By Kumar David –
A brand new constitution is being drafted. It is certain that an attempt will be made to strengthen the President’s repressive powers and provide for forceful use the military jackboot to crush increasing protests feared in the wake of multiplying economic hardship and an advancing epidemic. Gota will have a fight on his hands and the outcome is not certain and I touched on this in last Wednesday’s (23) column.
Among the challenges facing Lanka in this setting is what to do about 13A. There are two schools of thought about what the regime may attempt in respect of devolution of power to Provinces and taming the Tamil and Muslim communities in their areas of domicile. The first view is that the regime via the planned constitution will further curb the limited powers now devolved, the other point of view, towards which some perhaps naively incline, is that Gota has enough on his plate so why add an Indian backlash to his woes. I will now explore this trade-off. The “kill 13A” charge is led by Sinhala-Buddhist Neanderthals and long in the tooth chauvinists such as Sarath Weerasekara, Gammanpila, Weerawansa, Gerry Peries and Nalin de Silva. These cave dwellers are not particularly knowledgeable of the pros and cons of devolution per se; it’s simply that if the minorities say A they will say Z. Conversely those who would prefer not to poke the sleeping Indian tiger in the eye are MR, probably Basil, maybe GL and a few in the opposition including Mangala and the Tamils (TNA and Mano’s bunch).The JVP, given its ugly racist past on 13A is speechless and Vasu, Tissa, Colure and DEW count for nothing whatever they feign or say. You get a glimpse of this background in Austin Fernando’s “Flashbacks of reinforcing 13A” in the Christmas Day issue of the Island.
Among the three siblings, Mahinda over the years comes across as the strategist – and those who know him say he is personally a charming fellow too – Basil is reputedly clever. Gota has shown himself thicker of wit than the other two – what else do you make of a President who slots a kaki uniform in every high office of state in a country with an upbringing in 70 years of liberalism, give or take a few authoritarian interludes. Austin thinks Mahinda does not want to provoke India and has the support of a non-racist minority in the government parliamentary group. This is not say that Gotha will succumb to the racist Neanderthals, nor am to say that they with or without Gotha will carry the day. It is also true as Austin points out that Mahinda, Chamal Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala, GL Peiris and Susil Premjayanth were supportive of Chandrika’s 1997 Devolution proposals and her abortive 2000 draft constitution. Austin fondly hopes they will be consistent and principled. How naive! In Literary Hub, 27 May 2017 Rebecca Solnit refers to Donald Trump as the ‘Most Mocked Man in the World’; in a domestic context Lankans say the same of almost the whole of the nation’s political class.
How Gota, Mahinda and the regime draft the new constitution will depend on calculations of political advantage and that alone. I am prepared to believe that Mahinda and Gota are not racists personally, if you say so, which is more than I will concede of the Neanderthals, but we should have no illusions that they are anything but common or garden political opportunists. What to do about 13A in the new constitution will depend only on how, in their minds, they balance the risk of negative reactions from Delhi against the well-known advantages of stoking racism at home. And I am not sure how strong Delhi’s reaction will be if Colombo, de facto or de jure throws out 13A. Modi would rather see a dead Muslim than a living one and Tamil Nadu may bark a bit and settle down. It’s not like the 1980s when burning libraries, murder and rape in 1983 and military victory in Vadamarachchi were high on the state and Sinhala agenda. The regime may calculate that there is not much danger and there is more to be gained by jettisoning 13A than retaining even meagre devolution. If the pandemic and food shortages rouse mass (Sinhala) anger this may be a capital diversion. Mahinda will gladly forget that he mentioned conducting provincial council elections next year.