Serious devolution beyond 13A cannot be smuggled into a new Constitution keeping the Sinhala extremists quiet

Serious devolution beyond 13A cannot be smuggled into a new Constitution keeping the Sinhala extremists quiet. That could never happen. This Wickramasinghe government will instead smuggle provisions for centralisation under the PMO. Wickramasinghe is already working on centralising everything under him. TNA perhaps can’t or don’t want to read this political mapping.

Far more serious is the fact that this government cannot go through with adopting a new Constitution. Adopting a Constitution needs a 2/3 majority in parliament that now seem difficult and a “referendum” they don’t have the confidence in facing. They would therefore only drag the process the Wickramasinghe way; unending committees and drafts.

Yet I wish I would be proved wrong on these for the sake of the 21 million people in this country.

Chief Minister Wigneswaran is being battered in Colombo mainstream media in an organised manner and in “social” media for what he said and did not say before and after the Jaffna “Ezhuga Thamil” (ET) protest. My earlier piece on the ET protest titled “Reconciliation and Government’s Sinhala Silence” has also created a ‘not so loud’ discussion on “how right is Wigneswaran?” both among concerned Tamils and Sinhalese. Some concerns were even ‘tweeted’ unanimously. These “concerns” start off from an assumption, more a belief, this combined “Yahapalana” Government is serious about a new Constitution to settle all issues and the TNA leadership has already agreed upon very far reaching political reforms that would make these “noises of nuisance” irrelevant. Therefore to avoid individual responses, I have clustered concerns raised and will make an effort to answer them here.

Courtesy TamilNet

Basic CMYKMost concerns go beyond that of Sumanthiran’s plea for “better timing”. The issues raised from different corners revolve around (i) these protests would arouse Sinhala extremism in the South and create difficulty for the government to address Tamil issues in the new Constitution (ii) this is the first time the two main parties are together and are willing to address the Tamil problem and these protests weaken the TNA in negotiating answers (iii) organisers of this protest have just a thin support base in the peninsula but with Diaspora influence have been “ballooned” by the Jaffna media (iv) this is a “protest by losers” and extremists and some go as far as claiming that this is supported by elements who promote “Hindu Fundamentalism”.

The commonality in all of them is, they are Colombo based Sinhala and Tamil concerns. Some quote anonymous sources from Jaffna or Colombo based “researchers” in support their claims and arguments against the ET protest.

Beginning from the bottom of the list, a “protest by losers” with only a thin support base as they claim have been able to rally around 8,000 people, a number they most reluctantly agree upon. They reject claims in Jaffna that put the numbers up from 10,000 to 15,000 that marched into Murtaveli grounds in Jaffna. Yet shops and boutiques in the city and elsewhere put up shutters and private buses went off the roads in support of the protest with a simple call for solidarity. The ET marked a new turn in mass protests in Jaffna, with wide participation from all over North. This perhaps is the largest mass protest in North and East after the “civil disobedience movement” in 1962 led by Chelvanayagam’s ITAK and the 1984 “Mothers’ Front” march to the Jaffna Government Agent’s office. A mothers’ protest march that rallied thousands against mass arrests, demanding the release of many hundreds of youth and men. Whether one likes or not, agrees or not, the ET protest by losers organised and led by the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) have proved they are well accepted within Tamil politics in North.

mahinda-and-singh4Mention of Hindu “fundamentalism” is no popular accusation but one that needs attention for a different reason. The claim is that the publisher of the Jaffna based newspaper “Valampuri” promotes Hindu “fundamentalism” and is one of the convenors of TPC. Therefore the ET itself promotes Hindu “fundamentalism” goes the argument. In mass campaigns, what cements social thinking and brings people together are the major demands campaigned for. The demands used for the rallying call. Mere individuals and their personal whims and fancies don’t surface in such mass events. It is demands put forward that attracts people and motivates them for action. None of the demands that brought the people out on the streets of Jaffna and convinced shop owners to put up shutters and bus owners to go off the roads, ever hint on Hindu fundamentalism.

As for selective media interventions in Jaffna promoting Hindu fundamentalism, I would not discount. But my reading is that, the Jaffna middle class “Vellalar” interests are coming back to political dominance yet again. Hindu fundamentalism is no terrain the lower castes could trespass upon. Hinduism both in India and in Sri Lanka has always been the monopoly of the high caste hierarchy. Therefore fundamentalism is what they develop for their own advantage. The LTTE could only suppress Vellalar dominance but was not capable of dismantling caste formations in Tamil society. Obviously the new post war “LTTE free” space is letting the Vellalar middle class interests to take over Northern Tamil life. That would not only have its impact on TPC but in the TNA leadership as well. More because the Vellalar Hindu middle class would compete for social dominance over the Christians of their own. That caste factor in Hindu society and its fundamentalism can only be addressed by a progressive Hindu Reformist initiative and not by rejecting people’s political agitations.

