Colombo Telegraph

Keeping The Tamils In Line: Response To Mr. N.D. Jayaweera

By S. Sivathasan


As always, the unconventional and the non-fashionable have been brought forth with the same sparkle of brilliance, elegance and clarity. In response to his thoughts, I am pleased to write this note to a personage I met 48 years ago as CAS probationer in Jaffna. Nine months later, I worked with him in my first appointment when he was GA Trincomalee. On values and attitudes, I had met my alter ego. I am happy that he remains as trim and articulate now as he was then.

Very candidly Mr. Jayaweera has said in his critique, “Clearly, the 13th Amendment does not do that, (“delegating to the Tamils…power to order their own affairs”) because that was not its purpose and it was not driven by an ideological commitment to sharing power. Rather, it was drafted primarily as a mechanism to keep the Tamils in line and to that end it reinforces control rather than share power”. Nothing can be truer or more exact. The operative word is control, which has been chosen judiciously.

Wresting power from the centre and vesting a due share in the North East was far from India’s scheme of things. Vitalising the North East was none of her concern. Then why did India intervene? The personality of the ‘Iron Lady’, Indira Gandhi needs to be understood. Gone were the times and the harmonious relations of Nehru – SWRD, Nehru – Srimavo and Indira Gandhi – Srimavo. What followed was a tenuous relationship of IG – JR, which lumbered reluctantly along and collapsed at the first rupture, when 1983 provided the occasion and ample justification as well. What IG was unable to accomplish, Rajiv Gandhi executed three years after her demise, more as ‘sustained release’, than with a sense of mission or with verve.

The act itself lacked meaningful direction. India’s supremacy was purported to be established after the expedition. Oil farm at Trincomalee was part appropriated by her. In reciprocity, India’s gift was to insulate the South from the JVP and the North from the LTTE. To JR the prospect and the discomfort of war on two fronts were avoided. It was wished that Sri Lanka was made safe for democracy. India’s action yielded no results for the Tamils as the operation was not oriented to resolving the Tamil issues. They were only befuddled.

The position is well captured by Mr. Jayaweera. He asserts with conviction “When one looks at the background to the 13th Amendment, the subterfuge is entirely understandable. The driving purpose was to persuade the Tamil militants to call off their armed rebellion rather than to provide space for sharing power”. Since the militants understood the subterfuge fully, they rejected the Indo Lanka Accord totally. In this context, the Indian army was inducted to snuff out the LTTE and to suppress the Tamils. In the aftermath of this operation, the 13th Amendment was enacted by the Sri Lanka legislature in late 1987, where Tamils did not have any representation even. India earned the ire of all Tamils never their goodwill.

What was the 13th Amendment? An apology of a document, which masqueraded for devolution. JR’s stratagem was ‘heads I win tails you lose’ where either way he would win and Tamils would lose. Tamils lost, not for want of intelligent analysis, but for lack of democratic space to have their views expressed. JR’s purpose was achieved with India as proxy, who committed the original sin. Their starting point in the devolution exercise was that, never can the North East, be vested with more powers than are enjoyed by the states of India.

There was a compulsion that obsessed India and gnawed at her consciousness. After independence she had a quasi-federal set up which passed for a federal arrangement. A disintegrated, loosely knit, geographical expression described India prior to her conquest by the British. Therefore after independence rigorously centralized governance was seen as the antidote to centrifugal pulls. The Indian constitution was fashioned accordingly and it was deemed applicable to North East devolution in Sri Lanka, if it was judiciously trimmed. JR did it perfectly without so much as a whimper from India. The perfidy of it all and the evil flowing therefrom, were understood by all Tamils in the early years and perceived all too keenly in the first year of implementation, 1989. Hence they spurned 13A and yet they accept the shell to work towards some content in the interim. More content in a better container is the desire and the vision. This is not insatiable appetite but a legitimate reach for parity, to be equal in all respects, in no way subordinate and in no manner superior.

