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Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa with Indian External Affair Minister S. Jaishankar

by Austin Fernando

The media has revealed the finalisation of three defence-related agreements between Sri Lanka and India, and arrangements to bolster the capabilities of Sri Lanka’s armed forces and boost cooperation in the field of maritime security. With love from New Delhi!

Minister Jaishankar’s visit overlaps with the finalisation of these agreements, though the stated objective of the visit is the participation at the BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) summit hosted by Sri Lanka, in Colombo.

India’s security concerns

The underlying Indian concerns of defence and security (as told by Avatar Singh Bhasin) of small states in the region, falling within India’s security perimeter are as follows:

(a) these states must not follow policies impinging on Indian regional security concerns;  (b) they should not seek to invite outside power(s);  (c) they should look to India for any needed assistance, and  (d) immediate neighbours would serve as buffer states in the event of an extra-regional threat and not proxies of the outside powers.

When India provides security assistance, it takes into consideration the above-mentioned conditions.

 Latest security interventions   

According to media reports, the proposed security arrangements include the acquisition of two Dornier aircraft (for Coast Guard duties and maritime surveillance), a 4,000-tonne naval floating dock and cooperation with Indian security establishment.

The floating dock is a facility equipped with automated systems for quality and swift repairs to warships. We do not own so many warships, and we have not been in maritime battles since the defeat of Sea Tigers but will own a floating dock.

A naval liaison officer will be posted at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) and in Colombo for effective cooperation. This centre tracks merchant shipping and monitors threats such as maritime terrorism and piracy in regional waters, though Sri Lankan government’s participation in the said objectives of the quoted Center is low.

A finer dissection of these components will reveal that the components of the three projects are in line with the above-mentioned four concerns, very much in India’s favour. It is popularly said in Sinhala that one does not harvest a honeycomb to lick one’s fingers.

In general, our concern about regional security is comparatively negligible. However, for India, threats are serious. Maritime coverage from Colombo, Hambantota (even without entry to the harbour) and Trincomalee ensures security for Indians via the Indian Ocean Sea Lane off Sri Lanka’s southern coastline and the Bay of Bengal.

Here, China enters the scene. We must bear in mind that China imports over half of its oil, transiting an estimated 70—85% of its imported oil supply through the Malacca Straits from oil-rich nations via the Indian Ocean shipping lanes. President Hu Jintao referred to this situation as ‘the Malacca Dilemma!’ No wonder India, probably with the knowledge of the US, has taken this Malacca Dilemma into consideration, and is acting accordingly.

A week ago, we, representing the southernmost ‘buffer state,’ were at the South Block begging for dollars from Ministers S. Jaishankar and Nirmala Seetharaman, and later from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sri Lanka received a billion and a half dollars, and India wishes to get more in terms of business and security. Remember, India does not want to settle for ‘licking fingers’! We could learn from Minister Dr. Jaishankar!

Who is secured?

One may wonder why such defence/security/military assistance has been made available to Sri Lanka. Are we being pressured to acquire things like floating docks? Such docks can lift large ships like frigates and destroyers and are designed to berth alongside a jetty or moored in calm waters to effect repairs to ships.

Dornier aircraft and intelligence and information sharing cooperation will help us, though it will cost 29.4 million dollars at a time when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is struggling to find dollars to pay for fuel! Nothing is heard of engaging Dronier craft to manage illicit, forced fishing in the Palk Bay! Of course, beggars can’t be choosers, and he who pays the piper is said to call the tune.

Since the perceived security threat in the IOR for us is low, one may think India is trying to use Sri Lanka as a buffer state “in the event of an extra-regional threat.” The scope of these components must be expanded to understand the Indian security concerns.

India is threatened by Pakistan in the west, the Chinese in Ladakh with minor irritants from Nepal in the Kalapani area, refugee movements in the eastern borders, and so on.  India is free from such issues in the south, and this assistance can be considered mostly to ensure the perpetuity of a “no-trouble zone” in the IOR.

