By C.V. Wigneswaran –
From this month I intend replying one question every month, selected from many posed to me. Sometimes the questions are posed in Tamil or Sinhala. But if I find them topical and current, I would answer them in English too. The question for this month posed in English to me, is as follows;
Question: Is there any connection between the sending of the common letter from seven Tamil Parties to Shri Modi and the proposed new Constitution?
Response: Most certainly yes. We do not expect any worthwhile changes in the new constitution vis a vis the Tamil speaking of the North and East. The Tamil Parliamentarians were only able to formally oppose and boycott the debate on the earlier two constitutions of 1972 and 1978. Nothing tangible was possible to prevent constitutions which did not recognize the right of self-determination of the Tamil speaking people of the North and East from being passed in Parliament. This time too, the Sinhala majority Government will carry through a constitution inimical to the interests of the Tamil speaking of the North and East without recognizing their right to internal self-determination.
The only feeble benefit the unitary 1978 constitution carries for the Tamil speaking today is the Thirteenth amendment. Though discussions took place between India and Sri Lanka to give some political benefits to the Tamil speaking of the North and East in 1987 by introducing the Provincial Council system, when it came to implementation President J.R. Jayewardene opted to make the Provincial Council system apply Island wide. Now they refer to the Provincial Councils as a white elephant. That may be so in the predominantly Sinhala areas.
But from the point of view of the Tamils of the North and East, Muslims and Upcountry Tamils throughout Sri Lanka the Provincial Council remains the only tangible legal institution they have, to reflect their individuality.
From the point of view of the Tamils of the North and East, take away the Provincial Council, we become just another minority in this Country. Actually, the Tamil speaking are the majority in the North and East. The majority in the seven provinces were able to make the majority in the two provinces become minorities in the whole Island.
The Tamils have a long history of over 3000 years, speak an ancient language, have determinable homelands, follow religions and cultures different from the majority Sinhalese whose language came into being only around the 6th or 7th century AD. The Tamils are entitled to self -determination in terms of the International Covenants. If you remove the Thirteenth amendment, without granting full-fledged devolution to the Tamil speaking people of the North and East, from the Unitary Constitution, we would be stranded without any tangible legal institution to call ours. As Chief Minister of the Northern Province I was able to prevent many attempts by undesirable elements to introduce pollutive schemes in the North though the Government on its side prevented and sabotaged worthwhile economic projects we were trying to introduce.
However much the Provincial Council remains feeble and ineffective as far as the people of the North and East are concerned, it still gives the people of the North and East a legal recognition as Tamil speaking as opposed to the majority Sinhala speaking elsewhere. Take away the Provincial Council and the Tamil speaking of the North and East could easily be controlled as minorities in the entire Country. The One Country One Law concept was a precursor to the jettisoning of the Provincial Councils, envisioned in the new constitution.
Though Ministers are now denying what has come out in a Sinhala Newspaper as being the content of the draft of the new constitution which envisages the scrapping of the Provincial Council system, we foresaw this when we sent our letter to Shri Modi. The whole purpose of a new constitution is to scrap the Thirteenth Amendment and prevent India having a voice in Sri Lankan affairs. If India did not help Sri Lanka at the time of the Indo-Lanka Agreement, anything could have happened prejudicial to the Government in Colombo. Sri Lanka at that time had no alternative but to ask for help from India (as it does now having understood China’s intentions). India on its part signed the Agreement on behalf of the Tamils. Representatives of the Tamils nor LTTE leaders did not sign the Agreement. Therefore, India has a legal right and moral obligation to intervene on behalf of the Tamil speaking of the North and East when the Sri Lankan Government is trying to usher in a Sinhala Buddhist majority Government throughout the Island.
We asked for the implementation of the Thirteenth amendment not because it gave us, the Tamils, adequate powers but because we would have become absolutely powerless if it was scrapped. Now we have India as a participant in the original discussions which introduced the Provincial Council system to question any matter proceeding unfavourably to the Tamil speaking people of the North and East. The Sri Lankan Government cannot scrap the Provincial Councils as far as the North and East are concerned unilaterally. We seek no permanent solution to our ethnic problem by asking for the implementation of the Thirteenth amendment. We seek to keep the Provincial Councils until a permanent solution is found. The permanent solution we envisage is a confederation, nothing less.
The International community too has a moral duty to work towards accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. It cannot be indifferent when the indigenous people of Sri Lanka are being bullied and discriminated against. The continuation of the PTA is indicative of the designs of the Government.
Under the circumstances we decided to send the letter to Shri Modi to indicate to him the secretive intentions of the Sri Lankan Government to bring in a new constitution to set up a Sinhala Buddhist Government devoid of safeguards for minorities under the slogan of One Country One Law!