By Kusal Perera -
The impeachment against Chief Justice Dr. Ms. Shirani Bandaranayake was brought to an end with the Rajapaksa government shunning the determination of the apex Courts in Hulftsdorp, to remove her and appoint on 15 January, the new Chief Justice. Its trusted choice, former Attorney General and thereafter Legal Advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers, Mohan Peiris. The SC ruled the whole Parliamentary Select Committee process to impeach the CJ, as illegal. The impeachment as a public issue died off with Mohan Peiris the new CJ assuming office. This new political twist in Sri Lanka would have a serious impact on the Tamil political scene and on everything else in the country.
The changing scenario in Tamil politics begins in the year 2005 with presidential elections. The “common presidential candidate” of the “progressives and the Left”, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, launched his vision of a new Sri Lanka titled “Mahinda Chinthana” for presidential elections. In that he said, “No sooner I am elected to office, I shall commence extensive discussions with all political parties represented in parliament, based on the above stated fundamental concepts. At the same time, I shall start discussions with political parties that are not represented in parliament as well.” (pages 31 – 32)
NO mandate therefore was asked for from the people, nor was any promise given to the people, on any war against the LTTE, as a solution to the ethnic conflict. The broad concept proposed for a solution to the on going conflict was, “devolution” and NOT even decentralisation. “My intention is to devolve powers to the level of the citizen” (page 32), he said in his “Mahinda Chinthana” booklet.
In just over 02 years in year 2008 while an untold of war was being brutally escalated in North and East, at the first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights that took Sri Lanka’s case in April that year, the GoSL had by then given an assurance, it will stand committed for a political settlement on devolution. An Indian official was then quoted as saying, “This is not just a commitment made to India, but to international agencies too.”
In January 2010 the second edition of the same “Mahinda Chinthana”, was re-launched for the presidential elections on 26 January. That (in Sinhala version) said, “Meanwhile, the All Party Conference was continued with a Representative Committee, bringing serious political issues into broad discussions. Instead of forcing solutions from top, this process brought together a broad consensus between political parties, civil organisations and the people themselves.” (page 55)
In 2011 May, over 01 year later and 02 years after the savage conclusion of the war, when External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris visited New Delhi, the two External Affairs Ministers who reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations, issued a joint statement on 17 May covering 11 issues including that of a permanent solution to the Tamil political conflict. That joint statement said,
4. Both sides agreed that the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka created a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation. In this context, the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties. A devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.
Even in May 2011, the Rajapaksa regime was still marking time, with promises to build upon the 13th Amendment. After another year and a half, they tried testing the water, for change of course. In October 2012, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a public servant as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence with absolutely no right to indulge in politics told the media, the 13 Amendment to the Constitution should be repealed immediately. “The Island” news paper on 13 October quoted him as saying, “… the 13th Amendment was nothing but an impediment to the post-war development process.” It further quoted him elaborating, “People should realize the external interference will not be beneficial. Whatever the party in power, it must have the freedom to take decisions for the benefit of the majority of Sri Lankans,” Provincial Councils (PC) were established with the signing of the Indo-SL Accord in July, 1987 that brought in the 13 Amendment.
With the Divi Neguma Bill made law, that centralises all ground level, local initiatives under a central government Minister, PCs under the 13 Amendment now have their mandate for local development, sabotaged and hijacked. Its in such context, the new call for the repeal of the 13 Amendment gets the nod from the political authority in Colombo. It is also in such political context, Prof Peiris once again in New Delhi to co-chair the 08th Session of the Joint Commission, inks a joint statement with his Indian Counterpart, Salman Khurshid on 22 January (2013), that covers everything under the sun, except “devolution”, a political settlement and the 13 Amendment to the Constitution. This latest joint statement thus negates the commitment New Delhi gave in its joint statement made on 17 May, 2011 under section 4. A clear indication, times have changed for Tamil politics.
This now brings to a complete halt, the diplomatic and political pressure the TNA was calculating through New Delhi. This regime’s promise for a “political solution” based on the 13th Amendment camouflaged as a “home grown” solution, was used to buy time and space to drag the issue without serious initiatives in finding an acceptable answer. Meanwhile New Delhi was only interested in drowning Tamil Nadu (TN) rhetoric, to work on economic and trade issues, promising there would be development benefits percolating to the North and the Vanni. The joint statement issued (22 January) thus says, “Both sides comprehensively reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including trade, investment, development co-operation, science and technology, power, agriculture, health, people to people contacts, connectivity, culture and education, and expressed satisfaction at the substantive developments in bilateral relations….” (No. 2 of statement) New Delhi’s efforts are now about caring for the Indian business and GoSL is happy it could increase trade with India to the tune of USD 10 billion in the next 03 years. They have thus signed bi lateral agreements on combating “International Terrorism and illicit drug trafficking” and most importantly, a “Revised Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement”.
