23 April, 2024

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From B-C Pact To Ranil’s New Somersault 

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s national reconciliation initiative seems to be spectacularly backfiring on all cylinders. This is terribly unfortunate, not so much for Mr. Wickremesinghe’s presidential future, but for what it might entail for the immediate future of inter-community relationships. On Wednesday, before the President’s “Throne Speech”, a group of Buddhist Monks staged a protest near parliament and even set fire to a copy of the 13th Amendment in front of the media and police barricades. According to TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, the English version of the President’s address to parliament was titled, Throne Speech, while the ‘more official Sinhala and Tamil versions had it as Policy Statement. What’s in a name or, for that matter, what’s in an official language? That which is written in one can always be translated into another, and there can be two or more of them.    

Just as his reconciliation initiative is backfiring, the President is also backpedaling the scope of his initiative. Already in his Independence Day speech and statement, the President had avoided mentioning 13A, and he continued to censor the term in his ‘Throne Speech’ on February 8. The latest Wickremesinghe speech was limited to a touch of nostalgia – that the President and the TNA leader R. Sampanthan entered parliament together as first time MPs in 1977. That now looks ages ago, and their ages do tell: the President is now 74 and the TNA leader is 90, both past the old biblical prime of threescore and ten. Beyond nostalgia, the President stuck to specifics – specific issues affecting the Tamils in the north and east. 

But the TNA was in no nostalgic mood, and its leading spokesman Sumanthiran accused the President of somersaulting. A term that was last used in a Sri Lankan legislature with some frequency in the 1950s by the maverick Tamil MP C. Suntharalingam to taunt his Oxford contemporary, then Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike. President Ranil Wickremesinghe often speaks of the circumstances that Sri Lanka was in at the time of independence. He hardly mentions the state of the country a decade after independence. 1958 was different from 1948, and 2023 is different from both. What is unique to 2023 is that the national economy has never been so broken as it is today. And there is no happy ending in sight. As for the country’s other problem, and the President’s laudable but mistimed preoccupation, namely, national reconciliation, there could be little nostalgia now about mid-1950s, only forebodings.  

The B-C Pact and the Paddy Lands Act

That was when Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike launched his reconciliation initiative, bold and statesmanlike, and reached a historic agreement with the leader of the Tamil Federal Party, SJV Chelvanayakam, who also happened to be the Prime Minister’s classmate St. Thomas’s College. That agreement, though abrogated within a year of its signing, has stood the test time as the celebrated B-C Pact and the lodestar for future reconciliation efforts and agreements. 

1957: B-C Pact Signed

Its relevance for today’s circumstances is in the comparability, or otherwise, of the difficulties and roadblocks that President Wickremesinghe is facing today to those faced by Prime Minister Bandaranaike 65 years ago. At that time, there were two government initiatives,  both unexceptionably positive but politically controversial. One was the PM’s B-C Pact initiative, and the other was the Minister of Agriculture and Food Philip Gunawardena’s Paddy Lands Act. Inadvertently, and unfortunately as it turned out, the two initiatives coincided in their timing and helped in the mutual reinforcement of the political forces opposing the two initiatives. 

James Manor recounts those developments in some detail in his biography of SWRD: The Expedient Utopian: Bandaranaike and Ceylon. As it happened, the B-C Pact was accredited on 26 July 1957 and within a year, in May 1958, it was abrogated amidst the first outbreak of communal violence targeting Tamils. The Paddy Lands Act was enacted in 1958, but its sole architect, Philip Gunawardena, left the cabinet and the government the very next year, in May 1959. Four months later, on 26 September, Prime Minister Bandaranaike was assassinated. The island’s sociopolitical innocence was over. 

The alignment of political forces for and against the two initiatives was remarkable. Although temperamentally poles apart, Bandaranaike and Gunawardena were each other’s best ally in their coalition government and cabinet. The majority of the cabinet ministers were dead set against Philip Gunawardena and his Paddy Lands Act (PLA). They even staged a cabinet strike, refusing to attend cabinet meetings with Philip Gunawardena. But they could not prevent the passage of the PLA because of its popularity among the Sinhalese. 

The B-C Pact, on the other hand, was controversial and opposition to it was orchestrated by JR Jayewardene and the UNP in the south, and GG Ponnambalam and the Tamil Congress in the north. Compounding this was the cabinet split over the PLA, which weakened the Prime Minister’s hand and forced him to give in to the opposition against the B-C Pact. The final act of forcing was the storming of the front lawn of the Prime Minister’s Rosemead Place residence by 100 Buddhist monks. 

