Connect with us

Opinion

A brief history of two monk activists

Published

on

By ROHANA R. WASALA

In my opinion, Ven. Athuraliye Ratana and Ven. Galaboda-aththe Gnanasara were following two different lines of activism in the arena of inclusive nationalism until their recent joint pratfall in the mire of dirty politics. The first appears to be a shrewd politician who is trying to get involved in issues that should not be politicized; the second is a sincere idealist passionately committed to a worthy cause, but constantly defeated by his own uncontrolled temper and unguarded tongue.

Though both are university products, their areas of study were not the same. The first studied philosophy at Peradeniya, while the second focused on Buddhist studies at the Kelaniya and Sri Jayawardanepura universities. Ven. Ratana was among the founder members of the Jathika Hela Urumaya party formed in 2004. The formation of the party was broadly a response to Buddhist-targeted unethical conversions and Christian fundamentalist activity issues. He was one of the nine members of the party returned to parliament under the UPFA at the election held that year. Ven. Gnanasara founded the Bodu Bala Sena in 2012, mainly to counter the steady growth of multifarious Islamic extremist groups that eclipsed the still active Christian fundamentalist activities in the public consciousness. Defensive reaction by the victimised majority to the tyranny of racist minority politics of Tamil separatists has long been misinterpreted in the biased global media and in the international (Western) diplomatic space relating to Sri Lanka, as unwarranted Sinhalese discrimination against Tamils in general. In the same prejudiced way, they have successfully demonized Buddhist monk activists who are actively opposing both covert and open religious fundamentalist aggression, and this has affected the honest but naive Gnanasara Thera more than it has the worldly-wise Ratana Thera. It looks as if the former is now caught in the vice-grip of a stratagem set up by the latter.

Ven. Galaboda-aththe Gnanasara Thera’s Bodu Bala Sena organization was formed in 2012 for the purpose of exposing the subversive activities of Christian and Islamic fundamentalist sects, and alerting the authorities and the Ven. Mahanayakes to the danger posed to the whole nation by them. He endeavoured to do this in the calm and composed way characteristic of a Buddhist monk, without expecting any reward in return (= ‘nissaranadyashayen’ as he used to put it). He has had no political or other materialistic ambitions. For many years he tried to explain his case to politicians in power and those in the opposition to address the problem without politicizing it. In a few instances, peaceful marches organized by the BBS led to clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, for which only the former were blamed. In the biased media, Muslims were portrayed as the victims and the Buddhists as the aggressors. The true situation was otherwise. Buddhists never initiated any violent incidents. Some unruly elements from the Muslim side started the trouble. For example, in 2014, some young Muslim men threw stones from the roof of a mosque at a peaceful Buddhist procession at Aluthgama and this led to violence, which quickly spread to a number of other towns (including Panadura, Beruwala, Welipenna, etc) in south-western Sri Lanka. There were social media videos showing this provocative act – stone throwing by some young Muslims – at the time. On that occasion, thousands of innocent Muslims and and similarly innocent Buddhists were affected and their shops, houses, and places of worship were attacked. Though the then Mahinda Rajapaksa-led government did its best to stop the violence and restore normalcy, the incidents were not adequately investigated, and not enough was done to clear the name of the BBS, which was solely blamed for all that happened. The involvement, on that occasion, of a crafty politician in the garb of a patriotic ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, but with a personal agenda of his own that was inimical to the latter’s policies, added a political tone to the naive monks’ (Ven. Gnanasara’s) peaceful protests, and biased reportage turned him into a bogeyman.

