Colombo Telegraph

Tricky Period But Productive Prospects On National Question

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

CT correspondents have reported a surfeit of gossip on whose-who and horse trading re Ministerial appointments. The number of appointees has turned ‘good-governance’ into a term of derision, but Sirisen and Ranil (S&R) have thickened their hide after the elections. Repeated flops in the courts, Avant Garde the most recent, confirms the incompetence of the CID and the AG’s Department and aggravates worries about the state machine (and S&R?) conniving with the old-time crooked leaders.

I am much relieved to give this all a wide berth today, but I will lead into my topic by pointing to glaring imbalances in Cabinet. The worst is that of the 43 freeloaders sworn in on 4 September, only two are women (Ms Athukorale and Ms Bandara), not one leftist, not a single elected Ceylon Tamil (sans-base Swaminathan is appointed) and there are just two Tamils of Upcountry origin (Digambaram and Mano Ganesan). With four members (Hakeem, Hashim, Haleem and Bathiudeen) the Muslims won’t complain except for the H-overload.

Worse is that there is no way out of this problem within the constraints of membership of this parliament. There are no more women of experience and no leftists who can be appointed to Cabinet. On the Tamil side the jinx is worse. Taking (oh-my-god!) Douglas, despised by human-rights defenders, into Cabinet has goaded every strand of Tamil opinion. And oh-my-god Thonda too! So this regime wants to prolong the uncouthness of its predecessor. Yes R&S have become thick-skinned, but it is also true that they are up against a parched landscape of decent human capital to choose from in the women, Left and non-TNA-Tamil categories. Women and leftists are not my pick for today; today it’s minorities.

Challenges

The next period will throw up two grave challenges on Tamil issues; what to do about devolution in the proposed new constitution, second the scenario after UNHRC Geneva. The latter though more explosive is less complicated. The shift from international to a domestic process is unavoidable though I am well aware there will be no conviction or punishment of offenders. That’s the truth about these things; it has happened umpteen times all over the world. It is only rarely that government and military leaders guilty of rights violations or war-crimes get their desserts. May I add, as a personal opinion, that I am of the view that there were grave offences.

*Shysters and snake-oil vendors invoke the occult

Have no illusions, at best a few political knuckles may be rapped, lightly, but military personnel will be whitewashed. Knowing this, I still say there is little point in rejecting a domestic process. The best to hope for is that the ugly evidence and loathsome brutality (LTTE included) will be dragged into the sunlight. Lanka will benefit from a cathartic experience and edge a little closer to its senses. The realist in me says: “That’s the most one can get, so get the best out of it”. The TNA should, in principle, oppose the dumping of the international process but realistically bend its efforts to optimising the domestic one. For example: What are the terms of reference; who will sit on the panel; what witness protection programme? Yes, get the whole truth vomited out; victor’s justice will not allow due punishment to be meted out.

Still there will be a battle to get even a credible domestic process going and in framing it in a non-fraudulent terms. Lanka’s bigot-force piloted by Wimal, Gamanpilla, Vasu, Dinesh and Dayan will kick up an almighty shindy when the report is adopted in Geneva and Lanka accepts a local process. Then would be the time to test the resolve of R&S and stiffen the backbone of the left-democratic forces. I have little faith in the will of R&S when direct-action is needed; the JVP is namby-pamby about confronting racism; so the responsibility passes elsewhere. When racists occupy streets they have to be confronted, they have to be stopped as the workers of London stopped Oswald Mosley (Battle of Cable Street, 1936); they must be disrobed and driven out. When Reggie Mendis controlled Pettah and D.G. William and M.G. Mendis the trade unions, such things were done; even Premadasa knew how to do it.

The balance of forces on the street is different now – or maybe not. It needs to be tested as we are in a new political phase. Cashing the January 8 and August 17 mandates to finish off fascism is not an opportunity to be missed. Racism had a blank cheque from SWRD’s soft embrace of post Sinhala Only goons, through JR’s “teach them a lesson” cutthroats of 1979 and 1983, to the Mahinda-Gota state led reign of terror. If this country is to begin afresh this past has to be inverted. Now is the opportunity to confront and end this epoch of hate-rule. Don’t expect much help form the R&S regime; a peoples’ movement (civil society, trade unions, democratic groups and political activists) will have to do it. How wonderful if the JVP would lend a hand, but it won’t!

