30 November, 2022


Chandrika’s Call For Federalism 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

One must thank Chandrika for letting the cat out of the bag. In her recent address to “the national secretariat for national reconciliation” she has called for a federal, semi-secular constitution. I shall bypass the issue of semi-secularism and the role of Buddhism in the Constitution because it has been quite adequately dealt with, not by a Sinhala Buddhist extremist, but precisely by the senior-most member of the Catholic clergy on the island, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. Instead, let’s talk about federalism.

Chandrika’s call for federalism was entirely consistent with her SJV Chelvanayakam memorial lecture in which she identified the political “monopoly” allegedly enjoyed by Sinhalese as the main source of all our conflicts and advocated its dismantling. Obviously federalism is her chosen instrument for such dismantling.

This is also consistent with Chandrika’s political packages of 1995 and 1997 which called for the redefinition of Sri Lanka as a “union of regions”, as well her PTOMS which would have conceded a greater share of power in the North – to the ratio of 3:2–to the Tigers than it would have to the elected Sri Lankan Government (or the Muslims).

Furthermore it is consistent with her agenda disclosed in Washington DC while visiting in the company of Ambassador Dhanapala in support of his UNSG bid, in late 2005 of tilting to Ranil at the upcoming presidential election, tripping up Mahinda, and the proceeding to offer the Tigers “a federal solution”. (I was informed of this the next morning as I was a visiting professor at the School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Washington DC that semester. I promptly pulled up stakes, returned to Sri Lanka and appeared on TV in support of Mahinda’s Presidential bid.)

Just as there are “self-hating Jews”, there are self-hating Sinhalese. Chandrika is a self-hating Sinhalese. She he not paused to think why, after a brief flirtation with federalism in the mid-1920s, her father abandoned the idea in favor of ‘progressive nationalism’ (the name of the first party he formed) and regional autonomy (as in the B-C pact).

Nor has she asked herself why, with the benefit of a two thirds and five sixth majority respectively in the legislature, both her mother Sirimavo and her mother’s rival JR Jayewardene, eschewed federalism and the appeasement of/alliance with the Tamil federalists in favor of the constitutional embedding of the explicitly unitary character of the Sri Lankan state.

Chandrika has not paused to think why, even while under coercive pressure from India and when federalism might have appeased the Tigers, two very contrasting presidents, JR Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa refused to consider the federal option.

It was certainly not because all of these leaders were Sinhala Buddhist extremists or were cowed by them. All of them were tough leaders who fought civil wars in the South against Sinhala extremists. No, the aversion to federalism was because they all knew that it was a system utterly unsuited to sri Lanka, a system that would weaken the state and make it more vulnerable to external interference; a system that would enhance the centrifugal dangers while weakening the centripetal factors.

These leaders were opposed to federalism also because they wanted a strong, semi-centralized unitary state for purposes of development, and equity through structural reform and social welfare delivery. For instance the 1958 Paddy Lands Act, the 1972 and 1975 land reforms, the Mahaweli scheme, mahapola and Swarnabhoomi, the million Houses scheme, Janasaviya, the free midday meal and free school uniforms, the Presidential task force on land redistribution – all these would have been fraught, delayed or downright impossible under federalism.

But this sort of thinhg never appealed to CBK which is why in her decade long Presidency there isn’t a single piece of landmark social welfare legislation, or progressive structural reform or large scale development. What she did was to allow private foreign companies, including our competitors the Indians, to buy up state plantations—thereby rolling back her mother’s progressive reforms.

If Chandrika thinks that the opposition to federalism springs from Sinhala extremism, then she has to ask herself why the staunchest opponent of federalism and explicit proponent of the imperative of a unitary system from Sri Lanka was the Marxist-Leninist, Dr Colvin R. de Silva. During the 1972 debates on the first Republican Constitution, Dr. de Silva, responding to Mr. SJV Chelvanayakam and the Tamil United Front, drew on his expertise as a historian who had won the first prize in the British Empire for the subject of History. He pointed out that this island has been subject to more than its fair share of incursions due to its location, that most of those incursions were from southern India and were facilitated by the internal political fragmentation on the island, and therefore, Sri Lankan, in order to safeguard its independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity, mandatorily required a unitary form of state and could not afford a federal system.

In order to get rid of the notion that there are only Sinhala extremist arguments against federalism, Chandrika should also acquaint herself with the determined rejection of federalism by Marx and Engels when the leader of the Anarchists, Mikhail Bakunin, advocated it within the First International, as well as Lenin’s angry rejection of federalism to the point that he preferred a peripheral unit to secede (“go to the devil and secede!”) rather than turn the whole state federal in character.

Given the position of responsibility she currently holds, it would be useful for Chandrika to expand her political literacy and familiarize herself with Lord Soulbury’s sympathetic advice to embittered Tamil nationalist C. Sundaralingam. Lord Soulbury advised the latter to support the UNP in parliament and adopt the strategy of the Irish, but to drop the idea of federalism or an autonomous Tamil state.