The leaders of successive governments didn’t take Ven. Gnanasara seriously enough, because they thought that if they took any decisive action, on his word, against the handful of powerful communalists among minority politicians who, intentionally or unintentionally, either facilitated or provided a cover for questionable acts such as anti-Buddhist subversion, illegal felling of trees in the state forest reserve in Wilpattuwa, alleged settling of illicit Muslim immigrants from certain Islamic countries in the same reserve, encroaching on and even vandalizing historic Buddhist places of worship in the North and East, and so on, they would lose the support of the mainstream Christian and Muslim communities, which being minorities, naturally tend to form themselves into ‘block vote’ bases at the instance of opportunistic politicians. The majority of ordinary Muslims do not want to support communalist politicians, but they are often in the thrall of those politicians, because of the latter’s ability to ‘deliver’, whichever major party or alliance happens to be in power.

The polity consisting of the majority community (Sinhalese) cannot behave like this. In any country, it is normal for the majority community to be unconsciously undermined by a false sense of security vis-a-vis the minorities, whereas the latter feel a bit paranoid with or without justification. The Sinhalese voting public are always divided into rival parties, and at parliamentary elections, under the existing electoral system, it is extremely rare that a major party is able to form a viable government without the assistance of one or more minority parties; a situation where the latter become kingmakers despite the insignificance of their numerical strength. The slightest movement towards redressing the balance in favour of the disadvantaged majority Sinhalese in any anomalous situation, would invariably earn the individual Sinhalese activist or the group behind that initiative the label racist or extremist or chauvinist. So, the Sinhalese (Buddhists, particularly) get criticised and condemned as racists, tribalists, etc., while in reality being victims of the racism, fanaticism, and extremism of groups within the minorities. This applies to Ven. Gnanasara as well, who is engaged in the performance of the duty that has historically devolved on him as a Buddhist monk, a duty that is above politics, pragmatic or otherwise.

Ven. Gnanasara Thera approached the Most Ven. Mahanayakes in Kandy and pleaded with them beseechingly, not once, but several times, and explained to them this problem with video evidence of outrageous Buddhism-bashing speeches of Wahabist zealots, to no avail. Once, a few years ago, the monk led a large procession of well disciplined young activists (more than 2000) from Getambe to the Sri Dalada Maligawa, and then they proceeded to the Malwatu Vihara, the monastery of the Ven. Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter. The Mahanayake Thera, at first, very unfairly, refused him an audience. Later, having found that they were not ready to leave without seeing him, he allowed Ven. Gnanasara and a few of his companions to come before him. Nothing resulted from that meeting.

The BBS leader wanted the Maha Sangha to play their historic role as Buddhist monks without stooping to politics, and was determined to resolve the Islamic extremist problem through rational dialogue with the participation of the clergy of other religious groups (which is what he has always wanted to do because even groups of traditional Muslims, he claims with evidence, approached him and pleaded with him to rescue them from Wahabist and Salabist extremists). Unlike him Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thera seems to be adopting a political approach in his one man political crusade against Islamist extremists. Just before the recent 2020 general election Ven. Gnanasara gave up his non-political stance, probably under someone’s persuasion.

The April 21, 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist bombings led to a heightening of public awareness about the Islamist problem that had been brought to light by monk activists before; the issue began to receive attention from the clergy of other religions , as well. The then UNP national list MP Ven. Ratana took the opportunity to visit the construction site of an alleged Sharia university in Batticaloa in the east, being built without proper authorization from the Sri Lankan government and financed by suspicious foreign sources; he succeeded in forcing the Yahapalana government of which he was a prominent member at the time, to suspend the construction work for the time being. Under the same pretext, he staged a ‘fast unto death’ in the vicinity of the Dalada Maligawa, in Kandy. It was tantamount to claiming exclusive credit for creating a groundswell of popular opposition against Islamist extremism. I, as a journalist, wrote at the time that his maverick intervention in the latter instance (the uncalled for gatecrashing of the protest movement with a fast) was bound to undermine the emerging unity among the Maha Sangha in the face of adventitious ISIS terror.