Do not underestimate the enemy. Weerawansa and Gamanpilla were first and third in Colombo District polling lakhs of preference votes, a man on a double murder charge, on the second occasion the victims were 10 members of the Muslim Congress, polled 120,000 UPFA votes in Kandy District, Nimal Lanza despite allegations of criminal connection polled nearly a lakh, and the UPFA vote-topper in Ratnapura has been remanded for years on a murder charge. A part of the electorate of this country is sick, mentally sick. The fascist challenge will mobilise killers; it has to be confronted and eradicated. January 8 and August 17 only set the stage; the real game is about to begin. Half the SLFP MPs are said to be lining up behind Mahinda Rajapaksa, race hate will be their battle cry. A panicky President Sirisena, instead of exposing the diversionary antics of MPs trying to avoid criminal charges, is scaremongering an Eelamist threat in a competitive display of Sinhala-Buddhist histrionics.

A new constitutional dispensation

UNP, SLFP and JVP have ruled out the federalism word; everybody is now tired of words. The right to self-determination (RSD) a formula Marxists made such efforts to explain could not get past the armour-plated skulls of 90% of Sinhalese, and make no mistake about it, Tamils as well. For both, RSD and a demand for secession were indistinguishable. I no longer try to explain and since Tamils and TNA are no longer interested in RSD (what the devil in ‘internal-RSD’, a kind of loose motion?) there is no purpose in keeping up theoretical purism.

The TNA proposed a sensible compromise; it’s time for the JVP to get on board. Sampanthan, in his address to Parliament, proposed that Lanka have three to five regions with devolved power. He had the Indian example in mind and said: “Rather than so many ministers in the centre why not have three to five regions vested with substantial powers of governance? There are many young members of Parliament who could be ministers and chief ministers in these regions. Allow each part of the country to be ruled such that people are served best. India has 29 states; the country is united and stays together because people’s aspirations are respected, honoured and implemented. States have preserved linguistic, cultural and religious interests”.

Sampanthan promised to work constructively with R&S but spat at a near-century of free loaders on the public purse – Cabinet, Deputy and State Ministers. As for the devolution ball, it is now very much in the JVP’s court. If it takes a positive stance on the TNA proposal it will corner Ranil and the UNP making it difficult for them to capitulate to the chauvinists. Sirisena and the SLFP-in-government can be cornered next. Only the scum that break away from the SLFP to join the Wimal-Udaya-Vasu-Dinesh-Dayan mad-dog pack will howl. The pack can then be isolated and politically exterminated.

In respect of the structure of devolution the devil is in the details of the; (a) what powers to devolve and what retain at the Centre, (b) what should be the units of devolution? There are models in place as starters for (a); 13A and the Indian model. A national consultation process is getting started and these two should be the exemplars. Direct devolution to local governments from the Centre without an intermediate regional level will not be helpful. It will not address the National Question; that is the desire of the Tamil people for their own unit.

Three to five regional units seems correct. The broad outline could be a unit in the North and part of the East for Tamil comfort, second Southern Province and Ratnapura and Moneragala Districts, third Central Province and Badulla and Kegalle Districts, fourth NCP and NWP, and fifthly Western Province. Don’t take this gerrymandering seriously; it’s just kicking-off to get the ball rolling. My gut reaction is that nine (current provinces) are too many to be effective devolution units with powers as in India. Three is too few for people to feel they have a unit of their own or to provide openings as regional leaders for “many young members of parliament”. My intention is to invite you to put on your thinking caps and give the grey matter some vigorous exercise. Two other issues have to be addressed: (a) how will the Muslim elite respond to the Sampanthan formula (will they ask for a Pondicherry to lord it over as their satrapy?) and (b) the status of Trincomalee harbour needs to be defined – same as now should be ok.

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