By Malinda Seneviratne –
Are you for 13, 13-minus or 13-plus, someone asked me. Political circles are a-buzz with the 13th, i.e. the Amendment thrust down the Sri Lankan polity by India in 1987, defended ferociously by Indophiles and non-Tiger separatists and happily used by politicians of all color intent on furthering careers and making bucks. The pro-13th commentators have all come out of the woodworks, as have those who opposed it and oppose devolution to boot.
Debate on the matter is not new. The present buzz follows a statement by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa advocating its repeal. Context in brief is as follows: a) the 13th is a part of the constitution, b) the President has at various times talked about devolution and pledged to go further, i.e. ’13 Plus’, c) it has no discernible connection with expressed grievances and makes no sense in terms of demographic, developmental and historical realities.
And yet, those who are dismayed do make some interesting points. Dharisha Bastians (‘From 13 Plus to 13 Minus’) argues that there is presidential double-speak. Sumanasiri Liyanage (‘The UPFA government is heading for its first defeat in Parliament’) on the other hand is a victim of his own fantasies and notions of democracy predicated on faulty reading of conflict. Laksiri Fernando (‘Gotabhaya’s talk about abolishing the 13th Amendment’) is fascinated with status quo (right or wrong) and erroneous in the assertion that a repeal would necessarily wreck language rights.
Tissa Vitharana’s outburst is perhaps the most clownish, for he sees ‘foreign conspiracy’ in moves to abolish the 13th. The biggest conspirator with respect to the 13th was India and that’s certainly ‘foreign’, not to mention that the darlings of those intent on dragging his leader to the Haig are also ‘foreign’ or ‘foreign funded’ AND are staunch 12-Plus advocates (their backtracking from separatism to federalism to the 13th corresponds to the decline and fall of terrorism: no coincidence!).
Fernando’s is nevertheless the most thoughtful of the responses. He has detailed, for example, pre-13th devolution talk. He has also referred to the LLRC recommendations pertaining to devolution. He has conjured a gonibilla factor: ‘Devolution and the 13th Amendment are the ‘trophies’ that the government has been showing the international community and the UN as indications of Sri Lanka’s commitment to resolve the ethnic question in the country. Backtracking on them would undoubtedly spell disaster for the country in the international sphere.’
Now the statements made on devolution from time to time does not necessarily make it logical, necessary, meaningful or sustainable. These statements could be shot to pieces with the as-is situation of the 13th. Fernando argues that as-is is mendable. This is true except for the fact that devolution to provinces is antithetical to current economic theory in terms of resource endowment and allocation. We have to keep in mind also that the X-Country success is not necessarily replicable in Country-Y.
As for the ‘trophies’, Fernando misses the blatant truth that Sri Lanka’s detractors are as interested in ‘solutions’ as they are concerned about ‘democracy’ In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or the Arctic. Showcasing ‘achievement’ is simply not going to cut ice unless the relevant lines are toed.
Grievances (and no one can deny that Tamils have them, as do various other segments of society, including Sinhalese) need to be resolved in different ways, especially through democratization. Here, Fernando’s comments on the 17th and 18th are extremely valid. But we are not talking about ‘democratization’ here but ‘grievance-addressing’.
What all these people forget is that the lines we are talking about here are white-drawn. They have nothing to do with the longer history of the country (where demarcations – Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti –made political but more than this geographical sense) or make sense in terms of present day prerogatives (economic hub, resource-complement, seaboard and so on). Secondly, I am willing to wager that if asked to enumerate ‘grievances’ and tie each of them to territory-based ‘resolution’, they would be stumped, particularly given the fact that the majority of Tamils live outside the North and East.
It is in this sense that the line Fernando quotes from the LLRC Report (‘appropriate system of devolution’) and the one he misses (‘acceptable to all’) need to be considered. We can have devolution, not to resolve grievances that are not devolution-resolved but for better and more meaningful development. That would necessitate re-demarcation of provincial boundary. That’s the ’13 Plus’ we could aim for. If there’s anything that thumbs a nose at reality, then it is better to scrap. No 13, no 13 Plus, no 13 Minus. Zero.