by Rajiva Wijesinha
Let what is broken so remain.
The Gods are hard to reconcile (Tennyson)
In the midst of the political crisis that has overtaken us, it would make sense to examine very carefully what seems the main factor that precipitated it. I refer to the response of the LTTE to the government proposals for an interim administration. Clearly the contents of the proposal are of crucial importance but, since they will be examined at length by others, I do not intend to spend much time on that here. The main point to make is that the LTTE has effectively shifted the goalposts so that the game to be played out now is very different from that initially anticipated when the peace talks first began.
What is not clear in the midst of all this is to what extent the Prime Minister is aiding and abetting them in this process. I say the Prime Minister rather than the government, because it is clear that most members of the government have no idea what is going on, and in a vague way do not want what might amount to separation - though they will do nothing about it when the time comes. With regard to the Prime Minister himself, I was initially critical of those who thought he was involved in a conspiracy with the LTTE, to give them whatever they wanted on condition it strengthened his own power in Colombo. I have after all long believed that one should not deduce wickedness when, in most cases, simple incompetence provides ample explanation. However, after the fiasco over sending different documents to the LTTE and the President regarding the original proposals, I began to wonder.
An old friend - who has characteristically been less friendly since achieving a position of power in the present government - accused me of jumping to conclusions in that regard. I do not think I jump to conclusions, as opposed to engaging in induction based on long years of study of politics and politicians. Certainly I make mistakes - as in assuming that the UNP leadership had reformed from their dark undemocratic JR days by the time they came back to power in 2001. But while I err on the side of generosity, my darker forebodings have inevitably proved accurate, as when way back in 1980 and 1981 and 1982 and 1983 I initially deduced the full significance of the anti-democratic and racist nature of the government they so fervently supported at the time.
With regard to the different document sent to the President, it seemed to me that either there was gross incompetence, or else the action was deliberate. Why I could not fathom until a column in the ‘Sunday Times’ suggested that the game plan was to get the President all excited, and then accuse her of stirring up trouble unnecessarily. She did not fall for that ploy, if ploy it was - but a side effect of the business about additional powers was to make that the subject for debate rather than the basic structure of the administration.
For what Ranil had done there, with a little help from his Norwegian Dementor friends, who quite naturally subscribe by and large to the extreme view of self determination that the LTTE upholds, was effectively to hand over power in the entire NorthEast to LTTE nominees. Veto power over smaller units within the NorthEast was also to be given to this administration, which was to be dominated by the LTTE. That this should be accepted without question seems to me intolerable. Majoritarianism is bad enough in itself, when exercised by elected representatives of the people. That after all was what led to the Tamil separatist movement, and I believe they are quite right to reject the majoritarianism of the centre in whatever guise. But to then institute provincial majoritarianism without any democratic mechanism is doubly outrageous.
But by his subterfuge or carelessness, Ranil effectively shifted the terms of debate. And that is what the LTTE has simply taken further now, in their demand for powers that are virtually those of a separate state. And, stunningly, neither side has even thought of a principle which is essential if a federal structure is to succeed, which is ensuring decision making powers for regional units at the centre. Rather, both Ranil and the LTTE seem to be quite happy with the sort of arrangement A. J. Wilson advocated in his representations to a US Congressional Committee in 1987 when he said.
"The traditional Tamil areas of the Northern, Eastern and Uva provinces should constitute one unit. They could have a sovereignty-type relationship with the Sinhala Rata (the Sinhalese state). That Sinhalese state could be completely unshackled in whatever it wants to do in regard to the preservation of the land, the Sinhala race and the Buddhist faith. Each unit will have complete and unconditional control over defence, foreign affairs, and land. Other subjects can be negotiated upon. The fact of a sovereignty-association relationship will at least maintain the island as one single polity on the map of the globe."
This, I should note, was an alternative proposal to his initial suggestion, which was as follows - "The most pressing problem is to recognize the fact that the Tamils of Sri Lanka, and they include the Indian Tamil plantation workers, occupy a geographically contiguous area and have, unlike in the early days of independence begun to look upon themselves as a nation in their own right. This, comprising the Northern, Eastern and Uva provinces should be constitutionally recognised as a single Tamil unit. Powers that do not include foreign affairs, defence, currency and communication should be devolved on this unit. Constitutionally, the central government should NOT have the right to withdraw any of the powers devolved without the consent of the Tamil unit. Any other formula for the amendment of powers will easily pass through the Legislature and will be meaningless because the Sinhalese constitute 74 percent of the population."
The LTTE has not as yet asked for the Uva province, but given the principle of unbridled majoritarianism that Ranil and they seem agreed on, that will only be a matter of time, given the demographic changes that have taken place in that province. Meanwhile neither side shows the slightest inclination to embark on the reforms essential to ensure a successful federal structure, which should include legislative weightage and executive participation for the regions at the centre. This seems to make clear that the LTTE agreement in Oslo to federalism, which the government made so much of at the time, is mere eyewash. Whether it was eyewash on the part of the government too, I cannot be sure. As I said before, one should not deduce wickedness or connivance when simple incompetence, or stupidity, provides ample explanation.
How the LTTE has taken full advantage of the government’s incompetence is clear too from the preamble to their proposal. There they claim that "institutions and services provided by the GOSL have proved to be inadequate to meet the urgent needs of the people of the NorthEast" and refer to ‘The failure of the Sub-Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN) and other Sub-Committees formed during the peace negotiations, which failure was due to the composition of such Sub-Committees which repeatedly led to inaction".
I will discuss this issue further in the future - but basically what the LTTE, with some justification, claims is that they have a right to take over because of the incompetence of the government over the last couple of years. I know that saying ‘I told you so’ is one of the reasons my old friends in power now resent me so much. But I cannot help pointing out that, nearly two years ago, I made the point that appointing dear old Uncle Brad to look after rehabilitation was a recipe for disaster.
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