19 May, 2022


Lessons For Constitutional Reform: Devolution, Disintegration Or Intervention?

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Concluding Rejoinder to Prof GH Peiris

How to safeguard political sovereignty and territorial unity by avoiding intervention? Can intervention be avoided without devolution? How to devolve to such a degree so that intervention is deterred rather than attracted? Those are the questions.

Let me place my cards on the table as I usually do: reasonable and moderate devolution is the only realistic safeguard for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. If the degree of devolution is excessive as is the case with the dovish UNP-TNA federalizing proposals and Chandrika’s 1995/1997 federalist “Package”, disintegration and external absorption will result. Conversely if the degree of devolution is insufficient, as in the case of the counter-proposals of the Sinhala nationalist hawks (such as Prof Peiris) it will invite resistance and intervention, resulting in the end of territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty. 

The Middle Path and the Golden Mean is to be neither a dove nor hawk, but (as supreme Realist, Dr. Henry Kissinger used to quip) a “dawk” (a hawkish dove or dovish hawk) or its closest equivalent in Nature, an owl.

Prof Peiris’ quote from Emeritus Prof KM de Silva (The Island, October 10, 2017) on the coercive and turbulent circumstances of the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord is profoundly accurate and no less profoundly irrelevant to our debate on devolution. I did not contradict the historical fact that Sri Lanka was coerced into that signing and that the system of provincial devolution became a reality as a result of such external coercion. Why should I deny it when, as the record shows, as a young man in my twenties, I was the first, and the only one at the time, to predict and caution against this interventionist outcome?

The massive and authoritative first volume of the two volume Annotated Bibliography on ‘Ethnic Conflict and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’, edited by Kumar Rupesinghe and Berth Verstappen, published for PRIO (the Peace Research Institute of Oslo) in 1989 by Hans Zell publishers, London/New York, has several entries for the book ‘Sri Lanka: The Ethnic Conflict: Myths, Realities and Perspectives’ edited by the Committee for Rational Development (Colombo) and published by Navrang, New Delhi in 1984. The bibliography summarizes my contribution ‘The Ethnic Conflict and the Crisis in the South’, first published in the Lanka Guardian vol 7 (7) of August 1984 and vol 8(8) of August 1984, as well as in Logos vol 23 (3): Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem: the proceedings of the Bishop Leo Nanayakkara memorial dialogues organized by the Centre for Society and Religion, May-June 1984, and published in October 1984. (Pp. 48-60).

In the paragraph long annotation on my contribution, the PRIO bibliography concludes that “the author [Dayan Jayatilleka] stresses that the various aspects are interrelated. If the present system is not capable of coming up with a solution, there will be either an externally propelled solution or a challenge to the system itself.” (Item No 543, Rupesinghe & Verstappen, p132) 

Both predictions –“externally propelled solution” and “challenge to the system”– came true. The “challenge to the system” came two years later, while the prognostication of external intervention was made by me at the CSR symposium in May-June 1984 as well as in print in Logos and the Lanka Guardian, three years BEFORE the Indian intervention and the Indo-Lanka Accord. I was 27 years old.

I might add that as the PRIO Bibliography records, at almost the same time, on May 26-27th 1984, the United Nations University (UNU) South Asian Perspectives Project in association with the Lanka Guardian, held a seminar on “Ethnic Relations and nation Building in Sri Lanka”, attended by 25 religious leaders, scholars, journalists and trade unionists. The Final Report of the seminar recommended that “political structures” be reformed so as to make for autonomous Provincial Councils, for which a list of powers to be devolved was also suggested. I was among the participants and signatories. Part IV of the four part report was on ‘The International Context’ and drafted primarily by co-chair of the seminar, Lanka Guardian editor Mervyn de Silva. The full report was published in the Lanka Guardian, vol 7(6), July 15th 1984 pp.6-22 and republished as ‘Lankan Crisis: An agenda for non-violent solution’, Nation-building and Regional Cooperation, United Nations University, Asian Perspectives Project (South Asia) July 1984, Dossier No 3, pp. 132-144. (Rupesinghe & Verstappen, item 586, p 143) These recommendations came many months before the All Parties Conference of 1984 was convened by President Jayewardene and Annexure C drafted by Indian envoy G. Parthasarathy Sr.

Prof Peiris’ invocation of Prof de Silva’s description is utterly irrelevant to my point and in no way contradicts it. My point was that devolution going beyond the district, indeed transcending district boundaries through the contentious “joinder” of any two or more adjacent districts, had already entered the mainstream political agenda in Sri Lanka, and was hardly introduced by India or any other external player. The evidence is the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957.