In the long run, it is fatal to live believing this hybrid government is willing to address Tamil issues within a new Constitution. Post war Tamil issues are clearly two fold. Constitution making and power sharing is the longstanding political issue and that has travelled all these decades without answers, ever since the 1957 B-C Pact was trashed by Bandaranayake. Neither the 1972 first Republican Constitution nor the 1978 second Republican Constitution ever took notice of that Tamil political need. Not even the 13 Amendment. Therefore that political need still awaits answers.

Equally important but more urgent are the latest additions to North East Tamil issues, since the conclusion of the war in 2009 May. They are political as well, but needs urgent and immediate answers for life in North-East to pick up and get going. Issues that need answers for the social fabric to get mended without which democratic life cannot be sustained. The conflict between the ITAK leadership and the TPC is basically about these post war issues.

 naavatkuzhi_03
This is what the Tamil North is against. This is proof of State sponsored
Sinhala colonisation. Initially this was a project under “Udagama” during
President Premadasa and it was for Tamil people. It was later abandoned during
the long war. This land is now used to settle Sinhala people and the very
name now given, “Sinhala Ravaya Village” tells what is taking place in North.

Reading through the demands campaigned for by TPC in their ET protest one could note that priority had been given to post war related issues above that of a political solution for power sharing. The order of prioritising is (1) Sinhala colonisation (2) militarisation (3) international war crimes probe (4) continued detentions of youth (5) enforced disappearances (6) restoring fishing rights and (7) drug trafficking with political demands following. They are quite firm and open on the political demand too asking for a “Federal” system.

The top 07 are all post war related issues the ITAK leadership has left out from their negotiations with the government. Their efforts to have the detained youth who have not been charged for years but still held under the PTA released a year ago (2015) and the promise it would be done before the Diwali festival, failed miserably proving they cannot even negotiate such a justifiable concession. While for the Colombo centred Sinhala and Tamil urbanites, these issues are no more priority, they want to continue with their belief the ITAK leadership can successfully negotiate the much larger and politically vexed issue of power sharing for the periphery. They tend to argue those issues can be “sorted out” once the ITAK leadership resolves the political issue within the promised new Constitution. Therefore those in the North, Wigneswaran in particular, should not “rock the boat”. The ITAK leadership should be allowed to work with the Wickramasinghe government in drafting the Constitution with power sharing intact.

Here lies the fantasy and the myth. It’s a fantasy to live with, believing the Colombo Sinhala political leaderships give into demands without heavy pressure. It’s a fantasy to live with, believing Tamil needs could be smuggled into the new Constitution by behaving as well mannered, good and obeying Tamil leaders sitting with the Sinhala government. Never in history have oppressive racist governments “gifted” political rights to any. Not outside in the world and not in this island nation too.

The myth is to believe that for the first time in this country the two main Sinhala parties have come together and created a conducive environment to work out answers for Tamil people. Of the two that is bandied around as Sirisena’s SLFP, is no political party. It is a collection of corrupt and opportunist politicians within the parliament, who are with President Sirisena for very personal reasons. To cover up their own corruption deals and to continue enjoying ministerial privileges. It is they who are now labelled as SLFP in parliament and has tied up with the “wheeler dealer” UNP. The SLFP proper is outside parliament and that is not with President Sirisena. Outside parliament where votes matter, they dominate SLFP politics. That remains the main reason the Local Government (LG) elections keep getting pushed further and further away. This SLFP vote bloc remains an “anti UNP” force in all rural politics and is more comfortable with “Rajapaksa politics”. Both as “corrupt” local leaders and as Sinhala Buddhist voters. Thus there is no truck between these two political parties as believed by some Colombo citizens.

And it is also a joke to say, the ET protests would provoke Sinhala extremism in the South, spoiling chances to have a new Constitution with good enough, workable “devolution” for Tamil people. How on earth could such Constitutional provisions be smuggled through with Sinhala extremism not noticing or understanding them? The Sinhala campaign is accusing this government of trying to include provisions that would lead to separatism, even before Wigneswaran went public with his Federal slogan.

Constitutions cannot be made and adopted on the sly. Constitution making is a massive people oriented process. In fact Constitutions are made by the people for the people and governments are thereafter elected by the people as provided for in the Constitution the people made for themselves. Here we have rejected that whole process and is to go through a parliamentary process. The actual issue therefore would be the 2/3 majority needed in parliament, apart from public furore outside. Public furore can always be contained and won over if the process is an open participatory process. This hybrid government is not certain now, it can gain that 2/3 majority. Even if that elusive 151 is manipulated through privileges and positions made available, the bottle neck is the “referendum” necessary. That is not possible when the Constitution is drafted without public participation. Without public participation, the lines are drawn by political interests and Southern Sinhala extremism. Therefore this government will not have the confidence of facing a “referendum” for a new Constitution. This government compromising with the Sirisena faction is not even confident of facing the LG elections.

That remains the issue and not the Northern protests. This government is not prepared to play the political leadership role in facing the Sinhala extremist rhetoric in changing the dominant social ideology into a pluralistic, secular mind set. That impotency of this Southern leadership should not be hung on Northern people to find excuses for not doing what needs to be done. That in short is the dilemma and not the ET protest everyone is afraid of.

Kusal Perera

01 October, 2016