Integration and disintegration: Lessons of history

by Malinda Seneviratne
Federalism, like all things political, does not emerge from nothing. It is the outcome of the unfolding of political processes and the interplay of particular political forces. "Particularity," as produced by political configuration and historical context, is the key word here. In other words, what works for Belgium, works because of political and historical realities. Federalism can be a "logical" political proposition only if it is precipitated by the historical imperatives of the particular territory and if it can be reasonably expected that such a framework of devolution lends to political cohesion, has economic sense and enhances the general well being of the population.

Learning about "Federalism" is not learning only about the particular political formations in federal countries, but exploring the play of event, personality and ideology in producing those outcomes. It is only when these things are delved into that comparison and replication can be talked about. Unfortunately, our faithful students of federalism are not being taught these things. Nor do they seem to be interested in asking questions that would elicit these histories. It is almost as if they have a predilection towards idiocy and irresponsible "representation". In any event, we need to educate ourselves.

Since Uncle Sam is, in Dr. Nalin de Silva’s characterisation, is the current "headman" of the Global Village, and since the USA is a federal state, let us begin with Washington, the man, the city and the political ideology.

The only political connection between the 13 "states" that existed at the time of the American War of Independence, i.e. those from Maine in the North to Georgia in the South, was their common dependence on the British crown. With the return of peace after the war these "united states" became increasingly fragmented. None of the colonies gave up one jot of its individual sovereignty.

It was a common fear of British tyranny that drove the 13 colonies to co-operate with each other and in September 1775, for the first time in 150 years of settlement, delegates from all the colonies met face-to-face with each other, at the Second Continental Congress, attending not as compatriots, but as allies.

After two years of debate, in November 1777 the Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, which gave some order to the states’ regional alliance. The Articles were written in 1777 during the early part of the American Revolution by a committee of the Second Continental Congress. The head of the committee, John Dickinson, had presented a report to the Congress on July 12, 1776 proposing a strong central government, with control over the western lands, equal representation for the states, and the power to levy taxes. The plan shocked delegates who considered the new nation a loose confederation of independent states, and they rejected it. The final agreement, ratified by the states in March 1781, established no more than a firm league of friendship creating a loose confederation of independent states that gave limited powers to a central government.. This "league" was called the United States of America.

In attempting to limit the power of the central government, the Second Continental Congress created one without sufficient power to govern effectively, which led to serious national and international problems. Leaders like Alexander Hamilton of New York and James Madison of Virginia criticised the limits placed on the central government, and General George Washington is said to have complained that the federation was "little more than a shadow without substance." In other words, these leaders wanted a strong national government.

On February 21, 1787, Congress called for a Constitutional Convention to be held in May to revise the articles. Between May and September, the convention wrote the present Constitution of the United States, which retained some of the features of the Articles of Confederation but gave considerably more power to the federal government. The new Constitution delegated extensive powers to the central government, especially economic and war powers.

Their objective was simply to revise the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States. Only a few "discreet minds" intended to create an entirely new government. It was a product of secrecy, manipulation, and improvisation. Opponents such as Thomas Jefferson feared a strong national government that would be run by educated and wealthy cosmopolitans who operated far away from most citizens. They were particularly distrustful of a Constitution that lacked a bill of rights protecting citizens from government attacks on their liberties. The argument that held the day was that unless a remedy for the weaknesses of the confederation was not found, anarchy and confusion will inevitably be the result. The opponents were won over when Madison "compromised" and paved the way for the Bill of Rights.

Thus the Constitution carefully separated and defined the powers of the three branches of the national government and of the national and state governments. It established checks and balances between the branches-and put it all in writing. The stated purpose of the document was to make a strong national government that resisted tyranny.

In summary, the USA had to move from a colony, a group of separate independent states, a confederation of united states, to a federation which is in effect a unitary state because of the constitutional provisions for a strong centre. It defeated anarchy and confusion and prevented subjugation by the British.

Now let us consider Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has been a unitary political entity for more than two thousand years. There were sporadic invasions from South India and part occupations, but the Sinhala Buddhist character of the state, culture and economy was largely undisturbed. The state and Buddhism were inextricably linked, the country in fact was under the protection of the Daladava. He who had custody of the Sacred Tooth Relic, had the legitimate right to govern. The Daladava, then, symbolised the unitary Buddhist state.

This was the case when the Portuguese arrived. It was then that there "arrived" an alien, Western culture and religion. Since 1505 all we have seen is nothing less than the concerted plan of destroying the unitary state, Buddhism and their political, cultural and spiritual linkages. Formally, we moved from dependence to Dominion Status, independence, the First Republic Constitution, to Federalism (through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution). Today, the foundational document for all discussions is none other than Chandrika’s failed "New Constitution" of 2000, a piece of paper that sought to enshrine confederation, in effect the creation of separate states or nations.

