Tiger demands: Beyond the federal paradigm

By Dayan Jayatilleka


The BBC was wrong. Forget the hype, ignore the spin. The Tigers’ Kilinochchi proposals for an Interim Self-governing Authority aren’t about power sharing. They aren’t about federalism or autonomy or devolution or peace processes. In fact they aren’t about sharing anything at all. This set of proposals is based upon the doctrine that there’s nothing to share. They are a set of demands for the total and unconditional relinquishing of power. What’s being shared? What’s there to share? What in fact is the power left to the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka?

The crucial operative parts of the Tiger document, the ones which reveal the true character and content of the ISGA are as follows: " The occupation of land by the armed forces of the GOSL...is a violation of the norms of international law. Such land must be immediately vacated ...The ISGA shall have control over the marine and off-shore resources of the adjacent seas and the power to regulate access thereto".

Thus the Tigers demand even the powers over the seas and access to it. Kindly name for me one country in which a federal system prevails, where any unit/state enjoys all these powers? Kindly name one power-sharing arrangement in a peace-process anywhere, which has this total hand-over of power and authority to an unelected, terrorist, army?

And can someone please tell me why a little over a million Tamils in the Northeast of Sri Lanka should have the kind of power undreamed of by 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu? Is it a reward for having murdered, among others, the grandson of India’s first Prime Minister the legendary Jawarharlal Nehru? What then is the message that will radiate throughout the volatile subcontinent (and in this information and communication age, resonate globally) by legitimizing these proposals?

All those concerned have our very own Prime Minister to thank for this situation. Before he took office the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was on the run in the jungle, dodging our Army’s Special forces’ LRRP raids. After Mr. Wickremesinghe’s peace process, the self-same Prabhakaran’s factotum Mr. SP Thamilselvan is issuing a set of demands for capitulation to the Sri Lankan state and us, its citizens. There is no way that any government can concede this demand for outright surrender, or be permitted to do so by the citizens of any democracy.

If the LTTE wasn’t setting us up for an Israeli-type Six Day War by baiting us with these outrageous proposals, my recommendation would have been quite straightforward. As the title of an old Clint Eastwood movie goes: " Hang ‘Em High!" Soften up this UNP government with a general strike and Hartal, then throw it out by electoral means. Follow it up fast with the poetic justice of a JR Jayewardene-style Presidential Commission and "civic disabilities" which as punishment for treason and as deterrent to treachery on the part of any future leader.

But Sri Lanka’s crisis is complex, multifaceted and explosive. An election will turn out to be, or will be depicted by the Tigers as, a referendum in the South on a single issue: "peace process / interim administration", rendering it the 21st century update of 1956 and "Sinhala Only in 24 hours". The bigger the "No" vote as it were, the happier Mr. Prabhakaran will be. It proves his point to the world and sanctions his long-decided upon, pre-set, meticulously planned and rehearsed course of a decisive military " first strike". There too he may set us up by sending in an arms ship and allowing us to knock it out, providing him with a "casus belli".

In 1994, the SLFP, ideologically reshaped by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, was no longer asymmetrical with the national and global reality. Indeed it was an almost perfect fit. The Ranil Wickremesinghe UNP is too far to the right of the national and international realities. An SLFP-JVP coalition will surely win a snap election (perhaps rather more narrowly than it expects). But will be too far to the "left" of national and global reality, largely due to the nature of the JVP’s ideology and its collective mind-set, and the retrogressive impact it will have on that of the SLFP.

What then should our political leaders do? Here’s a 10 point strategic framework, which may provide a response to the Tigers’ ISGA demand:

(1) Eschew unilateralism and adventurism (President Bush’s folly).

(2) Avoid frontal assault either on each other, or on the principles of federalism, autonomy, and power sharing. Point out that the Tigers’ ISGA is way outside any federalist paradigm.

(3) Change the zero-sum character of the Southern political game.

(4) Build the broadest possible front, in the national interest.

(5) Recognize the new equilibrium between the President and PM, both of whom have strengthened themselves politically through adroit moves, the President domestically, the PM externally.

(6) Negotiate under an Indian umbrella, a condominium reflecting the new ratio of forces: the President is clearly stronger and has more options than the PM, including that of instant ejection, dissolution.

(7) Fast-forward the defense pact with India and make it a robust and full-blooded one. Have it signed by both President and the PM.

(8) Strengthen our external support using the principle of "double insulation", bringing Sri Lanka under two strategic arcs: India’s defense perimeter, and the larger envelope of Indo-US-Israeli security cooperation (if only because in ‘87 India alone couldn’t handle the Tigers).

(9) The Sri Lankan response to the ISGA must be crafted in close consultation and presented with the concurrence of India.

(10) The settlement itself must be underwritten and guaranteed by India (and perhaps the USA). A joint Indo-Lanka naval exercise with "live firing", must be swiftly held off the northeastern coast.

In the pre-Independence decades our two most fiercely brilliant young nationalists, SWRD Bandaranaike and JR Jayewardene separately envisaged a single destiny for an independent Ceylon: a federation with India. Indeed SWRD advocated a federal Ceylon and a federation with India. We can do far worse than entertain elements of that futuristic architectural blueprint, as a counterweight to and a lock on the LTTE.

In his fine address to the Colombo chapter of the Peradeniya Alumni Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar relayed this old joke: "A loud-mouthed politician was making an election speech. He thundered: ‘this country is on the brink of disaster! When we come to power we shall take a great leap forward!’ " ("Reflections on the Concept of National Interest" p 11). One trusts this does not describe the spirit that has possessed Mr. Kadirgamar’s somewhat less cerebral, rather more parochial, party colleagues.