27 November, 2020

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The Paradigm Shift That Northern Chief Minister Calls For

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Most of the political analysis at the present time revolves around the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.   The latest are the two options that the government appears to be developing, wooing supportive countries to come up with a counter-resolution, and wooing South Africa to assist in the formulation of a truth and reconciliation process as an alternative to an international investigation into war crimes.  But there are also other important developments taking place in the country which require equivalent analysis.  One of the most important of these is the relationship between the central government and provincial council and the sharing of power between them.  The root cause of the war, which has led to the charges of war crimes, was the dispute about the sharing of power between the Sinhalese-dominated central government and the Tamil-majority parts of the country, specifically the Northern and Eastern provinces.

The issue of power sharing between the central government and provincial councils has come to the fore since last September, when the Northern Provincial Council began to function for the first time since the system of devolution was set up 26 years ago.  At the present time, it is the only opposition-led provincial council.  The other eight provincial councils are all controlled and dominated by the government.  The Northern Provincial Council is acting as a true opposition, seeking to expand its powers and to challenge the central government’s unwillingness to engage in even a limited form of power-sharing.  The views therefore that emanate from the Northern Provincial Council are a challenge to the government.  The most recent challenge is the resolution passed by it that calls for direct air links between the Jaffna and the southern parts of India as well as the development of the harbor in the Jaffna peninsula that could facilitate trade links with India, which the government argues are outside the purview of the provincial councils.

The ideal situation would be one in which the central government and provincial councils do not work in opposition to each other in a zero-sum game, in which one side gains and the other side loses.  The better way forward would be for all sides to gain through cooperation. But for this to happen there needs to be a change of spirit.  There is no doubt that external relations are the preserve of the central government.  But the provincial councils are entitled to contribute to the policy discussion, which has been the case in this instance.  The Northern Provincial Council is not setting up its own airports and harbours, but is calling on the central government to do so.   The approach that the central government ought to take and the spirit that should guide it was dealt with at a conference on Socio-Economic Development in the Northern and Eastern Provinces organized by the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka at which top academics made presentations.

Three Failures

The special feature at this conference was the invitation to the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council C V Wigneswaran to be the keynote speaker at this prestigious conference involving the academic community.  The speeches given by academic presenters at the conference focused on well researched numbers and statistics that gave a comprehensive view of the problems to which answers had to be found.  On the other hand, the need for a fundamental change of approach was found in the speech delivered by the Chief Minister.  His speech gave evidence of his grasp of the overall policy situation in the country.  He spoke the blunt truth, but in a way that was meant to educate rather than to attack.  In his speech he dealt with fundamental issues of governance that bear upon the fate of the entire country.  He noted that there were three areas of policy failure in the government’s approach to the Northern Province, which have had consequences on the entire country and also affect its international relations.

Chief Minister Wigneswaran pointed out that Sri Lanka was a plural society in which there was a diversity of peoples.  Accordingly, the effort to create one nation, by using the values and symbols of the majority community was not appropriate.   In an apparent confirmation of what he said, the national anthem that was sung at the commencement of the conference was in the Sinhala language only.   As a result the Chief Minister was unable to join in, for it was not sung in his own language.  He said, “There is no point in declaring that there are no minorities in the country and that we are one people and thereafter banning the singing of the national anthem in the language of one segment of the people.  Instead of a pluralistic approach we have taken a majoritarian approach.”  However, indicating that his message had been heard, the organizers ensured that the vote of thanks at the conclusion of the conference was made in all three languages, including Tamil.

The Chief Minister also spoke of the importance of economic development that was meant to benefit the people.  He said that “the failure to be people-centric and attempt top-down approaches to development is another policy failure.”  The government has been focusing on big infrastructure projects that do not give priority to the people who live by the side of those big projects.   They live in huts while next to them are big new government buildings and big wide roads that connect the North with the capital city. But in the case of development that benefits all, there is a need for consultation and for looking into the specific problems of each part of the country.  The Northern Provincial Council’s proposal for an airport and harbor is an engagement on their part with the government, that ought to be taken up.

The third area of policy failure that the Chief Minister pointed to was government’s priority given to national security over democratic freedoms.  He said that there was “a critical need to transform the central government’s counter-terrorism mindset focused on state security the post-war need for human security. Steps must be taken immediately to confine the military to barracks and to formulate a plan for a phased withdrawal from the Northern Province.  This in turn should be followed by meaningful security sector reforms by the government.  Sri Lanka does not need to have such a huge defence structure and manpower.”  The military is an institution that epitomizes centralized and top-down decision making that is appropriate to situations where two sides are each trying to harm each other and is less suitable to be an economic or development partner in peace time.