I expressed the opinion that the activism of Buddhist organizations, including Ven. Gnanasara Thera’s BBS, facilitated this awakening among the Buddhist clergy and that it could help form a united Sanga community that spoke with one voice on matters that came within their purview. But it appeared that Hon MP Ven. Ratana, most probably, wanted to edge out the leaders of that movement and assume control of it, with a view to playing a powerful dual role in the corresponding political power structure that would evolve: the traditional role of a representative of the Maha Sangha as the guardian of the Buddhist moral-cultural establishment, the nation (the people), and the country (territory) of unitary Sri Lanka on the one hand, and the acquired role of party politician on the other.

Thus, Ven. Ratana seemed to be trying to play a two-in-one function combining both those roles. However, the role traditionally assigned to the Maha Sangha has been above that of the king or, in modern times, the government. The ruler assigned a higher seat to the monk and paid him obeisance. The monks didn’t dabble in policy making or in governing, but advised the ruler on how to rule in the righteous way according to the Dasa Raja Dharma or the Ten Duties of the King. The question of a problematic religion state relationship did not arise. Buddhism is not a political religion. The only politics it advocates is democracy. The Maha Sangha is a perfectly democratic social entity. In the modern world it is considered essential to keep religion and the state separate from each other in order to ensure democratic governance of the Western type (This is more relevant to societies dominated by political religions.) So every secular democracy can be regarded as broadly consistent with Buddhist principles and vice versa.

Ven. Ratana cannot provide the political leadership that the country needs, nor can he provide any spiritual leadership either, because of his attempted dabbling in statecraft and priestcraft simultaneously. A Buddhist monk is not likely to make a good president or prime minister. The impression among political analysts is that Ven. Ratana is a typical politician and a pragmatic political strategist (Pragmatism is amoral, or rather not moral, but it is part and parcel of realpolitik that a politician can rarely avoid). That he is clever at dissembling was evident to the less gullible onlookers during his ‘fast unto death’ before the Sri Dalada Maligawa (He took care not to die, by drinking water, as the Catholic priest who joined the fast revealed, probably inadvertently). It was obvious that he was not alone in staging the show. The Ven. Mahanayake Theras severely criticised him after the event. He had approached them beforehand and told them about his intention of staging a fast, but cunningly he did not reveal the venue to them. Had they been told that he was going to have his fast in the hallowed precincts of the Maligawa, they would not have permitted him to do so; that would have been a serious setback for him.

Because of Ven. Gnanasara’s exertions, unprecedented prospects of different religious communities standing up to the common enemy of murderous religious extremism were brightening. We were witnessing the first stirrings of a spring in the Sangha Sasana, that is potentially freed from abominable Nikaya divisions, which are based on caste, in stark contradiction of the compassionate Buddha’s teaching. Ven. Gnanasara made arguably the largest contribution to this most positive development. However, his entanglement with Ratana Thera has cost him his reputation.

The monks do not relish the idea of establishing a Buddhist theocracy, which is, in any case, inconceivable, considering the spirit of absolute democracy that characterizes the Maha Sangha. Buddha praised the system of government followed by the Licchavis of Vesali of his time, who were his relations of his own warrior caste. It was a form of a republican system of government by common consent, an ancient version of what we call democracy today. However, the monks’ staying above mundane politics doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to do with secular politics (or how the country is run). Buddhist monks in the majority Buddhist Sri Lanka have been the custodians of the country’s Buddhist cultural heritage for over two thousand two hundred and fifty years according to written records. By the way, which other country in the world can boast of such a long unbroken singular spiritual cultural tradition? Shouldn’t the United Nations Organization make special recognition of this fact in the name of human civilization, which is currently being threatened with annihilation by murderous religious extremism?

