By S. Sivathasan –
Minds in Turmoil
“The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council, and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection”. – Shakespeare in Julius Caesar
There cannot be a more apt depiction of the state of mind of Sri Lankans, of the two major ethnicities. A change of government in India taking the form of a resounding victory for BJP and a devastating rout of Congress was known for certain for some months up to May 16. The prospect had inspired hope among Indians and Tamils of Sri Lanka. Anxieties had gripped a major section of the Sri Lankan population ahead of May and more so since the results. Brave talk notwithstanding, whistling in the dark continues. The media mirror explicitly how much their minds are assailed.
Anything does for Tamils
“But there’s never a question
About my digestion
Anything does for me”. The Plaint of the Camel
Tamils have developed an appetite for equality and dignity. Give them something or if you can’t make it worthwhile, give them anything. They are so inured, anything does for them. This is the tenor in which the attitude of the South is couched in its approach to the North. When anything does, why think of something more. While 13A is in place, why talk about 13A+. One particular political analyst continuously advances the thesis that implementation of 13A will serve as a panacea for what Tamils consider are their ills. Why discuss 13A and beyond when they are not necessary. That analyst spreads the dread that if perchance some content is put into the shell, that would spell disaster for the Southern polity. Yes, the relevance of talk of Plus and Beyond is to pull wool over the eyes of all Tamils and of India. When we have succeeded for past five years what prevents success in the next five or more? This tactic was packaged and taken to Delhi where it was dissected for specifics.
Sickle came across a Stone
So went the thinking of SL President till May 26, the day Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister. The same night Secretary Foreign Affairs, India met the SL President and informed him of the issues to be deliberated the following morning. On the 27th Modi commenced his discussion with the words “expedite the process of national reconciliation in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka”. He also alluded to the pledge of 13+ and going beyond. To the President’s quip that “the war ended only now” made more in levity than as response; Modi’s retort was that war ended five years back. How disquieting it was to President Rajapaksa may be gleaned from his disoriented reaction back home,“I will have to learn Hindi because he (Modi) does not know English”. Is this a statement for a Head of State and of Government to make about Head of Government of the world’s largest democracy?
The days of hallucination that Sri Lanka entertained have ceased. India’s Premier was found to be of a different mint. He is a no-nonsense leader. When a Lilliputian can’t measure up, he must cut Gulliver down to his size. In the process the six incher has diminished himself further.
What is 13th Amendment
Article 154 of the Sri Lankan Constitution from November 1987. It purports to devolve power to the 9 Provinces of the country. Of them all, 7 are Sinhalese dominated population wise, representatively, in their bureaucratic profile and in the language of administration. The interests of the centre and the provinces are very much allied politically and economically. The 7 elected Provincial Councils have functioned always with Sinhalese Chief Ministers, with mostly Sinhalese Governors and with periodic elections for 28 years from June 1988; a total of 196 Council years.
In contrast the elected North East Provincial Council functioned for 1 year and 2 months. The Governor was a former Army Commander. The elected Eastern Provincial Council has existed for a few years. The Governor was a Service Commander. The elected Northern Provincial Council is existing for once, for 8 months. The Governor is a former army officer.
When the minorities of the North and the East think of their predicament, they are rudely reminded of the Plaint of the Camel.
“Canary-Birds feed on sugar and seed,
Parrots have crackers to crunch:
And, as for the poodles, they tell me the noodles
Have chickens and cream for their lunch”.
To them, what they experience is mis-governance, an agonising sufferance needing the surgeon’s knife. Their prayer is from whomsoever who can wield it to remove the absis.
It took 26 years (1987 – 2013) for the 1st reluctant drop to reach the parched up North. What a long period of time! In a quarter century Singapore had graduated from Third World to First. In what form did that drop come? As a shell. Were the Tamils exercising their intelligence in demanding it? Absolutely yes. A receptacle is indispensable to hold any content. Now 27 years are over and not even a vestige of power or authority is seen. To whom can the deprived and the cheated turn but to the architect of the Agreement and the Legal Enactment. At a point of time when a paralytic is replaced by a dynamic, they are stretching their arms fervently.
Has there been a second driblet? No. As an altogether new second drop, Sri Lankan President, the government and the Southern polity seek to portray that the second one will be extracted with a strong throttle. What is it? Land powers. For this act of munificence Tamils have to remain ever grateful. Tamils know it for a certainty that an important provision of the constitution has been brazenly violated without extending to it the sanctity that was its due. Needless to say the government has no alternative but to implement it.
