22 May, 2024


TNA, PSC And The Danger Of Wrong Turnings

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Even if everything the TNA says is true, it is still making a mistake, or perhaps two or three, and is on the verge of yet another wrong turning in the history of error that marks over half a century of Tamil politics.

If the TNA’s fears of prevarication on the part of the government are well-founded, it is only furnishing greater opportunities for it by failing to participate in the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee. The obvious remedy is to agree upon a reasonably compressed time frame for the PSC to conclude and issue its report, and state that if this time line were to be unilaterally transgressed, then and only then, would the TNA participate no longer. An earlier news report stated that the Government had suggested six months as the time line, and if the TNA were to make a counter-suggestion then surely a sensible compromise could be arrived at.

This does not mean that the PSC should replace the bilateral talks between the Government and the TNA, though at some point it might supersede them. What it means is that a two- track approach is called for and the PSC is one of those tracks.

The PSC holds dangers of delay but also the prospect of a win-win outcome. The government would avoid the vulnerabilities inherent in the unilateral commitment to the results of a bilateral process. The TNA would have the chance of building a broad bloc of moderates and constructing an essentially bi-partisan (SLFP-UNP) centrist coalition in support of reform. This would make passage of a proposal far more feasible. Of course for any chance of success, the baseline of discussions would have to be the existing provisions of the Constitution pertaining to devolution, while a rational approach would not produce any outcome that would risk a referendum being decreed as imperative by the Supreme Court.

The TNA’s argument that the government has ignored the APRC report of Prof Tissa Vitharana, and that therefore the PSC would be a wasted effort, isn’t strictly true, because the last formal parliamentary process as distinct from an all-parties roundtable was way back in the early 1990s under the chairmanship of Mangala Moonesinghe. Though he made a breakthrough with a bold trade-off (Indian model quasi-federalism for de-merger), the leaders who comprise the current TNA refused to sign up. This was part of the rejectionist maximalism that blighted Tamil nationalist politics, ranging from refusing to accept the 13th amendment and contest the North Eastern PC elections of ’88, through refusal to accept President Kumaratunga’s ‘union of regions’ packages of 1995-7 and draft Constitution of August 2000. This makes the TNA’s narrative of the obduracy and duplicity of ‘Sinhala’ governments a trifle one-sided. Having spurned the 13th amendment and proposals that went beyond it for a quarter century, mainstream Tamil nationalism now faces the prospect of a dead end or a long freeze unless it re-enters the process of negotiation and bargaining in parliament.

The TNA’s argument that the government has ignored the APRC report of Prof Tissa Vitharana, and that therefore the PSC would be a wasted effort, isn’t strictly true, because the last formal parliamentary process as distinct from an all-parties roundtable was way back in the early 1990s under the chairmanship of Mangala Moonesinghe.

The reference by India’s Minister of External Affairs SM Krishna to ‘the rubric of the PSC’ unambiguously indicates that Delhi is in agreement with a two track process, i.e. bilateral talks between GoSL and the TNA as well as the more inclusive PSC as safety net and back-stop.

The TNA’s and Western NGOs’ strident calls for an international accountability mechanism have had no resonance whatsoever in New Delhi, which has welcomed and supported the LLRC report and urges its ‘visible’ implementation.

The TNA has now expressed its interest in a foreign facilitator. Firstly, in so doing, it is being precipitate. Following the Norwegian facilitation, the majority of Sri Lankans are averse to excessive externalisation. Furthermore, the call for third party external facilitation is warranted only if there is an impasse of long duration in negotiations and not when the government is eager that the TNA participate in a multi-party process of deliberation in the country’s legislature.

Secondly, given that India is itself not interested in such a role in any formal sense, it is unlikely – despite the excellence of its new equation with the West—to welcome extra-regional intrusion in the matter.

Though it is far more realistic on the matter than the Tamil Diaspora, the TNA has not yet accepted the reality – repeatedly proven by history, including at Nandikadal– that the parameters of the possible for Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism are the limits prescribed by Delhi in accordance with its own reading of India’s national interest. Any attempt to exceed those limits are an exercise in futility, and Delhi’s limits are the 13th amendment and ‘building upon it’.

By releasing on the eve of the visit by the Indian External Affairs Minister, an extensive attack on the LLRC report and reiterating its call for in international mechanism of inquiry into so-called war crimes, the TNA demonstrated three things:

i)                    Unconcern over the need for creating the right climate for dialogue with the government, insensitivity to Lankan public opinion and obliviousness to the party’s profile and positioning in the Lankan social and political mainstream at this point of (post- war) history

ii)                  Disregard for sensibilities of New Delhi, the possible negative impact upon Delhi’s ability to take up devolution with Colombo, and for the success of the Delhi-Colombo talks

iii)                Increasing susceptibility to its extra-regional (Diaspora) and sub-regional (Tamil Nadu) lobbies/constituencies which have the aggressive activism and fanatical mentalities of anti-Castro Miami Cubans.

Even if there were to be agreement between India and the US on the Tamil issue, it would be heavily weighted in favour of India’s position. What is more important, the sustainability of the implementation of even such a condominium, would be its level of acceptance by Sri Lanka, which means its level of acceptance by the majority of the Sinhala majority—because the acceptance by an incumbent administration is no guarantee of popular consent. The good news for liberal minded reformists is that all opinion polls from 1997 show a remarkable consistency in that the bulk of the Sinhala people are far from averse to a solution based on a combination of tri-lingualism, equal rights and the improvement through strengthening of the existing provincial level devolution of power.

