By Rohana R. Wasala
A nation can outlive its fools, and even the ambitious. But he cannot survive betrayal from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, because he is known and openly carries his banner. But the traitor moves freely among those inside the gate, his devious whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.
– Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC)
According to a popular Sinhala-language online news portal (October 31), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he had appointed (Bodu Bala Sena leader) Ven. Galagodaatthe Gnanasara Thera as Chairman of the (recently established) Presidential Working Group “One Country, One Law” to advise him, but not to legislate. The president made the remark when asked about the PTF at a meeting of government party leaders. He stressed that he had the option of appointing anyone to the PTF according to his personal preferences. He also reportedly said that if he tried to consult with party leaders on anything, he would have to get their permission before associating with friends! (Aside: as president, he should also seek advice from sincere, non-political people on this matter. RRW)
The president added that the same kind of objections were raised when he appointed Ali Sabry to the post of Minister of Justice; but now he is performing his duties to everyone’s satisfaction, the president added.
Speaking of advice, I think President Gotabaya should take MP Sivajilingam’s request as useful advice and immediately dissolve the “farce” (as the latter correctly describes it) of this working group to one country and one law. led by Ven. Galagoda at the Gnanasara Thera. The value of Sivajilingam’s request lies in the fact that he can have no intention of betraying the president; only close friends can betray a person, but not an enemy or a stranger. Sivajilingam is an enemy at the gate (Pl. See epigraph above), but an enemy we know as one of our fellow Sri Lankans (who does not show false friendship), with whom we can easily restore our traditional bonds of brotherhood by settling our internal problems through talks among ourselves without shamefully allowing strangers to exploit them to their own advantage and to our common detriment.
The reference in this case is The island Dispatch from correspondent Dinasena Ratugamage “Sivajilingam tells the president to dissolve the ‘one country, one law’ working group and solve the country’s problems” (Saturday, October 30) about MK Sivajilingam, former provincial councilor for the North of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and close relative of Velupillai Prabhakaran, speaking to media in Jaffna the day before (Friday 29). He reportedly claimed the task force was an attempt to bolster President Rajapaksa’s declining popularity. Sivajilingam recalled the president’s earlier promise of a new constitution to protect the rights of every citizen. “Everyone wants the president to propose a new constitution. There is pressure to solve the problems faced by the Tamil people. However, the president suddenly appointed a task force on “One Country One Law”. The task force is a joke. Name Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera as head of the working group makes it a farce, ”he reportedly said. (He would have been closer to the truth if he had said, ‘There is pressure on the president to tackle the problems faced by all Sri Lankans, not just the Tamil people.’ But we can’t fault him for focusing on the community he represents, in this case.)
“The task force was not appointed after consulting people. We urge the government to stop distracting people and tackle the real problems. What we need is a task force to pull the country out of the economic, social and political disasters it faces. Leaders have to be smart enough to get everyone’s support. If the government does not show that it cares about Tamils, they will continue to oppose the government. A divided country cannot face the challenges we face now, ”he said. For my part, I agree with him. This little concern for Tamils, although justified from his point of view, is a different matter, but the same applies to every community, and is not an insurmountable obstacle to restoring unity between communities. .
Of course, Sivajilingam can make that request or offer that advice, ironically; he can call the president’s bluff. Sivajilingam is a politician, and since all politicians are generally cunning, he should be handled with care. Having said that, I think his comments should be seen as a constructive criticism that provides an opportunity to open a people-to-people dialogue between the north and the south with a view to ending the reluctant mutual estrangement between the two communities. which were deliberately created by opportunistic politicians on both sides.
Let me try to put Sivajilingam’s remarks into perspective in my own light as a Sri Lankan citizen with some hindsight (due to my age), insight (gained through formal and informal education and life experience) and foresight (honed by both).
Responsible citizens of Sri Lanka lifted the country from the brink of national disintegration and general disaster by electing Gotabaya Rajapaksa (his main draw was his non-political image) as president and the SLPP in parliament less than two years ago. In both cases, the election took place on the major “One Country, One Law” platform, in which, for completely apolitical reasons, Buddhist monks are intrinsically interested. But now it looks like Gotabaya has been betrayed and, on top of that, converted into something even more malleable than his predecessor to another’s wishes. Circumstances (i.e. the problems and the government’s authoritarian responses to those problems) push the country again to the brink of the precipice.
A notification from the Extraordinary Gazette was issued on October 27, 2021 to the effect that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had appointed a 13-member Presidential Task Force (PTF), using the powers vested in him as president by the Article 33 of the Constitution, 1. To study the implementation of the concept: “One country, one law” in Sri Lanka and prepare a bill to this effect and 2. To study the bills and bills. amendments that have already been prepared by the Ministry of Justice with regard to this subject and their relevance, and whether there are any appropriate amendments to submit a proposal (sic) for this purpose and include them in the relevant draft deemed appropriate .
I was deeply shocked and disappointed when my eyes fell on the relevant gazette’s notification online a few hours after it was published on October 27. My immediate mental reaction was, “What a crazy initiative! To be honest, I didn’t expect this kind of frivolous exercise from Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in whom I had implicit faith. But then, one can only guess that he did it under duress.
The PTF was officially created to study how to implement the concept “One country, one law” and how to align the “laws and amendments” already developed by the Ministry of Justice on this concept. The committee includes the head of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Ven. Galagodaaththe (not Galabodaaththe?) Gnanasara Thera (chairman) and twelve others, including academics, lawyers and prominent figures (the last category includes a maulavi from the Galle Ulama Council and three other Muslims. The Galle Ulama Council is supposed to be anti-Wahhabi, as has been claimed elsewhere. Originally, the PTF did not have Tamils or explicit representatives of any Christian or Hindu religious organization. Given the stated objectives, this was a glaring flaw, which would not have been permitted had the President had sincere advice.
This totally erroneous exclusion of Tamils provided a real reason for Sivajilingam to complain. However, at a meeting chaired by the president at Temple Trees the next day (October 28), Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and Ceylon Workers’ Congress vice-president Senthil Thondaman and several others raised this issue of non -representation of Tamils in PTFs and The President agreed to correct the anomaly. Please treat these Hindu Tamil rulers as well as you treat Muslim and Christian rulers. We need the cooperation of each community to neutralize the looming fundamentalist threat.
In my humble opinion, the appointment of this task force will prove to be a suicidal gesture for both the Gotabaya presidency and the SLPP government. The negative image of the monk who directs it, whether justified or not, the apparent mediocrity of the rest of the members, and the suspicion of an anti-Tamil bias generated by the initial imbalance of its community composition (although rectified later) be major setbacks to its success. The PTF seems to me to be a hastily designed but cleverly designed device by a saboteur to be dysfunctional from the start, and ultimately to kill the project it was supposed to put in place to carry out (i.e. , the only country, only one bill). It seems to be the sinister proposition of an evil genius within the president’s inner circle.
To be continued