There was another aspect to political alignments over the PLA and the B-C Pact. Besides the Prime Minister, Philip Gunawardena was the only prominent Minister to support both initiatives. The Left Opposition (the LSSP and the CP) were also in support of both the PLA and the B-C Pact. On the other hand, the Federal Party leader who signed the B-C Pact, was steadfastly opposed to the Paddy Lands Act. Chelvanayakam famously declared in parliament: “I see seeds of communism in this.” 

In opposing the PLA, Mr. Chelvanayakam found common ground with GG Ponnambalam, who was stirring the pot against the B-C Pact and ridiculing – ‘Vedhakaran’ (Christian) Chelvanayakam for selling out the Tamils for a pair of guavas and a cup of tea, at Bandaranaike’s Horagolla Walauwa, on a ritually inauspicious moonless day in July. Mr. Ponnambalam was on a long leave of absence from parliament during the enactment of the PLA, but weighed in from outside with an op-ed page article in the Daily News rhetorically bemoaning the destruction of Sri Lanka’s robust peasantry as result of the new legislation. The ideological lines were clearly drawn.          

Even though he abrogated the B-C Pact in April 1958, within four months, in August 1958, Prime Minister Bandaranaike introduced and secured the passage of the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act, which provided for the use of Tamil for administrative purposes and as a medium of instruction in schools and university. The very same provisions were part of the original Official Language Bill that Mr. Bandaranaike wanted to introduce in 1956, but was forced to jettison it and replace it with the infamous one-sentence Sinhala Only Bill. Let me fast forward to today.  

Ranil’s Trap or Somersault? 

Whatever may have been the President’s intentions and the method of execution in fast tracking national reconciliation, nothing seems to have worked. The initiative seems to have stirred sleeping dogs into loud barking and the questioning of his motives by practically everyone in parliament. While Sumanthiran has chided him of somersaulting, others from Maithripala Sirisena to Anura Kumara Dissanayake are now questioning the President’s motive behind his sudden focus on 13A. The SJB is on silent mode, except for indicating support for devolution without mentioning 13A.

Sirisena has compared Wickremesinghe’s initiative to carrying a torch that is burning at both ends. He has suggested that every President from JRJ to himself has not tried to fully implement 13A, because it is not easy task when a “majority of Sinhalese Buddhists are against it.” The Mahanayaka Theros said the same thing, but they attributed inaction by former Presidents to their alleged realization that 13A was bad for the country and worse for the Sinhalese.  Sirisena is also questioning the President’s timing on 13A given the unprecedentedly “serious issues” the country is facing now.   

To JVP/NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the current hullabaloo is all the result of  President Wickremesinghe setting a trap for the country to “create a disturbance in society” as a diversion from the real problems the people are facing. He avoided answering media questions about the protesting monks, nor did he provide a detailed response regarding the JVP’s position on 13A. It is time Mr. Dissanayake gave a serious speech on the JVP’s position vis-à-vis the non-Sinhala members of the Sri Lankan society, which should also address devolution and the 13th Amendment. 

So far this year, Dissanayake has given two significant and substantial political speeches. Early in the new year, he gave a rousing homecoming speech in Tambuttegama, a touching talk by a local boy coming home as a national leader. The English media ignored it. More recently in Colombo, he targeted the business community to win bourgeois credibility for a non-elitist party. The Colombo media lapped it up. AKD owes Sri Lankan politics a third speech – this one on the national question. His first speech addressing the minorities. Without it, his political project will not be a complete project, and Sri Lankan politics at this juncture will also be poorer without it.  

That said, AKD and the JVP might be on to something when they insist that President Wickremesinghe is not going to “fully implement the 13th amendment to the constitution as repeatedly assured by him.” AKD goes further, “He won’t bring it. He plays this game every time. He wants to set fire to this country and protect his power.” Mr. Dissanayake might be speaking from his yahapalana experience with Ranil Wickremesinghe when he says that “he (RW) plays this game every time.” But AKD is stretching it when he claims that “he (RW) wants to set fire to this country and protect his power.” 

On the other hand, if the country were to end up in flames once again as a result of the simmering controversies over 13A, then the President’s intentions would be irrelevant. The JVP leader is also abdicating his own responsibility when he appeals to “the people  of this country not to get caught in this trap.” Anura Kumara Dissanayake owes it to the people to explain his position on devolution and on 13A  even if he does not agree with the President’s timing and approach to implementing 13A. As for the President himself, he faces an uphill task in either salvaging his badly damaged initiative, or preventing the current controversy escalating into something worse. 

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Latest comments

  • 11
    2

    nimal fernando

    Where are you?
    Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of Pakistan General Sahir Shamshad Mirza is in town and looking for the Surgeon General for some sound free advice on dealing with IMF. Also he might consider providing Sri Lanka with free advice on the same.

    Both surely could advise each other on mutual self destruction in other words militarisation of rest of the state. The Mahanayakes are in full swing, full support, ….. … Why are the politicians and functionaries still under Saffron spell?

