Federalism is not division nor disintegration but a device to distribute the powers to the regions, allowing the different ethnic groups the freedom to preserve their language, ethnic identity, culture and way of life, while preserving the essential unity of the country.
This, I have said in parliament several times but sadly it has fallen on deaf ears – There is no denying our Sinhala friends suffer from inborn prejudices and preconceived notions. To quote Prof. Dr. K M de Silva, a leading historian, “Singhalese though a majority suffer from a minority complex,” and that is evident in their behaviour towards the Tamil people.
Why all the hue and cry over Federalism I ask?
It’s time our Sinhala brethren not let history repeat itself. Missed opportunities will never come back. The Tamil politicians have come a full circle and like the Pandavas in the epic Mahabharatham, they have come down to the lowest common denominator that the Tamil speaking people can accept and have given a mandate for – surmised from the TNA manifesto – that which is a federal state under a united Sri Lanka..
On the contrary all the murmurs that come from the present regime of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wikremesinghe do not point to anything other than a unitary state. This the Tamil people will never accept. I recall the profound words of the late Dr EMV Naganathan, the iron man of the ITAK who said:
“The unitary constitution will result in the perpetual rule of the Sinhala majority and eventually in the liquidation of the Tamil minority.”
What he said is echoing and re-echoing in my ears.
Buddhism is a noble philosophy that embraces all humanity. Jawaharlal Nehru the late Prime Minister of India aptly described Gowthama Buddha as the greatest rationalist that the world has produced. Unfortunately for us, our Sinhala friends think the Buddha was a Sinhalese and that he spoke the Sinhala language. The Sinhalese think they are the custodians of Buddhism and have been appointed to preserve the religion for all mankind. Dr. K M De Silva, himself admitted to the fact that the Sinhalese believed that Buddhism was integral to their culture and way of life. Buddhism and Sinhala were inseparable, so they think.
This is typical of the Mahavamsa mindset and the root cause of all the political ills facing the island. The failures of the “Pacts” between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, is a case in point, which I will proceed to elaborate below, to prove that the Tamils have come a full circle and are at a crossroads once again and if a meaningful and satisfactory end goal is not achieved, a parting of the ways is surely in the cards.
The late Tamil leader, Mr. SJV Chelvanayakam in his total sincerity and political vision stood for a Federal constitution. And quite rightly he felt deeply at that time it was indeed the panacea for the malady facing the country. Yet he was magnanimous enough to compromise the concept of federalism for regional autonomy and even went as far as accepting even regional councils and district councils. The BC pact entered into between Mr. Chelvanayakam and the late Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike, in 1957 was nullified even before the ink was dry. I worked with Chelvanayakam very closely, and I was witness to what followed after the abrogation of the pact.
The abrogation of the pact must have pricked the conscience of SWRD Bandaranaike; he wrote a letter to Chelvanayakam apologizing for his predicament of succumbing to the pressures brought on by the Buddhist clergy. His letter to Chelvanayakam was delivered by Stanley De Soyza, then Finance Minister in his cabinet. I stand as testimony to this historic incident.
Mr. Chelvanayakam in his inimitable style, smiling, told Stanley Soyza that he regretted the plight of Mr. Bandaranaike but warned that this abrogation may indeed still lead to a blood bath. And lo and behold, the 1958 blood bath – a pre-meditated pogrom against the Tamils, instigated by Buddhist priests, carried out by Sinhala hoodlums, erupted throughout the island.
Mr. Tarzie Vittachi, a senior editor in the Lake House actually wrote an interesting book titled: “Emergency 1958″, on the subject – that turned out to be an expose on the violence inflicted on Tamils at that time, that vividly describes the behaviour of the Sinhala hoodlums.
Again in 1965, Dudley Senanayake’s agreement with Chelvanayakam, based on District Councils too was nullified. Mr. M Thiruchelvam, the Minister of Local Government was assigned by the Federal party to get the proposal implemented. Thiruchelvam miserably failed to get it done and in a belated manner resigned on the issue of the refusal to declare the Koneswaram Temple and its surroundings as a sacred area – although the reason for his resignation was not convincing. In fact Thiruchelvam and I participated in a huge protest meeting at the Trincomalee Esplanade on the Koneswaram Temple issue. The census figures I quoted to prove the demographical changes that were taking place by state sponsored Sinhala colonisation, dangerously diluting the Tamil population in Trincomalee, is part of history. I became the prophet of gloom but I stand vindicated.
Again, in 1972, Sirimavo Bandaranaike changed the Soulbury constitution, nullifying even the meagre safeguards granted for Tamils in section 29.
Senator Nadesan pleaded with Dr. Colvin R de Silva who was given the task of drafting the constitution, to retain at least section 29, an entrenched clause. But this same Colvin R de Silva, one time Marxist theoretician who once championed the cause of Tamils and was known for the maxim: two languages, one nation, one language, two nations” turned turtle and told the learned Senator that “politics is the art of the possible” and that he could not do anything to stop it. Let us not forget he was the architect of the new the 1972 Republican constitution that set the scene for more historic turn of events.
It is in this context that Chelvanayakam leader of the Federal Party (I.T.A.K) submitted a six point program to the illegally constituted assembly for consideration that was rejected in toto – that led to the Federal Party boycotting the same constitutional assembly proceedings and had no hand in the final vote. In other words the Tamils never accepted the 1972 constitution.