  The US has recently pledged financial support to Sri Lanka amounting to USD 19 million for renewable energy. The Adani Group has won two renewable energy projects in Pooneryn and Mannar. Indians are reported to have pledged another USD one billion. This shows how India and the US are using Sri Lanka’s economic crisis to their benefit. More assistance may flow in, but certainly, Sri Lanka will be under pressure to opt for security cooperation with donors, whoever it may be.

India-US agreements

Some agreements have been reached between the US and India on security and defence, namely, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) signed on 27 Oct. 2020, and two agreements signed earlier — the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for enhanced military cooperation between the two countries. Since both countries have common interests in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific, let us summarily look at these agreements.

BECA will help India get access to American geospatial intelligence that enhances the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. It will help India access topographical and aeronautical data, and advanced products that will aid in navigation and targeting. The sharing of information on maps and satellite images will be useful.

LEMOA was signed in August 2016. It allows the militaries of the US and India to replenish from each other’s bases, and access supplies, spare parts, and services from each other’s land facilities, air bases, and ports, which can be reimbursed later.

COMCASA, signed in September 2018, allows the US to provide India with its encrypted communications equipment and systems so that Indian and US military commanders, and aircraft and ships of both countries, can communicate through secure networks during times of war and peace. The COMCASA paved the way for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India to facilitate “interoperability” between their forces.

India has enhanced security and defence cooperation with the US since skirmishes with the Chinese military along with the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. They cooperate at all levels in the areas of intelligence and military activities. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on External Affairs Minister Jaishankar; National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval has been communicating with the US NSA Robert C O’Brien, and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark A Milley has been in communication with Chief of Defence Staff (late) Gen Bipin Rawat. The US Secretary of Defense Mark T Esper has held discussions with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

On 20 March 2021, Minister Rajnath Singh said at a press briefing with the new US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin present: “We reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command, and Africa Command. Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, LEMOA, COMCASA, and BECA, we discussed the steps to be taken to realise their full potential for mutual benefit.” It signals that the change of guard in the US has not changed the defence relationships.

Secretary Defense Austin declared: “We discussed opportunities to elevate the U.S.-India major defence partnership, which is a priority of the Biden-Harris administration. And we’ll do that through regional security cooperation and military-to-military interactions and defence trade. In addition, we are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including information sharing and logistics, artificial intelligence, and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber.”

This shows that there has been no change, but enhancement of cooperation between India and the US, instead, and we may become pawns in this defence chess game.

The gain reviewed

The new equipment (as we lay people understand from the media) is to collect, collate, and mutually share information. It is not yet understood what other commitments are. Maybe there are overarching provisions in these above-mentioned agreements compelling us to share any security information gathered from a third party. Anyhow, technically we may not be able to control Indians sharing information.

Though this equipment reaches us due to a temporary dollar crisis, it is not the only international problem we have. Further, even after the dollar crisis is over it will not be easy to change the agreements, since India’s security problems will not disappear. One may recall ill-will that the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force generated. Hence the need for caution.

   How a ‘friendly’ country could exhibit ‘unfriendliness’ was seen in India’s response to the UNHRC in the recent past. Further, imagine what will happen if China and Russia do not use their veto power in support of Sri Lanka at a critical juncture.

We can learn from India how to manage a critical situation. Of course, India, being a crucial player in international politics, may do things that we cannot even dream of. However, I could relate how India manages the US, which wants India to move away from Russian equipment and platforms, probably to guard against exposure of technology to Russia. But India has been purchasing the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia.

The same happened when President Trump evinced an interest in the Article 370 issue as regards Kashmir; Indians told him in no uncertain terms that it was an “internal affair”. Sri Lanka cannot afford to be so abrupt or abrasive. As was seen when the Indians dropped food in June 1987, no major power will support us in case of a disagreement with New Delhi.

Lesson learnt

What is playing out on the economic front here will make us more beholden to India, which will not allow us freedom of action. I say so from my experience with Indians, though the event is nineteen years old. It was regarding the refurbishment of the Palaly Air Base. I was the Secretary/ Ministry of Defence at the time.