Continuing Goodwill

The speech delivered by the Chief Minister was evidence of the continuing good will and sense of realism within the mainstream Tamil polity that sees itself as a part of the national polity and having a stake in the reformation of the whole.  The intellectual rigour of the Chief Minister’s speech, together with his moral authority, made a positive impact on the audience of top level academics and other special invitees.  The invitation extended to the Chief Minister was also noteworthy on account of the resolution that was passed a few weeks earlier by the Northern Provincial Council calling for an international investigation into war crimes.  The action of the Northern Provincial Council in passing such a resolution could have been expected to upset and anger the government leadership.   There is a need for overcoming the past and not getting stuck in it. This is best done through a political solution in which there is mutual forgiveness and reconciliation including making amends for wrongs done.  This again requires the participation of both the central government and Northern Provincial Council.

In his own speech, and diverting from his prepared text, the Chief Minister said that he was prepared to consider working within a solution that was less than the ideal that was required, even though other leaders of his party held a different opinion.   He said that there were many agreements and commission reports to draw insights and concepts from.  He said that good laws could be subverted by bad rulers, whereas even bad laws could be used to promote the people’s interests by good rulers.  Even the limited powers available within the existing framework of devolution, and available to the Northern  Provincial Council, can be utilized for the good of the people if no obstacles are placed by the central government.   It is important that the government should respond in a constructive manner both to the Northern Chief Minister’s speech and also to the resolutions of the Northern Provincial Council.

As the Sunday Times newspaper editorially commented, “Utilising Jaffna and Trincomalee as hubs for greater inter-connectivity with the South Indian region (not just Tamil Nadu, but the states of Kerala, Andhra, Telangana, Karnataka and even Maharashtra) is something that could bring in huge economic dividends, not just to North Sri Lanka but to the entire country.”   Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s speech suggests that there needs to be a paradigm shift, and a whole new way of looking at problems, so that the provincial councils are able to work with the central government to deliver benefits to the people they are accountable to, and thereby to develop the trust of people in the different levels of government.  This is the type of creative, forward looking and mutually beneficial solution that Sri Lanka needs today.  The forthcoming Geneva session of the UNHRC needs to be dealt with in a similar spirit.

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Latest comments

  • 10
    0

    Mahinda did Paradigm shift for himself to stay in power and all others did since 1948

  • 7
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    JP as usual your exclusive focus on the NPC rather than the rot in the rest of the Provincial Councils due to corruption from the center makes your article rather unbalanced and futile.
    The fact is that the NPC is the only PC which is doing a proper job because all the Sinhala Provincial Councils are useless and CORRUPT and frankly run by morons who do not know the purpose of the PC and think that PCs are for the Concillers to merely enrich themselves. This is because the political system and culture of the south and indeed the East is highly corrupt and merely puppets of the centre.
    YOu needs to speak of all of this. The only PC in the country with the intellectual and moral capacity to act as provincial representatives is the NPC. This is because Jarapassa regime and UNP’s Ranil Wickramasinhe are equally corrupt and provincial councils are puppets of the Jarapasssa regime…

    • 2
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      Why is the President refusing to let the elected NPC have the administratove power orthepower to develop economically?

      • 0
        0

        Luxmi, can you Lux-me nicely, I’ll tell the answer.

  • 7
    1

    It is not too late for this government to make the paradigm shift. In fact it is never too late to do what is right.
    Jehan Perera, a very good article indeed. You have interpreted the CM’s points with insight and much wisdom. It requires two to tango and I hope the government joins the tango for which the CM is already waiting on the floor. Would it, considering it’s paranoia, hegemonic political attitudes, majoritarianism, attitude towards development, understanding of democracy, self aggrandising leadership, and of course its obvious inability to engage in forthright discussions?

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

    • 3
      0

      I think the LEVEL of corruption that is being practised in the country today is beyond all bearing. Any sane ones would sense it today than in the past few months. May be even these levels have reached beyond the control of lanken police due to the fact, that they the rulers deliberately did not show genuine interest of solving them at its primary levels. I dont think even if any other govt would get elected would be easy to hold it under the control. All these are because of MR^s thuggish govt that made all effort to do things with impunity. RW is very right repeating that implementation of 17 Amendment could have made all doors solving many of the crimes held in the country today. But people guided by IRC rascals failed to see the essence of it. At least this time, if the VOTERS would give them a CLEAR MESSAGE would be the great hope of the many that long dignity of life, respect and the rule of law in the country.

