Reflections on Anandasangaree’s interview

By Neville Ladduwahetty

In a recent press interniew, Mr. Anandasangaree, leader of the TULF is quoted to have said ‘They (meaning the LTTE) were fighting for a separate state but we (meaning the TULF) always wanted a federal solution and that solution will be agreeable to us’ (April 3, 2003). Perhaps two decades of death and destruction have dulled Mr. Anandasangaree’s memory. The TULF did not resolve at Vaddukoddai in May 1976 to fight for a ‘federal solution’. Instead, what they did resolve was to create ‘a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam’.

In order to refresh all our fading memories, extracts from the Vaddukkoddai Resolution are quoted below:

‘This convention resolves that restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist State of Tamil Eelam, based on the right of self determination inherent to every nation, has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation in this Country; And this Convention calls upon the Tamil nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam is reached’.

Following this resolution, the TULF went further and contested the 1977 election for the very specific purpose of obtaining a mandate from the electorates in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to establishment a separate state. The TULF did not get the mandate they sought, because only 47% of the combined electorate voted for them. Although the TULF received a mandate from the electorate in the Northern Province, ONLY 27% of the electorate in the Eastern Province supported them. Of the 12 members of Parliament representing the Eastern province, ONLY 2 were from the TULF. None of this has deterred their unlawful and undemocratic claim for the Eastern Province. However, the TULF must surely have been surprised and disappointed by the fact that ONLY 32.5% of the electorate in the Batticaloa district, with its 71% Tamil majority, voted for the TULF agenda at this election.

Despite the rejection of the TULF agenda by the Tamils of the Eastern Province, the Tamil political leaders in Sri Lanka as well as their spokespersons abroad have engaged in an unrelenting endeavour to include the Eastern Province in the goals they resolved at Vaddukoddai in 1976. After having carried out a ruthless and unrelenting campaign for two decades to now say that the TULF ‘always wanted a federal solution’ is far from the truth. Furthermore, in the absence of a categorical and irrevocable undertaking by the TULF (for whatever its worth), that they have abandoned the goal they committed themselves to at Vaddukoddai, the statement by the TULF leader should be treated with deep misgivings.

The federal units in a federal solution

In this background a federal solution cannot be explored as an abstract political arrangement to resolve the conflict. The two aspects that are interlocked in a federal solution are the powers to be shared between the center and the federal units and the boundaries of the units. While the focus of the discussion is on the powers to be shared between the center and the federal units as to whether the federal arrangement is quasi-federal, federal, or confederal, what is most crucial in the Sri Lankan context is the territorial limits of the federal units if federalism is to be the basis of the political solution. The particularities of the federal model cannot be determined without first determining the limits of these federal units.

The options available for establishing the boundaries of the federal units are several. One option would be two federal units, one Tamil and one Sinhala. A second would be one Tamil federal unit and several Sinhala federal units. The consequences under each of these options are so profound and so far reaching that it would be impossible to ponder the long-term consequences of such radical changes. Under option one, where the country is divided into two federal units, the country would function as two separated units for all intents and purposes. Under option two, where the country would be divided into several federal units, the cohesiveness of the Sinhala nation would be destroyed forever. Federalism would then entail either dividing the country or fragmenting the Sinhala nation, or most likely both. Hence the persistence of the objections to federalism from the time it was first proposed.

An equally serious concern is the boundaries of the Tamil federal unit. If as stated in the Vaddukoddai Resolution ‘the right of self determination (is) inherent to every nation’ the territory within which the right of self determination can be exercised should be coterminous with those constituting such a perceived nation. The last time such a nation responded was when the TULF contested the 1977 election. Even if the concepts enunciated at Vaddukoddai are rejected as irrelevant, the consequences of such notions are that the composition of the Tamil federal unit must relate to the territory in which the ‘nation’ resides. It is only then that ‘self determination inherent to every nation’ can be realized.

The federal unit that satisfies the needed guidelines of congruence between Tamil ‘nation’ and territory is only the Northern Province. The Northern Province is an area of Tamil concentration and the majority of the electorate identified itself in the 1977 election with the notions contained in the Vaddukoddai Resolution and in the Thimpu principles. Therefore, if these concepts are to be entertained and federalism is to be the preferred basis for a political solution, despite its severe drawbacks of dividing the country or fragmenting the Sinhala nation, or both, the only justifiable federal unit for the Sri Lankan Tamils is the Northern Province.