The Air Base at Palaly required refurbishment due to excessive use during the conflict. Though the need was essential, the then government faced financial difficulties. Therefore, we sought foreign assistance. Consequently, I tried to obtain money through the Indian Line of Credit.

Upon my request, the SLAF selected a local contractor to undertake this job––a government subsidiary under the Ministry of Highways. An Indian team agreed on the arrangements. The Minister of Defence also concurred.

Problems emerged in the process of finalisation of the agreement. Captain M. Gopinath, Defence Attaché of the Indian High Commission discussed the problems with me. The issues pertained to India’s security concerns:

(a)     The first request was to give preference to India in the case of further work on the runway in the future.

(b)     The second request was that no other country should be permitted to conduct any military operation from the Palaly runway.

(c)   The third condition was for us to permit India to use the runway if required.

I understood their concern about China or Pakistan using the air base. Such an eventuality would compromise the security of Indian nuclear installations and military facilities. Our concern was the impending constraints we would face if we were to get Chinese or Pakistani assistance to fight the terrorists having agreed to the second demand. Lacking such freedom also amounted to an erosion of our sovereignty.

My understanding from the discussion with our political authorities was that the demand made by the Indian High Commission was a tall order for a sovereign country. The then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe rightly quoted from the exchange of letters between PM Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayewardene, and settled the issue without complications.

This strategy and outcome may serve as a guide in dealing with similar situations. Circumstances may be different because we are in a far worse predicament regarding dollars, but the authorities concerned must be mindful of the repercussions of current actions and Indian approaches.

Foreign influence

This attitude may have intensified within the last two decades when Chinese influence grew on security, politics, finances of nations in trouble including Sri Lanka. Indians will be Indians, and they will insist on many things which could not be challenged by us, because of the foreign exchange crisis. Similarly, the Chinese will go all out to promote their Belt and Roads Initiative.

It could be seen from President Rajapaksa’s change of heart after Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s New Delhi visit in search of dollars; he has agreed to consider the TNA demands favourably! We do not know what else the government has agreed to in respect of the Palk Bay fishing, the 13th Amendment, Provincial Council elections, release of prisoners in custody, etc.

Conclusion

Critics have raised questions about the Indian intentions and asked whether we are being drawn into a conflict zone because the relations between India’s allies (e. g., the US, Australia, Japan, the Maldives, etc.,) and China have turned sour.  Is Sri Lanka being placed on a collision course with China? If so, we need to avoid such eventuality due to other negative situations that may arise. Balancing relationships is a must. However, as for Indians, what is happening now would mean that we have entertained Bhasin’s four concerns about Indians.

Balancing national security, borrowing dollars, international relations, etc., is a high-wire act Sri Lanka has to perform.

(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India and Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka.)



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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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Marked stress on Asia in US foreign policy

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US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One as he arrives at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea May 20, 2022

US President Joe Biden’s recent tour of some Asian powers is indicative of a renewed and enhanced interest the US is beginning to take in the Indo-Pacific region. In this his first Asian tour the President chose to visit Japan and South Korea besides helming a Quad meeting in Tokyo and there is good reason for the choice of these venues and engagements.

The first phase of these bridge-strengthening efforts by the US began in late August last year when US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South-east Asia in the wake of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Besides being driven by strong economic compulsions, the US intention was also to ensure that too much of a power vacuum did not open up in the region, following its pull-out from Afghanistan, since China’s perceived expansionist designs are a prime foreign policy concern of the US.

However, the US President’s recent wide-ranging tour of East Asia seems to have been also prompted by some currently intensifying trends and tensions in the wider stage of international politics though the seeming power vacuum just referred to has a significant bearing on it. The immediate purpose of the US President’s tour seems to have been to bolster his country’s backing for Japan and South Korea, two of the US’ closest allies in East Asia. This is necessitated by the ‘China threat’, which, if neglected, could render the US allies vulnerable to China’s military attacks on the one hand and blunt US power and influence in the region on the other.