  • 1
    8

    Palalay International and the KKS Harbour are already on the drawing board.

    If the CM is keen, it should have been a nice plea to expedite these projects with the promise of full cooperation rather than pretending them to be the TNA manifesto items.

    The most intriguing part of Dr Jehan’s write up are the demands which he attributes to the CM.

    These are the demands for total demilitarization ,of the North .

    Bring the Army back to the Barracks .

    And the demand to curtail the Nation’s Military strength.

    Wonder why the last item in particular is so important for the CM and his LTTE proxy TNA handlers.

    Did the 13 A have these conditions too?.

    Cameron , Harper , Pillai with the US Ambassador in Colombo are now planning an Ukraine, with Libya or a Syria appearing as virtually impossible.

    That is simply because our Armed Forces are totally embedded with the great majority of the inhabitant population.

    The concern of the ordinary punters is whether this Vellala CM can last?.

    LTTE proxy Sambandan and his new posse which is the trio of Terror Sira, Diaspora Prema and Senathiraja,are on a definite collision course with the CM.

    CM’s BIL reckons Geneva decision is going to favour the CM.

    Can’t figure out what it means.

    GTF, TNGTE, and Tiger Reverend have been lobbying the US, Cameron, Harper like never before according to Suren Surendran from London.

    Ms Pillai has already delivered the UN verdict, —That is no mercy for Percy.

    Have the BIL, Nana and the CM got better clout than the Diaspora,the West and Ms Pillai combination?.

    Perhaps Dr Jehan may do an addendum to enlighten our great inhabitant population who are only interested in a peaceful existence with a chance to make a few quid to feed the kids.

    • 1
      0

      Palalay International and the KKS Harbour are already on the drawing board.

      what rubbish. The suggestion by Vigneswaran was dismissed by the GOSL
      as a ridiculous joke.

      An internatinal Harbour and Airport in the North is more economically viable and beneficial than the idling ones in the South.

  • 6
    1

    Lectures, talks, seminars and writings are of no effect on the ground reality.

    Wigneshvaran is living in a utopia which will never materialize with the Mahavamsa mind set of the Sinhalese majority and their rulers.

    Geneva must take concrete steps to give a powerful blow to the Mahavamsa mind set of the Sinhalese rulers to accept modern norms of behavior and governance, or else.

    Let’s be honest and face facts.

    Sinhalese society must be rehabilitated from this mind set just like the Nazi German society was rehabilitated.

    Then anti-Tamils pogroms and Mosque or Church destruction and religious intolerance will stop for good.

    All racist Buddha bhikkus must be locked up like what the British did when they ruled Ceylon.

    All these Pollyanna type of palavering won’t do the trick:

    Only shock and awe on the distorted mind set of the society and its rulers will do.

    • 3
      0

      I quite agree except the part where the Sinhala society “must be rehabilitated” suggesting that the Sinhalese people possess in them the ability to differentiate between the real and phony, which 66 years of history has shown to be untrue. When MR crowned himself with the 18A in supersonic speed, all that the Sinhalese majority can see was a victor against the Tamils, not a tyrant emerging from within. And as long as politicians wreak havoc by pitting the two races against each other, there cannot be any hope that reconciliation can ever be possible.

      That word “reconciliation” is but a mantra for the crafty politicians to maintain their grip on power. Reconciliation can never ever work for these two races. The Kalinga war, ferocious and bloody it was, was able to reform a blood-thirsty tyrant into a benevolent king and this credit, according to historians, should go to Buddhism but who would have imagined that a race that proudly labels itself with that same religion has produced bloody tyrants and murderers.

      CVW is a learned and polite person but his hope and enthusiasm is ill-placed. When the majority regime forcefully prevents the singing of the national anthem in their language, it cannot be by-passed as trivial. Sadly, it is a mindset prevalent to “beat into shape” all its minorities. Lalith Weeratunga is a pathetic liar. He had cited several years to fully implement the proposals of the LLRC. How long does it take to implement the singing of the national anthem in Tamil? Would it require millions of rupees to implement? In fact, what was already in place for decades was abruptly prevented, all in name of majoritarianism and “teach the Tamils lessons”.

