Reply to Anandasangaree
In defence of devolution within a unitary state

I am pleased that Mr. Mahinda Gunasekara’s recent criticism of me from a Sinhala hard-line position over my July ’83 piece is paralleled by Mr. Anandasangaree’s accusation of Sinhala chauvinism. Since I am a critic of both Sinhala and Tamil chauvinism/ultra-nationalism, this means I must be saying something right.

I stand by my recent critique and my earlier defensch spring from the same source. I defended Mr. Anandasangaree when he was unfairly and irrationally attacked. I did the same in the case of Mr. Devananda. When Mr. Anandasangaree or anyone else attempts to character assassinate the same Douglas Devananda whom the Tigers have tried to assassinate eleven times (according to the US State Dept’s Patterns of Global Terrorism) I for one do not remain silent. Nothing I said in defence of Mr. Anandasangaree is invalidated by what I have said in my critique of him.

My "Defence of Douglas Devananda" was written in a particular context: a vicious criticism of him by Mr. Anandasangaree in an Open Letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse, over the President’s constitution of the North Task Force. President Rajapakse has publicly pledged to hold Provincial Council elections in the North as soon as it is militarily liberated from the Tigers, just as he has held Provincial Council elections in the East. Logically, this means that the Northern Task Force is an advisory council of an interim character, until the Northern Provincial Council can be resuscitated. Instead of welcoming with whatever reservations, this measure, which addresses at least partially, the politico-administrative or politico-developmental vacuum in the North, Mr. Ananadasangaree launched a bitter attack on the President’s nominee, Mr. Devananda. If President Rajapakse did not nominate Mr. Devananda, a senior Minister who has served in Cabinet under two Presidents, is currently the highest-ranking politician from Jaffna and the only Minister representing the Northern Tamil people, who could he have nominated instead, and according to what objective criteria and logic?

In his Open Letter, Mr. Anandasangaree sounded as if he clearly preferred to have no Northern Task Force, whatever benefits it could possibly bring the Tamil people, than one with Douglas Devananda on it.

My substantive criticism of Mr. Anandasangaree and defence of Douglas Devananda was based on a far more crucial matter. As Mr. Anandasangaree repeats in this letter to the editor:

"I am still strongly of the view that no lasting solution can be found for the ethnic problem under a unitary constitution…Only a federal constitution or in the alternative at least one on the Indian model will satisfy the minorities and prevent agitation for further reforms in the future...Further, no more solutions can be found for the ethnic problem in installments in our country where we could not get to even the first stage during the past 20 years. Getting to the 2nd and 3rd stages in the future as proposed by Douglas Devananda will only be a daydream."

It is precisely this dogmatic stand which makes Mr. Anandasangaree far less of a moderate than Minister Devananda. The long quotation from my earlier article shows that I supported and support a solution which stretches the devolution of power to the maximum within a unitary framework, and short of federalism. Federalism is neither desirable for Sri Lanka at the present stage of history, nor is it remotely feasible. As I have stated in the article that Mr. Anandasangaree has quoted, public opinion is not opposed to greater power for the Provincial Councils, but is opposed to federalism. A federal proposal will be shot down at a referendum, and what is worse, the resultant open polarization would cause a situation as in Pakistan after the election of 1970, where East and West Pakistan stood for two decidedly separate futures. Sri Lanka cannot afford such deadly polarization.

As for Indian model devolution, there is no logic by which a 50 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu and a far smaller fraction in Sri Lanka require the same degree of devolution. There is no reason why the Tamil people of the North and East of Sri Lanka cannot accept the same solution of devolution within a unitary state that the people of Northern Ireland have done. India and Sri Lanka have interacted intensively and the resultant synthesis of the Indian model and Sri Lankan specificity has been the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment. For the foreseeable future this is as close to the Indian model that Sri Lanka can, will or should get.

The APRC interim report accepted by the Government and which is now State policy is that the 13th amendment will be fully implemented. A pragmatic, moderate Tamil nationalist should ensure that this is done without backsliding. A realistic analysis would suggest that a viable second step is more likely were the reconvened APRC to operate within declared government policy ceiling of "maximum devolution within a unitary framework".

Unlike Mr. Anandasangaree, Mr. Devananda is realistic enough to work for the actualization of the 13th amendment, working with it as the start-line, leaving an enhancement of devolution to subsequent stages of political development and the evolution of consciousness. The UK is an excellent example of that political pathway.

By demanding a federal or quasi-federal solution, which is impossible to implement, and by rejecting an evolutionary model starting with the existing 13th amendment which is perfectly possible to implement, Mr. Anandasangaree’s brand of politics deprives the Tamil people of actually achievable autonomy, and helps both the Tigers and the anti-devolution Sinhala extremists. Rejecting the possible and demanding the impossible does not sound to me like a definition of moderation.

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