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The fifficult quest for One Country One Law



by Gnana Moonesinghe

(This was written before the president expanded the task force)

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) to study the effective utilization of the concept of One Country One Law was set up by President  Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Ven Gnanasara as chairperson to study the concept of One Country One Law.

He was expected to prepare a draft Act for the said purpose and in addition was given the mandate to study the amendments and their appropriateness (prepared by the Ministry of Justice ) to this subject, and submit proposals  to be included in the draft..

Opposition to  the Task Force

When Gnanasara’s appointment to the PTF was announced there was opposition  to it on the basis of, (1) its timing and (2) his choice as the chair. Since the second issue is what raised vehement protest from several quarters, it will be dealt with first in this comment.

The composition of the PTF

This country has a multi religious, multi ethnic population . Yet in the composition of the Task Force Tamils, Christians and women have not been given representation (this has subsequently been changed). Does this not make the entire composition  of theTask Force flawed?

Tamils have been fighting for space  for their community with sections of the Sinhalese before independence and since, which finally erupted into a long war spread over nearly three decades.

This war was terminated with the defeat of the Tamils  (represented by the LTTE ) in 2009. However ,international uproar over the atrocities committed by the state forces as well as the LTTE were brought to the attention of the public which ended in  a demand by the Human Rights Commission for  accountability from both sides.

The ill feelings have stretched over the years without conclusion. The need for reconciliation is the first step in bridging  the poor relationships. .Despite a few steps, no genuine effort at reconciliation has been seen that satisfies both sides .

However representations has been made at international forums by Sri Lankan authorities  that reconciliation is taking a positive turn within the country.

But the situation in the domestic arena appears to be different; no significant progress has been made to the mutual satisfaction of both sides of the conflict. In this context the failure to have omitted to nominate Tamils to the Task Force seems a grave mistake.

To make matters worse the Christian constituency has no representation either. So soon after the Easter Sunday disaster it seems difficult to comprehend how this important constituency could have been overlooked . Many are expecting answers to how and why the bombing occurred and who was responsible. But the authorities seem to have forgotten the importance of wining over this particular constituency.

There is yet another constituency, that of women whom the authorities have overlooked. Women have assumed the role of change agents and have taken a decisive role in decision making. They are a force to reckon with at all times especially where choices have to be made .

And It is a grave mistake to have overlooked the minorities, both racial and religious. It is also inconceivable that without representation for the minority in the task force, they are still expected to agree with the decisions taken by the PTF. The Christians have to reckon with Easter Sunday and no agreement will be possible without answers to their queries. The Tamil minority that remained intransigent at the  best of times will consider their non-representation an affront to the entire community.

President Gotabaya’s response

The President in an interview with the press “has questioned the rationale for objecting to his decision  to ask for Ven. Gnanasaara’s advice since the monk was continuously speaking for One Country One Law ” (the Island Nov 8) and was seen propagating the Concept for over five years. Therefore he was considered a suitable person to chair the project.

It is  doubtful that the monk and the liberal public think alike on this subject. The argument that he campaigned for the concept will not make the appointment fair  or acceptable to all the people.

At the moment the constitution that guides this nation sets out the principles of established procedure to show people and institutions the way to function with consistency for the effective management of governance. If observed  strictly it will result in uniformity and  fairness to all, protecting the dignity of all citizen. Since constitutions are  also expected to uphold the relationships  between people and  institutions, it would be vital to have the making of the new constitution at all stages open and transparent.. Nothing short of open discussion and transparency will be acceptable.

Omission of women from PTF

Not only the Tamils and Christians but women also have been omitted from the membership  of the PTF mandated to decide on the nation’s future on the One Country One Law  concept. In this present context where the problems surrounding women loom large  and should be given every possible consideration, it would be poor judgement to have a Task Force that fails to give representation to this important segment in society.

Since the end of the war in Jaffna alone, a number of women-headed households are without any visible source of income. There are also widows and single women without anyone to take care of them. The non-representation of women in a task force as important as this will be considered an insult to gender considerations.

Objection to appointing Rev. Gnanasara

  The opposition to the appointment has been widespread. One of the reasons for this is that he was convicted and imprisoned for contempt of court and been accused of drunken driving. Former President Sirisena who granted him a pardon is believed by some to have been looking for the support of the Sinhala majority in the context of his differences with the then PM.

At the best of times it would seem hilarious  but certainly at all times frightening to conceive of a convicted person appointed not only  to draft guidelines for inclusion in a new constitution, but  also be permitted to engage in assessing the validity of the amendments suggested by the Ministry of Justice when he has no legal training at all.