If SWRD had been Executive President and not the hapless PM, he would doubtless have implemented the B-C Pact despite the agitation by the Opposition UNP and the Buddhist clergy which had supported him in 1956. Had the B-C Pact been implemented in 1957, we would have had devolution beyond the district from 1957 onwards and not have had Prabhakaran instead, or he would not have been anywhere as effective even if he emerged to wage war. Hundreds of thousands of lives may have been saved. Certainly we would not have had an Indian intervention, the Indo-Lanka accord and the 13th amendment in 1987 and Provincial Councils in 1988, because adequate political reform in the form of provincial autonomy would already have existed.

Indeed had Annexure C, agreed upon by President Jayewardene in 1984 with Indian envoy G Parthasarathy Sr., or the Dec 19th 1985 proposals of Chidambaram and Natwar Singh, or the purely domestic agreement between President Jayewardene and the Left parties at the PPC in mid-1986, been implemented, there would have been no coercive Indian intervention because there was no need or opportunity for it, and arguably we could have won the war uninterrupted in 1987.

What the Indian coercion did was not to seriously and consequentially introduce the idea of devolution beyond the district into the mainstream political agenda. That had already happened with the B-C Pact in 1957. What the Indian intervention did was to force through the long delayed and deferred implementation of provincial devolution. It was in the nature of a Caesarean operation to deliver something—provincial devolution—that had repeatedly been agreed upon, even pledged, and then blocked or reneged upon, eventually imposing a political risk on Delhi following July 1983. Had we implemented provincial devolution and reduced the intensity of the crisis before it ballooned and impacted upon India’s interests, we could have avoided external intervention.

I made this point well before that traumatic historic event, at the CSR and in Logos and the Lanka Guardian in 1984, that is to say post-July 1983, because it was obvious to me that Delhi was under tremendous Tamil Nadu pressure and would be actively drawn-in, in the post-July 1983 context, if no domestic political solution were implemented speedily.

Of course at the levels of ethics, morality and the principle of sovereignty such intervention was outrageous, but Delhi was under pressure because of the Tamil Nadu factor; a factor which will never go away. States act in accordance with their interests, real or perceived, and the asymmetry of states mean that in the absence of a real, effective strategic counterweight or the ability for protracted resistance, the stronger state prevails. India will always be the stronger state. This is the lesson that Thucydides tried to impart in his depiction of the dialogue between the Athenian envoys and the leaders of the island of Melos who were well within their moral right to assert their option of remaining neutral, but were cautioned and then crushed. By signing the Indo-Lanka Accord President Jayewardene saved our armed forces and prevented a Melian outcome. It is not for nothing that the so-called “Melian dialogue” is a cornerstone of the Realist school of politics, history and international relations.

All this brings us to the question of where the supra-district unit of devolution entered the discussion from. Why did SWRD Bandaranaike agree to “joinder” across district boundaries in 1957? Why did the Indians arrive at it decades later? Because that was a bottom line of the Tamil parties. Conversely, why didn’t the Indians seek to impose federalism at gunpoint on the Sinhalese? That was because the unitary state was a bottom line of the Sinhalese side. The respective bottom lines remain, and constitute parameters.

These then are the lessons for today, as the debate on Constitutional change rages.

Prof Peiris and his co-thinkers have yet to discover a single Tamil taker for their project of district level devolution, removal of provincial devolution and the rollback of the powers of 13A. In the absence of a single Tamil political partner for this project, they continue to insist upon it.

If on an island which consists of several communities of uneven size, if any one community tries to implement a model for which there are no takers whatsoever from the other communities, then the vision is not one of dialogue and consensus but of unilateral imposition. This perspective is not one of peaceful coexistence on this shared island based on a relationship of dialogue, negotiation, compromise and mutual accommodation between the Sinhalese and Tamils, the South and the North, the majority and the minority, but precisely one of domination and diktat; of internal colonialism and ethnic/ethno-religious majoritarian supremacism.

What makes Prof Peiris and those of his ilk think that such a project of supremacism is viable on this island, in this region, in this world and at this stage of history?

