By Somapala Gunadheera –
Of late Yahapalayaya has faced several embarrassments due to failure of foresight. It failed to clear the refuse dump at Meetotamulla, before it came crashing down on the neighbourhood killing many residents and causing heavy damage to property. It carried on with Uma Oya unadjusted to the topography, until it led to a public outcry and severe damage to the environment. The latest is the protest from the Maha Sangha regarding the proposed Constitution. May be that some of these problems were the leftover from the previous regime. It is pointless blaming the predecessors more than two and half years into power. The previous regime was rejected because they were not acceptable to the majority that brought in the current dispensation to make amends. That calls for foresight on the part of the successors. They are never short of ministries, institutions and experts devoted to planning. But the above were not anticipated until they exploded in crisis. This unpreparedness reminds one of the ancient rustic saying that refers to looking for cover only after the urge to defecate has arisen.
What the Sangha Nayakas have pointed out to the Government is understandable. The Constitution making process is not a devil as black as painted in certain quarters. In my piece, “Updating the Law for release and peace” published in the Colombo Telegraph I said, “Yet another problem that has created a dilemma for the Government is how to create a new Constitution bringing out reconciliation between the majority and minorities by reassuring both sides. Some elements on the majority side are genuinely worried that efforts at reconciliation would lead to the extermination of the majority and they are prepared to lay their lives and those of many others down, to sabotage such a ‘Sirisangabo’ Act…
The minorities are suspicious that the majority is trying to take them for a ride with their siren songs of promises. They need concrete action to have faith in what is promised. They have been deceived in the past. This mutual distrust stands in the way of reconciliation, as it had for the last half century. What is needed in this situation is fair exchange on both sides. Each of them must give and take the optimum possible. Let us apply this approach to Constitution-making.
Prior information leads to reconciliation
Activists on the majority side are not asking for more through amending the existing Constitution. They will be happy if it is left as it is. Provided what is already granted to them by the original document is unchanged and guaranteed by the proposed Constitution, they do not mind any equality rights granted to the minorities. For instance, if the eminent position given to their race and religion is left intact, they do not mind equality rights given to the minorities. They want to be primus inter pares – leader among equals. The Minorities should have no objection to this arrangement provided their rights of equality are not limited to mere words, given today and violated tomorrow. Their new rights like freedom of language should be entrenched provisions in the new Constitution, supported by maximum penalties against their breach. This change of attitude can be deduced from statements made by the leaders in the North after the end of hostilities.
Only this position had to be explained clearly to both sides before Constitution making started in camera unknown to the parties affected by the secret move. In fact I mentioned the importance of bringing the Sangha into confidence in my “Who will bell the cat?”, responding to a piece by Prof. H.L. Seneviratne in the Colombo Telegraph expecting the Sangha to rise in rebellion against the narrow and corrupt political values imposed on the country by the previous rulers.
It was my belief that such a moment had to be necessarily initiated by the State. This has been the practice even in the past when Sangãyanãs were actively organized by the government of the day. I still believe that the Sangha would not rise in rebellion unless they fall prey to a third party that would lead them astray to serve their own narrow agendas. The Sangha are piqued that the Government had kept them in the dark about a matter on which they had a prime hand in the past. It is remarkable that they cut across the petty nikãya difference to issue a joint warning to those in power. Theirs was not the sole protest by the Sangha against the confidential move. They were preceded by the Kotte chapter some time back. I had this factor in my mind when I insisted in my response to Prof. Seneviratne, “For an optimum effect on the society at large, this assignment (of putting the Sangha in the know) should be finalized before the new Constitution is framed and promulgated.” I said so as I expected the Sangha to revolt against a secretive attempt to dislodge what they have been preserving for centuries. They would not have moved a finger if they were told in advance that the supremacy of the ancient race and religion would not be affected by the exercise and the aim was to safeguard the rights of the minorities on humanitarian grounds, in a way that would not result in a fragmentation of the island.