Thus the limits of achievable Tamil aspiration reside at the (shifting) point of intersection of Indo-Lankan positions, based on (relatively consistent) perceptions of the respective national interests of the two states. To be strictly accurate, in order for their successful realisation, Tamil aspirations for constitutionally irreducible political space must accommodate themselves intelligently within a Delhi-SLFP-UNP triangle.

What if such intelligent realism does not prevail? What if Tamil politics operates on the scenario of externally propelled ‘regime change’, mistakenly identified with the Arab spring? The politico-ideological outcomes of the Arab spring have not been more propitious to the rights of minorities, hence the apprehensions of the Copts, the Catholics and the Kurds.

The two-pronged strategy of escalating external pressure paralleling an accelerated Tamil political drive should be thought-through to its conclusion by its votaries. We have been there before, twice in the past quarter century. The ‘air-drop’ generated a JVP upsurge and brought to office Ranasinghe Premadasa, determined to go to the brink in restoring national sovereignty and de-externalising the conflict. The CFA and LTTE surge strengthened the JVP and JHU, ushering Mahinda Rajapaksa into office. What displacement will a ‘third surge’ of external plus Tamil nationalist pressure achieve politically, and which Bonapartist redeemer, less malleably populist and more consistently authoritarian than the present incumbent, waits in the wings to be propelled by history and social forces onto centre stage?

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Latest comments

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    Government sycophant.

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    Those who would like the Government to accept Pakiyasothy’s proposals… and give him the Presidency of Eelaam, put tyour hands up please!

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      get some sleep, Peter. Or see a witch doctor. I mean, I don’t know how else to help you. I am really sorry.

      Com Surendra

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    Professor Jayatilleka writes: ‘The PSC holds dangers of delay but also the prospect of a win-win outcome.’
    how many delays and how many win-win ( rather lose-lose) out comes have we had since 1948?
    Why is that some are pathologically blind to history.

    I have asked earlier and as usual had no reply

    Why cant the regime that this professor is paid by and defends so dearly cannot implement the least in the current constitution like the island-wide bi-lingual policy with honesty and vigour ? Such small gesture will test the genuineness ( if there is one)

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      Hey! This guy is NOT a Professor!

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    Dayan’s realism is justified. What if the TNA continues to reject the PSC? The Government has stated that it would continue with bi-lateral talks only if the TNA participates in the PSC.So what is the scenario that is being manufactured. To drive the TNA against the wall, as an excuse to shelve the whole issue of devolution and a political solution. That is precisley the end game of the Government. Even if the TNA participates in the PSC, still the end game would be lack of consensus for a political solution, based on devolution. Already, the regime has set the stage for the end game, when it prevaricates on the issue of devolving land and police powers. Come on, state clearly what the outer parameters are for such devolution, without holding the sword of Damocles over the head of the TNA. But Mahinda Rajapakse knows very well that he cannot move an inch towards any form of devolution. Already the JHU and the NFF have threatened to occupy the streets, if such would happen. Are they acting on their own, or are they performing as the frontlines of the Regime? Precisely, Delhi will determine the parameters of any possible solution, with priority consideration given to internal security, regional stability and ensuring that Mahinda Rajapakse will not be driven against the wall- and to hell with the Tamil nation. Of course, the US will comply and manoevre within this matrix. So, Dayan, with his implacable sense of realism, warns the TNA to bite the bullet or be written off, or worse, be open to the wrath of the chauvinists, with all the consequences that can entail – as has entailed in the past.

    In my limited understanding of international experience in conflict resolution, nowhere has the condition been imposed where the weaker party had been forced to participate in a Parliamentary Select Committe as a basis for negotiations. The IRA was not compelled to participate in a British Parliamentary Select Committee, the ANC was not demanded to participate in an apartheid Parliamentary Select Committee, nor was the Morrow National Liberation Front compelled to sit in a Parliamentary Select Committee of the Philipine government. Such a demand is itself an expression of supremacy and arrogance. It is a recipe for sabotaging any possibility for a negotaited politcal settlement.

    Ranil at least came up with a formula of asymmetrical devolution. Chandrika came up with her proposals for self-rule within a union of regions. Mahinda simply rejects the majority report of the APRC, which he himself set up! The mind-set of the regime is ” why should we concede a damn for an enemy we have vanquished, for a people we have conquered”. The bi-lateral talks, the PSC are all for the international gallery. That Dayan, is the end game. Simply a repetition and continuation of the very same politics of manipulation, domination and procrastination, and you have the nerve to pressure the TNA to comply.

    You are indeed an able and trusted ambassor of the State, and a loyal servant in advancing the agenda of the Regime in selling the Tamil nation down the tubes, as part of entrenching the militarist-chauvinist dictatorship of the Rajapakse troika. You could demand that the military rule of the North and East be ended and replaced by a civilian administration forthwith; you could demand that the Regime accounts for the countless abductions, enforced disappearances, and extra-legal killings, including following the end of the war, just as a way of building trust and confidence of the Tamil people in a negotiated solution. You could propose a genuine process of reconciliation so that the Tamil people would regain their right to their land, their livelihood, their dignity, security and democratic freedom, and then request the TNA to have faith in the PSC. It does not matter that you have become the foremost ideologue of the Regime, that is your profession. But don’t weild the sword over the heads of a defeated, even vanquished nation. I mean, that would almost be fascistic, would it not?


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