Left with no alternative, Chelvanayakam resigned his Kankesanthurai seat, and stood in a by-election that Sirimavo wilfully delayed, running on a manifesto that called for a separate Tamil Eelam which he won overwhelmingly in 1975.
This election, more so a referendum was followed by the Vaddukoddai Resolution that articulated the full aspirations of the Tamil people for the “Restoration and Reconstitution of a Sovereign Socialist State of Tamil Eelam.” In what was to be his last speech in parliament, Chelvanayakam on November 19th 1976, declared that, “the Tamil speaking people have abandoned the demand for a Federal constitution”:
“We started the federal movement at one time to obtain the lost rights of the Tamil speaking people and now we have found that through federalism we cannot achieve our objective. In view of this experience we have come to the conclusion that we must separate and if we do not do that, the Tamil speaking people will never be able to get back their lost rights.
Our ancient people were wise. They had their own kingdom. In the history of Ceylon we had a place. We are not asking for a division of the country by our movement, but we are only trying to regain what we lost.
Our party is today moving with the idea of establishing a separate state. It is not an easy matter to get a separate state. It is a difficult matter. We know that it is difficult. But either we get out of the power of the Sinhala masses or we perish. That is certain. Therefore we will try and get this separation. We have abandoned the demand for a federal constitution. Our movement will be all non-violent.”
It so happened, it was his last testimony, the one he gave to the Tamils before he passed away on April 26th 1977. The RT. Rev. D J Ambalavanar summed up the state of affairs after Chelvanayakam’s passing by saying, “he died like Moses himself, without reaching the Promised Land, but the vision he saw, he leaves behind as the heritage and challenge to his people…”
Mr. Veluppillai Pirabaharan who emerged as the leader of the LTTE – the sole representatives of the Tamils declared unequivocally again that Tamil Eelam is the only alternative for the Tamils. He was only echoing what Chelvanayakam said and what was enshrined in the Vaddukoddai Resolution. Although there was a time, with a genuine intention to move the peace process forward Pirabaharan was willing to suspend the demand for a separate state.
Much has happened since then. Much water has flown under bridges. The Tamils are recovering from a genocide committed against its people.
TNA are back to calling for a Federal system in its manifesto.
The Tamils have come a full circle it seems.
But until now the TNA hasn’t spelt out its demand more specifically – they are being beautifully vague. It seems however, Mr. R. Sampanthan the leader of the TNA, and Mr. M. Sumanthiran, the spokesman for the party are speaking with a bundle of contradictions and confusing the entire Tamil nation.
Mr. C V Wigneswaran, former Supreme Court judge and Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, has been more articulate – he has started to plead a type of arrangement for all the Sinhala provinces to be made into one state and the merged North and East in to another state with an autonomous region for the Muslims and one for the plantation workers.
However, unfortunately, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, with venom and vengeance have declared that they will not accept a Federal constitution that, according their flawed thinking would, “will lead to the division and disintegration of the country.” The Rajapaksa clan and the fanatical lot of Buddhist priests have said categorically that they would not agree to a federal constitution either. Ironically Maithri and Ranil are repeating like parrots that they believe in good governance and reconciliation, but sadly their declarations so far only seem to otherwise negate good governance and reconciliation.
My intention here is not to deal in detail what the federal constitution stands for. Switzerland is a classic example of what a federal constitution is. Canada is equally a classic example of a Confederation, preserving unity in diversity and not in dull monotonous uniformity that allows for a bilingual and multicultural system that works. Canada’s example is one that Sri Lanka should follow. I pleaded with the Canadian governments, former and the present, to advise the Sri Lankan government to adhere to a federal constitution to avert disharmony and bloodbath. I also pleaded with the Canadian government that if the Sri Lankan government is adamant not to yield but cling on to its Chauvinistic ways, the Canadian government must accept the self-determinations of the Tamil people in keeping with the 1948 UN Charter.
I pleaded with the American government in the mid 80’s that the American federal constitution is an ideal one. Though the American federal constitution is more for economic and geographical reasons but the residual powers vested with the states is a fine example of the federal constitution.
With all my love for Mother India, the Indian Federal structure is semi Federal or quasi Federal. With Article 356 hanging, the central government has the right to dissolve any state government if it so wishes. It is a dangerous concept that we the Tamils won’t fall prey to.
It’s most significant to quote SWRD Bandaranaike of what he said in Jaffna In 1926 in a meeting presided over by Isaac Thambiah, former judge:
“Ceylon is not a country but an Island consisting of conflicting nations. The Kandian Sinhalese, Low country Sinhalese and the Tamils had their own kingdoms preserving their language culture and way of life intact. It is only a rash man who will envisage the merger of these communities. These nations united opposed the British rule, but when the British were on the verge of leaving, each ethnic group is asserting its right. It is nothing but a natural human phenomena.”
This prophetic statement was pronounced by Bandaranaike immediately on his return from his Oxford University career. His political vision was clear but unfortunately for Tamils his political vision got coloured due to political reasons. The Tamils cannot be held responsible for his change of heart. We wish and pray that our Sinhala brethren should abide by Bandaranaike’s original stand and grant the Tamil people a meaningful federal structure to maintain equality, dignity and self determination, finally establishing amity and peace in the island.
Although I am from the TGTE, I am curious to see if my Sinhala friends would err like their predecessors and falter. or would they rather not make the fatal mistake and actually seriously look towards a Federal solution, in keeping with their objective of good governance and reconciliation. If not the island, I fear, would never recover.