This political game did not begin in 1948 (Independence), 1956 (Swabhasha), 1978 (JR’s Constitution), 1983 (UNP led ethnic-riots), 1987 (Indo-Lanka Accord), 2000 (Chandrika’s attempted constitutional reform) or 2002 (MoU with the LTTE). The long march to a Tamil Nation State. Chelvanayagam’s invasion plans in 1957 were encapsulated in the following demands: 1) a separate federal state, 2) granting citizenship to all Indians living in Ceylon, 3) repeal of the act making Sinhala the official language, and 4) to stop the settlement of Sinhala people in Tamil areas (sic). That the "foundation" for these "demands" were laid many decades before is a piece of history which Tamil invaders would like us to forget.

They wanted the following: 1) Tamil as an Official Language, 2) North and East to be recognised as a Tamil language entity, 3) a political merging of the North and East, 4) recognising these areas as traditional homelands of Tamil people. Today, there are no Tamil grievances. The first three of the above demands have been met constitutionally. Now there are no grievances nor aspirations. All that remains is a demand: not to call the Tamils a "minority" but recognise them as a separate nation, a nation located by the boundaries of the North and East. For now. In effect the fourth would have been "won".

In summary, first the political significance of Sinhala language was attacked. Then the cultural heartland of the Sinhala Buddhist Nation (the North and East) was politically invaded; the North and East were demarcated as a linguistic unit. To consolidate the political entity, they need to destabilise and eventually destroy the unitary character. To destroy the unitary character of the Sinhala Buddhist nation, they have to destroy the Daladava, metaphorically and literally. The Tamil invaders attempted the latter a few years ago. That attempt was just the latest manifestation of a drive that began with the Chola invaders and continued by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Interestingly, this is exactly what the Chandrika-Ranil Constitution of 2000 attempted and what Ranil is gunning for in 2003.

"The Chandrika-Ranil Constitution" would have converted the unitary state into a "union of regions". With respect to Buddhism, her attempt was to grant equal status and state patronage to Western alien religions.

Let us now recall the constitutional story of the USA. They went from a colony to a group of separate independent states, then to a confederation of united states, and finally to a "federation" which is in effect a unitary state. We have proceeded from a unitary state to federal system and are moving towards a confederation. They moved from tyranny to anarchy, then to a confederation that laid the basis for a federal state. They moved from disorder to order and "order" was brought about by centralising the decision making. We have moved from order to disorder, confusion and are slipping towards anarchy and tyranny.

How did this happen? Franklin, Madison, Jefferson and Washington knew who the enemy was (their colonial masters) and knew how to carry out a clinical separation of dependence. What happened to us? The British gave us "political independence" but made sure that those naturalised colonial subjects who were given "dominion status" assumed leadership. They do not have to look to history. They look as issues just as their masters would. Their masters do not have to think about granting "equal status", language rights or recognising "traditional homelands" of invaders. All they want is their language and their ideology and their agenda to be at the forefront. Why then should their loyal subjects be different? If they were real patriots they would have seen things differently and operated differently. Instead of fashioning pacts with the invaders and temporary residents, they would have locked them up. Their’s has been a history of granting concessions as though they had some divine right to barter pieces of Sinhala Buddhist nationhood. All this, to stay in power. In other words, they are traitors. This is what the naturalised "dominion status holders" and their descendants (who are now in power) have done. We shouldn’t expect anything more from them.

Tyronne Fernando during a lecture at the London School of Economics has said that "the main challenge is to translate an agreed political model into a constitutional framework". He has forgotten that already three fourths of the "demands" have been met, and this through the ‘78 Constitution and its 13th Amendment, and thanks to the commitment of the afore-mentioned naturalised subjects who will spare no pains to destroy the Sinhala Buddhist Nation. The "agreed political model" would grant the remaining piece and make up Tamil nationhood. Fernando "sees" things this way, because like Chandrika and Ranil, he is also a dominion "subject".

He is politically savvy enough to realise that the government needs to obtain a broad based support of the Sinhalese. He says, "therefore it (the government) has consistently engaged in a consultative process with all sections of the society including the Buddhist clergy" whom he believes is fully backing the current process of capitulation.

I couldn’t help thinking about Ven Heenatiyane Dhammaloka Nayaka Thera, who initiated a rural reconstruction movement under the leadership of bikkhus in all the important temples in the country. These societies settled disputes in villages. They were both medical centres and schools for adults. They were in fact drawing from the historical record, taking on the historical role of the bikkhu as teacher, physician and social leader and the temple as health provider and centre of learning. How can those who do nothing of this sort, and who are wont to tie pirith nool around the wrists of corrupt politicians, tyrants and traitors of the Sinhala Buddhist Nation, be considered the representatives of Sinhala Buddhist opinion?

The true bikkhu of today has a role to play and it is certainly not that which Tyronne wishes them to play. The bikkhu has to take the stand taken by Washington, Madison and Franklin. He can put the wealth, learning and other resources of the temple and the stature of office at the disposal of the ordinary people who need to be rescued from the above naturalised subjects and the invaders. They should realise that the target of the enemy is nothing less than the Daladava. Their historical responsibility and sacred duty is to protect the Daladava. In order to do this, they have to ensure that this country remains a unitary state. This means they have to stop all moves towards federalism and for this, they have to mobilise the Sinhala Buddhists from the temples and agitate for the establishment of a Constitutional Commission to re-establish the writ of the differed and maligned heritage of Sinhala Buddhist Nationhood. This is the urumaya of the bikkhu .