‘Otriachchi’, ‘Orumiththa Nadu’, ‘Aekeeya Rajya’ and unitary state
By Udaya P. Gammanpila
The Constitution is all about words and their interpretations. Hence, the nation will be in jeopardy unless the most suitable words are used in the Constitution. Let us examine how the government attempts to destroy unitary character of Sri Lankan State by changing words in its interim report.
Article 2 of the present Constitution explains the character of the State. It says, "The Republic of Sri Lanka is a unitary State." The same has been said as Aekeeya Rajya in Sinhala and Otriyatchi in Tamil. The same terms were used in Sinhala and Tamil to describe the unitary State in 1972 Constitution as well. However, both unitary State and Otriyatchi have been dropped from the proposed Constitution having retained 'Aekeeya Rajya' to deceive the Sinhalese.
'Unitary state' has been removed with a fraudulent justification in the very first page of the document. It says, "In the United Kingdom, it is now possible for Northern Island and Scotland to move away from the union. Therefore, the English term 'Unitary State' will not be appropriate for Sri Lanka." This is a blatant lie. In fact, Unitary State in the UK is stronger than that of Sri Lanka.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) had been in an armed struggle for independence of Northern Ireland for several decades. In response to this struggle, the UK Government abolished the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1974 which was established in 1921.
British Parliament was able to do that with the approval of a simple majority. The powers were given back by the North Ireland Act passed in Parliament in 1998. Since it is a mere Act, British Parliament can amend any power or repeal the entire Act with a simple majority. Exercising this power, the UK Parliament has amended the Act several times in 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2014.
Power has been devolved to Scottish Parliament by the Scotland Act passed in 1998 by the UK Parliament. It has been amended in 2004, 2005, 2012, 2014 and 2016. Similarly, the Wales Act of 2014 through which the power was devolved to Wales was amended in 2017. In the light of the above, it can be concluded that the UK has not lost its unitary character and parliamentary supremacy because of devolution of power. However, Sri Lankan Parliament has failed to amend any power devolved to Provincial Councils for the past 30 years as it requires a two thirds majority in Parliament.
The present government is trying to remove the English term 'Unitary State' because the UK has a strong Unitary State and therefore the term is an obstacle in its federal project.
There are more important reasons to remove this phrase. Not only in the UK, Australia and India but also in Sri Lanka, the Supreme Court conducts its proceedings in English. Hence, there are a lot of judgments with interpretations for 'Unitary State' available in English. There is no such single judgment for 'Aekiya Rajya'. It was added to the legal vocabulary when the English copy of 1972 Constitution was translated into Sinhala. Hence, 'Unitary State' is more important than 'Aekeeya Rajya'.
The Sinhala phrase 'Aekeeya Rajya' has no history or literature. When the 1972 Constitution which was originally drafted in English, was translated into Sinhala, Aekeeya Rajya was introduced to the legal dictionary. Hence, 'Unitary State' is more important for us than 'Aekeeya Rajya'.
The meaning of 'Aekeeya Rajya' is one country or one State, not one government. There can be several governments in a federal country. Nevertheless, there can be only one government in a unitary State. Hence, Otriyatchi is the best Tamil term to explain the Unitary State and it has been correctly used in 1972 and 1978 Constitutions.
The best definition of Unitary State has been produced by Sir K.C. Wheare which was recognized throughout the world including the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. According to him, when the government can formulate laws on any part of the country for any subject, it is a Unitary State.
This definition justifies the use of 'Otriatchi' in Tamil translation of the Constitution. Hence, there must be an ulterior motive of the government to replace it with 'Orumiththa Nadu'.
Both 'Unitary State' and 'Otriyatchi' will be absent in our future Constitution. The English copy says, "Sri Lanka is an Aekeeya Rajya / Orumiththa Nadu". Since there is no definition for 'Aekeeya Rajya', it has to be defined with Orumiththa Nadu. Orumiththa Nadu means uniting several pieces or opinions to form one piece or opinion. In a federal country, several States have been united to form a larger State. Hence, Orumiththa Nadu means a federal country. Therefore, 'Aekeeya Rajya' can easily be defined as a federal country.
Government leaders frequently repeat that they would not touch the Unitary State and the foremost place given to Buddhism. If it is true, why should they manipulate the words in Article 2 and 9 without leaving those unchanged? The government has twin objectives.
First, they will try their best to destroy the true meaning of 'unitary' by manipulating words as explained above. Failing the attempt, they would leave Article 2 as it is now. It will be celebrated by the nationalists as a major victory and most of them would stop their agitation against the new Constitution.
In reality, the government would achieve its objective in a subtle manner. It will produce a Constitution under the 'unitary' label with federal features. Hence, nationalists should pay attention to the substance as well as labels.
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