Who should decide on the 13th Amendment ?
Posted on May 31st, 2013

by Chandre Dharmawardana, Ottawa, Canada.

A seemingly democratic-looking statement, popular with the liberal-minded types like the candle-vigil people of Colombo is the proposition, “It is up to them, and not to  us, to decide what the scope of the 13th amendment should be.   Who are we to impose our will on them?

If the TNA is representative of the Tamils, then we know that they have always officially rejected the 13th amendment in any form. They have merely found it useful as a bone of contention. Last year at the party session in Batticaloa (Madakalapuwa) Mr. Sampathan rejected it. Here is Mr. Mavai Senathiraja again rejecting it again, as reported in news media (e.g., the Daily Mirror, 31st May 2013). Mr. Sumanthiran has rejected it in several well-known statements. The LTTE fought against the Indian Peace keeping forces sent to enforce the 13th amendment. It was the Indians, and not ‘us‘ or ‘them‘ who formulated and decided in favour of the 13th. No referendum on the question was ever held to ask Sri Lankans for their vote.

Who gets to decide?

So, the criterion “it is they, and not we who should decide” leads to no support for the 13-th amendment in any form. However, the left-over leftist activists (Tissa Vitharana, Dew Gunasekera, Vasudeva nanayakkara, Dayn Jayatillke et al)  have themselves unilaterally decided for the Tamils and are strongly pushing for the 13-th amendment together with police and land powers. The learned lawyers of the LLRC, drawn heavily from the candle people of Colombo also hold similar views, although their mandate forbade them to deal with constitutional matters. If the North decides to also have army, navy and air powers, then by the same logic ‘liberal-minded people’ should be supportive of it too. In effect, the explicit logic goes that any group should have the capacity for `self-determination’. Following this, writers like Wickremabahu Karunaratne and Kumar David had no difficulty in supporting the LTTE even at its most gory days of carnage.

Further more, when it is asserted that “It is they and NOT we who should decide”, how do we decide who is grouped with “we“, and who is grouped with “them“?
Take some one like Mr.  Sumanthiran.  He went to school  in Colombo from his young days, and was in the same class as one of my young relatives. Sumanthiran  ended up in the law school and practices law in Colombo. He lives in Colombo, just like my relative. How does Sumanthiran become a member of the ‘they‘ while my relative becomes excluded from the `they‘ and get included in the `we‘? This seems to be a racist decision.

 In fact, there is no “they” and “we“. All of us are in the same boat.

Furthermore, according to Jaffna custom, you cannot even sell your own property without the concurrence of your neighbours. That is the essence of the Thesavalam law. So, the North cannot do anything without the consent of the Mannar (Mannnarama), Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Trincomallee (Gokanna) regional administrations. They too have a stake in the final outcome, and they too get to decide. The North  is populated by about 5% of the country’s demographic, producing no revenue for at least a generation, but costing the south immensly in money, life and limb. And yet, all the development money comes from the south. Furthermore, electric power and other resources come from, e.g.,  the hydro-stations and in the hill country. Hence all parts of the country are stake holders and  they too need to have a say.

This is why the simplistic “they, and not we should decide” becomes faulty.
We live in an interconnected world where we need to co-exist. It may seem as if Tissa, Dew, Vasu and other leftover-leftists have attempted to simplify matters to a ‘yes or no formula’ involving two sides, and politics is just too complex for that. This was also the problem with the ‘workers versus capitalists’ interpretation of history — radically too simplistic.

Samasamajist policy of Parity for Sinhala and Tamil

The current politics of the left-over left has to be understood as a historical evolution from the 1960s-LSSP policy of parity for Sinhala and Tamil (although some theoreticians like V. Karalasingham argued for more Sinhala for the Tamils as well as greater sensitivity to the nationalist-awakening of the South). Many young idealists at the time viewed the parity proposal as a remarkably generous ‘principled gesture‘ . The Sinhala nationalists pointed out that it was utterly unfair for a mere 10-12% to impose itself on the remaining 90-88% of the population, requiring costly parallel administrations in two languages.

However, the appearance of bending-over-backwards to be fair to a minority disappeared when the real-politik of the decision was understood in detail. The Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU) was the basis of the leftist struggle, while the left also hoped to capture the Tamil-speaking plantation-workers sector. The power of the Jaffna English-school system was such that the GCSU had a much higher Tamil demographic than the 10-12% national voter base. It was essential for the LSSP to adopt the Sinhala-Tamil parity policy if they were to hold the GCSU and woo the plantations. Although the policy of linguistic parity was electorally suicidal, elections were deemed to be secondary in a revolutionary agenda. The left leaders believed that the  populist SLFP was just the `Menshevik stage’, to be followed by the Marxists capturing power as a historical necessity, a la Marx and Giorgi Plekhanov.