…I now wish that that I had recommended a human rights clause as in the constitution of India – and elsewhere. But I do not believe that other federation or an autonomous Tamil State will work. Federation is cumbersome and difficult to operate – and an autonomous Tamil State would not be viable.” (Soulbury to Sundaralingam, April 1964)

Someone simply must tell Chandrika that it isn’t nice to emit large fibs in public. In her recent speech on federalism she characterizes South Africa as federal and commends it as an example. However, even an undergraduate knows that not only is South Africa NOT federal, none other than Nelson Mandela, participating in the discussions on the new Constitution, emphatically rejected federalism (as had the legendary head of the South African Communist Party Joe Slovo, since 1988). It was the displaced, privileged white minority and its allies in Kwazulu and the Bantu homelands, who advocated federalism -and Mandela’s ANC which rejected it.

So, if one is to agree with Chandrika’s advocacy of a federal Constitution for Sri Lanka, one would have to believe that she knows and cares more than SWRD and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, JR Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, and Lord Soulbury, and is intellectually better endowed than Marx, Engels, Lenin, Joe Slovo and Nelson Mandela. It is possible that this is indeed what she sees when she looks in the mirror each morning and asks “mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the smartest of them all?” But is this what we think of her? And are we willing to throw out all the collective aversion to federalism of these stellar minds, and go along with CBK instead? I know I’m not.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    [Edited out]

    • 2

      Medalankara de Choppe

      “[Edited out]”


      Thanks for keeping it brief.

  • 2

    The new constitution should guarantee equal status for all ethnic groups that live in Sri Lanka as its citizen and equal status for all religions that are practiced by the Sri Lankan citizen. There shouldn’t be any foremost place for majority religion or majority race. All should be equal. This is the most fundamental thing that a constitution in a country with a multi-society should have. If this basic concept is not adopted in the new constitution, then what is the point in changing it?

  • 1

    “Chandrika’s Call For Federalism”

    and dayan calls for communalism.

  • 1

    This is a good example of an attempt to whip up racism for political gain. We have come a long way since one language policy, march to Kandy, Rev Dambarawe Ratnasara ,1983 riots and the 30 year war. Although the war was won we lost the battle. Now or never we have to find an acceptable solution to the ethnic problem.

    • 2

      Problem lies on us – the people. Just talk to your close circles… most of them are either not infomative enough or racial.
      As Dr Dewasair reiterate – so long both parties end up with the discussions of stalemate nature, why should we at all discuss on finding a sustainable solution for the ethinic problem that the nation have been facing long. HE IS VERY RIGHT SAYING LET S TAKE MORE TIME::: LET PEOPLE GO THROUGH IT THEIR HEADS… and it will solve with the time. WHile his counterpart MP Sumanthiran does not feel that we need to put this off.. but to discuss he even confirm in that TV discussion, he would be against Wiggie… asked him if he would disgree was answsered with yes. So labellin them all as KOTIYA or TIGER supporters, our extreme elements being represented by Gonthadipila and Buruwanse should be banned. BOth sides have made mistakes. Just because we are the majoratarians, must not be an exuse to go against the minortorarian folks… so as MR term won the against rebells must not be used as the licence to attack the rest of nation including muslims and tamils…. all these we have to discuss and pass the view across the nation so that they each can let that go through their heads before going to yes or no to devolution of power into regions. Those villagers with lack of inoformation should be fed with facts.. but facts .. then only they can become real voters .. real universal franschise holders to go unite all these srilankens as one nation. Be us sinahlese, tamils or others, the blood flow thorugh our vessels belong homo sapienes… no colour, race or anything else should be insisted by any means… we are all srilanken passport holders should be entitled to lanken rights equally.

  • 0

    “I shall bypass the issue of semi-secularism and the role of Buddhism in the Constitution because it has been quite adequately dealt with, not by a Sinhala Buddhist extremist, but precisely by the senior-most member of the Catholic clergy on the island, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.”

    First of all, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith represents only the Catholic Church and not the entire Christian community in Sri Lanka. Secondly, we all know that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is a shameless Rajapakshe stooge who obtained favors from the Rajapakshe government and therefore it is obvious that the Cardinal will be obliged to preach a political sermon for favors granted. He is a disgrace to the Catholics of Sri Lanka and the majority of Catholics are not happy with the way their Cardinal has been supporting the racist ideology of the Rajapakshes and the joint opposition.

    Let me remind the readers,

    Ruwani Cooray, niece of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has not passed the Foreign Service examination nor been recruited to the foreign service through any accepted procedure. However she was appointed by the Rajapakshe government as the second secretary to the Sri Lanka Embassy in France.

    Suppose if the Catholics accept what he says, then what about others. The Non-Catholic Christians, Muslims and the Hindus? The foremost place for Buddhism (given only in 1972) should be removed and all religions in Sri Lanka should be given equal status as a first step in making Sri Lanka a secular state.

  • 2

    Congratulations Chandrika Kumaratunge, for the bold and patriotic declaration of solution, to “the national cancer” of SL, for the past six decades.

    SL needs similar leadeership, like the one you show, to be bold and couragous, to face the facts, and bring; equality, dignity and Justice to ALL citizens, the basic need for peace, stability and progress.

    Practicising racism is unpatriotic or rather inimical and is not leadership but engaging in inequality and “waste bin politics”.

  • 0

    Switzerland has genuine federalism.
    Because of a belief that individuals have a right to control information about their personal affairs, Switzerland has a strong human rights policy that protects financial privacy
    Switzerland has a positive form of multiculturalism with people living together peacefully notwithstanding different languages and different religions.
    Notwithstanding my admiration for Switzerland, I don’t plan on expatriating.
    I’m not rich and don’t particularly see how I will get rich anytime soon. Switzerland is not a cheap place to live

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