By Kumar David–
The present constitution must be repealed and replaced by a new instrument founded on democratic principles; the state must be transformed, secularism enshrined and minority rights guaranteed. Nothing less can be the left’s foundational position, notwithstanding tactical compromises that may need to be made along the way for temporary alliances. The goal of the democratic revolution is bourgeois democracy and a unified nation state: that is, guaranteeing democratic rights and freedoms, anchoring the division of power between the legislative, executive and judicial, making the repressive apparatus of the state (military and police) subservient to the public interest, guaranteeing the rights of minorities, and unifying the national market.
Unless and until we are well on the way along this road Lanka cannot be said to be a democratic nation in any serious sense. We have made progress in consolidating a national market but on all the other counts Lanka has slid back since independence from the British Raj in 1948. India, despite hideous shortcomings, is ahead in fulfilling these democratic tasks. All Lankan governments have been opponents of democracy but none has been as brazen, open and repressive as the Mahinda Rajapaksa UPFA regime. The LSSP, CP and DLFP leaderships are deeply and inextricably woven into this fabric, hence this call for a left programme is not addressed to them; that would be a waste of time.
This letter is the fifth and final in my offerings towards drafting a programme for the left, but it keeps the door open for bold liberals and democrats. Previous letters dealt with an overview, economic policy, industry, and the rural sector, foreign investment and services.
The nature of the state
My first letter said that the central or ‘over determining’ issue now was the state, by which I meant not only that it was the seat of corruption and abuse of power, or that it was the source of the breakdown of law and order. The central thought was that the regime-state nexus will in the future become the agent of a politico-military dictatorship. I am perfectly serious; I see today’s militarization, abduction, repression and brazenness leading to an explicit power grab when this government is obliged to relinquishing power due to, say, an electoral defeat. Have no doubts, at such a time this regime will make an unconstitutional attempt to obstruct the transfer of power; vide the stratagems of Egypt’s desperate military notwithstanding the revolution.
Let us not be blind and foolish; military dictatorship in Egypt, Syria, yesterday’s Burma, and military coups and takeovers all across Africa, are not exceptions but the new normal. Everywhere, including Lanka, attempts at dictatorship can be beaten back only by preparing the people to resist and creating the requisite public consciousness – a task for the left – and also by internationalising the issue.
I must hurry on for reasons of space; my editor is generous but not munificent! The “What Constitution” question has been much discussed and my summary needs be no more than a few lines. Out goes the executive presidency, the privileged place of Buddhism and Sinhala (the left’s constitutional objectives are secularism and pluralism); out go provisions inclining towards the Public Security Act and draconian laws; out go the 6th amendment and the 18-th amendment’s appointment powers (presidential elections are irrelevant if the executive presidency is abolished); and out goes a cowed and supine higher judiciary.
In comes protection of fundamental rights and group and minority rights; in comes prohibition of detention without charges beyond a very short period. In comes devolution of power and administration to the Tamil and Muslim in their areas of domicile – and to the Singhalese of course. A second chamber giving minorities a chance to block majoritarian constitutional excesses is desirable. I am open to discussion on the unit of devolution (except that minority units must be sufficiently large to exert power) since experience with Provincial Councils has been so negative; a corrupt, self-seeking, extra layer.
The national question
The left holds that the state in Lanka is Sinhala-Buddhist (SB). The reasons are plain and don’t need repetition. In keywords: hegemonic SB ideology, alienation of minorities from governance, military occupation of Tamil homelands, mono-ethnic military, rape and violence with political impunity, and so on. The left must engage itself in a duel to the death with SB chauvinism; this is self-evident and repetition bores me. I now go further, and say, a left programme must not limit itself to devolution but recognise the right of the Tamils to self-determination as per their free choice; but few will have the gall to join me.
I now turn to the duty of the left to combat narrow Tamil nationalism. I have blown myself hoarse denouncing Sinhala chauvinism, but the left must also countenance the blinkers of Tamil nationalism. The liberation of the Tamil people also means their liberation from illusions. To be truly free the Tamil mind must break with the preposterous outrage of residual loyalty to Prabakaran and the LTTE. One of Lanka’s left leaders and his party have fallen under the spell of venerating the LTTE as though it were an expiation of Sinhala guilt. Such is not Marxism; it impedes liberation of the Tamils from their own opium.
The left has excoriated degenerate and reactionary Sinhala-Buddhist ideology, but it must also call a Tamil spade a spade. It must tell the Tamil people what really the LTTE was. Yes the LTTE fought and died to overcome the oppression of Tamils; but it had a dark side to it. The LTTE was an agent of terrorism against Tamil political leaders, thinkers and ordinary people; it was an agent of terrorism against Sinhalese civilians and leaders. The excuse that state terrorism was a great deal worse is entirely true, but this plea cuts no ice in the political and intellectual armoury of “liberation” movements.
The LTTE ethnic cleansed the Muslims and earned itself their undying hatred. It was asinine not to grasp fortune by the fetlock and take the NE provincial administration in 1987. If it had, Tamils may now be more comfortable. Did that thick-set person of little articulation from a small peninsula in a tin-pot island, hallucinate that he could murder the prospective prime minister of a powerful neighbouring country, and along this road lead his people to a shackled liberation? (Pardon the oxymoron but it is entirely appropriate). These blunders apart the supreme failing of the LTTE was ideological. It subordinated the political to the military and there lay the inevitability of its obliteration. But what else can one expect from a petty-bourgeois outfit ignorant of Marxism?
The emotional and intellectual energy of the Tamil people must be freed from fantasy if they are to achieve liberation from oppression by the Sinhala-Buddhist state. It is the duty of the left to tell the truth about state power to the Sinhala people; it is also incumbent on the left to do some straight talking with the Tamils.