‘We ask for federalism, not separation’
Northern Province Chief Minister retired Justice C.V.Wigneswaran responding to the Sunday Observer on their queries as to why he organised the demonstration in Jaffna, claimed, their action has been given distorted interpretations by vested interests.
Q: Why do you believe the federal solution is the only viable solution for issues faced by the North and East Tamils?
Response- A federal system divides up power between a strong national government and smaller local governments. When there are ethnic differences among peoples occupying a country and more so when they occupy defined and definite areas of residence, this is the ideal system to preserve the culture and backgrounds of the minorities. Canada and Switzerland are good examples of how the system works. You will remember, Quebec, consisting of French speaking minorities refused to secede from the rest of the English speaking country preferring to be in the Federal Unit.
They come together to work towards the progress and prosperity of their common country, but preserve their individuality. It is similar to corporate establishments like John Keels and Aitken Spence, in Sri Lanka. The parent company has subsidiary companies, associate companies and so on. The parent company does not interfere with the subsidiaries and associate entities. They lay down overall strategic directions, budget principles, market and products’ policies and so on.
None criticize such power-sharing at the companies’ level. Why so in politics? In politics the will to dominate on the part of one community brings about problems. That has been our history.
When the Sinhalese leaders received political power at the time of Independence, they had to grapple with Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution which prohibited them from acting arbitrarily against the minorities. Despite forming 75 % of the population in the country they had no business to pass the Sinhala Only Act contrary to Article 29 forgetting that the Tamils were majority in their areas- North and East. Actually, the Tamils are not minorities. They were and are majority in their areas but were made minorities by joining the seven Provinces in the South to the two in the North and East.
The Government of that time could have made Tamil as the Regional language of the North and East and made Sinhala and Tamil Official languages. InSingapore they made four languages official languages.
The tendency to dominate the North and East politically and otherwise started with the passing of the Sinhala Only Act though their secret desire began crystalising around 1919 when the British decided to give self government to Ceylon.
The Sinhala Only Act was held to be ultra vires the constitution by Justice de Kretser in Kodeeswaran’s Case. Standardization was brought in to affect adversely the entry of Tamil students into universities. Riots, pogroms and high handed tactics by the Forces all contributed to Tamils losing their dignity and political rights. We still continue to be second rate citizens. There is an Occupational Army of over 100,000 present in the North and East seven years after the War.
They dominate civil activities, sometimes directly though generally indirectly. They cultivate the lands of the civilian owners without giving even a cent as rental, but take the produce. Owners of such lands are languishing in IDP camps and other temporary shelters.
Fishing is dominated by Sinhalese fishermen entering the Northern Province illegally who are actively supported again by the military.
Central Government does not allow even the feeble rights given by the Thirteenth Amendment to be enjoyed by our people.
The latest exercise of a Task Force being appointed to oversee economic activities of the Northern Province consist of four members from the North and six appointed by the Centre. The Centre will oversee all finances as well as the projects
initiated by the international community for our reconstruction and well being. But, we on behalf of the victims would be a minority watching what takes place.
A federal constitution would ensure freedom to the Tamils to look after
their affairs themselves while maintaining the integrity of the island. We
are interested in pursuing the Goals set up by the UN Post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, especially, Goal No: 16 which says “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
This is indeed what we are interested in. First, we need to reduce all forms of violence. The fact that over 100,000 armed men belonging to an Occupational Army is stationed in the Northern Province lays the foundation for violence.
Second, we need to promote the rule of law at the national and international level and ensure equal access to justice for all. The continuation of the draconian PTA does not ensure equal access to justice for all.
Third, we need to develop effective accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.
Fourth, ensuring responsive inclusive participation and representative decision- making at all levels has been stressed by the UN. Politically, the Northern Provincial Council is being undermined by the Central Government at all levels. Projects are decided by the Centre and foisted on us. The Provincial Councils are thought of as an aberration that needs to be suffered by the Government.
Fifth, promoting and enforcing non discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development is referred to. The Sinhala Buddhist domination is stressed in the present Constitution. Discriminatory laws are still in place.
Thus, looking from a macro standpoint, we have to improve ourselves as a country very much. It is vital that the Government of Sri Lanka must be supported by the international community based on the Principle of Alternative Action to ensure a level playing field and fiscal and budgetary equalization measures. Though Sri Lanka is a middle income country the Northern Province is lagging far behind. Hence the need for Federalism. Let us not forget, Federalism binds. Separation divides. We are not asking for separation. We are asking for Federalism considering the plight of the Tamils and the nature of the political ambience in the island. Hope you understand why I say Federalism is the only viable solution. In fact SWRD Bandaranaike was for Federalism as soon as he came down from Oxford in 1926. The Kandyans asked for Federalism long before the Tamils.
Q: There is an accusation that you are trying to harm the on-going reconciliation process by inciting communal feelings and hatred. Your comments?
A- Whenever the Tamils refer to their rights and political concerns, immediately the Sinhalese leaders cry Tiger! Tiger ! or Terrorist!Terrorist!
The Sinhalese leaders give the impression to the world that they are involved in a genuine reconciliation process and halt anyone pointing an accusing finger at their process and their modus operandi by saying such person is inciting communal passions and hatred. An example is what is going on now post Eluga Thamil. I specifically said we are not demonstrating against the Government, not against the Sinhalese people, not against the Army and not against the Buddhist clergy. I simply enumerated the concerns of the Tamils at the recent meeting. It has been totally distorted to read as Wigneswaran wants Sinhalese Buddhists out of the North and East, he is fanning communalism and so on.
No doubt a reconciliation process is in place. Lots of moneys are coming in due to the misery of the Tamil people consequent to the war. But, can we bring about reconciliation without addressing the basic problems that created the impasse? We are trying to bring about reconciliation while the concerns and anxieties of our people who had been deprived of their loved ones are still to be attended to. While the chances of obtaining justice for those innocents who were killed on or around the 18 May 2009 is still a farfetched dream. In other words the Government is not dealing with the essential preliminaries for a reconciliation process but involving itself in grandiose peace plans, thus putting the cart before the horse! I have never incited communal feelings and hatred and will never do so. I have been born and bred among Sinhalese. I believe I am the only living founder member of the Congress of Religions which took the Mahanayake Thero to Nainathivu in 1965.
In fact I started my speech at the Eluha Thamil Rally saying I am pointing out the state of affairs in the Northern Province hitherto kept closed in the hearts of our people for fear of the wrath of the Government and its Forces.
To that extent we must thank the President and the Prime Minister for ushering in democracy which has helped us to discuss our plight and predicament openly. When we say our plight we are branded communalists and racists.
Demonstrations such as the recent ones help them to flush out their fractured feelings. It is sympathy and empathy that should flow from the hearts of our Sinhalese brethren. I am not harming the so called Reconciliation process. I am trying to retrieve it.
Q: Do you have a big support base for your ongoing campaign?
That you should gauge by the numbers who attended it. Almost all parties attended it. Even the Illangai Thamil Arasu Katchi did not oppose the demonstration and some senior members attended the rally. Some of them only queried why now? Our answer was, Why not now? If the new constitution does not adequately attend to our concerns, plight and predicament to give long term solutions to them, when will we ever have a chance to articulate our doubts and feelings? At least now the world knows our concerns. The enlightened among the Sinhalese know it too.