Looming danger of federalism before complete separation
Posted on February 13th, 2017
By Rohana R. Wasala
Because of the Indian-imposed 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, Sri Lanka already has a quasi-federal system of government. What the diaspora Tamils, the TNA, and Tamil Nadu politicians are currently striving for is fully fledged federalism. The nature of the various proposals these activists are making and their cynically communalist take on the Tamil problem strongly suggest that they are pursuing the objective of federalism as the penultimate step to separation (i.e., a federal state later transforming itself into a separate sovereign state). But many domestic and regional factors make a separate state for Tamils, comprising the north and east provinces, an unrealistic goal that Sri Lanka cannot, and India will not, allow to materialize. From a Sri Lankan point of view, federalism is synonymous with separation. It was for this reason that the late H.L. de Silva, PC, was critical of even significant devolution of power.
The late Lakshman Kadirgamar, undoubtedly the most enlightened national statesman we have had in our recent history, totally rejected the idea of a separatist state. As quoted in his biography written by his daughter Ajita Kadirgamar “THE CAKE THAT WAS BAKED AT HOME” (Vijitha Yapa, Colombo, Aug. 2015), Justice C.G. Weeramantry, former Judge of the International Court of Justice, and emeritus professor of law at Monash University, Australia, LK’s former colleague and friend, wrote in a tribute to LK: “He (LK) pointed out, with impeccable logic, that the Tamils are not arranged tidily, but are intermingled with Sinhalese, Muslims and others on the map of Sri Lanka – so the attempt to set up a separatist state by force is a threat to them as much as to other communities. …” (p.277).
After nearly three decades of fighting despite such warnings, the armed terrorist struggle for creating a separate state in Sri Lanka suffered total defeat in 2009 at the hands of government security forces. But the separatist ideology is still very much alive. According to the US State Department the LTTE fronts active in that country continued their collection of funds for their activities through 2015, though the outfit still remains on its list of banned foreign terrorist organizations. It was banned in America on August 10, 1997. Yet the Americans have supported the demand by expatriate Tamils, the TNA, and Tamil Nadu politicians that the government ‘demilitarize’ the north. (Under the non-interventionist foreign policy of the new US president Donald Trump, the American attitude might significantly change.) Despite this, the Sri Lankan government lifted its ban on a few of these fronts in September 2015. Before her death on Dedcember 5, 2016, the late chief minister Jayalalitha of Tamil Nadu pledged to make one of her priorities the creation of Eelam in Sri Lanka that the terror leader Prabhakaran had envisioned. She also had declared that she wanted to pressurize the central government to get the island of Kachchativu returned to India; actually, India recognized Sri Lanka’s ownership of the uninhabited island in 1974. One of her demands was that Kachchativu be returned to India because she thought that the problem of Tamil Nadu fishermen having to poach in Sri Lankan waters would end with the possession of Kachchativu. But the truth is that those Indian fishermen penetrate much deeper into Sri Lankan maritime territory to steal the fish resources that rightfully belong to Sri Lankan fishermen, who are mainly the Tamils in that area. Northern provincial council chief minister TNA’s insanely ungrateful Vigneshwaran falsely charges that all governments in Sri Lanka since 1948 have committed genocide against Tamils. A set of some 15 proposals made by the NPC has no direct reference to the majority community, but seems to imply that it is impossible for minorities to live with them without special arrangements to look after themselves (hence probably the proposal for separate zonal councils for Tamils and Muslims). One proposal is that Sri Lanka be renamed “The Federal Republic of Sri Lanka”; another is that the president be elected as per clauses 54-55 of the Indian constitution! and Vigneshwaran proposes that Sri Lanka’s history be rewritten! A suggestion he is reported to have made in Jaffna some months ago in the presence of Swiss ambassador in Sri Lanka Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn is that the Swiss system of government be adopted by Sri Lanka (another of the 15 proposals referred to above), in spite of the fact that there is no rational basis for such a novelty to be introduced. Switzerland is a small landlocked country in Europe about two thirds the size of Sri Lanka. There are hardly any similarities between these two countries in terms of their geography, demography, history, economy, or culture, or in terms of the respective problems they face. Visiting dignitaries from the West go to Jaffna, no doubt, to inquire into the current situation there after their rescue from terrorism and the restoration of democracy to them, and we should thank them for their concern with the welfare of our people. But if they accept, without rational investigation, the myths that the racist politicians there entertain them with as if these narratives were gospel truth, then those visitors, be they diplomats or something else, are doing a great disservice to the ordinary people of this country. Septuagenarian Vigneshwaran (78) himself grew up, studied, worked in the legal field and finally retired as a supreme court judge, having lived in Colombo for most of his life among the allegedly ‘genocidal’ Sinhalese.
Of course, none of such racist Tamil politicians are talking too openly or too explicitly about separation at this stage. That will come later, as we may be sure, going by what we know about their traditional strategy of ‘a little now, more later’. They are only asking for a federal state at present, but the truth is that under the 13th amendment to the constitution (inflicted on Sri Lanka by India in 1987), Sri Lanka already has a federal system of government. The northern and eastern provinces were temporarily merged in September 1988 and demerged from 1st January 2007 by the supreme court, which declared the merger on the earlier occasion was illegal. But the Tamil racist politicians’ goal of a separate Tamil speaking sovereign state in the north and east of Sri Lanka is unmistakable. And this is what the reasonable majority of the multiethnic Sri Lankan population fear.
Probably, the PM and the President think that Vigneshwaran’s claims and proposals are too unreasonable to be taken seriously. President Sirisena assured an increasingly sceptical public of his determination to put a final end to the Tamil separatist ideology. The vital question is: How? It is the general belief among common people that Mahinda Rajapaksa came very close to achieving this aim through equitable development across the country that would create an environment of economic growth and political stability, in which the demand for separation would die a natural death, but Mahinda Rajapaksa was effectively checkmated by anti-nationalist forces working according to a different agenda that has nothing to do with Sri Lanka’s welfare. Though Mahinda had a well thought out plan of action to achieve what they call reconciliation through economic development and restoration of democratic governance which the LTTE had denied to the north for so many years, he was not allowed enough time and the peace of mind to realize his aims.
Clearly, the Ranil-Chandrika-Maithri triumvirate wants to fulfill the pledges it made to foreign sponsored anti-Sri Lanka forces for coming to power. One of the charges against Rajapaksa was that he antagonized West and India. What did he do to antagonize them? He did what was good for his country; he refused to follow their dictates which were actually inimical to our country’s interests. Our relationship with India, especially since independence, has always been of the blow hot and cold kind; there hasn’t been any steady friendship nor any unrelenting enmity. That is mainly because of the Tamil Nadu factor. It is thanks to the fact that there wasn’t what is known as India today before the British created it in the 19th century that the Sinhalese survived as a proud independent nation for over two thousand five hundred years.
It is argued by commentators that the Ranil Chandrika Maithri trio want to accommodate the foreign meddlers’ demands by dismantling Sri Lanka as it is. To do this they need to forge a new constitution that will break up the country on ethnic lines while preserving the unitary character of the nation state, pretending that it will be acceptable to all the communities. Maithripala is criticized as having allowed himself to be used by local and foreign forces inimical to Sri Lanka which wanted to reverse the forward march of the country that was going apace under Mahinda’s leadership. The new constitution making/reforming plan seems aimed at accommodating the federalist agenda that is being followed as the modus operandi for achieving the separatist goal.
(The original version of this article was written about eight months ago, but somehow it didn’t get published. Parts of it were used in one or two of the author’s later articles, which were published. What you have just read is a slightly updated version of complete original.)