“There is an urgent need to rethink the scope of the Amendment”, observes Mr. Jayaweera. Yes, faulty conception, forced adoption and quarter century of atrophy, have made the Amendment obsolescent. When scope is widened, the receptacle too has to be made afresh. Christ in his wisdom had said “No man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottle”. Heeding this advice tinkering with 13A should be abandoned, new ground plumbed for asymmetrical devolution to two units evolved and substantial powers conferred. Realising the errors of the past, Sri Lanka needs to veer from the experimental hybrid product of 1987 and opt for an indigenous one. The two Sri Lankan parties to the dispute are therefore constrained to sit together for a joint effort. From 1957 of BC days, both sides are chastened enough to see the need to arrive at a settlement.

Perceiving a fair amount of leeway in the 13th Amendment, NDJ believes it “provides considerable space”. I have to disagree, since only some space is available. It becomes appreciable only when the centre transfers considerable finances from the Consolidated Fund and through external borrowing in the form of project and non-project loans, with proactive practicable time phasing. The tangle as to who should have borrowing power in year 1, can yield only negative results. Year 1 is a category apart, needing special and unconventional treatment. A one off grant to the NPC in 2014 itself, to enable an immediate take off and transfer of funds for uninterrupted continuation of:- works in hand and works already earmarked for implementation in 2014 is crucial.

This single arrangement by the centre will send out the most wholesome signal that the government is keen to see the North flourish and support the growth of the whole country. This tempo when continued for ten years will neutralize the 1983-2009 interregnum and bring the North on par with the rest of the country. The world has a parallel in East Germany reaching near parity with West after stagnating for 44 years. If this is realised, the economy of the North through income generation and distribution via employment shall have succeeded what the military had failed to achieve with blood and iron in war and occupation in peace. The answer to the Tamil issue is not military occupation but economic advancement.

We Tamils too have obligations both social and national. Not all responsibility is for the South only and nothing for the North. We have to concede the greatness of the historic and massive highway and road infrastructure projects initiated and completed in a short span of four years. They have changed development possibilities in the Peninsula and the Northern mainland. We have to rid our minds of intellectual rubbish and cease to ascribe sinister motives to every project that is undertaken. Instead we have to devise strategies to optimize the benefits through further development under the aegis of the NPC.

The Mahadeva causeway cum bridge project languishing for 80 years was taken up and completed in less than a year. The major highway and road projects in the mainland and in the peninsula besides facilitating transport are a precursor to industrialization and to economic development. A few decades back South Korea went through the same phase. India adopted a similar strategy and delivered the Golden Quadrilateral over 10 years ago. It was a major highway project of 6 & 8 lanes to a length of 3633 miles, linking Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai. What the North is seeing is similar. In addition the JICA hospital project in Jaffna at a cost of Rs. 3 billion completed this year, the railway project in the North, scheduled for completion next year and the commissioning of the multi- billion rupee 24 MW electricity project at Chunnakam this year are valuable assets. Above all is the Rs. 20 billion water supply and lagoon project which is on the threshold of being implemented.

Had they not been done, we will be having the same depth of grievance and deprivation as for land misappropriation, cavalier attitude towards resettlement of the displaced, non-rehabilitation of war widows and orphans, non – provision of housing for the de-housed and many more omissions. Let our approach be proactive, appreciating what has been done on subjects under Reserved List and seeking supplementary support for those under Provincial List. The onus is upon us to point out and to emphasise the need for substantially greater funding to make amends for past misfortunes and defaults, now that the NPC is in place.

Whatever be the political arrangement for a society, it is the people who make or mar. All constitutions of Ceylon and Sri Lanka, Donoughmore, Soulbury, Colvin and JR have failed. Safeguards or no, Tamils have been consistently relegated. Yet they have displayed their capacity to prosper. They have had that elan vital in them for it. As a keen observer of humanity, Mr. Jayaweera has noticed it and makes bold to declare it in frank terms. “The Tamils of Sri Lanka can match any community anywhere in the world for intelligence, industry and resilience.” To them who live with travail as a partner in their lives, such words offer solace and hope.

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