    • 8
      1

      I’m getting ready for the next tele-drama ……. all are drama-queens; time to join the queue ……. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx1JOYBcKdk

      Now, does the country has problems other than the 13A? ……… Here we go once again ……. Ranil you beauty!!

    • 4
      1

      Sinhala_Man guessed right! …….Finally the man is revealed.

      Nihal Fernando …… without the toupee. ……. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFV_5lD-DZI

      • 2
        1

        nimal fernando

        Is this another version of Rajapaksas feeding white van captives to crocodiles?

      • 3
        0

        No time to watch that now, nimal.
        .
        It seemed to be more than 50 minutes.
        .
        Because of your anonymity you have to be counted a crook, but an intelligent and witty one who hasn’t done any permanent damage to my head.
        .
        All the communication possible in 26 months hasn’t made “leelagemalli’s” stances clear to me, but you are all right.
        .
        You are a crook with good values – aren’t you bucked hearing that!
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 483111444V)

  • 2
    1

    From B-C Pact To Ranil’s New Somersault

    Ranil new somersault will anger china as Like the when the ship of china came it angered indian how can China faovour for IMF , Tthe rest of the world will think we’re made, and indeed we are. RW turned out the President in the post simply because of short term nerves launched his reconciliation initiative that now RW mode is divided kingdom cannot defend itself from its opponents.

  • 5
    1

    If there is some overheated discussion going on around the Tamils’ National Question, it is about this 13A. The Sinhalese don’t want that. The Tamils don’t like that. Yet the hype evokes heat!
    .
    If we look at the political chaos closely one would realise that political authority is out of reach to the Tamils. Tamils have never had a Prime Minister among them. Never a Finance Minister or even a Minister of Education. 13A cannot bring about any of these.
    .
    Yet, personally, I wish to see 13A implemented, at least as a consolation.

    • 1
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      There has to be honest and meaningful devolution with which the Tamils and the Muslims can be happy.
      .
      The Sinhalese have to accept it, even if somewhat grudgingly.
      .
      Wasantha Mudalige has suddenly made us aware of Vedda Rights.
      .
      Never mind NV!
      .
      We don’t need any amendments to our soiled constitution. We need something totally new, but thought out carefully, and without having short-term objectives.
      .
      Also give a lot of thought to systems of voting. Proportional Representation is fairer. Also, encourage discussion. On Saturday, the 11th I attended a local (very local!) NPP meeting which I found deeply disappointing. It catered only to Sinhala-Buddhists. I’m sure there wasn’t a single Tamil. And this in a District where, at Independence, more than half the residents were Tamils. Delimitation! Only Mahila realised its importance some time back.
      .
      At least the issue was raised by one guy – no prizes for guessing his identity.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (who has to cross Haputale to get to the city of Bandarawela)
      .

  • 8
    2

    Ranil is Ranil. Ranil brought back Yellow robes to kill the 13th amendment and sucessfully divided Tamil politicians as he divided LTTE. He also used the “Aragalaya” to chase away Rajapaksas and who believed that they are a king family forever and buried the SLPP under the ground. Similarly he put Sirisena out of chair and out of politics and he simply silenced “Aragalaya” using the Sinhala military and burning his own house. Who is now the “Master Mind”?

    • 5
      1

      Hello Ajith,
      What you say is interesting….
      “Ranil killed the 13th amendment and brought back the yellow robes and divided the Tamil politicians as successfully as he divided the Tigers”

      Please explain how he did this. It will help CT readers to improve their knowledge. Please also add links that can enlighten us on this topic.

      • 2
        3

        Dear “leelagemalli”,
        .
        There is much racism of a peculiar Lankan sort around us. You are innocent of that sort of racism.
        .
        The comments of Ajith, Nathan, nimal and old codger certainly improve my knowledge, but yours only confuse everybody.
        .
        The departure of Ranil would do all Lankans a world of good.
        .
        Panini

      • 1
        1

        When he said that he is going to implement 13th amendment he said 13th amendment is in the constitution and he has a duty to implement that constitution according to it. In other words as long as it is in the constituion I have to do it but he also said those who oppose that they should remove it from the constitution. This is the wake up call for Sinhala Buddhists who were speechless during when the LTTE was in powerful militarily and politically. He is the one who understood that he need to divide LTTE and agreed to go for peace talks. Using that opportunity he used North East divide to break the LTTE and gave Karuna everything. Everything means everything. Now he divided TNA into many by even mentioning that he will give full 13th amendment within two months and now TNA has now divided into many power hungry groups. So, pretend to promises and offering benefits is enough to create divisions is a very simple process for Ranil. We all know how he divided the SLPP into many simply giving ministerial posts to many from all parties including SLPP, SLFP, SJB etc.

