By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Oh dear, oh dear, here we go again.
Early in his article Mr Guruparan writes “So much for the argument that LTTE was the only obstacle for the Sinhala polity to positively consider ‘state transformation’.” That is known as setting up a straw man and beating it. Who in the Sinhala polity wanted state transformation as distinct from state reform? Those who did, such as the Sudu Nelum supporters of CBK’s ‘union of regions’ packages of ’95 and ’97 (different from the more modest Aug 2000 draft Constitution) and those who agreed to the PTOMS, did not consider the LTTE as ‘the only obstacle’, and for the most part hardly seemed to consider the LTTE as an obstacle at all. Those in the Sinhala polity who did consider the LTTE the sole obstacle to anything and everything did not stand for state transformation or even state reform. In contradistinction to both positions, those of us who stood for structural reform of the state (‘state reform’) never held that the LTTE was the sole obstacle, but regarded it as the main, primary and principal obstacle at that stage of Sri Lanka’s history, and our contention was proven by the LTTE’s war against the IPKF and its post-Accord conduct as a whole. This third view held that prevailing over the LTTE was a necessary but insufficient condition of a lasting and fair peace.
Guruparan then writes that “the 13th amendment was drafted in a hurry”, which displays ignorance of the fact that most of its contents had been hammered out in deliberations from at least December 1985, through December 19th 1986 and early ’87. He should read some good books, such as those by KM de Silva, which track these negotiations.
Mr Guruparan’s would have been a fair critique had it concluded with a recognition of the 13th amendment as the start line for negotiations and took a strong stand for the re-allocation of the powers contained in the concurrent list so as to make devolution more meaningful. That however, is not his stand or the paradigm he is operating within. Thus he states approvingly, if a little grandiosely, that “the Tamil Civil Society has taken the position to reject the 13th amendment as a starting point or even a reference point to a political solution. We see any promise of incrementalism as an empty promise.”
According to Mr Guruparan, the first of the main flaws is that “the 13th amendment sits within a unitary state framework which provides the background for interpretations regarding the working of the 13th amendment being tilted in favour of the Centre.”
So, by this logic, any amendment which sits within a unitary state framework is irreparably flawed beyond acceptability. Thus his problem is not with the 13th amendment but with the unitary state framework which ‘provides the background’.
Logically he therefore wishes a reform which goes beyond the unitary state framework itself. That is a fundamental transformation which goes well beyond what the Catholics of Northern Ireland, led by the Sinn Fein/IRA as accepted in the Good Friday accords. But he is unwilling to submit it for the consent of his fellow citizens.
Mr Guruparan deliberately confuses the issue of seeking the democratic consent of the majority of one’s fellow citizens, with the question of the legitimacy of the state. The issue is that of the sovereignty of the citizens; popular sovereignty. No one is asking him to secure to consent of the state, but of his fellow Sri Lankan citizens, since any change such as that which he proposes, impinges on them.
Guruparan’s argument is that “when the Tamils feel that the State itself has lost legitimacy, invocation of the democratic principle within that state apparatus makes no sense.” Lenin has classically summed up what the state apparatus means: the bureaucracy, the armed forces, the police, the judiciary and the prison system. Althusser went further with his iteration of the Ideological State Apparatuses (schools, religious institutions etc). An ‘apparatus’ means precisely that. So Guruparan is either guilty of conceptual unclarity or deliberate sleight of hand in that he conflates ‘the state apparatus’ with the state formation; the state as a political unit, a political community with definite territorial contours, i.e. outer boundaries, borders.
One wonders which aspects of the state’s legitimacy Mr Guruparan rejects, because the relevant aspect here is that of the state as single territorial unit whose borders are co-extensive with its natural ones: i.e. a state that covers the whole island. The issue is not one of governance, where a great many questions of legitimacy may arise. Does Mr Guruparan recognize the legitimacy of the territorial unit and the resultant political community that is the Sri Lankan state? If not, then the matter is worse than one thought and as bad as one had feared: Mr Guruparan and ‘ Tamil civil society’ have a problem not merely with the unitary form of the state but with a single, indissoluble, united state of Sri Lanka.
Justifying his call for a transitional administration Mr Guruparan writes that “The social and political transition of the Tamil people from an environment of war and oppression to an environment of peace and justice cannot be achieved under the present framework of governance with or without the 13th amendment.” Here he shifts from ‘state to ‘framework of governance’, which is not quite the same thing. No matter. How would he define the ‘present framework of governance’? More importantly, under – or due to– which aspect or aspects of that ‘framework of governance’, is the transition to an environment of peace and justice ‘not possible’? Is his problem the style or political culture of governance or its framework, and if the latter, as seems to be the case, how far does it have to be changed BEYOND the 13th amendment, for peace and justice to be possible? What, in short, is the ‘transitional administration’ transitional to –in transition to—precisely in terms of, and as, a ‘framework of governance’?
On a personal note, Mr Guruparan uses a single quote of mine from 2009 to assert that “The important point to note is that Dayan is not really saying implementing the 13th amendment will benefit the Tamil people in the short or the long term. He is saying it will release Sri Lanka from international pressure or at least ease that pressure.”
Now that hardly explains my consistent public advocacy of and support for provincial level autonomy at least from 1983 as demonstrated by my chapter in the volume of the Committee for Rational Development (Navrang publishers), followed more explicitly in 1984 as a participant in and signatory to the deliberations and declaration of the United Nations University-Lanka Guardian (UNU-LG) South Asia Perspectives Project, which made the case for and laid out a scheme of provincial devolution. This was followed by my public support (including in print, in four cover stories for the LG) for Vijaya Kumaratunga who advocated provincial devolution (without permanent merger) in ‘1985-’88. Certainly in ’84-’86 none of this had anything to do with India or geopolitics.
None of this was without cost, either. It cost those of us on the Left who stood for autonomy, the support of a majority of Sinhalese; it made us vulnerable to the JVP’s attacks. Daya Pathirana was murdered BEFORE the Indo-Lanka Accord. 117 members of the SLMP were murdered by the JVP for their support of provincial devolution. I was an Asst Secretary of that party during much of that time and attended more funerals, heavy metal in or at hand, than I care to recall.