Unitary or united:
Elephantine Gobbledygook

Cometh an election, cometh a dramatic turnabout in policies of many a party! The UPFA, as a local saying goes, is behaving like 'a mute after a dose of bitter decoction' on the question of devolution. It is unable to express itself. We only see grimacing government worthies. The UNP has sought to cash in on the government's predicament. It is now insisting that Sri Lanka remain a unitary State! Curiouser! Curiouser!

UNP MP for Hambantota Sajith Premadasa is reported to have said a proposal he moved that Sri Lanka continue to be a unitary State has been ratified by the UNP Political Affairs Committee unanimously. Sajith's position as an individual politician may be consistent but in backing his proposal, the UNP has contradicted its policy on devolution.

The UNP resolution in question is the very antithesis of what it agreed to in the Oslo Declaration of 2002. It publicly committed itself to a federal solution. This is what Vidar Helgesen said announcing the Oslo agreement: "On the political matters, the parties [the UNP-led UNF government of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE] agreed on a working outline defining the objective as well as a number of substantive political issues for negotiation. Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties have agreed to explore a political solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution has to be acceptable to all communities." (Emphasis added)

That the UNF government had been taken for a ride was evident from the late Anton Balasingham's elation. He said welcoming the Oslo Declaration: "My dear friends, you would have observed in the statement read by Mr. Helgesen that both parties have made an unprecedented historic decision to work out a political formula for the solution of the protracted ethnic conflict. The decision as far as the LTTE is concerned is in line with the policy that we have been advocating for the last two decades or more. That is, a regional autonomous model based on the right to internal self-determination of our people in the historical areas where the Tamil and the Muslim people live. So, this autonomous model or model of self-government that we were referring to, has to be couched or properly conceptualised within an appropriate concrete constitutional form. That is what we decided, that we will opt for a federal model. This federal model will be within united Sri Lanka which will be appreciated by the Sinhalese people I suppose." (Emphasis added).

Obviously, the UNP played into the LTTE's hands, ably assisted by the Norwegians. A jubilant Balasingham waxed eloquent quoting his leader Prabhakaran and said the agreement the LTTE and the UNF government had reached tallied with the LTTE's agenda. He said: "He [Prabhakaran] has said, ‘We are prepared to consider favourably a political framework that offers substantial regional autonomy and self-government in our homeland on the basis of our right to internal self-determination’. It is on this basis of the proposals made by the LTTE leadership both the parties have formulated a framework that a federal structure would be the suitable model to realise the principle of internal self-determination." (Emphasis added)

It was the ill-advised espousal of federalism, besides shameless appeasement, that endeared the UNP to the international community and the separatist lobby. The UNF government was lucky that the LTTE blundered by walking away from peace talks a few months later demanding an ISGA, which even the US had to reject out of hand as an arrangement without precedent, which went beyond what had been agreed in Oslo. However, the extent to which Sri Lanka's sovereignty had been compromised became patently clear in an audacious promise of a patronising Balasingham, who gained a lot of legitimacy for the foundation of a de facto separate state the LTTE was laying under the pretext of making peace: "… the LTTE will ensure that the activities of their law and order mechanisms will not be extended beyond the areas dominated by the LTTE." That the UNF delegates did not raise objections to the presence of such terror mechanisms in some parts of the country but took them for granted amounted to their tacit approval thereof.

The UNP has never dissociated itself from the devolution model spelt out in the Oslo Declaration. Therefore, the question is how its Political Affairs Committee could resolve that Sri Lanka remain a unitary state. That resolution may have been passed for the consumption of the southern electorate averse to the UNP's policy on devolution so that the senior UNP leaders could remain in the good books of the international community, advocating federalism, while their junior colleagues are flaunting the unitary-State claim to woo the hoi polloi at elections.

Let the UNP's bluff be called! If it is a unitary state that the UNP is really for, its leader, not any other, ought to renounce its commitment to federalism in public. He cannot be having any difficulty in doing so, as the other party to the Oslo Declaration, the LTTE, is no longer there. Then only will people take the UNP's resolution at issue seriously.

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