For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Sri Lanka’s national anthem will remain only in Sinhala, the Cabinet decided on Wednesday. The move will mean that the current Tamil version will no longer be played at any official or state functions. At present, the Sinhala version of Sri Lanka Matha is used in all parts of the country with the exception of the North and the East which have a large Tamil population.
The decision to do away with the Tamil version, the Sunday Times learned, came after a lengthy discussion at last Wednesday night’s Cabinet meeting. It was the first after President Mahinda Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka following a visit to Britian where a scheduled address to the Oxford Union was cancelled allegedly due to security reasons.
President Rajapaksa told ministers that in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language. He cited an instance where one time Prime Minister, the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike, had walked out of a function in the north where the national anthem was played in Tamil.
He said there could not be two national anthems and that it was a shortcoming that must be rectified. He said, “We must all think of Sri Lanka as one country.”
Minister Wimal Weerawansa supported President Rajapaksa’s proposal. He said that even in neighbouring India, where around 300 languages were used, the national anthem was only in Hindi.
However, two Ministers voiced their dissent. National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara said the move would not be a suitable one.
Minister Rajitha Senaratne, the Sunday Times learned, endorsed the same view. Later, the Cabinet decided to adhere only to the Sinhala version of the national anthem.
A directive to use only the Sinhala version is to be sent out by the Ministry of Public Administration. All government establishments including district secretariats will be called upon to adhere to this decision.
The 1978 Constitution (Article 7) states: “The National Anthem of the Republic of Sri Lanka shall be “Sri Lanka Matha,” the words and music of which are set out in the Third Schedule.”