Rev .  Gnanasaara Thero has further drawbacks as cited by liberal and interested individuals. He heads the Bodu Bala Sena, a racially divisive organization  formed in 2012. He is also well known for his anti Muslim sentiments. He  has led and is known to have given leadership to many anti Muslim violent riots and is held responsible for the destruction of many small businesses, the only livelihood of a large number of Muslims. Many of these livelihoods were destroyed as well as their places of worship, the mosques. He’s reputed to have disrupted the ethnic peace in the country.

Minority concern and timing of the Task Force

One of the Tamil leaders has claimed that the Task Force has been set up to boost the flagging popularity of President Rajapaksa. This may or may not be true but it stands to reason that the need of the hour is to get the country out of the economic, social and political disasters it is facing. The Tamil leader rightfully claims that a divided country cannot face the challenges Sri Lanka is facing today. This is a very relevant consideration.

There remains also a valid consideration in the claim that the onus of maintaining  cordial relationships rests with the minorities  as well. This is the only way One Country, One Law can be applied to all . There is no doubt a significant number of Sinhalese will be extremist and diminish the chance for amity.

It is also said that the timing of the Task Force could have been better. So many agitations are going on over diverse areas of concern to the people. The coincidence of the occurrence of coronavirus and its ill effects on the lives of people  and the slow growth of the economy has also impacted on the livelihood of the people. There has been a spate of uprisings and revolts against the government.

The various ongoing agitations are difficult to ignore .They are based on matters affecting the daily lives of the people — in the agricultural sector, among students, teachers,and above all cost of living .The  lack of livelihood partly because of corona and partly because of poor investments to activate the economy is the reality. At this juncture people may be unwilling to respond to issues around One Country, One Law.

The humble desire of many would be that this concept should not create and aggravate negative emotions. Instead it should be responsible for healing and unifying disparate forces.

Rule of Law and its aberrations

Even though the concept of One Country may take time to achieve, the rule of law is already enshrined in the constitution of the nation. The understanding is that everyone is equal before the law and that there can be no discrimination. But by invoking the presidential powers available to them, presidents at different times have flawed the rule of law concept and pardoned offenders serving jail terms for unacceptable reasons.

There is therefore widespread discontent over the quality of the rule of law in practice. It is questionable as to whether presidents should pardon prisoners who have been condemned to a jail term after due judicial consideration . Should they be allowed to exercise such powers.? This need be raised at the time when there is an attempt to impose the One Law concept. . Pardoning those committed to serve a term of imprisonment in prison violates the basic principle of equity in the legal system.

How will Gnanasara uphold the judicial system under the new concept of one law when he himself has been a recipient of biased dispensation of justice breaking the concept of equality of all before the law? Rule of law is an integral part of our constitution where established principles for the dispensation of justice are cited. How can these principles be upheld under such situations where political favourites are treated differently?

The power of truth has to override all other considerations and the need to establish principles of fairness and justice for the progress of society has to be rooted in the system. The amendment to the constitution permitted the possibility of presidential pardon. Unless and until this is removed  equality before the law will not be a feasible concept. Rule of law cannot prevail  under these circumstances, forget about the One Law concept.

Gnanasara’s explanation

He says in an interview ‘that they are not tasked to draft laws. We are to ascertain whether the public needs had been addressed through the prevailing system by looking at them in a different and practical angle. We are not expected to look at things the way how legal experts do.’ (Island Nov 2) Will an independent study be possible by a PTF headed by a monk, given the baggage he carries?

He also said that none should be discriminated on the basis of his or her race, religion, caste or any other factor. This claim by someone out of jail on a presidential pardon seems a little dodgy. How many convicts can seek such relief?

Gnanasara is reaching out to the youth by stating that they are an affected group and therefore they need a special place in the process. We have to wait and see how the PTF works.

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Religious nationalism suffers notable setback in India



People casting their votes in the recent Lok Sabha poll in India

Democratic opinion the world over could take heart from the fact that secularism is alive and well in India; the South Asian region’s most successful democracy. While it is indeed remarkable for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win a third consecutive term as head of government in India’s recent Lok Sabha election, what is of greater significance is the fact that the polls featured a resounding defeat for religious nationalism.

Consequently, India’s secular credentials remain intact. Secularism, which eschews identity politics of all kinds, including religious nationalism is, after all, a cornerstone of democracy and secularism has been a chief strength of India. The defeat of religious nationalism, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, is a triumph for not only the democratic forces of India but for their counterparts the world over.