By the influence of its humane spiritual values, Buddhism ensures, not only the peaceful coexistence of the various communities who live in the country, but also the unhindered enjoyment and protection of their freedom of belief and worship. However, Buddhists will not accept the alleged divine right of adherents of any particular religion to kill or persecute those who don’t share their beliefs and practices, or to discriminate against them. What Ven. Gnansara proposed to the Maha Sangha is that they unite and provide the necessary moral guidance for the rulers to rule the country righteously, whatever political ideologies they subscribe to. This does not involve any violation of secular democracy in governance. He says that the Sri Lankan society today is sick in every way. To heal the society, the Maha Sangha must unite and provide guidance to the rulers. He quotes the Buddha’s teaching: ‘sukho sanghassa samaggi’ ‘Happy is harmony among the Sangha’.

Ven. Gnanasara Thera predicts that when the Maha Sangha are united, the politicians and the people will fall in line, and a suitable lay political leadership will emerge. Ven. Ratana’s intervention in his capacity as an MP monk probably produced some limited positive results in the immediate context, but in the long run, it will be counterproductive. He is only doing more of what he did in the past. And we all know what he did has led to. His involvement will be an obstacle to the functioning of the lay political leaders that the whole country approves of as being capable of fixing not only the problem of Wahabist incursion, but also the infinitely greater issue of external interference in the country’s domestic affairs that, in the first place, as the media reveal, inflicted it on our nation under the Yahapalanaya. It is not that he is not aware of what he is doing. We may be sure that he will make amends in some way.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion

Take Human Rights seriously, not so much the council or office

Published

on

By Dr Laksiri Fernando

The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started on 22 February morning with obvious hiccups. The Office, to mean the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, finally decided to hold all sessions virtually online, only the President of the Council and the assistants in the high table sitting at the UN Assembly Hall in Geneva. The President, Ms. Nazhat Shammen Khan, Ambassador from Fiji in Geneva, wearing a saree, was graceful in the chair with empty seats surrounding.

In the opening session, the UN General Assembly President, UN General Secretary, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Head of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland (as the host country), addressed remotely the session. In fact, there was no need for Switzerland to have a special place, as the UN is independent from any host country. Switzerland is fairly ok, however, if this tradition is followed, the UN General Assembly may have to give a special place to the US in New York.

 

Initial Addresses

UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres’ address could have been quite exemplary if he gave a proper balance to the developed and developing countries. He talked about racism and fight against racism but did not mention where racism is overwhelmingly rampant (US and Europe) and what to do about it. Outlining the human rights implications of Covid-19 pandemic, he made quite a good analysis. It was nice for him to say, ‘human rights are our blood line (equality), our lifeline (for peace) and our frontline (to fight against violations).’ However, in the fight against violations, he apparently forgot about the ‘blood line’ or the ‘lifeline’ quite necessary not to aggravate situations through partiality and bias. He never talked about the importance of human rights education or promoting human rights awareness in all countries.

His final assault was on Myanmar. Although he did not call ‘genocide,’ he denounced the treatment of Rohingyas as ethnic cleansing without mentioning any terrorist group/s within. His call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders undoubtedly should be a common call of all. However, he did not leave any opening for a dialogue with the military leaders or bring back a dialogue between Aung San and Min Aung, the military leader. With a proper mediation, it is not impossible. Calling for a complete overhaul as the young demonstrators idealistically claim might not be realistic.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s address was brief and uncontroversial this time without mentioning any country or region. It is clear by now perhaps she is not the real author of the Report against Sri Lanka, but someone probably hired by the so-called core-group led by Britain. Her major points were related to the coronavirus pandemic trying to highlight some of the socio-economic disparities and imbalances of policy making that have emerged as a result. The neglect of women, minorities, and the marginalized sections of society were emphasized. But the poor was not mentioned. As a former medical doctor, she also opted to highlight some of the medical issues underpinning the crisis.

Then came the statements from different countries in the first meeting in the following order: Uzbekistan, Colombia, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Poland, Venezuela, Finland, Fiji, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Vietnam, Belgium, and Morocco. The obvious purposes of these statements were different. Some countries were apparently canvassing for getting into the Human Rights Council at the next turn perhaps for the purpose of prestige. Some others were playing regional politics against their perceived enemies. This was very clear when Lithuania and Poland started attacking Russia.