      What is needed for both the races to move on is to go their separate ways. This would prevent wasting extremely useful resources and the respective races can then go on to charter their own future, instead of attacking each others backs.

      • 1
        0

        “What is needed for both the races to move on is to go their separate ways. “

        Since 2009 the end of the “war” the actions of the Rajapakses have driven the two communities wide apart than during the 30 years of “war”

        The ethinci gap is widening ….not just Tamil sinhla but Muslim sinhal, Christian Sinhala…..

    • 0
      2

      “Wigneshvaran is living in a utopia which will never materialize with the Mahavamsa mind set of the Sinhalese majority and their rulers.”

      yes, wigneswaran’s and your ancestors were still learning to walk upright, with the tail hanging when the Sinhala monks were writing the Mahawamsa, the oldest written book in the world.

      [Edited out]

      • 2
        0

        “the oldest written book in the world” can u provide any proof for your claim?

  • 2
    1

    Very fair comment by Jehan.
    In actual fact, what was originally envisaged in the provincial councils was to provide devolution to the the Tamil people of the north and the east, beginning with the so called development councils in the districts which came to be elevated to provincial councils in 1987 upon Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention with the councils envisaged to effectively function as glorified local government councils but with increasing powers centralized and vested in the executive president. The president (JRJ) then anticipated that he could enjoy unfettered powers centralised in himself at least in the Sinhala areas as an executive president with no LTTE interference. In no way is it decentralization or devolution but a proliferation of local government powers and functions with enormous sums of money spent on their elections and administrations a drain on the country’s economy. A simple question is whether a 13 A is essential for a province in the south. Correct me if I am wrong. Bensen

    • 1
      0

      You have it and you don’t have it. That is exactly what the pundits in New Delhi wanted. The Tamils problem was an opportunity in sizing up both the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The ingenious attempt at the 13A (a la the Indo Sri Lankan Accord) is a masterstroke for the shenanigans of ND where both parties will be kept under measured control. Unfortunately, both of them revolted. To think of it, the 13A is a sham.

  • 4
    0

    Once again CM Justice Wigneswaran has brought out the difference between the view of an educated balanced person and a so called educated unbalanced person. Why cannot we all Sri Lankans live in harmony? Does harmony in the country means that the politicians will not have their seat at the next election? If the politicians of the country are truly convenience that harmony = no seat, then they should realize that this unbalanced situation cannot exist for long and there will be no harmony in the country but only conflict. Let us all voters think very seriously about this situation. We have a constitution and the Presidents foremost duty is to rule under the constitution and not over-rule the constitution. In a true democracy such an action is an impeachable offence.

  • 0
    8

    Tell him to go to Tamil Nadu.

    From Jaffna Tamil Nadu is just 40 km. Colombo is 300 km.

  • 6
    0

    I don’t think that the Paradigm shift of Northern CM or any other person will bring paradigm shift in the mind and attitude of Sinhalese politics. Sinhalese politics depends on Sinhalese votes. Sinhalese votes depends on the strength of the anti Tamil policies (policies that provoke violence against Tamils and destroy the welfare of Tamils). At this juncture Rajapakse wisely uses that policy. The same was used since independence by all Sinhala politicians. You don’t expect any positive change from those politicians who are greedy of power than the moral principles of life.

  • 2
    0

    .
    It was 1979… then TULF Leader Amir went against protesting Tamil youths to shake hands with JRJ to get District Councils working.
    What happen next…. JRJ back stabbed Amir and never allowed DDC to work, making Amir to lose control and Tamil Youths to take leadership.

    I do not think Rajapakse’s have the courage to shake hands with Tamils.
    Because they’ll lose their vote bank.

    :-)

    • 1
      0

      “and wooing South Africa to assist in the formulation of a truth and reconciliation process as an alternative to an international investigation into war crimes” Why should the world believe the vulpine Rajapakses as genuinely looking for a way out for peace and reconciliation with the Tamils by this sudden decision to send a delegation – only days before the Geneva inquiries. As TNA’s Sampanthan told the BBC the Rajapakses had more than 2 years to do that when the S. African model was mentioned both by the TNA and many others. Rajapakse simply ignored the suggestion then.