It was plain to see that the Bharathiya Janata Party under P.M. Modi was going the extra mile to placate Hindu nationalist opinion in Uttar Pradesh and outside through the construction of an eye-catching Ram temple in the state, for example, but the vote-catching strategy has visible failed as the polls results in the state indicate. For, the number of seats won by the BJP in the state has shrunk dramatically. In fact, the BJP was resoundingly defeated in the very constituency where the temple was constructed.

Constructive criticism of religious nationalism should not be considered an indictment of the religions concerned. Hinduism is one of the world’s most profound religions and it would sustain itself and thrive regardless of whether vote-hungry political parties champion its cause or otherwise. However, the deployment of any religion in the acquiring and aggrandizement of power by political forces calls for criticism since it amounts to a gross abuse of religion. Religious nationalism is an example of such abuse and warrants decrying in democratic states.

Unfortunately, religious nationalism is rampant in South Asia and it is most alive and well in Sri Lanka. And to the degree to which religious nationalism thrives in Sri Lanka, to the same extent could Sri Lanka be considered as deviating from the cardinal principles and values of democratic governance. It is obligatory on the part of those posing as Sri Lanka’s national leaders to reject religious nationalism and take the country along the path of secularism, which essentially denotes the separation of politics and religion. Thus far, Sri Lanka’s political class has fought shy of taking up this challenge and by doing so they have exposed the country as a ‘facade democracy’.

Religion per se, though, is not to be rejected, for, all great religions preach personal and societal goodness and progress. However, when religious identities are abused by political actors and forces for the acquiring and consolidation of power, religious nationalism comes to the fore and the latter is more destructive than constructive in its impact on societies. It is for these reasons that it is best to constitutionally separate religion from politics. Accordingly, secularism emerges as essential for the practise of democracy, correctly conceived.

The recent Indian Lok Sabha poll was also notable for the role economic factors played in the determining of its final results. Once again, Uttar Pradesh was instructive. It is reported that the high cost of living and unemployment, for instance, were working to the detriment of the ruling BJP. That is, ‘Bread’ or economic forces were proving decisive in voter preferences. In other words, economics was driving politics. Appeals to religion were proving futile.

Besides, it was reported that the opposition alliance hit on the shrewd strategy of projecting a bleaker future for depressed communities if the BJP ‘juggernaut’ was allowed to bulldoze its way onward without being checked. For, in the event of it being allowed to do so, the concessions and benefits of positive discrimination, for instance, being enjoyed by the weak would be rolled back in favour of the majority community. Thus, was the popular vote swung in the direction of the opposition alliance.

Accordingly, the position could be taken that economic forces are the principal shaping influences of polities. Likewise, if social stability is to be arrived at redistributive justice needs to be ushered in by governments to the extent possible. Religious nationalism and other species of identity politics could help populist political parties in particular to come to power but what would ensure any government’s staying power is re-distributive justice; that is, the even distribution of ‘Bread’ and land. In the absence of the latter factors, even populism’s influence would be short lived.

The recent Indian Lok Sabha elections could be said to have underscored India’s standing as a principal democracy. Democracy in India should be seen as having emerged stronger than ever as a result of the poll because if there were apprehensions in any quarter that BJP rule would go unchallenged indefinitely those fears have been proved to be baseless.

‘One party rule’ of any kind is most injurious to democracy and democratic forces in India and outside now have the assurance that India would continue to be a commodious and accommodative democracy that could keep democratic institutions and values ticking soundly.

Besides the above considerations, by assuring the region that it would continue with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India has underscored her ‘Swing State’ status. That is, she would take on a leadership role in South Asia and endeavor to be an inspirational guide in the region, particularly in respect of democratic development.

As for Sri Lanka, she has no choice but to be on the best of terms with India. Going forward, Sri Lanka would need to take deeply into consideration India’s foreign policy sensitivities. If there is to be an ‘all weather friend’ for Sri Lanka it has to be India because besides being Sri Lanka’s closest neighour it is India that has come to Sri Lanka’s assistance most swiftly in the region in the latter’s hour of need. History also establishes that there are least conflicts and points of friction among democracies.

However, identity politics are bound to continually cast their long shadow over South Asia. For smaller states this would prove a vexatious problem. It is to the extent to which democratic development is seen by countries of the South as the best means of defusing intra-state conflicts born of identity politics that the threat of identity politics could be defused and managed best.

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AKD’s Speech on Rule of Law: Merits and Demerits?