What is the third one? Police powers. Never will it even ooze out of the nozzle. Let not any Tamil dream of it, is the warning. Perhaps another 27 years are needed to grant them. Some Ministers say it as the best of their discovery and parliamentarians mutter it as a display of fearlessness against a big neighbour. All these are uttered at the instance of the President or to win his pleasure. Little do they realize that the constitution provides it and withholding it is in contravention of it. They seem to think that a single Minister can veto and disregard the collective action embodied in the supreme law made by the whole legislature. Another great discovery is now made and advanced before the Indian government that extending police powers to multi ethnic, multi religious Provinces in Sri Lanka is disastrous. Do they argue that Indian states are not multi and therefore can have them? It is such ignoramuses that run Sri Lanka.
What Does Thirteen Plus Mean?
When Thirteen is minused and then restored to original form, it becomes Thirteen Plus seems the weird Presidential mathematics in Sri Lanka. Was it pledged to a gullible former Prime Minister of India or was it said in levity? Was it a felicitous statement or a facetious lover’s promise? Let the declarant expound it. So he made the bed so let him lie on it. He is obliged to do so since he made the pledge to the PM of another country.
What can Plus mean? Certain fundamentals or essentials consciously left out from 13A or overlooked in 1987 require to be brought in. Certain administrative decisions or judicial rulings seen in the light of 25 years of hindsight as impeding the process of devolution, need to be rectified. A critical reappraisal is called for about the legislative inadequacies, administrative shortcomings and financial constraints that stand against the restoration of confidence and goodwill among the minorities. If there was honest intent that 13 Plus was needed, why wasn’t a single measure attempted in the last 5 years?
What Connotes Thirteen and Beyond?
This is welcome by the Tamils who know it all too well that Thirteen A is inadequate and inconclusive. The term BEYOND needs precise and explicit definition from the government and an authentic imprimatur through the President. There is scope for a spurt of response positive, rational and sensible that will be forth coming from the Tamils and the other minorities languishing in continued marginalization.
As Tamils see it, ‘Beyond’ should encompass a few components. As examples two may be cited: Finances and Administrative Structures.
Finances for the Northern Provincial Council
Finances account for everything in governance and development as much in the provinces as at the centre. However, Sri Lanka being unitary the centre takes virtually all. Tax revenue for all 9 Councils put together is less than 4% of the nation’s. A comparison places the picture among Provinces in perspective. Tax revenue in 2012 for Western Province was Rs. 24,500 million and for Northern Province was Rs.81 million. The 30 year war in the North and the destruction of the economy explain. They have devastated the investing classes, wiped out the middle strata and knocked off the tax base. That is reason for special arrangements in the North to revamp the economy.
There is a vast array from Ministry Secretaries to several other grades that are needed in the Province. What was built over time is now seriously affected. Fresh recruitment has been poor. To compound it all there is hardly a catchment in the country to draw from, where Tamils count now for less than 1%. New cadres need to be recruited, trained and deployed. The Provincial Council has to be adequately empowered to discharge this indispensable function.
To build a new house where my family can live happily with freedom of movement, I will seek the services of an architect. If on the first occasion he says that he can do a good design but the overriding consideration is that my house cannot be different from his or that better features will not be incorporated, then I will not meet him again. The misfortune that befell the Tamils in the period 1983 to 1987 was that the architect was not disengaged and his unacceptable condition was taken kindly to. The tragedy that followed afflicts the community to this day. How?
India came in purportedly to rescue the Tamils from oppression. To place them on a secure foundation, the strategy that was thought of was a constitutional arrangement. It took the form of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. In formulating it, domestic political compulsions plagued India. If a viable formula is worked out and applied to the Tamils of Sri Lanka, what happens when the same demand is articulated by the states of India? An overarching steel frame, inflexible and constricting was the result and deliberations were confined within it.
It was laid down thus: The North East of Sri Lanka shall have no power in excess of the powers exercised by the states of India. With such an inhibition, there was no difficulty in incorporating the quasi federal restrictions of the Indian constitution into the 13th Amendment. It was a cut and paste job. The Northern Province most affected by a deficit in political power stands as the least assisted. Denied power and devoid of finance, the Provincial Council remains stymied.
Altogether New Constitutional Amendment
Let there be the clearest understanding on the part of the Sri Lankan Government that 13 A is besides tinkering and beyond redemption. This cracked bottle simply cannot hold new wine. It can only go to pieces. Talk of Amendment to the Amendment and repetition of Plus and Beyond are just an exercise in rigmarole and obfuscation as has been seen in every sphere.
With over 6 decades of constitutional reform discussions, over 150,000 Tamils dead and unaccounted for and over 900,000 Tamils in exile, we are yet treated to unending diddling. With a million and 50,000 (1,050,000) not in the country since 1971, Sri Lanka Tamils are:
1971 Census…11.2% of SL population
2011 Census…11.2% of SL population
Source: Department of Census and Statistics.
Can they ever be like this?
What do the governmental statistics bespeak?
Fecundity of the Tamils?
Veracity of SL government statistics?
Quality of governance in Sri Lanka?
India and the world should be able to appreciate why Tamils seek India’s involvement and international intervention to resolve their problems. Let a new enactment place them in a secure setting.