While Taiwan’s airspace has reportedly been frequently violated by China, sections in Japan have reasons to be wary of perceived Chinese expansionist moves in Japan’s adjacent seas. Moreover, many of China’s neighbours have been having territorial disputes with China, which have tended to intensify the perception over the decades that in the Asian theatre in particular China is a number one ‘bogey’. For historical reasons, South Korea too has been finding the increasing rise of China as a major world power considerably discomforting.

Accordingly, the US considers it opportune to reassure South-east Asia in general and its allies in the region in particular of its continuous military, economic and political support. Though these are among the more immediate reasons for Biden’s tour of the region, there are also the convulsions triggered in international politics by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to consider.

Whereas sections of international opinion have been complacent in the belief that military invasions of one country by another are things of the distant past, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year proved them shockingly wrong. We have the proof here that not all authoritarian rulers are prepared to adhere to the international rule book and for some of China’s neighbours the possibility is great of their being attacked or invaded by China over the numerous rankling problems that have separated them from their economic super power neighbour over the decades. After all, China is yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is increasingly proving an ‘all weather friend’ of Russia. Right now, they are the strongest of allies.

The ‘China threat’ then is prime among the reasons for the US President’s visit to East Asia, though economic considerations play a substantive role in these fence-strengthening initiatives as well. While South-east Asia is the ‘economic power house’ of the world, and the US would need to be doubly mindful of this fact, it would need to reassure its allies in the region of its military and defense assistance at a time of need. This too is of paramount importance.

President Biden did just that while in Tokyo a couple of days back. For instance, he said that the US is ‘fully committed to Japan’s defense’. Biden went on to say that the ‘US is willing to use force to defend Taiwan.’ The latter comment was prompted by the perceived increasing Chinese violations of Taiwan’s air space. After all, considering that Russia has invaded Ukraine with impunity, there is apparently nothing that could prevent China from invading Taiwan and annexing it. Such are the possible repercussions of the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly carrying on with its development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. On this issue too, South Korea would need to have US assurances that the latter would come to its defense in case of a North Korean military strike. The US President’s visit to South Korea was aimed at reassuring the latter of the former’s support.

However, as mentioned, economic considerations too figured prominently in the US President’s South-east Asian tour. While being cognizant of the region’s security sensitivities, bolstering economic cooperation with the latter too was a foremost priority for the Biden administration. For example, the US is in the process of formalizing what has come to be referred to as the Indo-Pacific Trade Treaty. The US has reportedly already inducted Japan and South Korea as founding members of the Treaty while, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are mentioned as prospective members to the treaty.

The perceived threat posed to Western interests in South-east Asia by China needs to be factored in while trying to unravel the reasons for this region-wide endeavour in economic cooperation. It needs to be considered a Western response to China’s Belt and Road initiative which is seen as having a wide appeal for the global South in particular.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having a divisive political and economic impact on the world, international politics will increasingly revolve around the US-China stand-off on a multiplicity of fronts in time to come. Both sides are likely to try out both soft and hard power to an exceptional degree to exercise foremost influence and power in the world. As is already happening, this would trigger increasing international tensions.

There was a distinct and sharp note of firmness in the voice of the US President when he pledged defense and military support for his allies in Asia this week. Considering the very high stakes for the US in a prospering South-east Asia, the US’ competitors would be naive to dismiss his pronouncements as placatory rhetoric meant for believing allies.

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A Majoritarian Constitution

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1972 Constitution in Retrospect – II

By (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel

In this the second part of a three-part article on the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a republic, the writer submits that the 1972 Constitution paved the way for constitutionalising majoritarianism in multi-cultural Sri Lanka.

The unitary state

Although Tamil parties expressed their support for the Constituent Assembly process, they were to be disappointed by the substance of the new constitution.

Basic Resolution No. 2 proposed by the Government called for Sri Lanka to be a unitary state. The Federal Party (FP) proposed an amendment that ‘unitary’ be replaced by ‘federal’.