But there were very sincere human rights presentations as well. One was the statement by the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. He outlined the devastating effects that Afghanistan had to undergo during the last 40 years, because of foreign interferences. The initial support to Taliban by big powers was hinted. His kind appeal was to the UN was to go ‘beyond discourse to practice’ giving equal chance to the poor and the developing countries to involve without discrimination.

 

Controversial Presentations

China’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, made his presentation almost at the end of the first day. This is apparently the first time that China had directly addressed the Human Rights Council. Beginning with outlining the devastating repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic he stressed that the world should face the challenges through ‘solidarity and cooperation.’ He broadened the concept to human rights solidarity and cooperation. His expressed views were quite different to the others, particularly to the Western ones.

He frankly said that what he expresses are the views of China on human rights without claiming those are absolute truths or forcing others to believe or implement them. There were four main concepts that he put forward before the member countries. First, he said, “We should embrace a human rights philosophy that centres on the people. The people’s interests are where the human rights cause starts and ends.” Second, he said, “we should uphold both universality and particularity of human rights. Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values shared by all humanity and recognized by all countries.” “On the other hand,” he said, “countries must promote and protect human rights in light of their national realities and the needs of their people.”

“Third,” he said, “we should systemically advance all aspects of human rights. Human rights are an all-encompassing concept. They include civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.” He then emphasized, “Among them, the rights to subsistence and development are the basic human rights of paramount importance.” Fourth, “we should continue to promote international dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Global human rights governance should be advanced through consultation among all countries.”

It was on the same first day before China, that the United Kingdom launched its barrage against several countries not sparing Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, delivered the statement from top to bottom attacking alleged violating countries on human rights. But there was no mentioning of Israel for the repression of Palestinians or the systemic racism rampaging in the United States, including the 6 January attacks on the Capitol by extremist/terrorist groups.

His first sermon was on Myanmar without acknowledging the British atrocities or mismanagement of this poor and diverse country during the colonial period. He was quite jubilant over implementing sanctions and other restrictions over the country. Many sanctions, in my opinion, are extortions. Undoubtedly, Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders should be released, and democracy restored. This is a task of the whole council and when one or two countries try to grab the credit, there can be obvious reservations of others.

His further scathing attacks were against Belarus, Russia, and China. Some appeared factually correct but not necessarily the approach or the motives genuine. The following is the way he came around Sri Lanka. He said,

“Finally, we will continue to lead action in this Council: on Syria, as we do at each session; on South Sudan; and on Sri Lanka, where we will present a new resolution to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.”

‘Action’ to him basically means repeatedly passing resolutions, of course imposing economic and other sanctions. He said, “as we do at each session”; like bullying poor or weak countries at each session. Can there be a resolution against Russia or China? I doubt it.

What would be the purpose of presenting a resolution against Sri Lanka? As he said, “to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.” This will satisfy neither the Tamil militants nor the Sinhalese masses. But it might satisfy the crafty Opposition (proxy of the defeated last government). This is not going to be based on any of the actual measures that Sri Lanka has taken or not taken on reconciliation or accountability. But based on the ‘Authoritarian and Hypocritical Report’ that some anti-Sri Lankans have drafted within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This what I have discussed in my last article.

In this context, successful or not, the statement made by the Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, in rejecting any resolution based on the foxy Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in my concerned opinion, is absolutely correct.

Continue Reading

Opinion

President’s energy directives ignored by the Power Ministry: Another Point of View

Published

on

Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

Dr Janaka Rathnasiri laments (The Island 19 Feb 2021) that the Power Ministry has ignored the President’s directive to draw 70% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. I saw the approved costs of electricity production for 2019, published by the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL).

