08 June 2017

A separate state, anyone?

Just before sitting down to write this morning (June 7, 2017), I received a notification on social media. It was about a panel discussion at the Public Library to be held later in the afternoon.   The title was in Sinhala.  It read as follows: ‘Let us defeat the constitution, let us get rid of Ranil.’

It implies on first reading a call for anarchy, but the organizers/publicists were probably referring to the proposed new constitution, the A-Z of which has not exactly been shared with the general, by the way.  The other call is for the (political?) defeat of the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.  The identity of the speakers (Ven Bengamuwe Nalaka Thero, Ven Omare Kassapa Thero, Dr Nalin De Silva and Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera) gives us some clues when dissecting ‘true intent’.  

Their (collective) concern, going by what they’ve said and done over the past several decades, is not hard to obtain: constitutional reform that amount to wrecking the unitary character of the state and conceding ground to Tamil chauvinism on the one hand, and a leader who is at odds with the country’s interests.  It is not about anarchy.  It is about regime change, but not necessarily one that seeks the ouster of President Maithripala Sirisena; after all the legend doesn’t say ‘Let’s get rid of Ranil and Maithripala.’

We have seen all this before, except that objection to constitutional reform has been about different elements and with different personalities being targeted for ouster.  When the 18th Amendment was brought, there was also a hue and cry.  The call was for its defeat and for the removal of those in power at the time, particularly Mahinda Rajapaksa.  

Is it simply a matter of getting the ‘right guy’ (read ‘our guy’) to rule us?  Is it simply a matter of tweaking the constitution (or not tweaking it) so that our political preferences are served? 

Dhamma Dissanayake,  Department of Political Science, Colombo University, who has written much on issues of governance, constitutional reform and political culture shared some interesting observations in an article titled “රාජ්යකරණයේ ආඩම්බරය සහ ආපදා රාජ්යය (‘Statecraft(ing) and the disaster state”) in the Lankadeepa (July 2, 2017).

“The state apparatus set up by the British to suit their colonialist plundering purposes, in other words the political and administrative as well as structures pertaining to justice, education, health etc., still remain.  The rulers of this country have not demonstrated the will, the wisdom, the need or a program to adjust all this so there is even some degree of relevance to the local context and aspirations, never mind a restructuring that yields a quality product.  What was done was what should not have been done.  They went along with the same state apparatus, the same economic system and same methodologies.  The rulers did not suffer, it was the nation and the people who did.  This is how the rulers laid the foundation to produce a “disaster state” or facilitated such a construction.  There were some laudable efforts, true, but since 1948 what we’ve had is a “disaster state.”’

Dhamma is obviously riding on the topical here, but he is clearly faulting the structure of the state, the institutional apparatus, the political culture and the ’imperatives’ flowing from a particular economic system for the overall disaster which is no longer possible to sweep under the carpet. He poses some interesting questions: “Why didn’t the rulers have a plan to manage disaster? Were they incapable?  Are the state and the rulers inadequate?  Were the rulers simply lazy?  Was it because they didn’t are about the country or the citizens?  Is it that the people are stupid?”

All these questions lead to another which, again, Dhamma had asked in a previous article also published in the Lankadeepa.  He has essentially said that the issue is not about regime-change, not about replacing one party with another, one leader with another, but the construction of a different state which, let us add, is not a proposition that speaks to or of the tired and lie-infested debate over ‘unitary’ and ‘federal’.  A different order, no less, is what Dhamma has proposed. A ‘separate state’ that is also separated from the much-hyped debate about traditional homelands, ethnic enclaves, frilled grievances and inflated aspirations.  

That’s where we are at right now.  We are not mis-labeling here as has been done in the past where antipathy to a particular government the prompts shrill exclamation ‘failed state’.  The issue is not about constitutional-tweaking to favor a particular outcome preference or about faith in a leader or set of leaders or a political party or a political coalition.  It is about re-haul.  It is about revisiting the current branches of the state which any objective assessment would deserve nothing more than a failing grade.  The legislative, judiciary and executive have separately and together failed.   The fault is with the structure and also lies with the personnel who prop structure even as they are produced by the structure.  

The political parties have failed us, all of them and not just the two main parties which directly or indirectly carry the smaller entities.  They will not give us a separate state because, as Dhamma observes, they are not motivated to do so, do not have the wisdom to see the need, and certainly lack the competence even if they had those other rare qualities.  

What needs to be recognized (and fast) is that we have all to lesser or greater degrees believed that the state (as it exists) will correct its flaws or have the flaws corrected rather and eventually deliver.  We have believed that there will be leaders and parties that will rise above the political culture and set things right.  We have all got to acknowledge that we were wrong.  That we were and are deluded.  

We have to start from scratch.  And let us be clear that what is being proposed is not bulldozing existing structures and building anew.  That is for later.  For now, it is imperative that we shed our illusions about this state.  It is imperative that we entertain the idea of a ‘separate state’.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance journalist. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.comTwitter: malindasene


Hiranya Malwatta said...

Comparing the 18th amendment with the proposed new constitutional changes plus the knowledge of Ranil's history - is like comparing apples and oranges. Thought you knew better than this.

So let's keep Ranil then. Good solution. What does Nalin de Silva know, after all?