The realization that the much-hyped ‘principled stand on parity‘ taken by the left leaders was a political pretence similar to the ITAK’s claim to be a ‘federal party’ was utterly disillusioning to many young soft-socialists. Nevertheless, the rhetoric that the sinhala-only policy will pave the way to two-nations had been ingrained in the thinking of most people – especially the candle people of Colombo. Thus we see that even the learned body of lawyers who comprised the LLRC naively concluded that the fundamental reason for ethnic strife is the `denial of language and other rights of the minorities‘.

The more fundamental reasons for communal strife, starting from the time of the Donoughmore constitution have been ably documented by the British historian Jane Russell. K. M. de Silva, Michael Roberts, Gerald Peiris and other learned writers have provided enough material to avoid the simple pit falls. The control of land ownership by a small upper class of Tamils living in Colombo, preferential politics of colonial administrations, continued enjoyment of caste privileges without interference from a central administration etc., demand for an equal role carved out on a racial basis (even though the Tamils formed only 10-15% of the population) were central to the origins of the strife going back to the 1930s.

The Tamil dissident writer Sebastian Rasalingam has been  a vocal critic of the simplistic view where Tamil Terrorism is regarded as resulting from language legislation and majoritarian hegemony. He argues that ethnic polarization was deliberately promoted by the ITAK with its sovereignty agenda, right from the 1949 Maradana declaration. Vaddukkodai (called Batakotte even in 1900) was the venu of a declaration affirming the ITAK-Arasu policy by even the Colombo Tamils who were previously closer to the old UNP. The caste-based hierarchical structure of Tamil society that demanded obedience from the lower strata was central to the success of the Tigers. Many of Rasalingam’s writings have been collected together and may be found at http://dh-web.org/place.names/rasalingam/.

In 1964 the LSSP leadership changed its tactics, abandoned the revolutionary path and joined the SLFP, now alienating the hard-socialists who broke away. The English-educated Colombo leftists could find no dialogue with the naive Sinhala revolutionaries of the JVP. They continued to believe in the earlier LSSP claim that  the `denial of language rights of the Tamils‘ to be the main cause of civil strife in Sri Lanka. Thus historically, the candle people of Colombo and the left-over leftists ended up in supporting devolution via the 13th amendment, while even the TNA does not support the ill-numbered amendment. Some leftist ministers like Vasudeva Nanayakkara have taken upon themselves to push for a tri-lingual Sri Lanka, forgetting the failure of the bilingual policy of the old LSSP, with  `parity for Sinhala and Tamil’.

As we have argued elsewhere, there are simple technological or organizational solutions for cutting these political Gordian knots regarding language. The internet now enables anyone to have instant translations of normal conversation (but not poetry !) carried out in one language to be rendered in another language. Thus a Tamil seller of onions living in Jaffna can speak in Tamil to a Sinhalese buyer  in Colombo who hears a good translated version in Sinhala, while storing the original message in the memory of the cell phone for reference. The technology is easy, inexpensive and practical. No one is forced to learn any new language. No devolution is necessary in Lanka which is a tiny patch of the global village which now extends into outer space, with space stations and a slew of earth satellites that we constantly link with, via our cell phones, GPS, facebook, twitter and other social media. Given a bullet train like in Japan, and a fast highway complementing A9,  Jaffna would become the Aluth- Wellawatta (Puthu-Vellavattai), a new suburb of Colombo!

The 13th amendment belongs to the stone age before communications moved to the 21st century.


5 Responses to “Who should decide on the 13th Amendment ?”

  1. jayasiri Says:

    Another Canadian I see………How wonderful it is when such complexissues, are given in simple language that anybody can understand. I commend you……

    Now why is it that Tamils from Jaffna occupy all or almost all of the sea-side residences, hold high paying jobs, BUT poor Sihalese are NOT allowed to settle in the North & East. Even the supreme court decision gave tamils this concession, & our president had to abide by that decision.

    Tamils have everything going for them YET they continue to practice CASTE system, treat lower class / caste tamils, as inferior, and blame the central govt. of discrimination, when tamils can’t have their way. Out of 12% of Tmails in Sri Lanka, now they amount to 4-5% of the total population. With such small numbers why do they need a seperate language, or bi- lingual or TRI -LINGUAL or any other. Just assimilate with Sinhala pouplation & keep quiet.

    As some of leaderrs said from days of Sir John Kotelawala(soldie /prime minister), INTEGRATE with the major population i.e. Sinhalese & try to live in peace & harmony.

    If you need more than the Govts of lanka provides, find that in Tamil Nadu, India or or any other country that accepts their way of living. WE HAD UPTO here, with these demands. No other country even would consider what we have already given. It has to be according to strength of population.

    Sooner we decide on this issue, all other problems will disappear. Do not worry about India invading..so what let them. If we faught British, Americans (when oil comanies were nationalized), and FINALLY the LTTE which India created, THEN we can dfeat Indians.

    If we beleive in ourselves, our strengths, & UNITY among like minded people, any problem can be solved.