Speaking a decade after Black July ’83, in 1993, at a United Nations University seminar, Mervyn de Silva revisited the original UNU-Lanka Guardian collaborative project and recalled that “Prof Shelton Kodikara…joined this task force on nation-building”. I might add that Prof Karthigesu Sivathambi was another member. In his 1993 talk, Mervyn summed up his perspective which I have not merely inherited but actively share and wish to remind readers of at the present moment of collective contemplation of Constitutional reform:

“My own approach to the core issue–the harrowing Sri Lankan crisis—betrays, I admit, an internationalist bias. But in this age of ethnicity, break-up of nation-states, steady erosion of national sovereignty, preventive diplomacy, humanitarian intervention and a global communication system that steadily shrinks the world, I do not need to apologize for this line of inquiry.” (Crisis Commentaries, p 171)   

Prof GH Peiris has concluded his multi-part response to my articles. I shall, as the author of the original articles which triggered the debate, reciprocate by exercising my right of reply and as convention goes, be the one to put an end to this exchange.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    This article is punnakku for Tamils. I am against exploiting poor Tamils. I like when LTTE – RUMP is exploited. Tamils like Catalonia in Sinhale – North. Anyway, Why do we need need to eliminate people elected president and replace that with parliament elected Prime minister. UNP has a long line of idiots and thieves. when will Sionhala going to be saved ?. Some people say, the triump is to get rid of MY3 and get Ranil their who emptied the central bank and brought EPF and state bank almost to the bankruptcy

    • 3

      The safety of Sinhala is only possible when Sinhala become an independent Nation. So, division of the island of Srilanka is only way that will ensure the needed Buddhist only Sinhala only Nation. You need to erect a wall surrounding Sinhala only Nation to protect internal and external intervention. In this Nation, only Buddhist can live (if any body wants to live they have to change to Buddhism) everything in Sinhala (no Tamil, no English), everyone should wear national Sinhala dress and everyone should eat Sinhala food only. This is the way 2500 years Sinhala Buddhist civilisation taught us!

      • 1

        Ajith are you are the reincarnation of VP? or somehow escaped from Nandikadal?

        He wanted something similar what you have described, a separate country.
        The only difference was that he wanted a Tamils only country.
        Ghosts of that self-proclaimed country are still there, where only in four districts you don’t have a Sinhala speaking child to take 5th-grade exam.
        But Tamil students can get their education in all other districts, and they sit for the 5th-grade exam.
        Didn’t hear they complain that they don’t have a school in their language.

        In Sri Lanka even the opposition leader is a Tamil person and even the Cheif justice was a Tamil few years back.
        Even now we have a notorious central bank looter as well.
        Well, in the so-called Eeelam, all non-Tamils were dead.
        In the south of Sri Lanka, you see everything in the Tamil language even bus tickets.
        Wonder what fonts they had in so-called Eelam.
        Tamils live in Colombo Kandy Galle where ever they want, did not see any of them having any problem recently.

        Wake up, dear!
        Sinhalese don’t dream what you dream, it is your dream to have a Tamil only country and probably start killing all non-Tamils.
        Sinhalese don’t think they speak the oldest language on earth, nor they think they are the purest form of some race.

        It is sad that E.V Ramasami could not get a Dravidian country when British gave everything to North Indian Hindus.
        Tamils have an indigenous culture separate from North India and it should be recognized at where it belongs.
        Why do you hate Sinhalese Buddhist for that?
        Because they built and sustained a culture and a language that is unique to this Island, and the government is bound to protect that unique culture?

        • 1

          Your knowledge, thoughts and attitude do not permit you to accept the fact and reality.VP never wanted a separate state for Tamils only. VP is much more cultured human than you and your brutal culture. Are you not ashamed of murdering a child (VP’s son) who is nothing to do with war? Don’t speak lies. Who governs the nation? Was it VP? Jaffna was under Sinhala military control from 1995. There are over 100000 Sinhala military in every corner of Jaffna. You say there is no Sinhala school to a Sinhala child to take grade 5 exam. If that is the case, What was Rajapakse doing then, What is Sirisena doing now? I don’t hate Sinhalese or Buddhists. I hate those who are against to equality, those who are against to human rights. I hate those who use Buddhism card to create violence and hate against Tamils and Muslims or poor Sinhalese.

          • 0

            “VP never wanted a separate state for Tamils only. VP is much more cultured human than you and your brutal culture.

            >> Says who, you.
            We all saw what happened to a school girl in your so-called perfect purified culture.
            It’s for some Swiss Franks, I don’t know what to say.

            “Are you not ashamed of murdering a child (VP’s son) who is nothing to do with war?

