By Dayan Jayatilleka –
There was a famous or rather, notorious fraudster in the UK in the 1960s. His name was Emil Savundranayagam—Emil Savundra for short. He defrauded fire, auto and marine insurance holders and wound up in jail, where he served six out of an eight year term –during which time he was also suspected of feigning/self-inducing a medical condition. He died fairly shortly after release. I recall my father Mervyn de Silva interviewing him as part of a special feature for the Sunday Times Insight Team (London). Emil Savundra defrauded those poor citizens who thought they had fire insurance but found they had none.
The stated aim of the new constitution or the constitutional reforms is to defraud the majority of the Sri Lankan nation, i.e. the Sinhala community, who are holders of an insurance policy which guarantees a unitary state in letter and spirit, form and content. In short, it is to do an Emil Savundra on the majority Sinhala ‘shareholders’ of Sri Lanka.
If you say one thing and do quite another, that’s deceit. If you stick one label on something but sell quite another, then that’s fraud—a criminal act. Going by what TNA’s MP Mr. MA Sumanthiran has said on the record, that’s exactly what the new Constitution is intended to do. Mr. Sumanthiran says that the content of the Constitutional changes will be federal but the label will not say that. TV news showed Sumanthiran speaking in Jaffna, confirming that the Interim Report of the draft Constitution fulfils the two fundamental requirements of federalism though the term itself isn’t used. If confirmation were needed he is also quoted in the state-owned Sunday Observer saying “The new constitution will be based on the federal system although it will not be indicated in such terms”.
In other words, the wrapper will say one thing but the content will contain another thing. The wrapper will say unitary or won’t say anything at all. The content will be federal. The Constitution will be a disguise or will be disguised: federal masked as unitary.
What is the purpose of this despicable lie and who is the intended victim? Why not call something by its real and true name? If a Constitution is going to be, in effect, federal in content and character, that must be for a reason. The obvious reason is that the drafters think that federalism is good. Then why don’t they say it openly? Why unitary on the outside and federalism on the inside? Why this covert federalism? Why not just come out of the closet and participate in a Federalist Pride parade?
If federalism is sought to be introduced because it is good, then why not explain that to the people? Why hide it under the unitary label? Is it because federalism is good only for some but not for most, and the constitutional changes are meant to benefit some, not most, few not many –and certainly not all? Is it that for the fortunate few to have the benefit of federalism, the many have to vote for it without knowing that they are voting for federalism? What arrogant presumption, fused with the vilest dishonesty and fraudulence, is this?
The logic is disgustingly simple. The Sinhalese are allergic to federalism but the Tamils want it. The rational, intelligent thing to do would be to recognize that the Sinhalese are not a bunch of natives who are superstitiously scared of the word federalism but have a legitimate anxiety about the concept and content of excessive, centrifugal decentralization, given the long chronicled history of this ancient nation and the geopolitical reality of Sinhala uniqueness and isolation in the global milieu taken together with the extreme proximity of Tamil Nadu and the resultant sense of vulnerability. It is an existential question.
The solution is to find a compromise that represents a consensus between the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim positions; a compromise and consensus which must of necessity reflect the material fact that the Sinhalese are an overwhelming majority. But no, the makers/drivers of the Constitution do not wish to do this.
But why not? Because the intent of the new Constitution is to be reflected in the content — not the wrapping and labeling– namely to give the Tamils a federal system. In short what is intended is not the protection and welfare of the country as a whole, but of the Tamil minority. Worse still, what is intended is not to give the Tamil people of this country what would be viable by virtue of also being acceptable to the majority –real devolution/autonomy within a real unitary state– but to give the Tamil people outside this country, in Tamil Nadu and the Diaspora, what they wish, at least in the short run, for the Tamil minority of Sri Lanka!
Smuggling is a crime. It is a crime that used to be widespread in the cradle of the Tamil Tigers, Velvettiturai. Now this criminal subcultural practice has been transferred to the realm of Tamil politics. Federalism is to be smuggled in disguise past the Sinhala majority by labeling it unitary, and handed to the Tamil minority.
Why not call it federal or stay silent but keep it unitary in content? Why call it unitary but make it federal in content? Not that this would be OK, by why one lie and not the other? Why tell the Sinhalese “hey, look it says UNITARY here!” while telling the Tamils “psst, Thambi, its REALLY federal”? That is because the intention is not to fool the minority and grant something beneficial to all, still less to the overwhelming majority, but to do its exact opposite: fool the vast majority and favor the minority.
The obvious counterargument that the TNA will use is that it insists on a referendum so that the Sinhala people have the right to endorse or oppose. But what will be placed before the people? A fake constitutional package which reads “unitary” and is actually federal!
The practice of the Velvettiturai smuggler has now been escalated to the next level, of the Velvetitturai designed explosive device or booby-trap, such as the one that was meant to go off in Sri Lanka on an Air Lanka flight but actually exploded at Meenambakkam airport while on the luggage conveyor belt. The Constitutional package is rigged to detonate if rejected. Either the Sinhalese vote “yes” in sufficient numbers (as on Jan 8th 2015) and federalism is safely smuggled through to the waiting Wigneswaran and Ananthi Sasitharan, which will then serve as a platform for a separate state or a pan-Tamil merger with Tamil Nadu (watch the Kurds) or the Sinhalese reject it and it ‘detonates’ as a plebiscite showing the world that the Tamil areas/Tamil speaking areas voted for self-determination.
Of course, the TNA’s preference for a new constitution and the inevitably attendant referendum is most likely to kill off the chance of implementation of the 13th amendment through an amendment and a two thirds majority, but for a community that produced and cheered on more suicide bombers than did any Islamic group, the tactic of suicide-bombing can be seamlessly extended to the political process. This suicide bomb of a federal Constitution labelled unitary, will blow up the TNA’s UNP ally and partner as well.
While the duplicity and fraud about to be perpetrated on almost 75% of the country’s citizenry establishes the sheer bad faith of the makers of the new Constitution, the institutional matrix from which it emanates calls into further question the legitimacy of the entire enterprise. A 52 member Joint Opposition is not recognized as the parliamentary opposition. Thus the South is effectively disenfranchised. This disenfranchisement is enhanced by the dismissal of local authorities and the non-holding of overdue elections to those authorities. Not only is the new constitutional package sought to be introduced a counterfeit (federalism masquerading as a unitary state) but the very matrix it issues from is partly illegitimate. Thus the new Constitutional fruit is poisoned twice over.
While Sri Lanka is no theocracy, neither, regrettably, is it a secular state. More importantly and even more regrettably, it is hardly a secular society. Indeed it is a society in which religiosity and religious fundamentalism are manifest and pronounced. When the most influential strata of the clergy of the religion adhered to by almost 70% of the country’s citizenry stands opposed to a drastic change of or in the Constitution and is therefore likely to campaign against it from every temple and on the streets at a Referendum, a shaky governing coalition must be irrationally self-destructive to proceed with its adventurist project.