The Eastern Province on the other hand, cannot be part of a Tamil federal unit because the Eastern Province is not coterminous with the concept of a Tamil ‘nation’, not only because it lacks a Tamil majority but also because most of the Tamils in the Eastern Province did not respond to the call for a separate state in the 1977 election. This clearly demonstrated their refusal to show solidarity with the agenda of the Tamil ‘nation’. Therefore, in addition to the Sinhalese and Muslims who constitute 2/3 of those in the Eastern Province being excluded from this Tamil ‘nation’, most of the Tamils in the Eastern province as well have not wanted to be associated with the agenda of the Tamil ‘nation’. Therefore, there is no principled justification whatever, for the inclusion of the Eastern Province as part of a Tamil federal unit.

Would federalism mean then that there would be a Tamil federal unit consisting of the Northern Province with the rest of the country forming a second federal unit, or would the second unit be further divided into several units? If the Tamil federal unit adopts Tamil as their official language, would Sinhala then be the only official language in the other federal unit or units? Would there be two different legal and political systems in place in the federal units?

These are some of the likely possibilities if the political solution is to be based on federalism. Would any of these possibilities ‘safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation in the Country’ vide the Vaddukoddai Resolution? Would not the Tamil ‘nation’ be divided between those in the North and those in the South? How can the Tamil ‘nation’ exercise a collective self determination under a federal arrangement if the Tamil ‘nation’ is fragmented? If there are to be two federal units, one Tamil and one Sinhala, the Sinhala nation would be whole and therefore would be able to exercise a collective internal self determination.

Internal self determination

The statement issued in Oslo that ‘the principle of internal self determination’ should apply to ‘Tamil-speaking peoples’ is a baseless presumption because at no time have Tamil-speaking peoples in the Eastern Province expressed a desire to be included in a collective Tamil self determination. The same arbitrariness is evident when the Tamils in the Eastern Province are included in the agenda of the Tamil ‘nation’. The issues enunciated at Vaddukoddai and at Thimpu were specifically intended for a Tamil ‘nation’ real or imagined. Therefore, it is imperative at the very outset, to establish the composition of the group that would determine the ‘internal self’ if the concept of internal self determination is to be entertained.

Acknowledging the right of a constituent group of a society which perceives itself as a ‘nation’ (the Tamil community), to exercise the right of internal self determination within a federal unit (Northern Province) in which they are a majority, would inevitably lead to other constituent groups who have similar perceptions and attributes to clamor for similar rights. This would lead to the fragmentation of the Sri Lankan state. For this reason, the right of internal self determination for one group only cannot be acknowledged.

Under federal arrangements the Constitution spells out the powers to be shared between the center and the federal units. It is seldom that Constitutions go further and spell out what powers the federal units are to guarantee to subordinate levels of local government. Even if a central government wishes to specify what powers should be devolved to subordinate levels of local government the right of internal self determination would deny the central government from insisting on such provisions. Thus the right of internal self determination can seriously jeopardize the interests and well being of the citizens at subordinate levels of government by excluding them from the protection of the central government.

Therefore, either the center should retain the right to intervene and not recognize the right of internal self determination for federal units. A more realistic approach to self determination would be for constituent groups to be an integral part of the collective self determining process at the center. This gives all groups opportunities to safeguard their interests during the determination of a collective ‘self’. Serious power sharing arrangements at the center coupled with devolution of powers and functions to the districts would serve the interests of the average citizen better than federal arrangements with the right of internal self determination.


If the political solution is to be based on a federal solution, the study of foreign federal models by members of Parliament and 21 representatives of the LTTE is a wasted exercise without first determining the composition and the boundaries of the federal units, both of which have to be negotiated and resolved in Sri Lanka. If the peace process is to move forward these basics have to be resolved first. The criteria to establish both should either be based on the results of the 1977 election, or on fresh outcomes founded on the expressed will of the people under international supervision. Establishing boundaries of federal units and their compositions on arbitrary claims is unacceptable. In the meantime, serious consideration should be given to alternative political solutions.

References are often made to the wisdom of the Indian leaders for ensuring stability by dividing India into linguistic states. A similar approach for Sri Lanka would have resulted in dividing the country into two linguistic states. A division on linguistic lines would contradict concepts of nationhood, self determination etc. because the linguistic regions involved are multi-ethnic and therefore not coterminous with groups aspiring nationhood. The concepts determined at Vaddukoddai and the concept of linguistic states as in India cannot coexist.

Of the options available, the least traumatic and most rewarding for all concerned would be serious power sharing arrangements at the center, where all constituent groups of the Sri Lankan nation can participate in defining a common self while safeguarding their respective interests with powers and functions devolved to the districts, because the district is the unit that is most representative of the mosaic of Sri Lankan society.