Anura Kumara

by Dr Laksiri Fernando

Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s (AKD) speech as the Leader of the National People’s Power (NPP) at the National Convention organised by the Retired Police Officers Collective on 9 June 2024 is quite promising in terms of establishing or reestablishing rule of law in the country. They have been talking about a ‘system change’ now for some time, and various independent critics and observers were asking the details of this promise, without merely depending on the slogan.

I was fortunate to listen to this speech online and live, through Horawa News, and one weakness or wrong that I immediately observed was its leading phrase ‘Malimawa shows its police power.’ I have no idea about who runs the Horawa but that was not what AKD was quite obviously advocating. “Power’ is not a good word to use in democracy, worst still is the ‘police power.’

State of the State

After an introduction, AKD ventured to explain the ‘state of the State,’ particularly during the last two three years, characterising it as a failed state with inability to pay back loans, to supply necessary medicine to hospitals, and failing to give children a proper education, and when they grow up, proper employment. He strongly characterised the State as in the grips of crooks and criminals (dushithayan saha aparadakaruwan), and the whole society being affected by this situation. He said, “this must be changed, and this to be changed like in all other changes. Sri Lanka should be a State based on rule of law.” Thereafter his speech focused, in detail, on the questions of rule of law. There were several principles that he enunciated.

First, equality before the law. All citizens in the country should be equal before the law. All citizens in the country should be able to go before the law against any discrimination by the implementation of law. He asked, “are we all equal before the law? No. Rich people have one law, and people who have political power have another law. At present, the Department of Police, the Attorney General’s Department and even the Judiciary have become a laughing stock. Let me ask you a question that I have asked once before. “

“Who knew best that Diana Gamage didn’t have citizenship? First, Diana. She knew that she came to the country on a tourist visa and even that visa had expired. Knowing all that, she came to Parliament. Knowing that, she also acted as a state minister. How did she do that? She knew that because of her political power that the law would not apply to her. An ordinary person even will not ride a bicycle without a license. Where is our law?”

“The second person who knew well was Ranil. But he protected her. This type of country cannot go forward. We need a state system which is entirely based on rule of law. I will give you an assurance. I personally or our movement do not have any financial fraudsters or criminals to protect. No underworld, no drug dealers, no rapists, no financial fraudsters, and no criminals to protect. If the existing powers given to the police to curtail these crimes are not enough, under our government, we will create circumstances to strengthen the police.”

Political Interference

AKD outlined some of the crimes and murders which were investigated, and the perpetrators were properly punished within the system. Those included the murder of the Manager of Noori Estate, Hokandara family killing, Killing of Sarath Ambepitiya, etc.

On the other hand, he emphasised the cases like Lasantha Wickrematunge, Eknaligoda murder, assault of journalists like Keith Noyar, Poddalla Jayantha and others that dragged on without a conclusion. Why? His correct answer was political interference. He praised the police but emphasised political interferences that hamper their tasks.

One of the aspects that he neglected was the ethnic bias in criminal investigations and other police matters. Will this be addressed by the NPP? That is my question. For example, I have known J. S. Tissanayagam as a student at Peradeniya who later became a prominent Tamil Journalist. He was abducted, beaten up and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. There are so many similar cases that were neglected by AKD, and I hope he will rectify his neglect in the coming future. I also failed to identify any Tamil participation in the crowd.

AKD was correct in emphasising that the police have a major role in maintaining stability in society. “If there were no police, no one would be able to pass the Borella junction peacefully” he said. He emphasised correctly, that these premises were established after a long struggle in building up rule of law in society internationally. “These were not there in tribal societies,’ he pointed out. “The leader of the tribe (Rehe nayakeya) did all together,” he said. ‘It was through struggles that separation of powers was established between Parliament to legislate, elected Presidents to execute, and the Judiciary to rule on justice,’ he continued.

“What we can see today is a tendency to go back to tribal society. We need a civilised society. Especially the department of police, criminal investigation and the attorney genera’s department should work independently, efficiently and correctly. It is our task under an NPP government to create these civilised conditions. Today the police department is in a mess due to political interferences.” He gave examples.

“Do we have a proper procedure in recruiting and promoting police officers? No. I know that there are some officers who are constables at recruitment, and also when they retire. We will establish a proper procedure in recruitment and promotions. At present, when change of governments occur, the police officers are punished or promoted. The main task of the police officers is people’s security. However, what they are supposed to do today is patrician (prabhu) security.” He mentioned that he has been an MP since the year 2000 and never sought any police security. He emotionally mentioned the difficulties that police security undergoes with so many difficulties.