PUCSL has also approved the prices to sell electricity to customers. Although various customers pay at various “approved” prices, the average income from such “approved” prices in 2019 was Rs 17.02 per unit. It is not only the Ministry, according to Dr Rathnasiri, ignoring the President; PUCSL is also breaking the law, which says prices and approved costs should be equal.

So there is already an illegal gap of Rs 21.59 minus 17.02 = Rs 4.57 per unit of electricity sold. If electricity prices are not to be increased, as stated by many in the government and PUCSL, let us say the following: Distribution costs should decrease by 0.57 Rs per unit. Generation costs should decrease by Rs 4.00 per unit.

PUCSL also published the approved cost of purchasing or producing electricity from various sources for 2019. The actual energy values were different to what was approved, but let us stick to PUCSL approved figures:

I suggest Dr Rathnasiri fills-up the following table, to show how much electricity will cost in 2030 to produce and deliver, if the President’s 70% target is to be achieved and for PUCSL to abide by the law. Let us assume that electricity requirement in 2030 will be double that of 2019.

Since PUCSL has to save Rs 4 from 13.92, the average selling price for energy should be Rs 13.92 minus 4.00 = Rs 9.92. With a target network loss of 7% (in 2019 it was 8.4%), the average cost of production has to be Rs 9.27 per unit. Eight cages have to be filled-up by Dr Rathnasiri.

In 2012, PUCSL approved the energy cost of electricity produced from coal power to be 6.33 Rs per kWh. In 2019, PUCSL approved 9.89 (56% increase). For renewable energy, it was 13.69 in 2012, and 19.24 in 2019 (a 40% increase, but double the price of electricity from coal fired generation). In 2012, rooftop solar was not paid for: only give and take, but now paid Rs 22, against Rs 9.89 from coal. There seems to be something wrong. The price reductions of renewable energy being promised, being insulated from rupee depreciation, are not happening? Either Sri Lanka must be paying too little for coal, or it may be renewable energy is severely over-priced?

On coal we hear only of some corruption every now and then; so Sri Lanka cannot be paying less than it costs, for coal.

 

Enough money even to donate
vaccines

Another reason for the Ministry of Power to ignore the President’s directive may be the Ministry’s previous experience with similar Presidential directives. In 2015, the President at that time cancelled the Sampur coal-fired power plant, and the Ministry faithfully obliged. That President and that Prime Minister then played ball games with more power plants until they were thrown out of power, leaving a two-billion-dollar deficit (still increasing) in the power sector. Not a single power plant of any description was built.

Where is this deficit? You do not have to look far. In the second table, replace 24.43 with 9.89, to reflect what would have happened if Sampur was allowed to be built. The value 12.79 will go down to 8.55, well below the target of Rs 9.27 per unit to produce. Not only would CEB and LECO report profits, but the government too could have asked for an overdraft from CEB to tide over any cash shortfalls in the treasury. All this with no increase in customer prices. Producers of electricity from renewable energy could enjoy the price of 19.24 Rs per unit. And that blooming thing on your rooftop can continue to enjoy Rs 22 per unit. The Minister of Power, whom Dr Rathnasiri wants to replace with an army officer, would have been the happiest.

In the absence of Sampur (PUCSL’s letter signed by Chairman Saliya Mathew confirmed cancellation and asked CEB not to build it), PUCSL approved electricity to be produced at Rs 21.59 and sold at Rs 17.02 per unit. The annual loss would be Rs (21.59 – 17.02) x 15,093 = Rs 69 billion per year of approved financial loss. Sri Lanka has a Telecom regulator, an Insurance regulator, a Banking regulator, who never approve prices below costs. Sometime ago the telecom regulator asked the operators to raise the prices, when operators were proposing to reduce prices amidst a price war. But the electricity industry regulator is different: he approves costs amounting to 27% more than the price, not just once but, but continuously for ten long years !

