It is simply amazing how the very mention of these concepts in an open discourse on constitutional reform would immediately trigger frenzied, robotic responses from learned professors and self-appointed pundits. The response from Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka to Madam Chandrika’s remarks on the subject is instinctual, political and vituperative, and deliberately distorted and misleading.
His argument has three main points. First, that federalism inherently contains the element of separatism. This is empirically unsupported, as in classic examples such as the US, India, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland etc. Not perfect examples, but where there is some degree of social cohesion, in spite of severe national and ethnic oppression in some cases. The second aspect of the argument that Sri Lanka is just too small a country to afford federalism is purely prejudiced and anti-democratic. When we deal with a question of an oppressed nation seeking liberation, the guiding criteria is not the size, but the democratic essence of the demand for dignity, equality, security, autonomy and democratic freedom. But, we cannot expect such a profound vision of democracy from a sycophantic, careerist, ideological agent of a rabidly chauvinist camp as that led by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s credibility as a ‘patriot and defender’ of the Sinhala-Buddhist Nation has been completely and irrevocably demolished by his very own act of ‘betrayal’ when he bribed Prabhakaran to the tune of millions, which massive funds the latter would have used to grease up his war machine to kill Sinhala-Buddhist soldiers and civilians. He also gunned down unarmed Sinhala civilians who were exercising the fundamental right of democratic protest- the very same guns that killed unarmed Tamil civilians. Also, the attempted coup by him to suppress the presidential election results shows to what extent he would go to betray the sovereignty of the people, including the Sinhala Buddhist nation, simply to entrench his dynastic rule and dictatorship through perpetuity. The third major point of argument is that Federalism would certainly play into the hands of an expansionist Tamil Nadu. This is just fear-mongering designed to incite and mobilize his tribal-feudal, chauvinist political base and score points for his Master. There certainly could be such grand designs by some Tamil Nadu politicians. Precisely for the reason that foreign powers could and do play dirty politics with the Tamil nation that it must be decisively determined on a sustainable democratic basis. Indeed and in fact, it is the denial and violent suppression of nationhood and the attendant right of self-determination that has led to the politics of separatism and paved the way for foreign powers, including India, to sink their fangs into the lifelines of the people and the country. None are so blind as those who have eyes but refuse to see.
Towards a Transcending Solution
I have initiated a new framework and approach for resolving the Tamil National Question, sponsored by the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation in the form of a ‘Citizen’s Initiative for Constitutional Reform’. This new paradigm positively transcends the mutually exclusive polarities between a Federal State and a Unitary State. I have suggested a formula that calls for a Second Chamber constitutionally entrenched and empowered to protect the national-democratic rights of all nationalities, which would also elicit a constitutional pledge to a democratically constituted State. This would allay all fears of separation and provide a basis for all nationalities to enjoy parity of status, dignity, security and autonomy, as equal and indivisible partners and architects of a modern, unified democratic State. I have suggested that this would provide a solid and principled basis to forge a united, indivisible and integrated Sri Lankan Nation, to be forged on a voluntary basis. It is also a remedy against the ‘tyranny of the majority’. There are no perfect solutions. But we must strive to move forward and away from the dark era of enforced subordination, communal violence and war, which has violated and defiled us all and robbed us of our collective dignity and humanity.
Secularism: The Doctrine of Separation of State and Religion
A theocratic-supremacist State or a secular, democratic-pluralist State? In my opinion, all theocratic States have proven to be monstrous examples of extremely rigid, chauvinist-supremacist states- such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, whereas, secular states such as the US, France, Germany, India etc, have at least relatively more cohesive, integrated and pluralist societies, with some degree of formal, constitutional guarantees and democratic freedoms. There is, of course severe national oppression in some of these countries, such as the US and India. Yet, there is no supreme religious ideological monopoly that prescribes a moral code and doctrine regulating and enforcing a particular set of values and forms of social activity. However, even these democratic freedoms are now being challenged by the rise of theocratic-fascist right-wing forces.
Religion has no place in politics and certainly not in modern democratic states. Religion is a profoundly personal and private affair, which ascribed sanctity is preserved when it is constitutionally separated from the affairs of the State. Religion played a dominant role as official state ideology during feudal times under monarchs who derived their absolute power to rule over their subjects from a ‘divine right’. This is an archaic form of State, long overthrown by the progress of history. Secularism – the separation of State and Religion – was a resounding cry of the Enlightenment of the 18th Century and given powerful expression by the foremost ideological vanguard of the bourgeois democratic revolution, such as Voltaire, and stands as a hallmark of modern civilized States.
The Perversion of Religion as Political Ideology
The temple had once functioned as a bastion of anti-colonial / national liberation struggle. Buddhism had once been a progressive doctrine that stood against superstition, and against enforced and arbitrary authority and hierarchy. The power of Buddhism derives from the injunction that all human beings must strive to achieve conscious self-determination and chose their path in Life through seeking truth. It has no place for dogma or official ideology. It posits no political authority over the interpretation or application of the Dhamma. It prescribes a quest for human liberation through self-realization. Then, what does it mean to define Buddhism as the foremost religion of the State? What has the increasing politicization of religion brought us? Let us look at the stark reality without fear and prejudice. Buddhism as a philosophy and way of life of seeking individual liberation by seeking truth through deep meditation and meritorious thought and deed, with compassion towards all beings, has been transformed into a rote, recitative dogma and ritual. With the exception of genuine and committed monks, the Sangha has become a caste-ridden, hierarchic, feudal enclave of power, wealth, status and privilege, and an instrument of political patronage and manipulation. So much so, that a leading Buddhist monk engineered the assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, in the pursuit of commercial interests. The Bodu Bala Sena and its ilk are the modern prototypes of neo-fascist goon squads, acting in the name of the Lord Buddha and the Dhamma. The universally emancipating, noble vision of the Lord Buddha as encapsulated in the appeal; “Let all Beings be Free of Sorrow” is roundly and routinely defiled by such practices. In widespread instances, as in the Christian church, the temple has become a notorious hotbed of moral corruption and sexual abuse. Under state patronage, some places of worship have become opulent palaces of wealth and privilege – far away from the ascetic culture of self-denial and Pinda Patha. Any honest Buddhist would agree that the Maha Sangha, in general, has to be reformed and transformed into the noble vision of a selfless community of ascetics who are required to be exemplary models of philosophical wisdom, selflessness, moral fortitude and discipline in following and preaching the Dhamma – as lived and envisioned by Lord Buddha. This would require that the Maha Sangha, and Buddhism itself, be salvaged from being an instrument of State power and from reactionary, self-serving political agendas.
Towards a Transcending – Transformative Leap
But, as according to the pompous pontifications of Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, there is to be no such transcending, transformative vision and program for a democratic restructuring of the State and constructing a new future as a united and liberated country. Not even an enlightened and engaged discourse. Just spitting out the venom of an embittered, irate and demented chauvinist camp that is desperate for returning to power, even at the cost of the disintegration of the country, the decomposition of the social order and the misery and degradation of the people. If we are ever to achieve a transcending -transformative leap beyond the dark era of violent division, terror, fear and war and lay claim to a new future of genuine independence, unity and democratic freedom, at the very least, there should be a spirited and open discourse and debate on the fundamental issues of division and conflict that have rent us apart. Redefining and radically restructuring the nature, structure, content and purpose of the State is at the heart of this process of rejuvenation. Every age and every profound crisis has brought forth an advanced leap in consciousness and practice in the process of social progress and historical social evolution. Our time has long since arrived.