  • 14
    1

    Thamizh MPS peacefully protesting in Jaffna were arrested for breaking the law. However rowdy protests by Chingkalla Buddhist monks not wanting any devolution to the Thamizh, clashing with the police and burning part of the constitution in front of the parliament, no action was taken. One rule for the Thamizh and another for the Chingkallams. Curious, if priests and monks from other religions had behaved and protested in this violent rowdy manner, I am sure the authorities would have dealt with them severely, even beaten them and definitely arrested them. However, these bald yellow canary Taliban pets were allowed to go scot-free after misbehaving and preaching disharmony, discrimination and all other evil things towards the Thamizh minorities.

  • 9
    1

    Singala Buddist in srilanka are the deaf and blind fools as they tolerate every bad actions of so called BUDDIST MONKS In srilanaka.These monkeys protest against every thing under the sun with out looking whether it is good or bad.NOW TIME HAS COME FOR THESE MONKEYS TO STAGE A PROTEST.A FORMER STAFF MEMBER OF THALATHA MALIGAWA THE BUDDIST KINDOM HAS COME OUT WITH FULL DETAILS OF HOW THE DIYWADENA NILAME JOINT HAND IN HAND WITH MAHINDA RAJAPAKSE ROBBED GOLD AND LAND BELONGS TO MALIGAWA IN BILLIONS OF RUPEES.HE SAYS HE INFORMED ABOUT THIS DAY LIGHT ROBBERY TO MAHANAYAKAS AND THEY DID NOT BOTHER TO TAKE ACTION.NOW THE TIME HAS COME FOR THESE FAKE BIDDIST MONKEYS TO START A PROTEST THE GOOD NAME AND WEALTH OF DALATHA MALIGAWA WITH OUT WASTING TIME BY BURNING THE COPIES OF 13TH AMENDMENT.NO THEY WILL NEVER DO THIS AS THEY ARE ALL FAKE BUDDIST MONKES AS THEY WENT TO BECOME MONKS BECAUSE OF POVERTY IN THEIR FAMILIES TO FILL THEIR BELLY.

    • 4
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      Paragon, “SB in Srilanka are the deaf and blind fools as they tolerate every bad action of so called Buddhist Monks”, are you sure, many of them / SB, are not pretending ????

  • 5
    4

    Will the writer please note that the 13th Amendment just only a provision to somewhat sooth the actual needs of the Tamil people. The majoritarian politicians and their Govts they formed from time to time together with the Tamil politicians just used this provision for political advantage one over the other and keep on hoodwinking the Tamil people. It must be also noted that the JVP is a part of the National People’s Power NPP) which is an alliance of several progressive parties, unions and groups. The policy of the NPP is far different from that of the JVP in that the NPP proposes a new constitution that would guarantee equally the rights of all the sections of the people without any difference and discrimination. This is what the country needs

    • 4
      1

      MR.MOHAMED-UK
      DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT JVP-NPP WILL BE ABLE TO GRANT EQUAL RIGHTS TO TAMILS AND TAMIL SPEAKING MUSLIMS WITH OUT GETTING THE CONSENT-APPROVAL FROM THE YELLOW PETS OF SINGALA POLITICAL PARTIES.YOU MENTIONED TAMIL PARTIES ARE HOODWINKING TAMILS USING 13TH AMENDMENTS.HOW ABOUT EASTERN MUSLIMS THEY ALSO CONTESTED AND BECAME MINISTERS AND CHIEF MINISTER UNDER 13TH AMENDMENT.

    • 1
      1

      Thanks, dear Mohamed Marzook UK,
      .
      I’m not sure whether I’ve succeeded or failed in getting my thanks across to you in more than one of the places I have seen your (new!) name now.
      .
      There are so many articles open right now. There doesn’t seem to be much to argue about! Vote against racism!
      .
      Get over that hurdle on the 9th of March, and then discuss all other issues.

  • 3
    1

    MR.MOHAMED-UK
    DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT JVP-NPP WILL BE ABLE TO GRANT EQUAL RIGHTS TO TAMILS AND TAMIL SPEAKING MUSLIMS WITH OUT GETTING THE CONSENT-APPROVAL FROM THE YELLOW PETS OF SINGALA POLITICAL PARTIES.

  • 7
    2

    Ranil was never sincere when he “lit the torch at both ends” by mentioning 13A. AKD was right when he cautioned against believing this utterly contemptible betrayer of the century. AKD, on the contrary has espoused equal citizenship and autonomy for regional affairs in his many public presentations of late.

    • 1
      0

      “AKD, on the contrary has espoused equal citizenship and autonomy for regional affairs in his many public presentations of late.”
      LP,
      Can you give us some links and elaborate more about this?

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