Preparations are underway to celebrate Sri Lanka’s 72nd Independence Day in Colombo tomorrow with full military pageantry, attended by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, members of parliament, diplomats and others.
Tomorrow’s ceremony, to be held at Independence Square under the theme ‘A Secured Nation – A Prosperous Country’, will be Rajapaksa’s first Independence Day commemoration since taking office in November last year.
Marking a departure from the celebrations held under his predecessor Maithripala Sirisena, this year’s event will see the country’s national anthem performed only in Sinhala.
The previous government issued a circular in 2016 declaring that there was no ban on singing the national anthem in the Tamil language. For the first time in 67 years, the anthem was performed in both Sinhala and Tamil at that year’s Independence Day event.
Ending weeks of speculation, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe confirmed to reporters last week that the anthem will not be sung in Tamil this year, despite calls from civil society activists to not discontinue the practice begun under the Yahapalana government.
“The national anthem will be performed [by the official choir] in Sinhala, but anyone can sing [along] in a language they prefer. They may sing it in Tamil in celebrations in the North,” Samarasinghe said, asserting that at the celebration proper, it will only be performed in Sinhala.
An instrumental version of the anthem, however, will be played during the closing segment of the ceremony.
MP and former Minister for National Integration and Official Languages Mano Ganesan was among those who appealed the government to reconsider the decision.
The Tamil-language version of the national anthem is not just another song but is an expression of the Tamil community’s Sri Lankan identity, he said in a tweet.
My final hour call to HE president @GotabayaR as the former minister for #National #Integration & Official #Languages. #NationalAnthem in Tamil language is not just another song but The “#Srilankan #Identity” of the Tamil speaking community, which is the need of the Hour! #lka pic.twitter.com/7v1I1sk2Fv— Mano Ganesan (@ManoGanesan) February 2, 2020
Continuing a practice of previous administrations, temperance and vegetarianism have been institutionally encouraged by the state for the duration of tomorrow.
The government has instructed all butchers, meat vendors and liquor license-holders to close shop tomorrow, according to a statement issued by the Government Information Department today.
The 72nd Independence Day celebrations will be presided over by President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the participation of some 2,500 guests that include foreign diplomats. Space has also been allocated for 1,000 members of the public.
According to Minister Samarasinghe, the military pageant will see a total of 8,260 security forces personnel march past the VIPs and other invitees. The pageant will comprise 4,325 personnel from the Sri Lanka Army, 868 from the Navy and 815 from the Air Force, with 1,382 police personnel also joining the parade.
The annual celebrations were shifted from the Galle Face Green to Independence Square this year in order to minimise inconvenience to the public, said Samarasinghe.
However, a separate celebration will be held at the Galle Face Green tomorrow, organised by the Navy.
According to Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Isuru Sooriyabandara, the Navy will anchor its ships at the waters near Galle Face, with a gun salute also on the cards.
The Air Force, meanwhile, will fly 30 of its aircraft over tomorrow’s parade in Colombo as part of a celebratory air show, Air Force Spokesman Group Captain Gihan Seneviratne said.
The price tag of this year’s Independence Day celebrations remains unclear at present, though according to Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna, the government hopes to keep the costs as low as possible.