That is 370 million dollars per year as of 2019, the economy is spending, and for years to come, to burn oil (and say we have saved the environment). Did the Minister of Health say we are short of 160 million dollars to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine? Well, being a former Minister of Power, she now knows which Presidential “order” of 2015 is bleeding the economy of 370 million dollars per year, adequate to buy all vaccines and donate an equal amount to a needy country.

Prices are the production costs approved by PUCSL for 2019. The selling price approved by the same PUCSL was Rs 9.27 per unit.

Continue Reading

Opinion

Confusion on NGOs and NSOs in Sri Lanka

Published

on

If you listen to politicians and journalists here, you will hear of that curious creature rajya novana sanvidane, a Non-State Organization (NSO). Where do you get them? In the uninstructed and dead minds of those who use those terms. In the real world, where politicians and journalists have developed minds, there are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). The United Nations is an organization set up by state parties, not by governments. It is true that agents of states, governments, make the United Nations work or fail. Governments may change but not the states, except rarely. When Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, a new state was formed and was so recognised by the United Nations. However, the LTTE that tried to set up another state was crushed by the established state that it tried to break away from, and the UN had nothing to do with them.

This entirely unnecessary confusion, created out of ignorance, is so destructive that organizations completely loyal to the existing state, are made to be traitorous outfits, for they are ‘non-state organizations’ within the state. There are citizens of each state, but no citizens of any government. Government is but an instrument of the state. In most states there are organizations, neither of the state nor of government: religious organizations including churches. But none of them is beyond the pale of the state.

Those that speak of rajya novana sanvidane give that name partly because they have no idea of the origin of non-governmental organizations. NGOs came into the limelight, as donor agencies, noticed that some governments, in East Africa, in particular, did not have the capacity and the integrity to use the resources that they provided. They construed, about 1970, that NGOs would be a solution to the problem. Little did they realize that some NGOs themselves would become dens of thieves and brigands. I have not seen any evaluation of the performance of NGOs in any country. There was an incomplete essay written by Dr. Susantha Gunatilleka. NGOs are alternatives to the government, not to the state.

Our Constitution emphatically draws a distinction between the government and state, and lays down that the President is both Head of Government and Head of State (Read Article 2 and Article 30 of the Constitution.) It is as head of state that, he/she is the Commander of the Armed Forces, appoints and receives ambassadors and addresses Parliament annually, when a prorogued Parliament, reconvenes. He/she presides over the Cabinet as head of government. The distinction is most clear, in practice, in Britain where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state and Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister and head of government. However, in principle, Johnson is the Queen’s First Minister appointed by the sovereign, and resigns by advising her of his decision to do so.

In the US and in India the term ‘state’ has special significance. In India there is a ‘rajya sabha’ (the Council of States) whose members represent constituent States and Union Territories. Pretty much the same is true of the United States. In the US, executive power is vested in the President and heads the administration, government in our parlance. The Head of State does not come into the Constitution but those functions that one associates with a head of state are in the US performed by the President of the Republic. The US President does not speak of my state (mage rajaya) but of my administration, (mage anduva). Annually, he addresses Congress on the State of the Union. Our present President must be entirely familiar with all this, having lived there as a citizen of the US for over a decade. It is baffling when someone speaks of a past state as a traitor to that same state. It is probable that a government was a traitor to the state. ‘Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their (States’) enemies, giving them aid and comfort’. That a state was a traitor to the same state is gobbledygook.

Apart from probable confusion that we spoke of in the previous paragraph, it is probable that a president and other members of a government, including members of the governing party here, find it grandiloquent to speak of his/her/their state (mage/ape rajaya), rather than my government (mage anduva) or Sirisena anduva’ and not Sirisena state; it was common to talk of ‘ape anduva’ in 1956; politicians in 1956 were far more literate then than they are now.

When translating from another language, make sure that you understand a bit of the history of the concept that you translate. A public school in the US is not the same as a public school in the UK.

 

MAHADENAMUTTA

 

 

Continue Reading