Sinhala Buddhism to North East in the name religions reconciliation.

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