By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The Leader of the Opposition and of the United National Party, Hon Ranil Wickremesinghe, has done it again: he sees flaws in the LLRC report, but none in the CFA. He has issued a solemn, well-crafted statement on the LLRC and the current debate on devolution, commencing with a rejection of the LLRC’s critique of the Ceasefire agreement as ‘flawed’.
If there is any point on which broad social and national consensus is obtainable it is precisely the flawed character of the CFA and its results. This criticism is not limited to Sinhala and Tamil hardliners. A serious scholarly study by the Norwegians has produced a Western liberal critique.
None of it has had the slightest effect on Mr Wickremesinghe. He refuses to confront the fact that the CFA was seriously lopsided in favour of the Tigers because at the time of signing, the LTTE was on the back-foot, with its leaders dodging the deep-penetration operations of the LRRP which had already taken out six key figures, including Shanker, who had planned the raid on Katunayake.
Mr Wickremesinghe obviously sees nothing wrong in the CFA that allowed the Tigers to move into areas they could not win through battle, including Jaffna, while the Sri Lankan state could not move reciprocally into Tiger controlled areas. He is totally devoid of regret over the throwing to the wolves or rather the Tigers, of Directorate of Military Intelligence operatives over the infamous Athurugiriya safe house case, which was never heard of again.
He has no regrets about facilitating the transferring sensitive electronic communications gear to the Tigers, permitting them to bring in sensitive military equipment including underwater gear unchecked through the Customs, and permitting the uplink through Rupavahini of Prabhakaran’s Hitlerian Mahaveera day speeches.
He sees nothing wrong in the murder (doubtless by the most painful means imaginable) of several dozens of Tamil personnel working for Sri Lankan intelligence and special operations, during the CFA, partly as a result of the disclosures during the interrogations of the DMI personnel. He has no problems with a CFA during which a senior police officer was killed by the Tigers in Dehiwela and Major Muthaliph slain in Pamankada. He has no word of self-doubt about the CFA during which the Tigers built up their forces to a point that access to Trincomalee harbour was threatened by insurgent heavy guns.
Mr Wickremesinghe does not share the sense of national humiliation that the entire period of the CFA generated, nor is he sensitive to that feeling. He remains resolutely incapable of self criticism on any score on any matter whatsoever, including the drastic devaluation under his leadership, of the electoral and political fortunes of his party.
Mr Wickremesinghe’s latest statement reveals that he and his party will remain decisively vulnerable targets of patriotic criticism at any future election, however shop-worn the nationalist project may have become by that time. He has also demonstrated by this new statement—which is not entirely devoid of accurate and sensible points—that he is producing for the political ‘export market’, not for the domestic one; and if it is for the domestic market at all, it is for a slender minoritarian niche. He appears to be positioning himself as part of an externally propelled strategy of regime change. In sum, he remains a puppet and a proxy and is determined to remain so. It is his comfort zone, and so long as he inhabits it with his dwindling party, the power-bloc is comfortable too.
Quaint and quirky as Mr Wickremesinghe’s antics are, much more important is the current confusion in the polity, over devolution and the dialogue with the TNA. Some seem to think that it is dangerous to enable the TNA to take control of the Northern Provincial Council and that therefore the 13th amendment should either be scrapped, shelved or subverted, while others assume that there is nothing politically the matter with the TNA and even if there were, it would be a greater travesty to tamper with devolution of powers to the provinces in order to forestall a takeover by the TNA.
I think the debate is wholly wrong-headed and posits a zero-sum game when there need not be one. Certainly we have a serious strategic conundrum: conceding to the TNA which has yet to accept the 13th amendment (and says it ‘rejects’ it) and/or criticise the terrorism of the Tigers, full provincial powers at the strategic Northern rim adjacent to a hostile Tamil nadu; powers including an armed police force easily convertible into a militia, would be utterly imprudent. Conversely, scrapping or tampering with the existing 13th amendment would take us back to the 1980s in terms of our relations with the Tamil community as well as with our giant neighbour and the world beyond.
I must digress at this point to commend strongly, two relatively recent reports which contain brilliant suggestions as to how to proceed painlessly, with, within and upon the basis of the 13th amendment—one by young constitutional lawyer Asanga Welikela in his study of the Eastern Provincial Council and the others by the low-profile Institute of Constitutional Studies (ICS).
To return to my main point, a bit of clear thinking can help and a gradualist approach may provide a solution. Until the TNA comes to its senses, it can remain the voice of the Tamil people of the North in the country’s important legislature. It is neither necessary to hold Northern Provincial Council elections now, nor dilute the powers devolved under the 13th amendment. It is by no means necessary to prolong the present politico-institutional vacuum in the North. Existing legislation and presidential power permit the setting up of an Interim Administration or Interim Council. This was declared by JR Jayewardene in September 1987 and rejected by Prabhakaran, and considered on several occasions by President Kumaratunga, while never implemented.
This then is the way to cut the Gordian knot: set up an Interim Administration for the North, vested with the powers of the 13th amendment except perhaps for police powers. It can consist entirely of Tamil political and civic personalities of proven moderate views and non/anti-Tiger track records such as SC Chandrahasan (Mr SJV Chelvanayakam’s son), V Anandasangaree, D Siddharthan of PLOTE, Sritharan (‘Sugu’) of the EPRLF, Nesan Shanker Raji of EROS and Douglas Devananda. Appoint a distinguished Tamil governor for the province. Let the TNA speak out and participate in parliament. A prolonged peacetime spell in a parliamentary political life at the centre will draw that party out of its ethnic enclave and dysfunctional ‘domestic Diaspora’ mentality, absorbing the MPs into the mainstream.
Meanwhile, the youth (who embody the future) and private enterprise must conceive and construct a new, inclusive, pluralist Sri Lankan identity at the social, cultural, artistic, economic and inter-personal levels, quite irrespective of the politicians.