            I am sad he was born as the son of VP.
            How many innocent children died during the war? How many are dying today?
            Looks like you want to continue doing what VP did, but for the children of Sinhalese.

            There are over 100000 Sinhala military in every corner of Jaffna.

            Total military number is around 160000, you say every corner has more than 100000.
            Probably you see Jaffna as a straight line with only a starting corner.
            What you don’t say is now in Jaffna there is a normal life, schools hospitals, businesses functioning.
            8 years ago it was a minefield.
            Iraq is still a warzone.
            Even today in Kashmir a soldier died.
            Appreciate the fact no one is murdered now.
            It may not be the one you wished, an exclusively Tamil country.
            But hey, Santa doesn’t give you everything, does he?

            “If that is the case, What was Rajapakse doing then, What is Sirisena doing now?”
            >> Not much apart from looting.

            ” I hate those who use Buddhism card to create violence and hate against Tamils and Muslims or poor Sinhalese.”
            You clearly hate someone, and you try to project that to others.
            So looks like only one party is at fault here, and the other party is innocent as rabbits.
            At least you accepted you are a terrorist sympathizer on an online forum.

            • 1

              “We all saw what happened to a school girl in your so-called perfect purified culture.
              It’s for some Swiss Franks, I don’t know what to say.”
              So what? There are hundreds of such incidents happened in the South and North. I am not saying that our culture is purified as some of you talk about 2500 years Sinhala culture. This is nothing to do with govt policies or Sinhala military. Have you heard about Kirishanthi murder? Some statistics for you. According to police statistics, incidents of rape have increased by nearly 20 percent in the last two years, with 4,393 cases registered during 2012-2014 as compared to 3,624 in 2010-2012.

              “I am sad he was born as the son of VP.”
              You are not bothered about the murder of a child by a Sinhala soldier. So, if a child is murdered by a Sinhala soldier you are happy.

              “Total military number is around 160000, you say every corner has more than 100000.” please find below some statistics about true numbers.

              We know from defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapkasa himself that the total size of the army at the end of the war was 300,000 (with 450,000 total military personnel)
              The reports estimates that in 2014, there were at least 160,000 almost entirely Sinhalese soldiers stationed in the north.
              Fonseka told state-run Independent Television Network. “Our strength is 200,000 and it will become 300,000 soon. – Global security

      • 1

        The critical issue is physically moving Tamil speakers outside NE in to the NE. When the discussion of this subject takes the center stage you guys will be forced to rollback your separatist stance. Who wants a reenactment of a Rohingia drama?

        • 0

          I know your foolish argument for decades. It is not worth an answer.

          • 0


            There is no answer that question. We insist that Tamil homeland should accommodate ALL Tamil speaking people. To demand otherwise is height of hypocrisy.


        • 2

          somass ji

          “The critical issue is physically moving Tamil speakers outside NE in to the NE. “

          It would be much easier to send you and your fellow Sinhala/Buddhist noisy minority fascists back to your ancestral homeland in South India.

          There used to be Sinhala settlements in some parts of old Tamilaham and a Sinhala Nachchiar temple in Tanjur.

    • 1


      “when will Sionhala going to be saved ?”

      Saved from who? From their own inherent insecurity demons?

    • 4

      In my opinion the country of Sri Lanka would have been much better off if the British payed attention to the Kandyans. Don’t forget it was the Kandyans who on TWO DIFFERENT OCCASIONS suggested that Sri Lanka should have a federal structure divided into three areas: the north/east, south/west, and the central.

    • 2

      Dr. DJ seems to be slowly drifting back from supporting the outright chauvinists in the J.O.
      ” Had we implemented provincial devolution and reduced the intensity of the crisis before it ballooned and impacted upon India’s interests, we could have avoided external intervention. “
      But what he says above is hard to reconcile with his dire warnings a couple of months ago about “existential threats” from Tamil Nadu.
      Which are we to take seriously?

      • 2

        old codger

        He takes 64 positions all at the same time. However the fact that he is a public racist remains unchanged.

        Or is it the case of Hindians catching him by his b***s?

  • 0

    If the 13th amendment was implemented we would not have this on going crisis of resettlement and Tamil detainees. . We all know what happend after the Premasdasa-LTTE honeymoon collapsed.
    Hundreds of Policemen, Tamil Civilians and Muslims in mosques died after war escalated in 1990 .

    It is too late it was history

  • 1

    There is a strong mind set which equates federalism with separation. These twits just refuse to see that the stability of India is attributable to federal form of governance. The constitution exercise is a waste of time but it buys time.

