By R.M. B Senanayake –
The JVP proposals to resolve the national question were published in the Sunday Leader last Sunday, the 28th July 2013.They are suggesting elected Peoples Councils for the Tamil people where they live in a compact community as in the Northern Province. I give them below
’iv. The new approach for the solution to the national question must be taken by establishing rights of the people on the basis of equality and by guaranteeing democratic rights and by providing special attention for the areas where there are special problems.
v. The People’s Councils (Janatha Sabha) as a special administrative structure should be established paying attention to economic development, solving the administrative problems, protecting, safeguarding and promoting cultural identities in backward areas due to unequal capitalist development.
People’s Councils (Janatha Sabha)
• This is not a structure to be established all over the country. These People’s Councils will be established in areas where people with different cultural identities reside and in areas in which intensive national oppression was experienced, and in areas with special requirements.
• A Commission consisting of Intelligentsia, Members of Parliament belong to the parties represented in the Parliament and Administrative officers must be established to determine the areas in which People’s Councils must be established. The General Public will be guaranteed the opportunity to submit their ideas and suggestions before this Commission. The criteria on which People’s Councils must be determined by the Commission itself.
• If a group of people living in an area are convinced that a People’s Council must be established in their area, then they have the right to request the Commission to consider their requirement.
• People’s Councils are elected for five year period by the people living in the area under consideration. They should not be dissolved prematurely except in case that they become inactive due to failure of running the Council until the end of the set period.
• People’s Councils must be vested with powers of sending one of its members to Parliament. That representative must be selected by the majority of the members of the Council. He should represent the needs of the People’s Council.
• Parliament should allocate sufficient funds for all economic, social and cultural development activities of each Council. It must be guaranteed by the Constitution itself.
The main functions of the People’s Councils are economic development in the area, maintenance and promotion of administrative functions and social-cultural activities.
Local Government institutions must also provide their assistance to the functions of the People’s Councils”.
The JVP must be congratulated for accepting the rights of the ethnic minorities in a plural State where they live in compact communities occupying a distinct territory. The size of the territorial unit should determine the extent of its powers and functions. They have come a long way since the 1980s when they blindly swallowed Communist rhetoric. A hangover is their reference to ‘democratic centralization’ – a meaningless phrase in relation to the problems of the ethnic minorities. Stalin deported Muslim communities in the Central Asia part of of the former Soviet Empire to Siberia where they had to fend for themselves. But the post Communist Russia has had to restore the Central Asian Muslim communities as autonomous States.
Yet the JVP should be commended for accepting a subordinate governance structure for the Tamil minority although they have not spelt out its powers and functions. They say they should be elected and should run their full term of office without being subject to the discretion of the central government to dissolve them prematurely.
In a plural State which is not secular discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities is inevitable for decisions are made by a numerical majority which is a permanent ethno-religious majority. People in developing countries lacking the long traditions of democracy as in the West have misunderstood democracy to mean majority rule. Majority decision making is only a convenience and cannot be used to tamper with or violate the fundamental human rights of the ethnic and religious minorities which are spelled out in UN Declarations. There has been discrimination against the Tamil minority since 1956 and the Sinhala majority State under President JR Jayewardene failed to protect the lives of innocent Tamil citizens in 1983. Although I cannot vouch for it he is supposed to have said that the Tamils should be taught a lesson- a most repulsive sentiment towards innocent civilians. By such act the Sinhala majority State gave a valid cause for self governance to the Tamil minority. True that they resorted to worse violence against the Sinhalese. But the Sinhala State was fully committed to the protection of the Sinhalese against such Tamil attacks.
The Tamil minority also alleges discrimination against them in language, university education, culture and land alienation. It is to resolve these grievances that the 13th Amendment was passed. There are provisions for a Land Commission ( not set up by the present regime) and a Finance Commission although overlooked by the JVP.
The only way to limit such discrimination is through a subordinate unit of government wherever an ethnic or religious minority inhabits a defined territory as a compact community. This ensures that the minority will make their own rules for day to day living ensuring their life, liberty and property. They could undertake their own development and when they are part of a single state the central government should allocate funds without discrimination. This was to be ensured by the National Finance Commission. But the Sinhala majoritarian State has adopted a politicized administration where decisions are taken on the basis of political patronage and there is discrimination not only against the ethnic minorities but even against those Sinhalese areas where the people voted for the Opposition. This is not democracy but a state where only those who voted for the ruling party are looked after and protected. Democracy is supposed to be a government of all the people and not of some people for some people by some people. The present Sinhala majority state is a factional State not a democracy.