If reconciliation and lessons learnt were the themes for President Mahinda Rajapaksa's second term, the controversy was trouble. This, assuming, the government was even bothered about the news report which said it had banned the singing of the National Anthem (NA) in Tamil, one of the two official languages.
The Sunday Times story claimed that "…national anthem will remain only in Sinhala…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… except in North and the East which have a large Tamil population."
A coincidence surely, but the ban was discussed at the first cabinet meeting Rajapaksa chaired after returning from Britain where his Oxford Union speech was cancelled because of expected Tamil diaspora protests.
At a time when Rajapaksa's been talking about a trilingual society — Sinhala, Tamil and English — the move could be interpreted as regressive. The lessons of history seemed to have been forgotten here; discrimination over language was one reason behind the civil war. If one nation, one anthem was the logic then it didn't do anything to make the Tamils feel secure about their present or the future. There are several countries where the Anthem is sung in more than one language.
This controversy revealed how rightist politicians here make use of India's example when they require. Minister Wimal Weerawansa claimed India's anthem was in Hindi though it had 300 languages. Yes, the same Weerawansa who went on two-day fast unto death in July against the UN. Yes, the same Weerawansa who spews periodical anti-India speeches. And yes, he got it wrong: the Indian anthem is in heavily Sanskritised Bengali, not spoken by the majority in India.
"This will further dishearten Tamils (in Sri Lanka), who are already suffering. I condemn it," Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi said.
Tamil MP Suresh Premachadran told AFP: "If we can't sing the anthem in Tamil, we will be driven to boycott the anthem."
The government went on damage control mode soon after with a minister in-charge of the NA code of conduct saying there was no ban.
Apparently, the ban's still at the discussion level. Hopefully, the discussion will be held in a language of reconciliation.