    Thank you agin Sir, for your valuable contribution……Another expat expressing his views..~ J

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    Why doe we have to listen to BANKRUPT communists?

    PEOPLE have to decide.

  3. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    lack of wise leadership is the root cause all problems in heladeepa. the wise old fool jr made a mess. he was subservient to india. he wanted to anglisize the country – an English speaking country. and now we have a guy who has not guts to take on india. we badly need a wise leader. he is totally lost. he wants to keep a unitary state and then gives in to external pressure. jayalalita must be laughing through her rear end (Sinhala pun). annexation of npc will not be easy if tamils, like what happened in tamilnadu, attempt to play their own game. this time india will intervene.
    omg why do our fools not think of deterrence. they want to be good with india, china, Russia, us – simply sri lanka becoming a whore!!!!
    ban caste system officially – bring in legislations. force to drop ‘ge’ names which identify a caste(applied to sinha_hela people) ban use of ltte for especially propaganda purposes. these bloody ‘vote mongers’ want to be in power and hence hold on to big money. at least gota has the guts to speak out.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Is this EMERGENCY BILL, intended to give the ETHNICALLY CLEANSED Sinhala & Muslims citizens the right to VOTE in the NORTH & EAST?

    Nevertheless, this does not solve the problem of EELAMIST DOMINATED Provincial Councils emerging in the North & East.

    Rise Up! …..O Patriotic Sons & Daughters of Sri Lanka …. REPEAL the 13th Amendment and DISSOLVE the Provincial Council System NOW!

    Don’t let the PC Elections to be held in September, 2013 to EMBED an India IMPOSED Foreigner’s Law designed to DIVIDE Sri Lanka into a Patchwork Quilt of Separatist Apartheid Bantustans!

    Urgent bill in Sri Lanka parliament tomorrow on Northern Provincial Council election

    ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Jun 04, Colombo: Chief Government Whip of Sri Lanka Dinesh Gunawardena announced today that an urgent bill will be tabled in parliament for approval tomorrow regarding the the Northern Provincial Council election.

    He said the opposition has also been made aware of the bill and the time is allocated for the bill.

    The Minister said the bill is related to the registration of voters and the time will be allocated for the debate.

    The bill is to amend the election law to allow displaced people from the Northern Province now temporarily residing in other parts of Sri Lanka to register as voters on submission of satisfactory proof.

    The Press Council (Amendment) Act is also to be debated in the parliament tomorrow. The registration fees of the newspapers are to be increased under this act.

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    SEPARATISTS and TRAITORS joining together in FAVOR of the 13th Amendment.

    Rise Up … . O Patriots of Mother Lanka …. REPEAL the 13th Amendment COMPLETELY, DEMOLISH the Provincial Council System, HALT the Provincial Council Elections, and DEMAND a NATIONWIDE REFERENDUM to REPEAL the 13th Amendment!

    Sri Lanka Tamil party opposes amending the 13th Amendment to the Constitution

    ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Jun 06, Colombo: Sri Lanka’s major Tamil political party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has opposed the government’s move to amend the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

    The government’s move is seen as a measure to limit the powers accorded to provinces under the 13th Amendment before the government holds elections to the Northern Province Council planned for September.

    TNA parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said the 13th Amendment which was aimed at solving the national issue and the government must consult the TNA as a representative of the Tamil people prior to any move to amend the 13th Amendment since it would affect the people of the North and East.

    However, Premachandran noted that the government has not yet made any official comment on its stance on the 13th Amendment.

    According to Premachandran, the TNA would have to decide whether to contest the Northern Provincial Council polls in the event the government decides to dilute or amend the 13th Amendment as it stands.

    The 13th Amendment introduced under influence from India in 1987 paved way for power devolution to the Provinces despite displeasure of the majority Sinhala community.

    There is a growing momentum within the ruling party and the country to abolish the 13th Amendment. The opponents of the 13th Amendment believe holding the elections in the Northern Province without amending it will be a serious threat to the national security and territorial integrity.

    Members of the ruling party have met on Tuesday to discuss the changes to the 13th Amendment and the party leaders have agreed to amend it, a senior party leader has told the AFP.

    The government has proposed removing the provisions provided for a merger of the adjoining provincial councils which allows bills and acts to get passed by all provincial councils before they are passed in parliament.

    Further, the attention is focused on the provision of granting land and police powers to the provinces under the 13th amendment.

    Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa recently said that he would never agree to granting police powers to provincial councils as it would be a serious challenge and a danger to the security services.

    He said if the provincial councils were vested with police powers, a serious situation would arise with regard to the maintenance of law and order, and the security services would become ineffective.

    However, some coalition partners of the government are not in favor of the move to revise the 13th Amendment and curtailing police and land powers.

    Ally of the governing party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) said the party would not support the changes to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

    The party said 13th Amendment should not be revised in any way and there should not be any change in the land and police powers vested with the provinces under the 13th Amendment.

    The government is however, to submit a proposal to the cabinet of ministers today seeking approval to re-amend the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

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