By Dayan Jayatilleka –
By way of, and being also, a Reply to Karikalan S. Navaratnam
My critic Mr. Karikalan S. Navaratnam, attorney-at law, wants to know where the plot and perfidy is if federalism transparently has to obtain the consent of the Sinhalese at a referendum. “If the Federal plan was to be presented to the entire population, including the Sinhala people, at a referendum for them to have the last say, where is the conspiracy Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka? Does not a conspiracy connote subterfuge and secrecy?” he asks.
It should be obvious from the ignominious Nandikadal outcome of the ‘indomitable’ Tigers and ‘super-hero’ Prabhakaran, supported by the ‘Jews of South Asia’ the ‘super intelligent’ overseas Tamils, that the Sinhalese are not quite as dumb as Scarborough-based Mr. Karikalan Navaratnam and the Tamil Diaspora ultra-nationalists think or hope.
The referendum is a ‘lose-lose’ trap for the majority of Sri Lankans. Even if they trash the federal solution at a referendum, the North and (parts of) the East will vote massively in favor and then publicize the result globally as a variant of the Catalan outcome.
That in turn will trigger the second stage of the Tamil diaspora strategy fashioned by Anton Balasingham: the argument will be advanced that since the Sinhala South has blocked ‘internal self-determination’ in the form of federalism, the Tamils have a legitimate right of external self-determination i.e. separation.
That is why the majority of the island is bringing irresistible pressure on the parliamentarians to stop the Constitutional process from reaching a point that requires a referendum. It is unlikely that President Sirisena will cross that public opinion redline, especially since he had pledged not to do so in his winning Presidential election manifesto of January 2015 (which was repeatedly quoted by his wing of the SLFP during the ongoing Constitutional Assembly debate).
Meanwhile why is the Government lying to us and why is the JO not challenging that lie? Throughout the Constitutional assembly debate the Government told the country that for the first time ever, the TNA has accepted a unitary state. This is a bluff or worse, a blatant lie. Not once in the debate itself did the TNA speakers, including the eminent and eminently moderate Messrs. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran, speaking in English, explicitly say that they were willing to accept a unitary state! What they was that they were willing to live in a united country.
Even the disgracefully slippery use of language by the government does not commit the TNA to accept the unitary state because the word unitary does not occur anywhere in the formulation suggested in the Interim report. Even if the two parties agree, the TNA only commits itself to an “orumiththanadu” in Tamil, which Douglas Devananda exposed in his assembly speech, refers to a federal state, and what the Sinhalese call an “aekeeya rajjya”, which has no internationally accepted definition, but nowhere does the TNA accept a unitary state.
The TNA speakers explained that the earlier formulation of 1972 and 1978 i.e. ‘Otraiachchi’ referred to a state form, a form of government, while ‘Orumiththanadu’ referred to a country, and this is why they want the former usage substituted by the latter. Well, they are transparent—they accept a united country but do NOT accept the unitary form of state or government! The TNA, understandably, cannot care less what the Sinhalese call it in their language!
This dualistic trick is well within the traditions of Tamil politics. Tamil Marxists such as N. Sanmugathasan used to point out the duplicity involved in calling oneself the federal party in English and the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Ceylon Tamil State/Kingdom Party) in Tamil. The only thing that has changed is that the present government as adopted such perfidy and is the vehicle for it.
This conceptual and linguistic fudging is tantamount to cheating the people and their representatives. It is rather like a bond scam or cheating at examinations. The decline of Sri Lanka state is best evidenced by the fact that a constitutional fundament, drafted and carried over by legal luminaries of the caliber of Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, JR Jayewardene, HW Jayewardene, Lalith Athulathmudali et al, is sought to be amended by an legal non-luminary (to say the least) with a dubious record at university examinations! This is as if one allows the neighborhood tailor down a suburban lane to alter a bespoke Saville Row suit.
Clearly and comprehensibly the SLFP is opposed to a new Constitution for two reasons, both to do with its vital interests including that of political survival. Any weakening of the Presidency, even the signaling of its future abolition, shifts the power balance to its detriment and towards the UNP. A quantum leap in Northern autonomy through provision of a two thirds majority in parliament for an overgenerous amendment, can devastate the SLFP electorally, when faced with a powerful rival in the JO-SLPP. A repeat of the practice of the 20th amendment, namely the smuggling in of amendments at the committee stage, would, in the highly emotive case of devolution, trigger riots and rebellion, placing the lives of legislators in danger as in the late 1980s.
A Final report or Draft Constitution of a sort that will be an accelerant for a JO victory in 2019-2020, will be counterproductive folly for any votary of autonomy through devolution. Even if all the Rajapaksas were jailed on trumped-up charges, it wouldn’t help and would only fuel an electoral backlash which will sweep the nationalist Opposition led by Dinesh Gunawardena, into office (the body language during the debate clearly showed that Dinesh is Mahinda’s deputy leader, whom the latter relies upon). Any offending Constitutional amendment will be torn up in 24 hours, and that would have been a winning election pledge (a la Sinhala Only in 1956).
