Much ado about nothing | Daily News


Much ado about nothing

The JVP seems to have stoned a hornet’s nest in bringing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution to abolish the Executive Presidency. The Maha Sangha or the communities of Buddhist monks from the Maha Nayakes to the Samaneras have taken to the streets to decry the proposal. Much of the criticism is focused not on the contents or the substance of the proposal but on the conduct of the proposer.

To this alliance of holy men the proposer –the JVP- is a foreign agent. It is not in the distant past or in the last Century that these Maha Nayakes gave gracious audiences and photo opportunities to the leaders of the same JVP. Perhaps they would not have known them to be foreign agents by then. However, if they were enlightened on the matter later they should have made it known earlier. It was their duty by the country which they vow to defend to their last breadth.

What more they must provide tangible proof of the foreign connection for otherwise the allegation reduces to nothing but political slander or calumny. The same allegation has been made against several other parties and groups as well as certain individuals, again with no proof. We would like to take a leaf from the JO repertoire. “Prove it, if you can!”

Constitutional reform

The unholy alliance of the laity and the Sangha has displayed paranoia about constitutional reform. They want to keep the executive presidency forever. It is not that they were its forefathers. In fact, it was brought in almost stealthily in a swift manner by late President J R Jayewardene. Many who now cry foul when its abolition is proposed did oppose it from the very beginning. Perhaps 40 years is too much a period for them to retain in their memories cramped with matters spiritual.

The constitution is not a sacred scripture, given for all time. It has to change with the times. In fact it has been amended 19 times. At the rate amendments keep on adding it looks almost like a periodical rather than the Fundamental Law of the land.

On the other hand, it is a mere scrap of paper, if the mass of the people do not recognize it as proper. It cannot guarantee anything for certain. It cannot prevent armed rebellion or conspiracy. How many rebellions and armed struggles have been experienced under the unitary State? They arise not from the constitution but from socio-economic distress and discrimination, from poverty and hunger. Of course they may carry the banners of race or religion.

Modern democracy

These opponents of Constitutional reform have been calling for piece by piece amendments when a new Constitution was proposed. When amendments are proposed they oppose it saying that there should not be any patchwork but only a full comprehensive change at a future date. Whatever the proposal they oppose it.

We do not deny their right to oppose anything and everything, if they so desire. But they should allow others to express their opinion, bring in their proposals for discussion. That is the spirit of modern democracy or civilized culture.

They have threatened to issue a Sangha Anagna or some type of Buddhist ‘fatwa’ in case the Amendment is not prevented from being adopted. This is a high-handed act unbecoming of the Maha Sangha disciples of the Buddha who preached Maha Karuna or Great Compassion. It is unfortunate that the noble men who have renounced worldly pleasures and vowed to develop spiritual powers to attain enlightenment deemed it fit to ignore loving kindness which should be shown to all beings.

The whole opposition to Constitutional change has been built more on myths, lies and slanderous rhetoric rather on substantive argumentation which is few in number. It is only a rational discourse that would be fruitful. There is nothing sacrosanct in unitary or federal nature. Besides, there are no purely unitary or purely federal constitutions anymore. Modern products are more heterogeneous.

Kandyan Convention

None should entertain any fear that Buddhism would be destroyed by constitutional reform, for two reasons. One, ultimately such reforms need approval at a referendum and people will decide and they are supreme. Two, Buddhism cannot be safeguarded or destroyed by an article in the Constitution. Four and half centuries of foreign domination and repression could not destroy it for the faithful defended and preserved it. Nor could the Kandyan Convention prevent the British ill-treating Buddhists and suppressing it.

It would be regressive to have a theocratic State instead of a secular one. Matters of state are best handled by secular forces. This is especially so in a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial society such as ours.

Offering advice of making representations is one thing but taking the law into one’s hands even by the Maha Sangha will lead to anarchy and breakdown of law and order.

The 20th Amendment is a private member’s motion which needs Cabinet approval. Judging by the conduct of those in the Cabinet it is unlikely to get it. Hence, it is much ado about nothing. 

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