      BTW, why did Dayan Jayatilake – a well known apologist of the regime state in his Colombo Club (Taj Samudra Hotel) address
      fear “I see very unhealthy developments in the country after March” Lalith Weeratunga – the President’s trouble-shooter and Secretary, just before he took off to London and Washington, declare there can be “country-wide chaos” if the US Resolution against Sri Lanka is adopted. Both these taken together is reminiscent of that infamous interview JRJ gave Paul Seigahrt of the Daily Telegraph – only a few days before the long-planned July ’83 pogroms against Tamil civilians. On that occasion the old fox injudiciously declared “Tamils will have to take care of themselves now” That was a call for the well-prepared mad dogs in the streets to attack, rob and kill innocent Tamils in the country under the guise of patriotism. By then it was common knowledge JRJ had a grouse against the Tamils in the NEP voting against him in the 1982 Referendum. A few days after the 7/83 holocaust when he belatedly came on National TV the Tamil Nation expected him to be contrite. Instead he deliberately and insensitively exploded “the Sinhala people have reacted” And that was the President of the entire country speaking on conditions when his own physical and political survival was at stake.

      It is hardly any different today as the Rajapakses hold Tamils as hostage in devious ways.

      R. Varathan

  • 0
    2

    POnly pradadigm shift that needed in Sri Lanka is the abolition of the 13th amendment and dissolving Provincial councils.

    Provincial councils are burden to the Tax payers, costly to maintain and it is another level of red tape, corruption, and criminal activity.

  • 0
    0

    Tamil bashing is a vote winner for all Sinhala political party. So there is not going to be any Paradigm Shift from Sinhal politicians of any colours.

    So what is needed is a Paradigm Shift from the Sinhala People.

    The rural Sinhala masses are fixated and there will not be any shift from them. The only shift you will get from them is when they go to to shit.

    The educated Sinhala people like the author could educate the Sinhala masses.Unfortunately they cant even lift their fingers against the Rajapakse regime. As they will be shifted in the white van.

    The GOSL have just filed their reponse to the Pillay’s report. The GOSL is not shifting from their postion of last 3 years

    NPC and in particular Vigneswaran is ready to shift heaven and earth for a just solution. His stance is not going unnoticed in the IC.

    We need a paradigm shift from the IC to come down hard on Sri Lanka. Including USA, UK , India and Australia to a larger extent. We know that China and Russia are palying geo politics.

  • 1
    0

    Dear Jehan Perera:

    Lest my comment become an article by itself, I’ll consider just three salient points of your text.

    1) The issue of power sharing between the central government and provincial councils has come to the fore since last September, when the Northern Provincial Council began to function for the first time since the system of devolution was set up 26 years ago.

    – I wish that I could agree with you in ‘toto’. But, it would come back to hurt posterity! The issue of power sharing has been at the core and in the fore of Tamil grievances from 1948. The proposal to establish a Provincial Council System was only a recognition of the existence of the issue. The dilemma faced by the Northern Provincial Government simply validates the concerns Tamils have over accepting 13A as a solution to the issue. But, I’d accept 13A as a starting point. That is what the Tamils have voted for.
    You would understand the Sinhala mindset better than I do. Do you see the light at the end of the 13A tunnel … ?

    2) The speech delivered by the Chief Minister was evidence of the continuing good will and sense of realism within the mainstream Tamil polity that sees itself as a part of the national polity and having a stake in the reformation of the whole.

    – The continuing good will and sense of realism of Tamil polity has been consistently ridiculed and trashed by the majority community, not necessarily by the wily politicians and their Governments, since independence; it has become more severe by the day. The excuse of National Security is a veil to suppress Tamil liberties and freedoms, in this modern era.

    3) Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s speech suggests that there needs to be a paradigm shift, and a whole new way of looking at problems, so that the provincial councils are able to work with the central government to deliver benefits to the people they are accountable to, and thereby to develop the trust of people in the different levels of government.

    – A paradigm shift. Yes, indeed. That’s what is required. But, the shift lies in the change of the mindset of the Sinhalese people. Haven’t Tamils given enough time to the Sinhalese people to bring about the salient shift. The absence of any shift has come to hurting all of us, particularly the Tamils over the years of waiting for the Shi(f)t. See how long it took you to undergo this paradigm shift within you!

    NOTE: You can make the change. You can together with your ‘friends’ make the Sinhalese people ‘shift’. Would you spend time on it? The country will thank you.

  • 1
    0

    A well written article. The Academic community of the south should initiate the process of change in the south. What Tamils want is a peaceful co-existence with the Majority community in the beautiful island formerly known as Ceylon. We do not need lion share, instead we need equal rights and the right to live with self respect.

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