Two years from national elections, what the political process now needs is a reform that not only the SLFP (MS) but also its rival the JO-SLPP and the Rajapaksas can buy into and a successor JO-reunified SLFP government can live with. Any political settlement, leave alone solution, must be the result of an all-inclusive consensus. So far, there isn’t even an intra-governmental one, and not all Chandrika’s diatribes and harangues can get the process there.
Drawing on what used to be called New Math when we first studied it as kids, the application of set theory could help us solve the problem. What was highly significant was that in perhaps his only reference to a participant of the Assembly, ex-President Rajapaksa went off-script and approvingly referred to Dr. Amunugama’s exposition of 13 Plus. Even the Sinhala nationalist Southern MP, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, a former chief minister, urged that the bureaucratic fiscal blockages which obstruct the functioning of the Provincial Councils be structurally eliminated. The real constituency for feasible provincial devolution consists of the parliamentarians of all parties who came up through the PC system (some as Chief Ministers).
The prolonged Constitutional Assembly session was its first and almost certainly the last of its kind. Perhaps the lasting residue was Dr. Sarath Amunugama’s speech. When the Presidential commission into the bond scam presents its report, the AG’s Dept. commences legal action, and the local authorities elections are done, all that will be left standing of the Constitutional assembly will be Sarath Amunugama’s ‘roadmap’ speech as the fallback option and President Sirisena’s planned trident of conclaves (all-parties, all-religions, and professionals) as the safety-net for a process of constitutional reform and political settlement.
But will the TNA agree? The Tamil nationalists must remember that every one of the proposals they now commend so vociferously and indicts the Sinhala side for not having implemented, were actually disowned by the Tamil side when they were on the agenda during the long war. When federalism was offered in exchange for de-merger by the Mangala Moonesinghe Committee report in 1993, and obtained the signature of Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike on behalf of the opposition, no Tamil party agreed; only one independent did! When President Kumaratunga moved the August 2000 Draft Constitution in parliament, Mr. Sampanthan, who had promised Lakshman Kadirgamar his support, backed out and stayed silent, much to the latter’s chagrin.
Having backed or been fellow-travelers of the wrong side in that war—the side that was separatist, fascist, terrorist and ultimately unsuccessful– it is wildly unrealistic to expect that the Greater South which prevailed in the war to protect a united and unitary state, would agree to resurrect those proposals which were meant as compromises and sacrifices to stop the war and achieve peace, but were rejected or ignored. The only structural reform that ever took place and took hold is the 13th amendment. Given the current and fast evolving balance of political forces, nothing qualitatively new is possible now or in the foreseeable future.
The silly idea that the UNP, SLFP, JVP and TNA can prevail at a Referendum overlooks not merely the unlikelihood that with economic hardship the Sri Lankan voters will repeat 2015, but also the fact that both David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn i.e. the Conservatives and Labour, wanted people to vote against Brexit, but the people needed only two mavericks, Nigel Farrage and Boris Johnson, to catalyze a successful NO campaign. Here the JO and the rather more ultranationalist social movement with its Sangha-spearhead that has arisen against the new Constitution, will have an easier job of it. More: a victory for the NO campaign at a referendum will set the scene, the tone and the ultranationalist policy agenda for the national election campaigns of 2019-2020.
Will the TNA and the Tamil nationalists in general comprehend that devolution is an incremental process of evolution rather than a Big Bang or Great Leap Forward; that in some periods of history only a marginal increase on what exists (13A) can be achieved; that developmentally strong provincial councils and a prosperous North could provide the leverage for greater autonomy at a different stage of Southern consciousness and with a more propitious balance of sociopolitical forces? Will the TNA understand that President Sirisena is the last best chance, and help him to help them by accepting the Amunugama Axioms? Or will it prove that what the liberal intellectual Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban said of the Palestinians, continues to be true of the Tamil nationalist politicians, namely that they “never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity”?
The Tamil parties must sit around a table with all other parliamentary parties, with President Sirisena sitting at the head, and arrive at a settlement of a proportion and character that doesn’t make an increasingly restive crowd bursts in and up-end the table itself, and they must clinch the deal before crowd bursts in, electorally speaking.
The speeches at the Constitutional Assembly debate would have educated the participants as to the events of the sixty years (my lifetime) since the tragically abortive Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and how they were experienced and perceived by the various political tendencies and personalities.
Though the record will show that I was one of the first to publicly criticize and caution against the project of a new Constitution when even the JO and the Rajapaksas were ambivalent, I am not an advocate of abandoning the political process of seeking a political settlement aimed at ethnic accommodation and reconciliation. The pessimist in me cannot help but wonder if the marathon session of the Constitutional assembly which concludes on Wednesday Nov 8th will mark the fall of the curtain on a formal political process of constitutional reform within a united Sri Lanka.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran says the Tamils will get nothing from the Sinhalese and should therefore rely on international pressure and international law. At best, that’s an open-ended and very iffy prospect. At worst it sounds rather like the illogic that made Prabhakaran hold out for all or nothing.