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Deadline for Devolution - I

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Deadline for Devolution - I
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TNA leader R Sampanthan could not have put it better – that Sri Lanka should not miss the current opportunity to resolve the ethnic issue. Media reports have also quoted him as saying that his four-party Alliance would be willing to work with the Government to make progress in areas which would benefit the Tamil-speaking people and the country as a whole.

It is unclear – and would remain so, for tactical reasons for some more time – if the TNA is now ready for allowing the devolution process to evolve with the time, rather than wanting to have it all at one go, as the pre-war TULF and the LTTE later, had insisted. It would be tough however for the TNA in particular and the rest of the Tamil polity otherwise to start almost at the bottom, and expect things to take their shape in due course.

That is what however would have been achieved, if they had started with the Thirteenth Amendment and the Provincial Councils Act, when offered in 1987. The ‘Chandrika Package’ itself was an improvement upon them – and thus a part of the inevitable evolutionary process that the rest of the democratic world has been witnessing in their constitutional course.

The TNA thus has the added responsibility of carrying the Tamil community with it, and in the process, convince them that they all will have to wait their turn for the Sri Lankan system to evolve schemes and methods for greater ethnic integration in political terms as they had sought in the past. More importantly, they cannot continue to confine their positive and pro-active approach to participating in negotiations but not extending the same to the theme and contents of such negotiations, whenever started. It might not have been part of a larger tactic, but that is how the predecessors to the TNA were seen as doing it, when it came to negotiations. There is no use now  to talk about the B-C Pact and D-C Pact, where the Sri Lankan Government of the day, and thus the Sri Lankan State, reneged on written commitments. Elsewhere, the divided ‘Sinhala polity’ would play up their differences so very sharply that they would torpedo any solution that might have become possible. Neither the SLFP, nor the UNP can escape criticism on this score.

The alternating, yet recalcitrant behaviour of the ‘Big Two’, within Parliament, outside or both, had spoilt the party for the Tamil community, and thus the nation as a whole. Their consequent inability to address issues of governance, be it insurgency of the JVP/LTTE kinds, or price rise and inflation, has been at the bottom of the voter’s empathy towards emerging ranks of regional and sub-regional parties, that have often mocked at the stability of the Central Government that was fighting an ethnic war within its borders and challenging its sovereignty.In a long time now, the Sri Lankan voter has given the ‘Big Two’ their assigned roles in the affairs of the nation. However one-sided it be, Elections-2010 has ensured that ‘minor parties’ could not play cat-and-mice games of numbers with the ‘Big Two’.

All these need to be read in the context of news reports that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is keen on having constitutional reforms in place before commencing his second term in November. It should remain as much as a message to the Government and the Government party, as to the TNA, and the UNP, not necessarily in that order.

The TNA’s post-poll pronouncements and subsequent reiterations that it was willing to talk ‘devolution’ with the Government whenever invited, and EPDP Minister Douglas Devananda’s subsequent call for a consensus within the divided polity of all Tamil-speaking people(s) should be welcome in this context. It is however sad that motives are already being attributed to the Government for not initiating the processes involving the TNA. It is this kind of mischief –  that had jeopardised past efforts of the kind, over the decades, too.
The proposed constitutional reform has three major components, with power-devolution being only one of them. This is core to the Tamil political existence, both as a community and as a polity. In comparison, for the ‘majority Sinhala’ political view, reforms to the Executive Presidency and the electoral system assume as much importance, if not more. Rather, an inter-ethnic consensus is possible on these two areas and power-devolution alone would remain to be negotiated among the parties concerned.

The likes of TNA and EPDP, not to leave out other political parties of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamils’ also need to remember that the concerns of the community constitutes only one of the three components – or, it could be four, if one were to look at the ‘Eastern Tamils’ as a separate political entity – the other two being Upcountry Tamils and the Muslims.

As far back as the late Forties, when the Upcountry Tamils, or Indian-origin Tamils (IOTs) were at the receiving end of the post-Independence State of Ceylon, their leader, the late Soumiyamurthi Thondaman, had asked the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership of the late S J V Chelvanayagam to stay away. The situation remains unaltered till date, with even the militant LTTE only wanting to recruit cadres from the Upcountry Tamils, particularly from the migrant population in the Vanni area.

The LTTE did not interfere with, seek to destroy the Upcountry Tamil polity, however divided the latter was, as it had done with the political leadership of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil community’. While Elections-2010 may have proved that the entrenched leaderships of Upcountry Tamil parties may have begun losing their grip than they may have estimated, there is nothing on the ground that their population is ready to acknowledge the leadership of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil polity’ in the foreseeable future.

The less said about the Muslim polity and community, the better. Their set of political demands, if at all, is a fall-out of such demands by the Sri Lankan Tamil community, particularly in the East. Their voices grew shrill at the hands of the LTTE, particularly after the forced exodus of the community from the North by the LTTE, and incidents like the Kathankudy mosque massacre in the East, both in 1990. Otherwise, their limited demands are confined to religion and religion-centric institutions, including those in the education sector.

It is in this background that the TNA has to interpret the ‘Eastern vote’ and polity in the affairs of Tamil community. It cannot over-estimate its reach to automatically include the Eastern Tamils. Polling figures in the parliamentary elections, from the East, and even in the North, have shown that the TNA at best represents a section of the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’ political aspirations.

If one were to accept the argument that a majority of the Tamil voters had stayed away owing to their lack of faith in the Sri Lankan State system, then it would flow that they do not have faith even in the TNA – and that its seat-share does not convey anything. The earlier the TNA discouraged arguments of the kind, better would it be for its claims to ‘representative’ status. ‘Sole representative’ status is another thing, however.

 

~ www.dailymirror.lk ~ N.Sathiya Moorthy

 

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