In a memorandum and the model constitution that it submitted to the Steering Committee of the Assembly, the FP proposed that the country be a federal republic consisting of five states made up as follows: (i) Southern and Western provinces, (ii) North Central and North Western provinces (iii) Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces (iv) Northern Province and the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa and (v) Ampara district. The city of Colombo and its suburbs were to be administered by the centre. A list of subjects and functions reserved for the centre, with all others going to the states, was included. Interestingly, law and order and Police were to be reserved subjects.

However, Assembly proceedings show that the Tamils were clearly for a compromise. Dharmalingam, who was a main speaker of the FP under Basic Resolution No. 2, stated that the existing constitution had failed as it was not designed for a multi-ethnic country. He pointed out that in ethnically heterogeneous countries where unitary constitutions had been in operation, concessions to the federal principle have been made to meet the demands and aspirations of the minorities. Where there has been a refusal to concede the federal principle, there have been movements for separation. The FP distanced itself from secessionists such as C. Sunderalingam and V. Navaratnam, referring to them by name, and stated that it was not asking for a division of the country but for a division of power.

Dharmalingam made it clear that the FP’s draft was only a basis for discussion. Stating that the party was only asking that the federal principle be accepted, he suggested that as an interim measure, the SLFP, LSSP and CP should implement what they had promised in the election manifesto, namely that they would abolish Kachcheris and replace them with elected bodies. He stated: “If this Government thinks that it does not have a mandate to establish a federal Constitution, it can at least implement the policies of its leader, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, by decentralising the administration, not in the manner it is being done now, but genuine decentralisation, by removing the Kachcheris and in their place establishing elected bodies to administer those regions.”

Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party, the first political party in the country to propose federalism, in 1944, followed Dharmalingam and stated that ‘federal’ had become a dirty word not because of the federal system of government but because of what the FP had advocated. He was clearly referring to the FP’s association with the UNP and the conservative policies it had followed, such as voting against nationalisations, the takeover of private schools and the Paddy Lands Bill. Seemingly oblivious to the offer that Dharmalingam had made, he asked why the FP had not used the phrase ‘regional autonomy.’ Speakers from the UF who followed Muttetuwegama made it clear that the UF was in no mood to consider the FP’s offer to settle for much less.

Consequently, Basic Resolution No.2 was passed, and the FP’s amendment was defeated in the Steering and Subjects Committee on 27 March 1971.

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, under the UF Government, and played an important role in the constitutional reform process, has said that the first draft prepared under the direction of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not contain any reference to a ‘unitary state’. However, Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike proposed in the Ministerial Sub-Committee that the country be declared a ‘unitary state’. The Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not consider this to be necessary and argued that while the proposed constitution would have a unitary structure, unitary constitutions could vary a great deal in form. Nevertheless, the proposed phrase found its way to the final draft. ‘In course of time, this impetuous, ill-considered, wholly unnecessary embellishment has reached the proportions of a battle cry of individuals and groups who seek to achieve a homogenous Sinhalese state on this island’ Dr Jayawickrama observed. ‘Reflections on the Making and Content of the 1972 Constitution: An Insider’s Perspective’ in Asanga Welikala (ed), The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice vol 1 (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2012) 43.

It is significant that the FP continued to participate in the Constituent Assembly even after its amendment was rejected. Records show that its leader, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, regularly attended the meetings of the Steering and Subjects Committee.

With the advantage of hindsight, it could be said that acceptance of the FP’s proposed compromise for a division of power would have proved to be a far-reaching confidence-building measure on which more could perhaps have been built later. Moreover, such an acceptance would have ensured the continued participation of the FP in the Constituent Assembly. Even had the FP, as the UNP eventually did, voted against the adoption of the new constitution, their participation in the entire constitution-making process would have resulted in greater acceptance of the 1972 Constitution by the Tamil people.

