By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“Ranil used the term asymmetrical federalism, which is federalism [but] with more powers given to the Tamil Northeast…” ~ (Solheim, in To End a Civil War, Salter, p96)
“…the only viable solution was…a federal constitution…” ~ (Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, SJV Chelvanayakam memorial lecture, April 2015)
“…Which makes it clear that it is a federal state, but without the label” ~ (Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Salter, Ibid p 59)
When the Sri Lankan Government keeps saying that the proposed Constitution will be unitary in character, why should we suspect and mistrust it? One reason is simple. Recall the phrase “would you buy a used car from this man?” Well, would you buy a new Constitution from the same folk who defrauded the entire country by pulling the Central Bank bond scam?
The less flippant answer is that extreme suspicion and vigilance is needed over the likelihood, nay, probability, of Sri Lanka’s unitary status being constitutionally scammed because two of the three leading figures of the Sri Lankan government today are on the record proposing non-unitary, federal systems.
I hope I will be pardoned by readers for commencing the presentation of evidence of a federalist Constitutional bond scam by recycling something I surfaced in recent articles. I have already identified the mother of the new federalizing Constitution, namely, ex-president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who as far back as 1994 is quoted as having said:
“…The present provincial council system is useless…The word ‘federal’ has been abused in the past. Therefore we will avoid that word and implement devolution in a meaningful manner. The country can be divided into five units of devolution, and wide powers can be granted to them. It will be possible to find a solution to the ethnic problem by bringing the North and the Tamil areas of the East under one unit and giving it the necessary powers”. ’ (Tamil Times, 15 July 1994)
But as we shall see in a moment, this turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg.
The “present provincial council system” which she described as “useless”, was precisely the one that her late husband welcomed, defended and lost his life defending. In fact that “useless” system of provincial councils was almost exactly the one that Vijaya Kumaratunga and the Left, including Dr. Colvin R de Silva and Pieter Keuneman, had designed in considerable detail (the printed text was over 40 pages), over several weeks of deliberation, and had been agreed upon by President Jayewardene in mid-1986 at the Political Parties Conference (PPC), which itself had been convened upon a written request made by Vijaya to that President. Certainly Chandrika’s fealty to the policies of her late husband was far less than Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s fealty to the policies of her late husband, which she would constantly invoke.
Two decades later, as the Yahapalana government came into office, she reiterated her commitment to federalism in her SJV Chelvanayakam memorial lecture in 2015 and confirmed that her efforts at constitution making as President in the 1990s were of an explicitly and decidedly federal character:
“Hence we adopted a strategy of honest, public discourse to inform the people that the only viable solution was to choose the path of dialogue, negotiations and peace achieved by means of a federal constitution and by building a cohesive Nation and an inclusive State.”
By regarding federalism as “the only viable solution” and seeking to implement it, Chandrika not only avoids the question of why her late father SWRD Bandaranaike did not acceded to SJV Chelvanakayam’s federal demand and opted instead for devolution/autonomy within the unitary Soulbury framework, but also why her mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike regarded federalism as a deadly danger to the nation.
While we have established beyond reasonable doubt the federalist commitment of ex-President Kumaratunga and therefore the fact that she is the Mother of Federalization in Sri Lanka, we now have to conduct the paternity test to establish who the Father of Federalization is.
The DNA test leaves no ambiguity about paternity. The evidence comes not from a hostile Sinhala xenophobe but from friendly Western sources. Mark Salter, formerly of the BBC, wrote a large, well-researched volume on the Norwegian peace effort in Sri Lanka entitled ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ published by the prestigious Hurst, London. The book was quite sympathetic to the Norwegians and the west in general. In it he quotes Erik Solheim pretty conclusively on federalism, and what is worse, an ethnically lopsided model of federalism:
“Ranil used the term asymmetrical federalism, which is federalism [but] with more powers given to the Tamil Northeast. At this point such a solution would have been acceptable to nearly all Tamils and a vast majority of Sinhalese as well. Then there could have been a referendum: police, land, and other such powers would be given over. And Prabhakaran could have been the Prime Minister of that area.” (Salter, p 96)
Salter’s quote from Jayampathy Wickremaratne, described as “current advisor to the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs”, clearly gives the lie to his current, publicly stated position that the intention is to retain the unitary character of the state and that there is no covert federalist purpose at work:
“In 1999 we had a strategy workshop and thought we should propose something different: ‘Sri Lanka shall be one’…An independent state consisting of institutions of the centre and the regions, who shall exercise power in accordance with the constitution. Which makes it clear that it is a federal state, but without the label”. (Salter, p 59)
To conclude, one must raise and confront the question as to why the Prime Minister would advocate federalism and such a biased form of federalism too. The answer that Solheim reveals in Salter’s book is disturbing indeed and reveals an anti-Sinhala racism:
“Moreover Helgesen came away with the impression that Wickremesinghe’s basic agenda was to ‘let the Tamils have whatever is needed, short of independence’…Wickremesinghe’s essential agenda was ‘…liberalise, privatise’. And in this context, Solheim recalls, the fact that he [Wickremesinghe] and Helgesen were conservatives ‘definitely helped’.” (Salter p78)
“Further he [Solheim] suggests that ‘Ranil took the view that the Tamils are generally more successful, that the Sinhalese should learn from the Tamils, [and that way] Sri Lanka would develop better. Economic prosperity was his agenda.’ ” (Salter p 96)
So, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s vision of “economic prosperity” is revealed as one that isn’t about building a strong nation or state. His ethnic and economic perspectives are two sides of the same coin, or more accurately, his is an ethno-economic perspective, biased towards one and against the other ethnic community.