The two countries now don’t have much reason to review the follow up action on the LLRC recommendations, the government submitted as its Action Plan in its report to the UPR in November 2012. Therefore with absolutely no mention of a political solution, the joint statement goes on to say, the two countries recognise “the need to build a special economic partnership framework to achieve the shared goals of poverty alleviation, job creation and economic development for the people of the two countries, the two sides decided to take several steps to further deepen trade, tourism and investment relations.” (No.4)
With India side stepping on its previously vowed responsibility, what now makes politics of minorities far more difficult is this Rajapaksa regime’s hold on the apex Courts of the judiciary, after it impeached CJ Bandaranayake. India now looking the other way, this regime could easily go for any decision they wish, with more confidence than when Sarath N Silva as CJ, bifurcated the merged North – East province in favour of Sinhala politics. This regime does not allow its Sinhala backing to fade off. Therefore, its a Sinhala influenced judiciary that would henceforth sit on any Tamil political issue, if the regime wants it that way.
That impeachment too was not of any concern to New Delhi. But how the two regimes were able to reach such compromise to drop the SL Tamil issue is also because of faulty reading of geo political necessities of the present New Delhi regime, by Tamil political leadership. The SL Tamil issue was used by the Indira Gandhi rule 32 years ago, to warn President Jayawardne against going too much West and towards the US. India then was very much Non Aligned and pro Soviet Russia. Today, it is a different India in a different world order. There is neither a Soviet bloc, nor a non Aligned movement as then. India is no more a closed and a heavily regulated economy and no more anti US. The New Delhi regime, since its shift to neo liberal economics, has given up on its principled stand on Human Rights and democratic rule, except its pretence for such. This neo Gandhian rule therefore supported the Myanmar military Junta with economic and development packages. They have entered into a military co-operation agreement with China since 2008 and increased its trade with China too.
Interestingly, Sajjad Shaukat, an international affairs critic and the author of the book “US vs Islamic Militants”, writing to “Global Reach” on 13 December 2012, about US Drone Attacks said, “Besides, Pakistan is the only nuclear country in the Islamic world. Hence, the U.S., India and Israel are determined to weaken it. The drone campaign is also part of this game.”
That’s an interesting “triumvirate” in this new world where old alliances have given way to new, undemocratic and selfish alliances. The SL Tamil issue has no importance to New Delhi within such alliances. The fault with the TNA is that it has not read through this neo Gandhian perspective of India. The TNA still believes TN politics that rhetorically is pro Tamil, would be a factor in pushing New Delhi into compromises. That local public lobbying and mobilising could be substituted with international and regional alliances and agencies. None of it would work, without adequately strong pressure on this Rajapaksa regime, here in Colombo.
What this Rajapaksa regime slipped on is, the APRC it allowed as a political cover up of the war. As often happens in politics, most issues gather their own momentum and at times go out of hand. So were the APRC and the LLRC. As for the LLRC, the TNA left its political importance aside to keep in step with the Tamil Diaspora and have thus lost good time. The time lost by TNA was used by this regime to dilute and contradict LLRC Recommendations. They have now come out with a special report on the war by the military that counters the LLRC Report and its Recommendations.
The APRC final report handed over to the President over two years ago is different and still has political punch. It could have been President Rajapaksa’s “Waterloo”, had the TNA raised it as the basis for a discussion, although they were not party to its formulation. With President Rajapaksa appointing an Experts Committee too to assist the APRC, the 21 Chapter draft presented to the APRC by its Chairman, Prof Tissa Vitarana, took almost two years to conclude its deliberations. “APRC discussed each of the chapters separately seeking inputs from political parties through their representatives at the APRC”, say MP R. Yogarajan and Nizam Kariapper in their introduction to the compilation they presented as the equivalent to the APRC Final Report. The discussions had concluded in June 2010 after 128 meetings, with consensus on all 21 chapters.
To have such consensus is a mammoth achievement where all shades of Sinhala politics participated from the SLFP, through MEP to the JHU along with the EPDP, CWC and Mano Ganesan, apart from the LSSP and the CP of SL. It is certainly a huge waste by TNA, not taking this consensus as the basis for all future discussions in seeking a permanent solution. Though President Rajapaksa made the LLRC Final Report public, he fears to have this APRC Final Report public, purely because of the political consensus it has achieved. IF the TNA is willing to make a public campaign to have it as the basis for the proposed PSC, that would change the whole scenario once again. But that campaign has to be in Colombo and has to have the Colombo Tamils on the streets. There are over 100,000 SL Tamils residing in Colombo according to the 2011 Census table in the official website of the department. Its time the TNA reaches to them for active political participation. There is total absence of Tamil politics in Colombo since 1956 when the FP went on a historic “Sathyagraha” on Galle face green against the Sinhala ONLY official language Act. Its time the TNA broke that self imposed absence and got on the streets of Colombo. Its Colombo where power resides and decisions are made. Its in Colombo where power has to be challenged to have new decisions made.
(Written on invitation for the Sri Lankan Tamil magazine, “Samakaalam”)