Confusing ‘state’ and ‘government’ in Sinhala


Apropos the feature article by Usvatte-aratchi under the elaborate title "State and govt. not interchangeable: Same goes for revenue and income, hoax of free education and free health services" published in The Island of December 5, 2017. I don’t here intend to comment on the content of this article. It would be premature to do so as the article is yet to be completed. My focus is instead Usvatte-Aratchi’s apparent wrong assumption that the Sinhala word ‘rajaya’ invariably translates as ‘state’. At least, that is the impression that his opening sentence gives us: "On 11 November in the evening news, President Maithripala Sirisena claimed that his state (mage rajaya) would not permit anyone who fought in the war against LTTE to be brought to court for his conduct in battle." While sneering at the President for allegedly claiming the (Sri Lankan) state to be ‘his state’, the writer implies that the former president was guilty of this same presumption (i.e., that the state was his ‘estate’). He translates president Sirisena’s "mage rajaya" as "his state".

This is a personal point of view for what it is worth.

But the President meant no such thing. What he intended to say and actually said was "my government" (mage rajaya) by which he clearly meant the Yahapalana administration we hear and talk so much about that is under his leadership as president. Neither the incumbent president nor his predecessor could be considered as too deficient in knowledge to confuse the government with the state. A state in this context is "a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one ruler or administration" which is a permanent political institution, whereas a government is "the governing body of the state" at any time. Governments come and go, but the state remains as something permanent. Ordinary Sri Lankans, who are among the most politically aware nations in the world, know the difference between the state and the government. The problem is Usvatte-Aratchi’s slip of the pen in rendering President Sirisena’s "rajaya" as "state". He actually meant "government". The question whether the present president considers the sovereign state of Sri Lanka to be private property (or whether the past president did the same) is irrelevant to us here.

The Sinhala language has unambiguous technical terms to denote state and government as English does: State is "rajyaya". Government is "rajaya" or "anduwa". But in rare informal situations, where what is meant is contextually obvious, where there is absolutely no possibility of confusion, these Sinhala words could be used interchangeably. Those who know Sinhala well enough, know which term to use in the appropriate situation.


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