Vision for Future?

“Under our government, people’s security is the primary task of the police, and not politician or patrician security. During the last 24 years as an MP, I have never called the police for any assistance. But this is not the case with other MPs. However, I have to say that to eliminate criminals and fraudsters, we will give the police the necessary leadership and encouragement. Today, the MPs consider the police as their servants. I have heard some saying ‘my OIC’ (mage OIC). This is not our attitude. We will preserve the dignity of police officers. They are well trained and educated. They should not be the tools of politicians. Their task is to punish criminality, present and past. There are people who believe their past offenses will be forgotten. But we will not forget.” AKD related a story.

“During the election campaign in 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga accused the UNP stealing people’s money and property under their government. Vijayapala Mendis has obtained 75 acres of coconut land for two rupees per acre, altogether for Rs. 150. She promised that these crooks would be brought to the Galle Face Green and would be ‘skinned’. People rejoiced and clapped. However, within 7 years, the same Vijayapala Mendis became a Minister in Chandrika’s Cabinet. There are so many examples like that. Perhaps she had forgotten and even the people had forgotten. Ranil Wickremasinghe who accused [Gotabaya Rajapaksa] as the ‘Mastermind of the Easter Sunday attack’ also became the President based on the same Gotabaya mandate.”

There were several other points connected with the above that AKD ventured into taking about 20 more minutes. All are worth reflecting on and even in my case I have not heard them before from politicians. One of his newest arguments was to consider the rule of law, law and order, and equality before the law as the necessary basis of economic development. However, given the necessary word limitations for this article those may be discussed in a future occasion.

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Raffealla Fernando Face of Sri Lanka for Prerna Gupta



It’s not only her name that is famous but her face, too, and I’m referring, of course, to Raffealla Fernando – Founder and CEO at Raffealla Fernando Photography, and Fashion Designer and Stylist at Raffealla – who excels in what she does and shines bright wherever she goes.

Raffealla was in India recently and, I’m told, her face did bright up the fashion scene over there. And, guess what! Raffealla is now the face of Sri Lanka for Prerna Gupta as she expands her unique fashion label to take in Sri Lanka, as well.

Prerna Gupta couture is an award-winning Indian fashion house, from Nagpur, and she creates beautiful sustainable outfits and textiles made out of milk, aloe vera and orange peel, and what Raffealla is wearing in the photographs, on this page, are clothes made out of orange peel, aloe vera and milk.

Prerna Gupta has launched and showcased at reputed fashion shows where celebrities like Vicky Kaushal, Rani Mukherjee, Raj Kumar Arao, Evelyn Sharma, Sana Khan, Kailash Kher, Shankar Mahadevan and Bhapi Leheri have visited and adorned her label.

Says Raffealla: “I feel truly honoured and privileged to be working with a brand like this.”

Sri Lanka’s celebrity was also featured in the leading Bangladesh fashion magazine ‘Fashion People’.

“I’m super hyped because it’s the first time FELLA got featured in an international magazine.”

And FELLA is the brand name for Raffealla’s fashion designs.

Talking about her recent trip to India, she said one of the interesting and colourful fashion projects she did in Mumbai (photography and conceptualization) was connected with Kutch – a district of Gujarat state.

Raffealla went on to say that costumes of Kutch are exquisitely stylized and intricately embroidered.

Dazzling with vibrant colours, flooded with striking mirror work and stunning jewellery, it’s one of the most alluring custumes in India, she said.

“The mirror work and embroidery work forms an integral part of Kutch. Although handicrafts, irrespective of the community or ethnic group to which they belong, remain the same, the workmanship differs.

“In fact, the various communities can be identified by the pattern of handicrafts and dress, or costumes, they are in. For instance, the Garacia Jat women wear only red or black chunis, while Rabari women wear black open blouses, or cholis, with odhnis to cover their heads.

“In the rural areas, the women wear Chaniya choli the whole year, Chaniya choli’s are of many designs and fashion. A typical Kutch costume is incomplete without ‘Abha’ or ‘Kanjari’. ‘Abha’ is the name of the typical choli worn by women folk and ‘Kanjari’ is a long blouse, beautifully embroidered and with mirror work.

“Most men in Kutch wear loose trousers, a long-sleeved under-jacket, and a short coat, a plain or silk-bordered cloth. Normally men prefer white clothes except the Muslims who prefer coloured clothes.”

Raffealla is now ready, and excited, to do it for Prerna Gupta.

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