Although they discontinued participation at a later stage, Federal Party MPs nevertheless took oaths under the new Constitution. Tamil parties soon united under the banner of the Tamil United Front (TUF), which later became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At the famous Vaddukoddai conference of 1976, the TULF embraced separatism and adopted a resolution calling for a separate state called ‘Tamil Eelam’ in the Northern and Eastern provinces. At the 1977 elections, the TULF contested on a separatist platform and swept the Tamil areas.

The place of Buddhism

According to Dr Jayawickrama, Dr. de Silva’s original proposal called for the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion to every citizen. However, the Prime Minister requested that this proposal be added with a provision for the protection of institutions and traditional places of worship of Buddhists.

Basic Resolution No. 3 approved by the Constituent Assembly was for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’: ‘In the Republic of Sri Lanka, Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, shall be given its rightful place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Basic Resolution 5 (iv).’

Basic Resolution 5 (iv) referred to read: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have and adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

But by the time the final draft was approved, the proposal had undergone a further change. Article 6 of the 1972 Constitution is as follows: ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d).’ Section 18 (1) (d), in the chapter on fundamental rights, assures to all citizens the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

To the question of whether constitutionally guaranteeing special status to Buddhism not available to other religions of the land might adversely affect the non-Buddhists, Dr de Silva retrospectively responded in the following manner: “The section in respect of Buddhism is subject to section 18 (1) (d) and I wish to say, I believe in a secular state. But you know when Constitutions are made by Constituent Assemblies they are not made by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs. I myself would have preferred (section 18(1) (d)). But there is nothing…And I repeat, NOTHING, in section 6 which in any manner infringes upon the rights of any religion in this country. (Safeguards for the Minorities in the 1972 Constitution (Young Socialist 1987) 10.)

Dr Jayawickrama has been more critical. ‘If Buddhism had survived in the hearts and minds of the people through nearly five centuries of foreign occupation, a constitutional edict was hardly necessary to protect it now’, he opined. (‘Colvin and Constitution-Making – A Postscript’ Sunday Island, 15 July 2007).

Language provisions

Basic Resolution No.11 stated that all laws shall be enacted in Sinhala and that there shall be a Tamil translation of every law so enacted.

Basic Resolution No.12 read as follows: “(1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala as provided by the Official Language Act No. 32 of 1956. (2) The use of the Tamil Language shall be in accordance with the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No. 28 of 1958.”

Efforts by the FP to get the Government to improve upon Basic Resolutions Nos. 11 and 12 failed. On 28 June 1971, both resolutions were passed, amendments proposed by the FP having been defeated. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam informed the Constituent Assembly that they had met with both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and while the meetings had been cordial, the Government had refused to make any alteration to the Basic Resolutions. He stated that the FP would therefore not attend future meetings. “We have come to the painful conclusion that as our language rights are not satisfactorily provided in the proposed Constitution, no useful purpose will be served in our continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly. By taking this step, we mean no offence to anybody. We only want to safeguard the dignity of our people.” There was not even a dramatic walk out. ‘We do not wish to stage a demonstration by walking out’, he added.

That Dr Colvin R. de Silva, who prophetically stated in 1955, ‘one language, two countries; two languages, one country’, should go so far as to upgrade the then-existing language provisions to constitutional status has baffled many political observers. In fact, according to Dr Jayawickrama, the Prime Minister had stated that it would be unwise to re-open the language debate and that the better course would be to let the ordinary laws on the subject operate in the form in which they were. By this time, the Privy Council had reversed the decision of the Supreme Court in A.G. v Kodeswaranthat a public servant could not sue the Crown for breach of contract of employment and sent the case back for a determination on other issues, including the main issue as to whether the Official Language Act violated section 29 (2), as the District Court had held. Dr. de Silva did not wish the Supreme Court to re-visit the issue. ‘If the courts do declare this law invalid and unconstitutional, heavens alive, the chief work done from 1956 onwards will be undone. You will have to restore the egg from the omelette into which it was beaten and cooked.’ He had, however, resisted a proposal made by Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike that Sinhala be declared the ‘one’ official language of Sri Lanka.

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