  • 1

    if acc to dayan our constitution is to prevent an indian invasion by retaining provincial councils
    we might as well stick to our present one

  • 0

    The Sinhala Buddhists are in general impermeably and stoically obdurate on the national question; it is because of people like Dayan De Siva. In essence, this article is not about advocating “dawk”, but about narcissistically showing off to the academic fraternity that Dayan is the best out there! He is constantly having to prove to the other of his credentials and political nuances; it is because, he never feels that he has been accepted as an academic or even a worthwhile political scientist! This man’s quest for recognition has no bounds!

  • 2

    Mr Jayatilleke, there is a great link here to an article on the North Korean involvement in the 1971 Insurgency. It has a nice pix of your late father, one of the best ever insightful journalists and opinion makers of Ceylon/Sri lanka. I used to read Lanka Guardian that was edited by him as a teenager too. Whatever you say, he was a remarkable very well informed man who made so many predictions that came true and he was a man of principle. Best ever foreign affairs expert journalist Ceylon had.

    Here is the link. This photo must be from the 1980s. They have some facts wrong.


    I remember in March of 1971 two of their diplomats paying a courtesy call on my old man.As is pattern, diplomats drop into see key people in different administrations and this was supposed to be a “Avurudu call” The bugger in a badly cut suit with a Kim Il Sung button on his lapel kept looking behind our curtain; what a paranoid fuck we thought;. and when they left he said “Happy new Year and to a New Government in the new year” and laughed. We had no idea until after it all exploded. The government kicked them out and seized their cars too. The Mercedes 280 Automatic that became Mrs/ B’s official car was that afterwards. She never bought never cars for the PM or even GG/President back then. Just an anecdote for you. North Koreans are a despicable regime of brainwashed people who do not have freedom of information. They created a God cult(like LTTE with VP) and that is what the JVP would have done too if they succeeded or be like PolPot in their class envious butchery.

    • 2

      Mano Ratwatte

      “North Koreans are a despicable regime of brainwashed people who do not have freedom of information.”

      Are you sure we have free media? The media is free so long as it is free to manufacture consent among paranoid stupid people. If necessary scare mongering is part of main stream media, as you would have noticed in Dayan’s typing. There are seasoned well established journalist who are willing to provide free services to the rulers or the fascist elements within the Sinhala/Buddhist ruling or aspiring establishments.

      Dayan/Wimal close cooperation definitely indicates that such cult figures are being manufactured here by them and others.

  • 0

    You mention Kumar Rupesinghe a lot here. Interesting character who thrust himself on the first family back then. Became Chairman NYSC on that basis and carried on a bullshit leftist Janaweygaya cult and newspaper to try to promote himself. Bugger was the first one to use the word “moratorium” in context of arguing SL should stop paying their debt to IMF/WB during the massive food crisis in SL in the 1970s which led to SL sending desperate delegations asking for food aid to all the major Western and Commie nations. He used to love to pontificate when he visited my parents and smoked the shit out of Benson and Hedges and was very generous in helping himself to scotch; so much for a people’s aragalaya type!!! Maybe he has changed now and is no longer promoting himself.

    Damn I know it because we were the dumb foolish socialist shit Janaweygaya wing too. My mother used to go their printing office and volunteer and I used to go with her too as a kid. They did this Stupid Communist China like ballets that had no Lankan components for the 1976 Non Aligned conference just like Commie China and Commie North Korea had cult worship pageants. Aiyo Aiyo is what I can say now.

    • 0

      That is a “no holds barred” expose’ of behind the scenes of seventies. These have gotten much worse in recent times and there are no signs of reversal.
      Did not Kumar Rupasinghe try to sue Norway (in local courts at that)for stopping his supply of Benson and Hedges?
      By the way any idea as to what Dayan is up to?

  • 1

    Gosh, what has Dayan been smoking, or did he have a bad dream..he himself being dragged off to the Hague, so got up in the night and wrote the above to cover his behind?

  • 0

    There are times at which the hardliners on the opposite camp are compelled to concede the truth.
    Let me take, ‘Had the B-C Pact been implemented in 1957, we would have had devolution beyond the district from 1957 onward and not have had Prabhakaran instead, or he would not have been anywhere as effective even if he emerged to wage war’ as the axis of my point of view.
    * * *
    The above position of Dayan is not a sign of his wisdom but a signal that he has been alerted.

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