By M. A. Sumanthiran –
The NPC Election Campaign took a new turn last week with the government and many of its hard line allies protesting against the TNA Election ‘Manifesto’ released in Jaffna on 3rd Sept 2013. This is a new trend that commenced with the government ‘s disapproval of the TNA’s Chief Ministerial choice. It is interesting that the government arrogates to itself the right to approve or disapprove of other political parties’ choices and decisions. In fact the TNA doesn’t even seem to have the right afforded to other parties in the country. Not merely does the government attempt to foist criminal elements upon the Tamil speaking people through their own party, but they are unashamedly trying to deny the TNA its prerogative of nominating decent, upright, educated candidates for election to the Northern Province.
It is this patronising attitude that has led them to comment on the Election Statement put forward by the Tamil people. The fact that the statement was issued by the TNA – the credible representatives of the Tamil people – clearly entails that there is no necessity for the statement to have the approval of the government or those saddled with making the government’s case. The TNA is not a minor coalition partner willing to take orders from the government, however much this reality grates on a government intent on keeping the Tamil people subservient to a numerical majority. In their zeal to smear our Election Statement, they have accused the TNA of violating the constitution. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The content of this Statement is not new. It contains the political positions of the Manifesto of 2010 for which the Tamil people gave the TNA a clear mandate. These positions have been articulated by the ITAK for over 60 years. Indeed, the call for a federal structure of government from the Tamil people and fronted by the ITAK emerged only during the 1950’s. It was first articulated by SWRD Bandaranaiake a quarter of a century before in 1926 as the best form of government for ‘Ceylon’ when he delivered a series of lectures in Jaffna and penned six letters to the Ceylon Morning Leader.
The Kandyan League articulated this same idea when they made recommendations for a federal form of government to imperial commissions. More recently, on the 5th December 2002 in Oslo, the Sri Lankan government delegation led by Prof. G.L. Pieris, the current Minister of External affairs “…agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self determination in areas of historical habitation of the tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.”
The TNA’s election Manifesto of 2010, which is quoted in the NPC Election Statement 2013, does not move an inch beyond what Bandaranaike and the Kandyan League articulated long years ago, or to which Prof G.L. Pieris agreed on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka.
What I understatedly call ‘interesting’ – indeed ‘staggering’ may be a more apt description – is that when the TNA articulates the very solutions that SWRD Bandaranaiake and GL Pieris previously committed to, and indeed which are contained in several proposals of the Sri Lankan government between 1993 and 2008, that same position becomes ‘extremist’, ‘racist’, or ‘separatist’. This is further proof that the Tamil people or their political representatives do not in fact have equal rights to the Sinhalese people and their political representatives. It seems the Tamil people are considered second-class citizens after all!
It is a goebellsian lie to claim that the TNA’s position on the need for federalism is a form of secessionism. When our Election Statement refers to “our right to exercise our option to determine what is best for us to ensure self government in the Tamil Speaking North-East of the country within a united Sri Lanka”, that is precisely what we mean. But in the gaze of this regime and its apologists – united is separate. Analogies to an Orwellian dystopia have been made before, and this is not surprising, for with this government war is indeed peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. It is essential for reconciliation, therefore, that vicious lies about the ‘other’ – whether about infertility inducing sweets being distributed at Muslim owned clothing stores, or about Tamil federalists being secessionists – are rubbished and rubbished early. The purveyors of this form of hate have no place in a plural society.
In considering the specific positions taken by the TNA, it is appropriate to consider the proposal and promises made by the Sri Lankan state itself. The 1992 Parliamentary Select Committee proposals (also called the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals) to improve upon the 13 Amendment suggested the abolition of the concurrent list or radically downsizing it by moving those powers into the provincial list. Although it claimed that there should not be provisions for merger of the provinces, it suggested an Apex Council for only the North and East as a special case.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge’s proposals of 1995, 1997 and August 2000 abandoned the unitary state model, and although it did not explicitly describe the state as federal, in content it was in fact federal. There was no concurrent list and the question of merger of the North and East was left open to be decided in consultation with the Tamil and Muslim parties. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was a member of the cabinet when all three government proposals were put forward and the new Constitution Bill was brought to Parliament with cabinet approval as a government bill.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself appointed the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) and an Experts Committee and addressed them both in July 2006. This is what he said:
“We must explore past attempts from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact onwards. We must draw appropriate lessons from the experience of other countries. I will not impose a solution on the country. But you will through your deliberations provide a solution to the national problem…
“People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement, without over-reliance on the centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities…
“In sum, any solution needs to as a matter of urgency devolve power for people to take charge of their own destiny. This has been tried out successfully in many parts of the world. There are many examples from around the world that we may study as we evolve a truly Sri Lankan constitutional framework including our immediate neighbour, India…
“Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country given the background to the conflict.” [emphasis added]
The Experts Committee made a recommendation for extensive devolution of power and proposed three different options on the question of the merger of the North and East.
After the war came to an end, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the government of Sri Lanka made several assurances to the UN and to India through joint communiqués and to the international community that “ …the full implementation of the 13 Amendment to the constitution and building upon it so as to achieve meaningful devolution” would be the primary means of reconciliation.
There are two limbs to this promise. The first is the full implementation of the 13 Amendment which is already part of the constitution and contains a measure of devolution in respect of police and land powers to the provinces, as well as provision for amalgamation of two to three adjacent provinces. The relevant decision makers in this regard are those within the relevant Provinces only, and not those from other Provinces.
Therefore, by calling for the full implementation of the 13 Amendment, the TNA is upholding the constitution. It is also an extension of our cooperation to the President to fulfil the promises he is now tasked with doing.
The second limb of the President’s promise is that of going beyond the 13 Amendment in the direction of more meaningful devolution. This can only mean movement in the direction of a more federal structure. Therefore the TNA’s call for meaningful devolution in a federal structure must be construed as an act of cooperation with the President and the government of Sri Lanka in fulfilling their own promises. How this cooperation may be termed as ‘violating the constitution’, ‘ LTTE agenda’, and ‘separatist’ is mindboggling to say the least!
What must be made clear is that the TNA will not bow to the reactions of all and sundry. We are unwaveringly convinced of our stance and will not be bullied into distancing ourselves from statements that we have made. As elected representatives of the Tamil people, we therefore reiterate our People’s right to exercise self-determination through a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. We therefore insist on the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment and movement beyond as a necessary albeit insufficient step to resolving the national question.
*The author, M. A. Sumanthiran (B.Sc, LL.M) is a Member of Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a senior practicing lawyer, prominent Constitutional and Public Law expert and civil rights advocate